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"(Black and White) is a book that should be in every home, school, community center and library."

By Karen Lee Wald
Cuba Inside Out
November 2017

A Review of BLACK AND WHITE --photos by Howard Epstein from the archives of Liberation News Service 1968-1974

The photos in this book are stunning, both for their quality and content. But as important as that is, there's more: the book tells a story of the times, of the people and institutions of those times. It reminds us of Liberation News Service, a collective of people in New York and writers (including myself) and photographers scattered around the country, committed to telling the world about the movement for peace and social justice. And not just individuals, but collectives who put out newspapers -- daily, weekly, monthly-- all around the country too. As Ken Light, a member of the LNS collective in NY comments in his foreword to the book, "If you weren't around in the '60s, you probably never heard of The Great Speckled Bird, The Old Mole, The Chicago Seed, The L.A. Free Press, The Berkeley Barb, The Guardian, The Austin Rag, Akwesasne Notes, Off Our Backs, Space City, and the Black Panther News, or maybe not even Liberation News Service".

And he's right, but that's not by accident. In a time before email and internet, mimeographed or printed packets of articles and photos were mailed out to these and other media in what was known as "the underground press". And the reason those who came later may not have heard of them (much less seen them) is that there was an organized (and sadly effective) effort on the part of the US government to wipe out what it saw as a very real threat to its control over what people read, knew and did in those turbulent times. It was, if I may, the COINTELPRO of the media. And just as surely as the FBI's Counter Intelligence Program decimated and eventually completely wiped out many of its targets of the Black, Brown and Native American Left, the program also succeeded, through many devious means, in wiping out most of the alternative press in this country. Until the internet, that is........

So it is more than just the very moving and revealing images in the black and white photos of this book that makes it important: it's a history lesson, both of the determined movements to oppose war and racism and so many other evils of an oppressive capitalist and imperialist system, and of the people who worked tirelessly to let the world know about them.

Having said that, the pictures themselves do tell a story --or many stories. The most obvious is that the violence (both threatened and real) is apparent when you see the heavily armed and aggressive stance of the repressive forces (police or military) arrayed against demonstrators who are asking for peace. And the photos don't leave you wondering whether their menacing stance was acted upon: you see in the photos that it was, as demonstrators are beaten bloody right in front of the camera.

Howard Epstein (or Howie as we always knew him then) gets up close and in their faces -- so that we see the facial expressions of both the demonstrators and the police/soldiers - expressions that each tell their own stories.  I found myself wondering how he got SO close -- and also, when looking at a photo of a policeman aiming his club menacingly at a photographer, I realized how really dangerous it was to be in that place, taking those pictures.....

While the pictures are all from the 60s and 70s, they do more than just remind us of a history which hopefully will be passed on to our grandchildren and future generations, although that in itself is important as our history is constantly being rewritten by those who control the media. They are also a reflection of what is going on today, sometimes over new issues and, more scarily, sometimes still over the same ones.

It's a book that should be in every home, school, community center and library.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Howard Epstein's Page | Back to Grendl Löfkvist's Page

New York's Black Panthers, a Legacy

By Ron Jacobs
November 13th, 2017

Photo by joey zanotti | CC BY 2.0

The indictment and trial of the New York “Panther 21” was an attempt by several elements of the US police state apparatus to destroy the Black Panther Party.  Despite the fact that none of the charges stuck, one could argue that the attempt was successful.  By the time the trials were over, there was no Black Panther chapter in New York City and the national organization was in a downward spiral.  Of course, the New York 21 trial was only one aspect of the attack on the Party; others included police murders of party members, numerous other trials on fabricated charges, police infiltration of the party, and other forms of activity too numerous to recall.  All of this law enforcement action was part of the national operation coordinated by the FBI known as COINTELPRO.  The original indictments were handed down on April 2, 1969.  Police raids took place across Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Most of those on the indictments were arrested that day and the next.  Some members were able to disappear underground.  The trial ended on May 12, 1971.  All of those charged were acquitted on all 156 charges.  The jury only took a few hours to reject the prosecution’s charges.

A collective biography of the defendants in the case titled Look for Me in the Whirlwind was published in 1971.  Borrowing its title from a speech by the Pan-African nationalist Marcus Garvey, it was available for a short time during that period.  I recall seeing it for the first time in a bookstore in downtown Frankfurt am Main.  A friend who was recently discharged from the Army and in the Panthers lent me his copy so we could discuss it in the “study” sessions we had in a city park.  Read together with Huey Newton’s Revolutonary Suicide and Bobby Seale’s Seize the Time, the text rounded out a reading list that took books like Claude Brown’s Manchild in the Promised Land and Richard Wright’s Native Son and moved them into a hyperpolitical space.

Recently, PM Press took the original text of Look for Me in the Whirlwind and added some more recent articles, poems and reflections written by a few of the original defendants and their supporters.  Titled Look for Me in the Whirlwind: From the Panther 21 to 21st-Century Revolutions, this book is both an essential piece of history and a call to reinvigorate the movement for Black liberation and free those still imprisoned as part of the COINTELPRO operation four decades ago.  Perhaps the most striking (and distressing) aspect of the additions to the original text is the fact that the struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s are so similar to the struggles of today.  Then again, given the history of the United States, maybe it isn’t so striking after all.

Essentially an oral history, the original text tells the story of a group of Black women and men in the United States and their struggle for freedom and justice for themselves and their people. As the stories progress, the reader is presented with police brutality, urban poverty, the life of struggle and the hustler’s life.  More importantly, though, is the stream of an expanding political consciousness experienced by all the Panthers involved.  This tale is testimony to the times, the work of the Black Panther Party and other revolutionaries and the audacious determination of the individuals to free themselves from their ecnomic and political oppression.

While I was reading this edition of Look For Me in the Whirlwind, a friend and I had a discussion about Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison and the question that some historians consider to be what placed them at odds.  This question revolved around whether the Constitution was a slaver document and therefore needed to be replaced, since the end of slavery was not possible as long as the Constitution was written the way it was.  In a rather synchronistic manner, Look For Me in the Whirlwind ends with a letter to the judge who presided over the trial of the 21 deatiling how the Constitution was not just a document that upheld slavery but that is designed to uphold the racist reality of the United States.

Graced with a cover that features the artwork of Black Panther artist Emory Douglas and a design by the modern day graphic artist Josh McPhee, this book is nicely edited by political activists déqui kioni-sadiki and Matt Meyer.  It includes writings by several Panther members and is by its very existence a reminder of the Black Panther Party’s continued relevance in a world where white supremacists still control much more than just the conversation.  It is also a call to work for the freedom of those Panthers and allied political prisoners still in prison.  Look for Me in the Whirlwind reminds the reader that in a racist nation, political action fighting that racism is often criminalized. Reading this book is one of the better written efforts in pointing out that it’s the system of white supremacy that is criminal, not the people fighting it.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Sekou Odinga's Page | Back to Dhoruba Bin Wahad's Page | Back to Jamal Joseph's Page | Back to Matt Meyer's Page | Back to déqui kioni-sadiki's Page

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Against Doom: A Review in Friends Journal

by Steve Chase
Friends Journal
November 1st, 2017

...Another book that offers a positive and smart take on the challenges we face is Jeremy Brecher’s Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual. It also argues that we can work with our neighbors and engage in effective and strategic action—in this case, to limit catastrophic climate change and transition to a just and climate-safe world.

Brecher starts his very first chapter, “This Is What Insurgency Looks Like,” by describing a church-based planning meeting for a nonviolent civil resistance action by residents and supporters of a predominantly low-income, African American neighborhood in Albany, N.Y. As Brecher writes, “They were organizing a protest against trains carrying potentially explosive oil—dubbed by the residents ‘bomb trains’—that were running through their neighborhood.” This action was part of’s May 2016 “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” civil disobedience campaign that involved hundreds of thousands of people on six continents nonviolently interfering with key elements of the fossil fuels industry in their communities in the space of one week.

The Albany action was not an ultra-leftist affair using a “diversity of tactics,” which is just a term used by self-righteous “radicals” to market feel-good but unstrategic violence. Instead, the action was populist, well-organized, and very disciplined. As Brecher notes, “Participants agreed ‘not to harm people or property;’ to be ‘dignified in dress, demeanor, and language;’ to attend action training; and to act ‘in accordance with the group’s agreed plan for action.’” Their particular action included 1,500 people marching to the train tracks for a spirited celebration of their democratic right to protect their community from harm. Then 500 of them put their bodies on the line to “illegally” blockade the train tracks so no “bomb trains” would pass through their community—or the communities of others.

I put “illegally” in quotes because the participants did not see themselves as criminals. They saw themselves as the people in their community who were willing to defend the law. As Brecher reports, many climate insurgents “have begun to define themselves—to the movement, the public, and the courts—not as criminals, but as law enforcers trying to protect legal rights and halt governments and corporations from committing the greatest crime in human history.”

This is an important reframing because one of the main barriers keeping many “climate worriers” from becoming bold and creative “climate warriors” is their deep-seated self-images as respectable, law abiding citizens who do not engage in improper behavior. If you are like me, you have probably heard many Quakers say, “I could never take part in civil disobedience or risk arrest.” You may have even said it yourself.

Yet what if this version of being “law abiding” is just an unfaithful, inaccurate, and unhelpful way to look at our situation? What if by not taking part in nonviolent civil resistance and just staying passive—or even staying completely locked into the domesticated and rigged “normal channels” of elections, lobbying, and litigation—we are aiding and abetting government and corporate crimes against humanity, the public trust, and the planet?

I wish I had the space to describe in much more depth Brecher’s thoughtful discussions. He describes his view of the public trust doctrine, his vision of a just transition, and the value of building alternative institutions. He spells out his theory of change for a nonviolent global climate insurgency, and how we can involve more people in extended climate insurgency campaigns and increase their effectiveness. He describes how an organized civil resistance movement can effectively undermine the pillars of support for government and corporate climate criminals over time. This occurs when more and more of us follow Gandhi’s path and collectively “withdraw our acquiescence and cooperation from those who are destroying our planet.”

As a Quaker activist and someone who works for the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, which promotes the study and use of nonviolent civil resistance in social movements, I heartily recommend reading and discussing Brecher’s important new book. Both of these books remind us that there is a world to win and that what we choose to do matters.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Jeremy Brecher Author Page

A Review of Unfree Labour?: Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Works in Canada


By Sarah Marsden
BC Studies

Canada has a long history of reliance on the labour of both permanent immigrants and migrant workers. In recent decades, the number of migrant workers entering Canada has increased significantly relative to permanent immigrants.

A core component of Canada's policy on migrant labour is to restrict the labour mobility of migrant workers; in many cases, they are only permitted to work for the employer who has obtained permission to hire them, and only in the specific job for which they were hired. Many migrant workers thus cannot circulate freely in the labour market as permanent residents and Canadian citizens can, which leads to a heightened power differential between migrant workers and their employers. These workers' vulnerability to abuse and exploitation at worksites is well-documented, as is their social and economic marginalization. Drawing on the Marxist concept of unfree labour, the collection in Unfree Labour offers analytical and practical responses to the subordination of immigrant and migrant workers in Canada in the context of domestic and globalized neoliberal policy. As a whole, the work acknowledges structural causes of these workers' subordination and emphasizes local sites of organization and resistance and their potential for material change in workers' conditions. The volume's contributors are scholars and/or frontline activists.

The collection emphasizes migrant workers, rather than immigrant workers, but many analytical components are applicable to immigrant workers as well; some, such as Polanco's chapter on fast food work, touch directly on the interests of immigrant workers.

Most of the essays in Unfree Labour consider specific labour segments in which migrant labour is prevalent. Mark Thomas demonstrates the role of the state in reproducing modern forms of unfree labour through the example of Canada's Seasonal Agricultural Worker program. Adriana Paz Ramirez and Jennifer Jihye Chun provide a historical perspective on migrant farmworker organizing and emphasize the need to call out migrant farmworker programs as a form of racial apartheid and to consider multi-faceted organizing approaches. Chris Ramsaroop critiques Canada's failure to provide Employment Insurance benefits to migrant farmworkers, and takes issue with organized labour’s advocacy in this area, arguing that transnationalism provides an alternative frame for the distribution of benefits. In the context of domestic workers, Jah-Hon Koo and Jill Hanley draw on empirical work to document workers' resistance strategies and to implicate the state's requirement of private sphere worksites as a barrier to effective labour organizing. Geraldina Polanco considers the use of migrant labour in fast food services, drawing on fieldwork to highlight the devaluing impact of foreign work programs on vulnerable domestic workers and emphasizing the need to organize domestic and migrant workers alongside each other.The remaining chapters deal with grassroots and policy responses to migrant worker struggles.

Calugay, Malhaire, and Shragge emphasize the importance of understanding structural factors in workers' countries of origin as well as developing trusting relationships and organizing across ethno-cultural lines. Calugay, et al., elaborate on the material and political challenges of organizing workers and the importance of organizing across cultural communities, building relationships, and utilizing both legal and extralegal strategies. In terms of more policy-based responses, Abigail Bakan offers a critique of federal employment equity law based on its ineffectiveness in dealing with embedded forms of systemic discrimination such as those inherent in the live-in caregiver program. Sedef Arat-Koç situates Canada's foreign work programs in the context of neoliberal policy and labour market restructuring, framing the migrant work program not only as a source of cheap labour, but as a subsidy for Canada's welfare state. She argues that to respond meaningfully to migrant workers' struggles, it is necessary to overcome romanticized nationalist narratives and make oppositional politics more explicit. Two chapters (Paz Ramirez and Chun, and Polanco) draw on fieldwork and organizing experience with migrant worker groups in British Columbia, specifically with regard to the agriculture and fast food industries. As a whole, this collection addresses the impact of national policy and organizing methods, which bear directly on the situation of migrant workers in British Columbia, whose labour market engagement and barriers to equality are closely analogous to those evident in Ontario and Quebec (the focus of several chapters).

This collection is significant in its contribution to labour migration studies. It includes multiple empirical pieces in which critiques of law and policy draw directly on interviews with migrant workers. It also contributes theoretically, elucidating critical relationships between Canada's labour migration policies and transnational relations, considering the potential of grassroots organizing, and problematizing the relationship between migrant workers' struggles and the “traditional” (white, union-based) labour movement, particularly in terms of its failure to adequately contest racism.  Its greatest strength, however, lies in the grounding of its analysis in the insights of organizers and activist-scholars directly involved with the material struggles of migrant workers. This work will be of interest to advocates, scholars, and activists involved with migrant workers. It will also appeal to those interested in critical perspectives on labour in the new economy, and to anyone who wishes to consider strategies to resist the subordination of migrant workers in Canada.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Aziz Choudry's Editor Page | Return to Adrian A. Smith's Editor Page

The Colorado River Has Its Own Lawyer Now

By Marian Conway
Non-Profit Quarterly
October 18th, 2017

October 16, 2017; Las Vegas Sun

The Colorado River, mighty enough to have helped carve the Grand Canyon, starts in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and flows for 1,450 miles through Utah, Arizona, Nevada, California, and Baja California on its way south to Mexico. Advocates have now given the river voice and have asked the federal district court to designate the river as a person with legal standing.

Environmental advocates are speaking up for the Colorado River to protect it as a natural resource, giving it actual rights to “exist, flourish, regenerate, be restored, and naturally evolve.” A nonprofit, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), is the advisor on a lawsuit against Colorado’s governor. The organization, founded in 1995, has a working budget of about $800,000 and aims through legal processes to build sustainable communities recognizing “the rights of people, communities and nature.” CELDF worked on the successful policies in Ecuador, Tamaqua Borough, and others.

“Climate change is presenting itself in full force,” CELDF executive director Thomas Linzey says. “People are beginning to understand that environmental law is falling short. Something new is needed.…This emerging system is about recognizing that ecosystems need to be protected in the plenary sense—not just to benefit humans.”

The river is represented by Colorado civil rights lawyer Jason Flores-Williams, known for a class-action lawsuit for the homeless in Denver. The river also has a “next friend,” an advocate for a plaintiff who cannot speak for themselves, in the activist organization Deep Green Resistance.

Linzey says, “Ten years ago, when we talked about rights of nature, [people] used to laugh. Now, it’s not a funny concept. There is a shift happening.” There’s also precedent, Linzey adds.

Personhood for nonhuman entities already exists in the United States in the form of corporate personhood. At its most basic level, the designation is what allows a business (as opposed to its owners) to enter contracts or sue. On a larger scale, it’s what prohibits the government from taking goods produced by private businesses without just compensation, a right established for citizens by the Fifth Amendment. It was also the grounds for the landmark Citizens United case, which gave corporations, nonprofits, labor unions and other associations the right to make certain political expenditures. That right is protected for people through the freedom of speech clause within the First Amendment.

Will Falk, an attorney and the designated “next friend” from Deep Green Resistance, believes that ecological problems are overlooked in the fallout of the instituting of corporate personhood. “(These) need to be addressed for the natural world to have a chance,” he says.

Falk explains that if courts or lawmakers wanted to adopt significant environmental protections for the Colorado or adjust its water allocation to help revive a place currently struggling because it doesn’t receive enough water, a corporation could sue the government and cite lost profits as proof of suffering. Courts would consider the plaintiff’s argument as well as that of the government and affected third parties. But missing from that conversation would be what is best for the river.

“At the very least, if corporations have personhood, then the ecosystems that have sustained life deserve it,” Falk says. “It’s a way for American courts to respond to the urgency of the current environmental situation.” A commonality in the personhood for nature lawsuits is that any damages are returned to the environment for repair.

While the Colorado is the first river in the US to seek personhood rights, it’s not the first river in the world where advocates have made that claim. And advocates are starting to succeed. In India, the Ganga and Yamuna rivers were granted personhood rights earlier this year, and after fighting for 170 years, the Whanganui River (Te Awa Tupua) in New Zealand was also awarded the designation. Also, some regions have ordinances in place for nature as a whole. Tamaqua Borough in Pennsylvania’s coal region was the first US municipality to identify the environment’s legal rights in an effort to protect nature from coal sludge pollution. Since the 2006 ruling, Pittsburgh and almost 40 other municipalities have put similar decrees in place. Ecuador included rights for nature in their constitution when it was written in 2008, hoping to reverse damage done to the Amazon rainforest and its indigenous people by oil companies. In the nine years since, at least one Ecuadorian river has won a lawsuit.

The first hearing for the Colorado River is scheduled for November 14th. The river’s advocates will be present.—Marian Conway

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Thomas Linzey's Editor Page

How Do We Make a Better World? A Q&A With 'The Future Generation' Author China Martens

By Victoria Law
October 18th, 2017

The first to examine parenting in radical and punk subcultures, The Future Generation went on to become the longest-running parenting zine in the United States.

In 1990, China Martens was a young mother who felt the anarchist concepts of mutual aid and support weren’t being extended to her and other parents in punk and radical left subcultures. In an age before the internet, she began publishing The Future Generation: A Zine for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends and Others to express herself, share ideas, and create community. The first to examine parenting in radical and punk subcultures, The Future Generation went on to become the longest-running parenting zine in the United States.

Her early issues were old-fashioned cut-and-paste, with typewritten and sometimes handwritten entries interspersed with collages, magazine cut-outs, photos, drawings, and photo-booth strips. Later issues reflected the graphic design skills she learned as part of her post-welfare employment plans. Martens chronicled the events of her daughter growing and their lives changing—such as dealing with infant colic, raising a toddler among punks, and the demoralizing experience of being pushed off her social safety net as part of welfare “reform.” While the zine was often centered on her own voice, she occasionally included reflection letters from other punk parents, excerpts from books and publications like On Our Backs, and even an unfinished ghost story by her fifth-grade neighbor.

In 2007, Martens published an anthology of The Future Generation, covering 16 years of her daughter’s life—from infancy to teens. Ten years later, Martens is out with the tenth-anniversary edition of the anthology with an afterword written by her daughter, now in her late 20s.

In between those two editions, she and I formulated a series of workshops titled “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind”—practical discussions and workshops for activists and organizers about how to support parents and children in their movements. We presented these workshops at conferences and gatherings across the country; agitated for (and, in Martens’ case, organized) child care; and, in 2012, compiled the experiences of parents, children and caregivers into an anthology by that same name.

Rewire sat down with Martens to talk about parenting, children, and surviving the current political climate.

Rewire: It’s been 27 years since you first began putting out The Future Generation and ten years since you came out with the anthology. What’s changed since those years for radical families? Do you think there’s more support for parents and children now than there was in 1990 or even in 2007?

China Martens: Every person who becomes a parent gets hit with [the sense of being overwhelmed and isolated] fresh all over again. There’s somebody just starting, finding themselves totally isolated, and things aren’t working for them and they’re shocked. There’s a whole process that you go through anew. And the whole political climate—it’s getting harder than ever. Everything we feared and talked about could happen. In some ways, I feel like it’s the same thing, just magnified. There are more resources on the internet, but again, it depends on whether you have access. Conversations are expanding, but not everybody can get to the conversation.

Things that are discussed online—how we discuss rape culture, Black Lives Matter, uprising—in some ways, it’s like the ‘60s or the ‘70s. We’re getting back to having those really core conversations about racism and representation, but the physical realities of the time that we’re living in—your housing and your food and amount of safety that you feel and the amount of stress that you’re under just to survive—mean you don’t always have the head space to talk about these things.

The roots of my zine were me asking, “Would you like a better world? How is it you’re going to make a better world?” I was trying to carve out space for myself as a writer and a human being.  

Rewire: We started presenting “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind” workshops in 2006, when you were just starting to put your book together. Looking back, how do you think going through your life—and raising a child—influenced how you shaped “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind?”

CM: That influenced everything. I could remember the ways in which I had been left behind and the importance of support. Parenting as a revolutionary activity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. For me, as a single mom and as a low-income single mom, what I needed was more support like babysitting. For somebody else, they might want to have the support to be with their child. Maybe they couldn’t be with their child because they had to work or live in a different state away from their child. That’s what we learned with “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind”—everybody needs support in different ways.

I wanted to help build support for caregivers and children—with the whole community, especially those without children of their own, and younger active energetic folks—seeing how important community support makes a difference in radical parents’ and children’s lives. Since I then had “free hands” because my daughter was grown, I wanted to contribute to others’ lives, in the ways I knew that were important from my own life.

We started by sharing our own stories and facilitating group discussions with others about their experiences: what they didn’t have, what they needed to build the support that we knew we needed. We learned a lot by listening and asking others for their input. And we thought of “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind” as a continuing conversation that others can have in their own communities and movements.

I was involved with radical child care for a long time after that, trying to create an infrastructure so that we could take care of each other and create a supportive way so, whatever the situation was, that community could support the children and parents. Again, it’s not a model of one person, one overstressed babysitter.

Rewire: In an early issue of The Future Generation, you wrote, “There was a vacuum in the subculture where issues about children simply didn’t exist while The State was fully prepared—with its social workers, public indoctrination and other mechanisms—to take over.” Can you talk more about how this played out in your life? And how have you seen this change (or not change) over the past ten years?

CM: When I had my daughter in 1988, not many punks had kids. It was almost an oxymoron. A punk with a kid? An anarchist and a parent? You can exchange this with other categories as well I have seen others write about in the 1980s—having a mixed identity or being a mother and also a writer, or a revolutionary, a Chicana, and a lesbian. I do feel like we have more discussions these days about our identities and how different aspects of ourselves all make up the whole person. We are still having these conversations! After all, discovering yourself is always an ongoing process.

But even as the Insane Clown Posse protested last month, we have seen that parents have problems with having their children taken away from them for an affiliation with this band that’s been classified a gang—or what’s now being called [by some reproductive justice advocates] “The New Jane Crow,” which has been going on for some time, the criminalization of mothers of color.

When I was a young parent, there was less literature on the subject. Pop culture had different mothering tropes that set impossible standards on what a mother could be. Feminist publications at the time rarely included any issues about children, often coming from a middle-class, white, pro-choice standard where the problem [of how to care for children] could be solved with hiring a nanny and a housekeeper. In general, the perceived powerlessness, the overburdened and underrespected role of what it meant to be a “good” (and often white, middle class, heterosexual, Western, married) mother was something that young middle-class white feminist culture was rejecting. Those who addressed children’s issues or “family values” were often more conservative, punitive, or enforcing the status quo—such as the choice between public school or private school, Disneyland or happy meals.

Now there are more conversations [about how to both be radical and a mother]. But it would require a change in the system of power, to create the kind of equity we need, to actually respect mothers and other marginalized workers.

Rewire: In a later zine, you describe the experience of being pushed off welfare under President Bill Clinton’s “welfare reform.” The cover is a photo of you as a pin-up girl with the caption “Welfare mothers make better lovers.” We don’t often hear the voices of people who were on—or thrown off—welfare.

CM: I’m not trying to make a commentary on welfare. It was more like, “I am on welfare and I am talking about my life.” And you’re not supposed to be talking about your life. You’re supposed to be ashamed: Somehow your opinions aren’t valid.

You’d see it in the newspaper, like “welfare reform is doing great!” In my experience, at that point, I felt really frustrated in my life and I didn’t have job skills or ways to get money, and the only way I could do that was to go to college for something practical, like a trade. So I went to college to be a nurse. I had no interest in nursing, but it was a practical thing to get us out of poverty. That was when welfare reform came. My experience was getting a letter, coming into welfare—and you’d have to sign away different things like they could come to inspect your house or if you had another kid, you’d lose benefits. You’d wait in line for hours and hours and hours and look at all the people around you who really needed support, like grandparents or people with disabilities. Then you’d get to the top of the line and the person would tell you, “Well, welfare is gone. No more welfare.”

I told them, “I’m in school. I’m getting all A’s. I’m trying to get a job” and they’d say, “No, don’t do that. Drop out of school. Get a job. Welfare is over.”

Seeing the difference between what’s in your life and what’s being reported: that was the purpose of the zine.

Rewire: When your daughter was a preteen, you had to move in with your grandma in the suburbs because you weren’t getting the supports that you two needed. What did you need? How could the subculture and people around you have provided support?

CM: There was no place for us to grow. We needed jobs and learning spaces, community spaces, homes, and options that, as a bohemian low-income single mother, I was not finding. I started writing The Future Generation as a bold, fired-up radical. But by that time in my life—when my daughter was 10—I felt just like a regular poor person and very isolated. It sucked. And it happens. There will be times in life we need to reinvent ourselves and we need support, real-life support from others, whether they are ideologically aligned or not. Sometimes grandmothers can be our best support at these times if we are lucky.

I guess if there were places of employment for me, or more “alternative” parents, it would be better. At the same time, it seems these issues are timeless. Everyone starts over and encounters problems along the way in changing your parenting practices, outside of the ones you were brought up with, in trying to change the world, and keeping your own personality and desires as well as growing in your role as a parent. It’s going to be a struggle. Some have it better, some have it worse, but in this country right now, it’s a real struggle. Especially if you are poor, a single mother, a parent of color, or part of some other marginalized groups. Mothers are under attack.

Rewire: What are you hoping that people take away from your book?

CM: How do we make a better world? How do we do that with the choices we have today? I hope the book will inspire hope, and share some stories, and make people feel less alone and expand possibilities.

I’m still angry. I still want better. I’m not going to lie—things are hard. But we are here and looking for solutions and fighting for a future, part of a legacy, not alone. And that’s what The Future Generation was always about: expressing myself and trying to connect with others about real life issues as well as ideals and theories.

We need to be fighting for generations. I hope we get that chance, but, regardless, our lives are the good fight. We want beauty now. As far as how to make it better—change everything. You have to start somewhere. And that is always what the discussion is about …. to start, to continue, and to win.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

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5 Questions with Chris Robe

Originally posted on City Lights

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Chris Robé: I have been there many times. I think of the intimate environment with books nestled in wood and stacks and stacks of unheard-of ‘zines
populating the magazine racks.

CL: What’s the first book you read and what are you reading right now?

CR: I don’t recall–probably something with Snoopy. I generally read a fiction
and non-fiction book simultaneously. So I am reading both American War by Omar El Akkad and The United States of Jihad by Peter Bergen.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

CR: Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; Roberto Bolaño, 2666; and Kafka, The Complete Stories.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

CR: Lots of Sonic Youth and Velvet Underground.

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what
would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

CR: I would like to establish one on a comet passing by the earth so it
could have far reach throughout the solar system. I would call it The Ambassador as it will serve as a central place to liaison with alien life forms. The best-selling books would be tied: Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Yoss’s A Planet for Rent.

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Challenge Racist Narratives with Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors

by David Pilgrim
October 25th, 2017

Pre-order Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors through Kickstarter to help cover the expensive printing costs of this 272-page, full-color, story-based book and increase accessibility by charging an affordable list price. Donations are tax deductible. Books will ship before the holidays. Check out the Kickstarter HERE.

I spent more than three decades collecting Ku Klux Klan robes, segregation signs, and thousands—literally thousands—of everyday objects that depicted African Americans as obedient servants, childlike buffoons, exotic savages, hypersexual deviants, and, most consequentially, menacing predators. I collected these objects because I believed—no, I knew—that objects, even hateful ones, could be used as teaching tools. In the mid-1990s, I donated the objects to Ferris State University; later, I used the collection to found the Jim Crow Museum. Today the Jim Crow Museum is the nation’s largest collection of publicly accessible racist objects in the United States. Our tagline doubles as our vision: “using objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice.”

Visitors to the Jim Crow Museum come from every state and dozens of countries. Not surprisingly, the number of visitors has increased in the last two years and the conversations are more intense—in no small part because of the growing racial divide in the country. The museum encourages the “triumph of dialogue,” and visitors to the museum welcome discussions about difficult topics, among them caricatures and stereotypes, the word “nigger,” institutional poverty, voter identification laws, police brutality, mass incarceration, and the rise and mainstreaming of white supremacy groups. They want to know how we, this nation, got to where we are.

I remember the conversations that occurred after the shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man fatally shot by Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer. Scott was stopped for having a non-functioning brake light. A video surfaced of Slager shooting Scott from behind while Scott fled, which contradicted the initial police report. We talked about Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Martin—and we talked about decades-old depictions of black men as brutes. The brute caricature of black men as innately savage, animalistic, destructive, and criminal, deserving punishment and even death, is one of the many antiblack caricatures central to the stories that are told about young black men. It is an unfortunate truth that not all caricatures and stereotypes die. Some morph into the present.

Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors uses images from the Jim Crow Museum to explore many stories and their accompanying stereotypes and caricatures, which underpin the mistreatment of African Americans. Some of the stories are innocuous though irritating, such as the silly belief that black people are obsessed with watermelons. Some of the stories are nasty and mean-spirited, such as the many depictions of African Americans as monkeys or other simians. Stories that question the humanness of a people are demeaning, but there are other stories that are even more unsettling. I am speaking here of stories about the horrible things done to black lynching victims. Americans tend to like happy history. We like the history that can be celebrated with good food, dancing, parades, and fireworks. But there is nothing happy about the torture of more than 4,000 African Americans in this country. And though you will rarely see it written, there was a parallel practice just as ghoulish: the use of black people’s skin to make leather products. In the Jim Crow Museum we read and examine dozens of newspaper accounts from the 1870s to the 1920s telling stories about the skins of black people—not always lynching victims—being tanned and made into purses, wallets, belts, book covers, shoes, and razor strops. These accounts were presented in newspapers in matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental ways. To understand these practices is to better understand what it meant to be a black person during the Jim Crow period—and to better understand the roots of American racism. At the conclusion of each chapter of Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors, I tell a brief story from my journey as a way of countering the negative narratives and tropes.

All these stories matter. They matter to the white supremacists with Tiki torches and their counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. They matter to the police officers who shoot unarmed black teenagers and the people who protest the injustices of the criminal justice system. They matter to the prankster who leaves a noose on a black colleague’s desk. They matter to the fraternities and sororities that darken their faces and host “ghetto parties.” They matter to politicians who pander to white anxieties. They matter to the people who are tired of talking about racism. Antiblack stories matter to us all—whether we know it or not—because they inform our race relations. These stories are told, listened to, and critiqued in the Jim Crow Museum. Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors offer the stories to a broader audience, to continue the dialogue and use these stories as teaching tools for understanding our current narratives around race in this country.



David Pilgrim is a professor, human rights activist, and the founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum. In a forthcoming book, Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors, he explores the origins and significance of antiblack stories in order to reveal often hidden histories of race relations in the U.S. and to challenge white supremacist narratives that persist today. He takes on racist caricatures and words, institutional poverty, voter identification laws, police brutality, mass incarceration, and the rise and mainstreaming of white supremacy groups.

As Henry Louis Gates Jr. says, "Undergirding Pilgrim’s effort is his powerful belief that we, as a society, heal better when we stare down the evils that have walked among us, together."

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Watermelons, Nooses and Straight Razors - An Interview with David Pilgrim

by Zach Roberts
November 1st, 2017

This is the first in a monthly series where we feature a crowdfunded project. The projects will be ones that fit our goals for this website.

The rise of white supremacy after Trump was never originally intended to be something that Visu.News considered one of the pillars of our coverage – but after Charlottesville that all changed. That’s why when I came across this kickstarter project from PM Press and David Pilgrim, I reached out to them for an interview.

Watermelons, Nooses and Straight Razors: Stories from the Jim Crow Museum is a  272-page, full-color book that confronts and tells the stories that make up American history’s racism. It’s appropriate that the man writing this book is David Pilgrim, he’s the founder and director of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University. He also previously wrote the book, Understanding Jim Crow.

Pilgrims book is a grim yet fascinating retelling of many of the stories that make up American racist history. Illustrated by artifacts from the Jim Crow Museum it lays out an alternative narrative of American history through pamphlets, trading cards and figurines. For a nation that has pretty much from day one been obsessed with memorabilia a history of being black in America told though objects is more important than you can believe.

Watermelons does an incredible job of exploring how through advertising (Aunt Jemima), movies (Gone With the Wind) and tourism (racist postcards) racist portrayals of black Americans were not only mainstreamed but pictured as “culture” or “heritage.”

In the time of Trump, Charlottesville and monuments Watermelons, Nooses and Straight Razors might just be the most important book that you could read to wrap your head around why America is the way it is in 2017. I highly recommend that you kick in and get this book from PM Press… in fact please support the kickstarter to get a copy, and then when it hits bookstores buy one for your racist Uncle.

Why do you think it is that white people have a hard time grasping why things like black face and the Sambo characters are so deeply offensive?

It is my belief—certainly my hope—that most white people living in this country consider caricatured images of black people to be insulting and offensive. I know that many of the white visitors to the Jim Crow Museum are repulsed by racist depictions of African Americans. Nevertheless, one cannot go more than a day or two without reading newspaper accounts of white fraternities and sororities dressing in blackface, people wearing Sambo-like costumes during Halloween, or politicians and entertainers creating or sharing racist memes via email or Facebook.

Out of so many of the objects, musical records, lawn statues that you discuss for some reason it’s the postcards and trade cards that I don’t understand. Is this just an earlier version of the modern “internet meme?”

A racist society produces racist objects, and it racializes other objects. Postcards and trade cards are illustrative, neither has intrinsic meaning—but either or both can be used as vehicles for expressing racist ideas. When I was much younger I thought of propaganda as leaflets with short slogans and bad cartoons or old grainy black-and-white film telling me that someone was evil, but today I know that any object can serve as propaganda, including toys, ashtrays, games, detergent boxes—or postcards and trade cards. Racist postcards and trade cards were common ways that white Americans were taught to view black people as Lesser Others. Yes, memes can—and often do—serve a similar function today.

On page five you describe how the body of E.C. Deloach was found hanging upside down after the SCLC had marches in Prichard, “The mayor, V.O. Capps, said, “As far as we know, there are no racial overtones.” I can’t help but to think of Donald Trumps words after Charlottesville and about the NFL players kneeling. Do you think that Trump would learn from a visit to the Jim Crow museum? Is there a story that you would tell him from the book?

He does not need my money or the things my money can buy, but I would pay for President Trump to visit the Jim Crow Museum. We would walk through the museum—slowly. In each section I would ask him a simple question, “What is it that you see?” This is standard practice in the museum. We want to know what visitors see—and what ideas and beliefs about racism they bring into the facility. We also want them to hear the words of others…to hear others answer the same question.

I would show the President many objects, including objects that were made after the Jim Crow period. We would look at and discuss objects that defame and belittle President Obama: t-shirts that portray him as a monkey, a mousepad that shows him as a Rastus-like Uncle Tom, and shooting targets with the former president’s face in the middle. I would also show him one of the ink pens that President Lyndon Baines Johnson used to sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, creating the most comprehensive civil rights law in this country’s history. This is the good work that a president can do. I would share with President Trump a story about one of his predecessors, Woodrow Wilson, who allowed the movie, The Birth of a Nation, to be shown in the White House, which, of course, represented his tacit approval of the racial messages in the movie. And, I wouldn’t be much of an activist if I did not show him the section on George Wallace, the Alabama governor of my youth, who gained and retained political power by appealing to White anxieties and prejudices.

Beyond the racist Obama meme’s, and t-shirts that are pretty much directly racist tropes from the watermelon to the monkey what are some of the more subtle things that you’ve seen reappear over the last decade? Or new ones for that matter?

The best conversations that we have in the museum involve pieces that are not so obviously racist. I am thinking here of the book, Little Black Sambo. In 2003 I had the opportunity to “debate” Christopher Bing, an awarding-winning illustrator on NPR. Bing had recently reintroduced Little Black Sambo. He explained his nostalgic connection with the book. As a child he sat, listening intently, admiringly, as his grandfather read the story. He imagined himself as Little Black Sambo, a clever little boy who outwitted ferocious tigers. He said, “The book (story) to me means love.” He published his version of Little Black Sambo hoping to introduce a new generation of children, of all races, to the little black boy whom he admired. He dedicated the book to his grandfather. Bing explained that his version does not include the crude drawings done by Bannerman or the nasty caricatures found in later pirated editions: ink black skin, red or pink lips, wild darting eyes, and matted or wild hair. Little Black Sambo helped engender the bonding of Bing and his grandfather, but for African American children it was another instance of them being told that they were ugly and different. I told Melissa Block, the show’s host, that we should tell new stories instead of trying to sanitize old racist ones to make them more digestible to a new generation. I have no illusion that I persuaded Bing (or Block) to see the book through my eyes; nor did he convince me that the story of Little Black Sambo—even a “cleaned up” version—could divorce itself from its history.

In your dedication you say “I believe a better America is possible,” after all the things that you document in the museum and what’s on the news… how do you still believe that? Personally, I’m not sure.

Because of my work with the Jim Crow Museum, I often receive invitations to speak on college campuses. I almost always told the audiences, “We, the United States, are today more democratic and more egalitarian than we have ever been.” I don’t say that anymore. How could I continue to make that claim while listening to racist rhetoric—from the highest seats of power to folks friended on Facebook—that is reminiscent of what I heard in the 1960s in Alabama. So, I am not as hopeful as I was even two years ago, but I need to hold on to as much hope as I can.

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