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Illustrations From the Inside and The Real Cost of Prisons

By Josh MacPhee
Just Seeds Blog


The Real Cost of Prisons covers similar material, but is a completely different take on it. This is primarily a paperback compilation of 3 comic books produced by the Real Cost of Prisons Project in order to educate prisoners and the public. The project is a nation-wide public education campaign designed to illustrate in plain and simple language what the real costs of prison are in our society. Since the 1970s the levels of incarceration in this country have skyrocketed, but there has been little to know public dialog about the reasons for this, or what it all costs, not just in financial terms, but the human costs. These comics were designed as popular education tools, and are being used as just that. Tens of thousands of copies have found their way into high school classrooms, prison study groups, politicians desks, and activist hands.

realcost01.jpgComics are a powerful medium for breaking down complex ideas into frame by frame visual explanations, and that's just what this book does. The Project was smart to approach 3 political comics veterans, all with experience working on World War 3 Illustrated, the longest running political comics magazine in the US. "Prison Town: Paying the Price," drawn by Kevin Pyle, is an overview of how prisons are paid for, who pays the real costs and how prison construction effects the communities they are placed in. "Prisoners of the War on Drugs," drawn by Sabrina Jones, exposes the forces at work behind drug laws and drug-related imprisonment. "Prisoners of a Hard Life: Women and their Children," drawn by Susan Willmarth, is a touching collection of first person narratives about how prison has deeply affected women and children.

As this is an art bllog, let me talk a bit about the art. Kevin Pyle's comic is a visual tour-de-force. Ever since his early World War 3 comics about prisons, I've always felt Pyle's unique smudged drawing style perfectly captures the creepy feeling that prisons create; the idea something else is going on beyond what the eye can see, that the images, like the workings of state repression, won't stand still long enough to get a clear image of what is really going on. Somewhat unfortunately this unsettled feeling carries into almost all his frames, even the ones focused on restorative justice and alternatives to the cruelty of prisons. Sabrina Jones is at her peak, using bold organic lines to powerfully carry us through the story and information. The material is dense and difficult, so I commend her efforts to tame it. My only complaint is that I would like to have seen more large images, full page graphics that frame the smaller panels and give us a macro view. Although Susan WIllmarth has done comics for World War 3 before, she is the artist I'm the least familiar with, but is an exciting surprise. I think her comic is my favorite, graphicly it reads as an exciting clash between Raymond Pettibone and Lynda Barry. It is much looser than the previous two stories, the raw style bringing us deep into the lives she's narrating. I'm not a comics expert, but this seems like a great example of the comic books' visual narrative structure being used to compelling lay out important social and political material.

These two books illustrate two very different possible relationships between art and social injustice. The Real Cost of Prisons uses art by practiced professionals as a tool to teach about and explain issues to wide and diverse audiences. It plays to the strengths of an established form (the comic) and lays out a clear path for the reader to better understand the workings of the US prison system. On the other hand, Illustrations from the Inside argues that creativity is a raw tool for the liberation of the creator. The audience is secondary; we are voyeurs, allowed a quick peek into the lives of kids in prison. The art can educate people, that is much less important than the possible transformative effect it can have on the artists themselves.

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Our Bodies Ourselves reviews The Real Cost of Prisons Comix

By Christine C
Our Bodies Ourselves

PM Press has recently published “The Real Cost of Prisons Comix,” three comic books produced by the Real Cost of Prison Projects in one volume. The book includes:

Prison Town: Paying the Price” tells the story of how the financing and site locations of prisons affects the people of rural communities in which prison are built as well as urban communities from where the majority of incarcerated people come from. Illustrated by Kevin Pyle; written by Craig Gilmore and Kevin Pyle.

Prisoners of the War on Drugs” includes the history of the war on drugs, mandatory minimums, how racism creates harsher sentences for people of color, stories on how the war on drugs works against women, three strikes laws, obstacles to coming home after incarceration, and how mass incarceration destabilizes neighborhoods. Illustrated by Sabrina Jones; written by Ellen Miller-Mack, Sabrina Jones and Lois Ahrens.

Prisoners of a Hard Life: Women and Their Children” includes stories about women trapped by mandatory sentencing and the “costs” of incarceration for women and their families. Illustrated by Susan Willmarth; written by Ellen Miller-Mack, Susan Willmarth and Lois Ahrens.

The book also features more than 30 responses from activists, teachers, health practitioners, prisoners and others about how they have used the comic books in their organizing.

The number of incarcerated women has risen at a rate nearly double that of men in recent decades, in large part due to mandatory sentencing and draconian drug laws. There is now believed to be about 200,000 incarcerated women in U.S. prisons, jails and immigration detention centers. 

In an article published at Our Bodies Ourselves, Ellen Miller-Mack, a co-author of two of the comics, describes the work of numerous anti-prison activists addressing problems faced by women prisoners, especially around issues of family preservation and reproductive rights. For instance, in 2000, the Illinois legislature prohibited the shackling of women prisoners while in labor — something that The Advocacy Project had been working on for years.

Shackling a woman who is giving birth sounds so ridiculous, like something from a different era done with no understanding or respect for a woman’s health, or the health of her infant.

Except that it’s still happening today. In fact, California and Illinois are the only states with laws on the books regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women.

Just this past July, Rachel wrote about an immigrant woman in Tennessee who was pulled over by police as she was leaving a prenatal clinic with her three children. Juana Villegas DeLaPaz did not have a current driver’s license and was subsequently jailed. She was taken to a local hospital when she went into labor that night, but the prison guard disconnected the phone so DeLaPaz couldn’t make outgoing calls and she didn’t see her husband. She was ankle-cuffed to the bed at all times except for a bathroom break. (Read an update of her case here.)

According to a report from Amnesty International, “Abuse of Women in Custody: Sexual Misconduct and Shackling of Pregnant Women,” 23 states and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons specifically permit shackling women in labor. And Louisiana and the U.S. Bureau of prisons have no restrictions on restraints other than specifying that pregnant women should not be restrained face-down in four-point restraints.

I’ll pause while you digest that sentence.

Sexual abuse is also a widespread concern. Last year Nicole Summer, writing at RH Reality Check, looked at how the prison system addresses sexual abuse against incarcerated women — most of which is perpetuated by prison guards — and prisoners’ access to contraception and abortion.

“Surviving a sexual assault and then navigating the health care system to receive adequate counseling and reproductive medical attention is daunting enough for those who walk freely on the outside. For women in prison, these hurdles can seem insurmountable,” writes Summer.

Miller-Mack’s article identifies a number of organizations working to address these and other issues, as well as resources for learning more about the conditions and realities of women in prison.

Plus: Miriam at Feministing recently live-blogged the Critical Resistance 10 conference. Check out her entries, particularly this one on prisons as a tool of reproductive oppression.

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Letters to Robert King

Students at Pioneer valley Performing Arts Middle School in South Hadley, Massachusetts recently mailed letters to King thanking him for his visit to their school.

In 1970, a jury convicted Robert Hillary King of a crime he did not commit and sentenced him to 35 years in prison. He became a member of the Black Panther Party while in Angola State Penitentiary, successfully organizing prisoners to improve conditions. In return, prison authorities beat him, starved him, and gave him life without parole after framing him for a second crime. He was thrown into solitary confinement, where he remained in a six by nine foot cell for 29 years as one of the Angola 3. In 2001, the state grudgingly acknowledged his innocence and set him free. Since that time he has worked tirelessly for the freedom of Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox (the remaining Angola 3), and all political prisoners.


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Wobblies and Zapatistas reviewed by PMR

Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism, and Radical History
Reviewed by Deric Shannon
University of Connecticut
Political Media Review

Wobblies and Zapatistas is basically a long conversation between Grubacic and Lynd about building bridges between the best traditions within anarchism and Marxism written for modern militants, revolutionaries, and working people. It is a series of provocations, led by Grubacic as he asks Lynd probing questions about radical practice contemporarily and historically.

One particular theme of interest is the position of contemporary anarchists in regards to mass social movement work. Grubacic (24) writes that “the generation of new anarchists… must learn how to ’swim in the sea of the people’”. Lynd replies with recollections of the Left’s past, focusing at one point on the SDS and how sections would leave school and organize amongst poor populations. Lynd describes the approach as short lived, but offers his own concept for organizing with workers and the poor.

This concept, accompaniment, is a major theme in the book. It is used to describe the ways that radicals might organize alongside marginalized communities. The radical organizer accompanies the struggles of the marginalized like a string quartet might accompany a horn section’s lead. This “lead”, however, isn’t to suggest uncritical acceptance of the politics of marginalized populations. Rather, it asks of us to be honest and vocal about our disagreements without resorting to patronization.

This concept is similar to the idea of social insertion articulated in especifismo, a Latin American variant of anarchism. That is, anarchists should involve (socially insert) themselves in mass movements and actively argue our politics within them. Many anarchist events I’ve attended over the last decade or so have included workshops on bike repair, mushroom foraging, punk music, etc. with little attention paid to involvement in social movements and mass struggles. This missing piece in anarchist practice is also apparent in the ways that modern anarchists at times actively discourage working class organizing. Lynd and Grubacic argue for a radical milieu that involves itself in mass struggles and sees the positive contributions of working class people in fights for social justice, as well as reminding us that without a struggle for socialism-or worker’s self-management-we do not have a movement capable of talking about “justice” in holistic terms.

Other interesting items of discussion include conversations on direct action, dual power, “whiteness theory”, and behaving like comrades (something many of us could learn a lot about on the Left with our entrenched history of denunciations, sectarian squabbling, and our seeming inability to have diplomatic and principled disagreements). Throughout its pages, this book is about drawing those common threads together from the best of anarchism and Marxism. In a time of global economic depression, with factory and school occupations all over the world, as well as radical movements in as disparate places as Greece and Iran having pitched battles in the streets with the state, it is incumbent on us Leftists to work together. There is radical potential in the world right now-potential that need not be wasted over theoretical quibbles. This book is a good start in creating commonalities in practice along the radical Left-and at just the right historical juncture.

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So Cal Anarchist Conference

The Southern California Anarchist Conference-- a weekend long conference centered on anarchist and its anti-authoritarian tendecies as uniquely manifested in the southern California. Collectively we hope to show past & present examples of anarchist ideas in practice, through speakers, panels, workshops, images, theater, music, film and non-coercive socializing as they intersect in the everyday struggles against coercive power, capitalism and the state.



Saturday, August 1st 2009 CONFERENCE
(workshops, strategizing and networking sessions)
12:00-8:00PM at the SoCal Library
6120 S. Vermont Ave. L.A. 90044
$5.00 suggested donation; no denied entry.

Sunday, August 2nd 2009 FERIA LIBERTARIA
(Art, music, theater, food, tabling, and more!)
12:00-8:00PM UCLA Downtown Labor Center
675 S. Park View St. L.A. 90057

Boy Bands Have Won Finalist in IAP's "Best CDs of 2008"

Boy BandsThe Boy Bands Have Won was selected as a finalist in the Indie Acoustic Project's "Best CDs of 2008" awards in the Best Lyrics category.  The selection process was both heartening and difficult:the  IAP was privileged to experience multitudes of outstanding CDs, but were only able to award recognition to the top 45 (3 CDs in each of 15 categories).

They have listed the finalists on their website at, and will be sending out press releases announcing the finalists within a week. The winners in each category will be selected and announced by April 30, and award certificates will be mailed by June 1st.

With The Boy Bands Have Won, Chumbawamba are back, armed with acoustic guitars, accordion and trumpet, five-part harmonies, a bucketful of attitude and a new 25-track album.

Chumbawamba began with a mission to be interesting and arresting, to be literate and understanding. The new album is a collection of such ideas; some are just passing thoughts, others are fully-formed songs. The album is gentle and warm in tone, but caustic in intent…The album features guests the OysterBand, Roy Bailey, Robb Johnson, Barry Coope and Jim Boyes… and a hundred others, give or take a few…


1. When An Old Man Dies
2. Add Me
3. Words Can Save Us
4. Hull Or Hell
5. El Fusilado
6. Unpindownable
7. I Wish That They'd Sack Me
8. Word Bomber
9. All Fur Coat And No Knickers
10. Fine Line
11. Lord Bateman's Motorbike
12. A Fine Career
13. To A Little Radio
14. (Words Flew) Right Around The World
15. Sing About Love
16. Bury Me Deep
17. You Watched Me Dance
18. Compliments Of Your Waitress
19. Rip RP
20. Charlie
21. The Ogre
22. Refugee
23. Same Old Same Old
24. Waiting for the Bus
25. What We Want


We should be grateful for the Chumbas. Moving on from that anarchic post-punk phase and the bestselling single “Tubthumping”, they have eased across to the folk scene and reinvented themselves yet again—this time as a classy, low-key harmony band writing inventive, intelligent songs.” —Robin Denselow, The Guardian (UK)

Product Details:

Artists: Chumbawamba
Studio: PM Press/Trade Root
Released: June 2008
ISBN: 978-1-60486-027-6
UPC:  877746000621
Format:  Audio CD
Length: 49 Minutes
Package: 5.5 by 5.5
Subjects: Music, Folk

Buy the CD from Here OR..... Click here to visit this item in the iTunes store.

Flashpoint Imprint

Always provoking critical thought as he turns how we see the world upside down, it is with pleasure that PM has published Derrick Jensen's books, and are now partnering together in a new imprint, Flashpoint Press.

Flashpoint Press

Flashpoint Press was founded by Derrick Jensen to ignite a resistance movement. Our planet is under serious threat from industrial civilization, with its consumption of biotic communities, production of greenhouse gases and environmental toxins, and destruction of human rights and human-scale cultures around the globe.  This system will not stop voluntarily, and it can not be reformed.

Flashpoint Press believes that the Left has severely limited its strategic thinking, by insisting on education, lifestyle change, and techno-fixes as the only viable and ethical options. None of these responses can address the scale of the emergency now facing our planet. We need both a serious resistance movement and a supporting culture of resistance that can inspire and protect frontline activists. Flashpoint embraces the necessity of all levels of action, from cultural work to militant confrontation. We also intend to win.

PM Press and Flashpoint Titles:

Earth at Risk: Building a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet (Book)
Editors: Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith
Publisher: PM Press/Flashpoint
ISBN: 978-1-60486-674-2
Published January 2013
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 264 Pages
Subjects: Politics/Activism/Nature/Environmentalism

Earth at Risk: Building a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet is an annual conference featuring environmental thinkers and activists who are willing to ask the hardest questions about the seriousness of our situation. The conference is convened by Derrick Jensen, acclaimed author of Endgame, who has argued that we need a resistance movement against civilization itself.

The twelve people in this volume present an impassioned critique of the dominant culture from every angle: William Catton, Jr. explains ecological overshoot; Thomas Linzey gives a fiery call for community sovereignty; Jane Caputi exposes patriarchy’s mythic dismemberment of the Goddess; Aric McBay discusses historically effective resistance strategies; and Stephanie McMillan takes down capitalism. One by one, they build an unassailable case that we need to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. These speakers offer their ideas on what can be done to build a real resistance movement, one that includes all levels of direct action—action that can actually match the scale of the problem.

Earth at Risk includes Derrick Jensen, Arundhati Roy, William Catton, Jr., Rikki Ott, Thomas Linzey, Gail Dines, Jane Caputi, Waziyatawin, Aric McBay, Stephanie McMillan, Lierre Keith, and Nora Barrows-Friedman. This collection is sure to inform, engage, and inspire.

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The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad
Authors: Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan
Publisher: PM Press/Flashpoint
ISBN: 978-1-60486-596-7
Published October 2012
Format: Paperback
Size: 8 by 5.5
Page count: 192 Pages
Subjects: Fiction/Relationships

The six women of the Knitting Circle meet every week to chat, eat cake, and make fabulous sweaters. Until the night they realize that they’ve all survived rape—and that not one of their assailants has suffered a single consequence. Enough is enough. The Knitting Circle becomes the Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad. They declare open season on rapists, with no licenses and no bag limits. With needles as their weapons, the revolution begins.

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Earth at Risk: Building a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet (DVD)
Editors: Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith
Publisher: PM Press/Flashpoint
ISBN: 978-1-60486-688-9 UPC: 760137535096
Published July 2012
Format: 4 x DVD
DVD Format: NTSC
Language: English
Package: 7.5 by 5.5
Length: 7 hours
Subjects: Politics/Activism/Nature/Environmentalism

Earth at Risk: Building a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet is an annual conference featuring environmental thinkers and activists who are willing to ask the hardest questions about the seriousness of our situation. The conference is convened by Derrick Jensen, acclaimed author of Endgame, who has argued that we need a resistance movement against civilization itself.

The seven people in this film present an impassioned critique of the dominant culture from every angle: Thomas Linzey gives a fiery call for community sovereignty; Aric McBay discusses historically effective resistance strategies; and Stephanie McMillan takes down capitalism. One by one, they build an unassailable case that we need to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. These speakers offer their ideas on what can be done to build a real resistance movement, one that includes all levels of direct action—action that can actually match the scale of the problem. Earth at Risk includes Derrick Jensen, Arundhati Roy, Thomas Linzey,  Waziyatawin, Aric McBay, Stephanie McMillan, and Lierre Keith. This collection is sure to inform, engage, and inspire.

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Truths Among Us: Conversations on Building a New Culture
Author: Derrick Jensen
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-299-7
Published: September 2011
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 300 Pages
Subjects: Philosophy, Politics

To function in this society, we are asked to live by lies: that humans have the right to take what they want from the earth without giving back, that knowledge is limited to that which can be quantified, that corporations and governments know what is best for our future. Our instinctive outrage at environmental collapse, political conspiracy, and corporate corruption is stifled by the double-speak of popular opinion telling us that the "progress" of civilization demands unquestioning allegiance to those in power. But the brave voices in Truths Among Us seek to help us acknowledge the values we know in our hearts are right—and inspire within us the courage to act on them.

Among those who share their wisdom here is acclaimed sociologist Stanley Aronowitz, who shows us that science is but one lens through which we can discover knowledge. Luis Rodriguez, poet and peacemaker, asks us to embrace gang members as people instead of stereotypes, while the brilliant Judith Herman helps us gain a deeper understanding of the psychology of abusers in whatever form they may take. Paul Stamets reveals the power of fungi, whose intelligence, like that of so many nonhumans, is often ignored. And writer Richard Drinnon reminds us that our spiritual paths need not be narrowed by the limiting mythologies of Western civilization.

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Resistance Against Empire
Edited by Derrick Jensen
Published: June 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60486-046-7
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 300
Dimensions: 9 by 6
Subjects: Politics, History


A scathing indictment of U. S. domestic and foreign policy, this collection of interviews gathers incendiary insights from 10 of today’s most experienced and knowledgeable activists. Whether it’s Ramsey Clark describing the long history of military invasion, Alfred McCoy detailing the relationship between CIA activities and the increase in the global heroin trade, Stephen Schwartz reporting the obscene costs of nuclear armaments, or Katherine Albrecht tracing the horrors of the modern surveillance state, this investigation of global governance is sure to inform, engage, and incite readers.

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Mischief in the Forest: A Yarn Yarn
By Derrick Jensen
Illustrated by: Stephanie McMillan
Published: June 2010
ISBN: 978-1-60486-081-8
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 40
Dimensions: 11 by 8.5
Subjects: Children's Picture Book, Environmentalism

Old Mrs. Johnson lives alone in the forest and loves to knit sweaters and mittens for her grandchildren in the city. One day, when returning from a visit to the city, her solitude comes to an end when her mischievous forest neighbors reveal themselves in a delightfully colorful fashion.

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The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability
By Lierre Keith
ISBN: 978-1-60486-080-1
Published June 2009
Format: Paperback
Size: 6 by 9
Page count: 320 Pages
Subjects: Environment, Politics


Part memoir, part nutritional primer, and part political manifesto, The Vegetarian Myth will challenge everything you thought you knew about food politics.

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Lives Less Valuable
By Derrick Jensen
ISBN: 978-1-60486-045-0
Published September 2009
Format: Paperback
Page Count: 224 pages
Size: 8 by 5
Subjects: Fiction/Thriller


Putting corporate disregard for ecology on trial, this novel follows Vexcorp, a wealthy corporation that, at a safe distance, counts both the lives of others and the health of the environment as expenses on a balance sheet.

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Songs of the Dead
by Derrick Jensen
ISBN: 978-1-60486-044-3
Published March 2009
Format: Paperback
Size: 5 by 8
Page count: 352 Pages
Subjects: Fiction, Thriller, Politics


With Songs of the Dead, Derrick Jensen has written more than a thriller. This is a story lush with rage and tenderness on its way to being a weapon.

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How Shall I Live My Life?: On Liberating the Earth from Civilization
by Derrick Jensen
ISBN: 978-1-60486-003-0
Published July 2008
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 304 Pages
Subjects: Politics, Environment


In this collection of interviews, Derrick Jensen discusses the destructive dominant culture with ten people who have devoted their lives to undermining it.

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Now This War Has Two Sides
by Derrick Jensen
Released: March 2008
ISBN: 978-1-60486-007-8
UPC:  877746000720
Format: Audio CD
Time: 115 minutes
Package Size: 5.5 by 5.5
Subjects: Spoken Word, Politics


"Where will you choose to make your stand? Give me a threshold, a specific point at which you'll finally stop running. At which you'll finally fight back. Stand with me. Stand and fight. I am one, and we would be two........"

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Resistance Behind Bars

The Struggle of Incarcerated Women
By Heather Brown
Feminist Review
July 5th, 2009

Of the many staggering statistics in Victoria Law’s eight-year study, Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles Of Incarcerated Women, the following fact will make your jaw drop: the number of incarcerated women in United States prisons has almost doubled from 68,468 to 104,848 between 1995 and 2004.

Like their male counterparts, this population of women is overwhelmingly comprised of African Americans and Latinas, which can be largely attributed to racial profiling—not, as popular mythology might suggest—an ad hoc increase in crime amongst these ethnic groups. Law’s fascinating text is born from her personal experience as a teenager who narrowly avoided incarceration herself, and the friendships she cultivated with women who were not so lucky. As Law raised her own consciousness about the prison-industrial—complex, she began investigating incarcerated women’s involvement in prisoners-rights movements and was told flat-out by other activists that “Women don’t organize.”

Resistance Behind Bars is a compelling testament to the untruth of this statement, and offers innumerable examples of women’s prison uprisings. One such instance is a 1975 sit-down demonstration for improved medical care at the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women, in which women fought back against prison guards attempting to beat and herd them into a gymnasium. Creatively, these prisoners used volleyball net poles, chunks of concrete and anything else immediately available, causing the state to invoke the aid of over 100 guards from other prisons to pacify the rebellion.

Law’s exhaustively researched text includes anecdotal information she harvested from interviews, letters, and conversations with prisoners as well as government reports and major media sources. Most importantly, Law highlights the deeply gendered nature of women’s prison experiences, which cuts across virtually all aspects of incarcerated life. Sexual abuse, motherhood, physical labor, education, medical care, and the extent to which women prisoners’ activism receives media attention are all areas that Law treats with a distinct sense of urgency. What’s more, Resistance Behind Bars has bonus features that underpin Law’s activist project: a list of resources organized according to region for how readers can get involved in the prisoners-rights movement, and an annotated list of recommended readings.

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Terms of Imprisonment

By Stefan Christoff
The Hour
June 25, 2009

U.S. political prisoner Robert Hillary King tells his arresting tale in From the Bottom of the Heap

Imprisonment has certainly been a source for incredible literary works throughout the ages, with key memoirs of liberation leaders or rebel artists often scribed and shaped behind bars.

Today, over two million people are in U.S. prisons - the highest national incarceration rate in the world. Despite the massive numbers of prisoners in the world's stumbling superpower, prison literature is not a major thread within the American literary landscape, although prisons unquestionably play a key role in shaping U.S. society.

Robert Hillary King's striking autobiography From the Bottom of the Heap tells the story of a Black Panther activist who spent 35 years in the infamous Angola state penitentiary in Louisiana for a crime he was exonerated from in 2001 after authorities reluctantly acknowledged his innocence. His book joins a long line of critically important literature penned by political prisoners in the U.S., including George Jackson's celebrated Soledad Brother and Leonard Peltier's Prison Writings, which spells out the thoughts of one of the Western world's most prominent prisoners and member of the American Indian Movement (AIM).

King's extended prison term included 29 years in solitary confinement in a six- by nine-foot cell and was a direct retribution by U.S. authorities for his successful organizing efforts as a militant behind bars. The book tells the tale of King's struggles to improve jail conditions for the majority African-American population in Angola prison,
and sheds light on life within Angola, the largest maximum security prison in the U.S., literally built on the grounds of a former plantation in Louisiana.

King's book speaks to an important political moment in U.S. history, a time when black liberation movements, led by groups such as the Black Panther Party, were locked in high-profile battles against institutional racism in the U.S., movements that also struggled to overturn dominant political structures in a nation with certain economic foundations rooted in slavery.

Beyond history, King's autobiography rings as a clear reminder that many Black Panthers remain behind bars, even with the election of the first African-American U.S. president. Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace remain in Angola prison. They, along with King, made up the Angola 3: a trio linked to the Black Panthers, subject of an ongoing national campaign in the U.S., and held in solitary confinement for decades due to organizing efforts behind bars. These prison activists were among the first to fight for the desegregation of prisons in the U.S. - now they're fighting for an end to violence against prisoners and for better living conditions.

From the Bottom of the Heap clearly shows that prison-related struggles of today are rooted in a long and often untold track of American history. The book paints a picture of the lived reality of African-Americans in the South prior to the civil-rights and black power movements in the U.S. King describes in a charismatic literary style the experiences of growing-up black and poor and also how poverty and political violence led him to join the Black Panther Party while in jail.

Even with the election of Barack Obama, many stories of the fight against racism remain underground. The circumstances and true-to-life stories described in From the Bottom of the Heap illustrate that there are multiple and diverse African-American experiences in the U.S., experiences that range from the White House to prison walls.

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Becoming Other Media:

A Reading and Review of Becoming the Media
By Kevin Van Meter | Team Colors

When Jen Angel, former co-founder and co-editor with Jason Kucsma of the countercultural-qua-activist magazine Clamor, first circulated a draft of Becoming the Media: a critical history of Clamor Magazine on the web nearly a year ago, I was excited that a history of the magazine would be available to future projects. With PM Press’s recent printing of an expanded pamphlet this material becomes available to the next generation of ‘media makers’.

Clamor Magazine (2000-2006) and the history described by Angel herein, serves us two fold: first, as a lens to particular point of composition in the counter-globalization and neighboring movements – those years immediately following the protests in Seattle; and secondly, as an example of the general approach taken by radical and progressive media outlets. Foremost, as Angel suggestions, Becoming the Media attempts to provide lessons to the creators of independent media and “radicals and progressives” in social
change movements, to use her terminology. To clarify my own, I often use movement media and independent media interchangeably; in this case the movement is the counterglobalization movement and neighboring movements and while independent media could refer to a larger array of media for the purposes of this article I am speaking of radical and left of left-of-center media.

As a reading and a review Becoming Other Media looks through this lens and utilizes these lessons to explore the history of Clamor, a brief genealogy of social movements, and the approaches of movement media and movement strategies themselves.

Becoming Clamor
Clamor was launched into a volatile and exciting time for radical movements in the United States - following the Seattle protests and the accumulation of nearly two decades of activity. As a publication it utilized the energy of the moment and parlayed it into a growing readership, and its launch was to be followed by an accompanying yearly independent media conference (Allied Media Conference, which continues), Clamor music festival and other activities.

Predominantly Becoming the Media is a personal account, rather then an analytical treatise or inquiry into independent media, and this makes sense in understanding where Angel and many participants in the project come from. Prior to Clamor Angel, Kucsma, and many independent media activists of the counterglobalization movement started with the rich and vibrant zine culture of the 1980’s and
1990’s. Here writers were able to develop the tools that would be useful in large undertakings and the years to come: developing a voice, speaking about the intertwined nature of personal and political issues, communicating effectively (affectively, sometime ineffectively), and of course production and distribution of media. Zines themselves are entrance activities to movements and activities requiring a higher level of involvement, composition, resources and coordination (such as a magazine with a national focus). But here Clamor remained very much in this spirit, and as Angel aptly points out, became a point of entry for new voices. She says, “From the beginning, we chose to prioritize new writers. We felt if you wanted to know what experts had to say, there were enough other magazines already available.” In the spirit of
zine culture, Clamor, Indymedia and additional new media initiatives launched during these years were (and in some cases are) highly participatory. The usual entrance requirements of academic degrees or name recognition in the circle of voices that make up the left in the United States, were tactically avoided in such projects. The possibility of participation in media - in voicing ones own and ones communities’ issues, experiences, and activities - is still unrealized even with the onset of blogs, ready-made
websites and existing alternative media channels. As new subjectivities develop in the course of struggle, utilizing media for both inter/intra-movement and extra-movement communication (often completely different activities) becomes part of the process of mapping struggles, linking them to others, and connecting with the realities faced by neighboring communities.

Here Clamor predominantly served as an inter/intra-movement communications relay for an ever-expanding movement, and the editors and participations of the publication attempted to link the publication to other movements and populations beyond the counter-globalization movement.
Too often when radical projects cease operations they fall in with our fleeting memories
without any documentation on their emergence, development, and eventual decomposition. In the process of documenting Clamor, Angel suggests a number of lessons to movements and movement media.

In providing Clamor as an entrance activity and a site for new voices the magazine attempted to challenge the professionalization of journalism. The process of limiting voices by requiring ‘credentials’, ‘traditional education’ or the output of time and resources unavailable to working class movements and many movements of color; is part and parcel of this professionalization and takes place on the left as well as in corporate media outlets. This attempt by Clamor to open this field, while limited and at times
problematic, should be noted and replicated. Clamor opened this process by, and can credit much of its success to, their approach of putting attraction before recruitment. Not only did the magazine seek to
attract readers by being aesthetically pleasing and interesting, but by providing communications channels and mechanisms for participation beyond just rhetorical openness. This took two forms: first, by presenting a publication that utilized open space, photographs and numerous type-faces, Kucsma (the primary designer) allowed readers in an increasingly visual media landscape to engage with more then just type on a page or screen. Additionally, Angel offers a number of examples of its participatory nature
including: a yearly national conference, regular events, local community reports, numerous opportunities to write in the publication and review recent books and other materials, and a supportive editorial staff that was willing to communicate with potential authors.

Part of this openness was a benefit of geography as the publication was based in the Midwest. Here Clamor editors were able to travel to both coasts while connecting with activists and communities outside of the major cities on either coast. Included among its pages were voices from the geographic center of the country and outside of major cities, and these are results of the relationships the magazine was able to build from its Midwest location.

Being based outside a major city provided Angel and Kucsma affordable rent while laboring part-time on the magazine. Additionally, Clamor ended up taking business loans for its start-up and in doing so took major personal risks. Here Angel concretizes the critique of the nonprofit industrial complex and how money is still a ‘specter’ in radical movements. While she provides no clear answer on how radical projects fund themselves, negotiate between paid staff and volunteers or separate themselves from the funding-state-apparatus; these are all difficult questions that should be addressed in the context of particular projects and initiatives, and strategies developed on a movement-wide basis. But I will comment shortly before moving on: if we seek to separate ourselves from the nonprofit industrial complex then we need to create intramovement structures for our own self-reproduction.

One of the strategies Clamor utilized was to have a tiered decision making structure, whereas Angel and Kucsma in taking the most risk (by taking personal loans) made the decisions that effected that risk. Editorial decisions, while initially made exclusively by the two of them, would eventually spread to a larger collective of participants. Here Clamor decided on a structure that was both ‘task’ based and changed with changing conditions and environs. To often organizational strategies are draw from ideological positions or assumptions of historical forms rather then a strategic analysis of the social field, the composition of movements and the project as an intervention into both these terrains. This flexible structure allowed Clamor to grow and develop during an important period in movement history, though it could not weather the downturn in this movements’ composition.

Finally, Angel provides a discussion of the dynamics at the heart of Clamor and in the process discusses her personal relationship with her partner and co-founder Kucsma. This personal relationship provided the magazine with a full time designer (Kucsma) while the other partner worked full time (Angel). By acknowledging the micropolitical relationships at play within Clamor, we are provided a clearer understanding of its functioning. Without these the form that Clamor takes is not clear, even with stated organizational mechanisms, as one must provide insight into the flows and channels of an activity. These are actually how radical projects function: as negotiations with different personalities, as mechanisms and coordinating bodies, as flows and intensities of activity. Only when we lay this bare – these micropolitical relationships as they intersect with organizational and molar structures - can we draw vital political lessons and map the processes taking place. Often this comes with an honest admission and Angels’ is far too rare in writings about political projects.

As a lens into the movement at the time and as a lesson to future media and radical projects Becoming the Media provides a few clear points. Clamor arose out of a particular set of conditions and precursors some of these factors are tied to the vibrant zine culture of the1980’s and 1990’s, and as a project sought to attract rather then recruit by providing an engaging project and clear avenues for participation (including many beyond just reading the magazine). By organizing decisions within Clamor in a taskbased way, the project was able to change along with changing conditions and grow; and Angel’s honesty when it comes to the personal dynamics at play within the magazine provides us with a useful piece as we engaged without own organizing work. These lessons and this lens become clearer when placed within a critical history.

The Problem of a (critical) History
Clamor is a do-it-yourself guide to everyday revolution.” As the concluding statement from Clamors’ mission statement this is just part of the terminology thrown around quite recklessly throughout the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, usually referencing the Situationist International or rebellions in France during May of 1968. I didn’t then, and still don’t know, what Clamor or other activists are referring to when they say “everyday life”.

In response to this ambiguity, I suggest, everyday life is a terrain and a conceptualization of certain practices, activities, struggles, power relationships and flows; in spatial, temporal, and compositional ways everyday life functions as a series of moments – not a slogan for grossly abstracted politics. For during these years and rarely in the pages of Clamor was anything resembling an “everyday revolution” described. When theorists such as Henri Lefebvre, Guy Debord, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari speak of everyday life or workers centers, environmental justice projects and coalitions such as Right to the City organize in existing communities they are posing themselves outside and against a politics that seeks to intervene solely on macro-levels. Clamor as much of the counter-globalization movement functioned on the level of rhetoric, of the big issues such globalization and war, and rarely explored the struggles taking place in everyday life by inquiring or intervening directly into them. Specifically everyday life, and hence an everyday revolution, includes discourses and activities that aren’t defined outwardly as political and involve subjectivities that aren’t defined as “activist” or that are purely self-referential.

During the upswing in movement activity (in those few years following Seattle) and the increase in movement composition the affective winds, while powerful, temporarily blinded the movements’ participants to a process of self-reflection that would have revealed that our strategies were not intervening into everyday life. This blindness was summed up quite clearly with the often-quoted slogan spray painted on a wall during the Seattle protests: “We are Winning”. Many in the movements believed this as well, as did the author. The fact that the winds of protest were not tied to larger cycles of struggles was initially apparent in the affinity group structure – as those making up affinity groups didn’t have “affinity” with anyone in their communities beyond each other.

The counter-globalization movement in the United States suffered from ‘a thinness’ of extra-movement relationships and the lack of actual power. This became quite clear in the aftermath of 9/11 and with the onset of the American invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Following 9/11 the movement already in decline with waning support for summit protests, found itself unable to response to the rhetorical climate. Here the language, energy and participants of the counter-globalization movement were captured by an authoritarian, liberal anti-war movement, which, except for very few examples, has been completely impotent. Neither movement at this point has recomposed itself.

If the counter-globalization had gone beyond the rhetoric of everyday revolution to actual organizing these difficult times could possibly have been weathered. Organizations and groups of affinity in other sections of the ‘movement of movements’ shifted and recomposed after 9/11 and with the onset of the Afghani and Iraqi invasions. In Europe they were tied to vibrant social centers, Asia to radical unions, in South America and South Asia to a multitude of community based organizations. The planets movement of movements shifted and continued organizing around issues of precarity (in Europe), land and water rights (in much of the global south), and the creation of immigrant workers centers and environmental justice projects (here in the United States). The self-identified activist-based counter-globalization movement, which was immensely self-referential, has thus been unable to recompose itself after these defeats, while other areas of the movement in the United States and across the planet have done so.

Clamor was caught up in this process of decomposition and the key fault of Angels’ Becoming the Media is not acknowledging the devastating effects of this. During the same period not only did Clamor cease operations, but so did similar general movement publications such as LIP and Punk Planet; and the North American / English language based publications that remain are increasingly ideologically based (Left Turn, Green Anarchy, Fifth Estate, Upping the Anti), limited to certain organizations or internally conceived voices (Rolling Thunder, Northeastern Anarchist) or are hardened “old left” with entrance requirements (Progressive, Z Magazine, Counterpunch); these are all hence limited in both their scope and functioning. While the past three years have been exciting for specific constituency based movement media (such as the launch and success of $pread Magazine) as well as the continuation and expansion of particular Indymedia projects, there is a serious lack in the independent media landscape in the United States for debate and discussion on movement and political composition.

Currently, while in a period of movement decomposition it is important to look at the range of movement media, how they function, what they do, and how they offer opportunity for theoretical flexibility and strategic innovation. Often organizational, strategic and tactical flaws that are not apparent in a period of movement growth become red herrings in a time of decomposition. The lack of organizational depth, community penetration and relationships in everyday life found in both the media and movement initiatives of the counter-globalization movement led to this decomposition during a shift in the political environment here in the United States. As an inter/intra-movement communications relay the Clamor magazine could not longer continue when the movement it functioned as part of and whose activities and energy flowed through its pages, decomposed. (Here the author challenged Angel on these very matters within her contribution to one-off online journal In the Middle of a Whirlwind: 2008 Convention Protests, Movement and Movements, which he is a co-editor of. The results of this challenge, while still not exhaustive, are available at the journals website

A close reading of Clamor (the Table of Contents and selected materials from its’ 38 issues is available online at reveals an attempt at theoretical flexibility and strategic innovation that is trapped within the self-referential counter-globalization and neighboring movements, and limited by its identification with the “activist” archetype and equation of politics with “activism”. Particular offensive was the “What It Means to Be Active” (Issue #13, March/April 2002) issue featuring a white middle-class woman in her twenties on the cover. Beyond the immensely problematic representation of activists being white, middle-class, young, and fitting particular aesthetical, gendered and other standards – which the magazine attempted to addressed proactively in other issues - is this idea of activism-qua-politics all together. The concept of activism is both self-referential and self-limiting as it seeks to contain politics and political intervention within a particular category and set of activities. Additionally, activism as such often deals with molar issues (war, capitalism, the state apparatus) and while these do function in the terrain of everyday life (as the prison industrial complex, as the imposition of work, the violent maintenance of a certain forms of life) the site of intervention is the issues themselves (by activists), rather then substantive organizing campaigns into and throughout everyday life. While Clamor served a specific role as an intra-movement publication, a do-it-yourself guide to everyday revolution would function quite differently; this distinction is important since it reflects the particular political strategy and conceptualization critiqued above. Returning to the critical history contained within Becoming the Media, beyond separating Clamor from changes in movement strength and composition, the text does not address the core failures of the publications approach and the counter-globalization movements it represented.

An additional problem with the text is that it is in fact a history rather then a genealogy. As a genealogy Becoming the Media would account for the discourses flowing through it, the shift in movement composition, and seek to provide an account of the emergence, development and decomposition of the magazine in relation of these developments. A critical history attempts to make an argument for the importance of movement media as a moral argument, rather then a strategic one. Becoming the Media does not explore the important precursors to the magazine, nor does it describe Clamors’ becoming as an initiative and organ attached to the counter-globalization movement. This is not simply a challenge to Angel; but rather to the perspectives held by much of the left and radical movements in the United States and the movement media of which Angel is a part. The dichotomy between a history and a genealogy is tied to another problematic assumption represented by slogan used in movement and left media: “speaking truth to power”. Here neither truth nor power is given any substance or description on how they function. The idea that radical and movement media are speaking truth to the power structure is problematic, but that is an aside. The issue with “speaking truth to power” and the approach of radical and left media is that they are speaking “truth” against the “untruths” of corporate media outlets, the government and society at large. These assumptions force movement media into a corner, arguing for its own existence and self-preservation in moral terms rather then strategic and political ones. Rather movement media is highly subjective, speaks from subjective positions, and should serve as an amplifier for counter-subjectivities and new subjectivities that develop in the course of struggle.

I would argue that this is not simply a rhetorical difference it’s a fundamental difference in how media projects function as inter/intra-movement and extra-movement communications relays and the form its content takes. As stated above Becoming the Media and the magazine that it describes both seek, as does much of the radical and left media, to intervene in the consciousness of the population and the movement itself. Such an intervention, expressed as “truth to power”, attempts to create social change by changing how ‘people’ think – the attempt is that with a leftward or revolutionary change in thinking with come a leftward or revolutionary change in politics - which in turn will change everyday life. Not only is this overly simplistic but it is immensely problematic to believe that radical and left movements are the bearers of “truth”; and the strategies that develop from this poison tree are disastrous – as they cower in affinity groups where none of the activists have affinity with anyone beyond the activist scene, of activists that don’t see a politics beyond their own activism, in organizations that believe they carry the torch leading to a new world, and in movements which develop from moral or ideological arguments rather then from strategic and compositional ones.

Finally, as the bearer of “truth” radical and left movements often adopt a smug certainty and participate in duels between irrelevant positions (between green and red anarchism, between social ecology and participatory economics, between anti-civilization politics and other revolutionary positions), that is, positions that have no relevance outside of the self-referential movements themselves. This is not simply problematic from an organizational perspective – of a politics of attraction and engaging activity over a politics of recruitment and changing consciousness – but as a self-referential mechanism it contains and limits the possibilities for revolutionary change. This leads us to a strategic analysis of independent media generally, and to the question: what does independent media do?

What Does Independent Media Do?
As previously stated Becoming the Media attempts to make an argument for the importance of movement media as a moral argument, rather then a strategic one. Hence it does not situate Clamor within the field of movement media and does not provide a strategic analysis of its position in this field, its functioning as an inter/intra-movement communications relay and its relationships with extra-movement subjectivities and communities.

Different media initiatives do different things, and we need to be clear about what each do if we are going to repopulate the field of movement media. For instance, and for our purposes here I am limiting this outline to print and online text based media:

  • zines function as entrance activities for new writers and producers of media, as does blogs and websites, of which and the Indymedia network are just two examples; these allow for the dissemination of material and ideas without the filter of established radical and left media outlets; and these forms of media often intertwine personal opinions and experiences with overtly political ones.
  • general interest movement media such as Left Turn, Clamor, Z Magazine & Znet, Counterpunch and LIP provide pathways for movement discussions around varied issues and portraits of activities taking place within the movement and society at large; these forms of media differ in regards to not just their content but to the extent that they are participatory and accessible.
  • specific interest movement magazines as with $pread Magazine utilize an existing community to accomplish much of the same purposes as general interest movement magazines, but with a targeted audience.
  • longer form journals as with Upping the Anti and Monthly Review allow for in depth discussion of movement positions and discussions, and attract an audience looking for such discussions beyond the snips provided by the other outlets.

Within this simple sketch there are three axes, which at points intertwine but serve as a useful way of discussing the effect and purpose of movement media; these are the communications relays described throughout Becoming Other Media: inter, intra and extra movement media. There are certainly roles for inter-movement communication (debating strategies for a particular protest campaign, for example), intra (discussing the creation of resources for the reproduction of movement media), extra (for describing movement activities to a wider audience); and the movement media field needs to be populated with all of them. Here we simply need to be clear and honest about what each one does, a particular publication can circulate information and discussion among a sector of the movement and perform this task in a useful manner, but we should not delude ourselves to thinking that it will also serve as a vehicle for extra movement social transformation.

Much of current movement media, of which Clamor posthumous example, don’t move beyond the orgasmic moment – that is beyond providing a portrait connected to an affective response of an issue, project, activity, or action. What is sorely needed is media that provides in depth analysis into the current composition and strength of movements, inquiries into the refusals and struggles taking place in everyday life, identifies new subjectivities arising in these struggles and organizational forms that are emerging in the conflicts with capital and the state-apparatus. This is not an either / or proposal, we need orgasms as much as we need engaged analysis.

Movements in the United States can draw from movement media across the planet that utilize varied mechanisms including militant and co-research | conricerca, inquiry, popular education, community dialogs, encounter | encuentro; and can draw upon the rich history of community organizing in the United States – to create new forms of media in a period of movement decomposition. These mechanisms and traditions seek to produce subjective, dialogical and strategic materials from within movements to intervene in everyday life to “produce breaks and mobilize flows”. Here these mechanisms attempt to engage with and attract those involved in political struggles that do not self-identify as activists, and construct community relays and institutions; hence theoretical flexibility and strategic intervention is developed out of the existing activities of those in struggle on the terrain of everyday life. Movement media becomes the communications relay for said activities and struggles, as it takes a myriad of forms and a multiplicity of voices channel through them. The task of current movements is to repopulating the media landscape in understanding its current composition, and the task of movement media is to map the current composition of the movement, refusals and struggles taking place in everyday life and the movements power visa vi capital and the state-apparatus. This is not just a question of becoming the media, but of becoming other media.

Becoming Other Media
What does a truly dialogical media do? What would our forms of media look like if we took seriously the challenge brought by our brothers and sisters in Zapatista communities and the proposals of The Other Campaign | La otra campaña? How would we in walking ask questions?

The task of becoming other media, of utilizing the lessons from Clamor is not simply to repopulate the movement media landscape but to intertwine the creation of new movement media with a renewal of the movement in general. While we find ourselves in a period of low movement composition and activity, there are a number of promising developments: workers centers, environmental justice projects, support campaigns for political prisoners, the Starbucks Workers Union, the creation of projects addressing sexual assault and mental health in radical communities, the increase in bike spaces and bike based activism, the grown of worker owned coops, the success of the 2007 United States Social Forum, the launch of the Domestic Workers United national campaign and emergence of the Right to the City Alliance and the opening of new infoshops and social centers across the United States. The renewal of independent, movement-based media begins with these struggles and at the point of composition we find ourselves in currently.

Dialogical forms of media - that in walking asks questions – would begin on the terrain of everyday life and seek to become communications relays, sites of encounter, and contain orgasms as well as substantive and useful analysis. Becoming the Media provides insight into how this would function in addition to some of the mistakes made by previous movement media outlets.

Finally, Becoming the Media can certainly be mined for additional lessons then the ones explored here, but the key one is the importance of documenting our genealogy, our endeavors, the functioning of our projects, and the moments that they inhabit. A collection of materials from Clamor should be put together, allowing its contribution and the materials contain therein to speak for itself. It would be a shame to loose these materials to the bottom of closets, and hopefully one of our fine radical publishers will have the foresight to support such a collection.

Author Biography
Kevin Van Meter is a community organizer and researcher (focusing on everyday resistance) originally from Long Island and a member of the militant research collective Team Colors. Van Meter appears, along with Benjamin Holtzman and Craig Hughes, in the AK Press collection Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigation // Collective Theorization, with an article titled "DIY and the Movement Beyond Capitalism”; an excerpt from his article “The Moment I Cannot Escape: Care, Death, Mourning and the Struggle Against It All” is published in the recent zine collection “The Worst: Grief and Radical Politics”; most recently Van Meter as part of Team Colors co-coordinated the one-off online journal published by The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest Press called “In the Middle of a Whirlwind: 2008 Convention Protests, Movement and Movements”, which is available at; additional writings can be found and the author contacted at:

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