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Rick Dakan Interviewed by AMP

AMP Magazine
Aug/Sept 2008

I was able to get a short interview with the author, Rick. He himself was the creative force behind a video-game start-up (and a very successful one too), and much of what happens to Paul is based on Rick’s own life experiences during his stay in Silicon Valley. And as a Florida native, it was natural to set the second book in Key West. So my friend Gilda and I came up with a few questions for Rick…Gilda is definitely the more intellectual one as you can tell, though I wouldn’t say my only interest lies in what tattoos people have and where.  I would have definitely asked the question about living off the grid if she hadn’t! It has always been a small dream of mine…that and toppling the system...

Gilda: I loved the bootlegged surveillance system that the characters put together in Mile Zero.  It had a lot of veracity.  It made me want to try it.  So my question is – is that actually possible? Has anyone ever done that?  Or is it in the realm of possibility because there is so much surveillance out there?

Rick: My inspiration for the bootlegged surveillance cameras and RFID detectors that the Crew sets up all over Key West in Mile Zero is definitely the modern surveillance state we see in big cities like
London and New York, but which is spreading out across the world. Could someone set up such a network in secret? I'm not sure, but I think on a small scale that it would be absolutely possible. Key West is a dense, small island, full of lights and cameras and other electronics – plenty of places to camouflage your hidden cameras. While it would take a lot of work and commitment and money, I think it is theoretically feasible. I certainly wouldn't be surprised to learn some day that some private or criminal group had done something similar.

Andrea: There was one con in the first Geek Mafia book that I found particularly impressive, from the staging of the fake protest and spraying people with fake blood, to the following manipulation of the right wing media machine.  Was this based on any real-world events? Do you see any potential in an actual campaign like this to improve the quality of news or bring attention to issues that are usually forgotten?
Rick: I'm not aware of any particular events that put together all those elements – protest, media manipulation, and flat out conning. Well, the lead up to Iraq maybe... The way the media, especially the so-called new media, but all media in general, runs wild with stories has always fascinated me and I seem to return to it in my writing again and again. I don't know how well something like that would work in the real world, but I'd certainly be very excited to try if anyone's interested. Drop me a line.

Gilda: Your characters live “off the grid” in the spaces that the city allows with underground identities, economies, and values.  This too, comes off as really convincing, and its hard not to think that you may have had some experience being unfindable – is that a fact?       

Rick: I did my research of course, but I also spent a good part of a year playing a game of “cat and mouse” with a private investigator named Steven Rambam. I tried to hide my digital self and he worked hard to find me. I've also interviewed people who've gone off the grid and changed their whole identities to create new lives. And while it is possible, it's getting harder and harder to do. Let me clarify that. If you go through the effort (often illegal) and spend the time and money, it's definitely feasible to live a false identity. But living entirely off the information grid in this modern era is becoming more and more difficult and will, I think, someday soon be impossible.

Andrea: Do you actually have a tattoo of the logo of your former video game company like Paul?
Rick: Thanks goodness no! I might have considered it at one point, I was so proud of our little company. Lucky for me, the logo, while cool, was not particularly tattoo friendly. Although having said that, one of our artists who worked there did seriously consider getting such a tattoo. In his case it would have been just one of many, but since he doesn't work there anymore either, I hope he never got it.

Gilda: Key West is as much a character in Mile Zero as any humans, and has a layered character of history, forgotten zones, tourism, and gentrification.  How did changes to the city, particularly those that people call gentrification, affect your thinking about setting up the story and the characters?
Rick: I've been going to Key West for vacations off and on since I was in high school twenty years ago, and it has changed in significant ways. One of the most important and profound is that it's become almost impossibly expensive to live in. I had a long time resident describe it to me as the “Martha's Vinyardization” of the island, with wealthy out of towners buying third or fourth homes there, driving up the prices. With no industry to speak of besides tourism, it makes for a striking mix of wealthy and service class, and anytime you get that kind of sharp divide condensed into a small space, I think it's a great source for drama. Just wandering Key West and talking to people I had scenes and characters and locations jump out at me and demand to be in the book. For example, talking to a bartender at a fancy restaurant who was renting someone's screened in back porch as a bedroom gave me the idea for the Crew's housing scam. With the Crew having the self-defined goal of doing some good in the world, it seemed to me that striking out against that Martha's Vinyardization while at the same time exploiting the tourist trade was a natural area for them to pull their cons in.

Andrea: What current projects are you working on, and what lies ahead for Chloe and Pauls’ Crew?  Shall we see them again?

Rick: I'm finishing up a third novel which has nothing to do with Geek Mafia - a story about someone who becomes obsessed with the stories of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. But I'm jumping back into the next Geek Mafia book very soon, which I've got all outlined and ready to go, so hopefully that will be out early in 2009. So yes, lots more Chloe and Paul, plus some brand new Crew members. And lots of hackers.

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Behind the Mask on Vivisection
Shannon Keith's documentary Behind The Mask is a well constructed film that aims to 'humanise' the much maligned animal rights activist and to explicate the direct action wing, so to speak, of the animal rights movement.

It is not, as I expected, a simple juxtaposition of content but a synthesis of various resources - historical clips, interviews with noted activists, etc. - that aims to chronicle animal liberation.

Shannon, though, does not restrict herself solely to those who act extra-legally but includes voices from those who have, for one reason or another, faced repression from the state. It is strictly of the animal liberation cannon.

Although the participants 'tell their own story' - so Melanie Arnold, for example, discusses her slaughterhouse arson, a "successful operation" - Shannon has so edited the documentary that this personal recounting contributes to an understanding of the animal rights movement in general. We learn not only about particular incidents (which would be interesting but ultimately sterile) but about the larger context in which these occurred. The editing, the choice of material, etc., is to be praised for granting a twin insight, as it were, into the time bound and the transcendent: we learn about certain activists and something far greater simultaneously. Whereas much animal rights material merely threatens to say something interesting, Shannon's work is as provocative as it gets.

Her basic thesis, after all, is that animal liberation - breaking into laboratories, etc - is justifiable. Viewers (and readers of this short review) are free to disagree with this [01]. Her documentary seems to have a dual purpose. She not only shows that the demonisation of certain 'extremists' is, in general, misplaced but she also examines how that erroneous demonisation has become the principle weapon which animal abusing industries (and their servant western governments) use to combat peaceful, law abiding activists.

Animal activists are not the 'thugs', the 'monsters', the malestream media so glibly dismisses them as. This explains the call to lift masks. Needless to say 'mask' has more than one meaning. Shannon's work does, literally, show us behind the balaclava's - the faces behind noted lab. raids, etc. But only superficially, I think, is her work about lifting 'their' masks. I would argue that its real purpose is to lift our own masks. Or, if you prefer, those of society. It is a call for a rejecting of the masks of demonisation - the vicious stereotypes and caricatures that have come, over the last five years, to cover, to conceal, to obscure, the real motivations for direct action in the animal rights community through a lazy discourse of 'terrorism'.

Behind the Mask is not so much a challenge to the direct activists involved as it is a challenge to the viewer: if you genuinely believe that animal suffering matters, as we all profess to, how can you condemn those who seek to stop it through peaceful, but illegal, means? How can you - without wedding yourself to double standards - reject interpersonal cruelty toward animals but uphold institutional cruelty? As I have put it elsewhere: why is it regarded by society as wrong to stamp on the tail of a single cat but it is 'acceptable' to skin alive countless million mink for their pelts? (And why do authorities outlaw the former but defend the latter?)

Keith Mann, a humble, peaceful, clearly compassionate convict, offers a useful perspective on this. He explains the animal extremist worldview at its most reductive (but profound): animal liberation is the favouring of life over profit/property. The vast majority of us do know this… when it comes to cats and dogs. So if we want to understand direct activism, we only need look inside ourselves and remove our double standards. Most of us know, on one level or another, that taking the life of an animal for human trivialities - and that includes 'meat' - is unjust: we need only analogise from the dog being beaten in the street to the elephant being beaten for the circus or the cow for our food.

Shannon Keith 'humanises' various figures in the animal liberation movement - (by this, I mean that she counters the toxic propaganda of governments, industries, etc., that want to 'dehumanise' direct activists by constructing them as 'thuggish ringleaders' of the 'terrorist' ALF, etc.) - by showing that behind their masks, and behind society's masks, animal liberationists are harmless. To put it glibly, Shannon shows that animal liberationists are simply 'animal lovers' with enthusiasm (and without the obligatory hypocrisy). There is nothing genuinely 'monstrous' about animal liberationists even though, in the US and UK press, that's been the one sided depiction now for the last five years or so.

Of course, direct activists might very well be motivated by compassion. They are harmless, caring individuals no doubt. But if laws are broken then, by definition, activists will be punished. The politicised penality that has activists receiving excessive sentences is, without question, risible (it has almost becoming tedious to compare the obscene sentences handed down to animal rights activists for minor affrays with the slapped wrists that rapists, child abductors, etc., suffer both sides of the pond). But if direct activists break the law then, given the world we live in, there can be little complaint (and there very rarely is) over the consequences that befall the activist when apprehended. But a new stage has been reached in the repression of the animal activist: you don't even need to commit a crime these days to have the authorities knocking down your door or otherwise pursuing nefarious ends.

In Behind the Mask we hear from Kevin Jonas and John Feldmann. Kevin Jonas is, as most readers probably know, "staring down the barrel of many years in prison for running a goddamn website". His great crime was thinking the 'wrong' thoughts: he never harmed anyone, he never even threw a stone or exhibited zeal with spray paint. But he did fail to condemn those who did which is, of course, so depraved it warrants the kind of sentence meted out to baby killers! (I jest).

Shannon's documentary manages to capture both the obscenity and the absurdity of the political policing which the animal rights community faces today. John Feldmann, lead singer for Goldfinger, recounts how the FBI stormed his residence because, in essence, he attended a protest. Shannon herself has been investigated by the FBI simply for sympathising with direct activism. Netcu Watch readers need no introduction to the abuses of authority that our movement has weathered and will, without question, triumph over. One cannot say that the Netcu's of this world work for big Pharma, big business, for iatrocracy and pharmocracy [02], but one can say that they might as well be doing so. Of course, we are forever reminded that we have a 'democratic right' to protest: witness the recent letter to Netcu Watch by Blair's peons or the insipid, asinine letters from David McWhirter, of Thames Valley Police, to the SPEAK campaign.

But these 'rights' have been so winnowed over the last few decades that they have almost become a charade, a pastiche of genuine democracy. Things which we now take for granted, such as having to pre arrange events with the relevant police authority, the obligatory camera man, etc., would have outraged our grandfather's generation. The government is more than willing to 'support' legitimate protest as long as its so neutered as to be feeble: you have free speech, as long as no one can hear (turn off those megaphones); you've a right to express your opinion, as long as its fenceposted out of sight and you pack up and piss off within an hour.

What passes for protest, what the government 'permits' in its New World Order panoptican, is often an empty gesture allegiance to a democratic tradition that is, in truth, long dead. "Protest is fine" say the police in effect "as long as you pre arrange it with us first so that we can take the sting away and ensure its utter pointlessness". We see this with noted campaigns in England. They haven't succeeded but their goals are obvious: 'protest' exsanguinated of any content until it simply becomes a gesture. Direct action emerged within the context of a disciplined society that has rendered illegal any activism which is not thoroughly innocuous.

In conclusion, Shannon's work is inspiring and provocative. It is an informative and entertaining piece of work - yes, it's possible to entertain with animal rights issues, however ultimately depressing they actually are - that is suitable to the convert and to the sceptic. Unlike many documentaries produced by those unsympathetic to the movement, it allows direct activists their voice without first manipulating it and using it against them which is often the case when animal liberationists confront the media. This allows the viewer to reach a conclusion based on who animal liberationists actually are, rather than to conclude on the basis of what an unsympathetic editor chooses to construct them as (the construction is usually one of the following: bad or mad). Shannon is, in that sense, serving the movement well. Although I regard it as one of the best, if not the best, documentaries to come out of the animal rights movement in recent years, there are a few minor 'glitches' that I would point out simply to avoid being sycophantic.

One being, I think there was a lot more Shannon could have explored. I would have liked to hear, for example, more from Ronnie Lee, Rod Coronado, et al, the former hardly featuring at all. The documentary could have been twice its length. But maybe this is unfair. After all, Shannon obviously aimed to appeal beyond an 'captive audience' who would be happy to sit through many hours of content. It is questionable whether a sceptic would be willing to do this and, let's face it, it is important that Shannon's work isn't simply preaching to the converted. This shouldn't be read as critical.

My concluding point is that Shannon's work was so good that there should have been much more of it than there was: perhaps a sequel? It is a powerful, imaginative and in many ways unique documentary that is highly recommended. It is about time that we had a serious documentary about direct action in animal rights - after many hatchet jobs on British television - and, I think, we finally have one in Shannon Keith's Behind the Mask.

[01] Is direct action for animals justified? This is not the place to explore that. Shannon Keith's documentary goes beyond this. Even if it were not justified that would not, in a so called democracy, legitimate politicised penality and the crack down on legal, peaceful protest that we are witnessing today.

[02] 'Pharmocracy' is Thomas Szasz's word. It means, basically, a political system that becomes indiscernible from big Pharma. 'Iatrocracy' is Ivan Illich's word which, along with 'biocracy', is used throughout his brilliant Limits to Medicine to describe the expropriation of 'health' by Power, for Power.

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Behind the Mask on Indymedia

"Behind the Mask" is a compelling documentary detailing the methods used by the ALF in order to free animals from the daily tortures of experimentation and other forms of cruelty. Interviews with ALF activists, members of PETA, and many other important figures in the animal rights movement make this a great introduction to the ALF and the entire movement in general.

Behind the Mask", a documentary by Los Angeles animal rights lawyer Shannon Keith, takes a look at the methods used by the ALF, who operate as individuals or in small groups in over 20 countries throughout the world, most heavily in the U.S. and the U.K. The documentary's premier was well received by a near capacity crowd at the 11th street Loews theater in Manhattan on Thursday, September 14th.

Labeled as terrorists by the U.S. government and freedom fighters by the animal rights community, the Animal Liberation Front's aim is to free as many animals as possible from places of abuse. Outfitted in Army fatigues and Ski-Masks, activists carry out anonymous raids on university laboratories, factory farms, and fur farms in order to place animals in safe homes where they can live free from unnecessary suffering. The ALF has been known to set fire to empty buildings that house animal experimentation labs as well as sabotage expensive research equipment, in efforts of inflicting economic damage to animal exploiters. The ALF does however claim to be a nonviolent movement, with the primary goal of exposing and putting an end to atrocities committed against animals behind closed doors. The ALF also proudly states to have never hurt a human or animal in any of their daring raids, which has included the release of 6,000 Mink from a fur farm in southern England in 1998.

The film captures animals ranging from mice and rats to dogs, cats, and monkeys being used for the testing of pharmaceuticals, household and cosmetic products, many of which never see the shelves. Among several experiments documented was that of a newborn Macaque monkey, whose eyelids were stitched shut while intrusive sound effects were blasted into his ears during a blindness study. ALF members filmed themselves while breaking into a research facility at the University of California to rescue the monkey and ultimately introducing it to an adoptive mother where he began a slow physical and psychological recovery. This was a rare happy ending in an industry where an estimated 20 million animals are killed each year.

Members of PETA, the largest animal rights organization in the world were in attendance for the film along with other animal rights groups and activists. Following the screening, PETA's President, Ingrid Newkirk spoke on how it is the responsibility of people to reach out to the billions of animals killed for food, fur and experimentation every year. Newkirk went on to say that although some medical advances have been made due to cruel experimentation most are possible without animal testing. In fact, many of the major medical breakthroughs such as the isolation of the virus that causes AIDS, the discovery of the connection between cholesterol and heart disease, as well as the link between smoking and lung cancer were not results of animal testing. During research on the disease polio, in which a large number of monkeys were killed, the primates infected with the disease showed minimal hope for a cure while the real breakthrough came when scientists learned to grow the virus from cells.

Bed-Stuy resident Olivia Lane, who works as a content manager for the website, called the film inspiring and said that people should do anything within their power to help animals in need, be it breaking and entering or simply not supporting the leather or fur industries.

In the courtroom, director and attorney Shannon Keith represents animal rights activists and prosecutes animal abusers. She claims that great change is needed in order to get the few laws protecting animals to be enforced the way they need to be. The ALF and Keith both believe that breaking the law is often times necessary to create change. In the film, parallels are drawn to what at the time seemed like extremist measures during the civil rights movement. The ALF, PETA and other animal rights organizations are aware of the uphill battle that still lies ahead and believe in civil disobedience as a necessary tool to draw attention to the issue and for change to finally come about.

Newkirk wrapped up her speech by urging the audience to get involved in putting an end to all animal exploitation in whatever way they feel comfortable. Weather its writing letters to newspaper editors, handing out leaflets at local events, or simply questioning the lady in the subway wearing the fur coat. If enough people get active, human lives can be improved without animals suffering.

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Behind the Mask in the Calcutta Telegraph

It is not often that a film is made to give ‘terrorists’ a voice, especially when the people concerned are categorised as the number one domestic terrorist threat in the US by the FBI. Behind The Mask, a film about animal liberationists who break the law to free animals from laboratories, provides previously unseen footage on this much debated topic. No doubt, it has stirred controversy with accusations of glamourising vandalism.

Of late, animal rights activists have taken to illegal and violent actions to rescue animals from laboratories. However, such efforts have been widely condemned by the public and the mainstream media in the West.

Shannon Keith (writer-director), an American animal rights lawyer, made this film in an endeavour to present the animal rights activists’ side of the story. According to Keith, change only happens in society when laws are broken. The film shows footage of an animal rights activist named Jill Phipps being killed during a protest regarding transportation of live animals. “They call us terrorists but the reality is that over the years four animal rights activists have been killed during protests,” notes Jill’s mother, Nancy Phipps, in the film.

Keith Mann, Rod Coronado, Ingrid Newkirk, Melanie Arnold, Jerry Vlasak and Kevin Jonas have all been imprisoned for indulging in illegal activities and all of them present their opinions in the film. They are well-known names in the animal rights movement who believe in direct action to save animals from torture.

Footage of animal rights activists setting ablaze a slaughterhouse sets one thinking if ends justify the means. Arsonist Melanie Arnold says, “If I had an opportunity, I would do it again since economic damage to animal abusers is justifiable.” The film draws parallels between violence in the animal rights movement and violence in the human rights movement. There is great music synchronised with action footage and quotes from John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Junior have been utilised effectively.

Regardless of what one thinks about the tactics of the Animal Liberation Front, the film is an extraordinary one that is well worth watching.

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Jacinta Bunnell Interviewed in Colouring Outside the Lines

By Melanie Maddison
Colouring Outside The Lines zine
March 2005

Jacinta Bunnell
Location: Rosendale, NY

How would you describe your art?: Not high-falutin'

3 Likes: Sparkly markers, discovering really sweet and magical things for the first time, and laughing so hard that I cry.

3 Dislikes: Anything that makes someone feel bad about themselves, racism, and the fact that there is even one person who is homeless in this country of such wealth.

Daily Inspirations: The young people I know who ask me very earnestly to seatbelt their stuffed animals into the car, music that makes my heart burst open, my amazing friends who will listen to me say just about absolutely anything, and my partner who very cutely and creatively makes music on a guitar or drums nearly every day.

People you admire: My nieces (Keetin and Zia), young queer kids who survive high school, people who make thesauruses, Joan Armatrading, and David Sedaris.

Superpower you would most like to possess: Whatever it takes to get one of those really awesome costumes with gadgets that hook on buildings, flame-powered boots, and a really nice belt.

- - -

Your genderific colouring books, (in collaboration with Irit & Julie), ‘Girls are not chicks’ and ‘Girls will be boys will be girls’ feature your original illustrations in a clip-art /traditional colouring book style, subverted & deconstructed with slogans such as ‘don’t let gender box you in’ and ‘sometimes the princess is saved by the girl next door’. How did you first develop these specific art/illustrating skills? What is your artistic background?

It all started very early. My dad was the only art teacher I ever really had, with the exception of one semester in college. And I only took that class because the professor was one of only 2 out lesbians at my school and I wanted to get to know her. I just always liked to draw and when I was small, I would draw countless pictures of strawberries for the chef at my dad's work. The more berries I drew, the more real berries he would send home from the restaurant. I guess it was some form of early reward system my dad had worked out! I never had any confidence in my actual drawing ability but continued to be artistic/creative throughout my life. Then, when we got a publishing offer from Soft Skull Press for our colouring book and were asked to find artists, it was the fire under my butt I needed to take a stack of illustration books out of the children's library and teach myself some rudimentary skills. In some ways, I owe it to the artists who promised us illustrations and never delivered. I felt the need to fill in the gaps. From there, I ended up making some drawings that I was actually proud of and we decided to put them in the colouring book.

How did these two particular colouring book projects come about?

Girls will be boys will be girls will be... came about because I met this really fascinating person, Irit Reinheimer, and we wanted to find some interesting way to forge a friendship. So we came up with this list of 30 or so free things to do in our town. It included things like: going to the Special Olympics, calling to request songs by women and queers to the college radio station, learning how to fix our cars... Well, needless to say, we only got to one other before we started on the one that stuck out to us the most: making a colouring book about gender. Where we came up with the idea for that one, we may never know. I think it was channelled from the crayon fairies. We set to work on that one and it slowly consumed every free moment of time we had together. Girls are Not Chicks came out of this creative over-drive I was in after I saw how many people were touched by the first one.

Why did you decide to use art and illustration as the medium to convey your genderific messages, as opposed to solely writing your messages? Do you think there is something powerful about using images?

Pictures are so much more accessible to a larger amount of people. Both Irit and I had done our time in the halls of academia and had become tired of all the discourse that could engage only a select few. We wanted to present an issue that is very real and weighty for us but wanted to use humour to communicate our thoughts and ideas. And who doesn't still have a little hankering for crayons now and again, even those of us who have "grown up".

Has using the form of colouring books been useful as a mode of engaging audiences to participate in actively thinking about the issues raised, seen as yr audiences engage with the books personally by filling them in?

Very useful indeed! My favourite times are when we blow up the images from the books into really big posters and host community colouring projects where everyone works together to create these really outrageous, fun works of art. Also, because the books use humour as a teaching tool, I have found myself talking about gender issues with people who were normally really defensive about such things.

What has the feedback been like from audiences?

Really positive! My favourite so far was the thank you card we got from someone who was buying the book for their 4 year old nephew who had worked super hard to convince his parents to buy him a pink "girl's" bathing suit! We get touching letters like this once in a while and they really make my whole life more meaningful! Really!

The colouring books have been described as a ‘subversive and playful way to examine how pervasive stereotypes about gender are in every aspect of out lives’. How important do you think the role of subversion is in your projects?

There isn't much I don't try to subvert at some point or another!

Were the colouring books intended for an audience of children?

Not initially. We originally only made 50 copies of girls will be boys will be girls will be... because we were just going to give it as gifts to friends and then drop it. We never had an audience in mind beyond some friends of ours. When we got those first 50 copies back from the copy shop, we couldn't believe our eyes. It dawned on us that maybe some more folks would find this somewhat rough-looking book interesting. One thing led to another, and we ended up selling 5,000 copies on our very own. Now we try to make the new books accessible for all ages because it has grown far beyond our community! You never know when a child will pick one up and we wanted to be sensitive to that.

How important do you think the role of art is in children’s lives and to what extent do you feel it plays an important part in children’s development?

VERY IMPORTANT! For some children, art is the most life-enhancing aspect of their lives. We are all meant to make art, but creativity gets squashed out of so many of us by judgmental, nay-saying teachers and parents (who all had the same done to them).

In terms of the books being ‘playful’, and as one reviewer stated, ‘get some wising up along with your recreational time’, how important do you think arts’ role as ‘recreation’ is, as many would argue that its role is much greater than that? What do you think of the relationship between playfulness and politics? In your eyes, with reference to your books, is there such thing as a ‘playfulness of politics’?

Yes. It isn't always effective or appropriate to be playfully political. But whenever it is, I think a lot gets accomplished by helping folks dismantle some of their armour with play.

A piece of artwork by Barbara Kruger once famously asked, ‘why are we shown one picture and not another?’ What do you feel the impact of previously being shown only one picture in children’s (and otherwise) literature, in particular of the representation of gender, and sexuality, has had on audiences?

Ugggggghhhhhhhh, I think it is so deep that most of us are numb to the homogeny of gender expression in books, toys, and movies for young people. Now it is time for us to shake the numbness and just start creating alternatives.

Is this part of what your colouring books hope to combat, by showing diverse pictures that reinforce positive gender roles in all communities?


Has distributing your zine through independent and radical distributors directed your zine towards a specific audience?

Yes. I'm not sure the mainstream distributors would be all that psyched about our books.

Has your decision to produce ‘Girls will be boys will be girls’ as a more accessible book been made as a conscious decision to extend your ideas out to a larger, perhaps more diverse audience? Or were there more pertinent aims and ideals behind the decision to produce a book than this?

Having the book published really solves the problem for us of having to spend so much time distributing, promoting, and making those you-owe-us-money calls. We can spend more time being creative. And the publisher and distributor will do a much more efficient job at getting the book into the hands of more people who can find a bit of liberation in it.

Did producing a book, rather than a zine alter or change the aims you had with your art?

Not at all.

The provocation of your art in inspiring and challenging your audiences is achieved by a combination of illustration and text. What comes first when producing individual pages, the aesthetic image, the words and statements you use, or the political impetus?

Behind every project is first my political impetus. I want everything I make to be true to my personal politics. From there, I seek out images that ask me, beg me, to make commentary on them. Then, if we need to redraw them, we do. Some found images we leave as is or alter in some way.

Author Mark Andersen once stated, in terms of political activism, that ‘creativity is required to sustain struggle and growth’. What are your thoughts on this statement, with reference to your creative work with these zines?

Yahoo! I say bring on as much creativity as we can all muster.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of producing your artwork?

The personal stories people relate to me about some particular page in the books, how it reminds them of them when they were little or makes them angry because they never felt they were presented with these concepts as a child. Sometimes it's the children who have come up to me over the years and said very simply and plainly, "girls will be boys will be girls." It shakes me out of that place in myself that takes that statement for granted because I've been looking at, typing, saying, writing that god-forsaken beautiful phrase 12 million times over the last several years to the point where I realize, whoa! I never would have known that that was even a possibility to say out loud in 1978!

Teaching Rebellion Reviewed on Upside Down World

Teaching RebellionNew Book Surveys Oaxaca Uprising to Teach Rebellion
By Hans Bennett
Upside Down World

“I am 77-years-old. I have two children, eight grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren…My children are scared for me. It’s just that they love me. Everyone loves the little old granny, the mother hen of all those eggs. They say ‘They’re going to send someone to kill you. They’ll put a bullet through you.’ But I tell them, ‘I don’t care if it’s two bullets.’ I’ve become fearless like that. God gave me life and He will take it away when it is His will. If I get killed, I’ll be remembered as the old lady who fought the good fight, a heroine, even, who worked for peace…Hasta la victoria siempre. That’s what I believe,”says Marinita, a lifetime resident of Oaxaca, Mexico. Marinita was one of the many participants in the 2006 Oaxaca rebellion, whose first-hand account is featured in the new book released by PM Press, titled Teaching Rebellion: Stories from the Grassroots Mobilization in Oaxaca.  

Teaching Rebellion does just that: it teaches us why the 2006 rebellion in Oaxaca, Mexico was so impressive, and is something we can all learn from. Edited by Diana Denham and the CASA Collective, Teaching Rebellion provides an overview of the uprising in Oaxaca. It also gives numerous first-hand interviews from participants, including long-time organizers, teachers, students, housewives, religious leaders, union members, schoolchildren, indigenous community activists, artists and journalists. The diverse interviews allow some of those who led themselves in rebellion to also speak for themselves. Political art is featured throughout the book alongside excellent photographs from the uprising.

The introduction, by Diana Denham, Patrick Lincoln, and Chris Thomas, provides an overview of the rebellion to contextualize the participants’ accounts. The story of the 2006 rebellion begins with a teachers’ strike and sit-in that occupied over fifty blocks in the center of Oaxaca City, initiated on May 22, 2006, by the historically active Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union. When the government failed to respond to the teachers’ demands for more educational resources and better working conditions, thousands took to the streets demanding a trial for the hated State Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), believed to have gained office in 2004 through electoral fraud. Five days later, 120,000-200,000 marched and held a popular trial for Governor Ruiz. Yet, the major rebellion was still to come.

On June 14, the police used teargas, firearms, and helicopters to brutally attack both the teachers’ sit-in at the city’s center and the union’s radio station—destroying their equipment and brutalizing the radio operators. This violent attack, meant to stifle the people’s resistance, backfired when the city rose in defense of the teachers. Transmission was taken up by Radio Universidad (at Universidad Autónoma Benito Juárez de Oaxaca) and thousands of supporters helped the union retake the city center that day. Two days later, 500,000 people marched through the city demanding that the federal government remove Governor Ruiz from office.

The next day, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) was formed, eventually comprising over 300 unions, social organizations, indigenous communities, collectives, neighborhoods and student groups. The APPO’s autonomous, non-hierarchical approach in Oaxaca was “a new and original approach to political organizing,” Teaching Rebellion explains, but “it also drew from forms of indigenous self-governance, known as usos and costumbres. The APPO, an assembly by name, emphasizes the input of a diverse body of people who discuss issues and make decisions collectively; similarly, in many indigenous communities in Oaxaca, the assembly is the basis for communal governance. The customs of guelaguetza (which actually refers to reciprocity or ‘the gift of giving’) and tequio (collective, unpaid work for the benefit of the community) are the two traditions most deeply engrained in Oaxacan culture that literally fed the movement.”

With the June 14 police attack, the 2006 Oaxaca rebellion had begun. Teaching Rebellion continues:

“[I]n addition to responding to a police attack on striking teachers or a particularly repressive governor, the movement that surfaced in Oaxaca took over and ran an entire city for six months starting in June 2006. Government officials fled, police weren’t present to maintain even the semblance of responding to social harm, and many of the government institutions and services that we depend on daily were shut down. Without relying on centralized organization, neighborhoods managed everything from public safety (crime rates actually went down dramatically during the course of the six months) to food distribution and transportation. People across the state began to question the established line of western thinking that says communities can’t survive, much less thrive, without the intervention of a separate hierarchy caring for its needs. Oaxaca sent a compelling message to the world in 2006: the power we need is in our hands.”

The book’s introduction elaborates that after the June uprising, “no uniformed police were seen for months in the city of Oaxaca, but paramilitary forces terrorized public spaces occupied by protesters. These death squads, including many plainclothes police officers, sped through the city in unmarked vehicles, shooting at neighbors gathered at the barricades,” which were constructed around the city in defense against death squads and state repression. State repression began to escalate while negotiations were taking place between the APPO and the government, which only made the community more distrustful of the government. On October 28, 2006, over 4,500 federal police troops were sent to Oaxaca, attacking the barricades and retaking the historic city center where they set up a military base that was maintained until mid-December.

On November 2, the police attacked the university campus, home to Radio Universidad, but “in what turned into a seven-hour battle, neighbors, parents, students, and other civilians took to the streets to defend the campus with stones and firecrackers, eventually managing to surround the police and force their retreat.” In another major conflict that month, on November 25, “thousands of protesters marched into the city center and formed a ring around the occupying federal police forces. After a well-planned police attack, several hours of chaos and violence ensued, leaving nearly forty buildings ablaze. Hundreds were beaten, tortured, and arrested that day, and many movement activists and sympathizers not arrested were forced underground.”

This final repression essentially ended the community’s occupation and control of Oaxaca City, but,Teaching Rebellion reports that the struggle is not over: “While a Supreme Court Commission has been named to investigate the human rights abuses, Oaxacans have little faith that a real difference will trickle down. Despite the dead-end government redress the air stirs with the force of a familiar slogan: ‘We will never be the same again.’ The city walls seem to share this sentiment, planted in the post-repression graffiti: ‘Esta semilla germinará,’ from this seed we will grow.”

The First-Hand Accounts

The many featured interviews illustrate the spirits of spontaneity, anti-authoritarianism, and self-defense that were fundamental to the uprising. There is Jenny’s account of accompanying the family of slain US independent journalist Brad Will. The family had traveled to Oaxaca to demand justice for Brad and for all victims of government repression. Cuautli recounts his experience working in the community topiles (basically a people’s police force), formed during the occupation of Oaxaca City, as community defense groups protecting people from government repression as well as “common criminals” who preyed upon other poor people.

Tonia, recalls the women’s “Pots and Pans March” of August 1, 2006, which sparked the spontaneous takeover of the Channel 9 television and radio station by thousands of women. “When we got to the Channel 9 offices, the security guard didn’t want to let us in…The women in the front were asking permission for an hour or two to broadcast, but the employees of Channel 9 said it was impossible. Maybe if they would have given us that one hour and cooperated, then it wouldn’t have gone any further. But with them seeing the number of women present, and still saying no, we decided, ‘Okay then, we’ll take over the whole station…’ Everyone was taken by the spontaneity of it all. Since no one had foreseen what would happen and no one was trained in advance, everything was born in the spur of the moment…One thing I liked is that there were no individual leaders. For each task, there was a group of several women in charge.”

In the middle of the night, August 21, 2006, paramilitary forces destroyed the antennas at the occupied Channel 9. The social movement took immediate action in support of the women, fighting off the police and paramilitary attackers at the antennas, and spontaneously deciding to occupy all eleven of the city’s commercial radio stations. Francisco, an engineering student and radio technician who first got involved with the movement when Radio Universidad was vandalized by apparent police infiltrators, describes these actions from the front lines. He was working the night of August 21 at Radio Universidad when word went out that occupied Channel 9’s Radio Cacerola was down, and people were being attacked at the antennas at Fortín Hill. Francisco recounts, “we got up from our seats and left immediately…We grabbed whatever was available: Molotov cocktails, sticks, machetes, fireworks, stones, and other improvised weapons. But what could we do with our ‘arms’ against Ulises Ruiz’s thugs, who carried AK-47s, high caliber pistols, and so much hatred? Still, we had a lot of courage, the group of us, and in that moment the only important thing was getting to the place where our compañeros were under attack…We made it thanks to our skilled but funny-looking driver, Red Beard, who wore round-framed carpenter goggles covering half of his face, a yellow fireman’s helmet, and red beard. In truth, we all looked pretty funny in our protective gear: leather gloves and layered t-shirts. But wasn’t funny at all was the sound of bullets and screams that we heard on the other side of the hill as we continued onward.”

The busload from Radio Universidad arrived on the tail end of the government attack, and when they met up with their compañeros, they were told that police had shot and injured several people and destroyed the antennas. They searched for any injured compañeros who remained, then left to go help elsewhere. After visiting Radio La Ley, which had just been occupied, they were inspired to take over another station themselves and went to Radio ORO: “When we got there, we knocked on the door of the station and announced with a megaphone: ‘This is a peaceful takeover. Open Up. We are occupying this radio because they’ve taken away our last remaining means of free expression. This is a peaceful takeover. Open Up!’ The security guard opened the door and we entered, without anyone being hit, without insults—we just walked in.” Francisco concludes, “after the takeover, I read an article that said that intellectual and material authors of the takeovers of the radios weren’t Oaxacan, that they came from somewhere else, and that they received very specialized support. The article claimed that it would have been impossible for anyone without previous training to operate the radios in such a short amount of time because the equipment is too sophisticated for just anyone to use. They were wrong.”

Another account comes from former political prisoner David Venegas Reyes, who co-found VOCAL (Oaxacan Voices Constructing Autonomy and Liberty) in February, 2007, for the purposes of challenging the more mainstream and hierarchical elements within the APPO. David, who in October, 2006 was named representative of the barricades to the APPO council, recounts defending the barricades formed after the August 21 radio occupations: “we asked ourselves, ‘how can we defend these takeovers and defend the people inside?’…that’s when my participation, along with the participation of hundreds of thousands of others, began to make a more substantial difference. Because the movement stopped being defined by the announcements of events and calls for support made by the teachers’ union and began to be about the physical, territorial control of communities by those communities, by way of the barricades.”

David recounts that “We originally formed the barricade to protect the antennas of Radio Oro, but the barricade took on a life of its own. You could describe it like a party, a celebration of self-governance where we were starting to make emancipation through self-determination a reality. The barricades were about struggle, confrontation, and organization. We eventually started discussing agreements and decisions made by the APPO Council and the teachers’ union. There were a number of occasions where the barricade chose actions that went against those agreements, which in my view, only strengthened our capacity for organized resistance.”

David says VOCAL “stemmed from an APPO Statewide Assembly when it became evident that there were divergent perspectives with regard to the upcoming elections.” One side felt that the APPO movement “in all its plurality and diversity,” had purposefully excluded “political parties and any corrupt institution,” so getting involved with elections would “attack the unity constructed from diversity of thought and visions that exist within the movement.” The other side wanted to “act pragmatically and participate in the elections with our own candidates.” Those not wanting to participate in elections “that serve to legitimate repressive governments,” and who were distrustful offormed VOCAL. Consequently, VOCAL “turned into a diverse organization where a lot of anti-authoritarian visions and ways of thinking coexist—some rooted in indigenous tradition, like magonísmo, and some more connected to European ideologies. A lot of compañeros who have no particular ideological doctrine are also active in the organization…What we all have in common is our idea of autonomy as a founding principle. We defend the diverse ways of organizing of pueblos and the rights of people to self-govern in all realms of life…Unlike other hegemonic ideologies, we don’t believe that to promote our own line of thought it’s necessary to exclude anyone else’s.” organizations that did,

In April 2007, David was arrested, “with no arrest warrant or explanation. They drove me to an unknown place, where they planted drugs on me, then tried to force me to hold the drugs so that they could take photos. When I refused, they beat me…Finally they presented me with the arrest warrant that accused me of being involved in the social movement and the acts of November 25th. The warrant accused me of sedition, organized crime, and arson. Even as the government fabricated the idea of accusing me of drug possession in an attempt to criminalize and discredit me, they already intended to present the arrest warrant of a political nature once I was in jail.”

On March 5, 2008, after nearly a year in prison, David was released, after he was judged not-guilty by the court on all political charges. However, the CASA Collective’s website reports that since drug charges were still pending, “he was released on bail and forced to report to the court every week for over a year, severely limiting his ability to travel.” On April 21, 2009, Oaxacan judge Amado Chiñas Fuentes found him not guilty on “charges of possession with intent to distribute cocaine and heroin.” Following this verdict, David said, "This innocent verdict, far from demonstrating the health or rectitude of the Mexican legal system, was pulled off thanks to the strength of the popular movement and with the solidarity of compañeros and compañeras from Mexico and various parts of the world. The legal system in Mexico is corrupt to the core and is a despicable tool used by the authorities to subjugate and repress those who struggle for justice and freedom."

Oaxaca: Three Years Later

Three years since the Oaxaca uprising that was sparked by the June 14, 2006 police assault on the striking teachers, the issues behind the rebellion have not been resolved, Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz is still in office, and Oaxaca is still in the news. A 2007 article, The Lights of Xanica, reported on the continuing struggle of the Zapotec community of Santiago Xanica in the Sierra Sur of Oaxaca. In 2009, a controversial U.S. Military-funded mapping project in Oaxaca has met local resistance this year. In May, El Enemigo Común reported that State and Federal police forcibly evicted “community members who had been blocking the entrance to the mining project Cuzctalán in the municipality of San José del Progreso since March 16.” Recently, Narco News reported on heated negotiations between the government and Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union (initiators of the 2006 strike), as well as a robbery and murder committed by State Agency of Investigation agents at a bus terminal in Oaxaca City.

On June 8, 2009 The Committee in Defense of the Rights of the People (CODEP-APPO) reported the assassination of Sergio Martínez Vásquez, member of the State Council of CODEP, arguing that the“way in which it was done and due to some information gathered, everything points to the fact that the material actors of this assassination were paramilitary groups that Ulises Ruiz has operating in the region.”

On June 14, a march in Oaxaca City commemorated the three year anniversary of the 2006 uprising (read report in English or Spanish), and on June 17, a protest encampment in the Zocalo of Oaxaca City was attacked by paramilitaries (read report in English or Spanish).

The future in Oaxaca is unclear, but it is certain that the people will continue to resist, and international solidarity with help to strengthen the local resistance. Be sure and visit for the latest reports and opportunities for international solidarity.

Hans Bennett is an independent multi-media journalist whose website is

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More from Hoshino

On writing Lonely Hearts Killer:

 “After writing Lonely Hearts Killer, I was asked the following by my students and young writers.  ‘We don’t understand why you’d want to problematize the emperor.  Is the emperor really that big of a presence in the lives of people over thirty?’ I felt the same way when I was younger. But then I wondered what would happen to the people of Japan if right here and right now the emperor system were abolished?”
“I feel like Japanese and American societies, and our entire world today for that matter, have gone mad.  When the majority is overtaken by madness, it becomes all the more difficult to explain what madness is or how it manifests.  For that reason I turned to the novel as a venue for trying to make the madness visible.”


Diario De Oaxaca: a Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico
Peter Kuper
PM Press / Editorial Sexto Piso, 978-1-60486-071-9

Kuper’s hardcover opus Diario de Oaxaca, excerpted briefly in Wordless Worlds, is not as distant as it might appear at first glance. Peter Kuper is probably stuck with his best known credit, “Spy vs Spy” in Mad magazine, at least until this publication (in its second half-century and now reduced to quarterly appearance) goes out of business. Kuper inherited the spy piece from another era of Mad, and it has been noticeably wordless all these decades (Kuper took over it over in 1997). The author of arguably the only pantomime strip in widely-distributed comic art, Kuper explored the wordless form throughout his career in graphic novels like The System and Sticks and Stones. With Diario, his sketchbook journal from two years of living in Mexico, he is the observer removed not by silence so much as a keen awareness of his personal status: as visitor.

He is not a tourist exactly. He came to Oaxaca (pronounced Wa-Ha-Ka) in 2006 with his wife and child to take a sabbatical from the Bush-administered United States, as well as to broaden a young daughter’s linguistic skills and sensibilities. It just so happens that earth-shaking developments sweep through the city while he is there: the struggles of Oaxacans against a staggeringly corrupt government, seeking decent wages for public service, turn into class and cultural warfare. Kuper might almost have been the Courbet of the modern Paris Commune, but this uprising is crushed with great violence and dozens of casualties, including American journalist Brad Will. Kuper captures the dramatic events through his writing, drawings, and photos as they unfold, as well as when the city returns to its status as tourist center for foreigners seeking a warm, relaxing good time, close to archeological sites of lost civilizations. During the interim, all kinds of rebellious art and artistic graffiti appears on city walls, some of it reproduced here in drawings and photographs, while he sketches his own family’s daily lives, with equally heavy emphasis on natural surroundings.

Throughout, Kuper demonstrates his fascination with insects, not only the Monarch butterflies (whose breeding grounds are nearby) but also bugs of every variety. From stinging scorpions to corrupt politicians, Kuper draws parallels between the natural beauty and the dangerous reality that Mexicans encounter every day. The insects represent the “jungle of freedom” of the surrealist world view, the proliferation of life forms absent in Western cities but so much a part of homo sapiens’ transhistorical experiences—that is, of the species launched in the hot climates only gradually advancing to colder places.

The wondrous character of the sketches is in no small part their color, as it overflows with the sampling of Mexican art of everyday life. Understandably, the “Day of the Dead” makes a huge impression on the artist, but so do Aztec memories, the masks of assorted celebrations, the colorful dress, the omnipresent dogs, the occupying soldiers armed against an unarmed population, endangered sea turtles, professional wrestlers, pyramids, and other highly assorted phenomena. One is tempted to say “All in Living Color”—but of course, the Dead are among the most vivid inhabitants, and the long-dead civilizations as well. In any case, this is an artist-traveler’s notebook to cherish and flip through almost endlessly. Each visit to its pages will bring the reader some new gift.

Le Confinement Solitaire:

Un Traitemente Décrié
By Éric Clément
La Presse
Selon la direction de la prison d'Angola, il n'y a pas de confinement solitaire en Louisiane. « Il s'agit d'un vieux terme désuet », nous a dit la directrice-adjointe de la prison, Cathy Fontenot, qui maintient que, même maintenus en isolement, les prisonniers « peuvent se rencontrer et ont accès chaque jour au personnel, aux cadres de la prison et aux bénévoles ».

Robert King, qui a passé 29 ans dans ce qu'il considère comme du confinement solitaire, rétorque qu'un juge fédéral a déjà statué que ce type d'isolement était « cruel ».Amnisty International a condamné la pratique de confinement solitaire car elle est contraire aux droits de l'Homme et aux traités internationaux selon lesquels le confinement solitaire prolongé peut être comparé à de la torture et à un traitement inhumain et dégradant.

Terry A. Kupers, psychiatre reconnu aux États-Unis, a étudié les effets psychologiques du confinement solitaire. Il estime que cette pratique cause une « douleur sévère, des souffrances et des dommages psychologiques » pouvant mener au suicide.

« Quand la violence et les taux de suicide ont augmenté de façon vertigineuse dans les prisons à sécurité maximum à la fin des années 80, les autorités auraient dû reconnaître leur erreur en arrêtant la croissance de la population dans les prisons, avec une réforme de la durée des sentences et des programmes communautaires pour traiter les cas de drogues plutôt que d'incarcérer, dit M. Kupers. On aurait pu rétablir les programmes de réhabilitation dont les fonds ont été coupés parce que des politiciens ont peur d'être perçus comme dorlotant les détenus. À la place, les autorités ont sottement créé des unités d'isolement et, depuis, on constate une épidémie de dépressions nerveuses et de suicides découlant d'inactivité à long terme et d'isolement. »

À la suggestion de Mme Cathy Fontenot, directrice adjointe de la prison d'Angola, La Presse a tenté en vain d'avoir des commentaires du Procureur général de la Louisiane, Buddy Caldwell, au sujet du confinement solitaire et des Black Panthers emprisonnés. Mme Fontenot a toutefois tenu à dire que les autorités d'Angola croient plus que tout « en la réhabilitation morale » des prisonniers, « parce que nous avons vu des hommes changer à Angola et que nous supervisons la prison sans oppression et avec justice », dit-elle.

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From the Bottom of the Heap in Political Media Review

By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review

Presenting one’s memoir consciously as that of a former Black Panther Party member, even as simply a factual statement, is bound to bring any such book into some heady company. Think Assata Shakur’s Assata, George Jackson’s Blood in My Eye, Bobby Seale’s Seize the Time and nearly a dozen other autobiographies and biographies. And though From the Bottom of the Heap: The Autobiography Of Black Panther Robert Hillary King (nee Robert King Wilkerson) is no Soul On Ice (Eldridge Cleaver’s bubbling personal manifesto), King’s words percolate with the urgency and determination that made the Panthers once one of North America’s most revolutionary units.

King is best known, along with Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, as one of the Angola Three, leaders of a Black Panther Party chapter in Louisiana’s Angola Prison who served extensive portions (in the case of Wallace and Woodfox, 36 years) of their sentences in solitary confinement. Since his release, King has campaigned endlessly in support of the release of Wallace and Woodfox. He has also spoken out about the flaws in the criminal justice system, the reality of Southern racism that enjoys official support, and the disparities affecting people of African descent which in turn predicated his Black Panther Party membership. In revealing the details of his life, King employs an arresting writing style and welcomes you in to a world to which few have access. 

Heap tells King’s story from his youth growing up in the racially stratified Deep South to incarceration, political engagement and quest for freedom. His prose in plain-spoken yet vulnerable, with accounts of a life lived with much forthrightness and few regrets, though seemingly myriad pains. Yarns like King boxing with a rival named Pugnose as a means of resolving a youth jail code’s double standard affecting boys and girls dating are symbolic of King’s way of storytelling. While his estimations are spot-on, King seems to prefer stepping back and letting the situation speak for itself. Going this course makes for teaching moments on how different society is from King’s teenage years and, in other ways, how the world has barely changed, if at all.

Those expecting harrowing prison tales will not find them so much in this book as there are accounts of the everyday life of a young man dealing with the criminal justice system, social inequality and his own hopes for himself. The delicate negotiations of prison life are plumbed certainly. The conditions the Angola Three dealt with and their decision to resist brutality, as well as the facility’s response to their demands for basic human rights, are frequently sorrowful. King’s courage is nothing short of extraordinary. But really Heap is about much more than politics, survival and adversity. Though Louisiana has yet to atone for the wasted years given by the trio of Black Panther organizers, Heap is one man’s shot at making sure a history and a struggle are not lost now or to future generations.

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