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Cook Food on NWHP

Cook FoodReview: Cook Food by Lisa Jervis
National Women's History Project blog

Cook Food is for you if: you love feminist pop culture, you love food, you want to learn more about sustainable eating, you’re on a budget, you’re vegan-curious, or you just need some cheap, easy, and healthy recipes.

I was so excited to see Cook Food posted on some great vegan food blogs lately. The back story is that the author, Lisa Jervis, is none other than the founding editor of Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, a magazine going strong today. The reviews in the front of the book are written by a veritable who’s who of feminism, veganism, and great fiction writers.

Cook Food is divided into multiple sections that, when combined, create a full-spectrum sourcebook. Jervis explains her philosophy, does a Q & A, shares recipes, and offers a great list of resources to use when embarking on healthier, more sustainable, and enjoyable eating. Cook Food initially struck me as less than the best recipe book for experienced cooks, as the dishes are all fairly basic, but upon closer examination, this seasoned vegan found lots of dishes with new twists that I can’t wait to try.

Get Cook Food for yourself, friends, and family. Jervis writes in a conversational tone that eases any apprehension about uppity health-nut propaganda. She explains that she works towards veganism for health reasons, but doesn’t begrudge anyone a favorite non-vegan food in moderation. She allows for the fact that we each have different tastes and access to different resources, but insists that everyone can upgrade to healthier eating in individual ways. Cook Food claims to be a “manualfesto for easy, healthy, local eating,” and after reading it, I’d have to say the author has done an exceptional job making good on the message she set out to send.

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Lisa Jervis's New Cookbook

Cook FoodA Manualfesto for Easy, Healthy, Local Eating

An obstacle people often face when trying to eat a healthy, green, reasonably priced diet is a lack of cooking skills. Cookbooks don’t always help. Most food authors attempt to teach people how to cook real food (as opposed to opening packages, dumping and stirring) and assume the reader already knows something about cooking.

Other cookbooks are written as if people who don’t already know how to cook must not really want to know how to cook. These cookbooks seem to think that people should just be happy to combine processed foods in innumerable ways to create “quick and easy meals”.

That’s where this new book comes in. Cook Food – which is earning rave reviews – can teach people how to cook simple, tasty, nourishing, whole foods quickly, cheaply, and above all, intelligently. If you know someone who cares about the environment, their body, animals, and taste, yet nobody has ever taught them to cook, give them this book.

Lisa Jervis, who is perhaps best known for being the Founding Editor and Publisher of the magazine Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture, has written a slim, no nonsense book with a can-do attitude. Don’t expect glossy photos. This isn’t aspirational food porn. This is a manualfesto!

Vegan Approach to Sensitive Cooking and Eating

Jervis’s  book is entirely vegan, with very occasional suggestions for adding dairy products if desired, but that’s not really the point, so don’t stop reading just because you don’t happen to bevegan. The book’s main message is that cooking for oneself shouldn’t be challenging, expensive, or time-consuming.

Jervis stresses cooking and eating consciously for your health and the planet. Whether we are meat eaters or not, we all need to eat our vegetables. And most of us could lower our meat consumption for the sake of both our bodies and the planet. Knowing how to prepare tasty veg-centric meals and getting in the habit of eating more of them is a great skill to have.

A Look at Our Food System

By way of introduction as to why the recipes in the book are vegan and almost always seasonal and unprocessed, the author gives a succinct primer on what’s wrong with our food system with many nods to authors like Michael Pollan and Raj Patel.

She touches on complex issues such as why processed soy products aren’t as good for the environment as some people think, and how affordability is relative, and why we shouldn’t worry too much about micronutrients, or (gasp!) salt – all of which serve to get the reader thinking deeply about food.

But Jervis doesn’t want us to think so deeply that we become paralyzed about our food choices, so she ends with a very smart bit of advice: “In the end, we can all only do the best we can, which actually means a lot.”

A Well Stocked Kitchen

Before getting down to cooking, Jervis wants you to have the right supplies. The entire first section of the book talks about what tools, spices and pantry items you absolutely need and which ones you can actually do without. There are different tiers from “must haves” to “nice to haves” to “splurges,” and as a cook, I can say the advice is solid.

Just as solid are her explanations of cooking techniques. Using a friendly, approachable style, Jervis sets out to teach you how to cook. I mean really cook. She defines and describes sautéing, blanching, roasting. She tells why to salt early in the process, how caramelization builds flavor, and how dried herbs behave more like spices and therefore should be added at the beginning, while fresh herbs lose flavor if cooked to long.

The tone is matter-of-fact rather than pedantic, and none of the techniques are dumbed down in the least. Simplified, not stupid. Rather than just imparting recipes, she teaches how to build flavor in a dish, merrily dispensing variation suggestions throughout in order to coax cooks into trusting their own instincts.

Roasting Veggies

My favorite part of the book is the section on roasting vegetables. People are always shocked by how good roasted vegetables done properly with olive oil, salt, and high heat can taste. It’s such a simple thing, yet there is a lot of technique involved that most experienced cooks just do unconsciously, and most cookbooks don’t even attempt to explain.

Jervis’ mini-treatise tells why not to crowd the vegetables (they steam) why you should use a dark pan (they brown better), how to cut (so as to have lots of surfaces to brown) and why to toss them in olive oil with your hands (so the oil penetrates into all the cracks and crevices), and more. Next time someone asks me how I get my roasted vegetables to taste so good, I’m just going to hand them that section of Cook Food.

What You Will Learn From the Book

In the end, the reader gets simple food prepared with solid techniques that can be used for a lifetime of cooking.

Even experienced cooks might learn something from Cook Food. In the recipe for Ginger-Garlic-Sesame Tofu with Spinach, I learned why my tofu doesn’t ever taste all that great when I marinate it and sauté it – because I’ve never pressed it. Turns out that removing all the excess liquid lets the tofu absorb the marinade better and leads to more efficient caramelizing.

I also love the three recipes for Beans n’ Greens (Italian style, Indian style, and Chili style) because such recipes are a great way to eat. Filling,healthy, streamlined, green, efficient. You can feed a lot of people or just yourself all week long with one dish.

My only quibble: I think both the flavor and texture of dried beans from scratch are so superior to canned that it would be a service to readers to tell them that it’s mostly the planning that hangspeople up, not the actually process. You don’t have to do anything to the beans while they are cooking, other than to stir and check them occasionally, and you can use a crockpot, making it even easier. And then you have the beans around to use for quick meals. But then, as the author of a cookbook devoted entirely to dried beans, I would say that!

I’d like people to cook more dried beans so they can experience how good they are, but at the risk of making the perfect the enemy of the good, I’ll agree with Jervis. If the best you can do on any given night is open a can of beans, that’s okay, “because it actually means a lot.”

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Interview with Gabriel Kuhn

Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy – Interview with Gabriel Kuhn
By Nora Räthzel
Darkmatter: In the Ruins of Imperial Culture


In November 2009, PM Press released Gabriel Kuhn’s Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy, a study analyzing the most legendary pirate era from ethnographic, sociological and political angles. Gabriel Kuhn is a writer and translator who currently resides in Sweden. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Nora Räthzel, sociologist at the University of Umeå, Sweden, has interviewed him about his upcoming book.

For those not too familiar with pirate history: what is the golden age?

The golden age refers to the heyday of the piracy that emerged in the Caribbean in the late 17th century before spreading to the Indian Ocean and eventually to the west coast of Africa. Basically all of the popular Euro-American pirate images derive from this era, whether we encounter them in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island or in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. The Jolly Roger, the most powerful of all pirate symbols, stems from the golden age too. Historians give the era different frames, but we are roughly looking at the period from 1690 to 1725.

Why did piracy become so strong then?

Sea robbery had occurred in the Caribbean for more than a hundred years prior to the golden age. In the 16th century, when the run for the colonies in the Caribbean and in the Americas began, European powers sent sea robbers as a sort of unofficial mercenary force to the region to plunder ships of their colonial rivals. As legend has it, Francis Drake was called “my pirate” by Queen Elizabeth.

In the 17th century, an outlaw hunting community gathered on the island of Hispaniola, today divided into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The community consisted of marooned or shipwrecked sailors, runaway servants and slaves, adventurers and dropouts. They were called the buccaneers after a meat-smoking practice they adopted from the indigenous Carib Indians. When they took to sea robbery to supplement their income, they began serving a similar role to the likes of Drake, being issued with a “letter of marque” by one colonial power and attacking ships of another. Eventually, some buccaneer expeditions gained military-like dimensions, the successful 1671 attack on Spanish-ruled Panama under Henry Morgan serving as the most famous example.

By the end of the 17th century, colonial policies had changed enough to render the buccaneers’ services increasingly less important. This left many of them without an income. As a consequence, they continued their attacks on merchant ships indiscriminately and turned, in the words of some historians, into “pirates proper”: a community of sea robbers who would no longer serve a particular master but who “waged war on the whole world,” as Captain Charles Johnson’s General History of the Pirates famously puts it. This was the beginning of the golden age.

For three decades the golden age pirates were surprisingly successful. Then they were crushed by combined efforts of the powers that had created them. It’s a scenario very similar to many we see today: governments equip men to fight in their interests – and then criminalize and persecute them when they are no longer useful.

So golden age piracy is directly bound to colonialism?

Most certainly. Without European colonization there wouldn’t have been a golden age of piracy. And not only because Europeans wouldn’t have traveled to the Caribbean or to the Indian Ocean, but also because golden age piracy was a direct result of activities that were financed and encouraged by colonial powers.

The relations between the golden age pirates and the colonial era are complicated, because once pirates started to prey on ships of all nations they began to pose a threat to the economic profitability of the colonies and therefore to the colonial enterprise itself. However, this doesn’t change the fact that they are an inherent part of the colonial legacy. To portray golden age pirates as some kind of anti-colonial force seems misleading. Many of the pirate strongholds of the golden age – in the Caribbean, on Madagascar and along the West African coast – functioned as renegade colonial outposts. True, they were not established under the flag of any European nation state, but they still reinforced the control of Europeans over native populations.

Can you elaborate on this? Some historians have claimed that pirate crews overcame the racial prejudices of their times?

Whenever we talk about what golden age pirate crews did or did not do, we are facing a serious problem, namely a lack of reliable sources. We have no logbooks, diaries, letters – not a single document that would provide an “authentic” image of what life was like on their ships. All we have is what in a court of law would go as “circumstantial” evidence: newspaper articles, court transcripts, governmental records.

This leaves the role that non-Europeans played on golden age pirate ships very unclear. On the one hand, there are indications that some Caribbean Indians and Africans who sailed on pirate ships were full crew members, sometimes very respected ones. On the other hand, there are many indications that Indians and Africans were used as laborers or servants. It is interesting to note that when the British Navy hunted down the most notorious of all golden age pirate captains, Bartholomew Roberts, basically all of his nearly two hundred European crew members were brought to trial, while the seventy-five Africans were sold into slavery. This might just reflect the attitudes of the British officials at the time – but it might also indicate the status these men really had.

I think it is true that pirate crews offered a chance for non-Europeans to live relatively free lives when this was practically impossible anywhere else within European society. It must also be true that the lure of freedom that drew Europeans to piracy drew runaway slaves to piracy too. So I’m not denying that there has been an element of transgressing racial limitations in the pirate experience. However, to portray golden age pirate communities sweepingly as “multiracial” or “post-racial” seems very bold to me.

Can you say something about the relations between the golden age pirates and the slave trade?

Again, it’s not a clear-cut issue. It seems well documented that some of the golden age pirates’ strongholds doubled as slave trading posts, especially in Madagascar and West Africa. According to the records, it also seems likely that slaves were mostly considered cargo like any other when pirates took a slave ship and that they were sold at the next best opportunity.

At the same time, it is unlikely that all golden age pirates were involved in the slave trade. Some Africans sailing as full crew members makes it appear improbable that slaves would have been treated as mere commodities on their ships. Then again, freeing some slaves didn’t end slavery in the US-American South either… We simply don’t know.

Some historians have suggested a strong anti-slavery moment among golden age pirates because they disrupted the slave trade that developed in West Africa. This is a questionable conclusion. It is true that the pirates’ activities disrupted the slave trade and that this was one of the reasons why the authorities became ever more determined to hunt them down. However, we are not talking about an interference based on enlightened moral values here. The pirates interfered with the slave trade in the same way that organized crime interferes with alcohol or tobacco sales: the pirates hurt the official slave trading industry by claiming a share of its profits – not by challenging the trade per se.

It has also been suggested that some golden age pirates attacked slave ships to free all Africans on board. Even if this is true – and the stories don’t seem very convincing to me – such events must have been exceptional.

Golden age pirates have been described as communities transcending national boundaries too. Would you agree?

The concept of the nation is a difficult one to deal with. If we speak of nation states, yes, the golden age pirates defied this concept and all that goes with it: citizenship, borders, administrative rule. The Jolly Roger remains a powerful symbol in this sense alone. Did the golden age pirates lose all sense of national identity, though, as in: all sense of belonging to a particular group of people united by language, geography, heritage, or whatever else can be used to construe a “nation”? Hardly so.

It is true that in certain ways golden age pirates overcame the national boundaries that were still characteristic of the buccaneer communities. In the golden age, Anglo-American, French and Dutch pirates fought together rather than against one another. However, most other nationalities remain conspicuously absent from golden age pirate ships, most notably the Spanish. The main colonial rivalry of the Americas was hence still reflected in the makeup of the pirate crews. In general, the multinational melting pots that golden age pirate crews are sometimes made out to be seem overrated. The overwhelming majority of golden age pirates were Anglo-American. There were significant numbers of French and Dutch pirates, but only a smattering of pirates from other European nations, and some Indians and Africans. Arguably, the population of most colonies at the time was more diverse than golden age pirate crews. True, national identity among the pirates might have been more flexible, horizontal and egalitarian, but prejudices and conflicts certainly remained.

In short, given the absence of a nation state as an authoritarian unifying concept, there was definitely an anti-national streak in golden age piracy and its political significance must not be neglected. Yet, to imagine a utopian paradise where national allegiances of all sorts had evaporated seems to simplify matters.

It appears, though, that this anti-national streak was a very characteristic feature of golden age piracy – also one that would distinguish the golden age from other pirate eras.

It is at least related to what I would call the most distinguishing feature of golden age piracy, namely its nomadism. This aspect is missing in all other great eras of piracy, whether we are talking about piracy off the North African coast in the 16th century, piracy in the South China Sea in the 1800s, or piracy along the Somali coast now. Golden age pirates had no home, no permanent land base, no community they were part of, could retreat to and disappear in. When asked where they came from, they famously replied “From the Sea.” They had safe havens, allies and business partners on land, but these ties were merely pragmatic and very fleeting.

The nomadic aspect of golden age piracy is very unique – and very fascinating, in many ways. It is the reason why all of our popular pirate images relate to this era: the golden age pirate, more so than any other pirate, is the ultimate outlaw, one who has cut of all ties with the conventions of a bourgeois life: home, security, stability. No surprise then that he’s been such a common focus of projection: both by the bourgeois who sees his secret desires fulfilled, and by the radical who finds her dreams of liberation materialized.

The final part of your book discusses the political legacy of golden age pirates and whether they can inform contemporary radicals. Can they?

Well, they obviously do. Look at how present the Jolly Roger is in radical circles: it adorns autonomous spaces, appears on anti-globalization rallies and is a favorite in any radical art show. The question is whether this is mere romanticism or whether there is any substance to back up such adaptation. I think this is an important distinction to make. Nothing against romanticism, but when it becomes a dominant force in politics it can prevent both complex analysis and convincing vision.

I do believe that there is substance behind the radical embrace of golden age pirates. Certain characteristics must appeal to any radical endeavor: 1. an uncompromising defiance of authority; 2. risking one’s life for freedom rather than saving one’s life in chains; 3. setting a remarkable example of direct democracy (the egalitarian organization of pirate crews is not disputed even by the most conservative historians).

However, golden age pirates were no model revolutionaries, no principled socialists, no perpetrators of a class war. I think that we can learn much more from golden age pirates if we take their shortcomings into account rather than making unsupported claims. The most important shortcomings seem to be: 1. a lack of moral perspective beyond an immediate group of peers; 2. a lack of social organization beyond the confines of one’s own ship; 3. a lack of long-term political vision; 4. an economic dependency on one’s enemies. In short, the golden age pirate communities were not sustainable. They had no inherent mechanisms for reproduction, preservation, progression. It is telling that they lasted for but one generation.

Your book covers a lot of ground – we have talked about colonialism, nationality, race, radical politics, and there are chapters on gender, sexuality, disability, Friedrich Nietzsche etc. How do all these parts tie together?

By reflecting upon golden age piracy from many angles, I’m trying to add perspectives that might not have been voiced before. Due to the mentioned lack of first-hand sources, the study of golden age piracy involves endless speculation. Of course certain theories are much more plausible than others, and spouting random nonsense is as meaningless, boring and offensive as claiming a truth that isn’t there. But the inevitability of speculation is part of the pirate mystique and an important factor for our never-ending fascination with the subject.

It is really important to note, though, that this is not a historical book. I am no historian and by no means do I want do compete with the people who have done marvelous work in the field, scholars like Marcus Rediker, David Cordingly and others. My work is entirely indebted to theirs. They’ve unearthed the material that I’m using for my interpretations. Some of my interpretations might differ from theirs, but how are you going to contribute to a debate if you don’t dare to differ?

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Infoshop News Reviews Life Under the Jolly Roger

Review: Life Under the Jolly Roger
By Peter Gelderloos
Infoshop News


In Life Under the Jolly Roger (PM Press 2009), Gabriel Kuhn takes on the far flung sources regarding golden age piracy (primarily in the Caribbean at the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th) not in order to establish a definitive truth about them but to dispel myths, clarify what we can know for sure about the pirates and what realistic questions remain, and to elucidate what the pirate legacy might mean for people today who also see themselves as excluded by or at war with the developing global order.

With a mastery of social theory and a comfortable deployment of the great body of research he has mined, Kuhn examines the pirates ethnographically and sociologically and subjects them to the theories of Clastres, Foucault, Nietzsche, Deleuze and Guattari, and sundry others. None of this is to say that the book is dense or obscure. Quite the contrary. Kuhn certainly writes for the agile reader, but rather than dropping names and assuming one can automatically place the reference within a well developed theoretical framework, Kuhn quotes at length to show how golden age piracy fits into these influential social theories and thus fills in a missing piece in our understanding of the world. In this way, Kuhn's sincerely curious, detailed, and multifaceted investigation of piracy helps us reconfigure our historical understanding of such broad themes as the development of capitalism, colonialism, race, discipline and the human body, physical disability, rebellion and political violence, guerrilla warfare, and more. The book has the potential of becoming something of a milestone achievement in this regard, similar to Silvia Federici's Caliban and the Witch, though Kuhn's subject matter is decidedly more limited.

Sometimes the limitations he sets leaves me feeling like part of the picture is missing, and leaves important questions unanswered, such as: what was the connection between the golden age Caribbean pirates and the earlier Muslim and renegade pirates of North Africa, studied by Peter Lamborn Wilson? But in general Kuhn is just being specific and disciplined, setting himself a subject matter distinct enough that it can be properly analyzed, rather than going after all pirates, anywhere, at any time. And he also maps out at length the direct predecessors of the golden age pirates, the buccaneers, so the sense of history is not left lacking.

I found particularly fascinating the analysis of the transatlantic ship as a space for the creation of new social relationships that laid the ground for factory production; Kuhn makes clear how historically significant a few thousand pirates were in negating and temporarily opposing the development of capitalism, given the antiauthoritarian and undisciplined counter-model of the pirate ships.

The book is definitely written in an academic style, and it seems Kuhn is attempting to intervene and leave his mark in the professional discourse on piracy as much as he is trying to talk to fellow anarchists about pirates. I have long been curious about the attraction the academy exerts on some anarchists, and I think there is as much to gain as there is to lose from this liaison. On the positive side, a more disciplined style of research us shed the incorrect and self-serving histories that have found their way into anarchist folklore, so that, for example, we don't go around like idiots talking about a pirate utopia, Libertalia, that probably never existed and in any case is exemplary of liberal democracy rather than anarchy. (I've fallen for that same lie, sadly in a text that is now going to print. If only I had read Kuhn's book first!)

But the detraction of academic discourse is its conservatism. Perhaps the most powerful criticism within that milieu is the charge of romanticism, and anywhere one looks one sees academics falling over themselves to run in the opposite direction. And while I daresay Kuhn does not fall or stumble in the course of this book, I do notice a certain conservatism that is surprising coming from a fellow anarchist. For example, there's the occasional usage of words like “cutthroat” as though it has any meaning, terms loaded with a bourgeois weight, like “crooked merchants” to describe traders who took plundered goods from pirates. Kuhn seems to privilege conservative myth-busting to radical romanticism. I appreciate his honesty in exposing the racism of the pirates and their participation in the slave trade; however in his presentation he heavily privileges this information at the expense of information on the connection between piracy and slave rebellions, which was in fact so strong a connection that it motivated the legislation of race and segregation in the new colonies. Kuhn mentions this latter information, but in passing, making it seem that he is more interested in busting the myth of racially liberated and liberating pirates than in exploring the complexity that this contradiction between pirate slavetrading and pirate support for slave rebellions suggests.

After all, a goal of anarchists is to inspire people. To do this, we don't need to tell lies, but we do need to accomplish a certain unbalanced telling of facts and stories, and by unbalanced I do not mean skewed but in motion, infused with a crazy hope that this system is sinking and we can help send it to Davy Jone's locker, as it were. Gabriel Kuhn does not at all hide his politics, but he also engages in a preexisting discourse that doesn't rock the boat too much. He does us a service of disabusing us of certain tall tales, but it seems that whenever he offers information about the pirates that might be inspiring, he does so in a very balanced, grounded way that is more useful to academics than to anarchists.

But even as he discrediting pirate myths that anarchists have long cherished, he offers us something even more helpful: the observation that, in fact, fairy tales do not become any less important than real histories, because of what they represent for an insurgent imagination. As Kuhn suggests, the romanticization of pirates as antiauthoritarian rebels seems to be part of the pirate phenomenon from the beginning, and that imaginary myth may have played the important role of keeping radical dreams alive throughout a century when these dreams could find no solid expression in the reactionary socio-political order that reigned from the mid-seventeenth to mid-eighteenth centuries, between the era of the Ranters and Levellers to the era of democratic revolutions.

In the end, Kuhn does a masterful job of convincingly detailing life under the jolly roger, but he does far more than that, by calling on this phenomenon to deepen our understanding of contemporaneous processes in history at a point when capitalism was first starting to develop, and by hinting at the importance of imagination in the course of history. Thus all the romanticism surrounding pirates is not meaningless: people thirst for rebellion and unfettered freedom, and if they cannot live it themselves, they will create in an imaginary world or see it in the frontier region of this one, until such time as they can seize it for themselves.

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Mexico Unconquered and Wobblies and Zapatistas

Power From Below
By Bill Weinberg
WIN Magazine

Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism, and Radical History
By Staughton Lynd and Andrej Grubacic
PM Press, 2008, 300 pages, $20.00

Mexico Unconquered: Chronicles of Power and Revolt
By John Gibler
City Lights Books, 2009, 356 pages, $16.95

It is welcome to see two new entries at the bookstore on the Zapatistas and related revolutionary movements in Mexico—issues that have slipped from the U.S. headlines even as nightmarish violence escalates rapidly just across the border. Both of these books also have something to add to the long debate about armed struggle and how it relates to unarmed, civil popular movements.

John Gibler’s Mexico Unconquered is most useful in its first-hand reportage from across a swath of social struggles. Gibler speaks with peasants in impoverished villages of Guerrero and Michoacán, where residents are terrorized by security forces acting under the rubric of drug enforcement. From the U.S. border, he offers a chilling interview with a pollero who smuggles desperate migrants across the line—proffering a perilous desert journey for an exorbitant price. He portrays a lawless society in which the poor are left with the choices of submitting to hunger and humiliation, heading north, or fighting back.

Gibler visits the Zapatista rebel zones in the jungle canyons of Chiapas, where Maya peasants have for 15 years been constructing their own living model of indigenous autonomy—an armed movement that has managed to survive and maintain its turf through political rather than military means.

Two civil movements Gibler focuses on are those at the village of Atenco in central Mexico, which was brutally occupied by police following protests in 2006, and in the southern state of Oaxaca, which saw a popular uprising against a corrupt governor that same year. The Oaxaca movement included marches and sit-ins but also “throwing rocks at the riot police [and] burning tires at the barricades.”

Gibler’s most important contribution is his prison interview with Gloria Arenas—“Colonel Aurora” of the Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI). Arenas was arrested in 1999, along with her husband Jacobo Silva Nogales (“Comandante Antonio”) and charged with leading the guerrilla movement in the mountains of Guerrero. She tells how she was politicized in her youth in the Sierra Zongolica of Veracruz, where campesinos faced repression for organizing to defend their lands from rapacious logging operations. The 1998 massacre at Guerrero’s El Charco village—where soldiers killed several ERPI militants and civilian sympathizers in a surprise attack on a schoolhouse—is related. And new light is shed on the ERPI’s emergence from the more Leninist and doctrinaire Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR).

Arenas cites the Zapatistas’ ethic of mandar obedeciendo (command by obeying) as offering a more democratic alternative, in which decision-making power flows up from the base rather than being imposed from above. She also speaks of armed struggle as part of a praxis with civil social movements, a tactic to be used “depending on the circumstances, but not defined by dogma independently of experience.” (True to form, the EPR issued orders for Comandante Antonio’s death when he broke away to form the ERPI.)

More theoretical and frankly meandering is Wobblies and Zapatistas, a series of interviews between anarchist scholar Andrej Grubacic and the revered radical historian, conscientious objector, and veteran antiwar and civil rights activist Staughton Lynd. The conversation starts out with the Chiapas rebellion and the Industrial Workers of the World—“the Zapatistas of yesteryear,” in Lynd’s phrase—but makes brief stops with the community organizing efforts of former steelworkers in post-industrial Youngstown, the 1946 general strike in Oakland, the Vietnam-era antiwar movement, and the 1980s revolutionary upsurges of Central America. Lynd ties it all together with his concept of “accompaniment”—basically, throwing one’s lot in with oppressed, sharing the burdens and risks of their struggles.

Grubacic and Lynd are concerned with the potentialities of movements that seek fundamental social change “without taking over the state,” drawing from both a Marxist analysis of capitalism’s dynamics and an anarchist critique of centralized power. While they are clearly inspired by the Zapatistas, Lynd acknowledges that the Chiapas revolutionaries have fallen short of their ambitions to build a unified movement across Mexico. He also concedes that their intransigent opposition to traditional political parties (even of the left) has been criticized by some Mexican activists and commentators as counterproductive—helping to bring the right to power.

Lynd brings a similarly nuanced analysis to the question of nonviolence, speaking of his personal commitment to the principle and how it developed in the antiwar movement of the 1960s, how he perceives its applicability to many of the struggles discussed—yet without portraying it as an absolute or uniform solution.

Grubacic is from the former Yugoslavia, and inevitably this discussion touches on the question of “humanitarian intervention”—unfortunately occasioning the book’s one failure of intellectual honesty. Grubacic’s question is contemptuously dismissive of those who are concerned about Darfur and Tibet or were concerned about Kosova ten years ago. And Lynd’s answer is just as bad, summing up U.S. war aims in the Balkans as “to destroy the last vestiges of public ownership in Serbia,” without even mentioning the ethnic cleansing. There may be a case to be made that U.S. war aims were those he depicts, and there is certainly a good case against “humanitarian intervention” as counterproductive hubris. But failure to even acknowledge the atrocities is simply dodging the question. One would hope for words that would encourage solidarity between the Zapatistas and the Bosnians, Kosovars, or Tibetans—rather than a glib betrayal of the latter groups.

Lynd is more honest on the limitations and complexities of nonviolence when he looks into U.S. history. He acknowledges the critical role of the abolitionists—“the strongest nonviolent movement in United States history,” at least up to that point. But he also acknowledges that it was the Union army and its merciless war that ultimately destroyed the slave system. “Could slavery have been ended in any other way?” he asks. “Was this humanitarian intervention justified? I do not know the answer.”

Bill Weinberg is author of Homage to Chiapas: the New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso, 2000) and editor of the online World War 4 Report.

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Peace and Prisons

The Not-So-Hidden Connection
By Matt Meyer
WIN Magazine

"We must work together to set free those who are bound, to turn our swords and spears into plowshares.” When Argentine Nobel Peace prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel lent his words to the foreword of my recently published Let Freedom Ring: Documents from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners, he did so to help underscore the links between peace and prisons.

The economic justice issues so prevalent in the growth of the prison-industrial complex are one side of the same coin encapsulating the political issues concerning disarmament, the draft, small weapons, and the growing military-industrial complex.

When the War Resisters League sponsored a forum in Washington, D.C., at the very end of Witness Against Torture’s Hundred Days campaign, spotlighting President Obama’s first 100 days in office and monitoring his commitment to shut down Guantánamo and end torture, we were trying to make the same connections.

Witness Against Torture (WAT) began late in 2005 when a walk to Guantánamo brought a team of U.S. peace activists and Catholic Workers to Cuba to attempt to make direct contact with those imprisoned on the military facility. Beyond raising the moral issue of the inhumanity of torture, the walkers were making human connections across the prison walls.

It is no coincidence that so many who were willing to take the trip south and make the long walk were also connected to the Plowshares community—which for more than two decades have been putting their bodies on the line, destroying warheads and doing significant prison time.

WAT, like the Plowshares movement, is more than simply a symbolic endeavor. “Even if we could not get close to the prison,” noted Frida Berrigan, WRL National Committee member and daughter of Plowshares founders, “with each step we could tell the story of how far the Bush administration had gone to hide its torture and abuse of prisoners.”

Two additional Plowshares activists who were part of the D.C. forum, Susan Crane and Sister Anne Montgomery, shared some of their own experiences in U.S. prisons. Both of them made close friendships with non-pacifist political prisoners from the Puerto Rican and white anti-imperialist movements.

In linking personal predicament with political strategy, some unity was forged—not based on agreement about tactics or philosophy but based on a shared understanding that it will take more than just words to turn the United States toward a peace based on justice.

War Resisters’ International (WRI) leader Joanne Sheehan rounded out the conversation, linking U.S. prison and anti-militarist issues to the work of global anti-conscription and conscientious objector rights advocates. The work of WRI has many practical local implications, as evidenced by Sheehan’s Youthpeace work with young people looking for alternatives to the military in her own Connecticut locality.

Some may still question why a group focused on peace should be interested in prison issues, or why nonviolent activists should be part of coalitions about political imprisonment or torture with people far from the pacifist position. A look at the work of WAT, WRI, Plowshares, or others clearly demonstrates that we are, indeed, fighting the same fight.

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Law Enforcement at Home, Military Abroad

WIN Magazine
Fall 2009

Why were there 200 arrests at the G20 and none at the “tea party” protests two weeks before? Policing has historically targeted people of color, poor people, and young people. This is the system that ultimately determines who ends up behind bars. A look at U.S. military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan shows a similar trend: civilian targets in small villages with an Arab population.

This time out, WIN asks its readers to look at law enforcement in the United States and the military abroad as two sides of the same coin—coin being the operative word.



Women Resist Behind Bars
By Victoria Law
Illustrations by Rachel Galindo
WIN Magazine

Women have resisted and protested their conditions of confinement since the start of separate female prisons in the 1800s. However, despite the growing body of literature examining female incarceration, little attention has been paid to what women do to change or protest their conditions, thus reinforcing prevailing stereotypes of women as passive victims and the belief that incarcerated women do not organize. Researchers, scholars, and activists continue to focus on the causes, conditions, and effects of women’s incarceration while ignoring the women’s attempts to change or protest these circumstances.

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Prison Abolition, Political Prisoners, and the Building of Critical Resistance: Linda Thurston Talks Community
By Matt Meyer
WIN Magazine

Linda Thurston is a founding member of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, coordinated the New England and National Criminal Justice Programs of the American Friends Service Committee, and has worked with Boston and New York Jericho and with Critical Resistance. Linda is the office coordinator at the War Resisters League national office.

Matt Meyer: You have a long history of working not just for political prisoners, but for the rights and freedom of prisoners in general, as well as for prison abolition. You’ve worked with a number of the key regional and national organizations in this field. Would you share some of those experiences?

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Peace and Prisons: The Not-So-Hidden Connection
By Matt Meyer
WIN Magazine

"We must work together to set free those who are bound, to turn our swords and spears into plowshares.” When Argentine Nobel Peace prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel lent his words to the foreword of my recently published Let Freedom Ring: Documents from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners, he did so to help underscore the links between peace and prisons.

The economic justice issues so prevalent in the growth of the prison-industrial complex are one side of the same coin encapsulating the political issues concerning disarmament, the draft, small weapons, and the growing military-industrial complex.

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A Hard Won Freedom: From the Bottom of the Heap
By Mel Motel
WIN Magazine

I had the honor of spending some time with the only freed member of the Angola 3 in April 2009 when he swung through Vermont on his book tour. Starting softly, in front of an audience of 60, King grew in volume and intensity as he arrived at the focus of his talk: prisons as an extension of chattel slavery. His style was narrative and circular; he weaved in and out of events and concepts, blending past with present. The first two-thirds of From the Bottom of the Heap resemble this warm, sprawling narrative, mostly reflections on his childhood as he bounces from rural Louisiana to New Orleans, from grandmother to cops to train-hopping hobos.

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The Real Cost of Prisons Comix
By Hans Bennett
Reprinted from Z Magazine, February, 2009

The new book The Real Cost of Prisons Comix, reprints three comic books published as part of the Real Costs of Prisons Project (RCPP), which began in 2000. So far, 125,000 comic books have been printed, with over 100,000 distributed for free to community groups and college classes alike. Featuring artwork by Kevin Pyle, Sabrina Jones and Susan Willmarth, all three comic books can be freely downloaded at

Prison abolitionists Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Craig Gilmore write in the book’s introduction that the RCPP’s value “has been to show us how the system of mass incarceration permeates our lives, who is paying the costs of that system and the many ways the system is vulnerable to people who put their thought and effort into organizing to shrink it.” Significantly, the RCPP’s comics “demonstrate that the ideas we need to change the world can be explained simply enough and packaged attractively enough to be used by all kinds of readers.” Prisoners and their families can “understand material usually circulated only among academics and those who focus on policy.”

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Mexico Unconquered and Wobblies and Zapatistas: Power From Below
By Bill Weinberg
WIN Magazine

Grubacic and Lynd are concerned with the potentialities of movements that seek fundamental social change “without taking over the state,” drawing from both a Marxist analysis of capitalism’s dynamics and an anarchist critique of centralized power. While they are clearly inspired by the Zapatistas, Lynd acknowledges that the Chiapas revolutionaries have fallen short of their ambitions to build a unified movement across Mexico. He also concedes that their intransigent opposition to traditional political parties (even of the left) has been criticized by some Mexican activists and commentators as counterproductive—helping to bring the right to power.

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Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women
By Cassandra Shaylor
Reprinted from Left Turn Magazine

In the summer of 1974, women incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York held seven guards hostage in protest of the brutal treatment of activist prisoner Carol Crooks, who had successfully sued the prison for locking people in segregation without a hearing. State troopers and guards from men’s prisons were called in to suppress the rebellion. In the end, 25 women were injured and 24 were transferred without a hearing to the state institution for the “criminally insane.” Despite the attention in both mainstream and activist circles to the uprising led by men at Attica prison in the same state three years earlier, the August Rebellion at Bedford Hills went virtually unnoticed.

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KSR at SF in SF

Readings in October, the Feedback

The readings and Q&A sessions Stan Robinson conducted in October in various Californian cities for the launch of The Lucky Strike are now finished.

Some of them were recorded:

First, the Agony Column had an extensive coverage of the October 17th event organized by SF in SF, complete with readings, panel discussion and interviews. Present were also Eric Simons, who also did a reading of his novel on following the footsteps of Charles Darwin (literally), and Terry Bisson, who hosted the reading and discussion panel that followed. Stan's reading was actually a selection of passages from the Lucky Strike that give you a feeling of what it's about.

In the excellent words or Rick Kleffel: "And with this reading from his novella, you get the best of both worlds. Robinson abridged his story while reading at SF in SF, off-the-cuff, so to speak, reading selections here and there that boil down the story and give a perfect verbal version of the much longer written version. What’s so nice is that when you listen to the reading, you can get the emotional and intellectual shock of Robinson's story. You'll feel the literal blast that he describes as he reads. But because Robinson has read a self-abridged version of his longer story, you can still go out, but the book and read the story to get the fully fleshed-out as well as the live reading audio experience. This is a very clever move on his part, and not just because he sells you a book. No, it's much better than that. As a listener and a reader, you'll get to experience the same set events from two equally powerful perspectives; the reading experience will enhance the audio and vice versa, but in a different manner. It's a fascinating experiment for the writer and the reader."

The reading of The Lucky Strike was followed by a reading of A Sensitive Dependance On Initial Conditions, which is also part of the recent Lucky Strike publication by PM Press (I have/had not read it until now and I found it nothing short of amazing).

Suitably enough, the two authors' novels, one on Darwin and one on Galileo, fuelled the discussion that followed. The process of history, travelling (including a question on Escape From Kathmandu!) and writing. Robinson didn't miss the opportunity to express his disbelief at the technological Singularity, something he sees as a bad recurring science fiction idea that as of lately has replaced the preceding fad, nanotechnology, in the minds of certain SF writers.

Links: the reading; the panel; the interview.

Second, the reading at Stan's "favorite bookstore on this planet": Moe's Books, on October 22nd. The recording includes Terry Bisson's reading from his parodic "The Left Left Behind", a reading of "The Lucky Strike" similar to the above, and a reading of another of Robinson's shorts, "Prometheus Unbound, At Last"!

Also, Shareable has posted an excerpt of the interview Terry Bisson conducted with Stan for the Lucky Strike publication.

Thanks to Ramsey from PM Press for the feedback (and, well, for making the books a reality in the first place!).

If you attended these or another of the readings and have feedback or interesting tidbits to share, feel free to comment below.

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Science Fiction and Politics

By Ron Jacobs

Paul Kantner and Grace Slick of the Jefferson Airplane released an album titled Blows Against the Empire in 1970.  Besides the fact that it had an incredible lineup of San Francisco area musicians, it was also interesting because of its science fiction theme.  Loosely based on Robert Heinlein's novel Methuselah's Children, the album was about a spaceship that had been hijacked by a group of revolutionaries determined to create a new world.  If one considers the political milieu of the time the album was created, this desire for revolutionary escape had a certain poetic sense.  The antiwar movement had failed to stop the US war on Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and the black liberation movement was being murderously destroyed by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.  Richard Nixon and his henchmen were enhancing an already existing police state apparatus and, to put it bluntly, it looked like the revolution the Airplane had cheered on in their 1969 album titled Volunteers was nothing more than a failed dream.

Kantner, like many members of his generation (including Jimi Hendrix), was an avid reader of science fiction.  So, since it didn't look like the revolution was going to happen on Planet Earth, why not write a science fiction story where it occurred in the heavens?  The album is a blend of musical styles, from a sweet rendition of the Rosalie Sorrels song "The Baby Tree" to the hard rock anthem "Mau Mau (We are the Amerikon) that begins the disc.  However, the strength of the work lies in its story about the hijacked starship, the struggles within the crew after the hijacking and the eventual decision to begin anew and leave the old world of war and greed behind.

This past October was the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry.  The failure of that raid and the subsequent trial and hanging of Brown and most of his troops were some of the first salvos of the US Civil War.  Brown's famous statement at the gallows that the "crimes of this guilty land purged away but with blood" were some of the most prescient words ever written in US history.  They were also a revolutionary call to arms that would propel that struggle against the stain of slavery out of the meeting houses and into the cities,  fields, mountains and valleys of the United States. 

As we approach the December 2nd anniversary of Brown's hanging, try to imagine an alternate scenario.  John Brown and his troops did not get captured that autumn day in 1859.  Instead, they made their way back into the hills surrounding Harper's Ferry and set up a camp.  While militias and eventually US troops gathered in the towns around the mountain where Brown and his men were camped, a fire burned on the mountain like a beacon to all those men-white and black--who desired an end to slavery and a free nation of all men and women together.  Instead of an insurrection fought by slavers and their allies designed to create a nation where the plantation and slave economy would continue to exist, there was an insurrection led by those wanting a nation where neither slavery or wage slavery existed.  Now imagine this latter insurrection succeeding and creating a new nation based on these principles and calling itself Nova Africa. 

This is exactly the scenario science fiction author Terry Bisson has created in his novel Fire On the Mountain. Bisson dedicates the book to the Black Liberation Army, among others.  This edition includes a forward by Mumia Abu Jamal.  Bisson was a member of the John Brown Anti-Klan Committees during their campaign in the 1970s and 1980s against racism, apartheid, and the Klan and other racist groups in the United States.  He is also the author of numerous science fiction works, including Voyage to the Red Planet, the sequel to the sci-fi class A Canticle for Leibowitz, and comic adaptations of Robert Zelazny's  The Guns of  Avalon and Nine Princes of Amber.  

Recently re-released by PM Press of Oakland, CA., this novel takes place in 1959 although with more technological advances.  Many of those advances are directly related to the fact that Nova Africa is a socialist nation that has applied its technology to helping people instead of creating profits.  There have been at least two wars with the nation formerly known as the United States and an uneasy truce exists between the current incarnation of that nation and Nova Africa.  The protagonists include a Nova African anthropologist and her family, a historian at Harper's Ferry, and an adolescent slave boy that lived in Harper's Ferry during the period of Brown's time there who makes his appearance in the novel through a collection of papers he collected and wrote down as an old man.

The story takes place over a few days.  The anthropologist, names Yasmin Abraham Martin Odinga, is delivering the aforementioned narrative to a museum at Harper's Ferry.  It was the author's wish--her great grandfather--to have the narrative delivered and read on the July 4th centennial of the attack on Harper's Ferry which, for Bisson's book occurred on July 4th, 1859.  She is late with the delivery due to an unexpected longer stay at a dig site she was working on in Africa.  She is also pregnant and is picking up her teen daughter whose father dies in a failed space mission a few years earlier.  Bisson weaves this story in between the excerpts from Yasmin's great-grandfather's papers that describes both his adventures and observations during the time of Brown's raid and the subsequent success of the raiders in their struggle against the United States.  The story moves rapidly and never stumbles.  It is not only an interesting experiment in alternative history, but makes this reader wish it were true.

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Women Behind Bars


From Prison Photography

“These analyses [of the prison system] – coupled with what I had seen firsthand – made sense, steering me to work towards the dismantling, rather than the reform, of the prison system. Resistance Behind Bars should not be mistaken for a call for more humane or ‘gender responsive’ prisons.”

This is the second in a three part mini-series entitled Women Behind Bars, casting an eye over the work of writers and artists dealing with women’s struggle within the US prison system. The first installment featured journalist Silja Talvi’s work. Today we look at the activism of Vikki Law.


“How many people know about the Attica prison riots?” asked Vikki Law. The majority of the audience raised hands. “How many of you have heard of the August Rebellion?” she then asked. No response. Point made.

The August Rebellion was staged in 1974 by women imprisoned at New York’s maximum-security prison at Bedford Hills. Protesting the brutal beating of a fellow prisoner, the women fought off guards, holding seven of them hostage, and took over sections of the prison.


Vikki Law wrote Resistance Behind Bars to counter the historical erasure of women’s prison resistance. The book challenges the reader to question why these instances and efforts have been ignored and why many assume that women do not organize to demand change. It fills the gap in the existing literature, which has focused mostly on the causes, conditions and effects of female imprisonment.

Law has worn many hats in the anti-prison movement. In 1996, she helped start Books Through Bars-New York City, a group that sends free books to prisoners nationwide. In 2000, she began concentrating on the needs and actions of women in prison, drawing attention to their issues by writing articles and giving public presentations. Since 2002, she has worked with women incarcerated nationwide to produce Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison and has facilitated having incarcerated women’s writings published in larger publications, such as Clamor magazine, the website “Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance” and the upcoming anthology Interrupted Lives.

Similar to Talvi’s work, her writing is uninfected with academese. Law’s focus is the self-organised activities of women prisoners such as forming peer education groups, clandestinely organizing ways for children to visit mothers in distant prisons and raising public awareness about their conditions.

Law will criticise writing that she deems unhelpful and misleading. For example she refutes author Virginia High Brislin’s work which stated “women inmates themselves have called very little attention to their situations,” and “are hardly ever involved in violent encounters with officials (i.e. riots), nor do they initiate litigation as often as do males in prison.”

On the other hand, Law gives honorable mention to two books that documented women’s resistance at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York State: Juanita Diaz-Cotto’s Gender, Ethnicity, and the State (1996) and the collectively written Breaking the Walls of Silence: AIDS and Women in a New York State Maximum Security Prison.

Law urges us to acknowledge the existing patriarchy of society. The term feminism has become co-opted by predominantly white and privileged classes. The actions that would have previously fallen under the purview of feminism continue in pockets and without a top-down label. She states:

I think one of the things that is long overdue is that people have to acknowledge how society is still a patriarchy that puts down women in all different ways. Even people in so-called progressive movements refuse to see how this plays out, whether it be in body image or standards of beauty or woman-unfriendly practices like doubting women (or grrrls or trans or queer folks) when they say that they’ve been sexually assaulted.

Once such case would be that is described below. Law takes the details from a letter written by the victim.

In the case of Barrilee Bannister, sentenced under Oregon’s mandatory sentencing law, she and seventy-eight other women were sent to a privatized, all-male prison in Arizona run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The approximately 1300 mile move completely cut the women off from family, friends and others whose outside support could have prevented their abuse. Only weeks after the women’s arrival, some were visited by a captain, who shared marijuana with them. He left it with them and then returned with other officers who announced that they were searching the cell for contraband. They promised that if the women performed a strip tease, they would not search the cell. “Two of the girls started stripping and the rest of us got pulled into it,” Bannister recalled. “From that day on, the officers would bring marijuana in, or other stuff we were not suppose[d] to have, and the prisoners would perform [strip] dances.” From there, the guards became more aggressive, raping several of the women. Bannister reported that she was not given food for four days until she agreed to perform oral sex on a guard. (Source)

Private prisons will forever provide opportunities for gross abuse of human rights, but this is obvious and a discussion for another time. Still, on this evidence, Law has a long road of resistance and a lot of public education to provide. I wish her well.


Law’s commitments don’t stop with the pen. She also wields a camera and has contributed significantly to the activist-photography community of NYC.


ABC No Rio through a 6-year-old’s Holga, 2006

In 1997, she organized a group of activist photographers to transform one of No Rio’s upstairs tenement apartments into a black-and-white photo darkroom for community use. Since then, she has remained actively involved in coordinating (and sometimes co-teaching) free photography classes for neighborhood youth. In addition, she has participated in and curated numerous exhibitions at No Rio’s gallery, many with themes addressing social and political issues such as incarceration, grassroots efforts to rebuild New Orleans, Zapatista organizing, police brutality and squatting.

Every Halloween, Law also moonlights as a portraitist for ABC No Rio’s free haunted house for kids. As she explains, “Over 400 kids from the neighborhood show up to shriek and scream their way through the first floor and backyard. Tipping my hat to Tom Warren’s “Portrait Studio” in the 1980s, I set up a portrait area to document some of the kids and their costumes.”

Below is Prison Photography’s favourite.

spiderman vikklaw

Please read Vikki’s extended resume. Check out Vikki’s Flickr photostream. For a list of resources from The Action Committee for Women in Prison click here.

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