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Against Doom: A Review

By Nick Kuzmack
NixBeat
July 18th 2017

If humanity is to have a future, it needs a strategy to combat the threat of climate change. The threat of climate change is overwhelming and even now we are only beginning to grasp its effects on our fragile world. Before the election of President Trump, it seemed that humanity was willfully strolling its way to a climate catastrophe.

Although agreements such as the Paris Climate Agreement offer loose frameworks to transition to a fossil fuel free civilization, this historic agreement falls short of a binding resolution. Admittingly, it’s a vocal show that the world is waking up to its greatest challenge, but the agreement is vague in its promise to stall the rising of world temperatures to and over 2C from pre-industrial revolution levels and certain climate catastrophe. Now, after the election, and the United States recent withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, it seems our future is on the brink of disaster. In his new book Against Doom, author Jeremy Brecher provides the outline for a strategy to move forward.

Against Doom is sort of a manifesto. It covers a wide arrange of ideas and is broken up into two sections: The first highlights a growing global insurgency against forces that seek to cause climate catastrophe. While the second outlines bold struggles to combat the threat of climate change. Brecher discusses examples of resistance that spans the world, the shortcomings of the Paris Climate Agreement and the importance of grassroots people power against the fossil fuel industry. One example Brecher highlights are the protests led by low-income, predominately African-American residents in Albany, New York, against the highly volatile “bomb trains” (fuel trains) that run through their neighborhoods. In this Brecher provides an analysis on this community’s grassroots, non-violent resistance—specifically community outreach, and mutual support and civil disobedience— toward inconveniencing the fossil fuel industry in their neighborhood.

The second section of Against Doom, Brecher proposes bold strategies to tackle climate change. This includes a fossil fuel freeze which implements a halt on all new fossil fuel infrastructures, plans to turn public opinion against the fossil fuel industry and challenging hopelessness with action. One of Brecher’s proposals is to utilize existing political forces to erode and ultimately challenge the legality of continuously using fossil fuels. He touches on an idea called the “Public Trust’—a proposal where the world, its resources and its wonders belong to humanity as a whole and not just a select few. Brecher backs this argument with examples of disobedience and legal challenges that have been won and subsequently put a check on the fossil fuel industry. Although, Brecher points out some success, he emphasizes that those wishing to conduct direct action should be prepared for the consequences—for better or worse.

In Against Doom, Brecher ties complex strategies for a just transition to a sustainable civilization that seeks broad cooperation from diverse organizations and groups. This book is a great read, alongside other works that dive deeper into the roots behind ecological injustice and climate change. Brecher stresses the importance of the responsibility of change at the feet of the people, not the government’s.

The ideas proposed emphasis a peaceful resistance against the fossil fuel industry. I wonder how long a peaceful resistance can hold out against the imposing super structure of the fossil fuel industry. That being said, Against Doom does not promise or outline an easy fix. Make no mistake, the odds stacked against doom are incredible. They are not, however, impossible to overcome. Brecher provides an analysis of growing awareness toward climate change and, in some cases, a willingness to act for a just future across the board.

Hopefully if these—and other— solutions are carried out, humanity will likely see a globally strong force of climate warriors, who will guide our species away from certain disaster. Though these methods of transition reveal that humanity will witness drastic changes and possible losses, to much of what we take for granted, if these solutions are carefully acted upon, we may still see a brighter tomorrow and a world worthy of being rebuilt and cared for by our fragile species. Consider Against Doom as a supplementary guide, filled with hope, to that future.

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




The Explosion of Deferred Dreams: A Review

By David Rovics
Socialism and Democracy Journal
August 2017

California native, veteran musician, philosopher and revolutionary Mat Callahan covers a lot of ground in his new book about the tumultuous decade of 1965–75 in the San Francisco Bay Area. As an anti-establishment musician who did not live through that period in any meaningful way (I was born in 1967), I was especially enthralled by Callahan’s critique of the corporate music industry, and the years during which it attempted to understand the musical insurgency that was taking place – and to figure out how to control and make immense profits from it.

As Callahan recounts, the music industry was ultimately mostly successful in its efforts. But it took years, and the story of this struggle is a fascinating one. Looking at the era from afar, mostly through the distorted lens of the corporate media’s distillations of the period, it is impossible to understand the renaissance and resistance that was taking place, and how tied-in music was to the social movements of the day. So Callahan’s book is a much needed, as well as clearly exhaustively researched, retelling and repositioning of an important story.

For years, a battle was being waged on the streets of the Bay Area and indeed in many other parts of the US, Canada and elsewhere, over what were seen by many people involved as fundamental questions about music, and about society more broadly. Who really creates it? Who owns it? Who should profit from it? Did Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Sly and the Family Stone really write those songs, or were they more like the conduits, the musical expression of the interracial, cross-class, militant social movements coalescing in that part of the world at that time?

As Callahan explains, there was a pervasive understanding among many people there then that the new, mold-breaking, tribal music scene was itself a revolutionary phenomenon. What was often pejoratively referred to by media and politicians as the infantile behavior of spoiled children – involving sexual openness, mind-expanding drugs, and very loud music – was itself a sort of insurgency. On top of that, quite a bit of the music from the aforementioned bands, among many others, was explicitly political – anti-war, anti-racist, and in favor of good things, things that flew in the face of the bombing raids in Vietnam and police violence at home – dangerous, unsettling ideas like peace and love.

So then, what may appear to future or far-away eyes very odd developments – such as thousands of people regularly laying siege to events featuring their favorite bands on the basis that these events were not free, and should be – start to make perfect sense. This was a people’s movement, this music came out of the movement, and the movement involves holding massive, free events – as it very regularly did, throughout the period, in the parks of San Francisco, Berkeley, and elsewhere. The prevailing attitude was, sure, the musicians need to make a living, too. But not by doing these exclusive events organized by “hip capitalists” like Bill Graham.

In response to this new, genre-smashing music scene, the music industry that dominated things like national distribution of records had to make significant adjustments in order to eventually ride this bull. For a time, for these bands, the industry developed a much more tolerant orientation towards things like bands writing their own songs, producing their own records, recording them in San Francisco rather than in LA or New York, under their own musical terms, with 11-minute-long songs if they wanted, saying what they wanted, radically political or not. For a time, it was OK to be a black musician playing psychedelic music, or for a band to be neither “rhythm and blues” nor “rock and roll” – code words created by the music industry to racially segregate the music. Now it became possible for a popular band to be – gasp – interracial.

Ultimately, the music business largely returned to its pre-insurgency model of doing business, with more or less rigid musical genres, with pop stars cultivated by record labels and told what to record, with any- thing overtly political once again being treated as a novelty, rarely to be promoted by the record labels. But the cultural renaissance of this period had a far-reaching impact that is still felt today – though often not consciously, for people under the age of 50. If enough people read this book, that impact will become stronger, and better understood.


Buy Explosion of Deferred Dreams now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Mat Callahan's page




Totalitopia in Locus Magazine

Locus Magazine
July 2017


John Crowley’s Totalitopia is the latest in PM Press’s ongoing series of wine-flight samplers of some of the most interesting political and speculative writers, and in Crowley’s case any new material is attention-getting: his ‘‘collected stories’’ in Novelties and Souvenirs back in 2004 amounted to only 15 stories, and there have prob- ably been fewer than a half-dozen stories since. Fortunately, Totalitopia does offer one previously unpublished story, ‘‘This Is Our Town’’, and, as we might expect, it’s a gorgeously written piece that negotiates with genre only obliquely. Its narrator is a woman recalling several months of her Catholic childhood in 1953 in Timber Town, which, we are told in the very first line, ‘‘can be found in a book called This is Our Town, which is part of the ‘Faith and Freedom’ series of readers’’ published by Ginn and Company in 1953. That book is real enough – I looked it up – but whether Crowley’s version of Timber Town has anything at all in common with it is suspect. The point is that Crowley’s story appears to be narrated by a character from a children’s religious book, who as a child talked with her guardian angel, but who as an adult ‘‘lived in many places, and things happened to me that I could not even have known were possible in the world.’’ The blurred lines between the world of the children’s book and the world of the narrator’s life reflect the blurred lines of innocence and experience that any coming-of-age story concerns, and Crowley plays the devotional tone of the narrator’s youthful optimism like a master violinist.

The most straightforward SF story here is ‘‘Gone’’, a rather waggish alien invasion tale in which the aliens, called ‘‘elmers,’’ simply show up offering to do household tasks like washing dishes or mowing the lawn, but ominously expecting the recipient of these services to sign a cryptic message, ‘‘ALL ALL RIGHT WITH LOVE AFTERWARDS.’’ For veteran SF readers, this inevitably evokes Damon Knight’s ‘‘To Serve Man’’, but Crowley has something quite a bit more subtle and character-oriented in mind. ‘‘And Go Like This’’ is a brief fantasia on Buckminster Fuller’s old claim that the entire population of the world in 1963 could t indoors in New York City, and ‘‘In the Tom Mix Museum’’ is an even briefer bit of tall-tale nostalgia. Of the three essays, the title piece ‘‘Totalitopia’’ is an interesting speculation which begin with the provocative suggestion that the best way to imagine the future is by simply reversing ‘‘the reigning assumptions about what the future was likely to hold,’’ with some insightful comments on Huxley, Orwell, and Zamyatin, while ‘‘Everything that Rises’’ considers the future from another perspective, that of the Russian ‘‘cosmists’’ and in particular the philosopher Nikolai Federov.

‘‘Paul Park’s Hidden Worlds’’ is an appreciative overview of that author’s work from the early fantasy-tinged SF of the Starbridge Chronicles, through the Princess of Roumania series, to the family fantasia of All Those Vanished Engines. As is usual in the PM series, the book is rounded out by a bibliography and an irreverent interview by Terry Bisson.


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Climate Activists Must Devise Global Strategy to Challenge Power of Fossil Fuel Industry

Between the Lines
July 5th, 2017


Interview with Jeremy Brecher, writer, documentary film maker, longtime labor and climate activist and author, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen HERE
climate

Media coverage of climate change and related policy issues spiked after Donald Trump announced on June 1 that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord, to which every nation on earth had signed onto, with the exception of Syria and Nicaragua.

One effort to bring various theories into alignment and unite disparate aspects of the climate movement is a new book by veteran writer and labor activist Jeremy Brecher. Titled, "Against Doom: A Climate Insurgency Manual," Brecher's book is accompanied by webinars and a free Read/Discuss/Act Guide, a collaboration with the climate group 350.org and the Labor Network for Sustainability, of which he is a co-founder.

Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Brecher about the climate emergency we find ourselves in, and the creative explosion of activism being organized to address it. Here, he discusses the importance of weaving together many strands of the climate movement – mass nonviolent direct action, freezing fossil fuel infrastructure, public trust, and just transition – into a global strategic framework.

For more information, visit Jeremy Brecher's website at jeremybrecher.org.

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The Uncivil Servant: An International Poetry Tour

By Mitchell Abidor
Jewish Currents

"...THANKS TO THE LABORS of occasional Blog-Shmog contributor Richard Greeman, the great Belgian-born revolutionary and writer Victor Serge has become an important figure, not just in politics, but in literature. Reprints of his novels appear with regularity, and his classic Memoirs of a Revolutionary remains an essential text for understanding the struggles of the first half of the 20th century.

Now, thanks to Bay Area poet and translator James Brook’s brilliant and fluid translation of Serge’s two collections of poetry in the volume A Blaze in a Desert (PM Press, 2017, 192 pages), this least-known and vastly underappreciated element of the Serge oeuvre will hopefully reach a wide audience.

Much of the poetry was written when Serge was detained in the Urals for his anti-Stalin activity, conditions hardly propitious for poetry. But along with the beauty of the poetry written under such horrific conditions — with his descriptions of his surroundings, of “Kurdish women in red dresses, a little donkey ambling/down the back street of the Maidan,/ chance colors, their capricious fits of sleep, their waking/ amid the bazaar’s shifting arabesques…” — what strikes the reader is the warmth and sympathy Serge feels, not just for his fellow prisoners, but for those living in this forbidding area. There are, for example, the four girls who “wade gaily into the water to ford the Ural,/ the sparkling, shimmering, life-giving water./ The water grasps the firm calves of these walkers from the /edge of the steppes,/ and invisible caressing hand discreetly/ takes their knees, then a brisk coolness/ wed their legs and rises to brush their secret flesh…”.

Even in Orenburg, cut off from family, friends, politics, and literature, Serge is an intellectual, referring to Holderlin and Freud, quoting Baudelaire, citing the Paris Commune and the bloodiest events of the French Revolution. But what haunts him above all, as it would in the articles he wrote, is the fate of his comrades, the men and women who made the Bolshevik Revolution, then were imprisoned and murdered by Stalin and his henchmen. The first of his volumes of poetry was dedicated to twelve of them by name, and the second was dedicated “in loyalty to my surviving friends and comrades from the black years and to our dead, too numerous to name.”

His collective name for these opponents of Stalinism was the lovely “constellation of dead brothers,” and as early as 1928 he recognized, in a poem written before his imprisonment, “Farewell, everything is ending, world, brothers, plains,/ eyes,/ snow, cities, stars,/ International…”

The poems collected here were written in Russia, in Marseille, on the high seas, and in the Dominican Republic, where he made a brief halt until his final exile in Mexico, where he produced beautiful appreciations of what he didn’t know would be his final home and where he would be buried.

Serge was a man of broad human sympathies, a man who sincerely appreciated the beauty of the people he met and the places he inhabited. He was defeated but never crushed. Poetry occupies a small place in his oeuvre, but in James Brook’s translations, it is an important one."


Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Victor Serge's Author Page | Back to James Brook's Translator Page




If You're Going To San Francisco Be Sure to Disregard All That Happened There

Originally posted on The California Historical Society
By Mat Callahan
June 21st, 2017


Familiarity with a trivial pop tune should not be mistaken for historical knowledge. If we want to understand why any song becomes popular or what it signified when it first was heard, we need to know both the social and political events surrounding its publication as well as what music, in general, was undergoing at the time. In the case of, “If You’re Going To San Francisco”, the song is musically and lyrically unlike what was emerging from San Francisco in 1967. Treacly and maudlin, melodically; stilted and doctrinaire, lyrically, the song was penned by Jon Phillips, produced by Lou Adler and it reeked of its Los Angeles origins from that day to this.

In this context, LA is not a city with its own vibrant culture, but the citadel of power for the entertainment business in the Western World, more particularly, the music industry component of that imperial beast. In fact-as opposed to “myth” or contrived “legend”-young people in SF at the time of the song’s release (May, 1967), especially among musicians such as this author, held the song in utter contempt and viewed its rise up the charts as one more example of the media manipulation of which the “straights” running big record companies were masters. The song bore no resemblance whatsoever to the music made by the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Country Joe and the Fish or myriad other local bands that were part of the first wave of Sixties SF music. Indeed, the song didn’t even resemble, musically or lyrically, the music of LA’s Byrds or New York’s Lovin’ Spoonful-two groups who had had a real influence on SF’s burgeoning music scene.

Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965–1970 is the fourth Nuggets box set released by Rhino Records.

Fortunately, for both history and music, we have Alec Palao’s wonderful “Love is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970”, book and accompanying cds, to provide evidence of what actually occurred. This fine compilation opens and closes with what could legitimately claim to be a theme song of the era, “Get Together” by Dino Valenti. (the definitive version, by the Youngbloods, closes the collection and was in very wide circulation in the Bay Area in 1967). More significantly, it documents the broad range of musical styles characteristic of the time and place-none sounding anything like “If You’re Going to San Francisco.”  Just to mention a few: The Sons of Champlin’s “1982-A” is an r&b manifesto as funky and groovy as anything made in Motown or Memphis. Sly and the Family Stone’s first recorded foray, “Underdog”, foretells the brilliant melding of diverse elements by a group that would ultimately epitomize the highest hopes and steepest decline of a generation determined to change the world. And who could mistake the striking contrast between Mother Earth’s  soulful evocation of “Revolution” and the syrupy banality of “San Francisco?”

No, the record is clear for those who seek it but this nonetheless has not prevented the music industry, in combination with rock journalism and the Tourist Bureau, from making the song “San Francisco” a “classic” and “iconic” of the Sixties. Along with “Summer of Love” it has been repeated so often that the undiscerning mistake it for historical fact. Misled by these imposters and hucksters, one enters a theme park whose astro-turf Eden overlays a cemetery wherein are buried the bones of dead warriors, the dreams of a better world and the dedicated effort of millions of people to achieve undeniably noble aims. It is not for nothing that these lies and distortions of historical fact are created and perpetuated. It is to ensure that there is never again a movement of such size and strength that it could threaten to topple the tyrants who rule America and much of the world. It is to ensure that the actual people and the work they did are erased from history.

If we seek to explain the larger phenomenon of the Sixties and its ramifications in San Francisco, then we have to understand not only the sequence of events that impelled Phillips and Adler to compose an advertising jingle for their festival-the Monterey Pop Festival-but what made music the motive and the means for so many young people and how, as a result, this made music itself subversive. The phenomenon can be briefly summarized as a synthesis of diversity, unity and liberation; qualities of thought and experience being expressed in the music people listened to several nights a week, for years on end, in venues such as the Fillmore, the Avalon, the Panhandle and the Polo Fields (in Golden Gate Park). On a regular basis, artists such as Rahsaan Roland Kirk shared the stage with the likes of the Grateful Dead. Routinely, musicians like Bola Sete performed alongside Country Joe and the Fish, Herbie Hancock was featured with Taj Mahal and Malo and bills including Dr. John, The Charlatans and Thelonius Monk became the norm, thereby breaking down all the barriers which had been systematically erected by the music industry.

This accounts for a generation learning to love and exalt music, above and beyond all formal categories, as an oracle of truth. This audience in turn inspired a renaissance which was itself a threat to established norms in the United States-business norms, ethical and cultural norms, even legal norms (especially noise ordinances, liquor laws and age-restrictions) which had greatly hampered music’s delivery to people below the legal drinking age and those interested in dancing. What is thereby forgotten is that music was not viewed as entertainment but as an enlightening substance and unifying activity undefiled by commercial exploitation or the ravages of consumerism. Of course, such views were anathema to the system which would ultimately “restore order” including the reversal of every gain, artistic or political, made during the Sixties. This was achieved not only through bribery and cajolery-otherwise known as co-optation-but through brute repression. Artists as diverse as Phil Ochs, Buffy St. Marie, the Last Poets and the Fugs, all suffered government repression, as documented in books such as Eric Nuzum’s “Parental Advisory: Music Censorship in America” and Richie Unterberger’s “Turn!Turn! Turn!”

Anti-Vietnam war demonstrators fill Fulton Street in San Francisco on April 15, 1967. The five-mile march through the city will end with a peace rally at Kezar Stadium. In the background is San Francisco City Hall. (AP Photo)

Similarly, and perhaps of even greater historical significance, were the social movements and organizations that flourished at precisely the same time, in the same place. Musical breakthroughs in the Bay Area were to a large extent made possible by the enthusiastic appreciation of audiences among whom were many people engaged directly or indirectly in opposition to the Vietnam War, support of Black Liberation and advancing the struggle of the United Farmworkers. Not only were thousands of young people mobilized along these battlelines, locally, but organizations such as the Black Panther Party, were gaining international notoriety at the very moment the hype and hoopla surrounding Monterey Pop reached its peak. Indeed, if one considers the widespread attention San Francisco was no doubt receiving from the world’s media (not to mention the rapidly proliferating  underground press) there was as much, if not more, attention paid to these political movements and organizations than to their ostensibly hedonistic counterparts in pop culture. The portrayal, therefore, of hippy-dippy, flower children escaping in a drug-induced haze of narcissistic reality-denial, is no more than wishful thinking on the part of the Powers That Be, represented at the time by governor, The image persists, in part, because it’s the image the system wished its opposition consisted of. Of course it did not, and that’s what needs to be examined.

To begin with, the youthful forces of opposition were far more diverse than the image conveys, including black, Chicano, Asian and Native American youth, all of whom were familiar with basic concepts such as the system, the movement, consciousness and liberation. What the Panthers, Farmworkers, Diggers, and other groups could count on was that these terms were the basis for serious discussion and, sometimes, unified action. Certainly, by the time “If You’re Going to San Francisco” was released, these were the concerns of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of young people and were given powerful expression in marches, demonstrations and occupations, as well as genuinely popular festivals such as the Summer Solstice celebration in Golden Gate Park that followed four days after Monterey Pop. Nor can it be forgotten that only a year before, the Artists Liberation Front had launched a series of Free Fairs, in various San Francisco neighborhoods that were catalysts for community initiative and people’s participation in the arts. The fact that these Free Fairs were punctuated by the police killing of a young black resident of San Francisco’s Hunters Point, Matthew Johnson, sparking a four day riot in the city, followed shortly thereafter by the founding of the Black Panther Party across the Bay in Oakland, gives some idea of the intensity of activity and the social interconnections that were its very fabric. These, in broad strokes, are a small sampling of the quality and quantity of a popular upheaval that was what one song attempted to usurp.

Hunter’s Point residents during confrontation with police violence, September 1966. Photo: San Francisco History Center, SF Public Library. Via ShapingSF.

It is above all necessary, therefore, to reject the nostrums of nostalgia, such as “If You’re Going to San Francisco”, in order to more fully appreciate, indeed to enjoy, the many illuminating and inspiring works of the real San Francisco in the Sixties. These works include diverse expressions from murals, posters and comic book art, from street theater to modern dance, from experimental electronic music to latin rock. Much is still available on recordings, in books and on the internet. In order to separate the phony the factual, however, it’s a good idea to maintain a finely-tuned bullshit detector.

_______________________________________________________

About the author

Mat Callahan is a musician and author originally from San Francisco, where he founded Komotion International. He is the author of three books, Sex, Death & the Angry Young Man, Testimony, and The Trouble with Music as well as the editor of Songs of Freedom: The James Connolly Songbook. His most recent book is The Explosion of Deferred Dreams: Musical Renaissance and Social Revolution in San Francisco, 1965–1975He currently resides in Bern, Switzerland.

Buy Explosion of Deferred Dreams now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Mat Callahan's page




This Father's Day, Recognizing the Dads Who are Left Out, Locked Up and Fighting For Their Families

By Brooke Anderson
In These Times
June 16th, 2017

For dads in the crosshairs of systemic oppression, the work of parenting often goes underappreciated.


Every Father’s Day, we’re barraged by commercials encouraging us to show our love for Dad by buying him that shiny new barbecue grill the one with “infrared burners” and “flame-stabilizing grids.”

However, beyond the television advertisements and hallmark cards are real dads just trying to do right by their kids, for whom bathtime and bedtime matter more than beer or barbecues. For many, their parenting often goes unseen, underappreciated or is made more difficult by the system. Among them are teen dads, single papas and houseless fathers. They are fathers grieving children lost to police violence, fathers separated from their kids by border walls or prison cells, and queer, transgender and gender non-conforming parents.

This Father’s Day, meet four all-star dads who’ve gone to exceptional lengths for their kids, parenting from prison cells and homeless shelters, while doing groundbreaking and visionary work in their communities to empower fathers and strengthen families.

ANDREW LUCERO


Andrew Lucero sits at his desk, decorated by his kids’ art, at Fathers and Families of San Joaquin in Stockton, California.

Andrew Lucero, a father of two (Haley, 13, and Little Andrew, 10), spent five years of his children’s lives incarcerated. “Inside the system, you parent from a one-hour, once-a-month visit with armed guards who won’t let you hug your kids. Putting the burden on your family to make $20 calls is no joke, so you have to use those wisely,” Lucero recalls. “My son wrote me a letter saying, ‘Dad, I miss you. I went to school today. I played. I made me a sandwich. Dad, I’m sorry. I’ll be a good boy if you come home, Dad.’ It’s hard to read that locked in a cell knowing your son thinks it’s his fault that you’re gone. You want to cook dinner for them, tuck them into bed, take them to school, but you can’t.”

After release, having a felony creates additional barriers to getting a job and accessing food stamps and housing assistance. Lucero says his felony even barred him from going on his kids’ field trips. “We’re not just felons. We’re fathers,” he said. “We’re family members. We’re friends. There’s more to us than this little box.”

Lucero now works at Fathers and Families of San Joaquin (FFSJ) in Stockton, California. FFSJ supports formerly incarcerated adults to rejoin their families and communities. In fact, Lucero was the first person in the county to serve as an AB 109 reentry case manager while still on parole. FFSJ’s Trauma Recovery Program provides clinical services to victims of violence and sexual abuse. Additionally, they run several youth programs and serve two hot meals four days a week to dozens of elders. “We focus on culturally rooted healing,” says Lucero. “We call it cultural cura (culture cures), so we look to our indigenous ways honoring the four directions, sitting in a circle, blowing the horn.”

“Sometimes you don’t feel like Father’s Day is meant for someone who comes from the hood, who’s been in prison. You google “happy families” and it’s folks with picket fences,” says Lucero. “I may not live in a mansion or have a 401(k). I don’t drive a Lexus. My kids ain’t in private school. But I’m prideful that I’m a good father and helping my community.”

PHILLIP STANDING BEAR


Phillip Standing Bear looks on as his daughter, Cheyanne, shows off her incoming teeth at a park in Sacramento, California.

Phillip Standing Bear, who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, is raising six-year-old Cheyanne alone. He says, “She’s the sunshine of my life. She has her struggles, but I love the hell out of her. She doesn’t see evil in the world. She’s different from me; all I’ve seen is evil.”

Being a single father and finding housing on disability hasn't always been easy. “For a while we went hotel to hotel. Then a church gave us a trailer,” he said. “Now we’re staying with friends, but we’re five people in a one-bedroom house. It’s okay, but she needs her own space.”

Standing Bear is an activist with Poor Magazine, a poor and indigenous peoples-led grassroots media, arts, education and advocacy organization in the Bay Area. “I wrote stories on landlessness and homelessness, because I’ve been through it most of my life. All these parks, golf courses and private properties could be used for housing. During the Super Bowl, if you even looked homeless, the cops arrested you, took your tent. It was tragic. The city could’ve spent the money to build something for the homeless, but they spent it on [wealthier neighborhoods] Yerba Buena, Embarcadero and the Mission.”

“Fathers are important. I never had mine in my life,” he says. “I try my best to make sure she’s happy, well fed, and has somewhere to sleep until I get it all sorted out.”

WILLIE BEAL JR.


Willie Beal Jr. enjoys time with his sons, Noah and Isiah, after bath time at his home in Oakland, California.

Willie Beal Jr. is a father of four whose story of eviction and homelessness is all-too-familiar in the Bay Area: “You be doing all the right things and they still make it hard on you. You’re working, barely getting by, barely able to feed your kids, pay your bills,” he said. “We had a slumlord. There were gas leaks. We complained to codes and compliance but the landlord wouldn't fix nothing even though we were paying. When we got a little behind on rent, he evicted us.”

Beal’s family was left homeless for two years. He, his mom, his girlfriend and their four kids all lived out of their car while Beal went to work every day. Other times, they stayed in shelters or with friends. The son of legendary Bay Area housing activist Ms. Paula Beal, Willie Beal is no stranger to speaking at city hall or rallies to advocate for his family and others. While homeless, he and his family even occupied the Oakland Mayor’s office to try to get help.

In March, they finally moved into an apartment of their own. Asked what is best about having their own place, Beal says, “This. Just bathtime and these kids bothering me.” Once they get on their feet, Beal says he wants to open a center for families to get help with housing and jobs.

TOMAS MONIZ


Tomas Moniz displays his books in a coffee shop in San Francisco, California.

Tomas Moniz is a father of three grown children and author of Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontlines of Fatherhood and Rad Families: A Celebration. Moniz had his first child at the age of 20. “It was the greatest dumbest mistake I ever made,” he jokes. “I started Rad Dad when I was looking for community as a father of a teenager who was beginning to push the boundaries on drugs, an instance of porn. I was looking for a different way to parent than the way I was parented by my father, which was very traditional, silent, shaming.”

In Rad Dad, Moniz lifts up the stories of fathers often either demonized or invisibilized by dominant narratives of fatherhood. “The book was originally geared toward male-identified people because it’s important for men to unpack toxic masculinity in the tradition of fathering,” he says. “But two years into the project I realized that the dichotomy of gender was limiting. Queer and trans parents sharing their stories challenged my own relationship to gender, my partner and my children and really broadened the conversation in Rad Dad .”

Rad Families is more of a celebration,” says Moniz. “I don’t have to prove that there are rad families out there. There are. There have always been amazing people raising and creating families.”


Brooke Anderson is an Oakland, California-based organizer and photojournalist. She has spent 20 years building movements for social, economic, racial and ecological justice. She is a proud union member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, CWA 39521, AFL-CIO.

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Unfree Labour?: A Review

by Genevieve Ritchie
Adult Education Quarterly

Almost 20 years ago Griff Foley (1999) theorized consciousness-raising as a form of informal learning. Responding to the invisibility of gender and race in Foley’s account, feminists pointed out that informal learning occurs within the social relations of exploitation, patriarchy, and racialization. Indeed, the notion of an industrial (read White male) working class has painted an incomplete picture of how and where resistance transpires. Although Unfree Labour does not theorize learning per se, the chapters illustrate the ways in which workers confront the social conditions constituting racialization, gendered labor, and super-exploitation. As Choudry and Smith note, the book engages with immigrant and migrant worker organizing for the purpose of social transformation. The penultimate chapter, for example, investigates social transformation through a dialogue with activist organizations and fleshes out the tensions that arise across various struggles. Thus, Unfree Labour is firmly situated within the radical tradition of adult education, which understands social struggle and dialogical learning as sites of knowledge.

Each of the chapters, authored by scholar-activists, builds from the premise that immigrant/migrant workers face conditions of “unfreedom.” The concept of unfree labor draws from the dialectical relation of freedom and necessity articulated by Marx. As Choudry and Smith explicate, the concept of unfree labor captures the way in which legal instruments compel workers to sell their labor-power. Hence, immigration status undergirds the super-exploitation of noncitizen workers. Free and unfree labor, however, should not be conceptualized as binary opposites. Rather, as Thomas’ chapter argues, forced, unfree, and free labor coexist. The relations constituting unfreedom, moreover, are not localized, and as such they reflect historical processes of uneven capitalist development. Chapters by Ramsaroop, and Calugay, Malhaire, and Shragge echo this point by illustrating racism within unions, and by revealing the transnational conditions that underpin labor migration.

A second concept gestured to in the Introduction and developed by Paz Ramirez and Chun’s chapter is the notion of global labor apartheid. The central claim is that immigration and labor policies create two parallel yet unequal categories of workers.

Drawing on historical and contemporary accounts of worker organizing in British Columbia, they suggest that ostensibly race-neutral policies actually reproduce forms of racialized exclusion, or labor apartheid. Read against the chapter by Ladd and Singh, and Mirchandani and Poster’s (2016) analysis of transnational labor, the extent to which the notion of labor apartheid can form the basis of social transformation needs careful consideration. Ladd and Singh argue that cuts to welfare, minimum wage freezes, and restricted access to citizenship created precarious conditions for workers in general. In contradistinction to Ladd and Singh’s analysis, investigations of transnational call centers demonstrate that workers deported from the United States are recruited in their home countries because of their cultural knowledge and Westernized English (Mirchandani & Poster, 2016). The larger point to be emphasized is that the global restructuring of labor markets does not neatly map onto a racialized division labor, but rather also reflects the dynamism of transnational capital. Thus, the question that arises is whether labor apartheid is a sufficiently agile concept; can it expound the relations constituting the increasing internationalization of capital, declin- ing worker protections, and the particularities of migrant labor?

Chapters by Koo and Hanley, Polanco, and Bakan flesh out the interrelations that mutually form racialization and labor. Analyses by Koo and Hanley, and Polanco detail the ways in which particular racialized groups are cast as docile or loyal work- ers, while age or accent define undesirable workers. Interestingly, Koo and Hanley demonstrate that workers in the Live-in Caregivers Program (LCP) are less incline to organize for working conditions, and instead seek to exercise control over scheduling and personal time, thereby challenging the extra-economic coercion of the workplace. Bakan theorizes the systematic discrimination embedded in the LCP and argues that group-based inequality normalizes unfree labor markets.

The concluding chapter by Arat-Koç theorizes from the empirical examples brought forth by each of the chapters. As she argues, an analysis of unfree labor cannot remain at the margins but rather must be central to our understanding of modern-day capital- ism. Arat-Koç continues, “A focus on unfree labor promises not only a better analysis of contemporary capitalism, but also contributes critically and radically to labor, anti- racist and feminist debates and activism” (p. 180). As the chapters of Unfree Labour attest to, excavating the relations constituting unfreedom is a complex yet essential task for building solidarity and liberation.

References

Foley, G. (1999). Learning in social action: A contribution to understanding informal educa- tion. New York, NY: Zed.
Mirchandani, K., & Poster, W. (2016). Borders in service: Enactments of nationhood in trans- national call centres. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: University of Toronto Press.


Patty Hearst & the Twinkie Murders in the LA Review of Books

By M.W. Lipschitz
Los Angeles Review of Books
June 13th, 2017

Simulation Liberation Army


FILM CRITIC Parker Tyler described the modern movie myth as a “pattern capable of many variations and distortions, many betrayals and disguises, even though it remains imaginative truth.” This definition could extend to media narratives, and the bizarre 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst certainly registers as a prime example.

Hearst’s seizure at the hands of the self-styled revolutionary, bank-robbing Symbionese Liberation Army has been the subject of three books in the last three years, and of them, American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst, Jeffrey Toobin’s account has garnered the most attention, though it hews closely to the established narrative. It’s been advertised as the “definitive account.”

Brad Schreiber’s little-known Revolution’s End: The Patty Hearst Kidnapping, Mind Control, and the Secret History of Donald DeFreeze and the SLA tells a counternarrative of the SLA as the product of an extensive counterintelligence program that spiraled out of control. Printed by a small press, Revolution’s End substantiates its story with police records and investigative journalism from the period.

And then there is Patty Hearst & the Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials, by Paul Krassner, a satirist whose first-person account is all the more insightful for being untethered from the objective of being “definitive.” Together, these books present a divergent mosaic of opinions and fact-patterns on the kidnappers that evades easy definition even four decades later.

In the accepted narrative, Patty Hearst is the queen of missing white girls, a symbol of the disproportionate flooding of the media with coverage of Caucasian kidnapping victims. Hearst’s message also personifies a deep fear in the United States: the black stud defrocking the lily flower. Toobin’s perspective affirms the narrative of the destruction of political overlap between middle-class college students and the Black Power Movement, which made up two pillars of the left. By 1974, the momentum for social change had been divided and conquered by infighting, infiltration, and, finally, Nixon’s draconian law-and-order sales pitch. Krassner, says it best: “Patty had become a vehicle for repressive action on the right and for wishful thinking on the left.”

The word Symbionese — a portmanteau combining the “Vietnamese” War with the William Greaves’s film Symbiopsychotaxiplasm (1968), or perhaps Sam Greenlee’s use of “racial cross-section symbiology” in his novel The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1969) — remains almost as inscrutable as the “happenings” surrounding its creators. Herewith, a brief chronology:

    •    March 5, 1973: Donald DeFreeze escapes from Soledad State Prison and lands in Berkeley.
    •    November 6, 1973: DeFreeze, Nancy Ling Perry, and Patricia Soltysik shoot and kill Oakland Schools Superintendent Marcus Foster, an African American education reformer and community leader.

    •    February 4, 1974: a small band of white men and women led by DeFreeze kidnap the 19-year-old granddaughter of newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.

A suspicious shadow persists beneath any simplistic explanation. The SLA communicated via audio-taped communiqués. Their ransom demands forced Patty’s father Randolph Hearst to orchestrate a Food Give Away in California costing him millions. Then, in proto–Stockholm Syndrome fashion, Patty joined her abductor’s struggle. It shocked the country to hear her faint voice proclaim: “Death to the Fascist insect that preys upon the blood of the people.” The self-proclaimed urban guerillas staged a now-iconic photo of Patty with an M-1 assault rifle slung around her shoulder in front of the seven-headed SLA cobra icon, one of the enduring American images from the 1970s.

The SLA mimicked liberation struggles, using code names and didactic symbolism. DeFreeze became General Field Marshal Cinque — in one move a kitschy rebuke of the Black Panther hierarchy and a shedding of his “slave name.” The other members — Nancy Ling Perry (Fahziah), Camilla Hall (Gabi), Patricia “Mizmoon” Soltysik (Zoya), Russell Little (Osceola), Joseph Remiro (Bo), Willie Wolfe (Cujo), Angela Atwood (General Gelina), Emily Harris (Yolanda), Bill Harris (General Teko), and Patty Hearst herself (Tania) — were, to the square community, a witch’s brew of feminism, lesbianism, Marxism, black liberation, anticolonialism, free love, and an antiwar hatred of “pigs.”

The story sounds familiar because, in each ensuing generation, the Patty Hearst Myth has been reborn, to warn the United States of the risk in repeating the “days of rage” and protest of the late ’60s and early ’70s, a period when the American system feared for its own survival.

Documentaries like Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2005) play it safe. Paul Schrader’s film Patty Hearst (1988) stars Ving Rhames as Cinque, but it’s unwatchable. The porno Tanya (1976) — “What, you never seen a black cock before?” — is one of many smut adaptations.

In depictions of political radicalism, the SLA lives on as the go-to model — see Network (1976), 12 Monkeys (1997), and The East (2013). Even Woody Allen’s stale Crisis in Six Scenes (2016) serializes Miley Cyrus as a Patty Hearst surrogate spouting pidgin Marxism as a member of the “Constitutional Liberation Army.” In simulating a suspect simulation, Allen lowers the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground to the same moral level as the SLA. In sum, what has been lost in the afterlife of the SLA is the meaning of the SLA.

Toobin opines that the SLA “illuminated the future of the media,” adding that Hearst’s kidnapping was an “anomalous event […] the story of a single young woman.” He stakes a flag in historical territory that is much larger than he realizes.

In 1974, the United States was in the grip of oil embargos, Watergate, Vietnam ending (sort of), big city crime, and Hollywood New Wave cinema. The Establishment had launched its assault on the Movement that they believed was tearing apart the country. Toobin’s territory leads to a salient question: did Patty join her captors’ crusade out of free will or through coercive brainwashing? However, if you imagine the SLA story without Patty Hearst, you begin to see it isn’t only about her. Lost in this narrative is the SLA’s assassination of Oakland School Superintendent Marcus Foster, the heinous act that launched their wild spree. When investigated, killing Foster makes little sense. Black Panther Chairman Huey Newton publically denounced Foster’s slaying, which landed Huey on the SLA’s “deathlist.”

With poise, Schreiber relegates Hearst to the sidelines (as much as he can) and focuses on Donald DeFreeze, the enigmatic-pawn-cum-rogue-leader of the SLA. Schreiber connects activities in the LAPD, FBI, and CIA to prisoner programs within the California Department of Corrections, leading to then-Governor Ronald Reagan’s cabinet, and UC Berkeley. Within the rubric of alt-history, this is fruitful territory.

Most book critics, seemingly unaware of the contested history of the SLA, have given American Heiress a pass in this regard. Toobin was refused an interview with Patty Hearst, and so he must take her own memoir, Every Secret Thing (1981), as one of his main sources, mixing it with the diaries of other SLA members and, at its most lively, the absurdist courtroom drama. But the hypocrisy and skepticism of 1974 isn’t there. In Toobin’s “selected bibliography,” there is a missing link where nearly every other book written about the SLA is listed: Paul Krassner’s account is conspicuously absent.

Krassner was a creature of the once-vibrant alternative mediasphere. A member of the Yippies, confidant of Lenny Bruce, witness in the Chicago Eight conspiracy trial, and still active in his 80s, his gonzo Tale of Two Trials is gleaned from his original press coverage of the Patty Hearst trial for the Berkeley Barb. He analyzes how graffiti that read SLA LIVES was re-tagged as COLE SLAW LIVES, a “slogan that baffled tourists and convinced one visiting ex-Berkeleyite that a political activist named Cole Slaw was dead because there was graffiti saying he was alive.” In 60 pages, he blows holes in Toobin’s mainstream version, while saving the second half of his book to connect the denouement of the ’70s with the Jonestown Massacre and the trial of sugar-junkie Dan White, who murdered Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone.

Krassner founded and edited The Realist magazine, a haven for “Free Thought, Criticism and Satire,” which features interviews with and contributions by famous novelists, comedians, and thinkers of the day. Imagine if John Oliver, The Intercept, and Eric Andre rolled themselves into one muckraking avenger: that’s Krassner. The entire February 1974 issue of The Realist is devoted to the SLA. He gave controversial conspiracy researcher Mae Brussell carte blanche to flex her theory that the SLA was a CIA plot. [1] This was published as the second installment of Brussel’s “Conspiracy Newsletter,” the first installment having been about the Watergate Scandal. To wholeheartedly believe all that Brussell cited (alas, she didn’t list her sources) is to be uncritical. But to be fair, many other newspaper articles and books, including Revolution’s End, corroborate the suspicious background of the SLA.

Toobin ignores this line of questioning entirely, and in doing so omits something indispensible to understanding the meaning of the SLA. Instead, he constructs a traditional-history filter for such information, especially blatant when he brushes against alternative press outlets such as the Berkeley Barb, and uses headlines like “Patty Freed!” to suggest that “hippies” were gung-ho for the SLA. The Barb printed various critical perspectives, among them the that “Cinque Called Police Patsy,” “Defreeze ‘Impostor’ Surfaces,” and a letter to the editor referring to Hearst’s state of jeopardy while in SLA captivity. The Barb was a contrarian voice that published contradictory “theories” about the SLA, covered the beat, printing satirical spin like Krassner’s illusory press conference, “The Crucifixion of Patty Hearst.” My point is that at a distance of 40 years, facts about the SLA can be and are still being cherry-picked.

Krassner values irreverence, based on his commitment to counter official lies that are routinely presented in the guise of truth. For instance, in 1975 when Krassner landed an “exclusive interview” with Patty Hearst for Crawdaddy, she was still on the run. Because of the raw nature of the “interview” — “And I became acquainted with my clitoris.” — the FBI paid Krassner a visit. The snag was, of course, Krassner had made it all up. Today, such subversive tactics have not only been copied by numerous comedians, but also compete in the realm of Fake News.

Krassner explains his method in Abakus: “While publishing The Realist, I never labeled anything satire or reality because I never wanted to deprive my readers the pleasure of discerning for themselves whether something was true or a satirical extension of the truth.”

Who do we trust? The question falls partially on an author’s approach. Toobin employs what he calls “narrative non-fiction,” with himself as the invisible narrator, focusing on egos of SLA members and the court trial. Brad Schreiber’s tack is not as pop as Toobin’s and discusses false-flag counterintelligence programs associated with LAPD Detective Ronald G. Farwell, director of the California Correction Department Raymond K. Procunier, and California Attorney General Evelle J. Younger. Schreiber’s evidence is in his bibliography, similar to Toobin’s “Notes” section and “Selected Bibliography.” Krassner samples other reference points with his own experience in a nonlinear comic analysis, pulling off deft lines, like “[t]he message of the trial was clear: Destroy the seeds of rebellion in your children or we shall have it done for you.”

A problem with all the SLA books is a lack of annotated citations, directing readers to the full sources (e.g., newspapers, magazines, reports, and communiqués), which this story desperately needs. Schreiber gets closest at this, but is stymied by redacted FBI records and the lack of even one definitive court case proving a “criminal conspiracy.”

Fox 2000 Pictures bought the rights to Toobin’s still untitled Patty Hearst project before he even wrote it. It has been reviewed warmly in The New York Times and Bookforum, while Revolution’s End has been panned by Publishers Weekly as “red meat” for the “conspiracy buffs.” By contrast, Krassner, a living legend, is forced to cannibalize his own writing at times because, currently, the commercial market places less value on his freewheeling style.

Interviewed on NPR and throughout his book tour, Toobin recounted how his publisher prodded him to pursue his subject. “I said to Bill [his editor] there must be a million books about Patty Hearst. So he said go check. And to my surprise and delight, I learned that nothing had been written about the Patty Hearst case in more than 30 years […] nothing new had been written.” When asked by the audience how the trial would be covered in the age of social media, Toobin deflects, “There would be more than one book, I wouldn’t have the field to myself.”

Of the three methods of reportage under review, Toobin’s method, although myopic, dominates general readership. A multidimensional perspective stretches the reader to understand a multidimensional event wherein actual people really got hurt, members of the SLA were deceived, and both the SLA’s fans and detractors were duped. Reality can be equal parts smoke and mirrors and human tragedy.

¤

Out in the Highland Park section of Los Angeles, the LAPD Museum houses dozens of old squad cars, an entertaining jailhouse installation, graphically pleasing posters, and three rooms devoted to the famous shootout with the SLA. Tie-dyed beaded curtains separate the displays and interactive videos glorify how the department handled the terrifying event. Children on a field trip to the museum are fed stereotypes about hippies and the “Latin-Style Terror” that the LAPD vanquished. After the SLA robbed the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco, the reductionist version fast-forwards to May 17, 1974, when six SLA members were immolated in a brutal shootout with the LAPD and the FBI. In a four-hour battle, the hideout house at 1466 E. 54th Street was pumped with thousands of rounds of ammunition, including grenades, and caught fire; it was allowed to burn to the ground. The entire event was broadcast live on national television, a technical feat in TV field recording, the first of its kind. It was a watershed media event that arguably accelerated the spread of SWAT teams, the War on Drugs, and the mass incarceration of people of color in the United States.

Patty Hearst, of course, was not in the blaze and remained on the lam for the next of 19 months, before she was apprehended on September 18, 1975. Then, her trial began.

Back in April 1974, before the death of the six SLA members, the editors at Rolling Stone ran a spread about the media manipulation of Patty Hearst, excerpting a letter from ex-members of the defunct Marxist-Leninist group, the Venceremos: “In effect, if not in intent, they [the SLA] are anti-working class, anti-revolutionary and anti-communist. If the SLA did not exist, the police would have to invent them.

Objectively, they are playing the role of provocateurs.”

Government infiltration from this period has been documented in several recent books, among them F.B. Eyes How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African American Literature (2015), Neither Peace nor Freedom: The Cultural Cold War in Latin America (2015), and Finks:
How the CIA Tricked the World’s Best Writers
(2017). Infiltration of targeted college campuses in the 1970s, and of radical groups like the Black Panthers, has been documented. (The FBI considered the Panthers a “Black Nationalist Hate Group.”) The FBI’s killing of Chicago Black Panther Fred Hampton, laid out in Jeffrey Haas’s The Assassination of Fred Hampton (2009), underpins how commonplace infiltrating any group would have been in the 1973 political landscape. The Venceremos, Tribal Thumb, August Seventh Guerilla Movement (ASGM), United Slaves (US), United Prisoners Union — look up these Bay Area radical factions, some of which were heavily infiltrated, while others were straight-up front groups. What Schreiber and Krassner propose is that the SLA was a compromised radical group.

Toobin’s omission of this possibility is telling. His only nod to the concept of infiltration is when he describes Hearst’s jailhouse cooperation with the FBI, after her arrest, which made her in effect a “government informant.”

As Paul Krassner puts it, “If DeFreeze was a double agent, then the SLA was a Frankenstein monster, turning against its creator by becoming in reality what had been orchestrated only as a media image.” In a New York Times article published May 17, 1974 — the day of the fatal shootout — reporter John Kifner peeled back Donald DeFreeze’s origins as an agent provocateur. When Toobin brushes up against these implications, he covers himself with phrases such as “the most peculiar thing,” and in this seeming clueless statement:

“Remarkably, in light of this long series of crimes during the 1960s, Defreeze never received much more than probation.”

Schreiber goes deeper. He retells how DeFreeze became Cinque by fleshing out the role of Colston Westbrook, a behind-the-curtain operator whom Donald Defreeze accused in an SLA communiqué of being “a government agent” and put him on the “deathlist.” John Kifner’s article traced Westbrook’s activities to the Pacific Architects and Engineers, which he calls “a recruiting pool and cover by the C.I.A. for its Phoenix program, which included assassination teams, according to Bart Osborne of the Fifth Estate, a Washington‐based research group of former intelligence personnel who had turned against the Vietnam war.”

In The Life and Death of the SLA (1976), Les Payne (a Pulitzer Prize winner), Tim Findley, and Carolyn Craven also documented Westbrook’s association with Defreeze. Westbrook was hired to run the Black Cultural Association at the Vacaville State Prison Medical Facility, even as he was a communications instructor at UC Berkeley in the Black Studies department. There, in Krassner’s telling, “he became the control officer for DeFreeze, who had worked as a police informer from 1967 to 1969 for the Public Disorder Intelligence Unit of the Los Angeles Police Department.”

Toobin’s version never mentions Westbrook. He describes the Black Cultural Association as “a self-improvement club of sorts that offered classes on African American history and culture […] a fairly typical establishment response to the black power movement — an attempt by prison authorities to allow black inmates to express ethnic pride in a productive, nonthreatening manner.”

By contrast, in Schreiber’s description, “The BCA was ostensibly an education program designed to instill black pride in Vacaville inmates. In reality, it became a cover for an experimental project to explore the extent to which unstable or susceptible prisoners could be controlled for the purpose of infiltration of Bay Area radical groups.” Schreiber even dug up an open letter to the Barb where Westbrook cajoled DeFreeze and spun a theory that it was the white Maoists of the SLA that infiltrated the BCA.

¤

A classic example of a criminal conspiracy being transformed into a wide-ranging scandal is Watergate. French theorist Jean Baudrillard wrote about Watergate as a conceptual reversal in his famous Simulacra and Simulation (1981). “Watergate was thus nothing but a lure held out by the system to catch its adversaries — a simulation of scandal for regenerative ends.” Nixon is the subject of dozens of movies and plays; the United States feels retribution when they see Nixon fall, again and again. The idea of an event transformed into a regenerative simulation can be applied to the SLA.

William Safire, longtime New York Times columnist of “On Language,” tackled the phrase “Conspiracy Theory” in his November 5, 1995, column. In his quippy, kid-friendly style, Safire educates the reader: “According to the first Barnhart Dictionary Companion, published in 1982, conspiracy theory ‘has been widely used since 1973, perhaps sparked by the many theories about the worldwide energy crisis, which began that year.’” Of course, before Safire was the word guru, he was a conservative speechwriting guru for Nixon, prior to the dark days of Watergate. When a far-reaching scandal gets big enough, the suffix “–gate” is tacked on, a social ritual popularized by William Safire himself in the years following Nixon’s demise. Adding “–gate” to an event became a way to conflate serious corruption with tabloid sex scandals. In the public’s memory, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s Bridgegate competes with Janet Jackson’s Nipplegate.

But with the spectacle of Donald Trump, public opinion about “conspiracy” is undergoing a substantial metamorphosis. As John Oliver aptly noted on November 23, 2016, “Weird conspiracy bullshit has always been bubbling under the surface, but Trump was the first major candidate to harness and fully legitimize it.” When Trump tweets, “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate,” he martyrs himself as the victim, a tactic borrowed from Vladimir Putin to scramble any semblance of truth and dominate the news cycle. Ergo, Trump settles into his presidency as a neo-Nixon, even as he accuses his opponents of behaving like Tricky Dick.

What was once spoken about behind closed doors is now shared freely in the open air, with Trump associate Roger Stone saying, “Facts are in the eye of the beholder.”

This is how American Heiress sums up the last 40 years:

[T]he music stopped when the 1980s arrived. There was, essentially, no more counterculture; the term became obsolete. Radical outlaws like the members of the Symbionese Liberation Army, who even in their heyday were stragglers from the 1960s, virtually disappeared altogether. The FBI finally learned how to identify and prosecute politically engaged criminals, many of whom had turned to conventional crime, like drug dealing. Some were caught; others drifted away. In San Francisco, the AIDS plague arrived, decimating the gay community and sapping, for a time, the political energy of the city. The notion of revolution, which was never appealing to more than a handful of Americans, became absurd. Young people looked for inspiration not to the barrios of Uruguay but to the garages of Silicon Valley, across the bay from Berkeley.

This is a gross misrepresentation not because it’s racist or sexist, but because of its liberal and reasonable-sounding veneer. To unpack this paragraph would take too much space to engage in here. Suffice it to say that Hunter S. Thompson would not agree with Toobin. But others have told the story in more accurate ways, even if they have their own limitations.

The way the SLA has been portrayed illuminates the possibility of a dangerous future where historical incidents are repackaged, monetized, caricatured, and hung in a vacuum. The SLA and Patty Hearst continue to resonate in our collective mythology precisely because hidden within the smoke and mirrors is the very real urge to resist. It was always there. What is desperately needed is a mash-up of these three versions into one account, annotated for posterity’s sake, combining Toobin’s pop flare in the courtroom with Schreiber’s investigative chops unearthing intelligence overreach, and interlaced with Krassner’s perception and wit. Now that would be definitive.

¤

M. W. Lipschutz is a writer, filmmaker, and visual artist who lives and works in Los Angeles.

¤

[1] Brussell has recently been collected in The Essential Mae Brussell: Investigations of Fascism in America (2015, Feral house)

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Understanding Jim Crow in Journal of Southern History

by P. Nicole King
Journal of Southern History
Volume 83, Number 1,
February 2017


David Pilgrim is the author of Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice and the founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. The museum is “the nation’s largest publicly accessible collection of racist artifacts,” which are “used as tools to facilitate a deeper understanding of historical and contemporary patterns and expressions of racism” (p. 172). The book is organized, clear, and engaging, with many high-quality color images from the museum’s collection, making it an important and affordable book for teaching the history of racism and aspects of social justice to undergraduate students in many fields.

Pilgrim writes, “I am a garbage collector—racist garbage” (p. 1). The museum’s primary goals are to document and provide a safe space for the discussion of the social and historical implications of structural racism in the United States through directly engaging racist material culture. Pilgrim’s collections primarily focus on everyday objects—salt and pepper shakers, postcards, matchbooks, and popular culture items—where racism has been made material in quotidian ways.

Both the museum and the book point toward a truth and reconciliation process, as Henry Lewis Gates Jr. states in the foreword, to confront how racism is embedded in the history of this country. The first two chapters of the book are fascinating and original explorations of why Pilgrim came to collect racist objects and how these objects can function as unorthodox teaching tools.

In the second chapter, Pilgrim shares the basic pedagogical premise of the book. First, “you have to reach people where they are,” and second, “intellectually beating down someone makes teaching them improbable” (p. 34). Understanding Jim Crowis an example of the importance of public history projects that bring difficult social issues out from the shadows.

Chapter 4 explores the caricatured black family—mammies, Uncle Toms, and pickaninnies.

Chapter 5 offers a more detailed investigation of “Flawed Women,” and chapter 6 addresses “Dangerous Men” in breaking down different racial stereotypes and addressing issues of gender, class, and region. [End Page 199]While these later chapters provide a necessary context for the book, and especially its many images from the museum collection, they break no new scholarly ground.

The final chapter, “A Night in Howell,” is a fascinating conclusion that returns to the narrative approach of exposition used in the earlier chapters. The reader is taken to a Ku Klux Klan memorabilia auction in Howell, Michigan—an area known as a historic hotbed of the Klan and white supremacy—where Pilgrim bid on a Klan robe. The Livingston County Diversity Council invited Pilgrim to bid on the Klan robe so it could be used to promote social justice.

The skillful dramatization of the racism Pilgrim experiences in Howell and the attempts by some in the community to overcome the past of white supremacy is a fitting conclusion to a book that speaks to both the hard-fought progress toward justice and how very far we, as a country, still have to go to challenge white supremacy in its many forms.

Pilgrim’s book is an important read for publicly engaged scholars. He writes, “I learned that a scholar could be an activist, indeed must be” (pp. 4–5). It is vital for scholars in the humanities and social sciences to engage with Pilgrim’s perspective in the same way it is important for visitors to the Jim Crow Museum to engage in an act of envisioning justice. Understanding Jim Crowfunctions as a traveling exhibition, expanding the reach and audience of the museum.

Some of the images in Pilgrim’s book are disturbing. However, that is the point.

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