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Festival exploring gender continues to see growth

by Ryan Kasley
Philadelphia Gay News
September 25th, 2014

Gender Reel, a film festival dedicated to enhancing the visibility of gender-nonconforming, gender-variant/queer and transgender people, returns for its fourth installation Oct. 4 and 5.

It will take place at The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St., and feature 29 films of all lengths: feature, one-hour and shorts.
New this year are four special events.

The first is a question-and-answer session with Rachelle Lee Smith, a Philly resident and author of “Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus,” a photo-essay book, at 4 p.m. Oct. 4. Smith first displayed the photos from her book at the first festival in 2011, when it included both film and art.

There will also be a transmen-of-color discussion following the 7 p.m. screening of “Shirts vs. Skins” Oct. 5. The panel will feature Christian Axavier Lovehall, grand marshal of this year’s Pride parade, and three other community representatives.

Julie Chovanes will also perform a 50-minute performance-art piece called “The Transsexual,” 8 p.m. Oct. 5.

A second Q&A will take place with Oluseyi Adebayo following the screening of the New York director and producer’s “Trans Lives Matter! Justice for Islan Nettles,” which documents the issues surrounding the death of Nettles, a transwoman of color who was fatally beaten last year in New York.

Now in its fourth year, the festival has expanded to four other cities across the country: Omaha, Neb.; Long Beach, Calif.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Durham, N.C.

Joe Ippolito, founder of Gender Reel and chair of the 2014 organizing committee, stressed the benefit of attending a festival in person, especially one as intimate as Gender Reel, the local incarnation of which drew approximately 100 people last year.

“Coming to a space where there is community, not only to talk about the film with others in a formal discussion but also to meet people who are interested in the topic, this is one of the biggest benefits,” Ippolito said. “You can find community, make connections and learn about process. The queer community doesn’t always have too many options to do something outside of a bar. Not everyone wants to have to navigate those spaces. But you can make connections here at Gender Reel.”

In addition to expanding to more cities, Ippolito hopes to grow the festival’s online presence over the next year by producing a web series of exclusive content and expanding access to its online film archives.

Earlier this year, Gender Reel released its first documentary, “Growing Old Gracefully: The Transgender Experience,” made in collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s Tretter Archive Collection.

Part of Ippolito’s mission for next year will be to create an online place for dialogue for trans people over 50 — a group Ippolito said is largely underserved by the current LGBT-film industry — and people interested in their stories.

“You only get a small snapshot in the film. I want to put B-reel footage up online, and have a callout for other people over 50 to submit their stories,” he said. “The stories of the older are vastly different from the youth. People may have not been out when they were younger, or transitioned to a different gender later in life. Then I want to provide resources for cultural-competency training for those individuals.”

Gender Reel is finalizing its nonprofit 501(c) 3 status. Once it does, Ippolito hopes to create a completion grant program for directors.

For more information, visit www.genderreelfest.com.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Rachelle Lee Smith Author's Page




Speaking OUT: reviewed on PFLAGG Greensboro

by Dave Parker
PFlagg Greensboro

Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus
Photo Essay by Rachelle Lee Smith


In Speaking OUT Rachelle Lee Smith presents a series of photos of LGBT youth taken 10 years ago which include out statements by each subject . These heartfelt expressions of their identities and perspectives are written in their own hands directly on the photos, allowing the reader to feel the impact of their feelings in conjunction with their image.

Follow up statements from some of these youth help us to see how their lives have developed. They express their current feelings both about themselves and about the statements they provided 10 years ago.

The photos represent a spectrum of youthful identity. Some of their writings reflect a positive coming out experience, while others report negative reactions. Most are certain in their identity; others appear to be questioning. A few seem openly rebellious; some seem truly at peace with themselves and their relationships. They are a microcosm of queer youth.

Today’s queer youth need to know that their feelings are not unique. They are just different from many of their contemporaries. Today’s parents can read this photo essay and see that their children are not so different– whether or not they are queer.

My reaction to these photos and comments is that the subjects seem so normal. All youth go through times of stress, make choices, learn about themselves, and decide how they want to present to their peers. Those who identify differently than their social peers often struggle with rejection, name-calling, and other bullying.

Identifying differently and standing up for themselves as these young people did requires great courage.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Rachelle Lee Smith Author's Page




Karen Joy Fowler's The Science of Herself in Peace News

By Gabriel Carlyle
Peace News
October- November 2014


Most people who’ve heard of Karen Joy Fowler probably know her through her 2004 New York Times bestseller The Jane Austen Book Club, which got turned into a Hollywood film and was chosen as a title for the Richard & Judy book club. However, if you’ve never read her then you shouldn’t let the latter facts put you off, for Fowler is a delightful writer with a strong feminist sensibility, and this book – comprised of three short stories, an interview and a brief essay – provides an excellent brief taster of her work.

The stories explore torture, the life of the remarkable 19th century paleontologist Mary Anning, and the trials and tribulations of the sport-averse son of a gutsy single-mother. In the essay Fowler riffs off the assertion (taken from a late ’80s science fiction primer) that the secret of truly effective effective science fiction is to ‘burn the motherhood statement’, that is, to avoid positing something profoundly unsettling only to beat a hasty retreat with an affirmation of ‘apple pie and motherhood’.

In reality, she notes: ‘Nothing, absolutely nothing, appears to be more contested in our political and social and private lives than motherhood’, and we urgently need to take a leaf out of the great science fiction writers of the 1970s who, while ‘busily burning the motherhood statement’, were also engaged in a ‘concentrated and communal attempt to reimagine motherhood’, exploring worlds ‘in which babies were birthed by machines’ or ‘in which sexuality [was] so fluid that the same person might be the biological father of one child and the biological mother of another’.

 

Buy The Science of Herself now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Karen Joy Fowler's Author Page




Towards Collective Liberation: A review in Peace News

by Milan Rai
Peace News
October-November 2014

When I’ve heard white people committed to social change start talking about racism and activism, the conversation has often veered rapidly to the question:

‘How can we get more of them to come to our meetings/activities?’

In Towards Collective Liberation, a powerful, humble and thought-provoking book that deserves the widest possible readership, white US activist Chris Crass poses very different questions: ‘How can white radicals work with other white people against racism?’ and ‘How can white radicals be trustworthy allies to people targeted by racism?’ He poses similar questions in relation to male supremacy and patriarchy.

Crass doesn’t give us abstract ideas about how to answer these questions; he gives us years of experience, including in trying to support the leadership of working-class communities of colour.

There is a telling contrast between two interventions by San Francisco Food Not Bombs (FNB), a mainly-white group to which Crass devoted most of the 1990s. In 1995, a group of FNBers approached AYUDA, a Latino/a immigrant group fighting for housing and civil rights, to offer support. They developed a plan whereby FNB would offer a weekly meal for day labourers on César Chávez Street while AYUDA did outreach, building its membership. Crass comments: ‘This was a radically different approach to solidarity. By building an ongoing program, FNB was able to support the development of a poor people’s economic justice organization, which could then provide leadership in the fight for housing, worker and immigrant rights.’

In 1998, after AYUDA took over the food element of that programme, some FNBers decided to show their solidarity with day labourers (who were being harassed by the police and immigration services) by serving food on the same street. This time, FNB did not team up with a community organisation, and had only a few beginner-level Spanish speakers serving meals. It turned out that the casual workers assumed the project was a church charity programme, and after a year FNB ended the meals. Crass comments: ‘As one of the main proponents of the serving, I didn’t understand the critical distinction between supporting an immigrant worker-led group like Housing Not Borders [formerly AYUDA] to build its membership and an FNB serving that was virtually indistinguishable from charity.’ It was to a large extent a question of power, of accepting leadership from a people-of-colour-led organisation.

“Doing anti-racist work as a white person doesn’t mean not making mistakes, but rather that we are committed to doing this work, even though we will make mistakes.”

Learning from this experience, a group of mainly white FNBers slowly built a relationship with the ‘Day Labor Program’ (DLP), founded by poor and working-class Latino/a immigrants. FNB eventually became trusted to cook for DLP meetings, actions and holiday meals – and also became involved in DLP campaigns against official harassment of day labourers.

Years later, another radical group Crass was involved in, Heads Up, responded to the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks by focusing on immigrant justice, and building bridges between the immigrant-rights movement and the majority-white anti-war/global justice movements in the US.

Fundamental to their work has been building long-term relationships with self-organised immigrant groups: ‘We have provided solidarity support in food support, collecting donations and resources, doing security on marches and actions, turning people out for actions, leading and supporting political education events, doing media work locally and nationally, door-knocking, driving, recruiting volunteers, picketing, helping with outreach for Know Your Rights trainings, and so on.’ Heads Up have also testified at commissions where they were the only white anti-racist people speaking about immigration; and worked on electoral campaigns to pass a living wage, defeat anti-poor people legislation, and elect pro-tenant, pro-worker, pro-immigrant candidates to local office.

They did this work with two key people-of-colour-led organisations in order to ‘build accountable, long-term relationships’ as the foundation for their anti-racist work.

Crass writes later in the book: ‘Doing anti-racist work as a white person doesn’t mean not making mistakes, but rather that we are committed to doing this work, even though we will make mistakes.’

Doubling our strength

 Towards Collective Liberation is full of humbling stories like these. The final section is composed of interviews (by Chris Crass) of inspiring groups around the US, including the Fairness Campaign in Louisville, Kentucky, which is the city’s leading LGBT group, and which has also, from its founding, had anti-racism as a core principle. This anti-racist commitment has meant practical solidarity with Louisville’s Black community, which built the relationships which made it possible for Black elected officials to include sexual orientation in anti-hate crimes legislation in 1991.

“How can I be sexist? I’m an anarchist!”

In 1999, after lobbying, protests, door-to-door mobilisation and civil disobedience, the Fairness Campaign secured the passage of legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The campaign had become a powerful political force in the city by building a strong multiracial base that understood the importance of struggles for racial, economic and gender justice.

There is a growing awareness in activist circles of the interconnectedness of different forms of oppression, an awareness which is often called ‘intersectionality’. The title of Chris Crass’s book points not to the critical analysis of ‘intersectionality’, but to the kind of principled, strategic coming together that builds on an intersectional awareness, the kind of coming together that the Fairness Campaign has built over decades.

The phrase ‘collective liberation’ comes from an essay by bell hooks (Crass cites a large number of women of colour as thinkers and activists who have shaped his own thinking and practice): ‘Until we are all able to accept the interlocking, interdependent nature of systems of domination and recognize specific ways each system is maintained, we will continue to act in ways that undermine our individual quest for freedom and collective liberation struggle.’

Where ‘anti-oppression work’ can concentrate on ‘what not to do’, Crass has slowly come to focus on ‘collective liberation’ which is about ‘what we should do’.

Scare me

 There is a lot more to this book than the theory and practice of contemporary US white anti-racism (though it would be valuable for that alone). There is a wealth of experience and careful thought, for example, on how to build successful and effective groups and movements – the sections on an anarchist approach to leadership development are worth the cover price by themselves.

The other core concern of the book, alongside race, is gender, how men can work against sexism in our organisations and in ourselves. Crass describes the struggles within San Francisco Food Not Bombs over male supremacy in a painfully-honest, painfully-familiar way.

Women in SF FNB, who made up half the membership, managed to lead the group to reasonably effective ways of dealing with sexual harassment, which led also to more women taking visible leadership in the group.

There is a very personal chapter called: ‘Going to places that scare me – personal reflections on challenging male supremacy’. Part I is called ‘How can I be sexist? I’m an anarchist!’ There is a wonderful account of the first time Crass was challenged on his sexism (at 19), and how he and other young men in the local anarchist group floundered at first in responding to women’s anger over their behaviour. There can be few non-trans male activists in the West who have not had similar experiences.

In this chapter, Crass acknowledges that it is tempting to distance himself from men who still make dismissive comments about the reality or impact of sexism within their activist groups: ‘it’s important that I remember the times when I’ve made those comments, too.... As a person with [male] privilege organizing others with [male] privilege, that means learning to love myself enough to be able to see myself in people who I would much rather denounce and distance myself from.’

This is part of ‘collective liberation’.

Crass gives a number of practical suggestions on action that non-transgender men can take against sexism. He also sets out some principles for anti-sexist men: ‘Each of must persistently ask ourselves how our work supports the leadership of women, how we are working to share power in our organizing, and how we are making ourselves open to hearing feedback from gender-oppressed people about our work.... We know that sexism will work to undermine movement building. The question is what work will we do to help build movement, and in the process expand our ability to love others and ourselves.’

Towards Collective Liberation is a wonderful, generous book, richly deserving of study and discussion and committed action. As a middle-class man, I am inspired by the challenging precedents that FNB, Heads Up, the Fairness Campaign, Catalyst and others in the book have forged for the rest of us to learn from. As a person of colour, I am full of respect for the principled anti-racist work, the stumbling and recovering, described here.

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




Turning Money Into Rebellion, A Review by the Revolutionary Communist Party

Revolutionary Communist Party
September 5th, 2014


Turning Money Into Rebellion, a book edited by Gabriel Kuhn and published by Kersplebedeb and PM Press, is a gripping snap-shot into a unique period of anti-imperialist struggle in the 1960s-1980s. At some places it reads as a political thriller; it’s engaging from the first page to the last. Focused on the so-called “Blekingegade Group,” a small band of undercover revolutionaries in Denmark who committed a large number of robberies so as to funnel money to armed anti-imperialist movements in the third world, the book is significant in that it examines the ways in which committed revolutionaries in that period attempted to support what they believed to be the advent of world revolution.

The Blekingegade Group (a label applied to these people by the Danish state) was a small and secretive band of activists within a larger political organization—first the Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds (KAK) and then the Manifest-Kommunistisk Arbejdsgruppe (M-KA)—who believed that, due to the lack of revolutionary consciousness amongst the Danish working-class, and thus the impossibility of building a revolutionary movement in Denmark, the only solution was to send as much material support as possible to the vanguard of world revolution, armed communist movements in the third world.

Prefiguring what is often called a “third wordlist” analysis of revolution, the KAK and then the M-KA argued that since Denmark was a “parasite state” it did not possess a proletariat. Rather than using this theoretical approach to justify a lack of practice (to just wait until the third world made revolution), they decided that the only solution for Danish revolutionaries was to do anything possible to support revolutions elsewhere. And so they began to secretly carry off a series of daring criminal activities, none of which were understood to be politically motivated until after the conspirators were caught, and send all of this money to their contacts in the third world.

Whether or not one agrees with the KAK/M-KA’s analysis of Denmark (or the entire first world, for that matter) does not undermine the importance of Turning Money Into Rebellion. Aside from telling one of the many stories of past revolutionaries’ attempts to be internationalists in deed as well as name—stories that are most often distorted by official ruling class propaganda—it also demonstrates that it is possible for people to break with bourgeois legality and undermine the day-to-day practices of the state and survive for decades in doing so. The capitalist state likes to present itself as all powerful and yet the Blekingegade Group carried out its activities for twenty years, caught only because of a robbery where they made several security mistakes.

These experiences are worth studying because they can tell us something about tactics, security procedures, discipline and commitment; they may help contribute to an overall understanding of strategy in the contemporary context.


Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Gabriel Kuhn's homepage




Turning Money Into Rebellion, A Review in Marx & Philosophy

By Joshua Moufawad-Paul
Marx & Philosophy
Review of Books

September 9th, 2014

At the end of the 1980s five men robbed a cash-in-transit vehicle in Copenhagen, stealing over thirteen million crowns. The subsequent investigation led to the discovery of an apartment in the district of Blekingegade that contained: 'crystal radio receivers, transmitters, and antennas; masks, false beards, and state-of-the-art replicas of police uniforms; numerous false documents and machines to produce them; extensive notes outlining the … robbery and other unlawful activities; and – in a separate room, accessible only through a hidden door – the biggest illegal weapons cache ever found in Denmark.' (3)

Unimaginatively dubbed the 'Blekingegade Group' based on the location of the apartment, the five suspects in the robbery turned out to be undercover revolutionaries who had been carrying out various robberies for close to twenty years in order to help fund third world Marxist revolutionary movements. A small and clandestine group within a Marxist organization that based its praxis on a particular understanding of Lenin's theory of the labour aristocracy, the Blekingegade Group spent decades providing material support for organizations such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The story of the Blekingegade Group, though largely unknown outside of Denmark, has seized the imagination of the Danish public, particularly in recent years after the release of a two-volume history of the group by Danish journalist Peter Øvig Knudsen in 2007 and, due to this book’s popularity, a subsequent television documentary. It is in this context that Turning Money into Rebellion, edited by Gabriel Kuhn, was written. Composed of an essay and interview with the group’s surviving members, as well as excerpts from some documents by the group’s above-ground organizations, Turning Money into Rebellion is intended not only to introduce the story of the Blekingegade Group to English speakers but to counter Knudsen’s liberal narrative.

In this review I want to focus on a few salient aspects of this book: i) its unique window into the past anti-imperialist movement when people were convinced that capitalism’s defeat was close; ii) its relevance to contemporary debates about the theory of the labour aristocracy; iii) its existence as a possible counter-narrative to a mainstream discourse about anti-imperialist action.

From the 1960s until the 1980s there was a worldwide anti-imperialist movement that witnessed the emergence of a variety of people and organizations in the first world who, convinced that third world revolutionary movements were leading the struggle against a moribund capitalism, attempted to place their theory and practice within this context. Some of these groups – the Red Army Faction (RAF) in West Germany, the Red Brigades (BR) in Italy, the Weather Underground Organization (WUO) in the United States, etc. – took to heart Che Guevera’s remark about making revolution 'in the belly of the beast' so as to destabilize imperialism from within. Other groups and individuals – such as the Japanese Red Army (JRA), Carlos, and others – went to the global peripheries and worked directly under the political command of third world guerrilla movements. The members of the Blekingegade Group, however, embarked on a different strategy: rather than emerging in Denmark as an urban guerrilla front, they chose to disguise their practice as purely criminal – releasing no communiques, no explanations of their activities at the time – and functioned solely to provide material support for those movements they felt were leading world revolution.

The reason for the Blekingegade Group’s particular practice was based on its political assessment of Denmark and the entire first world. Originally belonging to the Maoist-identified Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds (KAK), these undercover revolutionaries were convinced of the KAK founder, Gotfred Appel’s 'parasite state theory' that 'claimed that the working class of the imperialist countries had become an ally of the ruling class due to its privileges in the context of the global capitalist system.' (4) Under the impression that there was no point in organizing a working class that benefited from global oppression, and therefore had far more to lose than its chains in the event of a revolution, Appel – and hence the people who would become part of the Blekingegade Group – decided that the revolutionary subject was located in the third world and that, in order to be properly revolutionary in the first world, it was the duty of anti-imperialist communists to do anything possible to support Marxist movements in the global peripheries. Since far more material support could be accumulated by robbing the state, a clandestine group eventually emerged within the ranks of the KAK that, after making contact with several third world organizations, embarked on the path that would lead to their arrest at the end of the 1980s.

As some readers might have noticed, the parasite state theory prefigures a long-standing Marxist debate about whether or not the working class at the centres of global capitalism, benefiting from the super-exploitation of imperialism, are what Lenin once called a 'labour aristocracy' and thus no longer proletarian. This debate regarding the existence of a labour aristocracy has most recently manifested in the exchange between Zak Cope and Charles Post, but possesses an earlier theoretical basis in the work of theorists such as Arghiri Emmanuel and Immanuel Wallerstein. Indeed, the former even wrote an introduction to a document produced by the Manifest-Kommunistisk Arbejdsgruppe (M-KA), the organization that split from the KAK and that contained the members of the Blekingegade Group: Imperialism Today: Unequal Exchange and the Possibilities for Socialism in a Divided World.

Hence, Turning Money into Rebellion offers an earlier perspective on this debate since it contains an excerpt from the aforementioned document, an essay by Appel on the parasite state theory, and a discussion by the surviving members about the significance of this theory in light of their own activities and the contemporary conjuncture. Whether or not readers agree with the above theoretical assessment, Turning Money into Rebellion is important because it demonstrates how a political line can and should dictate strategy. To proclaim that there is no reason to organize in one’s country due to a lack of revolutionary potential could, after all, produce inaction – a common charge leveled, rightly or wrongly, against people who make similar pronouncements today. The significance of the Blekingegade Group, however, is that its members discovered a way in which to put their theory into practice, perhaps the only way it could be put into practice: return the profit generated by imperialist super-exploitation to the peripheries, specifically to those communist organizations that appeared to be leading world revolution.

Although these undercover revolutionaries were eventually caught, and though the organizations they chose to support are no longer leading world revolution, so were the other anti-imperialist groups and individuals who possessed a different theory and practice. There are a variety of reasons for this worldwide collapse of anti-imperialist foment, all of which are beyond the scope of this review, but books like Turning Money Into Rebellion might be useful in teaching us something about these reasons, as well as excavating a history of resistance that is often obscured by mainstream narratives.

In recent years there has been a resurgence of books and films about this past period of anti-imperialism. Aside from the treatment the Blekingegade Group was given by Knudsen, there are also recent films such as Carlos and The Baader-Meinhof Complex (based on Stefan Aust’s book of the same name) that have garnered significant attention. The problem with this depiction of armed anti-imperialism is that, whatever we might think of the tactics involved during this period, these books and films are usually designed to promote the ideology that resistance against capitalism is useless and that those who resist are narcissistic psychopaths. The anti-imperialist revolutionary is depicted as an egocentric rock star, their politics are presented as vague, and the forces they are resisting are treated as a fact of nature. In such a context, whatever we might think of the theory and practice of such people, the publication of books like Turning Money into Rebellion are important because they provide a voice for the people who sacrificed decades of their lives attempting to bring a better world into existence. Effectively silenced by the mainstream narrative, forced to witness distorted depictions of their actions and beliefs, books that attempt to tell their story according to the way they saw the world allow us to recapture aspects of that revolutionary heritage the culture industry generally suppresses.

It is significant, then, that the first essay in Kuhn’s edited collection is entitled 'It Is All About Politics', written by three surviving members of the Blekingegade Group, is a response to the manner in which the official narrative of their activities silenced their political commitments. 'There have been many stories circulating about the Blekingegade Group for the past twenty years,' they write, 'They aren’t going away. […] The media always returns to the subject and law enforcement officers and politicians are happy to jump on the bandwagon. They have a particular motive: a hatred of the left of the 1970s. Apparent “investigations” are actually part of a political battle.' (91) Thus, Turning Money into Rebellion should be seen as part of this political battle, but from the side of those who struggled, according to the reality with which they were presented, on the side of the oppressed.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Gabriel Kuhn's homepage




Marge Piercy's The Cost of Lunch, Etc. in Barnstable Patriot

Barnstable Patriot
September 2014

Short stories have never been my thing. If something captures my “reading attention” right away, I don’t want it to stop, and I find short fiction frustrating for that reason. Armed with this prior mindset, I hunkered down reluctantly with Marge Piercy’s new book, a short story collection called “The Cost of Lunch, Etc.,” and prepared for disappointment. Well, I sure was wrong on this one. These stories entrance and satisfy at the highest level.

I recently read an article that described the initial screening for a new movie release. At the end, a young audience member stands and says, “You’ve just captured my life.” That’s just what Piercy does – and what a good short story can do – by capturing a quick-flash photo illuminating some act or thought that rings true in our own personal experience.

The stories in Piercy’s collection seem lit from within, brief interior glimpses into the many-layered lives of women. The author employs the same wry wit, political slant and ardent feminism that have marked her previous books. Many stories have an autobiographical slant, and themes of anti-war activism, sex, poverty, Jewishness and the “place” of women are threaded throughout. Often nothing is resolved, but – maybe because of that – these incisive tales strike home.

Instead of dissecting a particular personal interaction, Piercy often just lets it stand, allowing us take it from there. We seem to have a need to affirm our own personal sulks and glories, to know that others have felt the same way, too. 

In the penetrating “Do You Love Me,” a mismatched man and woman agonize as one plans to leave the other. Each aches for a definite “yes” even though both know they don’t feel right together. The man’s speech catches us up in a place we’ve been ourselves: “He does not know what he wants, only that everything is going away.”

A pithy, intriguing women’s triangle enlivens “Ring Around the Kleinbottle,” familiar in its depiction of how women can support, enable or betray one another. The standout, “What the Arbor Said,” is a poignant reminder of how easily we can feel slighted, and how a shameful inferiority often lies beneath a surface of calm confidence. Piercy’s perceptiveness exposes our raw edges and vulnerability, but her characters never affect to be better than we are, only complicit with us in their desire to somehow get on with things.

Piercy’s work is well known nationally, and she’s lived on Cape Cod since 1971 so she’s thatmuch more familiar to us here. She’s written 17 volumes of poetry and a similar number of novels, including the New York Times bestseller “Gone to Soldiers” and the national bestsellers “Braided Lives”and “The Longings of Women,” to mention just a few.

With so many current books full of trumped-up suspense and skin-deep plot devices, it’s the inner activity in this one that resonates. The sublime is forever mixing with the ridiculous, and while this may sometimes obscure our personal aha! moments, it gives us a new appreciation for our mixed and muddled lives.


Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Marge Piercy's Author Page


Towards Collective Liberation: A review by the War Resisters League

by Joshua Stephens
War Resisters League
September 2014

With Towards Collective Liberation, veteran activist and writer Chris Crass has filled a number of conspicuous voids in radical literature, seeking to render the aspirations of feminist and antiracist struggle plain, practicable, and their realization imminently possible. Through autobiographical reflections on his early years as an anarchist organizer in San Francisco, a few brief essays, and a series of interviews with key figures in contemporary horizontal organizations, he has crafted what might be the first primer on the intersection of antriracist/feminist politics and anarchism aimed squarely at a white cis-male audience.

While innumerable and notable authors have tackled the corrosive effects of white supremacy and patriarchal relations within radical social movements, and some have even done so with explicit reference to anarchist politics, the literature that has resulted figures as a sort of archipelago of scattered sources—an often daunting or unnavigable card catalog for younger, less-initiated readers. Little in the way of deeply practical, comprehensive introductory writing has been on offer, even as movements on the ground have created a stunning, dynamic body of knowledge around how race, gender, sexuality, and class intersect and collide in organizing. Consequently, less-experienced activists inhabiting positions of privilege often take years to develop any meaningful understanding of the baggage saddling the projects they join, and the ways their own (often subtle) behavior threatens the prospects for genuinely collective liberation.

In Towards Collective Liberation, Crass eschews broad abstractions in favor of case studies, practically daring readers not to see their own experiences reflected in the stories he draws out. San Francisco’s Food Not Bombs’ (FNB) growing pains during the 1990’s figure as the largest of these, comprising nearly half the book. Organizational structure (or a lack thereof), differing strategic visions, and unchecked, entrenched behaviors unfold in Crass’s retelling, yielding scenes likely all too familiar to most anyone who’s spent time in grassroots organizing. What’s most powerful in his approach, however, is his blunt candor about the outcomes—outcomes many will also recognize. For Crass, the composition of our movements, their longevity and sustainability, and their relationships with disproportionately impacted communities are not incomprehensible realities. He walks the reader (sometimes tediously) through an almost forensic account of how FNB found itself at various crossroads, and why.

To say it’s a convincing diagnosis is to considerably understate what Crass accomplishes. It frankly leaves little about which to be convinced. He then swiftly moves through a survey of lessons from antiracist, feminist movement and literature—drawing on everyone from Ella Baker to bell hooks—setting up the ethics, vision, and commitments that animate what amounts to the prescriptive portion of Crass’s work: how to build antiracist and feminist praxis into movement-building work. He accomplishes this through an account of how San Francisco’s Catalyst Project approaches its mission, as well as interviews with contemporary organizers with The Heads Up Collective, Oregon’s Rural Organizing Project, Louisville’s Fairness Campaign, and Wisconsin’s Groundwork Collective.

Throughout the book, Crass is adamant about a pervasive and under-discussed stumbling block: the tendency, on the part of those interrogating and challenging their own racist, sexist socialization, toward self-reference and self-absorption. “Frequently I came across as cold, angry, or self-righteous, none of which were particularly helpful,” he writes. “If my goal was… alleviat[ing] my own guilt and shame for being white and male, then this was perhaps a useful approach… [But] I needed to take time to really understand my motivations. I needed to get grounded in an understanding of my own self-interest in liberation.”

Crass’s earnestness, however, has also yielded a repetition that feels, at times, appropriate only for a high school textbook, assuming a certain lack of comprehension on the part of the reader. For a strictly introductory text, it works; for a more experienced audience, it may prove prohibitive. No favors are done the text by the rather large volume of typographical errors, either (about one per page, including paragraphs that end with commas). Ideas are a matter or content, and here Crass shines—even breaks critical ground. Writing, as vector for making ideas stick, however, still places demands on form. If his readers can forgive on the latter point, they will be rewarded on the former.

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




Most Social Change Groups Grapple with White Privilege—But This Book Can Help

by Joshua Kahn Russell
YES! Magazine
September 17th, 2014

The work of activism is full of messy contradictions. In Towards Collective Liberation, Chris Crass breaks down the influence of racism and patriarchy, including helpful how-tos—like “Twenty Careful Steps Toward Anti-sexist Action.”
As an organizer in the climate movement, I see many young white people grappling with racism and privilege, struggling to break through the limitations of middle-class white environmentalism. So it’s exciting that compassionate facilitator Chris Crass has written a book that will help.

Towards Collective Liberation is a memoir, toolkit, self-help book, strategy reflection, and call to arms all at once. Its lessons about how to work in solidarity with frontline organizations ring true to current challenges and remind us that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Crass brings deep insights from the canon of critical race analysis to a practical level. His writing is rooted in his personal journey, offering examples of the impact of racism and patriarchy on how we form organizations, develop leadership, and build multiracial movements.

Towards Collective Liberation spans 20 years of experience and a wide range of contexts: The Battle in Seattle and the Global Justice movement, projects like Food Not Bombs, movement-support groups like the Catalyst Project and the Heads Up Collective, and racial and economic justice community organizations. Crass acknowledges that this work is full of messy contradictions. His articles, reflections, and interviews are interspersed with how-tos for real-life situations (such as “Twenty Careful Steps Toward Anti-sexist Action”).

Crass’ fierce self-interrogation lends the book a particular authenticity and deflates the self-righteousness that often accompanies the discussion of privilege.

Towards Collective Liberation is a gift to help us bring our most powerful selves to the work. It reminds us that none of this is new; we stand on the shoulders of our movement ancestors.


Joshua Kahn Russell wrote this article for The End of Poverty, the Fall 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Joshua is global trainings manager for 350.org.

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




Stealing All Transmissions: A Review

by John Murphy
Spectrum Culture
September 7th, 2014

How did the late ’70s arrival of the Clash to a nation they loved and who loved them, in Randal Doane’s phrase, jostle the privileged perch granted FM free-form radio and long-form rock journalism in American popular culture? Doane attempts to answer this complex topic in Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash. He matches an affection for what was pitched as “the only band that matters” with a professor’s determination to apply theory and scholarship about popular culture to the band’s American impact.

FM radio crackled with battles between disco and new wave, Steely Dan and the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell. Guitar heroes Van Halen threatened Boston and Kansas. Pre-packaged rock radio in syndication, and then MTV, took advantage of alternative rock trends. The Clash and other punks rallied to break down barriers on air. Doane examines, circa 1978-81, a brief success by the underdogs against the suits. Intriguingly, the Clash was signed to CBS. That band marketed its message as widely as possible. The result (as this reviewer can attest) is that many younger listeners picked up guitars and books, inspired by not only the “molten” noise of early import singles, but the Clash’s lyrical range and cultural references.

A dean at Oberlin College, Doane combines academic critique (and its concomitant tendency to lapse into seminar-speak) with livelier glimpses from his formative years as a fan growing up in Stockton, California. He enriches these youthful reminiscences with an imaginative journey. He invents a quest narrative, following the figures narrated over four sides of London Calling as that album’s storyline follows dreamers and schemers from the band’s hometown across the sea to success or failure in Manhattan. (I note as an aside that the first box-set retrospective issued by the band is called Clash on Broadway, a location which fits both London and New York City, even as it emphasizes the latter.)

Doane straddles the boundaries between fan and critic throughout this study. He analyzes the music industry as a Clash historian, and as an often discrete investigation into the state of American rock radio in the 1970s. He documents the struggle on FM stations between AOR, disco, hard rock and the new wave upstarts. These were often marketed by Sire Records and eager labels, some indie, some subsidiaries of the majors, who allied with the bands which claimed to challenge the system. Of course, they also aspired to chart success and lucrative tours. This bifurcated presentation, by not only the bands in their clash of ambitions but Doane’s staggered structure of his chapters between those on the Clash and those on radio, weakens this as a cohesive thesis. However, considering particular chapters apart from this diffused presentation, Doane’s attempt to analyze the Clash within an American moment as the ‘70s leapt into the ‘80s provides a useful perspective of the band’s impact. It draws upon books by Clayton Heylin and Jon Savage, integrating their research with his own predilection for New York City area rock stations. Belying its subtitle, this case study is not a secret history so much as an archival retrieval of that region’s left of the dial airwaves during and after their countercultural birth. Doane looks into how they did or did not play the Clash, along with rivals or colleagues from both local and British punk and new wave scenes.

This book is enhanced by backline roadie Barry “the Baker” Auguste’s introduction. He conveys the changing fortunes of a band gradually if seemingly suddenly, for one behind the scenes, lifted from clubs to theaters to arenas by its third album, London Calling. Doane spends a lot of time figuring out when its iconic album cover was photographed. On the other hand, this book does not delve very far into the mid-1980s phase of the Clash’s line-up. Instead, Doane sticks to the first three albums, and he shows what worked and what did not on the various domestic and import versions of their incendiary self-titled debut, and the more, uh, diverse, follow-up, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, produced by Blue Öyster Cult associate Sandy Pearlman. As for the sprawling triple disc, the what to me felt the never-ending experiments of Sandinista!, brisk coverage is given. Doane marvels at it, as diehard fans tend to do.

Tellingly, he offers no real attention to their more mainstream album, the last one with their steadiest line-up, Combat Rock, and none to the album made by Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and new recruits to replace Mick Jones and Topper Headon, the widely disdained Cut the Crap. It would have been intriguing to follow the fortunes of the band: their tours, their radio play and their LP sales. Certainly one wonders how the Clash, once they topped the charts, dealt with their long-term prospects. It’s a relevant example of the music industry’s own determination to encourage or ignore a band. Yes, the band’s saga during their global roller coaster of the 1980s has been covered before. But Doane stops the story early on, preferring to end while the band anticipated greater fame in the U.S. and beyond.

Given this wistful denouement, Doane’s study offers a muted celebration and a cautionary tale of how rock radio and promotion U.S. markets tried to fend off, ignore, or embrace us, then-scattered and once few, fans of punk and new wave. Even if the academic tone slows his pace, Doane places the Clash within their attempt to break into the American market. Best of all, his diligence and scrutiny reminds readers about when such inventive music, combative attitudes, and intelligent lyrics (well, some of the time; I never liked “Rock the Casbah” and its ilk) mattered for millions of fans growing up then. Today, the hit-and-miss history of the one punk band which made it big as arena rockers endures. And, professors grow up to be fans, or in my case, reviewers. For, the Clash was the first “real” band I ever saw, in March, 1980, at the Santa Monica Civic. They arrived hours late, but nobody (except for punctual me) seemed to mind.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Randal Doane's Author Page



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