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Debt & the Movement That Is Challenging it

By Alex Knight
Fifth Estate
Spring 2015


The good people of Strike Debt have revised and expanded their very popular, Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual, (DROM) into a full-length book. It is half political and historical analysis of how indebtedness has come to define so many aspects of our lives and half a practical
how-to guide for people struggling with various forms of debt to seek individual relief and collective action.

Strike Debt defines itself as “a nationwide movement of debt resisters fight- ing for economic justice and democratic freedom.”

As an ideological and practical tool, the DROM is highly valuable and appropriate to our time of crisis. What remains to be seen is how to transform the growing distress of the millions affected by debt into a grassroots mass movement, which is the only vehicle that can ultimately overthrow the debt system (capitalism) and liberate the future. Organizing campaigns against more focused targets, such as the student loan industry, may be the best way to cohere the analysis and outrage of Strike Debt into national (or global) upheaval.

The Manual is very comprehensive in its survey of the pillars of debt. The original chapters from the old pamphlet version of the DROM are still here, in slightly updated form: Credit Card and Automobile Debt, Medical Debt, Student Debt, Housing Debt, Municipal and State Debt, as well as “Fringe Finance” products and services which primarily take advantage of the “unbanked” through such extortionate avenues as payday loans and check-cashing services.

In addition, the new DROM also includes chapters on Tax Debt, National Debt, Climate Debt, as well as Credit Scores, Debt Collection and Bankruptcy. Each chapter, written by different anonymous authors, is detailed in its approach yet broad enough to remain accessible to the general reader. The clear purpose is for those who suffer from a particular form of indebtedness to be able to understand the political significance of that debt as an institution, and therefore to politicize the personal and remove the veil of shame that tends to surround those of us who happen to be stuck with it.

This politicization of the personal is one of the great successes of the book. Rather than viewing one’s own debt as a mark of individual failure which sets one apart, the book argues, “[Debt] is quite typically the outcome of people and families just trying to survive under capitalism.”

Seeing this as a unifying, political force is what leads to Strike Debt’s brilliant slogan, “You Are Not a Loan.”

However, the challenge is how to turn theory into strategic action with the capacity to involve large numbers of people in a process of organizing for liberation. In this regard, the Manual offers only modest value. While the book’s historical/political framework is educational for those seeking social change, it comes up short in sug- gesting effective routes for people to apply those lessons in the practice of grassroots organizing.

Most of the practical, how-to sections of the book are focused on individual tactics for debt relief or avoidance. These are worthy of being included and not insignificant. Understanding how to contest one’s debt with collection agencies, or in court, could provide tangible relief and allow greater freedom for many individuals.

However, the book’s last chapter, “Prospects for Change” (subtitle: “Join the Resistance!”), which is one of the few sections dealing explicitly with collective action, is only seven pages long. Even the majority of that is taken up by historical review of past debt resistance movements rather than proposals for what can be done now and how ordinary people can work together to challenge the existing paradigm.

This deficit is unfortunate, but understandable. No one yet knows how to build a debt resistance movement today, or they would be doing it already. Strike Debt has shown in its actions to date that it is at least willing to experiment and be bold in its attempts to spark interest and participation.

Rolling Jubilee, one of their projects, buys bad debt from creditors for pennies on the dollar with funds contributed by supporters, but instead of collecting it, abolishes it. Their site, rollingjubilee.org, states, “Together we can liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will, and collective refusal.”

The effort has attracted major media attention to the debt system’s oppressive nature and that there are people standing up to it. But capitalism will not be defeated by spectacular theatre alone.

More inspiring was a recent disruption and takeover of a U.S. Department of Education meeting by Everest Avengers, a new group made up of present and former students of Everest College and other for-profit colleges in the Corin- thian Colleges network. This action was led by working class women and people of color, demographics preyed upon by for-profit colleges that offer the illusion of an education but saddle many less fortunate young Americans with debt that will last their entire lives.

 It is hopeful to see those most affected by student debt taking the lead to challenge it, since of the six million Americans currently in default on their student loans, 60 percent are women and a disproportionate 57 percent are people of color. Perhaps this new direction of organizing for-profit college students, facilitated by the Debt Collective, also part of Strike Debt, will lead to greater numbers of young people participating in their own liberation.

In Philadelphia, I have joined with other student debtors to initiate a campaign called Strike Student Debt, which aims to accomplish exactly that. Youth are always on the forefront of movements for liberation, and the student debt crisis in this country has reached epic proportions, such that 70 percent of college graduates in 2012 owed an average of almost $30,000 upon graduation.

Understanding that, we’ve decided to take Strike Debt’s excellent theoretical framework and attempt to construct an organizing framework that aims to mobilize large numbers of Americans through the principles of direct democracy and direct action. To this point, we’ve focused primarily on re- search and education, outreach, and a few local actions, but we aim to expand the campaign to other cities in the near future.

The question for us in Strike Student Debt, and for everyone concerned about debt in general, is how do you organize a mass movement against debt? Direct action campaigns have historically been very effective in targeting a localized source of evil, such as a factory or racially segregated facility, but where exactly does the production of debt occur? Can we throw our bodies on “the gears and the levers,” to quote Berkeley’s Mario Savio, by attempting to shut down private lenders or banks, which legally have no public obligation other than to make profit?


It is similarly difficult to image a student strike on campuses being effective enough to force universities across the board (some public, some private, some explicitly for- profit) to collectively agree to slash tuition. When something like this happened in the Maple Spring of Quebec two years ago, students merely prevented a potential tuition hike from about $1,000 to $2,000 at public universities.

Or, in Germany recently when students forced the government to remove all university fees, those fees had only existed since 2006. Unlike Canada, or Europe, the U.S. has gone much further down this disastrous road, and it may take mass confrontation with all the centers of power in this country, from Wall St. to Washington, to produce real change.

As the authors of the Manual point out, “Debt is a profoundly effective form of social control,” and so breaking the shackles of debt will not be a simple task of mobilization.

It also must involve regular people beginning to see themselves as unwilling to be controlled in the old ways.

This is a possibility that becomes more real each time we discuss it or take action that prefigures such a vision, and for that reason we all owe Strike Debt our gratitude for producing this substantial literary contribution.

Alex Knight is the editor of EndOfCapitalism.com. He is active in many social movements attempting to build new demo- cratic pathways. Reach him at alex@endofcapitalism.com.

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 Strike Debt's Author Page




Photos: Queer and Trans Youth Speak Out in the Advocate

by Mitch Kellaway
The Advocate
February 19th, 2015

Even while attention to queer and trans youth has grown recently through campaigns like It Gets Better, documentaries such as Laverne Cox's The T Word, and a national petition for "Leelah's Law," which seeks to ban anti-LGBT "conversion" therapy, there remain few cultural spaces created both by and for LGBT youth.

That's where LGBT activist and award-winning photographer Rachelle Lee Smith's Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus — an internationally shown exhibit recently turned into a book by PM Press — steps in.

Smith's project began one night in 2001, she tells The Advocate, with a call from a teen named Matty. Smith picked up her phone to hear Matty, "hysterical because she had been chased down the street by a large group of frat guys that were calling her names and throwing beer bottles at her," Smith says.

Smith recalls, "I had been working on LGBTQ rights projects, but it was during the phone conversation with her that I knew I needed to incorporate her story, the many stories like hers, my story, and the range of experiences in between."

What followed was a decade of Smith photographing Matty and 64 other diverse queer and trans youth (including herself), ages 14 to 24, and having them hand-write their own perceptions of self, which serve as the eye-catching backdrops to their vibrant photos. Smith followed up with many of her subjects, showing their growth over time in a way rarely seen in similar photo projects. 

"I believe there is strength in numbers, power in words, and freedom in art and I strive to raise awareness with this work," Smith explains. If the images below are any indication, Smith's Speaking Out is a great success.

All images courtesy of Rachelle Lee Smith.

Tara

David

Allstair

Graeme

Sabrina



Mandy

Megan

Angelique

Sam

Beth

Max
Anonymous
Rachelle

Michael

Jo Ellen


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




Positive Force: More Than a Witness A Review in Free City Radio

By Stefan Christoff
Free City Radio
February 19th, 2015

Positive Force, a community activist project rooted in punk rock culture, with a powerful grassroots legacy of working to directly confront and address social injustices, has long been a grassroots reference. Inherently linked to the spirit of do-it-yourself art and activist practices, Positive Force stands as a meaningful challenge to subcultural social modes of cynicism and inaction, refusing to accept the fatality of our times.

Positive Force : More Than A Witness, 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action, is an excellent documentary film by Robin Bell, a Washington DC-based, videographer and artist, that really tells the story of this important project without filters.

Revolving around many, many interviews, with both the artists and activists that have worked around Positive Force during the past couple decades, the film speaks with passion to the idealistic, anarchist-inspired politics that have driven the project. Importantly, this film also addresses many of the real challenges of sustaining such a shoestring, anti-capitalist project within a society structured on systems that fundamentally stand at war with a project like Positive Force.

Through a multiplicity of voices, this film critically recounts many cultural and activist projects that revolved around Positive Force. Iconic artist and activist Kathleen Hanna, speaks about organizing feminist gatherings at the space and the importance of time spent by Bikini Kill in DC around the Positive Force space and within the larger punk community.

Also featured in the film is the key role that the legendary punk band 7 Seconds played in the space, participating in many of the first benefit gigs for the project. Ian Mackaye and Fugazi are also important to the narrative built in the film, illustrating a close synergy between Fugazi’s fierce independence and the political framework of Positive Force.

Key to the film are the many in-depth interviews with activists who were essential to creating, sustaining and defending the Positive Force project, including the voice of the projects co-founder Mark Andersen. Throughout the film Andersen’s voice offers important context and background, working to ground many of parallel projects around Positive Force highlighted in the documentary.  

Some concrete actions and community projects around Positive Force that the film highlights include, the grassroots punk protests / noise jams against apartheid that took place in the 1980s and early 90s outside of US government buildings and the South African embassy in DC. 

Complicated alliances between Positive Force and more conventional anti-poverty organizations like the National Coalition for the Homeless are also explored in the film. Also the film touches on the influential State of The Union album project, released by Dischord records, organized by Positive Force, that benefited the Community For Creative Nonviolence and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Beyond the organizational origins of Positive Force, along with the inspiring sparks of the 1980s, early 90s independent punk scene in DC, the film also looks at links between the people around the space over the last decade, along with their connections to the anti-corporate globalization movement. Protests in DC against the World Bank and IMF, back in 2000, were an essential point of mobilization for the anti-corporate globalization movement, pushed forward and organized in part by a younger generation of anarchist-inspired activists, who were also working with Positive Force.

In many ways Positive Force : More Than A Witness is important because it illustrates concrete example of punk politics in action, a documentary project that really works to explore the multilayered history of this tiny, but storied community project in DC.

"The shared experience witnessing art together, creates an opening for people to exchange ideas on social justice," reflects musician, activist and writer Katy Otto in the film. Both this film and the Positive Force project, point to inspiring ideas, suggesting that community art in essence, is about expressing dreams for liberation and building positive energy toward common struggles against the regressive political, economic and social forces working to repress our collective dreams and possibilities.



Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page




Signal: 03 A Review on Dubdog

Dubdog
February 22nd, 2015

Cover

It seems somewhat ironic that a journal called Signal should pass me by, again. I wrote about the first two issues here in 2012. I can’t remember what, but something pricked my memory of the journal a couple of weeks ago and I went searching for the publication again only to find that issue three was released nearly a year ago with the forth due out this coming May. I quickly ordered Signal:03 and it doesn’t disappoint.

IMG_0001

Once again, what I’m genuinely impressed about with this publication is its breadth. The level of research done by the contributors is impressive and there is a sense of importance given to documenting/archiving social design stories that otherwise would be lost in the midst of time. For example, the image above is from a comical anarchist publication from Brussels in the 1930s. Titled: Game of Massacre: 12 Figures Looking for a Ball, the article explains this Aunt Sally type parlour game, created by Fred Deltor, (aka Frederico Antonio Carasso, 1899–1969), that enables you to cut-out various puppet figures, such as The Military, Property, Fascism, Religion etc, in order that you can throw balls at them. Included in the game was a mock cut-out theatre to set the figures in, and a ball, along with descriptions of the puppets. The above were described thus: (3) “Philanthropy has a chest in the form of a bank vault full of cash and tosses a single coin toward a cadaverous figure (lacking an arm and a leg) in from of a hospital”; and (4) “Social democracy is a two-faced figure who wields the attributes of both royalty and communism”. In uncovering the original publication, Stephen Goddard says: “Stylistically Carasso’s figures betray a knowledge of many of the important international impulses associated with progressive art organisations, periodicals, and movements of the 1920s, such as DeStijl, Het Oversight, Constructivism, and…Agit-prop.”

Signal reprints the preface to the game with a translation which states: “This is the game of massacre. Come! … Here it is, the opulent collection of royal, imperial, and devine puppets, that control you as they wish, you poor crowd, and who, by tragic reversal of roles, pull, from one to the other, the strings of your poor destiny.” Who says that anarchists don’t have a sense of humour?

Like the previous two editions of Signal, issue three mixes historical and contemporary struggles and their associated graphics. So alongside an article on student led strikes in Québec in September 2012, you find the story of the incredible Barbara Dane, co-founder of Paredon Records. Between 1969 and 1985 Dane tried to document revolutionary music being made around the world and in an interview with Alec Dunn and Eric Yanke, she describes how she’d go from country to country recording different musicians and singers and return to the States to release them. In the space of 16 years, Paredon Records, with very little budget, released recordings from Vietnam, Salvador, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Northern Ireland, Ecuador, Italy, Britain, Angola, Chile, Greece, Thailand and a host of other countries. Of the sleeves, she says: “If you look at the records, they’re 12″ x 12″ on the front and then fold around about 5 inches on the back. It was done this way so they could print four at once, four-up on a single sheet of paper…At this printer, what dictated what you could do was economics… And so you figure out things like one color has read, the other blue, so then third cover can have purple. You figure out how to work with two colors, matte paper, that size.”

Record2

1978, design Ronald Clyne

Record1

1975, design by Ronald Clyne

Asking Dane about working with the designer Ronald Clyne, she says: ” If you caught him at the right time of day, before he drank too much wine, he was very very clever about what he did. You can see that he could take any kind of photo, work with it, and make it meaningful and not destroy the meaning of it. And always, his forte was selection of type and layout and all that. I’d bring him basic tools, the basic elements, photos and also drawings from artists I’d met.”

Record3

1975, design by Ronald Clyne

Record4

1974, cover art by Jane Norling

If Barbara Dane wasn’t inspirational enough, Signal:03 publishes an article by Ropbert Burghardt and Gal Kirn on the former Yugoslavia monuments to anti-fascism and revolution. These impressive and often modernist brutal memorials, built between 1945 and 1990, litter what is now split into seven different nations. The authors state: “These monuments are not only modernist, but contain as unique typology: monumental, symbolic (fists, stars, hands, wings, flowers, rocks), bold (and often structurally daring), otherworldly and fantastic. … Instead of formally addressing suffering, these memorial sites incite universal gestures of reconciliation, resistance, and progress…for those that encounter them, they remain highly imaginative objects: they could be ambassadors from far-away stars, witnesses of an unrealised future, historical spectres that haunt the present.”

Y_Mon4

Y_Mon3

Some have been landscaped and provide opportunities for family days out with cafes and play areas. Some are more formal monuments that you can enter, such as the one above in Kozara, while others you happen upon in the middle of nowhere. Started as a way of remembering the second world war, they were initially built spontaneously by local artisans. And if the guidebook to them printed in Signal is anything to go by, there is a vast amount of these monuments dotted around the region, with a map stating over 200 locations, (although many have been destroyed or decayed).

Y_Mon2

Y_Mon1

Once again I am truly impressed by Signal. Its historical importance stretches across many areas including art, design, architecture, music, politics, protest and social history. And although this could be seen as a research journal, it is easily accessible for those who are just generally interested in the topics it covers, students, scholars and armchair revolutionaries alike. I’m already looking forward to the forth edition due in May.

Signal:03 is available to buy from PM Press for $14.95

SA




New D.C. punk documentary has Reno link

By Mark Robison
Reno Gazette-Journal
February 16th, 2015

An example to file under "butterfly flapping wings turns into tsunami half-way around the world": Reno kids started something called Positive Force wherein punk music would be turned into political action.

The Reno effort, started by the band 7 Seconds in the early 1980s, inspired Positive Force to spring up in other cities. The one in Washington, D.C. is still going to this day — and it is the subject of a new documentary on PM Press called "Positive Force: More Than a Witness: 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action."

It tells the story of Positive Force DC, a communal house and activist group that uses punk concerts to raise money to help the poor and elderly in the nation's capitol. Seeing tattooed punk rockers carry in meals to feeble old people and watching the joy on all of their faces shows the potential of music to create positive change.

Kevin Seconds is, of course, interviewed along with a slew of other punk legends who played at Positive Force DC benefit shows or otherwise were part of punk's activist side. These include Penny Rimbaud (Crass), Dave Grohl (Scream, Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys, Guantanamo School of Medicine), Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi, The Evens) and Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile). Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Julie Ruin) explains how the Positive Force DC house was where the Riot Grrrl movement got its start.

The documentary is interspersed with great live performances — some professionally filmed, some bootleg quality — from Positive Force concerts including Bikini Kill, Anti-Flag and many Dischord label bands such as Scream, Rites of Spring, Nation of Ulysses, Soulside (the precursor to Girls Against Boys) and Beefeater. Also excellent are the DVD bonus performances including different full-length live songs not seen in the documentary from Chumbawamba, 7 Seconds, Anti-Flag and a rarely seen "Suggestion" by Fugazi.

The DVD also contains a 1991 documentary on Positive Force, a 2008 documentary on the group's alliance with inner-city seniors and a bunch of outtake sequences from the new documentary.


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Paul Krassner honored by Veterans for Peace group

By Denise Goolsby
The Desert Sun
February 17th, 2015


Paul Krassner, co-founder of the political activist group the Yippies and founder of America's first adult satirical publication, The Realist, was awarded a lifetime achievement award by Veterans for Peace Jon Castro Chapter 19 at the group's President's Day awards luncheon Monday at Cimarron Golf Resort in Cathedral City.

Veterans for Peace of the Inland Empire — which celebrated its 10th anniversary Monday — is part of a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to abolishing war.

Krassner, 82, of Desert Hot Springs — who began publishing The Realist in 1958 — founded the Yippies (Youth International Party) with fellow political and social activists Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. He became a key figure in the counterculture of the 1960s was an outspoken antiwar advocate who was on the FBI list of radicals during the Vietnam War.

Krassner is the author of numerous works, including the books,"Pot Stories for the Soul: An Updated Edition for Stoned Adventures" and "Confessions of a Raving, Unconfined Nut: Misadventures in the Counter-Culture."

Lanny Swerdlow, a local medical marijuana advocate, introduced Krassner by way of a witty three-minute riff lamenting the decline of pot use since the '60s — blaming today's troubles on yesterday's activists — seeking respectable careers — who decided to forgo weed.

Larry Swerdlow introduces counter-culture icon Paul Krassner at Veterans for Peace event, Feb. 16, 2015 Denise Goolsby/The Desert Sun

"We wouldn't be in the mess we are today if we kept on smoking marijuana as much as we did in the '60s — and Paul Krassner and I were two of the people who never stopped smoking pot," Swerdlow said as the crowd laughed.

"Paul Krassner was a hero of mine," he continued. "When I was 17 and started college, one of the first magazines I ever subscribed to was The Realist magazine, and that magazine changed my perspective on everything. It made me learn that what was out there was not what it always seemed to be. ... He would take us through these situations and we don't know where reality ended and nonsense began."

Krassner talked about the history of the Yippies and his experiences in the counterculture of '60s and '70s America.

He was reluctant to receive the award because he didn't feel he was deserving.

"At first when (organizer) Tom Swann called me — I had a resistance because I was not a veteran — they really sacrificed," Krassner told the crowd. "I was just having fun."

"I thank you for honoring me like this, I appreciate it and I'm inspired by the feelings here, of optimism, that hope did not dissolve with the Salton Sea," he said, referring to the shrinking sea.

Keynote speaker at the event was Vickie Castro, a Gold Star Mother who lost her son, U.S. Army Cpl. Jonathan Castro — for whom the Veterans for Peace chapter was named — when a suicide bomber, wearing an Iraqi National uniform, walked into a mess hall in Mosul, Iraq and blew himself up, along with 22 U.S. soldiers, on Dec. 21, 2004.

Also honored were Donni Prince, who received a Friend of the Veteran Award for her decades of work as Veterans Specialist at College of the Desert, and Chuck Parker, of Comite Latino, who received the group's Member of the Year Award.

Denise Goolsby is The Desert Sun's columnist for profiles and history. She can be reached at Denise.Goolsby@DesertSun.com and on Twitter @DeniseGoolsby.

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Positive Force: More Than a Witness on Metallian

By Anna Tergel
Metallian
February 10th, 2015

Rating 70/100

Positive Force, born out of a crowd funding campaign, is the story of a youth volunteer activist group of the same name that sprang up in the mid-‘80s Reagan years in Washington DC. Punk rock and benefit shows were a central part of the activism and the basic goal was to live with better values at the footsteps of a corrupt government. The DVD as a documentary takes the bold step of using a Karl Marx image and a quote it attributes to him within its first four minutes.

Mark Andersen, the Positive Force co-founder uses "Revolution has to begin in the ruthless criticism of everything existing", as an explanation for the "politics of punk". Interviews with influencers and figures of the time like Penny Rimbaud, co-founder of the English band Crass, are interspersed with images, comics, flyers, editorial cartoons and footage of the times. It is said that Crass' form of anti-establishment punk formed the basis and made its way across the Atlantic. Interviews and thoughts by the likes of Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, Skeeter Thompson of Scream who each recall the meetings, the protests, the causes and the disagreements on how to act. Bands like Beefeater, Fugazi, Bikini Girl are seen playing and spreading the word. There is also an interview with Dave Grohl of Nirvana and Foo Fighters fame where he shares his thoughts on the music scene of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and what it could have possibly achieved and still achieve. The documentary goes on to reveal the differences that developed within the scene as MTV took notice. The question was asked if it was ok to work with and be seen on the mainstream and if the causes were compromised with the smallest hints of popularity. Positive Force exists to this day and it is arguably mainly a local Washington DC organization working on issues like housing. The extras include more live footage from Fugazi, Seven Seconds, Anti-Flag, Soulside, The Evens, Beefeater and Chumbawamba and further in-depth profiles and interviews discussing issues such voting and if it still matters at all.

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Waging Peace, A Review in Catholic Worker NYC

By Patrick Jordan

Catholic Worker, NYC

March 2015

If Ammon Hennacy were around to update his 1970 posthumously published The One-Man Revolution in America, he would likely add a chapter on David Hartsough (b. 1941). For nearly sixty years, this Quaker-inspired activist has resisted war, racism, and injustice at home and literally around the world. Hennacy’s book was a veritable Profiles in Courage for America’s unsung peacemakers and radicals. In Waging Peace, David Hartsough brings that tradition up-to-date by forty years, every year of which includes his actions of protest and courage.

This autobiographical record begins with David’s Ohio roots. His mother was a first-grade teacher and an activist, his father was a Congergational minister. At age seven, young Hartsough faced down a group of town bullies who had bloodied him. Later, he sought out—and became friends with—their jefe.

From there the story moves quickly to Pennsylvania, where the teenage David organizes his first peace protest (at a Nike missile site); then to Virginia, where the angered patron of a segregated lunch counter David and others were attempting to integrate threatens his life; and then on to the White House, Berlin, Red Square, and even the Holy Land, all places where he demonstrates nonviolently for reconciliation. The book concludes half a century later, with his arrest outside a U.S. drone base.

I got to know David (a fitting name for one taking on Goliaths), his wife Jan, and their two small children in 1970 at Pendle Hill, the Quaker Study Center outside Philadelphia. He had just completed an arduous, five-year stint as a national organizer for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Little did I know, until reading Waging Peace, that in that capacity he had organized many of the huge antiwar demonstrations Catholic Workers and others had taken part in during the 1960s; or that before that, his father had worked with Martin Luther King Jr.; that Bayard Rustin had encouraged David to enroll at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and that in 1960, with fellow student Stokely Carmichael, he had led protests for integration in Virginia; or that as part of a 1962 Quaker delegation, he had met with President John F. Kennedy to call for a national policy of “waging peace”: the inspiration for this book’s title.

David first came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI at age fifteen. In fact, Waging Peace reads like a chronology lifted from his FBI file—a lifetime of protests, arrests, and agency misperceptions concerning David’s actions and motivations. It’s not hard to see why. There are his Quaker summer work camp in Cuba (1959), only months after Castro overthrew the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Batista; David’s experience in Communist Yugoslavia the following summer (he would return again in 1997, attempting to reconcile warring Serbs and Kosovars); his junior year in Germany (1961), auditing classes at East Berlin’s Communist Humboldt University; and summer forays for students he organized to Eastern Bloc countries and the Soviet Union in 1961 and ’62. There, David was nearly arrested in Red Square and threatened with twenty years in prison for demonstrating against nuclear testing. Back in the U.S., he was arrested outside the White House during a similar demonstration. In one instance, he was released from jail in the nick of time to accept his college diploma. Then came alternative service as a conscientious objector, a master’s degree in international studies at Columbia, five rewarding but hectic years in Washington, D.C., with Quaker lobbying groups, and marriage and a family.


Here is where the story gets particularly interesting and challenging for someone like me, close to David’s age and with a similar family constellation. For during David’s time at Pendle Hill, he and Jan decided to continue following a path of protest and simple living that would allow them to take risks in the service of peace and to resist paying the federal taxes that go for military expenditures (over 50 percent of the annual discretionary budget). A simple lifestyle, often shared with other like-minded families in community, allowed the Hartsoughs to live below a taxable income for many years. When they did exceed that minimum, they made it difficult for the IRS to extract its blood money. The IRS threatened to confiscate their home, but eventually settled for garnishing a savings account. For over forty years, the Hartsoughs have been able to resist paying war taxes outright; during the same period they have welcomed countless guests, all the while remaining exemplars of sane and caring resistance.

Ammon Hennacy would be particularly impressed with the long, consistent list of David Hartsough’s protests, fasts, and jailings. They include organizing several peace flotillas to block free passage of munitions ships during the Viet Nam War; helping form the Abalone Alliance (1977-84) to impede completion of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant; protests and arrests at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (1981-83). These were followed by years of actions against U.S. counterinsurgency policies in Central America, based on David’s own fact-finding trips to the region. He personally accompanied threatened villagers in Chiapas, Mexico, as well as Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. In 1987, he and others pledged to disrupt weapons shipments to Central America from the Concord Naval Weapons Station in California.

In one of those protests, his good friend Brian Willson was run down and nearly killed by a munitions train. The callousness of the event, and David’s assistance to Willson, then and for many years after the train had severed Willson’s legs, make for heart-pounding reading. “The war came home in a powerful way that day,” David recounts. “What our government had long been willing to do to poor people and people of color in other parts of the world, it was also willing to do to peaceful protesters in the United States who tried to impede the war effort.”

Here, as elsewhere, David reflects on the necessary courage of those who would wage peace. The Concord protest lasted 875 days. David was arrested repeatedly, but, he writes, “an amazing, inspiring community grew up around the Concord tracks,” one that included ex-CIA agents, many war veterans, and even his own aged and infirm parents.

David later traveled to the Philippines, the Soviet Union, Iran, and the former Yugoslavia; and served as executive director of the activist group Peaceworkers. In 2001, he co-founded the Nonviolent Peaceforce with Mel Duncan. Its aim is to send teams of nonviolent “soldiers” into war-threatened areas to short-circuit violence and offer peaceful models of resolution. David’s arrest in Kosovo in 1997, under orders from Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, is another heart-palpitating episode in this inspiring chronicle. For David, nonviolent protest for change is never on the cheap. The Nonviolent Peaceforce has now fielded support groups in over forty countries, and has received growing recognition and support from the UN and the European Union.

In his final chapters and appendices, David provides further stories of successful nonviolent campaigns and offers resources for those wishing to challenge the status quo. He finds hope in living near his own grandchildren; contact with them, he writes, “renews our commitment to helping build a world in which all children can look forward to a future of peace and justice.”

If anything might have further enriched this book, it would have been to include more about the author’s own inner geography: the effect of the storms he experienced on his inner thought and person. Further, the macro geopolitical landscape alluded to here relies almost entirely on a “Democracy Now” point of view. For many readers that will be a high compliment, even an endorsement; for others, it will seem an unnecessary but limiting liability. For those who don’t know David Hartsough in person and have not experienced his hearty, self-deprecating laughter, his purity of spirit, and his hospitality, that might diminish this exemplary autobiography. That would be a loss for our times, so in need of exemplars and “one-man revolutionaries.”

Waging Peace is a book that challenges, inspires, and offers hope: all gifts that will endure and even transcend the heroic witness of its remarkable author.


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The Struggle Within: A Review in The Journal for Radical Criminology

By Jordan House
Journal of Radical Criminology
April 2014


“More militancy!” is an oft-heard demand of the left. It is the subject of position papers and propaganda, of academic study and debate. We lament militancy of days past: the wildcat strikes, the mass demonstrations, the fighting movements. But we must not forget that the militancy of yesteryear was not without casualties. In particular, we have inherited the legacy of militants of the recent past. We have our martyrs: some, like Black Panthers George Jackson and Fred Hampton, were killed. Many others, from a diverse range of movements, completed and continue to serve long prison sentences. Dan Berger’s The Struggle Within is an overview of these militants and the movements from which they came.

The Struggle Within serves as an excellent primer on United States political prisoners and the relationship of various left movements to the carceral system. Despite his own claim that the book represents only an “introductory and incomplete sketch,” Berger demonstrates an expansive and comprehensive knowledge of US revolutionary movements, covering the New Left, Anti-War, Anti-Imperialist, Black Power, Indigenous liberation, Chicano, Puerto Rican Independence, and Environmentalist movements. While mostly focusing on prisoners of struggles past, in particular those from the 1960s and 1970s, Berger links these to contemporary struggles in a critical chapter on the Patriot Act and repression in the post 9/11 era. This is key, since objectively weaker contemporary movements face increasingly sophisticated state repression, fortified by innovations in surveillance techniques and technologies and backed by new repressive laws.

The slim volume is made up of four chapters: North American Freedom Struggles; Anti-imperialism, Anti-authoritarianism, and Revolutionary non-violence; Earth and Animal Liberation; and Déjà Vu and the Patriot Act, covering the post 9/11 period. Berger moves through each section by chronicling the organizations and movements that produced prominent political prisoners, with special focus on those still locked up. In doing so, he attempts to illustrate the interconnections between the various individuals, organizations and movements he discusses. Some of these connections are easy to demonstrate, such as the (admittedly oftentimes troubled) affinity between white New Leftists and the Black Power movement. Other cases are less clear, although connections can still be identified. For example, Berger links militant environmentalism to the broader left through the figure of Judi Bari, a labor organizer and member of Earth First!, who was car bombed and subject to an attempted frame-up by the FBI. Overall Berger emphasizes that the common thread throughout the diverse movements covered is the experience of state violence, arguing that the “ubiquity of state repression affords an opportunity to forge solidarity between multiple revolutionary movements,” while going on to note that this should not simply trump “contradictions” between and within movements (81). However, without a more robust framework expounding the character of state power, and some exploration of what it is that counts as ‘our’ movements (for example, the Tea Party has also faced state repression), it is unclear at times what exactly the miscellaneous movements of the book share in common.

Perhaps the most significant theoretical claim Berger argues is that mass incarceration in the US is not merely the result of the War on Drugs or premised upon a system of socio-economic repression and cleansing. He argues it is also significantly in response to political and social movements that have, at times, challenged state power. This is an interesting thesis that should be expanded upon, and raises several immediate questions. What does this mean given the current weak position of oppositional movements in relation to the state and capital? Are the institutions of state power expanding to successfully repress increasingly marginal oppositional movements? And if these movements are indeed increasingly marginal, what explains the expansion of state repression (since it cannot be said to be exerted in response to powerful social movements)? This, however, is the book at its most abstract. It also contains helpful and concrete resources. In addition to a relatively robust and thematically organized bibliography, Berger provides a glossary of on-the-ground organizational resources—a refreshing attempt to root the ideas put forward in the book in practice by providing a number of ways for readers to plug in as activists.

Like many thin volumes, the book suffers at times from its brevity. Most critically, readers would benefit from a more in-depth discussion of the categorization of ‘political prisoner’.

Berger rightly rejects liberal definitions of ‘prisoners of conscience’—those imprisoned for their beliefs and not necessarily their actions—and asserts that the “state uses the imprisonment of political leaders and rank-and-file activists as a bludgeon against movement victories” (2). We are told that no one in a democracy is tried for his or her political beliefs, only for specific crimes. The fact that those who struggle against power structures are criminalized is erased from the discourse completely. As Berger explains, “Thus the central issue for thinking about political prisoners is not whether they ‘did it’ but what movements did they come from and what are the broader circumstances surrounding their arrests” (2). This however, is not fully fleshed out. While Berger asserts that “political prisoners serve collective prison time for all those who participated in the movement from which they emerged” (2), it is also true that the militant organizations from which many political prisoners came did not necessarily arise organically from mass movements, but emerged from them as splits. Berger explains that, “time after time, frustration at the limited possibilities of available (i.e., legal) remedies to such entrenched injustice led many activists to seek—and many more support—alternatives options to resistance” (3). These alternatives were some variation of armed struggle or ‘armed propaganda.’ Berger does acknowledge this tension to some degree: “upping the ante through militant, often clandestine, tactics was not intended to stand in for organizing a mass movement (although sectarianism and different strategic priorities have often yielded this in effect if not in intent)” (3). Just as movements can and must reject those who turn on them (such as those who turn state witness), it is also true that successful movements must be able to have principled critique of strategy and tactics of those individuals and groups that comprise them. This is an issue that those working to free political prisoners and those fighting broadly for social change will have to continue to develop.

Despite the book’s title, Berger does not say much about the struggles within prisons, mentioning only briefly that political and politicized prisoners continue to contribute to political movements especially notably “through writing, mentoring younger activists, conducting peer education with other prisoners, and fighting AIDS, misogyny and homophobia” (81). This is especially unfortunate given that Berger has specifically written on the topic elsewhere. In an article entitled “Social Movements and Mass Incarceration,” Berger discusses various parenting programs developed by prisoners in Virginia and New York State. He also emphasizes the critical role of political and politicized prisoners in pioneering peer-based HIV/AIDS programming early in the AIDS crisis.

Rejecting the prevailing homophobia that led to terrible criminal neglect throughout the United States, these political prisoners saw the leading campaigns in the gay community. The political prisoners’ orientation towards grassroots organizing and bottom-up mobilization fit perfectly with the peer education and support method, later proven to be the only effective approach among prisoners. (2013, 11)

Likewise one could add the struggles of prisoners to better living and working conditions, from the National Prisoners Reform Association in Massachusetts, to the California Prisoners’ Union or the North Carolina Labor Unions and more. This may be corrected with the publication of Berger’s forthcoming book, Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era (2014).

Overall, The Struggle Within is a contribution to a movement for social change that is aware of its own past and history of repression. Prisons have always been a fact of working class life, and will continue to be institutions that those who fight for a better world cannot ignore. Victims of the class struggle will continue to be locked up just as individuals, organizations, and movements will continue to fight. As Berger thoroughly proves, you can’t jail an idea.
References

Berger, Dan. Forthcoming 2014. Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era. Chapel Hill: UNC Press.

Berger, Dan. 2013. “Social Movements and Mass Incarceration,” in Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, 15:1-2, 3-18.

Berger, Dan. 2014. The Struggle Within: Prisons, Political Prisoners, and Mass Movements in the United States. Montreal and Oakland: Kersplebedeb and PM Press.

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A Line in the Tar Sands Review on Peace News

By Jim Wright
Peace News
February 2015-March 2015

The Alberta tar sands in Canada may be the largest hydrocarbon resource in the world, as well as the largest single potential source of climate-warming carbon dioxide. If the tar sands are completely exploited for fuel, 240 billion tons of carbon will be added to the atmosphere and global temperatures will rise 0.4°C from this source alone. At the same time, mining, pipelines, and ocean shipping threaten devastation in places stretching from one end of North America to the other.

A Line in the Tar Sands is a comprehensive survey of the herculean grassroots struggle to stop the development of the tar sands, written by the people who are waging this struggle: from indigenous people to landowners in Texas; from activists to academics.

This struggle was started by the indigenous communities of Northeastern Alberta, seeking to protect their environment, health, and sovereignty. It then spread across North America (Turtle Island), and even to Europe, as the magnitude of the plans of the ‘extreme energy’ industry became clear.

With 38 authors, this book is jammed with insight and is generally well-written. The editors have done a good job of keeping the book focused, though inevitably there is some repetition. British readers may be perplexed by the large numbers of unfamiliar place names, acronyms, and technical terms. Maps, tables, and a glossary of terms and acronyms would have been useful.

Two good chapters are contributed by activists from the UK Tar Sands Network and connections made with the anti-fracking movement.

Very much a record of the resistance thus far and a handbook for anti-colonialist, anti-globalist action, this book will be of interest to every activist concerned with climate action or indigenous justice and to anyone wanting to understand the energy battles being waged across North America.

It could also be considered a companion to Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything (see PN 2576–2577). Both works lay the groundwork for the next steps we must take.

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