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Speaking OUT in Curve Magazine

Curve Magazine
January/February 2015

What does it feel like to be young and queer today? A new book of 65 color portraits, Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus presents portraits of the queer Millennial Gen- eration. Award-winning Philadelphia-based photogra- pher Rachelle Lee Smith gives LGBTQ youth an outlet to speak for themselves through her in-your-face, funny, warm, and powerful images of queer youth. The white space of the color portraits are filled with first-person text, giving self-expression to a diverse group of young people, aged fourteen to twenty-four, who identify along a range of sexual orientations and gender expressions.“I have never had a mullet, I am not a man hater, I don’t listen to KD Lang, I am not butch, I don’t drive a truck, I am not a fem- inist...What kind of lesbian am I?” writes JoEllen, one of the subjects featured in Speaking OUT. From GLSEN to the It Gets Better Project, our community attempts to provide resources for queer youth. But it’s hard to address the inequities created by race, class, sexual orientation and gender identification without hearing from young people themselves and addressing their spoken needs. Be inspired by these images, these words, and
the young people behind them. This is our youth. (rachelleleesmith.com/speakingout)




"If you enjoy concise writing and mordant humor, you’ll enjoy TVA Baby."

By Zeke Teflon
See Sharp Press

While preparing to write this review, I was musing on how many good small press books fall through the cracks, and how many execrable books from major publishers sell well. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to TVA Baby eventually.)

A recent example of that is the dreadful California, which Stephen Colbert enthusiastically pushed on his show, and which was issued by a major publisher, Hachette, not coincidentally also Colbert’s publisher. (He was open about this.) The book sold tens of thousands of copies and in July reached #3 on the New York Times bestseller list.

This is a somewhat special case, due to Colbert’s heavy promotion, but it’s also symptomatic of the inherent advantages held by major publishers.

What creates those advantages? A number of things. First, major publishers have more money for promotion than small presses, often much more. Second, major publishers have on-staff publicists who already have good contacts with the television industry and print media. Third, almost all major publishers are based in New York City, and there’s a very real New York bias in important parts of the media. (If you’re a small, non-NYC publisher, good luck on ever getting a review in The New York Times or The New York Review of Books; also check out the publishers of the authors who appear on The Daily Show and Colbert Report. In fairness, the standard book industry review journals–notably Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist–are good about giving small press books a fair break; but this doesn’t cancel the NYC bias in other parts of the media. )

In contrast, small publishers usually have small advertising budgets, few if any contacts in major media, and have to hire outside publicists (if they can afford it–many can’t) who’ll put in nowhere near full-time work.

Recent trends in the bookselling industry have only exacerbated this problem. Half a century ago, before the rise of the national chains and then Amazon, booksellers by and large were independent bookstores. Such stores routinely would order books and leave them on their shelves for a good three to six months, sometimes a year, before returning them. This ensured that books that received few if any reviews would be seen by large numbers of possible book buyers, and so would have a chance of selling well eventually due to word of mouth. No more.

Independent bookstores currently account for only 10% of book sales, and they have to be lean and mean, so no more leaving books on the shelf for six months. The chains? B. Dalton, gone.

Waldenbooks, gone. Borders, gone. And Barnes and Noble has been cutting the number of its stores for years, and even more drastically cutting the number of titles its stores carry. And the length of time new books are on the shelves is down to perhaps four to six weeks. So, goodbye to the word-of-mouth ray of hope for small publishers. And goodbye also to the gatekeeping function independent bookstores  used to provide. (The independents tended not to carry poorly written, poorly edited, and poorly produced books.)

Compounding matters, over the last decade or so it’s become very easy and very cheap to publish both print-on-demand (paperback) books and e-books. This has resulted in a huge increase in the number of available titles, many of which are awful. Combine this with the current predominance of online bookselling, with its near-total lack of gatekeeping, and it becomes very, very difficult for even the best small press books to rise above the noise.

Then add in the tanking economy (for most people–Wall Street is doing fine), with its continuing unemployment, low-paying jobs, and declining median income (down an astounding 12% since 2001), and times are tough for small publishers and their books (which many financially stretched potential buyers regard as luxury items).

Which brings us to TVA Baby. It’s one of the deserving small press books that have fallen through the cracks.

It’s a collection of 13 short stories by longtime science fiction (and nonfiction) author Terry Bisson, and it covers a wide variety of topics and genres. Stories in it range from noir (“Charlie’s Angels”), to purely comic (“Billy and the Circus Girl”), to ’30s pulp sci-fi (“Brother Can You Spare a Dime?”), to sappy (“A Special Day”), to hallucinogenic (“TVA Baby”).

In most of the stories, Bisson’s dark humor is at the forefront, particularly in “TVA Baby,” which is grotesque but laugh-out-loud funny. Other standouts include “Pirates of the Somali Coast” and the other stories mentioned above, except “A Special Day.”

As with nearly all short story collections, there are some “hits” and some “misses” in TVA Baby; but the ratio of hits to misses is higher here than in the average collection. So . . . . .

If you enjoy concise writing and mordant  humor, you’ll enjoy TVA Baby.

Recommended.

(TVA Baby‘s publisher, PM Press, is having a 50%-off sale on all titles through December 31. To get the discount, just type in the coupon code HOLIDAY at checkout.)

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Terry Bisson's Page




Excerpt of David Gilbert's Love and Struggle on Transformation

By David Gilbert
Open Democracy.net/Transformation
December 26th, 2014

From Weather Underground activist to life in prison

Even in a just war we need to feel the pain and tragedy of losses on the other side. And in the Brink's robbery our own mistakes and failings led to unnecessary casualties. An extract from Love and Struggle: my life in SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond.

David Gilbert is a former member of the Weather Underground Organization, currently serving a prison sentence of 75 years to life for his role as a getaway driver in the robbery of a Brink's armored car on October 20, 1981. The robbery, carried out by members of the Black Liberation Army with the May 19 Coalition, led to the deaths of two police officers and a Brink's guard. At the trial Gilbert, along with Judith Clark and Kuwasi Balagoon, represented themselves as anti-racist freedom fighters involved in a necessary struggle against US imperialism, and refused to recognise the authority of the court to try them.

David Gilbert at the Colombia University strike against war and racism, 1968. Credit: Love and Struggle/PM Press. David Gilbert at the Colombia University strike against war and racism, 1968. Credit: Love and Struggle/PM Press.

“Mr. Gilbert, do you understand now?”

“Yes, Judge Ritter, I understand you. You know, the plantation owners used to sit on their verandas, sipping mint juleps, complaining about how lazy the slaves were. The U.S. Government, which broke virtually every treaty it ever signed with Native American nations, coined the term ‘Indian giver.’ The same people who stole the northern half of Mexico claim that all Mexicans are thieves. In that tradition, your ruling makes perfect sense to me.”

Looking back at my own series of court statements, they seem to become progressively more rhetorical and hardened as time went on. My sentencing speech in particular spilled over from healthy defiance to crass insensitivity. 

Trying to show that life sentences didn’t deter revolutionaries, I declared that the issues that motivated us to fight—the depth of racism in the US and the millions of people killed each year by the economies and wars imposed by imperialism—were much larger than three lives. I meant the three of us facing life in prison. (Because I included Mtayari [Sundiata], who was killed three days later, I thought of the this confrontation as having cost four lives.)

But when I said “three lives,” I caught a glimpse of a woman in the court who flinched as if I had struck her. Only later did it dawn on me that she was a relative of one of the men killed on October 20, thinking, feeling, that those three lives were the ones I was dismissing so cavalierly. 

How could I have become so insensitive? I, at one time a pacifist, had come to ally with national liberation movements under fire. Not only were New Afrikans engaged in a just struggle, but it was a war that had been forced upon them by the murderous assaults on legal dissent, while so much of the white Left looked on passively.

The Black Liberation Army (BLA) never shot anyone who wasn’t an armed professional and always took great care to avoid civilian casualties—a far cry from government forces who killed civilians on a grand scale and later came up with the dehumanizing euphemism of “collateral damage.”

Yet, even in a just war, as the Vietnamese had showed us, we need to feel the pain and tragedy of losses on the other side. And in this particular encounter our own mistakes and failings had led to unnecessary casualties. 

Even though the government’s aggression was the source of the conflict, these particular individuals working as enforcers of the rule of capital didn’t at all see themselves in a warfare situation. If I had been more of a revolutionary, more fully rooted in humanism and less anxious to show my mettle, I would have expressed, in addition to my commitment to the struggle, sadness and regrets about the lives lost and the families shattered.

We became more embattled as the two years of court confrontations progressed. Three basic issues led to our being removed or, more often, our walking out. One was the treatment of our supporters, such as the attack on Ahmed Obafemi...who had been very visible as NAPO’s [New Afrikans Peoples' Organization] main public spokesperson around our case and was seated right by the aisle. When the judge entered, and our people did not rise to honor him, the sheriffs immediately pounced on Ahmed, hitting him with clubs. When three nearby friends tried to protect him, all four were dragged out and arrested.

The worst incident was life-threatening. A carload of people, two adults and three children, barely avoided a serious accident when the front wheel came loose as they were returning home from a visit with us. When they took the car to a mechanic, he said that someone had removed a cotter pin. Since there was no problem on the way up, it had to have been done in the jail’s parking lot.

Our major frustration in terms of the conduct of the trial was the way we were consistently blocked from discussing racism. We weren’t allowed to conduct a searching inquiry of potential jurors for bias; we were stopped every time we tried to present the situation of New Afrikans and other people of color within the US; discussion of relevant international law was forbidden; and we were blocked from bringing up COINTELPRO and other well-documented illegal government programs that had driven previously nonviolent activists into underground resistance.

Our most telling obstacle was our inability to have the legal meetings needed to prepare our defense. When the court was in session, the only time we could meet was at night. Orange County Jail, which had previously allowed nighttime legal meetings, changed the rules to prohibit them.

...

Given the cotter pin incident and other threats to our supporters, which we had described to the judge for the record in court, this public release of personal information was a chilling effort at intimidation. The lack of meetings and preparation, more than any other issue, occasioned our walkouts and boycotts.

We spent most of the trial in holding pens underneath the courtroom, in three separate cells, surrounded by law enforcement personnel. There was no one in the courtroom representing us, and the proceedings were piped in via a speaker. We were told that at any point we could return to the courtroom as long as we promised not to be “disruptive”—in other words, insist on talking about forbidden topics. 

The drone of the speaker, amid the buzz of a swarm of hostile guards, as the link to the pomp and pretense of the court was all a bit surreal. Going to the bathroom became truly bizarre. I (or Kuwasi or Judy) would be chained hand and foot and taken to a large room with a toilet on a raised platform in the middle to pee while still chained and closely watched by five guards.

At one point I could make out from the speaker some testimony by an FBI lab technician, who said that glass particles had been found in my clothing that could only have come from the windshield of the Brink’s truck. I was astonished because the prosecution knew full well that I’d never been within a mile of the truck. For a moment I had an impulse to go back upstairs to contest this fraudulent “evidence.” But what could I say to refute this highly credentialed FBI technician? And what good would it do?

...

Such tactics dovetailed with a systematic media campaign to dehumanize us. The Black comrades were always portrayed as thugs—despite the reality that Kuwasi’s and Sekou’s histories were fully and deeply political. The media didn’t mention that they had been part of the Panther 21 case—who could have more justification for moving into clandestine forms of struggle?

The white defendants, who had attended elite universities, weren’t depicted as thugs but instead as psychopaths—a standard method going back at least to John Brown of discrediting whites “crazy” enough to throw their lot in with people of color. These portrayals were visually reinforced with the artists’ sketches of us in court (no cameras were allowed). Even the Correctional Officers commented that in person we didn’t look anything like those newspaper portraits.

How could I—with so much experience that taught that clandestine work can only be built on the basis of full political and strategic understanding—have allied on such a high-risk tactical level with so little knowledge of the political context? 

The answer lay in my own form of corruption. Drugs and money had no allure for me, but ego did. Especially after the collapse of the Weather Underground Organization, I was anxious to reestablish myself as a “revolutionary on the highest level,” as “the most anti-racist white activist.”

What better way to validate myself in this way then to work closely with the most revolutionary Black group going? If the political and strategic terms weren’t clear to me, I would quietly make myself useful until trust and a higher level relationship developed. 

Not only is this a terribly wrong way to build solidarity, but also the “exceptional white person” mentality usually undermines any serious effort to organize other people against racism—a fundamental aspect of developing solidarity and working toward revolution. When some friends told me that this unit of the BLA had “used” me as a resource, my reply was that I had used them as well, to be my source of validation. 

The recognition, under these difficult life circumstances, of my corruption of ego did not prove shattering to my core beliefs and commitments. I had observed many times how movement leaders, who started with the most idealistic motives and who had taken great personal risks, later got blindsided by their egos. While it’s much easier to see such behavior in others, why should I be exempt? Each of us is raised in this society.

I couldn’t expect to simply anoint myself a “good guy” and miraculously be 100 percent pure from then on. What was required instead—the essential challenge of being a revolutionary—was an honest, ongoing process that involved both serious introspection and constructive collective discussions. It’s not like we’re adrift on a featureless, turbulent sea. We’re deeply rooted in the solid ground of the needs and aspirations of the oppressed.  

This extract is reproduced with permission from PM Press. All rights reserved. Copies of Love and Struggle: my life in SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond are available for purchase in hard copy and as an e-Book.



Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to David Gilbert's Page



Hardcore, D.C., documentaries on

By Christina Cauterucci
Washington City Paper


You can’t be what you were.

How many ways can the D.C. punk icons of yore retell their tales of all-ages basement shows and subverting the ever-hungry maw of the capitalist music industry? After this year, add two more well-sourced volumes to the record: Salad Days: Punk in the Nation’s Capital and Positive Force: More Than a Witness, both documentary films that premiered on the same November weekend. Whether D.C. needs two more rehashings of the white-dude-heavy, MacKaye-Rollins glory days is up for debate (there’ve been plenty of films made on the subject before, including a 1991 doc about Positive Force, profiles of Fugazi and Bad Brains, and a forthcoming doc on the ’70s roots of D.C. hardcore), but the punk scene’s impulse toward nostalgia seems as healthy as it ever was.


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




Capital Gifts 2014: The Ultimate D.C. Punk Collection

by Tori Kerr
DCist
December 4th, 2014

Maybe you’ve got a young sibling who just discovered punk. While her Ramones t-shirt is cute, you want to point her in the right direction so she doesn’t become a Hot Topic mallrat. Or, perhaps your dad is an old-school punk enthusiast who didn’t “get” your pop-punk posters in high school. Or, you know your boss went to high school in the D.C. area in 1984. Cover your butt for each of these scenarios with an array of items, creating the ultimate D.C. punk gift bonanza.

Among D.C.’s multiple musical personalities, none has been part of a larger cultural conversation as much as punk and hardcore. Between @FortRenoRumors, the D.C. Public Library’s new punk archive, and approximately one million (actually three) documentaries, it’s safe to say that punk won D.C. this year. A great way to commemorate that is with Fugazi’s First Demo, a “new” release from the incomparable Dischord Records. The album features 11 of the rawest tracks we’ve ever heard from one of D.C.’s greatest bands. The best part is that no matter if your gift receiver is a new or old Fugazi fan, First Demo will either complete his collection or get him started at the beginning.

Follow that with documentary Positive Force: More Than A Witness, which chronicles the history of the legendary activist coalition. The film explores Positive Force's early days: hosting a “Revolution Summer,” protesting Apartheid; taking on the riot grrrl movement; and through it all, creating real change in practical, inspiring ways. The DIY ethic that runs through punk music’s veins also sustains Positive Force, its founder, Mark Andersen and the film’s director, Robin Bell. All proceeds from the film benefit the We Are Family senior outreach network. When you gift this, your gift benefits not only your loved one, but hundreds of seniors throughout The District.

Top off this punk cornucopia with the Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital, a written history of D.C. punk, by Andersen and journalist Mark Jenkins. The authors trace the scene from frustrated teenagers’ homes in suburban Georgetown to the (original) 9:30 Club, to the Reeves Center, to the West Coast, and beyond. The authors chronicle the good and the bad, treating both with equal intrigue: the rise and fall of Bad Brains; straightedge; bloody fights between D.C. punks and out-of-towners; and the struggle against homophobic and fascist punks who threatened to topple an otherwise progressive movement. It’s a must-read for any punk fan, especially one who lives in the area.

With this trifecta complete, your grateful gift-receivers will be happily busy for weeks, engaging in a sort of ethnographic study of one of the strongest facets of this city’s heritage.



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




Positive Force: More Than a Witness on Stereo Killer

Stereo Killer

Actors: Mark Andersen, Fugazi, Anti-Flag, Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses, Seven Seconds

Synopsis: Examines 30 years of the DC-based Positive Force with performances from Fugazi, Anti-Flag, Bikini Kill and more.

Robin Bell brings us a documentary that looks at “the relationship between D.C. punk and do-gooderism. Seamlessly situating a musical moment within the larger cultural context of Reaganomics, the rise of riot grrrl feminism, pacifist protest and other issues.” Positive Force DC came into being in 1985 and was born as part of the local scene by Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Rites of Spring, a handful of young activists. They drew inspiration from UK anarcho-punks Crass and the original “Positive Force” band and are now thought to be one of the most long-lasting and influential exponents of punk politics.

Director Bell skillfully mixes rare archival footage (including electrifying live performances from Fugazi, Bikini Kill, Rites of Spring, Nation of Ulysses, Anti-Flag, and more) with new interviews of key Positive Force activists including co-founder Mark Andersen (co-author of Dance of Days) and Jenny Toomey (Simple Machines, Tsunami) as well as supporters such as Ian MacKaye, Jello Biafra, Dave Grohl, Ted Leo, Riot Grrrl co-founders Allison Wolfe and Kathleen Hanna, and many more. The film covers thirty years from the origins in Reagan-era origins, the creation of its communal house, FBI harassment, and the rise of a vibrant underground that burst into the mainstream amid controversy over both the means and the ends of the movement. Positive Force has persisted through all of this, remaining deeply rooted in their hometown, reaching out to those in need and building bridges between diverse communities.

At the same PF regularly brings punk protest to the front doors of those in power. It is an all-volunteer group has helped to nurture several generations of activists. In the best punk fashion, PF has applied creative DIY tactics and radical critiques to issues of homelessness, hunger, racism, corporate globalization, sexism, homophobia, war, gentrification, and animal/earth liberation, while struggling to constructively address conflicting dynamics and visions within the group itself.

It is important to note that the filmmakers’ portion of the proceeds from the sale of the DVD will benefit the We Are Family senior outreach network.



The DVD includes the following extras:

Wake Up! A Profile of Positive Force (28 min., 1991)

Green Hair, Grey Hair (28 min., 2008)

Punks, Votes, Riots (21 min., 2014)

Live at Positive Force (34 min. of bonus performances by Fugazi, Seven Seconds, Chumbawamba, Anti-Flag, Soulside, The Evens, and Beefeater).



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




Positive Force: More Than a Witness on PopDose

by Rob Ross
PopDose
December 18th, 2014

VERY interesting and intriguing historic look at the Positive Force organization, which began in Nevada, but has thrived and stayed the course in Washington D.C. from 1985 onward.  Led by D.C. co-founder Mark Andersen, Positive Force ran parallel to the socially conscious punk movement (the majority of bands recorded for Dischord Records), which by 1985 had begun to widen its spectrum and become, itself, more politicized.  The rawness of the punk anger and ethos began to be pointing toward constructivity, rather than negativity and destruction, and found itself moving in a socially, morally and politically upward (and left-leaning) direction.  As seen in the documentary from director Robin Bell, Positive Force acts upon its words with deeds – from delivering groceries to those in need (especially the elderly) to holding benefit concerts to raise money for various causes, to orchestrating protests.

This documentary is filled with news footage and interviews from the participants themselves – D.C. founder/director Mark Andersen, Dischord’s Ian MacKaye, Dave Grohl from Scream, Jenny Toomey from Simple Machines and Positive Force and so on – and at no time does it come off as being preachy or biased.  It is an honest and direct look at a group of people that have actually done good – “talked the talk and walked the walk” so to speak – and continue to do so to this day.

It isn’t often one has the chance to see and hear something so refreshing and meaningful without feeling preached at – Positive Force: More Than A Witness; 25 Years Of Punk Politics In Action is worth the time invested in watching.

RECOMMENDED

http://morethanawitness.com/

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




Fugazi Perform at 1991 D.C. Protest in Clip From Positive Force Documentary

Pitchfork
December 9th, 2014

More Than A Witness also features Bikini Kill, Dave Grohl, Ted Leo, Nation of Ulysses, Rites of Spring, more


Fugazi Perform at 1991 D.C. Protest in Clip From Positive Force Documentary

Positive Force: More Than a Witness; 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action is a new documentary about the Washington, DC punk activist group Positive Force. Directed by Robin Bell, the film tells the story of the group's campaigns against homelessness, racism, corporate globalization, sexism, war, and more. It features interviews with prominent artists as well as archival performance footage. Watch a clip from the film of Fugazi playing a 1991 D.C. protest below via Pitchfork.tv.

The film also features live footage of Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses, Anti-Flag, Rites of Spring, and others. Kathleen Hanna, Ian MacKaye, Dave Grohl, Ted Leo, Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile, Jello Biafra, Jenny Toomey of Tsunami, and more are interviewed.

More Than a Witness is out now on DVD and through Vimeo. It will be premiered in New York City on December 19, where a Q&A will be conducted with Bell after a screening.




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




Penny Rimbaud of Crass Talks about Politics and Philosophy in a New Positive Force Documentary

By Noisey Staff
Noisey Music by Vice


Positive Force: More Than A Witness; 30 Years Of Punk Politics In Action examines the punk collective Positive Force and their influence on the scene through awareness of political, social, and economic issues. Featuring appearances from bands like Fugazi, Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses and more, the documentary spans the group's origins and includes performances, details on their tactics, and much much more. In the above clip, Penny Rimbaud of Crass discusses the evolution of the band and how it fit into the Positive Force ethos. Check that out above for the first time and order your copy of the documentary at MVD.



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




'They Wanted to be Rock Stars’: Crass Co-Founder Disses Sex Pistols and Clash in Positive Force DC

Dangerous Minds
December 16th, 2014

Positive Force is a Washington DC-based activist collective that’s been around since 1985. The documentary, Positive Force: More Than A Witness; 30 Years Of Punk Politics In Action, explores the history of this organization, which often stages benefits with like-minded bands to promote various causes. There’s a wealth of archival performances in the film—including footage of Fugazi playing in front of the White House on the eve of the Gulf War—and this updated edition of the DVD has another 30+ minutes of rare live clips. The documentary also features interviews with such notables as Ian MacKaye, Kathleen Hanna, Jello Biafra, and Dave Grohl, who talks about his first-ever live gig, drumming for the band Scream at a Positive Force benefit.

One of the highlights of Positive Force is the interview with Penny Rimbaud, drummer and co-founder of the UK group Crass. Rimbaud’s band, which existed from 1977-1984, very much influenced the principles of Positive Force. Crass not only put out their own records and were critical of the mainstream, but they were also activists, believing that it wasn’t enough to just sing about social justice, you had to practice what you preached. In the clip, Rimbaud accuses the members of the Clash and the Sex Pistols of not meaning it, man, as he feels their drive to make it as rock stars came before all else.
If you have any interest at all in the history of American punk and/or activism, Positive Force is definitely worth your time.

All right, here’s Mr. Rimbaud:


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