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Sometimes the Spoon Runs away with another spoon

by Dave Parker
PFLAG Greensboro

Want to let your child know you accept gender diversity? This coloring book can help. Sometimes the Spoon is an 8½ x 11 inch coloring book with 24 panels (12 double-sided pages) showing gender variance in many forms–boys liking dolls, girls liking trucks and tools, boys cross-dressing, both genders with same-sex attraction,monsters that like pretty things,etc.

Short sayings in large type accompany each panel, emphasizing what the pictures are intended to say.

Suitable for all children who like to color, it can also be an introduction to books where parents want to encourage their child to accept gender diversity. Children learn at an early age what is socially acceptable, in toys, clothes, and play. This small coloring book can help them understand that liking something different is OK.

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Counter Narratives: scott crow on Anarchism, Pragmatic Ethics, and Going Beyond Vegan Consumerism

by Vic Mucciarone
Animal Voices Radio
July 29, 2014

Building on ideas of larger struggles, crow discusses the philosophy of anarchism and the practical applications it has – how can anarchism create a framework for asking questions and challenge ourselves to envision different futures in which we don’t have all of the solutions.

Crow draws on his experience with Common Ground Collective, which was built up in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and what disasters reveal about collective liberation.

How do animals fit into this vulnerable economy involving our food and energy grids?

What does animal liberation look like through an anarchist perspective? Crow discusses starting with personal choices and asking ourselves what comes after that. scott crow is an international speaker and author. He has engaged his varied life as a coop business co-owner, political organizer, educator and strategist, activist, filmmaker, dad and underground musician.

For over two decades, he has focused on diverse socio-political issues including worker cooperatives, animal liberation, feminism, police brutality, environmental destruction, prison abolition, political prisoners, alternatives to capitalism and disaster relief.

Listen HERE

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Beltane 2014 Feature – Brick by Brick: An Interview with scott crow

by Sasha
Earth First! Journal
June 26th, 2014

The following interview was first published in the spring edition of the Earth First! Journal, now available to view free online.

scott crow is a longtime anarchist political activist, political strategist and author based in Austin, Texas, and a founding member of the Common Ground Collective, an anarchist Hurricane Katrina relief effort. We caught up with scott to ask about his work with Dirty South Earth First! (DSEF!) and Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), as well as his thoughts on the state of the eco-resistance struggle today.

EF!J: Could you give us a little history of Dirty South Earth First!? How did it start, how did it go, and what lessons did you learn from your experience?

scott: DSEF! grew out of inspiration from the successes of the SHAC campaign, frustrations with the way the Earth First! groups in Northern California were handling the Redwood and Mattole forests campaigns, and our proximity to the decision makers of the MAXXAM corporation based in Texas, who owned Pacific Lumber. They were logging the last redwood trees in the whole world. The tallest, most majestic trees, thousands of years old, were being turned into lumber for shitty suburban houses for a few dollars. Ecosystems that took eons to develop were being stripped and clearcut at rates people in the logging industry had never seen before. MAXXAM and Pacific Lumber had nearly wiped the forests out in twenty years.

When Rod Coronado was released from prison in 2003 for Animal Liberation Front-related activities, he went to the redwoods to work on forest defense, but left due to frustrations with limited tactics and a lack of strategies by the people on the ground. I had been working on the same campaign since 1999, participating in logging road blockades and treesits around the redwoods and doug fir forests, and understood his frustration. Although the blockades and sits were beautiful (and in some cases impressively longstanding), the vibe on the ground was often very hippyish and the opposite of militant. Don’t get me wrong, there were committed and amazing people involved, but in the day-to-day it was often young people who were stopping by on their way to some music festival. There wasn’t “life is at stake” commitment. I’ll admit there’s something intoxicating in the beauty of the woods that just makes you…peaceful.

I know. It’s mesmerizing. Even as the Law Enforcement Officers are tearing up your camp or one of your comrades is being extracted violently out of a tree. But I was used to street militancy, and it was needed. The logging campaigns had gone on for a long time, but MAXXAM was clearcutting faster and faster. The trees were almost gone—literally. Logging continued while people were being arrested and forcibly removed from treesits. Many of us could see that they were going to cut what was left if we didn’t change directions.

Around the world, the SHAC campaign had been putting pressure on the executives and associates of Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), the largest contract animal testing company in Europe. A few of us were involved in the SHAC campaign in different cities across Texas. Some friends brought Rod to speak in Houston in 2003 for a weekend of action. That’s when he and I first met.

After his talk we all went around doing a few demos at executives’ houses. That’s when we hit on the idea that these same strategies and tactics could be used against MAXXAM and Pacific Lumber.

Scott Parkin, Nicole, Patrick, Ross, myself and Rod (who stopped participating after the first year) became the key organizers. The ideas quickly developed from there. At first we wanted to name ourselves something serious like Gulf Coast or Texas EF!, like we had done before, but instead the influence of The Simpsons and hip hop prevailed. In one episode of The Simpsons, Lisa joins a group called Dirt First!, and at the time the dirty south rap craze was in full effect, so Dirty South Earth First! aka Dirt First! was born. It was self-mocking and urban-oriented. I wrote most of the early anonymous action communiques under the pseudonym “whitebread” or “hooks.” Scott Parkin took the lead on the articles on DSEF! that appeared in the EF!J. That core of people organized the majority of events and actions.

EF!J: SHAC and DSEF! were similar in many ways. They didn’t appeal to corporate or government power, but recognized their own; they were decentralized; and they each focused on a single target, rather than a broader issue or bioregion. How did these similar models work differently for animal rights and environmental campaigns?

scott: SHAC was the first campaign I had ever been part of that operated with many explicit anarchist ideals in it. Others I had been in had operated on anarchist ideas in vague ways.

SHAC promoted autonomy, direct action, decentralization, affinity groups—and although never explicit, it was anti-capitalist. In its autonomy, it didn’t condemn nighttime actions or only promote above-ground actions. Any person or group could research the companies and decision makers who were part of HLS and take whatever non-violent actions they thought were appropriate for the goals. It was also the first campaign I knew of in the US that was explicit about shutting down a corporation, instead of negotiating for a kinder, gentler version to remain. Which I think is something we should think about again as political movements SHAC wasn’t about mass political movement-building; in fact, at times it was often decried by other animal rights or leftist groups. SHAC was incredibly successful in a short time for all the reasons stated. Different people and groups focused on more than just HLS directly. Anyone who did business with them—including banking, toilet paper, delivery services, communications, investors, anyone who was profiting from the exploitation—was a fair target.

Some of the companies were huge international ones like Bank of America or the NASDAQ stock exchange, while others were small players; but all of them helped HLS stay in business somehow. The SHAC campaign started to dismantle those systems brick by brick. Some companies capitulated after receiving a letter, while others slogged through legal and security battles. It was impossible for HLS to run a business if vendors refused to sell to them, or if delivery companies wouldn’t handle the animals, office supplies or documents, or if a bank refused to hold their money because it was tainted in the public’s eyes.

To compare effectiveness of strategies, look at Bank of America as an example. They had kept Big Green (NGOs) and grassroots groups at bay for decades in divestment campaigns. These environmental groups were only asking for crumbs really: slight, modest changes in corporate policy. When SHAC started to focus on BOA to divest completely of HLS stocks, they divested within, I think, two weeks. Activists targeted them all over the country in all of their branches.

It wasn’t worth it to them, or their toilet paper suppliers (laughs). HLS finally had to appeal to the Bank of Scotland, a state monopoly, to handle their banking. Otherwise they would have collapsed. No one else would touch them; they were toxic.

Another example was the Stephens corporation based in Little Rock Arkansas, which had invested over $30 million US to keep HLS afloat. They made media statements that they would never divest or give in to the SHAC campaign. They fought back hard. Stephens hired some of the first security agencies to intimidate and investigate SHAC. One of them was called Global Operations, a real shadowy outfit. They called people involved in the campaign terrorists in the media and took out full page ads making us out to be crazy and insensitive.

There was a week of actions in Little Rock targeting Stephens in 2001. It included home demos, teach-ins, vegan BBQs, and on the last day a demonstration at their offices downtown.

The whole city shut down. Bank of America boarded up windows at all of their locations and ATMs. Little Rock brought out their old riot gear from the ‘60s and called in all personnel. They were terrified of 200 animal rights activists due to the Stephens propaganda. We owned the downtown; we ran through the streets for hours being tear gassed, and having rubber bullets and concussion grenades shot at us. I was standing next to Josh Harper, a key organizer, when they targeted him from one foot away, shooting him point blank in the face with round after round. Then people were finally arrested. A week later Stephens folded. They lost millions overnight.

The SHAC campaign was still in full effect when we started DSEF!. Sometimes we had combo weekends of home demos and teach-ins with folks in both groups participating. Like the SHAC campaign, DSEF! wasn’t trying to build a mass movement. We had one goal: For MAXXAM to divest completely of Pacific Lumber and for them to stop all logging. We didn’t want less or more unsustainable logging. Daryl Cherney, EPIC (Environmental Protection Information Center) and others had long ago worked out transition plans for Pacific Lumber’s withdrawal.

The company just needed a reason to enact them. That wasn’t our goal, but we respected it. We wanted Pacific Lumber to stop immediately or it was going to cost them a lot of money to stay in business. DSEF! tried to mimic SHAC as far as being an international autonomous broad campaign since there were companies all over the US and Canada that did business with either MAXXAM or Pacific Lumber. It didn’t get nearly the traction of SHAC and evolved into a small group of people organizing consistently in Texas. We went after the executives at their offices, homes, golf courses, churches, synagogues, or any public place. Two of them moved out of million dollar homes to even more gated communities, including one of MAXXAM CEO Charles Hurwitz’s slimy sons.

We did research on all the shell corporations, officers and ways that Charles Hurwitz and MAXXAM (or MAXXSCAM as we referred to them) hid themselves and their money, including pouring over past lawsuits against them. Then we went after their smaller companies and decision-makers who weren’t directly related to Pacific Lumber. There were regular home demos day and night by people we knew and didn’t know.

In addition to those battles, there was the incredible blowback from people within the EF! movement. We were denounced by some California old guard factions as being too violent, reckless and controversial, although we never physically harmed anyone. Many of the most vocal wanted us to continue with passive resistance and entrenched tactics until the last redwood on the planet was cut. Our approach was much more militant.

Internationally there was a lack of interest. Most EF! groups wanted to focus on their local projects instead of coordinating something larger, which we understood. We weren’t being vanguardist, but just pushing the edge of where political action might go. The radical enviro movement had really lost its militancy and was comfortable in the forms of resistance like blockades and treesits. I’m not knocking those, but corporations and the state had adapted to them and expected them. When we stepped in, it was outside the EF! norm. Others had challenged EF! tradition before. Remember the redneck wilderness founders who wouldn’t let go of that and considered those that came later just “anarchists”?  Something different had to be done, and so we did what we felt was needed.
With our lack of resources DSEF! finally settled into two strategies: home demos and a treesit in a large urban park in Houston near Hurwitz’s house. The latter played well with the media, while the former was effective in putting direct pressure on executives. The treesit was started about two years into the project with support from Northcoast EF!ers, who were on the front lines in the redwoods fight. The treesit lasted for a few months, but the home demos continued until the campaign’s end.

DSEF! burned brightly and intensely for about three years before going dark in 2005. We folded from the combination of  lack of wider support and the repression from state and private security entities—including a willing activist who became an FBI informant (one of five in my life!).  Publicly MAXXAM wasn’t budging, but then shortly after our group ended, Pacific Lumber declared bankruptcy and they relinquished all the land. DSEF! was only partially responsible. Campaign “victories” like these are never clear and always messy “wins.” Valuable ecosystems had been saved, but tens of thousands of acres of wild habitats had been lost, leaving small shadows of their original selves.

EF!J: The summer of 2013 saw an exceptional amount of actions in defense of the wild, including treesits, protests, blockades, lockdowns, property destruction, sabotage and animal liberation. As someone who has had experience with diverse groups and tactics in the movement throughout the years, what are your thoughts on the current state of the radical environmental and animal liberation struggles in the United States?

scott: I absolutely agree. Coming out of the energy of the Occupy camps in the fall of 2011 or so, there has been a crescendo of various political currents building again. It has been inspiring to see reinvigorated radical environmental and animal liberation movements again with a full spectrum of actions all over the place. These two movements had largely become tentative, boxed in, and were at low points. For a brief time in the US there were mostly small actions or campaigns here or there that were engaging, but often isolated and short lived. Many radical tendencies that had been gaining ground were being co-opted or (mis)represented by the Big Greens with their reeking limited liberal reforms or diversion of grassroots energy into electoral politics and market solutions. Both of these tendencies didn’t make for much of a fight as climate change careened out of control and the Earth was still being pillaged for “resources” and used as a toxic dumping ground. Thankfully, people have been climbing out of that valley and are being joined by more. We have been seeing a new set of radicalization, new alliances and campaigns, and new energies while breaking out of those boundaries. The pivotal Mountaintop Removal campaigns battled this while also fostering radical grassroots activists in this period, and people like Scott Parkin (of DSEF! and Rising Tide) formed key bridges between the old guard and the new, and between NGOs and grassroots  groups.

The question I ask is: Why were we having this lull? When taking the political view of rebellion we have to recognize that all political and cultural movements have moments of rupture with great revolutionary potential or intensity followed by periods where priorities and praxis are assessed, lessons are learned, legal fallout is dealt with, wounds are healed and psychological spaces for longer term projects are created.

The biggest factor to this period roughly 2003-2009 was the expansion in the farce of the “War on Terror” after the passage of the Patriot Act and AETA (Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act) combined with the FBI’s prioritizing of radical environmental and animal movements in what has been dubbed the Green Scare. The scope and scale of these wide-reaching investigations, coordinated nationwide raids, grand juries, infiltration and orchestrated media smear campaigns was largely unknown for a few years after the turn of the millennium. We just knew the targeting was everywhere; from underground efforts like the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front to the grassroots above-ground struggles of the SHAC campaign, Sea Shepherd, Earth First! groups, people like Rod Coronado, Eric McDavid, Marie Mason, myself and countless others who faced some kind of repression or harassment. Remember too that more “mainstream” radical groups like Greenpeace, Ruckus Society, Rainforest Action Network and PETA were also being spied on and infiltrated. For many of us the unknown was paralyzing or disorienting at times.

To lesser degrees there were three other currents that deserve mention as influencing factors. The alternative globalization movements had crested after intense mass actions for a number of years. Also, there was the ending of almost 20-year Earth First! campaigns in Northern California to end old-growth logging in the US which had spawned hundreds of treesits and blockades, but also great weariness and burnout from people involved. Lastly, I think the psychological drain from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq diverted a lot of focus for many activists from bioregional to larger international issues.

All of these overlapping and disparate currents collided, taking a huge toll on people, organizations and movements. It was a period of refocusing, healing, legal wrangling and assessment. It curbed the previous momentum and halted wide-scale actions in the US and Canada. But then the smoke cleared.

Now there is an upswing of broader grassroots energy, campaigns, and groups with new networks and people. The climate crisis itself and worldwide governments’ glaring inaction and appeasement of corporate interests to the detriment of ecosystems has been compelling people to focus on environmental issues again. It is our lives we’re talking about. As I mentioned earlier, I think it should be noted that EF! as an autonomous movement had waned mid-decade, which has happened before in EF! history at the end of long campaigns. Rising Tide North America (and internationally) really held it down during the lull, slowly building a network of autonomous collectives and outposts focused on climate issues and frontline communities being affected by them—like the mountaintop removal campaigns. It wasn’t absolutely separate from EF!. In some cases it was the same, like EF! 2.0. And I think the EF! Journal did a good job of continuing to disseminate information and continuing the storytelling of these localized issues when the rest of the world wasn’t. These pieces really helped provide a springboard for newer anarchists or radical individuals and environmental groups to bounce from once people came out of the Occupy movements. I would even argue that the recent overlapping grassroots environmental movements are more diverse in addressing climate issues, environmental racism, indigenous autonomy and solidarity, as well as the complex issues of globalization, capitalism and civilization as we currently live in them.

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Festival exploring gender continues to see growth

by Ryan Kasley
Philadelphia Gay News
September 25th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, visit www.genderreelfest.com.

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Speaking OUT: reviewed on PFLAGG Greensboro

by Dave Parker
PFlagg Greensboro

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Gabriel Carlyle
Peace News
October- November 2014


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

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

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

 

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Towards Collective Liberation: A review in Peace News

by Milan Rai
Peace News
October-November 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doubling our strength

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scare me

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

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

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

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

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

This is part of ‘collective liberation’.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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




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

Revolutionary Communist Party
September 5th, 2014


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

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

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

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

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


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




Turning Money Into Rebellion, A Review in Marx & Philosophy

By Joshua Moufawad-Paul
Marx & Philosophy
Review of Books

September 9th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

Barnstable Patriot
September 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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