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Warm San Francisco Nights

By Ron Jacobs
CounterPunch
January 6th, 2017

Mat Callahan’s newest book, titled The Explosion of Deferred Dreams: Musical Renaissance and Social Revolution in San Francisco, 1965-1975 is an impressive and exceptional work. Although the meaning of rock music and the counterculture is an oft-explored subject, Callahan brings a new and different perspective to the conversation. One thing in particular that makes this book unique is not necessarily its investigation of rock music and politics, but its definition of the music itself as revolutionary, not just its lyrics. In other words, it was the rock sound, especially that played by so-called psychedelic rock musicians from the San Francisco Bay Area, that were often more important than the lyrics. Why? Because those sounds liberated the body and the mind—the entire being. This liberation threatened the existing social order as much as any revolutionary lyrics or protests might. At the same time, they existed within limits that could eventually be made something other than revolutionary. This latter truth is part of any discussion of the meaning of the 1960s; naturally Callahan takes it on, too.

In 1975, I saw Callahan perform with the 1970s folk-rock duo Prairie Fire (Prairie Fire became a punk band later in the decade and worked with the Revolutionary Communist Party.) Afterwards he and his fellow band member led a discussion on the meaning of rock music in the revolutionary spirit of the mid-1970s. I recall the discussion as being a good one, although there were occasional short silences while the audience, which was made up of politicos and counterculture freaks, attempted to reconcile the contradictions between Bob Dylan’s support for George Jackson and his blatantly apolitical music of the early 1970s. What strikes me most about this memory is how much music actually mattered in the lives of both political and cultural revolutionaries then. This is the spirit this book is written. Indeed, Callahan draws on both his radical and musical pasts in The Explosion of Deferred Dreams.

From the Fillmore and Avalon dancehalls to the KMPX and KSAN radio waves, this grassroots revolution in music was created by the people in the streets and houses, not by producers and corporations. However, given that this occurred in the world’s biggest and most powerful capitalist nation, it would not stand. Then again, perhaps it would not have stood in a lesser outpost of profiteering, either. The battle for the music and its genuine soul is another crucial element of this text, as well. Callahan discusses this throughout the book from a variety of angles—musician, promoters, media, audience and the record companies. In his discussions, he saves a special venom for the promoter Bill Graham and the Rolling Stone newspaper founded by the nowadays media mogul Jann Wenner. By pointing out Graham’s intense pursuit of profits in spite of opposition from a more egalitarian community, he explains how Graham’s almost innate understanding of the business (despite his lack of experience) both destroyed the ethos of community while simultaneously saving the financial asses of certain groups like the Grateful Dead. In discussing Rolling Stone’s access to musicians, he also points out how the magazine became a shill for the industry, which ultimately helped force its competition out of business.

This book takes us deep into the nexus where art and politics collide and collude; specifically, the nexus where the music of the San Francisco Bay Area colluded to help inspire and inform a cultural revolution that changed minds and social realities. Written in the context of revolutionary culture—with Mao, Marcuse, Marx and Fanon as informants—The Explosion of Deferred Dreams brings Simone De Beauvoir, the Black Panthers, La Raza and the Students for a Democratic Society into the discussion, as well. The result is a radical left critique of culture under monopoly capitalism and a fun ride through the streets, parks and dance halls of 1960s-1970s San Francisco. The reader becomes an observer of community meetings and community squabbles over art and profit. They are also presented with an argument that describes the racial and ethnic diversity of the Bay Area’s counterculture scenes. This latter element is often ignored by most writers and, to be fair, the reality is that the counterculture was mostly a white-skinned phenomenon. However, if there was one geographical region where this was less so, it was the Bay Area. Rock bands did benefits for the Black Panthers and striking farmworkers and the people in the streets banded together across color lines to defend their culture, their public and private spaces, and the revolution against the cops, the mainstream media and establishment politicians.

Unfortunately, the power of money won out. The rock music audience became segmented along multiple lines, including race and gender; concerts were rarely ever free; and radical politics were repressed and removed. Yet, the suggestion of that liberation one feels when they hear certain songs—the ones that make you shake your hips or pump your fist—remains. It will never go away and one hopes it will continue to be discovered anew. Mat Callahan helps make sense of why this is so.

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




Crashing the Party: A Review in the NLG Review

by Sue Udry
National Lawyers Guild Review
Summer 2016

We knew exactly what would happen last July at the Republican and Democratic national conventions. City governments would make plans to restrict protests. Police departments would purchase riot gear, less-than lethal weapons, and other special equipment. Insurance policies would quietly be bought. Some assortment of federal, state and local police would in¿ltrate activist spaces, lurk on listserves, and stalk social media. In the mass media, a narrative would be crafted about dangerous protesters and outside agitators intent on crashing the parties.

Once the protests began, there would be agents provocateur, mass arrests, preemptive arrests, false arrests, police violence, abuse in jails, scapegoating of “ringleaders” and all manner of repression. That’s exactly what happened at the RNC in Philadelphia in 2000. Kris Hermes was there as a social justice activist and member of the R2K legal collective. Hermes has written about his experience in Crashing the Party. He documents how the people fought back using jail solidarity, court solidarity, and democratically-run legal collectives that engaged activists in the legal process to ensure political goals were not subverted.
 
Hermes walks us through the events that transpired—the preemptive raids, mass arrests, surveillance and in¿ltration, aggressive prosecutions—and analyzes the ¿ghtback: What worked, what didn’t, and why. What comes through most clearly is the power of legal collectives to protect not only the rights of activists, but their political goals and their desire to act in solidarity with each other in opposition the state. Legal workers and legal collectives, rather than lawyers primarily obligated to the best interest of their individual clients, are best positioned to “empower activists to take control of their own [collective] legal predicament.”1

August 1, 2000 was a day of action against the criminal justice system. Police responded to the protests with violence and mass arrests, and by the end of the day 420 people were in jail. While most of the arrestees were detained during the protests, 75 never even got the chance to exercise their First Amendment rights that day.

Sue Udry is a legal worker member of the NLG, and serves on the board of the DC Chapter. She is the executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/
Defending Dissent Foundation.

Preemptive raids on activist spaces are a favorite tool of the state because they allow it to smother the message in the cradle and minimize the impact of protests by feeding the “dangerous protester” narrative, depriving activists of art, Àyers, and other tools of dissent and locking some of the leading voices away from the streets at a crucial time. Using those metrics, authorities in Philadelphia hit one out of the park.

Almost two weeks before the protests began, the city raided and temporarily shut down the Spiral Q Puppet Theater using the authority of the Department of Licenses and Inspection. The raid disrupted workshops with single moms and teenagers that were in progress that afternoon, sowing fear and forcing the removal of puppets, signs and banners. Then, on August 1, a 120-year-old Victorian trolley and bus barn serving as a puppet warehouse was surrounded by Philadelphia police. Activists in side refused to let police in without a warrant.

More than two dozen police cruisers lined the avenue and scores of cops... surrounded the warehouse. At least three helicopters hovered loudly above. A handful of cops were on the roof and many had formed a barricade to prevent people from approaching the building . . . . The city had staged an elaborate drama full of hysteria and allegations to justify what it
was about to do.2

Police began using chainsaws to get into the building, but when a search warrant was obtained, the activists inside agreed to come out (but not with -out setting conditions, including that their lawyer be allowed to accompany police on their search of the building and that they have access to the media).

The search warrant was kept under seal for 30 days, allowing the city to conceal the fact that Pennsylvania State Police had ifiltrated the warehouse and that the “evidence” of illegal activity was based on the red-baiting of a right-wing think tank.

The raid accomplished its goals: garbage trucks carted away “puppets, signs, banners, leaÀets, and other political props,” along with personal property including backpacks, clothing, identification, and the equipment used to make the props like tools, paint, a sewing machine.
 
Deprived of the visuals designed to convey their political message, protesters had dif¿culty rebutting the City’s charge that they had no political message and were just in town to make trouble.Seventy five people who were present at the warehouse that day were arrested, jailed, and zealously prosecuted, each charged with several misdemeanors and hefty bails of $10,000 to $15,000.

Hermes takes us inside the jail with the over 400 people arrested on August 1 as they implemented a jail solidarity action. Activists spent their long hours of confinement, beginning while in the police buses, in spokes councils, discussing what jail solidarity would look like, making plans to engage in non-cooperation including refusing to identify themselves or be fingerprinted, refusing to move under their own power, locking arms and even stripping naked. Jailers responded with tactics of their own: using excessive force, denying needed medical attention and prescription drugs and other necessities, and sexual abuse and harassment.

Those tactics were met with further non-cooperation. On the outside, rallies, vigils and press conferences were organized, and R2K reached out to the faith community to secure its support. By August 6, about 150 arrestees began a hunger strike, but the city was unmoved, refusing to negotiate, demanding excessively high bails, denying access to lawyers, and delaying arraignments.

Many of those arrested on misdemeanor charges were detained for two weeks, some spent time in solitary confinement. They paid excessive bails and charges were not reduced. But, Hermes argues, the campaign “gained the support and solidarity of countless people in Philadelphia, across the country, and around the world.”3

He also notes that the goal of this solidarity action (unlike at the DC IMF/World Bank protests) was to include those people charged with felonies. Hermes and other activists assert that the refusal of those charged with misdemeanors to sever ties with those charged with felonies led to reduced felony bails.

Once the last arrestee was out of jail, the long-haul work began. Hermes detailed the excellent work of the R2K legal collective in keeping arrestees and their supporters informed, organizing meetings in several cities, promoting solidarity and a political trial strategy, and winning. In the end, 300 people were charged with misdemeanors, 43 with felonies. Out of those, 106 took plea bargains and 237 went to trial. Thirteen people were convicted of misdemeanors, one person took a felony plea bargain, but there was not one felony trial conviction, and none of those convicted were sentenced to jail.

This was an amazing outcome, particularly considering the city’s aggressive prosecution of the protesters. R2K Legal’s true forte was public relations. Hermes notes a “discernable shift in public opinion” as the collective publicized the string of dismissals and acquittals, and the extensive ifiltration that the legal process exposed.

Coverage of the trials and the sham of the preemptive arrests was not limited to Philadelphia. The regional and national press picked up the story. R2K ensured that the mass arrests, designed to quiet protests and enhance the city’s image, back¿red.

By all accounts, the court solidarity and political trial strategy had been wildly successful. Combining resistance, theatrics, and repeated legal victories with an effective PR campaign did more than vindicate the hundreds of defendants. It also served to embarrass the city for its role in silencing dissent.

Most important to the R2K Legal Collective and all of the RNC defendants, however, was safeguarding those accused of felonies.4

As the criminal cases wended their way through the courts, R2K Legal began to develop a civil litigation strategy, drafting a proposal laying out the “structural relationship between activists, attorneys, and the R2K Legal Collective” that would give more power to activists. By January 2001, R2K Legal had launched a months-long process involving meetings with activists in various cities to discuss strategies and hammer out an agreement on how civil suit costs, labor, and monetary awards would be divided. Activists were adamant that their political demands for injunctive relief would be included in the lawsuit, and that any money won would be pai
d out to activist groups rather than to individual activists. On August 1, 2001, a year after the raid on the puppet warehouse, a civil suit was ¿led demanding damages and injunctive relief including “better safeguards against surveillance and infiltration, and stricter enforcement of habeas rights and timely arraignments.”5

A month later, R2K Legal and the rest of Philadelphia learned about an insurance policy the city had bought prior to the convention to protect police from liability for “things like false arrest, wrongful detention or imprisonment, malicious prosecution, assault and battery, discrimination, humiliation, violation of civil rights.”6

That insurance policy allowed the city to hire a high-powered law ¿rm to defend them in civil suits, turning the “slam dunk” puppet warehouse lawsuit into a vehicle for the city to harass activists and activist groups with numerous and wide-ranging subpoenas and depositions.

The city’s strategy drained the time and resources of R2K Legal, the activists and their lawyers, whose priority still remained the ongoing felony trials. The city’s strategy also brought the other half-dozen or so civil suits to heel. A gag order on all the settlements means that we don’t know the dates on which they were settled or the terms, but over the spring and summer of 2001 they all appear to have been settled. Luckily a transcript from a closed hearing in the puppet warehouse case was inadvertently filed as a public document.

The Philadelphia Daily News reported that an award of $72,000 would be paid out of the city’s insurance policy.7

While the civil litigation strategy didn’t get the results desired or expected, the work R2K Legal did to create a framework to empower activists and elevate their political priorities was groundbreaking.
 
What to make, then, of the Philadelphia experience? Arguably, it is in the realm between the legal world and the world of political organizing where, when boundaries are pushed, unexpected results can occur. The successes of R2K Legal came from a combination of legal and political strategies developed by activists and defendants.8

There was a brief renaissance of legal collectives in the early 2000s, but too many were short-lived, organized around a single event, or, for whatever reason, just unable to survive. These groups were democratic. They sought to empower activists and ensure that political goals would not be undermined by police and legal processes. The demise of so many of them has created a vacuum—just as the powers of the state have ascended in the post-9/11 era.

How will legal workers collaborate with political comrades and attorneys to develop creative means of keeping dissent alive and thriving in the new era of increased state surveillance and disruption?

It’s a crucial question for the National Lawyers Guild—one Hermes, by sharing instructive stories from a past struggle, helps to answer.

Buy Crashing the Party now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Kris Herme's page




The Day the Country Died: A Review

By  Jake Slovis
H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews
January 2017

Punk and Politics

In The Day the Country Died: A History of Anarcho Punk, 1980-1984, Ian Glasper tracks the formation and growth of the anarcho punk scene in the United Kingdom. According to Glasper, the time span the book covers is significant because it marks the period in which anarcho punk evolved from “an outlandish fashion statement” to a political subculture “yearning for internal and external peace and freedom” (p. 8). This loose description helps Glasper to separate the “anarchy and peace” punks from the “anarchy and chaos” punks documented in his Burning Britain: The History of U.K. Punk, 1980-1984 (2014). Glasper is likewise deliberate to define anarcho punk in abstract terms, as the movement prioritized ethics over the “rigid musical doctrines” that came to define other brands of punk (p. 9).

One of the successes of The Day the Country Died is that Glasper cites influential figures in the anarcho punk scene without elevating these figures above the movement itself. This helps to highlight the inclusionary politics of anarcho punk, which actively worked to disassemble “divisions between audience and band” (p. 50). It is therefore with some reluctance that Glasper credits the band Crass as one of the “leaders” of the anarcho punk movement. However, there is no denying Crass’s influence, as they were one of the first to combat the commercialism exhibited by punk acts in the late 1970s. According to drummer Penny Rimbaud, “‘commercial punk was a complete sham, part of the rock‘n’roll circus, operating in the same way as someone like Marc Bolan [from T. Rex]—which is not to denigrate it as such ... after all, music is an industry; it produces product and people enjoy product.’” For Crass, the attachment of music to “product” cheapened the anti-establishment ethos that they believed punk could embody. Crass therefore saw the need to pursue activism in more explicit and tangible terms. Glasper writes, “they [Crass] weren’t interested in sensationalist unworkable notions of anarchy and chaos, they wanted a gradual revolution from within” (p. 11). In this way, Crass differed from iconic bands like the Sex Pistols, who only “hinted” at rebellion. Instead, Crass favored direct action, which gave “shape and purpose” to the anarcho punk movement.

Glasper also cites Flux of Pink Indians as one of the more influential anarcho punk acts. Like Crass, Flux of Pink Indians avoided characterizing themselves as “leaders” within the anarcho punk community. However, unlike Crass, Flux of Pink Indians cultivated their political priorities as they developed, originally forming with “ambitions no loftier than making a bloody racket for the sheer hell of it” (p. 32). It was through touring and observing the rise of Thatcherism that Flux of Pink Indians turned toward activism. By the end of their tenure, the band not only took on an anticapitalist agenda but also embraced vegetarianism as part of their ethical code. Glasper writes that their “Neu Smell” EP (Extended Play) was “probably responsible for more punk rockers turning vegetarian than any other” (p. 32).

Outside of Crass and Flux of Pink Indians, members of Conflict, Subhumans, and Lack of Knowledge contribute lengthy oral testimonies to The Day the Country Died. The result is a documentary style narrative that privileges experience over any other form of evidence. This choice is both a success and failure. While relying on testimony underscores the collectivist ideals of anarcho punk, the length of the testimonies are overbearing at times. Furthermore, it absolves Glasper of being the primary storyteller, as the testimonies are surrounded by little analysis and it is often unclear as to how they fit into a larger framework. 

Structurally, the book is divided into chapters based on the regional affiliation of the bands discussed. This allows Glasper to show that while anarcho punk was widespread in the United Kingdom, it relied on local engagement in order to develop. Throughout The Day the Country Died, performers often cite experiences with other local activists, exposing an intimacy within the scene. According to Lack of Knowledge vocalist, Daniel Drummond, “‘being a part of it [anarcho punk] was more important than just watching bands’” (p. 50). Many other bands echo Drummond’s sentiments, demonstrating a serious interest in communalism and group participation. This is not to say that anarcho punk’s political priorities were limited to communalism. Bands like Conflict fully tested anarcho punk’s “no rules” mantra, as they “militantly” defended animal rights. Others advocated for sexual equality and many worked to challenge Margaret Thatcher’s reforms. This challenge is perhaps best characterized by the band Thatcher on Acid, who formed “chiefly as a name” and were primarily motivated by ideals of “freedom and co-operation” under fears of nuclear war (p. 221).

However, like many bands motivated by the movement of the early 1980s, Thatcher on Acid felt disillusioned by the scene as it began to change by the late 1980s and early 1990s. Guitarist Ben Corrigan says, “‘we felt that, even though there were an awful lot of bands and people involved within it, the scene itself was fragmented, permeated with a kind of inverted snobbery and was actually largely fake’” (p. 223). Corrigan also expresses concern that the scene seemed less about direct action and more about occupying an anti-this, anti-that position without clear purpose. Glasper does not fully clarify whether this change came as a result of the rapid growth of anarcho punk without a unified vision or as a result of the commercial success of anarcho acts like Chumbawamba. What is clear is that as anarcho punk became more prevalent, the effectiveness and intimacy of the movement was compromised.

Glasper concludes by dubbing anarcho punk “the most real and challenging incarnation of punk rock ever seen or heard.” That anarcho punk was something to be “seen” as well as “heard” does much to underscore that the movement was more than a sound; it was an experience and feeling. It is for this reason that nostalgia is often frowned upon, as so much of the movement was contingent on “doing.” Glasper also emphasizes that while the feelings that motivated anarcho punks were “stimulated” by the time, the spirit of the movement “remains an indomitable constant as long as there is injustice in the world” (p. 456). This “spirit” is perhaps best clarified by Scott Paton, guitarist of AOA: “‘We decided to vent our anger through music, and take a more direct approach with our protest, and for the most part it had the desired effect: an all out attack on what we wanted to change. And now here we are again; the relentless cycle of life and death continues unabated. There will always be something to be angry about ... and always a corresponding need for change’” (p. 455). While anarcho punk has faded, AOA’s message functions as a rally cry for future activists. It is founded on the hope that there is always an opportunity for change and suggests that anarcho punk’s ethical foundation will continue to endure within the social justice movements of tomorrow.

A long overdue book focusing on the early years of one of punk rock’s most notorious and greatest loved bands, The Dead Kennedys.

In his prequel, author Alex Ogg reminds us that The Dead Kennedys have never been written about at length (see John Robb’s tribute here). The Ramones, Clash and Pistols have over 100 titles between them, and yet DK are arguably one of the bands that typifies punk at its best. They stuck two fingers up to the music industry and then lunged in to attack it. And who doesn’t recognise that logo?

If you don’t know the Dead Kennedys then:

  • a) seriously?
  • b) you need to book yourself into the punk reprogramming camp (does the opposite of the one in Aceh they sent Indonesian punks to) and immerse yourself particularly in their early works.

For those already inducted, read on…

“Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years” does what it says on the tin. It starts by placing the key players and the band that would become Dead Kennedys in the context of the development of punk at a local San Francisco level and globally. It then charts their rapid progress in spite of, or possibly because of, a “cultural hand grenade of a name” from garage practices and their early performances, DIY released first 7 inch and onto their debut LP – all of which happened from their own reckoning by “pure dumb luck” – perhaps playing down the hard work and ingenuity which was partly responsible. As Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”.

Chapter titles are taken from DK songs, which is always a winner in my view, causing a wry grin. The pages are littered with band collages, Winston Smith’s art, gig flyers and Ruby Ray’s photos capturing the band in their infancy – which keeps the reader’s attention and makes this all the more difficult to put down. Photos of different covers and record middles from across the globe demonstrate how far their message spread across a world eager for acerbic high octane punk rock.  There are also excerpts from the “Hard Rock” comic about DK punctuating the story of pivotal events in the band’s early stages – in itself a humorous contradiction. I’ll be returning to this volume for a cursory browse at the pictures every now and then.

Alex Ogg manages to overcome the difficult job of providing a narrative that includes conflicting versions of events from former band mates who are at loggerheads, allowing the details and trivia to froth around so the reader can decide their own version of “the truth” from whatever bubbles to the surface.  He brings the story alive using interviews not only with band members, but with other contemporary witnesses including gig-goers. The writing manages to go some way to capturing the excitement, buzz, artistic freedom, true rebellion of punk rock in the early days when it really was a shock to the establishment rather than a music genre co-opted into corporate rock.  I came away from reading this book marveling once again at the musicianship, lyrical satire and sarcasm, theatrics, imaginative pranks and art that made Dead Kennedys stand out all those years ago – and still stand out now. Which led to me having a DK-athon over the last week!

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years is packed full of interesting facts and gossip:  I found out what that line about Serpents Eggs in California Uber Alles was really about rather than having a general gist it was “something bad”; the pizza delivery job Jello had back in Boulder being the inspiration for songs like Terminal Preppie and Holiday in Cambodia, and the true identity of Norm, the producer credited for Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  Want to know about production processes and techniques they employed to capture and embellish upon their live sound to create  great records (and the obligatory conflict in the studio within the band and between the band and engineer)?  That’s in here as well.  Want to know who really wrote a particular song?  You’ll have to make your own mind up as each stakes their claim.

A chapter based largely on a stowaway-cum-roadie’s reminiscences provides an insight into the first UK tour Dead Kennedys undertook, bringing such cultural imports as stage diving and an amusing anecdote where the band misread the crowd’s sense of humour, thinking they had themselves misread the irony in the band’s lyrics.

The end notes detailing sources and full quotes provide a deeper level of trivia that some nerds…errmm, I mean “fact fans”, will absolutely love.  In the days before the internet this volume would have been a punk pub quiz host’s bible!   I have to admit I skipped much of the “Yakety Yak” chapter, comprised as it is of quotes about DK from some predictable punk/HC luminaries, a few journalists and the less predictable Pete Townshend (Who?), Elijah Wood and Massive Attack. Probably even something in there to impress Bruce “Punks can’t play their instruments” Dickinson.

Russ “Dr. Punk” Bestley, responsible for the image laden design of this book, submits a 3-page profile/homage to Winston Smith, whose artwork helped amplify the sound and lyrics of DK to create notoriety on a scale the Pistols could only have dreamt of.  Dada, situationism, Jamie Reid and Gee Vaucher all get a mention, of course.

The tale closes,as the title would suggest, after Fresh Fruit was released and drummer Ted left in December 1980.  Alex Ogg has left unpicking the rest of the DK story for “some other poor bastard” but I think he has proven he is the man for the job (go on, you know you want to, Alex!).  Whereas some band/artist biographies get bogged down in so much technical detail that you forget the generality of what you have read and lose track of what went on (I am thinking in particular of People Funny Boy by David Katz) our author has mastered the art of distillation which is just what you need to plot a path through a contentious story such as that of the Dead Kennedys.  Finishing the book, I was left reflecting that the Moral Majority and PMRC couldn’t destroy the band but they have done a pretty good job on each other since via the court system.  That’s another story in itself.

~ Get your copy from turnaround-uk.com, activedistribution.org and pmpress.org - See more at: http://louderthanwar.com/fresh-fruit-for-rotting-vegetables-the-early-years-by-alex-ogg-book-review/#sthash.25ip858k.dpuf

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Ian Glasper's Author Page




Birth Work as Care Work Firestorm Books and Cafe 2016 Best Seller

 December 31st, 2016

2016 Best Sellers & Collective Picks

Looking back at the last twelve months, our best selling new titles reflected the conversations taking place in our community around issues of local and global importance. Conversations that we’re proud to have been a part of! And while some of these gems have enjoyed mainstream acclaim, no doubt most found their way into the arms of our patrons as a result of social media, book clubs, and recommendations from other readers on parallel paths of discovery.

Additionally, unlike our list from last year, these titles are all published in 2016. So there isn’t any overlap (although, The New Jim Crow was our all-around best seller and it was published way back in 2012).

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The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

“Once again, Maggie Nelson has created an awe-inspiring work, one that smartly calls bullshit on the places culture—radical subcultures included—stigmatize and misunderstand both maternity and queer family-making. With a fiercely vulnerable intelligence, Nelson leaves no area un-investigated, including her own heart. I know of no other book like this, and I know how crucially the culture needs it.”
—Michelle Tea, author of Valencia and How to Grow Up





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Bædan 3: A Journal of Queer Time Travel

“Bædan marks a further attempt to pose and to flesh out a queer critique of civilization. Queer not only in the sense of coming from those outside and disruptive of the Family, but also in the sense of a critique weirder than its more orthodox cousins. We imagine the Bædan project as an effort to pose the critique of civilization otherwise, to begin from another place. In this issue (and beyond…) we have conjured a strange bestiary of thinking, trying to unearth and trace the tradition of anti-civilization thought in the literature of queerness and in queerness as immanent critique.”

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Birth Work as Care Work: Stories from Activist Birth Communities by Alana Apfel

“Becoming a birth supporter, getting to be an attendant to the miracle of childbirth, has transformed my social justice work... Learning to listen, learning to trust the body and the people, and learning to breathe will transform our movement work. Birth Work as Care Work demonstrates these lessons through showing us ways we can learn together to support the birth of new worlds.”
—Adrienne Brown, coeditor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements




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The Gender Creative Child: Pathways for Nurturing and Supporting Children Who Live Outside Gender Boxes by Diane Ehrensaft PhD

“A critically important book to all those who support and/or love trans and gender non-conforming children and youth. It's well-written, accessible, thorough, and enlivened by combined profiles of some of the children, youth, and families whom Ehrensaft has helped to council.”
—Shannon Wyss, GoodReads.com


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Learning Good Consent: On Healthy Relationships and Survivor Support edited by Cindy Crabb

"What this book does is to stress consent: not 'no means no,' or even 'yes means yes,' but 'Do you want me to stay here with you?' 'Are you here?' 'I thought I wanted this, but I'm not sure now.' 'Do you think we should take this farther?' I'm moved that this book is here. It matters."
—Alison Piepmeier, author of Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism





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Princeless Book 1: Deluxe Edition by Jeremy Whitley

“Whitley (writer) and Goodwin (artist)’s Princeless offers a fresh and literally bright view of the young, female heroine of color and her struggle to create her own sense of agency in a world where princesses wait for princes to rescue them.  Princeless comments on the various issues facing women in comic books today, from impractical outfits juxtaposed by slapstick humor and jokes that entertain all ages.”
—Tony Le, RaceBending.com


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Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Schatz Kate

“[F]resh, engaging, and inspiring tales of perseverance and radical success…pairing well researched and riveting biographies with powerful and expressive cut-paper portraits.”
—BookRiot.com





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Swing Time by Zadie Smith

“Brilliant…With Swing Time, Zadie Smith identifies the impossible contradiction all adults are asked to maintain — be true to yourself, and still contain multitudes; be proud of your heritage, but don’t be defined by it. She frays the cords that keep us tied to our ideas of who we are, to our careful self-mythologies. Some writers name, organize, and contain; Smith lets contradictions bloom, in all their frightening, uneasy splendor.”
—Annalisa Quinn, NPR.org


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Taking Sides: Revolutionary Solidarity and the Poverty of Liberalism edited by Cindy Milstein

"From the arresting title through thirteen brilliant essays, this reader is a gem. Alliances and the problem with ally politics, decolonization demands, a defense of riots, exposing gender violence, fighting back against police violence, and contesting white supremacy are among the timely issues presented in militant terms… a handbook for every social justice activist."
 —Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States




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Wild Fermentation 2nd Edition by Sandor Katz

“...a journey through time, taste, and anthropology, with a unique and refreshing look at the current state of the world… I laugh out loud when I think about this book being read by the public. It’s full of easily digestible radical analysis and the matter-of-factness of Sandor’s fabulous lifestyle among the radical faeries living in the rural wilderness of middle Tennessee.”
—The Fifth Estate



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Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?: Police Violence and Resistance in the United States edited by Maya Schenwar, Joe Macaré and Alana Yu-lan Price

"Would some communities be safer without police? That’s the question at the heart of Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?, a collection of essays and reportage penned by some of Truthout’s most compelling and enlightened thinkers—including #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Alicia Garza. With heartbreaking, glass-sharp prose, the book catalogs the abuse and destruction of black, native, and trans bodies. And then, most importantly, it offers real-world solutions."
—Chicago Review of Books

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Writing Home: The Story of Author Thomas Wolfe by Laura Boffa

Local author and educator Laura Boffa explores Wolfe's early life from his childhood home in Asheville, NC to his travels around the Midwest, and eventual return to Asheville. It is the story of one young man's journey to become a writer, a journey filled with triumph, longing, and a desire to follow one's dream.

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Fire and Flames: A Review

by Luther Blissett
Medium
December 18th, 2016

A classic German text about the history and emergence of the Autonomen, Gabriel Kuhn has provided the English reading world with access to this engaging text. Initially published in 1990, various versions emerged; this is a translation of the fourth, the 1995, edition.

Just over 180 pages, the book is engaging and filled full of interesting and fascinating details.

The book is a collection of vignettes. There are reproductions of flyers, posters, and publications from specific protests that are discussed through the book. Multiple short narratives about specific demonstrations, players, or challenges are also presented. Geronimo capably shifts between close reading and returning to the larger picture. Based on his representations, it appears as if this same challenge has been an ongoing challenge for the Autonomen as well: the ability to retain a set focus or to remain a life-long movement.

Honestly, I am not sure whether the Autonomen’s value would be enhanced by being a life-long movement, something that people would commit there lives and energies to for their whole life. That seems problematic at best–especially when you review the “Autonomous Theses 1981” (included as an Appendix). Then again, the very nature of the Autonomen appears to be doing what is right, then and there, for personal liberation and the liberation of others.

Geronimo’s history provides a properly detailed map for understanding the contexts in which the Autonomen emerged without having to fully know the history of West Germany, the intricacies of leftist politics, or the challenges of organizing. Geronimo’s summaries are deft and efficient. The material is easy to read. And there is no question of when critique is included. That’s not hidden.

For North Americans, or at least residents of the USA, some of the protest and demonstration descriptions might seem fascinating or odd. First, given the sheer numbers involved in some of the property-destructive demos. Second, given the completely different ways that contemporary law enforcement responds to Black Blocs and other groups that intentionally destroy property. As such, the book can help readers see another way that a culture could manage protest and resistance. However, at this point in the game, you can’t turn back the clock.

Probably the best part of the book is the overview it provides. While the Autonomen, rarely featured in North American press except perhaps in reference to Black Blocs, are not as well known as they might be, they cannot be reduced to the simple smash it up narrative which corporate media in Germany has tried to do to them for three decades. While one could assert, quite persuasively, that Black Blocs emerged from the Autonomen, Black Blocs are more of a strategy, a tool.

Just like Who’s Afraid of the Black Blocs?, Fire and Flames presents a rich, complex, and accessible path to understanding not just who and what some of the Autonomen are, but why they do what they do. Readers need not agree with any or some of the text. However, simplistic castigation of property destruction or internal wars against the rich or ruling elite as thoughtless violence can’t hold water after reading these texts. Yes, there will always be thoughtless fools who agitate for violence. How many more volunteer as mercenaries for Capital, to wear the State’s uniform?

If a broken window costs several thousand dollars to replace, is it better to have an officer break a protestor’s jaw, smash their teeth, or send them to the hospital for several days–all injuries that will result in tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills? So, once again, corporate profits and property are protected while the losses and damages are dealt out to citizens to pay.

Perhaps the least accessible portion of the book, for this reader at least, was the apparent endless in-fighting and factionalization around various Marxist, Leninist, and ecology-related threads. It does not take too much imagination to translate such factioning in the US context; however, the specifics were not familiar to me. Similarly unfamiliar was the control that some militant political parties expected, and perhaps still expect, in individuals’ political and personal lives.

What the author, and some Autnomen, apparently posit as a problem–the inability of Autonomen to remain involved for a long time–does not strike me as a problem. Instead, the role of Autonomen, their approach and paths, strike me very much like the Black Blocs: they are a strategy that is appropriate and viable for specific people in specific contexts. At some times, it may be most useful to support anti-imperialist or anti-fascist struggles and to work within those movements. However, conditions may change, internally or externally, when Autonomen need to emerge. That is the apparent beauty and freedom of the movement, the gift and the curse: the ability to be when needed and not be when not needed.

A final note: much of the Autonomen’s rise, and ongoing connection with local and national struggles, was rooted in their engagement around housing, squatting, and struggles for affordable, and free, housing. Reviewing the USA, it is difficult now to not see how this issue, affordable housing, could be an incredible gateway for widespread activism and engagement.

While some aspects of it definitely support and continue to feed Finance and Capital, at the same time, if such struggles lead to higher quality lives, and better and more affordable shelter, then it seems worth pursuing.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Geronimo's Page | Back to Gabriel Kuhn's Page




Gypsy: A Review

by Luther Blissett
Medium
December 18th, 2016


This book is worth buying, or at least checking out from your library, for a couple reasons. It’s only $13 to start with; if you order directly from PM Press’s catalog, you could save up to five bucks on this. {questions about this? contact PM Press or request a catalog!} The second reason is the best reason I can offer for ever reading a book: After the first or second paragraph, I wasn’t sure if I would make it through the novella, Gypsy (it’s just over 90 pages), but I decided to give it a shot, relax, and suspend my disbelief — 30 pages later I looked up stunned: I was into the book. So, yes, the book, the characters, the concepts capture the imagination.

Perks of the book are that you can ride through some interesting and intense physics — this should make hard SF folks happy. I think it’s all accurate, but I’m not a science geek, so I can’t say. However, unlike Neal Stephenson, Scholz manages to integrate his riffs in a way that extend discourse a few paragraphs as opposed to a 20 pages. For readers like me, I appreciate integrating science into the storyline. Likable characters; interesting juxtapositions of characters and timelines; unexpected outcome.

In addition to Gypsy, there’s a great non-fiction gutting of the economic elite. It rocks. There are a couple of other shorter pieces, but it’s really Gypsy and “The United States of Impunity” that make this work.

Overall a really enjoyable book. Worth your cash.

Buy Gypsy | Buy the e-Book of Gypsy | Back to Carter Scholtz's Author Page




Sober Living For the Revolution: A Review

by Luther Blissett
Medium
December 18th, 2016

Note: If you are part of the sXe scene, then you know more than I do, so I can’t say whether or not you should get this book. Check with your scene’s best reviewers. If you do decide to read this review, thanks for your time and attention. If not, no worries.

Published about seven years ago, Kuhn’s edited volume holds significant value. It is a great overview and introduction to the powerful potentials of straight edge (sXe).

Best passage of the book: Page 24 where MacKaye goes off on people leaving the scene:

“There is the classic moment when people say, “Yes, and then punk, or hard core, or straight edge, or whatever, died.” But it always died when they left the picture or when their band split up. It seems that they are talking about an energy that was contained within them — whereas I see an energy that is a constant ever-flowing river.”

Other gems: The Antifa Straight Edge; ManLiftingBanner interview; Interview with Jenni Ramme of Emancypunx.

Kuhn divides the book into five sections: Bands, Scenes, Manifestos, Reflections, and Perspectives. These divisions largely make sense, but the reflections seem to be more discussions of past projects. For anyone who actually works or tries to build, to create, or to get things done in DIY or punk cultures, this section is probably the most valuable. In most cases, except for the Hurley interview which appears to be included because of either his anarcho-primitivist perspective or his band’s status, the material is useful and engaging. Nick Riotfag and Jenni Ramme, in particular, share extensive reflections both on what worked well but also what flailed in their projects. More importantly, they indicate how they go forward. The Hurley interview, in contrast, seemed more like one guy attempting to rehash what he’s read about anarcho-primitivism and then put that in some context with sXe for this book. Frankly, that interview should have gone in a zine, not a book.

Far more interesting were the Perspectives, especially the Gomez brothers’ discussion of hardcore networks and sXe as intuitive resistance. Santiago engages in textual play at a level that’s only bested, in this volume at least, by Point of No Return’s “Bending to Stay Straight.”

While the manifestos will interest some folks, and as many online readers indicate they may be the most important part of Sober Living, the only one that I find inspiring was The Antifa Straight Edge. Then again, I’m an aging fag that isn’t straight edge… Hence some of my bias.

This may be my age showing. While Nick Riotfag’s piece is well-developed, and pretty well defended, there are repeated tones, structures, and references that remind me of academic writing–and I found that a bit troubling. That’s my personal taste, though. Having said that, it’s Riotfag’s type of analyses, internal to a scene that are well articulated and in-depth, that can bring important changes or crises of identities and issues–and then allow folks to move forward.

As Riotfag’s second piece indicates, this occurs.

Kuhn’s interview style, overall, is solid. He clearly knows the content and the context. There were a couple points when his questions seemed a bit leading, but then it also felt, in several places, like interviewees were dodging the question or not understanding the question. If the interviews were by email, Kuhn’s approach makes sense. Wish more interviewers in punk culture asked equally thoughtful questions.

Setting the tone for the whole book is, of course, the requisite opening interview with MacKaye. Next up was ManLiftingBanner. As a reader who started to read the book chronologically, these were two solid and important ways to open and frame the book. Roots and then radicalism.

Great framing.

While I did enjoy the diversity, both in terms of internationality and gender, there was a real gap in the presence of women. No doubt this, in part, reflects both turnover in the sXe scenes as well as the absence of women which so many interviewees discussed. The scene interview with Tanja about Sweden and then Jenni about Poland were exactly what they should have been: informative, detailed, connecting personal with the larger scene. They added useful and interesting perspectives of sXe — at least in portions of Europe. I just wanted to see more. For example, the Laura Synthesis interview had limited depth and breadth compared to the other interviews. However, at least she avoided pontificating like Hurley.

The book is worth buying. Kuhn takes straight edge out of a self-imposed ghetto and shows just how diverse and powerful sXe has been in shaping youth resistance cultures globally. From what we read, sXe caused some of the resistance in some scenes, while in other scenes, sXe was, and still is, a strategy for resistance. Sober Living for the Revolution, most importantly, offers multiple paths and examples for people interested in sober living and political militancy.

This is an opportunity to learn from others.

For those interested in neither sobriety nor social change, the book is still powerful and interesting. Sober Living collects multiple diverse perspectives on a complex scene, a scene that appears to be white middle class male meathead at first; take a moment and look past that and you find something quite diverse: something that bursts the heavy USA-centered myopsy when thinking, writing, and researching punk cultures. Kuhn helps you start to look.

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The Bonnot Gang: The Story of the French Illegalists: A Review

by Luther Blissett
Medium

This is part of the two part review:

Anarchism’s Icky Bits


A review of two tasty tomes that address some of anarchism’s more controversial aspects.

Anarchism’s multiplicitous nature defies, annoys, offends, and confuses many–including anarchists. Worse, though, is that pundits and peaceniks unfamiliar with what anarchism actually is have no problem labeling any and every behavior or practice they find troubling as “anarchist.” Naturally, anarchism is conflated with senseless violence and chaos.

It would be nice, comforting, and simplistic to be able to say clearly and finally just what anarchism is. However, there are so many strains with so many self-identified and differentiated practices that there are very few common threads. And we haven’t even talked about whether anarchism as a lifestyle is authentic.

In the midst of this morass, there are many polemics, claims, assertions, and a slew of people claiming moral high ground. Others assert their definitions are the only ones; just like punk rock, individuals or collectives seek to claim and define just what an anarchist is.

While such practices may be entertaining or facilitate identity politics or practices, they’re actually kind of boring. Tedious, really. That’s where these two books from PM Press have some significant contributions for people inside, on the edges of, and outside anarchist practices and communities.

The first book deals with the Bonnot Gang. In short, this is a non-fictional representation of one of anarchism’s most noted armed gangs of robbers. Yes, most of them died from gunfire. Yes, they stole from banks and other people. Yes, they had no problem making a living as thieves and counterfeiters and robbing the middle and upper classes. And they were willing to use force to do so.

This approach is offensive to peace police and other self appointed guardians of social change who believe that meaningful change will only be peaceful and through massive non-violent resistance. Such folks would do well to read this book. Reading this reprint of The Bonnot Gang will not change any minds. Instead, if offers something more useful: an improved understanding of a group dismissed as radical, violent, and thoughtless. Such dismissals are foolish.

Whether or not you agree with class war, stealing from the rich, or shooting it out with police–and few sensible people support such approaches–the book helps readers understand the perpetrators’ social backgrounds, tensions, and mindsets when approaching acts that are perceived as being so socially transgressive. This also helps to understand why, when Wall Street can squeeze $1 Trillion out of US taxpayers, the media is seemingly more interested in focusing on moderate property damage at #Occupy or #BLM protests or a few small smashed businesses that are collateral damage at post-election riots. Yes, these lives matter. However, The Bonnot Gang helps understand why and how some members–usually just a few fringe members–turned to armed struggle and expropriation (i.e. Armed robbery and theft).

Equally disturbing to many idealistic anarchists will be the discussions of whether or not it’s revolutionary to steal to improve your own immediate financial situation. Again, this book posits no answers. Instead, it explores the ongoing tensions that were present then as those same tensions are now.

The Bonnot Gang is well written. It is easy to become involved with the text. Documentation is solid. The narrative flows. And it’s surprising that this is not fiction. The key players are fascinating, friendly, and repulsive. Most intriguing was the seeming blind loyalty to other anarchists, to harbor them no matter what, and to never, ever give any information to the cops. Then, as now, snitches thrived. However, historical portraits and studies like this allow current anarchists to compare and contrast their own culture and values to their own traditions.

Similarly, those outside of anarchist cultures, or with a few friends on the edge, would do well to read this book. The Bonnot Gang was hard core, and this book makes it clear why. Most anarchists you will ever meet have no interest in ever being the Bonnot gang. Similarly, few accountants plan to rip off an entire company, and few stock traders want to crash entire markets. But these things happen. But for some reason, a few radical anarchists are more terrifying than the single largest theft of wealth from the working classes to the ruling elite (the bank bail out).

Buy The Bonnot Gang: The Story of the French Illegalists | Buy The Bonnot Gang: The Story of the French Illegalists e-book | Back to Richard Parry's Author Page




Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs: A Review

by Luther Blissett
Medium

This is part of the two part review:

Anarchism’s Icky Bits


When you see “Black Bloc,” it is usually incredibly negative and disparaging. Whether it’s the peace police upset that a group is using the cover of their demonstration to do material damage to corporate enemies (with some innocent collateral usually in the way) or the police using the Black Bloc as an excuse to justify exert force in response to a demonstration, nobody really seems to like the Black Bloc.

But does the Black Bloc actually get anything done? What useful or important work do they engage in?

This is where Who’s Afraid of the Black Blocs? has value: it features interviews with multiple participants from multiple demonstrations and actions globally. As the author points out, a Black Bloc is never the same Bloc twice. Different people attend, participate, and leave, at every site–yet the Bloc is referred to in many discourses as if it is a singular or fixed identity.

Perhaps it is like Borg and some join while others leave.

The author helps make clear that many BB participants are not dolts bent on destruction or thieving a pair of Jordans; instead, their actions are strongly motivated by politics.

Equally important, the author addresses Black Blocs’ gendered and racial nature of Black Blocs, from how labor is divided to how members from more oppressed populations can actively engage without risking additional problems. For example, if people of color or undocumented residents join a BB and then are arrested, what level of risk–financial and physical–do they have compared to a college age white male? The author offers no solutions, but at least acknowledges and addresses these concerns.

The book is an enthusiastic engagement with and representation of perhaps one of the most reviled political protest tactics. It is easy to read, well-documented, and has plenty of references to follow up. One of the most important themes that comes to light through the text is the transformative nature of participating in a Black Bloc and how that can impact and empower individual activists as well as their political activities.

At least within the framing of the text, many Black Bloc participants–or at least those willing to be interviewed–seem interested and open to having multiple or diverse types of protest from non-violent to property destructive to potentially violent protests. And those choices should be left up to individuals. In sharp contrast, the police, the media, and many other liberal, but not radical, protestors are disinclined to allow or permit individuals to protest, and accept consequences, as they see fit.

Whether or not you agree with Black Blocs, property destruction, or a diverse array of protest methodologies, this book is excellent for several reasons.

First, rather than relying on hype or interpretation of events by outsiders, or by media seeking flashy conflicts or hits to websites, the author actually interviews multiple participants and he connects and engages with existing research, scholarship, and engagement with the Black Bloc. While it is clear that the author sympathizes with and appears to support, or at least understand, the value of Black Blocs as political tools and methods, he does not offer blind support for them. But he also does not question their importance in some political processes.

Finally, and perhaps most important–at least in terms of traditional representations of the Black Blocs in mass media — the author calls into question and compares the relative damage of a Black Bloc trashing a downtown or financial sector, most of which is covered by insurance, when compared to the environmental devastation or economic thrashing that some of these institutions inflict. For example, is smashing a few windows really comparable or more despicable than supporting the DAPL with its ongoing treaty violations and promised future environmental destruction and reinforcement of racism that directs what routes the pipeline is built on?

If you want to join a Black Bloc, reading this book would certainly expedite the enculturation process. But if you’re going to critique Blocs, at least have an understanding of them. You don’t have to support or endorse Black Blocs in order to understand them.

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Not THE Real Dad, Not A Real Dad: Amy Abugo Ongiri’s RAD FAMILY in MUTHA Magazine

MUTHA Magazine
by Amy Abugo Ongiri
December 7th, 2016

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I unexpectedly became a parent at forty-seven. I say unexpectedly, but we had actually been preparing for weeks and trying for years. After years of failed attempts at fertility treatment, our financial resources were exhausted, so conventional adoption was out of the question. We made the decision to look into foster care as a possible means toward parenting. We must have looked like strong candi­dates or the county was really desperate, because they rushed our application and after a month and a half of intensive training we found ourselves with two little boys in our care. They were just two and seven years old. We had wanted girls, but the need was great­est for African American boys. Being African American myself, I knew that we wanted black kids, but since we were queer wom­en we assumed that they would be girls. In the rural Midwestern county where we lived, there weren’t that many black kids in the system, so we didn’t want to miss our chance. Also, when the social worker described their struggles with racism in school and how they had been in multiple placements in a very short period of time, we knew they needed us as much as we needed them.

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I was ready for a lot of the challenges of foster care but like all parenting I wasn’t ready for everything. I wasn’t ready for the shift in perspective that having a two-year-old boy in your life would bring. He literally saw things from a different angle than I did. Once when I was putting him in the car, he pulled away from and wiggled past me and began for a second to run at full speed. In my panic as I snatched him back I screamed emphatically at him at him, “What are you doing?” even though I know full well that this is a question that no two-year-old is prepared to ever answer. He responded equally emphatically, “Birdie!” We both stood there in a parking lot for a full five minutes to watch a bird that I’m sure that I wouldn’t have otherwise even known was there. Whether it was a leaf stuck to your shoe with a particularly interesting pattern or a nearby squirrel, he was so good at drawing your appreciative attention to little bits of nature that you wouldn’t have noticed. The older boy and I had interests that were so similar that spend­ing time together was just fun. We’d shoot hoops together, listen to music, go for a walk in the woods, hang out in what my partner called “big-boy time.”

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The only problem with big-boy time and all the other time that I shared with the boys was that I was not a boy, big or other­wise. The hardest part of the experience of foster care was experi­encing my gender difference through the lives of these two little boys, who hadn’t necessarily even asked make family with us. As a masculine-of-center butch dyke, I had long ago learned to not only to accept but to love my gender difference. I loved the look of myself in men’s clothes. I loved embracing the masculine as well as feminine parts of personality. I loved the dynamic between butch­es and femmes. I loved being a gender outlaw. I had also long ago learned to accept the discomfort that my gender could invoke in others. What I was not used to was having that discomfort visited on two little kids in my care.

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The kids, like most kids, pretty much accepted me without question. They seemed to really appreciate any attention and care that I gave them from working on phonics to teaching them to skateboard. We rarely have conflict. The truth is that I took to par­enting like a duck to water. I even gladly traded in my prized cus­tomized low-rider for a minivan. My instinct to protect and care for these two little guys who had already been through so much was so great that it surprised me. When I picked up the toddler at daycare and he ran excitedly to me and screamed “Daddy” I in­wardly cringed out of the fear that daycare workers would report me to social workers as an inappropriate role model. When other parents at school gave us the cold shoulder, I feared the negative effect it might have on the kid’s ability to make friends.

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Foster parents are literally co-parenting with the state and are justifiably under more scrutiny than other kinds of parents. Many people involved in foster care in my county were conserva­tive Christians, and I worried all the time that my gender and our queerness as a couple would impact our ability to protect and nur­ture these two little guys whom we had grown to love so much.

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Foster care is meant to be a temporary arrangement. We know it is our job to love, nurture and protect these kids just as long as we have them. I worried that our time with these little boys would be cut short because of my status as a gender outlaw.

As a foster parent, I am not the real dad. As a woman, I am not a real dad. Nevertheless, fatherhood means everything to me and I know by these kids’ love for me that I am good at it. I’ve waited a long time for this and I have chosen it. I know by my success at it that that it has also chosen me. When these kids leave my care they will know how to ride a bike and skateboard, how to read and set a table, how to dress themselves and meditate. Most importantly, they will know that I love them. I can only hope that one day they will come to think of my gender difference as much of gift as I do.

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“Not the Real Dad, Not a Real Dad” is reprinted, with permission, from Rad Families: A Celebration, edited by Tomas Moniz.

“Rad Dads, Rad Families, Rad Children. These stories show us that we are not alone. That we don’t have all the answers. That we are all learning. I’ve never been a parent before. Here are stories to learn from. Here are the stories that I need.” – Nikki McClure, illustrator, author, parent

“I love this book! Wonderfully written, tenderly honest, unabashedly hilarious, deeply important stories from the messy beautiful world of real-life parenting. Thank goodness it exists.” – Michelle Tea, author of Black Wave (and founder of MUTHA!)

It’s RAD FAMILIES WEEK at MUTHA! We’ll be running other excerpts from the collection this week—so stay tuned and you can check out our interview with Tomas Moniz.

Read on, then head to your local indie store or ask your local library to order it….. OR you could also win a copy! How? It’s our first ever MUTHA giveaway contest (woo)!

Get on it: 1) follow MUTHA on twitter/Facebook, and then 2) tell us quick why your family is one of the #radfamilies, too, or why you’re starting parenting with that goal in mind, and be sure to 3) use that hashtag (#radfamilies) to (help promote indie publishing!), and to tag MUTHA. I WILL FIND YOU, then I’ll put you on the list from which a random selection will be be sent a gratis copy. Bonus points if you’re a new follower. Love and STAY RAD – Meg Lemke

 

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Tomas Moniz's Author Page



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