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My Life, My Body: A Review in Peace News

By Gabriel Carlyle
Peace News
December 2015- January 2016

A self-described ‘socialist-anarchist-feminist’, the US activist and writer Marge Piercy is the author of 17 novels, spanning a wide range of different genres including science fiction, as well as one of North America’s best-selling poets.

Nonetheless, this latest addition to PM’s excellent ‘Outspoken Authors’ series eschews fiction to focus on ‘essays, rants and railleries’. The latter cover a wide variety of topics, including abortion, homelessness, censorship, the tragedy of Marilyn Monroe, the role of politics in fiction, and a moving essay on Piercy’s own discovery of feminism.

Not one to mince her words, she believes that people in the US ‘are being trained from infancy into a people... with the attention span of a puppy and the intellectual curiosity of a stale doughnut’, and that ‘one reason too many American novelists... have atrophied, producing their best work out of the concerns of late adolescence and early adulthood, is that since they do not care to grapple with or even to identify powerful forces in our society, they can’t understand more than a few stories’.

Why should this matter? Because literature, she argues, has power and can ‘help us survive and win’ – if we bother to read and support it.

Though it often squanders the opportunity, speculative fiction can ‘enable the reader to enter worlds in which important variables have changed or in which current trends are extrapolated and we can see the full danger and damage’. And ‘it is by imagining what we truly desire that we begin to go there’.

It is no accident, Piercy argues, that ‘classlessness is pervasive in feminist visionary fiction’ and that many of the utopian novels written by women ‘are deeply concerned with sharing the prestigious, the interesting, the rewarding opportunities’ alongside ‘the daily invisible labour that underlies society’. Likewise, that these same novels often ‘envision women’s sexual energy loosed and free to redefine sexuality individually and collectively.’

Throughout, Piercy’s feminism, working-class perspective and rich life-experience come together to generate sharp and memorable conclusions. One favourite: ‘The real heroes of many people on the Left and in the women’s community are failures who remain pure according to a scriptural line and speak only to one another.’

Midway through reading this short book, I stumbled across two of Piercy’s novels (one very thick) in a second-hand bookshop. I immediately purchased them both.

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Sisters of the Revolution: A Review in Peace News

By Erica Smith
Peace News
December 2015- January 2016

‘It’s good to read outside your comfort zone’, I told myself when I was asked to review this collection of short stories. I had no real idea what ‘speculative fiction’ was and, of the 29 authors, the only names which were at all familiar to me were Angela Carter, Ursula K Le Guin and the visual artist Leonora Carrington.

According to the cover, the editors are a literary power couple with awards for both editing and writing fantasy. Their two-page introduction, in which they explain that the stories have been arranged to ‘speak to one another, rather than in chronological order’, reassured me that there were going to be treats in store.

There are stories from the 1960s through to 2012.

I would have expected Margaret Atwood to be represented, and while she is not, the first story, ‘The Forbidden Words of Margaret A’ by L Timmel Duchamp, is a thought-provoking tale concerning a journalist who has designed her adult life around arranging a visit to a political prisoner. The latter is forbidden to discuss anything of consequence because of the power and revolutionary potential of her previous speech and writings. It was impossible not to think of prisoners as diverse as Aung San Suu Kyi and Julian Assange.

The following two stories are also about prisoners, although their types of imprisonment have little in common. The story by Leonora Carrington was a particular favourite, a fantastic piece of verbal surrealism, but all of the stories engaged me.

Although the contributors are predominantly North American there are stories from all around the world, including writers with Finnish, Indian, Japanese, Jamaican and Belgian heritage. And folk tales and magical realism are as well represented as stories with a scientific setting.

I loved them all, but it was a surprise to me that the stories that have stayed with me were two disturbing works about illness. James Tiptree Jr’s ‘The Screwfly Solution’ is about a terrifying plague that turns the nicest men into murderous misogynists, while Octavia E Butler’s amazing ‘The Evening and the Morning and the Night’ is a beautifully-narrated story told by a young woman with a self-destructive genetically-inherited disorder.

The writers selected for this anthology share a dystopian view of the world, but this is more apparent in the writings from the ’70s and ’80s, where slavery, imprisonment and victimhood are more common themes. As the writings move into the ’90s, the protagonists are more likely to be scientists or actors engaging with the world, rather than simply doomed to a miserable end under an oppressive patriarchy.

The authors are all feminists and sisters of a speculative fiction revolution rather than a group of political activists. As such, their role is really to explore possible worlds and ways of being, leaving it to the readers to draw their own lessons from the scenarios painted. In their introduction, the editors state that this anthology is ‘the beginning volume of something even more diverse and rich’. I look forward to the next volume in the conversation. In the meantime, I wholeheartedly recommend this collection as a comfortable exploration of an unknown genre. I would even recommend it as the ideal Christmas present for – anyone!

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Politics of Protest

By Seth Sandronsky
Progressive Populist
December 15th, 2015

In "Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000" (PM Press, 2015), Kris Hermes details the fierce state response to protest at the GOP National Convention in Philadelphia 15 years ago. A long-time activist, his purpose is clear.

“I wrote this book largely to preserve our shared legacy of political and legal resistance so that we can learn from these experiences and challenge ourselves to be more effective in achieving broad-based social change.” Hermes aims to sustain that activist trend of collective action against corporate-state power in the post-Sept. 11 era, from increasing the minimum wage to ending police brutality and the eco-crisis.

To this end, Hermes documents state infiltration and oppression of GOP convention protesters. Attempts to enclose them in fenced protest areas suggested a continuity of enclosures to separate peasants from common land to force them into wage-labor.

How and why the Phil. authorities proceeded against activists and their legal team is a cautionary tale to the Black Lives Matter and other current justice movements. The past lives in the present.

In summer 2000 in Phil., dissidents plan to protest GOP domestic and foreign policies and priorities. Preventive police raids unfold, Hermes writes.

Is there a corollary to the post-9/11 war against terror of preventive detention at home and abroad? I think there is.

Philadelpha authorities had studied the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. That singular event spurred a policing model of mass arrests of political protesters.

Philadelphia police detain, violently, protesters at a warehouse where they build puppets.

Hermes follows the tax dollars flowing to private pockets behind the multi-agency government assaults on peaceful protesters.

He writes: “The likeliest reason for mass arrest on August 1 was the city’s desire to eliminate threats to the convention’s ability to attract tourists and “consumers.””

Business counts. Behind the GOP’s rhetoric of free markets and liberty, the political power of business shapes the capitalist state and public policy.

Hermes lays bare this tendency. Further, he shows and tells how legal activists and political protesters in Philadelphia responded to state repression in the streets, jails and courts.

The relevancy for today is clear. This is why a new generation of activists should read his book.

Solidarity can be an effective counter to the status quo in what Noam Chomsky terms “a corporate-run and propaganda-managed society.” Such collective actions challenge state-corporate power to control people, a vital underpinning of the capitalist economy.

Republican protesters practice solidarity in and out of jail. However, activists and attorneys are not always on the same page, and Hermes details the tensions, which might surprise some readers.

Activists win major victories. Their noncompliance with government procedures helps them gain ground in the court of public opinion.

Hermes explores the question of the media and political protest in depth. Who tells the story matters.

Under arrest, in jail and courtrooms, GOP protesters discover what many poor and nonwhite Americans know. That is, the criminal justice apparatus (extreme charges, violent arrests, high bail, etc.) is pitiless.

Hermes shows how in the face of such maltreatment, collective action can reap humane change. R2K Legal occupies no small part of section two in which Hermes documents the ebbs and flows of confronting the authorities hell-bent on neutering political protests.

Exposing abuses, shaping public opinion and reaching out to religious groups strengthens the uses of court solidarity. Hermes defines this term, and its applications, from misdemeanor to felony cases, a rough road, given defendants’ different aims and home bases.

In the third and last section of the book, Hermes analyzes the wins and losses of civil litigation. In part as a result of what occurs in Phil., protesters’ practice of jail solidarity changes at later GOP conventions.

“While the RNC 2000 case study mainly applies to mass mobilizations in which hundreds of arrests occur, it is still invaluable for understanding the motivations of contemporary political policing and for developing the means to challenge today’s National Security State,” he writes. Precisely.

Seth Sandronsky is a journalist and member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

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Damnificados: A review in LA Progressive

Damnificados



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Diane Lefer
LA Progressive
December 4th, 2015

I‘ve never met JJ Amaworo Wilson (though I hope to remedy that soon) but when he contacted me, hoping I would read and comment on his work, I said yes. His publisher is known for radical and stimulating fiction, the author’s website intrigued me and so did the premise of his novel, Damnificados.

So here’s the advance word on some extraordinary fiction. Welcome to a world of two-headed wolves where people go to war over trash and thousands of the desperate move into an unfinished skyscraper tower built on a base of compacted garbage. The squatters learn “how to build a community from this upright tomb” in defiance of the most violent, ruthless, politically connected family imaginable. The Torres family, with control of the Army, the police, and the government, continues to lay claim to the Tower.

Welcome to a world of two-headed wolves where people go to war over trash and thousands of the desperate move into an unfinished skyscraper tower built on a base of compacted garbage.

Wilson, born in Germany to an English father and Nigerian mother, has worked and traveled throughout the world, extensively in Latin America, and his novel’s setting has a Latin American feel. Which is appropriate: though it takes place in an imaginary and globalized space, Wilson was inspired by the real-life occupation of the Tower of David in the financial district of Caracas, Venezuela. In 2007, more than two thousand of the city’s damnificados, or homeless, moved into the shell of a luxury building after financing fell through and construction stopped. The squatters were led by a controversial figure–a reformed criminal who may or may not have been truly reformed. The site inspired scenes in the TV show Homeland where it was, of course, portrayed as a frighteningly violent place. Wilson sees it differently.

Though the term damnificado has its particular meaning in Caracas, I am struck by the word’s resonance. Obviously, English-speakers see damned while the Spanish word can be translated as victim or survivor or the meaning I like best: damaged–in the sense of being an injured party, someone entitled to seek recompense or redress. Today’s global poor are indeed the survivors of the violence of global economic crime. Where, how can they seek redress?

Wilson’s damnificados emerge from “cardboard cities” and hillside shanty towns where “ramshackle houses crowd together, climb upon one another as if for comfort.” Some of the damnificados have “wrapped their faces in cloths, like lepers, only eyes visible, and their steps are padded as a panther’s because many have no heels to walk in, just rags binding their feet or shoes with worn rubber soles. And others move barefoot, hunched and furtive, two by two, shifting in the shadows for safety.”

They are led—though he would prefer the community remain leadership—by Nacho Morales, who heaves his wasted body through the days on bandaged crutches. Born only to be abandoned on a river bank, swaddled in rags, he has the good fortune to be found by a storytelling schoolteacher. Unable to run or fight, he’s also lucky to have a big brother Emil with a knack for showing up in the nick of time. Nacho becomes a voracious reader and a linguist as “languages stick to him like mud to a boy’s knee.” And there are many languages in the world of the novel. Characters speak Spanish, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Italian, Creole, Latvian, Tagalog, French, Gujarati and more. The Tower is a veritable Tower of Babel. The squatters may not always use politically correct speech: the giant hero is referred to always as simply The Chinaman. But unlike what happens in the Scriptural Tower of Babel, the squatters aren’t confused and confounded by difference. They cooperate.

Damnificados

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tower of David

Brazilian novelist Jorge Amado surely put many nationalities in the streets of Bahia, but he was celebrating the mixing of races and cultures while Wilson’s take on diversity seems to me to reflect the globalization of poverty and oppression. And like Amado, when Wilson’s narrative enters mythic territory, this isn’t so much magic realism–reporting supernatural occurrences as if factually true–as the recognition that gossip, exaggeration, and legend are part of history, too.

Turning contemporary realities to legend takes a talent as rare and special as JJ Amaworo Wilson’s. Through his narrative rich in danger, adventure, humor, romance, and risk, he can raise essential questions without succumbing to earnestness or didacticism. How can the damnificados of the earth assert their dignity and take control of their own destinies? Where do you turn when all the forces of so-called law and order are the oppressors and assassins. How can anyone live nonviolently in a violent world which is always ready to dispossess human beings of their homes, those they love, and their lives? Damnificados takes us to the limits of the possible.

When Nacho starts teaching the adults and then the children in the Tower, the priest who’s taken up residence warns him literacy leads to revolution. When people read about their rights, they learn they’ve been exploited throughout history. Then: “If the government comes for us, we’ll all be dead.”

Nacho replies “someone always survives. There’s always some poor wretch who gets out alive and spreads the word.”

Which reminds me of a story I heard decades ago from the great Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe. I expect the author of Damnificados knows it too and I hope he’ll forgive me if my memory causes me to retell it wrong. A lion has a rabbit in its jaws, and the rabbit begs for just a minute more of life to say its prayers. The lion releases it and the rabbit, instead of praying, lies on its back in the dirt and thrashes about raising dust. “What good did that do you?” the lion asks. And the rabbit says, “Anyone passing by this road will know a great struggle happened here.”

diane leferThank you, JJ Amaworo Wilson for your eloquent fiction that entertains even as it advances the very necessary struggle of our much-afflicted world.


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Waging Peace: A Review in Popular Resistance

An Inspiring Life’s Work Continues To Inspire
By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
Popular Resistance
November 6th, 2015

Just the other night we were discussing our upcoming November actions to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other corporate trade agreements with two organizers, both in their twenties, Mackenzie McDonald Wilkins and J. Lee Stewart.  We were trying to figure out what we could do to stop the corporate push for laws that will undermine workers and the environment while strengthening corporate power over democracy. This led to talking about how it is impossible to predict what the impacts of a protest action will be, even when the odds are against you.

At the same time, we both brought up David Hartsough who has been a civic activist for justice for 60 years. We started telling stories that he writes about in his memoir, Waging Peace: The Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist. His remarkable stories show that taking brave and determined action can inspire others and even lead to transformative change.

David started his lifelong civic activism in 1956 when he was 15 years old. His father, Ray Hartsough, who was a Congregational minister involved in Quaker peace work, took him to Montgomery, AL. They arrived four months into the great civil rights bus boycott which had begun when Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus.

David saw the reality of Jim Crow segregation and the violence against African Americans, especially directed at their churches. He could not understand how white Christians could do this to black Christians. The experience of seeing the boycott was life-changing, he writes:
“I was even more stunned that the victims of the violence were persistently saying that they were not going to give up their struggle for justice—and that they were committed to trying to love their enemies. I was deeply moved by so many people choosing to walk with dignity rather than ride the buses as second-class citizens. Seeing them get up an hour early to walk to work and get home an hour later than usual at night—refusing to hate the people who were imposing the hated system of segregation and creating this hardship—was profoundly inspiring and life-changing for me.”

David briefly met Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Montgomery when King was only 26 years old. He notes, looking back, that there was no way of knowing at the time that King was going to become one of the most prominent figures in US history and that his strategic nonviolence would influence movements for the rest of David’s life.  Indeed, during this time period King was still learning about nonviolence and how to use it to create political change.

One of the stories we told Mack and Lee was a powerful story of nonviolence.  Five months after Hartsough entered Howard University, on February 1, 1960, four students from Greensboro, NC sat down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and began the sit-in movement demanding an end to segregation at restaurants.  David and fellow classmates protested in Maryland where segregation existed but then decided to go to the much more challenging state of Virginia, where in Arlington, George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party, threatened to lynch anyone who challenged Virginia’s segregation laws.

On June 10th, David joined ten African American students from Howard and a white woman from another college in the heart of hatred and sat down at the lunch counter at the People’s Drug Store in Arlington. The owner told the police not to arrest them and closed the lunch counter. Shouts of racial hatred were heard, people threw things at them, spat on them, shoved lit cigarettes down their clothes and one threw a firecracker at them. American Nazi storm troopers showed up. They were punched and kicked to the floor. They stayed for 16 hours until the store closed for the day. Then, they came back for a second day.

On the second day, David had a life changing experience confronting the reality of nonviolent protest. Late on the second day while David was meditating on the words of the Sermon on the Mount, “Love your enemies… Do good to those who hate you,” he heard a voice behind him, “ Get out of this store in two seconds, or I’m going to stab this through your heart.” David saw a man with hatred exuding from his blazing eyes, whose jaw was quivering, and hand was shaking while holding a switchblade—about half an inch from David’s heart.

David and his colleagues had practiced how to respond to violence with nonviolence. Loving your enemy suddenly moved from theory and philosophy to a challenging reality. In brief moments David responded saying “Friend, do what you believe is right, and I will still try to love you.” The man’s jaw and hand dropped. He turned away and walked out of the store.  It was a moment where David learned how love can overcome hate. David reflected on the moment and realized not only had he done the right thing, he had done the effective thing.

The students were scared and hungry; they decided to write a statement to the community urging an end to segregation. They stood at the door and read it. They concluded with a promise: “If nothing has changed in a week, we will be back.”  

For six days they feared going back. Would they have the courage to face the hatred, racism and violence? They were inspired by similar actions around the country, by others facing even greater risks. They prepared to go back. On the sixth day they got a phone call telling them that the lunch counters in Arlington would be desegregated by the end of June. Faith leaders had talked to business leaders; together they reflected on the issue and decided to end segregation.

There were so many lessons for David, and now so many lessons for us. Courage, persistence, strategic nonviolence and reaching for people’s humanity all led to transformative change.  We gain inspiration from each other. Courage becomes contagious and grows movements. This reality is repeated many times in David’s memoir on a variety of issues.  His experiences allow us to reflect on our own actions –

strategically seeking justice can inspire changes the country and world so desperately need. We don’t know what will result, but we do know we need to fight injustice.

This is just one of many stories of David Hartsough’s long and beautiful struggle for peace and justice recounted in Waging Peace. David continues to be an inspirer in his work today. We remember him and his wife, Jan, coming to us when we were at Freedom Plaza during the Occupation of Washington, DC to talk with us about the injustices of the day and the strategy needed to transform injustice to justice. We also had David on our radio show, Clearing The FOG, where he did what he always does – without even trying – he inspired us to continue our work.

We believe David’s stories will inspire and instruct others to be advocates for justice and peace.

They prove that small actions can create great waves and move us to continue the struggle against all odds with the hope that we are bending the arc of history towards justice.

David currently serves as the executive director of Peaceworkers, based in San Francisco and is co-founder of the Nonviolent Peaceforce. He is also a co-founder of World Beyond War, seeking to create a world where war is no more.



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David Hartsough: An Inspiring Life

by David Krieger
Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
September 11th, 2015


I recently read this impressive autobiography by nonviolent activist David Hartsough, which I recommend highly.  David was born in 1940 and has been a lifelong participant and leader in actions seeking a more decent world through nonviolent means.  His guiding stars have been peace, justice, nonviolence and human dignity.  He has been a foe of all U.S. wars during his lifetime, and a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War.  He has lived his nonviolence and made it an adventure in seeking truth, as Gandhi did.  I will not try to recount the many adventures that he writes about, but they include civil rights sit-ins, blockading weapons bound for Vietnam, accompanying at-risk individuals in the wars in Central America and creating, with a colleague, a Nonviolent Peaceforce.

David has lived his life with compassion, commitment and courage.  He is principled, but also pragmatic.  He finds, “It is much easier to make friends than to fight enemies.”  He asks us to use our imaginations: “Imagine how the world would change if we recruited millions of people for the Peace Corps, nonviolent peace teams, and other constructive efforts, rather than for our military forces.  Think of how much safer we all would be if the world knew Americans as healers and teachers, builders of clinics and schools, and supporters of land reform, rather than as deadly dominators.”  Imagine what a different world that would be.

In addition to telling his life story, David has a chapter on “Transforming Our Society from One Addicted to Violence and War to One Based on Justice and Peace with the World.”  He also included sections on: Proposal for Ending All War; Resources for Further Study and Action; Ten Lessons Learned from My Life of Activism; and much more.

David Hartsough’s life is inspiring, and the lessons he draws from his experiences are valuable in paving the way to a world without war.  I encourage you to read his book on his lifelong efforts at Waging Peace.

Hartsough, David with Joyce Hollyday, Waging Peace, Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist (Oakland, CA.: PM Press, 2014). Click here to purchase on Amazon.com.


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Waging Peace: A Review

By Rev. Sharon Delgado
General Board of Church & Society
January 26th, 2015


Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist by veteran activist David Hartsough is part autobiography, part recent history, and part call to action. This new book shows how a commitment to active nonviolence can plant the seeds and provide the impetus for significant social transformation.

In 2012 I was arrested with David and Jan Hartsough, Shirley Osgood and Janie Kesselman at a demonstration at Beale Air Force Base, near my home in Northern California. We were the first of many to be arrested at anti-drone protests at Beale, home of the Global Hawk, a surveillance drone that helps identify targets for armed Predator and Reaper drones.

Our arrests resulted in a trial that generated significant publicity. Our case and others like it at bases around the country got people discussing and questioning the morality of killing people by remote control.

Throughout the trial, David urged our lawyers to focus on the Nuremburg Principles and International Law, even though the judge refused to consider these factors as a defense. We were found “guilty” of trespassing onto base property.

Before being sentenced we each gave a statement to the court. David’s complete sentencing statement is an addendum to Waging Peace.

The judge could have sentenced us to six months in jail. After hearing our statements, she acknowledged that we were motivated by "deeply held ethical and religious beliefs,” and consequently sentenced us to just 10 hours of community service.

We continue to demonstrate at Beale, however. As David says, “Sustained resistance brings transformation.”

Many adventures

David is Executive Director of Peaceworkers, based in San Francisco, and co-founder with Mel Duncan of the Nonviolent Peaceforce.

In Waging Peace, David shares some of his many adventures in active nonviolence, as well as his strong faith and the spiritual beliefs that motivate his actions as a Quaker and as a Christian. This book engages the reader every step of the way.

A man held a knife to his heart and threatened to kill him

Waging Peace is a compelling autobiography that tells the story of a life-threatening encounter David had at age 20 while sitting with African American students at a “whites only” lunch counter in Arlington, Va. A man held a knife to his heart and threatened to kill him. Fortunately for David, he had already incorporated a deep inner commitment to nonviolence, and was able to respond in a way that diffused the anger of his would-be killer.

As he tells the story of his childhood, David explains what brought him to this life-threatening event, how he handled the situation. He describes how the seeds of peace were sown by his remarkable parents, how he came to understand what Jesus meant when he said to love your enemies, how he began early experiments with nonviolence, and how he came to dedicate himself to living a life consistent with his values.

Modern-day history

David’s father was a Congregational minister who worked for the American Friends Service Committee, and his friends and colleagues had a big influence on David, especially the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. By the age of 15, David was organizing demonstrations against nuclear weapons.

In addition to being an autobiography, this book is a modern-day history of nonviolent social movements, written from the perspective of a committed activist. As an agent for nonviolent social change, David seems to have always been at the right place at the right time.

During the Cold War, David travelled to Russia and organized peace demonstrations there. As the United States and Soviet Union were threatening nuclear war over the divided city of Berlin, David lived in West Berlin just a few blocks from Checkpoint Charlie. He traveled back and forth to East Berlin, learning as much as he could and speaking out against both communist and capitalist propaganda. Ten years later the FBI issued a warrant for his arrest and questioned him about his activities there.

David and Jan, his beloved wife and partner in nonviolent action, stopped paying “war taxes” early on. David claimed conscientious-objector status and was an outspoken critic during the Vietnam War.

Committed to the good

David was protesting with his friend Brian Willson on the day that Brian was run over and his legs severed by a train carrying munitions to Central America. David writes about the trauma of that event, but also about how many people continued to block the trains. A short time later his elderly mother and father joined him and others on the tracks.

David and Jan traveled in Central American war zones during the 1980s, when U.S. financial support to corrupt regimes and death squads made such travel and life for people who lived there extremely dangerous. He worked in the United States with Cesar Chavez in the struggles for the rights of farmworkers.

In the 1990s, David was part of a Fellowship of Reconciliation delegation for peace in Bosnia-Hertzegovnia. He has travelled extensively in his peacemaking work, including to Iran and Palestine. His peacemaking work continues, including through Peaceworkers and the Nonviolent Peaceforce.

The book is written not only by an observer in these historic events, but from the perspective of one who is committed to the good: to compassion, justice and peace.

Call to action

In addition to being an autobiography and a first-hand history of social movements, Waging Peace is an inspiring call to action. Every page expresses David’s hope for lasting social transformation based on his faith and his experience. By reading about David’s adventures as a skilled practitioner of active nonviolence in key historical events of our time, the reader gains hope and confidence that significant change is possible.

Waging Peace is a “how to” book for transforming our society and the world. It encourages us to start where we are, by learning and practicing nonviolence in all areas of our lives. It includes a wealth of suggestions and resources for would-be activists. This book not only gives practical direction, but also shows us the strong foundation built by others upon which we can stand in solidarity with other people of faith and conscience around the world.

After describing some of the astonishing changes that nonviolent action has brought about in recent years in places around the world, David writes:

What other spots on our earth are waiting for such stunning change? What corner is beckoning to your heart and spirit? Where is God leading you to invest your life on behalf of a world where all God’s children share the abundance and live as one family in peace and harmony with the earth?

David closes Waging Peace with this statement of faith: “Deep in my heart, I do believe, that — together — We Shall Overcome!”

You can order signed copies of Waging Peace from Peaceworkers or order from a local bookstore. It is also available on online outlets, such as Cokesbury.com.

Editor's note: The Rev. Sharon Delgado is a United Methodist member of the California-Nevada Annual Conference. You can read more about her at sharondelgado.org/.


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Solidarity Unionism reviewed in Waging NonViolence

By Eric Dirnbach
Waging NonViolence
November 4th, 2105

The debate on how to revive the troubled U.S. labor movement has been around for decades. Labor activists generally believe that much greater rank-and-file democracy and workplace militancy is the key to labor renewal. However, an essential perspective that is usually missing from the conversation is well represented by Staughton Lynd’s “Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below,” which was first published in 1992 and has been recently reissued.

Lynd is a legendary progressive lawyer and activist from Youngstown, Ohio. He is the coauthor with his wife Alice Lynd of the classic “Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers,” a collection of oral histories of militant union organizers, which informs much of the framework of “Solidarity Unionism.” At around 100 pages, the book reads more like a summary of his organizing philosophy, and many readers will come away wanting a more extensive discussion. It should be read along with several other recent books which make similar arguments: Stanley Aronowitz’s “The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Workers’ Movement,” and “New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism,” edited by Immanuel Ness, who also provided the introduction for “Solidarity Unionism.”

Lynd argues for a rethinking of the assumptions of the labor movement and for a revived version of labor organizing that was more prominent in the pre-New Deal era that he calls “solidarity unionism.” What may surprise most labor-oriented readers is that central to this kind of unionism is the absence of a contract between the union and the employer.

Isn’t the whole point of forming a union to get a written collective bargaining agreement? Lynd doesn’t think so and he argues that workers fighting together with direct action on the job to make improvements in the workplace do not need a contract and may be hurt by having one.

He is critical of the “management rights” and “no-strike” clauses that are standard in almost all union contracts. He believes they reduce the power of workers to influence major decisions in how the workplace is run and to solve their problems at work immediately as they arise.

Contracts tend to remove agency from the workers and place it in the hands of union staff who typically bargain and process grievances while the members may be uninvolved and cynical. Lynd is also skeptical of a union’s exclusive representation of all workers in the workplace and automatic dues check-off, preferring for workers to actively join the union and pay dues because they want to.

Lynd’s view of the prevailing “contract unionism” differs from standard labor history, which considers the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, or NLRA, labor reforms as a progressive advance for workers. In the mainstream view, workers organizing, with the support of President Roosevelt, finally won full government enforcement for the right to organize and bargain collectively. In exercising this right, unions typically hold workplace elections and then negotiate contracts with employers that set the conditions of employment and also guarantee labor peace (no strike/no lockout) for the term of the contract. This industrial relations framework led the way for millions of workers to organize and improve their wages and working conditions. This “class compromise” held for several decades until employers changed their mind and increased their opposition to unionization again.

For Lynd, this view is backwards. Workers were already organizing and improving working conditions, but the NLRA contract system was then imposed by the government to tame a militant 1930s labor movement and create the conditions for industrial peace. Opportunistic labor leaders used the rank-and-file workers’ disruptions to step in as responsible partners that could restore order with a union contract. Unions became contract administrators who disciplined unruly workers. Moreover, the ejection of the labor movement’s radical wing during the anti-Communist scare of the 1940s and 1950s eliminated a whole culture of militant unionism. Over the years, rank-and-file initiative and militancy has been weakened, such that when the employer anti-union offensive resumed in the 1970s and 1980s, unions were unprepared.

What does Lynd’s type of solidarity union look like? Shop floor committees based in workgroups organize and take direct action on the job to fight for their demands. The issues could be a wage increase or better scheduling and the actions could be marches on the boss, slowdowns, or other tactics. The goal is not to get official union recognition from the employer and a written contract, but simply the workplace improvements. If the workers have another grievance a month or a year later, they take further action to address it. This has been the model of the Industrial Workers of the World for over 100 years and is also the way many workers centers operate. Solidarity and initiative among coworkers with community support is the basis for this kind of unionism.

As an example, Lynd quotes John Sargent who worked at Inland Steel in Chicago in the late 1930s. “Without a contract we secured for ourselves agreements on working conditions and wages that we do not have today, and that were better by far than what we have today in the mill,” he said. “For example as a result of the enthusiasm of the people in the mill you had a series of strikes, wildcats, shut-downs, slow-downs, anything working people could think of to secure for themselves what they decided they had to have.”

Given Lynd’s analysis, what should the labor movement do today? Lynd doesn’t appear to advocate that unions rip up their contracts. But he does encourage the formation of rank-and-file shop floor committees. Union workers can certainly incorporate aspects of solidarity unionism by practicing workplace militancy as much as possible even with contracts in place, as Labor Notes has advocated for decades. Non-union workers can form independent unions based on solidarity unionism principles. We may also see more hybrid types of organizing, such as the fast food and OUR Walmart campaigns, sponsored by mainstream unions, and based in part on workplace actions. Some labor radicals are encouraged by these campaigns as something new, but Lynd reminds us that they recreate older forms of organizing, at least to the extent that they involve genuine worker leadership rather than stage-managed media events.

Lynd also encourages the formation of what he calls “parallel central labor councils” which are groups of workers in an area from different workplaces that provide solidarity to each other in their struggles. Lynd cites several examples of rank-and-file worker controlled solidarity initiatives in Youngstown in the 1980s, such as the Workers’ Solidarity Club, which provided picket line support and organizing assistance, as well as hosted educational and social events.

Given that almost 90 percent of U.S. workers are non-union, there is certainly a great opportunity to build a large solidarity union movement of the kind Lynd outlines. However, organizing is risky and groups that practice solidarity unionism in its purest form will tend to be small, with few staff or resources, depending almost entirely on the workers themselves. This is a lot to ask. Indeed many members of mainstream unions may point to the benefits of having a large, stable organization with contracts, funds, benefit plans, dedicated staff, lawyers, and political relationships. But for Lynd, these kinds of institutional arrangements tend to come at the cost of democracy and militancy.

This raises, I think, the greatest challenge and dilemma for this kind of unionism. It allows the best chance for workers to run their own union, making their own decisions on strategy and tactics with maximum democracy and freedom of action. But it also carries potentially more risk as workers are exposed to changes in workplace policy and arbitrary boss behavior without any written contract protections. Lynd would likely make the claim that contracts offer no real protection without worker power to back it up, and if you have that power you don’t need the contract. No doubt that’s true in some cases.

Ultimately the solidarity unionism model essentially makes two broad claims: that the outcomes for workers will be better and that it is a way of organizing that can more effectively challenge capitalism. Regarding workplace outcomes, this is a fascinating question that needs more data and there may possibly be too few documented modern cases of workplace organizing and improvements outside of the formal contract system. This certainly deserves more attention.

Regarding the challenge to capitalism, although Lynd doesn’t develop this point at length, he links solidarity unionism with the potential to build a socialist society. This is consistent with Lynd’s view that mainstream union practices cannot meaningfully challenge capitalism. We can see how this might be true since the regular practice of workplace militancy will likely develop more class-conscious fighters of the system than staff-directed contract bargaining. And a mainstream union’s assets and relationships tend to enmesh it in the capitalist system, making alternatives hard to envision within typical union practices.

In any case, union contracts and the working conditions they codify are the current compromise between labor and capital in any given workplace. With or without a contract, workers will have to struggle. Lynd doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that some workers may not be looking for constant class warfare on the job, and that settling a decent contract offers a much needed respite to lock-in gains. In any case, labor radicals should meet the workers where they are, and workers themselves should decide what kind of union they want. Let’s have many different organizing forms and see what works. The philosophy and practice of solidarity unionism provides a critical reminder of alternative ways of organizing and a valuable framework for the stronger and more militant labor movement that we need.


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Jewish Noir: Contemporary Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds: A Review

by Dawn Ius
The Big Thrill
November 30th, 2015

Some of today’s best-known crime writers have come together to create JEWISH NOIR, an anthology of new stories that examine the re-emergence of noir in Jewish culture.

Edited by Kenneth Wishnia, the book’s 32 compelling offerings tackle issues such as the long-terms effects of the Holocaust, sexual abuse in an insular ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn community, amoral  businessmen, and, much to Wishnia’s surprise, multiple stories on bullying.

“No less than three of the contributions focus on characters having been bullied for being Jewish,” he says.

The anthology is truly a diverse collection of work by an eclectic group of authors—some of whom aren’t even Jewish.

“This is a compilation of ‘not the usual suspects,’ ” Wishnia says, noting that among the stories by the more well-known authors, the anthology includes a few debut efforts, one vintage reprint, and a translation of a story originally penned in Yiddish in 1960.

At more than 400 pages, Wishnia admits, it’s a heady—but timely—book.

“We live in an age which parallels many of the conditions that gave rise to the first generation of noir writers—economic insecurity, corruption at all levels of government, and disillusion with the American dream, while those responsible for it all make millions and get away with murder.”

Despite the genre’s resurgence, Wishnia says these themes aren’t new. In fact, they date back to Biblical times. “To put it in rather simplified form, a majority of the world’s Christians are taught that if you follow the right path, everything will turn out well for you in the end. In Judaism, you can follow the right path and still get screwed (just ask Job). That’s noir,” he writes in the anthology’s introduction.

Or, for a more light-hearted description, Wishnia says, “If you’re not embarrassed by the cover, it’s not pulp fiction.”

While this is Wishnia’s first time in the role of editor, he’s no stranger to fiction. His novels and short stories have been nominated for or won several awards and distinctions.

But he can’t claim sole inspiration for JEWISH NOIR. The idea was conceived with the help of Reed Farrel Coleman, who unfortunately had to drop out of the project after landing another gig that featured a non-competitive clause. His story in the anthology was even penned under a pseudo-name.

Wishnia boldly took the reins on what he says ended up being a lot more work than he intended. What began as between 15 and 20 contributions bloomed to 32—it seemed everyone wanted on this unique noir revival project. There’s even talk of a second book, though Wishnia cautions that it might be a while before he can carve time out of his personal writing to take on another anthology of this magnitude.

“We hope this book gives readers an appreciation of Jewish noir,” he says, along with a shared celebration of the culture. “In a less enlightened time, people hid their identity. No one just discovers they have Catholic ancestry. Really, it’s only recently that we’ve been considered white—prejudices last a long time.”

To help tackle some of those prejudices, bring awareness to Jewish culture, and yes, to honor all that is noir, Wishnia and his co-writers have turned to the thread that often ties society together—the art of storytelling.

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Sisters of the Revolution: A Review in The New York Review of Science Fiction

by Gwyneth Jones
The New York Review of Science Fiction

This “highly curated” collection of feminist speculative fiction definitely bears the VanderMeer stamp: not only choosing their stories from every genre of the fantastic, including horror and fantasy” but offering a greater preponderance of the surreal and the richly grotesque than one might expect in an anthology on this theme. Of the surreal element, my favorite has to be Ann Richter’s “The Sleep of Plants,” an understatedly elegant escape story, translated from the French, though I also liked Rachel Swirsky’s “Detours on the Way to Nothing” and admit to having a soft spot for Eileen Gunn’s sly fable of corporate climbers, eagerly ditching their humanity just to get a corner office, “Stable Strategies For Middle Management.”

In the grotesque contingent, I liked Karin Tidbeck’s “Aunts.” This study of stultifying, matriarchal domesticity, replicating itself through the generations, is compelling: gruesome, relentless, and glutinously horrific, but never less than sharply political.

You can’t “expand the conversation about feminism” without first stating its terms: of course a selection of stories from the canon of feminist sf had to be included. Most of the well-known stories here, including Octavia Butler’s bleak, challenging, “The Evening, the Morning, and the Night”; Kelley Eskridge’s slippery, shape-changing “And Salome Danced”; Pat Murphy’s hallucinatory “Love and Death Among the Invertebrates”; and Nalo Hopkinson’s Caribbean Bluebeard tale, “The Glass Bottle Trick” are excellent choices, fitting neatly into the curated scheme. I welcomed the wider perspective of the Hopkinson story, suggesting that her pantomime villain is himself caught in the net of internalized racism: although this collection is reasonably international, I felt that politically it was rather narrow. Other canonical stories don’t seem quite as well chosen. Does Joanna Russ’s sparsely written and deliberately, painfully, unsensational account of the loss of a dream, “When It Changed,” really belong in this highly charged, emphatically sensuous company? It’s not as if Russ never had anything sensual or disturbing to say in her short stories. How about “The Mystery of the Young Gentleman”? I also wondered about using Timmi Duchamp’s “The Forbidden Words of Margaret A.” as an opener.

It’s a great story, but its closing promise of a world after the revolution “far wider and brighter than I’d ever dreamed existed ...” is not exactly accurate as to what’s in store here! (N.B., there’s a typo in the Acknowledgments. As internal evidence shows, “The Forbidden Words of Margaret A.” was not published in 1980. It was published in Pulphouse 8 in 1990).

Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Sur,” on the other hand (in which an international party of ladylike, responsible, and modest South American wives and mothers secretly prepare an expedition, embark, and succeed in reaching the South Pole before Amundsen), is unexpectedly successful: a counterpoint or even a rebuke to some other accounts of old-fashioned domesticy in this volume.

Among the well-known classics I have to give honorable mention to, James Tiptree Jr’s “The Screwfly Solution” with its spooky premise that all human males, no matter how hard they fight the plague, are a chromosome’s tweak away from slaughtering all human females instead of mating with them—the best and by far the most intelligent zombie apocalypse story in the world, ever. And lastly, my favorite vintage story is in fact my favorite in the whole collection: Élisabeth Vonarburg’s “Home by the Sea.” But I won’t say a word more about it, in case you’re lucky enough to be reading it for the first time. Enjoy.

I’ve now reached the point where the anthology reviewer traditionally lists the stories she or he thinks ought to have been included. I’m not going to do that although I did miss the Australians and the Southeast Asians. Malaysian female writers, at home and in the diaspora, have a particularly wild and rich vein of folklore-based speculative fiction. Instead, I’m going to tell you that this is a very good collection, absorbing, thoughtfully put together, and though it’s mostly a little serious and grim, there are at least two exceptional, witty, and charming female-authored fairytales to warm your heart, Nnedi Okorafor’s “The Palm Tree Bandit” and Eleanor Arnason’s “The Grammarian’s Five Daughters.”

But there’s a problem. Practically all the protagonists and female characters in these stories are defined by their traditional, female-ordered roles in society. We have a police chief, Janet Evason, in “When it Changed.” We have some very unhappy homemakers, daughters, and girlfriends with no other vocation. We have a couple of scientists, two artists, a Grammarian (of course), a journalist, a party of Antarctic explorers, and a Sword and Sorcery Woman Warrior, but almost without exception what they’re all doing in their stories is Being Female. Even the protagonist of “The Screwfly Solution,” though she gets a “Dr.” in front of her name in the text, is presented exclusively as homemaker and mother. Mother, daughter, bride, wife, crone ... It’s all very well, but I want more. I want a bit of weird listmania to break out in the next volume, and I’m not asking for a change of tone, not at all. I don’t share the assumption that the surreal and the grotesque as literary forms can only accommodate women who know their limited place.

There is more to be said about the sisters of the revolution than appears in this first episode, and despite the awful troubles of our twenty-first century, despite the horrific conditions under which many women live in the world today, not all of it is bad news.

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