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Diana Block discusses Clandestine Occupations: An Imaginary History with Chris Burnett

By Chris Burnett
KPFK's Indymedia On Air

I have always been fascinated by the stories of organizers, revolutionaries and activists who have dedicated their lives to social change and revolution.

These stories help to highlight the mistakes, the victories and the political analysis required to change a system that is hell bent on the profit motive, one that may likely put the survival of the human species on the line.

Reading memoirs and books that explain the complex social relationships and challenges faced by those that put their bodies in harms way for ideals of human justice and liberation are important narratives that I think modern organizers should think about.

My guest tonight, Diana Block, is one of those people.

Diana Block has been an activist since the 1970’s and a founding member of San Francisco Women Against Rape, Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, and California Coalition for Women Prisoners.  She is the author of the memoir Arm the Spirit: A Woman’s Journey Underground and Back. Her latest book is called Clandestine Occupations: An Imaginary History which is published by PM Press.

Clandestine Occupations is a book not just about those engaged in revolutionary struggle, but it’s about the people around those revolutionaries that are effected by the struggle, many of which are only tangentially related, some that choose to become more committed.

It’s a story of what it’s like for those that support, and even betray, those involved in a struggle, and how they make decisions, or how they may chose to find an inner strength they never knew they had, or highlight a weakness that might betray those in the middle of that struggle.

I was very moved by this narrative, precisely because it asks the question of what effect radical politics may have on those around us. What does it mean to think about the effects a radical political analysis might have on those that are NOT as deeply committed? What might go through the minds of those that want to support struggles for liberation who have not had time to think deeply about their commitments, or the commitments of others? How do radicals work to change the dominant narratives in a population inculcated with an authoritarian or imperialist framework they never knew they had? How do organizers change the framework for understanding what freedom and liberation really is, especially from the standpoint of the most downtrodden and poorest amongst us? What do our most basic human interactions mean in the struggle, such as love, compassion, understanding, and respect? What does it mean to have children in the middle of a struggle?

I am happy to have Diana Block on the show to discuss her new book.

Buy Clandestine Occupations | Buy Clandestine Occupations e-Book | Back to Diana Block's Author Page

The Cultural Policy of the Cuban Revolution: A Excerpt in Cuba50

to defend the revolutionby Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt

April 27th, 2016

The main hypothesis of Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt’s important new book on the cultural policies pursued in Revolutionary Cuba is that there exist possibilities for relations to be created between art and society that are not premised on the profit motive. In the preamble to the book, titled “Cuba as an Antidote to Neoliberalism,” Gordon-Nesbitt makes clear that what motivated her project in militant research is the current market fundamentalism that consigns all cultural production to the needs of economic growth, shaping cultural production into an ideological weapon of capitalist globalization. As a Marxist art theorist with a keen interest in policy I often find myself reading essays on contemporary art waiting for a kernel of wisdom from its author, something that can put contemporary theory into some kind of relation with the history of radical cultural theory. In this instance, readers are richly rewarded as they are immersed in a case study where some of the perennial debates among artists and writers of conscience are worked out in concrete historical circumstances in which a socialist society attempts to bring into existence the best of what humanist Marxism has promised, along with the necessity of struggle against the results of centuries of colonialism, the pressures of capitalist imperialism and the failures of Soviet Stalinism. However, as Gordon-Nesbitt makes clear, the political event of the Cuban Revolution is not only a matter of history, but has implications for the future (xxiii).

Aside from the introductory texts, which includes a foreword by Jorge Fornet (the son of Ambrosio Fornet, one of the key cultural figures in this account), and a brief conclusion, the book is essentially divided into two parts, with the first three chapters approaching the subject of cultural policy in Revolutionary Cuba through a historically-specific perspective on theoretical issues, and a second part with four chapters that follows a more chronological trajectory from the earliest days after the victory of the 26 July Movement in 1959 to roughly the late 1970s.

In this period, debates between “liberal” and “orthodox” tendencies vied for primacy, interacted with international comrades and led eventually to the ratification of the Revolutionary humanist vision of leaders like Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, which sought to allow “everything within the Revolution and nothing against the Revolution” (69, 163). The role of militant leadership and of state functions are therefore affirmed not only as a matter of record, but as a point of solidarity by Gordon-Nesbitt, who notes with keen lucidity a meeting of cultural producers at which Fidel intervened by placing his pistol on the table, reminding all those present that the Revolution had been achieved at a great cost and that whatever freedoms had been won by the people of Cuba, artists and intellectuals were mandated with the task to pursue their work in the interest of social, political and cultural transformation and the needs of a socialist society.

In this first part, the author takes the broadest view possible on what a radical cultural policy, in any context, would need to consider. Beyond the mechanisms of socio-economic support for artists and writers, the relation between culture and the state is shown to be essentially different in a capitalist and a socialist context. Since the enlightenment, the aesthetic has been associated with human emancipation, a notion that has been tailored by different political perspectives and government agencies. Insofar as the United States and the United Kingdom have associated culture with commerce and economic growth, they ignore United Nations stipulations that art should be supported but not reduced to the status of a consumer good or a site for speculation. Since the solution to neoliberalization cannot be a return to romantic and modernist notions of autonomy, the policies experimented with in Cuba provide some ideas on how culture can offer a means beyond socio-economic contradictions. It is significant that the Revolution did not originate in strictly communist circles and that Cuban communists of the Popular Socialist Party (PSP) only belatedly joined the insurrection, leading to longstanding skepticism towards communism. Rather, the Cuban Revolution was led by new left intellectuals who considered themselves post-Stalinist. Yet, insofar as U.S. aggression was an ever-present danger, ties were maintained with the Soviet Union and Marxism-Leninism was applied to matters of political economy. The flipside to this, however, was a vision of socialism and of a humanist Marxism that sought to protect freedoms and human happiness as well as national cultural characteristics. This took the form of a Marxism influenced by the ideas of the Cuban intellectual José Marti, which were introduced by Che Guevara as a means to devise a continent-wide resistance to imperialism. The goals of freeing people from economic pressure, to overcome alienation and restore individuals’ capacity to relate themselves to humanity and nature are keystones of proletarian humanism that were given expression in the creation of a better life in both a material and spiritual sense. While literacy was a first objective of the 26 July Movement (with Cuba having today the second highest literacy rate and the U.S. and the U.K. coming in 44th and 45th place), the creation of cultural institutions was undertaken as early as 1961 with the building of national art schools, professional training for art instructors and an outreach programme to rural areas so as to abolish the distinctions between town and country and between manual and intellectual labour. In a short period, the amateur aficionados art education campaign would produce more than a million amateur artists within a population of seven million.

Throughout the 1960s, steps were taken in the development of an infrastructure for the administration of Cuban culture: in 1959 the government established the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Arts and Industries (ICAIC) as well as the Casa de las Américas; in 1961 intellectuals formed the National Union of Cuban Artists and Writers (UNEAC); the pre-Revolutionary Nuestro Tiempo cultural society represented the ideas of the PSP; and the National Council of Culture (CNC) was created in 1961 – a group that Gordon-Nesbitt reproaches for its orthodox misreading of Marxian dialectics and separating art from the historical processes of the Revolution. (In fact, the entire fourth chapter is dedicated to a brilliant theoretical and historical elucidation of the pitfalls of ideological orthodoxy). In addition, in 1961 the National Art Schools (ENA) were established for training across the disciplines and in 1963 a National Museums Commission was formed, exhibiting art recovered from the elite, building a dozen new museums and touring exhibitions around the island and abroad. All of these institutions were committed to contributing to collective consciousness while sustaining creativity, supporting artists, developing pedagogical programmes and engaging with the world though cultural exchanges. In an early statement by Roberto Fernández Retamar, editor of the journal of the Casa de las Américas, the Revolution is described as a process whose course is not exact, but that the Cuban people are immersed in (65). One can see how different a statement this is from artists in the capitalist world who see themselves as an enclave, detached from the rest of society and at the same time immersed in the economic logic of the culture industries.

It was only in 1976 that the CNC was dissolved and replaced by the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT), headed by Armando Hart, a lawyer and former urban guerrilla. The bulk of the entire book, one could say, is dedicated to describing the process that resulted in the creation of MINCULT. Whereas the first three chapters give an overview of this period, elaborating what was at stake in terms of the ideals of the Revolution and the emancipatory role of culture under socialism, the last four take the reader into more detailed analysis of the particulars, demonstrating how at every stage, the valences of the dialectic, as Fredric Jameson calls it, can lead to very different understandings of what is happening. Gordon-Nesbitt consistently shows how the leadership sought to encourage the freedom of creative expression while at the same time securing the Revolution for the existing generation and for those to come. In this process, culture was given an important role in galvanizing revolutionary ideas, artists were freed from the laws of supply and demand, subsidies replaced royalties and sales, and property rights for creative works were replaced by state-sponsored dissemination.

Although it is not possible to do justice here to all of the particular events that are related in the last four chapters – from Fidel’s “Words to the Intellectuals” after the 1961 Pasado Meridiano controversy, the First National Congress of Writers and Artists (August 1961), the CNC policies of the early 60s, Che’s 1965 text “Socialism and Man in Cuba,” the [International] Cultural Congress of Havana of 1968 and its many participants, the Padilla Case of 1968-71, the First National Congress of Education and Culture of 1970, the Five Grey Years of military control of culture from 1971-76, and the First Congress of the Cuban Communist Party of 1975 – I would mention that throughout, Gordon-Nesbitt provides a rich and compelling analysis of the relationship between the political vanguard and artistic praxis that could easily be read alongside today’s discussions on socially engaged art, art activism, participatory art, transversal practice, relational and dialogical aesthetics, participatory art and other variants. Her book brings to the fore the problems that we in the capitalist universe would face if some of our political and cultural ambitions were to be realized. We would be able to go beyond confronting major institutions about the abuses of corporate management and sponsorship since they would be ours, people’s museums, universities and ministries, and we artists and intellectuals would have to decide amongst ourselves whether and how we support the Revolution, including its state mechanisms and infrastructures. We wouldn’t need to network or work without pay in order to accrue social capital like so many entrepreneurs of solidarity, but could dedicate ourselves to free exchange and authentic culture. Of course, even in the case of Cuba, there was never a moment when struggle was not required and protest against an imperialist foe was not a reality. The lessons of the Cuban experiment are not that liberal traditions are of no use to the Revolution, but that national culture should not be chauvinistic or elitist, that art and politics cannot be collapsed, nor can they be separated, and so, that aesthetic vanguards must work alongside political vanguards and vice versa. To Defend the Revolution Is to Defend Culture thus provides Marxist aesthetics with a view of radical ideology and universality that goes beyond sociological reduction and challenges the immanentism of today’s global, neoliberal bureaucracies.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt's Author Page

The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of May Day on Gods and Radicals

by Rhyd Wildermuth
Gods and Radicals
April 18th, 2016

Karl Marx and Fredrich Engles claimed, in The Communist Manifesto, that the history of all societies has been that of class struggle.  In a later edition, however, Engels inserted the following footnote:

“That is, all written history.”

What led to that clarification? Specifically, the discovery by anthropologists that pre-literate societies in Russia and elsewhere had held land in common. While all written histories of the world were founding narratives for the right-to-rule of the upper classes, unwritten histories told a different tale: stories not of hierarchies and class, of propertied rulers and priests, but of ways of being where property belonged to everyone and no-one.

In the footnote, Engels adds:

“with the dissolution of the primeval communities, society begins to be differentiated into separate and finally antagonistic classes.”

It’s tempting  to call these primeval societies ‘pagan’ and perhaps we should.  As Oscar Wilde suggested, the best way to overcome a temptation is to give in to it.  Besides, much of modern Paganism draws from the myths and relationality of less hierarchical societies, borrowing from the later-recorded oral histories of gods and spirits–with very liberal applications of imagination and dreaming—to create a New/Old way of being.

Likewise, Paganism can be said to be reaction to Civilisation, or at least a certain understanding of it. The alienation of modern workplaces, the vapidity of technological distraction, and the apparent emptyness and Authoritarian nature of major religious forms compel many of us to look elsewhere for our meaning.  For most of us, Paganism as we currently create it provides exactly that alternative.

If our desire to live according to Pagan forms of being is compelled by more than mere dissatisfaction with what’s on offer from the marketplace, churches, malls, televisions, cubicles and burger stands–that is, if it isn’t only a matter of consumer preference, but actually a resistance to those things—then no day embodies that desire, that compulsion, that celebration of the body and the natural world like Beltane, or May Day

But May Day doesn’t just belong to Pagans. While perhaps hundreds of thousands celebrate Beltane, many millions more in cities across the world have enacted a different sort of ritual, the revolt of worker against boss, renter against landlord, marcher against cop, of world-time against clock-time.

Are these May Days so different?

History From Below

Ask that question to Peter Linebaugh, and one imagines he would laugh, and then give you some very wild–and dazzling–history lessons.

In The Incomplete, True, Authentic, and Wonderful History of May Day, a new collection of his essays published by PM Press, Peter Linebaugh explores both threads of May Day, the Pagan threads (what he calls “The Green”) and the anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist threads (“The Red”).

The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of May Day is a collection of 11 essays, each written about and for May Day (and, as he cheerfully notes in the introductory essay, sometimes written ‘the night before’ the occasion) which dance and weave into each other like the ribbons of a maypole.

Linebaugh doesn’t tell history in lines, and that’s a good thing. Linear history is the story of the machine-age, the mechanistic world of the factory and the skyscraper, the narrative of progress and the line-up to the gas chambers. Such a history wheels along, unstoppable along iron tracks past the present. Through its windows we might catch a glimpse of the ‘great men’ of earlier times, the generals and warlords, men of religion, men of industry, men of science; if, that is, the black smudge of coal and petrol smoke does not obscure our view.

Peter Linebaugh doesn’t tell the story of those people, he tells ours, the ‘History from Below,” and he recounts it not in lines but in webs, nets, drawing threads and throwing cables across vast distances to connect the people who actually live history, rather than watch it parade by.
For Linebaugh, the worker and the witch, the coal miner in Appalachia and the prisoner in London, the dead Sioux and the Italian anarchist, the daughter of an African slave and the German philosopher are all part of the same dance, each holding a coloured ribbon about the pole which unites us.

The Dance of the Red & The Revolt of the Green

The Green of Beltane and the Red of May Day are interwoven through their shared acts of resistance against Authority and the demands of the bosses. As he explains in the title essay (originally written as a tract in 1986):

Green is a relationship to the earth and what grows therefrom. Red is a relationship to other people and the blood spilt there among. Green designates life with only necessary labor; Red designates death with surplus labor. Green is natural appropriation; Red is social expropriation.

Green is husbandry and nurturance; Red is proletarianization and prostitution. Green is useful activity; Red is useless toil. Green is creation of desire; Red is class struggle. May Day is both.

The essay opens with a history of the Green, the pagan and irreligious celebrations from which most modern witches and pagans reconstruct the holiday. That it needed to be reconstructed at all further entwines the red and green threads together:

The farmers, workers, and child bearers (laborers) of the Middle Ages had hundreds of holy days which preserved the May Green, despite the attack on peasants and witches. Despite the complexities, whether May Day was observed by sacred or profane ritual, by pagan or Christian, by magic or not, by straights or gays, by gentled or calloused hands, it was always a celebration of all this is free and life-giving in the world. That is the Green side of the story.

Whatever it was, it was not a time to work.
Therefore, it was attacked by the authorities. The repression had begun with the burning of women and it continued in the 16th century when America was “discovered,” the slave trade was begun, and nation-states and capitalism was formed.
As Authority and the needs of Capitalists sought to form humans into machine-workers, festival days during which no work was to be done (as he points out, hundreds, and all of them sacred) became sites of battle. The celebration of May Day was banned, but as Linebaugh shows, this only made the celebrations more anti-authoritarian. In England, the May Day games were thereafter called the “Robin Hood Games” by the peasants, initiating the ‘Red’ current.

Of course, May Day is better known to the world not as an ancient European tradition, but a day of mass strikes, revolts, and marches to commemorate the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago. The events that day came about as part of a workers movement to reduce the length of the workday to 8 hours and to protest State repression and murder of labor activists. For Linebaugh, this is both the Red thread (leftist organisation against Capital) and the Green thread (the demands of the people for time to actually live life, rather than toil).

The Great Tapestry of Resistance

Other essays in the collection explore more of the modern class struggle centered on May Day. His essay X²: May Day In Light of Waco and LA explores the relationship between class struggle and social justice through the lens of Exploitation and Expropriation (the source of the X²).

1992 saw the Rodney King Riots in Los Angeles, during which 55 people were killed, thousands of people injured, and millions of dollars of property destroyed after a jury found the police officers who had severely beaten Rodney King not guilty of excessive force.

A common trick of Authority and the media is to de-legitimize the political anger in such uprisings, particularly amongst Black folk. Because much of the damage to business occurred not to white-owned establishments but to Asian-owned shops, the Rodney King Riots were written off as blind rage or even racist.

But Linebaugh sees in these events (which occurred during the few days before and few days after May Day that year) the same repeating form which led to the Evil May Day Riots in 1517.

Artisans in London attacked foreign merchants and bankers who had been brought in by the King to undercut wages and destroy the organising power of the guilds.  Manipulating immigration policy has always been a trick of the powerful against the lower classes.

It’s in such places that Linebaugh’s historical narrative becomes most powerful and truly international.  Linebaugh is particularly adept at showing the relationship between events in Europe and events in North America, a transatlanticism unfortunately rare in most histories.

Europe and North America are not the only continents where Linebaugh finds the spirit of May Day. Africa, the Middle East, and Asia all birth the repeating form of resistance. The threads intertwine fast and taut: anti-colonial struggle in Kenya connects to the Black Panthers, the struggle for the commons in Indonesia to student movements in the United States, striking soldiers from England to Ghandi and displaced Arabs, and eastern European vampire myths connect to privatisation and austerity moves in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

By the final essay (his retirement speech from the University of Toledo), the world of the Red and Green, the histories from below, have become a great tapestry of resistance which, like the title of the book, is True, Wonderful, Authentic….and Incomplete.

Like his other works, Peter Linebaugh leaves you dazzled, full of great optimism and the sense that the world is much smaller and an end to Capital much closer than you ever dared hope. But just as quickly, the stories end, the tapestry seems to fade away and you are left holding the colored cords, unsure what comes next.

His history of May Day is indeed incomplete. There are many, many more May Days to write about, including the one approaching. Will the Green and Red finally win this time? Will they twine together, braiding with all the other colors of the earth’s fecund life? The Black threads are there too, as are the Asian, the First Nations (see particularly his earlier work on Tecumseh in Stop, Thief!.) the Arab and the white, great ribbons all suspended from the top of a great tree.

Will we dance the world Peter Linebaugh shows us into existence around that pole this year? Or will it be the next? Either way, in his final lines Linebaugh invites us to that dance:

We have the world to gain, the earth to recuperate. M’Aidez! M’Aidez!

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Peter Linebaugh's Author Page

Where have all the flowers gone?

By Mark Perryman
Philosophy Football
April 8th, 2016


It has become almost a mantra, there’s no protest music any more, discuss. In the mainstream maybe, though Beyoncé for one by following up her embrace of feminism with the message that the Black Panthers matter seems to confound even that. The trouble for musos of a certain age is that the rebel rock of yesteryear, from Guthrie to the Clash, existed in a popular culture almost entirely different to the one any musical rebellion of today has to navigate its way round. So how to make the connections to the past whilst remaining meaningful , not to mention musical, in 2016? 

The Hurriers - From Acorns Mighty OaksTake The Hurriers who seem to be single-handedly turning their home town Barnsely into a citadel of soulful socialism. Absolutely shaped by the enduring legacy of the miners’ strike this is band whose sound is straight out of the mid-eighties Redskins songbook , that’s a compliment not a criticism incidentally. Debut album From Little Acorns Mighty Oaks absolutely confirms this, music to shout along to rather than sing along to, full of commitment mixed up with rousing tunes.  Or Thee Faction, kind of the southern cousins of the aforementioned, though my all-time favourite description of them remains ‘Comrade Feelgood’. Whereas The Hurriers remind older listeners of The Redskins this lot have Wilko written all over them, again a compliment not a critique. Their latest masterpiece Reading, Writing, Revolution continues where previous albums left off combining music to dance to with a richly acute ear for socialist history. Dialectics for the dancefloor, just what The Corbyn Effect demands.  

Badass Lady Power PicnicReminding me of early Belle and Sebastian vocals-wise the debut album from The Wimmins Institute comes with a title nobody is going to forget in a hurry Badass Lady Power Picnic. The combination of wit and a lightness of music touch seves to prove showing our anger doesn’t always mean playing angry music, nice.  The rising prominence of women musicians in protest music is splendidly reported in a new, and free e-zine, with the brilliant title Loud Women. Promoters of political gigs have a read, there is absolutely no excuse for not having 50:50 in your line-ups. 

Robb Johnson - A reasonable history of impossible demandsA key role of protest music through the ages from has always been to provide a chronicle of the times we live, the histories from where we carve the present out of and futures we might dream about.  Leon Rosselson is without much doubt the most important singer of this tradition in Britain. His new album Where are the Barricades? marks his retirement at the age of 81 after some six decades of songwriting and singing.  Full of anger, wit and imagination that Leon has always provided across over all those years.  Robb Johnson comes from a slightly later era to Leon, though his beautifully packaged 5-CD box set A Reasonable History of Impossible Demands still manages to account for almost three decades of protest singing, 1986-2013. This is the era of Thatcher, the miners, Hillsborough, Stop the War and a whole lot more, the news via song and guitar. Yes it sounds old-fashioned but as a means to provide a collective response to all that is thrown our way, a sense of identity and belonging, and knowledge too Robb and Leon’s trade in verse and tunes has few rivals.  Joe Solo is one of many now adding something new to this tradition. A musician-activist Joe’s  new CD Never Be Defeated is what might once have been called by other artists a ‘concept album’. The difference lies in the kind of concepts Joe is interested in.  Solidarity, community and resistance in the coalfields of South Yorkshire ’84-85.

Goodnight Heard and Unheard Hope not Hate FavouritesOut of the despair of the Tories 2015 General Election victory and the delight of Jeremy Corbyn’s entirely unexpected landslide win in the Labour Leadership vote a wave of protest music , old and new, erupted. Goodnight Heard and Unheard Hope not Hate Favourites  is a double CD compilation of anti-fascist tunes, some of the classic variety – Billy Bragg’s The Battle of Barking – but for the most part pleasantly unpredictable, both artist and content. Plenty of old favourites too, Inspiral Carpets, Attila the Stockbroker, Wonder Stuff and Chumbawamba,, alongside the latest of the new wave including Siobhan Mazzei, Blossoms, Tracey Curtis, Steve White and the Protest Family.  A rich variety yet still journos ask ‘ Whatever happened to political music?’ Doh.

Orgreave Justice  is another double CD also featuring Billy Bragg alongside Louise Distras, Sleaford Mods, Paul Heaton with less well-known names Quiet Loner, The Black Lamps, Matt Abbott and more. The common theme here is truth and justice framed by that epic moment in the 84-85 Miners’ Strike, Orgreave. The specificity of the theme gives the disparate tunes and voices a collective sense of purpose producing an album of record as well as resistance. The spoken word and folk interludes sit well alongside the more obviously rousing tracks to create a really impressive compilation, in fact a textbook version for others to follow.

Land of Hope and FuryBased in my hometown Lewes, East Sussex Union Music Store is an extraordinary factory of good music – live music, record shop, recording studio and their own record label too.  Every town should have one, sadly most don’t.  Testament to their ambition and impact is the CD they rush-released within a few weeks of the nightmare Tory victory (on just 24% of the popular vote it should always be remembered) last May. Land of Hope and Fury also benefits from the specificity of its content, this time in terms of musical styles, mainly of Americana, Country and Folk which is what Union unashamedly favour. Lucy Ward, Mark Chadwick of the Levellers, Moulettes, O’Hooley and Tidow, with for me Grace Petrie’s If There’s A Fire in your Heart providing the absolute stand out track of a very splendid lot.

Somehow we ment - the Meow MeowsA music of change needs a music we can dance to as well. A mix of conscious lyrics and rhythms to move body and soul. It’s no accident that the 1980s Two-tone music was one of the first to provide this mix and with an unrivalled multicultural line-up too. A ska revival has been a long time coming but there is a hint of it with Captain SKA  and South Coast favourites The Meow Meows.  Both are absolute showstoppers live. The Meow Meows are promising to release a third album soonish, meantime treat yourself to some uneasy listening off their second album Somehow We Met.

A rebel music that knows its history, diverse in styles, mashing up gender, race and sexuality, conscious lyricism with enough tunes for those out to look good on the dancefloor. Not the same as it’s ever been, but paying dues to those who went before.  Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come . Not just a classic tune, but a shared musical and political ambition too, now  and back then too. 

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football. On Saturday 1st October at Rich Mix London 2016 Philosophy Football in association with the RMT and Thompsons Solicitors, supported by The International Brigade Memorial Trust will be marking the 80th Anniversary of Cable Street and the formation of the International Brigades with a night showcasing protest music 2016 introduced by Mark Thomas and featuring The Hurriers, Louise Distras, The Wakes, Potent Whisper, Will Kaufman and Lánre. Ticket details to follow but reserve the date for a night not to be missed.


Buy CDs now  | Back to Robb Johnson's Page | Back to Leon Rosselson's Page

The Struggles and Victories of a Xicana Woman in a Hardcore Band

By Leilani Clark

April 10th, 2016

I first saw the East Bay feminist hardcore band Spitboy in 1993. I remember the moment the four women, the only ones on a packed bill, took the stage at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma. Wearing ripped shorts, combat boots, Converse and worn tank tops, they were tough, intimidating, and mind-blowing with a driving, abrasive sound I’d never heard women produce before. Sure, I loved punk rock. But I’d never seen it done like this. Spitboy’s lead singer Adrienne sang about gender oppression, sexual violence, and the mismeasure of women in American society like a no-holds barred assault. It was exhilarating, hardcore, and life-affirming;  I loved every second.

I idolized Spitboy from that day, adding them to a stable of bands that would inform my experience as a young feminist woman fronting an (almost) all-girl band a few years later.


In her new book, The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band (PM Press) Michelle Cruz Gonzales writes about being a “Spitwoman” in those heady days. Gonzales — known back then as “Todd” — was the drummer in Spitboy and one of the band’s founding members. She still makes her home in Oakland, where she lives with her family.

The book, based on a zine of the same name, doesn’t function as a straightforward narrative. Rather, the collection of essays jumps around in time and consciousness, anchored by Gonzales’ reflections on the varied experiences of being a young, working-class Chicana woman in a well-known touring band at a time when women in punk rock were rare.


As such, it’s an engrossing account of a particular period in music history. A historical moment when, as Mimi Thi Ngyuyen writes in the preface, “some consciousness about women in music broke through, briefly.” (Read anything by Jessica Hopper for more on this.) Gonzales writes about her journey from Tuolomne, a “dysfunctional, limiting, broken” town in California’s Gold Rush country, to San Francisco, hellbent on playing music like her heroes the Clash — first with Bitch Fight, and later with Spitboy and Instant Girl. It isn’t an easy journey, and it’s exacerbated by class shame, a neglected Chicana identity, and sexist and abusive vitriol lobbed at Spitboy during live performances.

“As aggressively unapologetic women in a (still) bro-dominant scene, Spitboy shouldered both misogynist hostility and the burden of representation,” writes Gonzales, after relaying a story of one particularly disgusting comment from a male audience member.

Spitboy rectoWhat’s most refreshing about The Spitboy Rule is Gonzales’ ability to closely examine the class and race issues woven through the mid-’90s Bay Area punk scene. Yes, she found community, friendship, and unfettered artistic expression with the band. But, as she writes, she always felt like an outsider; the only woman of color amidst all white women. The only band member who didn’t come from a fairly comfortable middle-class background.

These cultural differences come to the forefront after the band stops to visit Gonzales’ grandmother in East Los Angeles. It’s a stop she later regrets:

Stopping had not been a good idea at all. We should have stayed on the I-5. I should not have suggested we veer off into the second-largest Mexican city in the world. I had made everyone uncomfortable, and now I was outside my body, seeing my adored Grandma and her shabby East L.A. home, which I’d always found tidy and comforting, her knick-knacks — which they probably called tchotchkes — and all her family photos of Mexicans, and now myself through different eyes, and I didn’t like it one bit.

Most working-class kids have experienced similar moments — even within the punk scene, where lots of middle class kids went to hide — the feeling of shabbiness, of not quite fitting in, which is disconcerting when you’re with a peer group that professes to accept pretty much everything except Republicans and SUVs. In truth, the punk scene suffered from elitism, mansplaining, and race/class privilege as much as any other cultural movement.

Gonzales writes honestly about being Chicana in an overwhelmingly white punk scene. “I didn’t often make references to being Mexican, a Xicana, in a mostly white band in a mostly white punk scene. It was just easier to try to blend in with my short hair, my tattoo, and my punk uniform.” She dates white guys (including Cometbus editor Aaron Elliott) and struggles towards an acceptance of her identity, first through learning Spanish, and later as an ethnic studies minor at Mills College.

There are victorious moments as well. Gonzales writes of the thrill of touring Europe with Citizen Fish, traveling to Japan for the first time where one rabid fan cried upon meeting her, and playing in New Zealand to enthusiastic crowds. All experiences she couldn’t have imagined as a young, isolated punk in Tuolumne, listening to the Clash and dreaming of England. Later, she meets Los Crudos, a Latino hardcore band out of Chicago that sings in Spanish and proudly displays their cultural heritage. “I began to feel more comfortable with my multiple identities,” she writes, “Spitboy drummer, feminist, Xicana.”

Gonzales is now in her mid-forties; Spitboy played that show at the Phoenix Theater almost 25 years ago. The stories and observations in The Spitboy Rule benefit from years of reflection, schooling, and life lived. This would have been a much different book if Gonzales had written it 20 years ago. It is a privilege to grow older, to have the chance to reflect on the formative struggles and building of consciousness that happens when we are young. And, for Spitboy fans like me, the true thrill comes from getting the inside story on the four radical women who took that stage in 1993 and blew us all away.

Michelle Cruz Gonzales appears on Wednesday, April 27, at Pegasus Books on Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley. Details here.

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Waging Peace: A Review in National Catholic Reporter

By Martha Hennessy
National Catholic Reporter
March 16th, 2016

David Hartsough has given us a remarkable story of his life as a persistent and insightful peacemaker of our times. His wanderlust and astute eye for critical events around the world brought him to many of the right places at the right times.

A fine example was set for Hartsough in his childhood through the work of his father, a Congregational minister. Ray Hartsough answered the call of the Quaker service organization and was sent to Gaza in 1948 to lend assistance to refugees as a result of the Arab-Israeli War. As a child, David gained an immediate sense of the suffering of others and what is required to put one's faith into action to help bring peace and justice into the world.

As a young man in 1960, Hartsough spent a year in divided Berlin, where he studied postwar effects just 15 years after the end of World War II. Three critical observations came to him in these formative years. The ravages and suffering of war were still evident in the souls and neighborhoods of the German people. The U.S. and Soviet rivalry for influence and control dictated how the people lived, forcing them from hot war to cold war.

A second revelation came to Hartsough as he witnessed the depth of faith practiced by both Catholics and Protestants while visiting churches. This prompted him to take a serious look at what it means to be a Christian, asking how we are to practice the teachings of Matthew 25 within the reality of a world of mass suffering, starvation and the ever-present threat of nuclear self-annihilation.

Hartsough's third query strove to understand the human desire not only for adequate work, housing, food and health care, but also our yearning for freedom and self-actualization. Neither the West nor the East allowed a place for people to honestly speak out against cultural materialism, a restrictive bureaucracy and the constant demonization of each other. Where is true democracy to be found when society, churches, universities and media fail to question this siege mentality?

The long history of insatiable empire-building on the part of the United States is well-documented in this revealing book. In a meeting at the Soviet Peace Council in Moscow, Hartsough was told by the director and editor of the Young Communist newspaper that efforts were made on the part of Russia to de-escalate the mounting tensions at the time of the building of the Berlin Wall. It was felt that the U.S. continued the arms race despite the efforts made by the USSR for disarmament with a unilateral halting of nuclear testing in 1958, abolishing all military bases outside of its borders, and cutting 2 million troops from its forces.

Within a year of this meeting and five months before the Cuban Missile Crisis, in May 1962, Hartsough and a delegation of Quakers met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House. Hartsough was the youngest person present, and the group asked the president to unilaterally stop the testing of nuclear bombs and to challenge the Soviets to a "peace race."

The president's attention was caught by these peacemaking Quakers. In a speech at American University, he did propose a ban on nuclear testing and the idea of a peace race. Kennedy was killed five months after that speech.

Hartsough's history of peacemaking includes his witness to the U.S.-backed wars in Central America in the 1980s. Again, the suffering of innocent people struggling to sustain themselves on the land while enduring assaults from corporate-driven interests is an appalling history. The effect of such unspeakable violence continues to haunt these small countries to this day.

In reading this book, we are forced to look at ourselves and to acknowledge that our chosen lifestyles rely on war-making to attain such a high standard of living. The practice of American exceptionalism attempts to justify our consumption of massive amounts of the world's resources at the expense of the majority of the population.

Hartsough unfailingly identifies the places where nonviolent witness remains desperately needed. But beyond that, he also suggests the means by which we can confront the evil of greed-induced violence and sustain a long-term effort in bringing the transformative power of peacemaking efforts into the 21st century.

This means going to the margins and accompanying the people who suffer the results of U.S. foreign policy. It means living a simple life so that resources are more equitably shared.

Perhaps most importantly, Hartsough reminds us of the crucial role that community, family and friends play in carrying on the work of peacemaking.

[Martha Hennessy divides her time between family in Vermont and work at Mary House Catholic Worker. Her peacemaking efforts include travels to war-torn and occupied countries.]

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Dismantling Corporate Control Isn’t a Spectator Sport: An Interview with Thomas Linzey

By Simon Davis-Cohen
In These Times
March 15th, 2016

Thomas Linzey is the cofounder and executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).   (

Editor’s Note: Thomas Linzey is no stranger to Rural America readers. His Community Rights Papers are a staple on the site. In fact, his essay, "The Spirit of 1773 and the Right to Local Self-Government," was the very first story this project published one year ago. In the months since, we’ve featured seven other of his essays, but until now we have never interviewed the man behind America’s “community rights movement.”

For 20 years, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) has been taking a stand against the long-held—though rarely discussed—assumption that corporations in the United States have the power to override a community when the locality passes a law that compromises profitability. 

To date, the Pennsylvania-based, non-profit law firm has advised almost 200 municipalities in 10 states in drafting and defending “Community Bills of Rights.” These documents are often adopted to stop harmful corporate projects by elevating local governments’ authority above anti-democratic state preemption and the legal protections corporations enjoy as “persons” under the U.S. Constitution (and international trade agreements).

CELDF has spearheaded the introduction of legally enforceable rights for ecosystems; over three dozen of the communities they work with have enshrined such “rights of nature” into local law. CELDF has also aided the special Ecuadorian Constituent Assembly in its successful effort to include enforceable rights of nature in the country’s 2008 constitution. Most recently in 2016, the Green Party of England & Wales worked with CELDF to include rights of nature in its official party platform.

People are taking notice. The Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico warned against CELDF’s community rights organizing, calling it, “the beginning of a social movement that is greater than just the oil and gas industry, it is a potential game changer for all of corporate America.” In Benton, Ore., the county attorney recently suggested those petitioning for a Community Bills of Rights to ban GMO agriculture be labeled “domestic terrorists.”

Liberal activists who work to appeal regulatory permits and support direct action also criticize CELDF for abandoning the regulatory system and challenging the logic of direct action. The concept of local control is often criticized as well. Yet in places where CELDF has proposed state constitutional change, we see the movement advocating not for total local control but rather for communities' authority to raise and improve state standards.

I sat down with CELDF executive director and co-founder Thomas Linzey to discuss some of the ideas, differences of opinion and miscommunications surrounding the group’s work.

Self-governance, collective direct action and not giving up when your community gets sued

Rural America: CELDF’s theory of change can be summarized as follows: Local law-making can be used as an ends to stop activities that harm people’s lives, and as a means to organize a broader grassroots movement to drive state and eventually federal constitutional change. The case for such constitutional change is embodied in each local laws’ elevation of community self-determination (for both human and natural communities) above the power of corporations and other levels of government to override core aspects of local democracy.

CELDF has helped close to 200 U.S. communities pass such laws. Now, in seven states, networks of these local communities are banding together to change their state constitutions. Then, once enough states sign on, the federal social contract can be changed—thus giving birth to both a state and federal constitutional right of local, community self-government that trumps both corporate “rights” and legal doctrines that currently make municipalities completely subordinate to their state.

When I talk to people about CELDF’s approach, some people say they don’t have faith that change can come through a legal system where so many judges and lawyers have been captured by the status quo. What do you think of this critique?

Linzey: It’s not a legal strategy, first of all. While we believe that there may be some judges and courts out there ready to embrace a right of local, community self-government, our communities aren’t betting on it. Eventually, they understand that for this type of change to happen, they’ll have to drive that change into their constitutions and override the courts. After all, it’s the courts that have created many of these doctrines over the past hundred years or so; to turn back to them to undo them would be pretty naive. So, we pursue two tracks—vigorously defending these communities in the courts when they get sued by corporations or their own state; and second, assisting communities to come together to drive local self-government guarantees into constitutional structures.

Rural America:  You have said that CELDF’s work is compatible with direct action. Direct action can involve breaking a law to convey a message or trying physically to prevent harm from proceeding—there are endless examples.  For example, we can imagine a scenario where, after passing a Community Bill of Rights, citizens might resort to protest in order to stop corporate activities that do not acknowledge or honor the Community Bill of Rights. How do you view direct action?

Linzey: We would argue that the local laws themselves are direct action—that they are collective direct action and civil disobedience, rather than individual direct action. In other words, by their very existence and adoption by the community, they are a repudiation of a structure of law that ordinarily subordinates the community to corporate control. The local laws thus nullify the three primary legal doctrines that create that overarching corporate control, and in the process, they break those laws across the board. So, instead of one person sitting in front of a bulldozer, these local laws mean the entire community is sitting in front of the bulldozer, and using the municipal government as their weapon against corporate power. In addition, many of these local laws now legalize direct action to enforce the laws—prohibiting local law enforcement from arresting individuals for directly enforcing the local laws, for example.

Rural America: If you were to draw a Venn diagram, with direct action and community rights activism representing the two circles, what would you include in the “overlap” portion of the diagram—what do they have in common?

Linzey: Breaking the law frontally, directly and forcibly.

Rural America: What about the “Community Rights” portion—what does Community Rights activism encompass that direct action does not.

Linzey: Traditional direct action involves breaking criminal laws. The community rights activism understands the need to “take back” the law itself—to change the lawmaking platform, so that traditional direct action, if it proceeds, is built on that lawmaking, thus making the direct action not “against the law,” but to “enforce the law.” It places the power of majorities behind civil disobedience, rather than having civil disobedience remain some kind of tool of “protest.” It’s about resetting the default.

Rural America: Lastly, the “direct action” portion—what does direct action activism encompass that community rights activism does not.

Linzey: Community rights activism changes the forum—away from the streets and the jail to challenging the very authority of the corporation to use the system of law. It’s about going upstream to the source, rather than simply accepting that the law will always be used to punish those who stand in the way of endless economic growth. There is a clear distinction. One opposes a law; the other defends a law. Oppositional direct action sends a message about what activists don’t want, whereas defenders of a Community Bill of Rights have first organized around what they want: the values and rights enshrined in their Community Bill of Rights. If community rights activists resort to direct action, their protest embodies a vision.




Rural America: Civil disobedience means the breaking of the specific law you want to change. But our culture often tells us that it is not the law, but how it is enforced that is the problem. How do you see CELDF’s work as a form of modern civil disobedience?

Linzey: Yes, I think that over the years the phrase civil disobedience has been stripped of most of its meaning in the culture. The corporate culture that we live in has worked very hard to rid us of the very language that prior generations have used to frontally challenge the system. Part of our work is to help people re-discover that right language and history. What makes America great isn’t all of the things that the presidential candidates talk about it, our “greatness” lies with the courage of the Abolitionists, the resoluteness of the farmer/soldiers without shoes at Valley Forge, and the sheer determination of the Suffragists—all men and women outside of traditional power structures who succeeded in changing those structures.

Rural America: Pablo Iglesias, leader of Spain’s new Podemos political party, has written that the country must “confront…the political myopia of those who only feel comfortable as part of a minority.” Activists want to identify at being part of an enlightened minority can stop them from planning what to do with power should they gain a majority in a community, county, region or state. Why is this a particularly good time to think about what to do with power, rather than merely fixating on how to gain power?

Linzey: I think the time is ripe because a lot is becoming very clear—in terms of the loss of community democratic control and the continuing implosion of the planet. I think we’re coming to a point where more and more people are having their minds freed from the constraints of the crap that’s put out by those in control. I think the only majority we feel a part of is sanity; and the belief that when people are able to see through the charade, they end up with a belief system similar to ours—that centralized power, in whatever form, is a bad thing and that the only place real solutions are going to emerge from is our communities.



(Image: Matt Wuerker /


Rural America: Any vision must include economic alternatives. Clearly, the community rights movement is a political one but it is not hard to see community rights activism’s compatibility with cooperatives, mutual aide networks, community-owned renewable energy, etc.—movements that engage in and foster economic alternatives. In your view, what is stopping movements for democratic control, like community rights activism, from working more closely with movements that push economic alternatives? And what’s one way they could work more closely?

Linzey: For those economic alternatives to grow, we have to clear the way for them by ridding the system of corporate and governmental power. We also have to get used to what makes us uncomfortable—using our governments to actually promote and mandate those alternatives. Liberals are particularly uncomfortable with, say, a local law that requires that the only agriculture done in a community is organic; or a local law that requires grocery stores to carry 30 percent locally-produced vegetables. Yet the corporate boys have no worries about using the law that way—it’s why they use farm laws, for example, to prohibit neighbors from suing over factory farms. They use government and laws to actually support the type of production that favors them. We have to begin doing the same thing – seeing law and government as a way to fashion the markets that we want. But we haven’t done that over the past 50 years—instead, we keep pretending that the corporate boys will leave us alone to build these alternatives. The problem is that when the alternatives get big and threatening enough, they use their power to shut them down. It’s why we can talk about “alternative” economics all we want, but without dealing with corporate power, it goes nowhere.

Rural America: Increasingly, the labor movement in this country is turning to local law making to do things like raise the minimum wage, establish fair scheduling policies or pass paid sick leave legislation. In response, corporate lobbies, like National Restaurant Association and American Legislative Exchange Council, are pushing preemption bills to remove localities’ power to legislate on these issues. However, the worker movements are not directly targeting preemption itself, though it is clear that preemption is a primary tool used against them. What do you say to this? What would it take for these movements to challenge preemption itself?

Linzey: Community rights activism directly targets preemption, because preemption itself is caused by corporate control over the governmental system. When something becomes a big enough problem, the corporate boys in a particular industry simply use government to shut down local activism around the issue. I haven’t seen any of these movements begin to directly target preemption—the power of preemption—rather, they lobby to stop the preemption from happening. Almost nobody questions the authority of the state or federal government to preempt community lawmaking—the authority itself—it’s just accepted that the federal should be able to trump the state and the state trump the local. But, the operation of that machine is exactly the opposite of democracy—it pulls decision making into hands further away from where the problem is, and into fewer hands.


(Image: Matt Wuerker /


People don’t understand that preemption itself (the state/local relationship, where most preemption occurs) is a purely judicial construct, invented by the courts, and built on the fact that municipalities are deemed to be wholly creatures of the state, for the state to use and abolish as the state sees fit. If that’s the underlying truth, then preemption makes perfect sense.

Rural America: Many people have tracked a modern decline in the power of nation states. As Pablo Iglesias wrote: “The transfer of sovereign power (military, economic, judicial, etc.) from the so-called nation-states to supranational organisms (Troika, IMF, World Bank, NATO, mammoth private corporations credit rating agencies, etc.) has drained power away from the fundamental political institution upon which democratic control was supposed to be exerted: the state.” What is your definition of sovereignty? How does it inform your work?

Linzey: The people are sovereign. As all of our state constitutions declare, people are the source of all governing authority. But, in reality, that’s the furthest from the truth, of course. The system distrusts democracy, much in the same way that this nation’s founders distrusted democracy. Hence, in our system, there are all kinds of overrides, including corporate “rights” and other protections for property. If anything, under our current system of law, property is sovereign. The more property you own, the more power you can exercise. Part of this work is changing that—restoring an original understanding that community majorities have the power to mandate a shift to economic and environmental sustainability, even when it threatens those power centers who hold large amounts of property.



Rural America: CELDF’s work challenges a legal doctrine called Dillon’s Rule, created by an old corporate lawyer named John F. Dillon (1831–1914) and adopted by the U.S. Court in 1903. The Rule defines the relationship between local governments and state legislatures. A relationship that permits the wave of state preemption we are experiencing today. As the Supreme Court wrote in 1903:

"Municipal corporations [local governments] areonly auxiliaries of the state for the purposes of local government. They may be created, or, having been created, may be destroyed, or their powers may be restricted, enlarged, or withdrawn at the will of the [state] legislature."

The acceleration of state preemption is a direct progeny of Dillon’s Rule. We see states across the nation preempting localities’ power to provide “sanctuary” for undocumented refugees, make laws in any way impacting employer-employee relations, regulate rent, or ban certain forms of natural resource extraction, etc. Community rights-based organizing challenges the doctrine by asserting that citizens have a basic right to local self-governance that cannot be take away or preempted. As a fellow lawyer, in what ways do you actually respect Dillon? What do you think he understood about law that ultimately made him so successful?

Linzey: The same way we respect the conservative foundations that people generally laughed at in the 1970s, but who have now changed the face of the law—like the Heritage Foundation. Dillon and those foundations worked from the same premise—that the law should service economic growth at all costs, and when law deviated from that, there should be a higher power to reverse it. They had fertile ground from the beginning—building on a foundation of the U.S. Constitution, which is about as anti-democratic a document as has ever been written; elevating the rights of property and commerce above the rights of people, communities, and nature. Dillon and others have simply continued to expand that foundation, and have contoured the law to support that expansion. It’s not hard work, but these folks have gone at in a fervor; and they’re rewarded for it. On the other side are the people’s movements who have gone against that grain over the past 200 years. It’s that work which is the hardest; but it’s that work that must be done if we are to survive.

Rural America: The concept of Rights of Nature is undeniably gaining in popularity. In his September 2015 address to the United Nations Pope Francis said: “It must be stated that a true ‘right of the environment’ does exist.” And in his encyclical on climate change he calls for “The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems.” In your view, what is the significance of this popularity, and what message do you have for people interested in the idea of rights for the environment/Nature?

Linzey: To do it. Recently, the Ho-Chunk Nation became the first in the country to recognize the legally enforceable rights of nature into their tribal constitution. This isn’t about gawking while others do it—or treating it as a spectator sport—everyone can do it where they are. Organize a group of people, propose a law to your town council, qualify an initiative. Watch as all of the liberal progressives and others say why you can’t do it, and do it anyway. The planet is waiting for us to get off of our duffs and actually do it.

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Wolves, Gates, & Radical Faith

MarkBy Jared Byas
Pete Enns
April 6th, 2016

The first time
Mark Van Steenwyk and I (Jared) met, I was picking him and a group of mutual friends up from a Conference in Phoenix, where I was living and teaching at the time. Our destination: the closest karaoke bar we could find. Our mission: sing our hearts out to the 7 locals that were there until late into the night. Here it is, 4 years later, and his highly reviewed first children’s book, A Wolf at the Gate, is now being re-published by PM Press. So, I asked him a few questions about it.

1. Your first two books are That Holy Anarchist and The Unkingdom of God. Not really kids lit. What was going on in your life that inspired you to take a crack at writing a children’s book?

When I started writing it, I had a 6 year old who found books about war and fighting and knights and pirates thrilling. Since I wanted to stir a love for justice and peace in my son, I started looking for kid books about nonviolence. Most of the ones I found weren’t very exciting. Since I’ve been a fan of kid lit my entire life, I thought I’d tackle writing an exciting book that promotes peace.

At the same time, I was at a low point in my life as an activist and writer. I think I was burnt out on trying to convince adults to take Jesus’ radical message seriously. It takes an imagination to consider alternative ways of seeing the world, which is essential if we’re going to work for liberation. If an adult is unimaginative, it is extremely difficult to reach them with a message of liberation. That led me to consider focusing my creative energy on younger people. Not exclusively–I still plan on doing some of the stuff I’ve been doing the past 15 years–but I think writing for younger audiences is something I’m going to take much more seriously.

2. As a Dad to 4 little ones, I know there’s a million children’s books out there. Why this one? What’s unique about A Wolf at the Gate?51vxBfyJoVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

A few things. First of all, it tackles issues that rarely get addressed in children’s books: economic injustice, violence, and ecology. Secondly, it tackles them with a story that, while timely, feels timeless. A lot of reviewers have told me it feels like a classic. Finally, the illustrations by Joel Hedstrom are amazing. Absolutely wonderful. His images are bold…inspired by woodcuts and tattoo art. The combination of theme, writing style, and art make it the sort of book that a parent could read to their grade-schooler or give to their middle grade students to read on their own. And adults have enjoyed it too.

3. I have friends who grew up conservative but don’t want to raise their children with the same views about the Christian faith but aren’t sure how to go about it. Did writing this book shape how you present the Christian faith to your kid? If so, how?

Yes. The story is based off of a legend about Saint Francis, but isn’t overtly religious in content. It shows faith in action, relying on the narrative to challenge one’s faith rather than building an argument. Because of that, it has been picked up by a secular leftist publisher (PM Press out of Oakland) while still being celebrated by deeply religious folks (like the Catholic school in Florida that used it for their school retreat).

4. What is your favorite part of the book and why?

There are three parts that I love the most…when the three parental figures in the book (the wolf mother, the wolf father, and the Beggar King) go on a walk with the red wolf and try to help her understand some fundamental truth about the world. Her father teaches her about the cruelty of humanity. Her mother teaches her about the importance of being a neighbor. But it is the third vignette that is the most interesting to me. At this point, she is talking to the Beggar King as a peer. He teaches her a bit about the selfishness of humanity, but (as we see later in the book) she refuses to accept it.

5. Was A Wolf at the Gate a break from what you’ve written in the past or do you see it as part of the same themes and trajectory?

It is certainly a different genre, but entirely in keeping with themes I’ve worked with before–violence and nonviolence, hospitality and alienation, poverty and wealth. It is, I believe, my most important book. And it is a signal of things to come. I’m finding myself less constrained by genre. I no longer feel a need to write or do the sorts of things someone like me (a pastor and activist) is “supposed” to write or do. But, while I am giving myself permission to experiment with the shape of my work, the underlying themes will continue to stay the same.

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'Radical caretaking': Poet, activist Mai'a Williams on building real communities

By Marcia Ratliff
Winona Daily News
April 3rd, 2016

Mai’a Williams’s life could be described many ways, but boring is not one of them.

The thirty-something is a journalist, poet, human rights worker, artist, midwife, and mom. She’s lived in Palestine, southern Mexico, Egypt, Ecuador, and Germany. Her home base for the past year has been Winona, though she admitted the town is a little quiet for her taste.

Currently, Williams is on a book tour for the recently published anthology “Revolutionary Mothering,” and she’ll read in Winona April 5 before continuing on to Minneapolis, Chicago, and Los Angeles in the coming months.

The book is about motherhood on the margins of society, which is a common theme for her, Williams said in an interview on a recent weekday.

“Most of the work that I do is centered around these themes of being a mother, and political revolutions — which I realize is a strange juxtaposition to have — and the third world, because that’s where I’ve lived for the past few years, and women of color. I just really like color in general,” she said.

She spoke with the Daily News from a café in Ecuador, where she was on retreat in anticipation of the book tour. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did a self-described nomad like yourself end up in Winona?

I have asked myself that question (laughs). My daughter Theresa’s father and grandparents live in Winona. Long story short, she’s eight years old and I promised her one year of normal American life, Norman Rockwell stuff. She’s never been to a U.S. school, she’s never lived in the states for that long.

Tell me about the book “Revolutionary Mothering.”

Well, I worked on this anthology with two other editors for seven years. It has 40 contributing writers from all across the United States, and it arose out of a zine and blog called Revolutionary Motherhood.

It basically looks at mothering on the margins, so looking at mothering and poverty, mothering and race, mothering and sexuality, and building communities of mothering.

Its main precept is this: When you don’t fit into the mainstream hegemonic view of what mothering looks like, your access to basic resources, your access to being able to create community, becomes much lessened.

And so one of our jobs was to use this book as a way to begin conversations about creating communities that are supportive, that are more focused on caretaking, and that are placing mothers on the margins at the center.

How do you define revolutionary mothering?

It’s definitely not the mother, father, two kids, and a dog and have a minivan kind of thing. What I’m more talking about is what I’ve called radical caretaking. It’s not just biological—it’s taking care of people, especially old people. It’s all the different ways that we take care of each other, where the compensation for it isn’t something you can put on your tax form. And it’s work that has been unpaid and undervalued.

Girls and women are the ones that have been forced to learn these skills culturally, but they’re really good skills to have. I would really prefer that everyone from a young age learned these skills, and we would all be better human beings.

What is the main push of the book? Healing? Organizing? Empowering?

I think it’s a community building—that’s where I would place it. It was always about the fact that as a marginalized mother, you don’t really have a community. So your community starts to happen through letters, zines, online, blogs.

It grows because it has to and that’s what you need. So this is sort of part of a conversation about how we create those communities, and how we nurture them, and seed them, and grow them.

I have a really strong belief that doing so is a form of activism and is a way of creating the kind of structures that we need to be able to survive the violence that exists in the world, whether that be capitalism, or sexism, or racism.

What are some of the qualities you’ve seen in those communities, in your experience and in the process of editing the book?

One of the things I like to say is, we are not the ones destroying the earth. Starting in the 1980s or so was this idea of the welfare mother or the poor mothers or immigrant mothers and their children somehow being the ones who were responsible for all of the turmoil. The reason you don’t have jobs is because of immigrants, and the reason that you can’t do x, y and z with your life is because of people giving money to these welfare mothers.

Not only is that inaccurate, but the reality is quite the flip. Your 1 percent of your taxes that go to welfare don’t ruin your economic state. We didn’t cause the 2008 Wall Street crash. We aren’t the reason the environment is being destroyed. We are none of this.

We are actually the ones who are on the front lines, we’re the ones who are getting hurt the most by those things. We are the ones who are most likely to lose our house first. We’re the ones who are most likely to live in environments and cityscapes that are going to have the most horrible environmental damage. We’re the most likely to have, you know, look at the Flint, Michigan water situation. This is not happening in other neighborhoods.

What I feel like we’ve done, through talking about this for eight years now, is to encourage people to begin to create systems and communities that take care of themselves. Because people who have the least are oftentimes likely to do the most with what they have—that’s just human nature.

I see caregiving and community-building as a primary skill, and a primary resource. We’ve seen this in places like Detroit, even before Flint, we see it in communities with mothers coming together and providing afterschool childcare for each other, resources, activism against the impoverishment of their cities.

We saw this book as one, to encourage that, and two, to kind of reflect that back to people, so they have other models for how to do this, and then to bring the conversation to people who are interested but who aren’t mothers, per se.

So is the book saying these communities are here because of the failure of society, or is it saying this is where we need to go because it works better?

I think both. Part of it comes from having needs that aren’t fulfilled. I mean, community organizing kind of assumes that you are not being provided with basic resources.

Part is also going to be necessary. I don’t really see a lot of movement or space left for environmental degradation and climate change to not change the landscape in which we live to such a point that there will just be fewer resources available.

So in that case, it won’t be about how there’s some people who get what they need—well there will still always be that—but you’ll have more and more people who actually need to have the skills of creating community and taking care of each other in order to survive.

The problem is, we’re highly individualistic. The basic assumption is that you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, and go out into the world, and you make something of yourself, as if most of the things that you’re relying didn’t come from your government and community. Like access to education as a kid, having a car with government-regulated safety standards, driving on roads… I could go on.

But at a certain point, and I’ve seen this happen myself in Egypt and everywhere else, all that falls apart. In Egypt during the revolution, money lost value by half in two years. And then you start to see people really coming together to build and create community. Or they become horribly vicious—there’s two sides to humanity.

But it’s safe to say we’ll need to do a lot more sharing, living as a community. And the good thing about marginalized mothers is we are really good at that. It’s a skill to know how to organize, both in your household and out into the community itself, and to do so with not a lot of resources.

I saw it in Egypt, Palestine, Chiapas—but even the first world will need those skills. It would be best if we created communities and situations where those skills were nurtured, and they were centered.

You’ve traveled so extensively. How did you start on this whole path?

My father was a Black Panther in southern California, and I was born to a single mother in Washington, D.C. in 1979. So I grew up in a family where you analyzed the world from a certain perspective.

When I was a little kid I really, really, really wanted to travel. I would read everything I could, I taught myself Spanish. I was just so determined that I was going to travel. And that’s what happened.

Even while I was still studying at Sarah Lawrence College, I did delegations, specifically with the Zapatista movement in Chiapas. I saw people breaking away from oppressive elements of state, creating their own thing, organizing around that.

In the early 2000s, we did not have that in the states. 9/11 happened, everyone was freaking out for the next ten years. So I left, because I wasn’t it finding it that much here. I left, and I kept going.

I think it’s important to point out that I find living in the states to be weird too. When we first got to Winona, I was like, telling my daughter, who had lived in Egypt and Berlin and Ecuador, okay, we’re going to treat Winona like it’s just a whole new country.

So we went to the state fair and tried different exotic deep-fried foods, Theresa learned to ice skate, and she goes fishing, and we have chickens, and it feels about as surreal as someone else coming to another country. Other than the fact that everyone speaks English, which is awesome. But it feels very foreign.

I was curious to know too—you’re doing everything from being a mom to midwifery to poetry to activism. How do you see them connect and relate to each other?

For me it’s always been centering—doing community work and community organizing and all of that, and centering the person or people or group or needs which are most marginalized.

So you flip the script: You always put at the center of your work those who are the most marginalized and are the most disempowered, and have the weakest amplification of their voice in the world.

You mix that with the fact that I’m a writer, and that’s really what I do. I mean, I can’t build a house or anything.

Most of my poems come from that sort of perspective. Most of my poems aren’t political, they’re more personal, but they usually somehow are aiming for that.

How can people participate or be allies in the work you do with revolutionary mothering and justice?

On an individual level, I think it’s important to embrace kids.

When I was in Egypt, everybody had a kid, and it wasn’t a big deal if your kid got squirmy or upset during a meeting—there was always someone there to play with the kids. Nobody complains, and you can do your job.

That was the ethos of Cairo—everyone knows where the kid is and talks to it. I don’t know how I could have done the same kind of work in the states.

So, appreciate kids. Be cool with them for five minutes. Don’t give people a hard time. Create a culture where people can show up with a kid and it’s fine, they are welcome.

If you’re an activist in community organizations and you’re wondering why there are no people of color there, or why there are no women of color there, historically, women of color just have children earlier. And they aren’t going to be able to get paid childcare, necessarily.

So if you make it clear that you guys are cool with kids, you’re going to start to see more and more people showing up.


Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Mai’a Williams Author Page | Back to Alexis Pauline Gumbs's Author Page | Back to China Marten's Author Page

#LatinoLit Review – The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band by Michelle Cruz Gonzαlez

By Charlie Vázquez
Latino Rebels
April 1, 2016

This slim and mean volume of punk memoir brought me back to my years on the West Coast, when I befriended filmmakers and musicians from the Bay Area punk scene who’d moved to Portland in 1989, where I was living at the time. They introduced me to the smoldering punk underground that was thriving in San Francisco when they moved back not too long afterward, as Operation Desert Storm terrorized the networks and protests of No Blood for Oil! filled Portland’s streets and avenues.

Xicana-identified musician Michelle Cruz González joined Spitboy at around that time, an all-female punk group committed to confronting the rampant misogyny plaguing the underground and society in general. González takes us back to that exciting development through compelling storytelling, making it clear that her bandmates originated from more privileged backgrounds, what would be a constant source of tension within the group—an invisible and turbulent fault line that fueled their music.

González revisits the various factions of the punk rock scene of those years, sects divided by aesthetic, faction and sound, when punks would connect to others based on patches they’d pin or sew onto their clothes or where they bought their records; who they listened to and where they hung out when real-time triumphed, before Wi-fi and smartphones. Her story’s central tension is driven by her being Latina in a mostly white male underground, where equality was often trespassed.


I identified with this tale for two reasons: as the grandson and son of struggling Puerto Ricans and Cubans, and for not fitting in anywhere as a bicultural artist who championed experience over the mundane. I also dove headfirst into the underground of those years—as a musician and then as a writer—to seek liberation from the patriarchal strictures that denied me equality and respect as a queer, working-class artist from the Bronx, floating through the music underground as she did.

Spitboy would tour the world and meet many of their heroes; falling in and out of love while losing and gaining new members as they did. González’s raw and unfiltered writing reads with the adrenaline of those times—in your face whether you like it or not. Included in these pages are the moments when Kurt Cobain’s suicide broke the airwaves, when punks realized they were growing up and away from an underground slipping quickly toward the Lollapalooza mainstream.

González’s story is about challenging your obstacles however possible, in tough times before political correctness and policing of speech; when four angry young women came together to play as loud and as nasty as the boys did—who refused Riot Grrrl status and segregation of the genders at their shows. The Spitboy Rule follows the difficult and courageous journey of a young woman who wasn’t afraid to venture into a mostly white underground scene, to hold mirrors up to the faces of her worst critics.


Author Charlie Vázquez is a founding member of Latino Rebels and the director of the Bronx Writers Center. You can follow him @charlievazquez.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michelle Cruz Gonzales’s Author Page 


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