Occupy Oakland KPFA Special Broadcast Audio
Click to listen (or download)
By Richard Godwin
October 2, 2011
by SJ Ahmed
September 30, 2011
Before I commence, I have a confession to make. When I was asked to review this poetry collection I had never heard of Akbar Ahmed. This is in spite of: the coincidence of our common surname; his many award-wining non-fiction books investigating the varied nature of Islamic faith, one of my long-standing areas of interest; and the fact that for many years he served as Pakistan's High Commissioner to the UK, both countries I have called home at some point in my life.
This information should also provide the reader with some context to Akbar Ahmed's collection of poems Suspended Somewhere Between. This wide ranging collection charts his extraordinary life across decades and continents in verse form but, in doing so, also manages to provide the poet's personal understanding of the history of Pakistan.
The collection's strength lies in the poems in the section simply named "Pakistan", which contains some of the most unexpectedly vivid poetry I have read in a long time. The book opens with the dramatic Train to Pakistan, chronicling a child's first memory, a trip in a crowded train with his parents. And yet, this is no ordinary train ride. Because the journey recalled is on a train from India to Pakistan at the time of the furious bloodbath that was the two countries' birth and when train travel became synonymous with mass murder of the passengers from both sides, forced to flee their homelands for a new life. The poem masterfully mixes the child's innate need to trust in love with the young adult's knowledge that all, bar the train driver, on the previous train had been slaughtered.
There are so many other noteworthy poems in this collection that it is hard to do them all justice in the limited space available in this review. walking the streets with the Dahta is a tour de force of a poem that takes the reader on a stroll through the living, breathing, and at times, downright scandalous heart of the city of Lahore on its way to the shrine of the Sufi saint Dahta Ganj Baksh. Whilst, Pakhtun landscape: a mood paints a different part of Pakistan, this time its North-Western province that borders Afghanistan, a land that may appear to the reader of the poem to be further away from the cultural Lahore than it is in actual map miles. Although there is no indication of when it was written, the lawlessness and blood feuds described in this poem could be contemporary.
The poem they are taking them away records yet another horror that precede the fall of East Pakistan and which was kept entirely hidden from those in West Pakistan (the present day Pakistan) by the rulers of the country. Verses like "incest in the air/ foul vapours in every mouth/ will nobody care/ to break this awful spell" should leave no one in present day Pakistan able to deny the true extent of the terrible events during the civil war in 1971.
There are many other striking poems that I found myself returning to again and again. The Path deals with the compassion for all "tribes and nations" which is required of every Muslim by the Quran. The Passing of an Empire draws parallels between the two Empires witnessed by Ahmed, the dying British Empire he experienced as a child and the American Empire he observes as an old man, and is brutal in its honesty towards both. you my father acts as an ode to the poet's father and touchingly conveys a son's attempts at measuring himself against his father's accomplishments and coming up short. nauroz, meaning new year in Persian, has a surprising twist at the end which will make the reader want to read it again. What is it that I seek? is the last poem in the collection and a fitting epitaph to a remarkable and at times surprising collection of poems.
By Terry Hong
September 29, 2011
In case you needed another reminder, Banned Books Week continues for a couple more days . . . hope we’ve got lots of rebel readers out there! Since #1 on the “Top ten most frequently challenged books of 2010” is again And Tango Makes Three, I thought this newest title from author Cynthia Chin-Lee would make a lovely companion title to adorable Tango.
Alex goes to school one day to have her friend Zach tell her they “can’t be best friends anymore.” The reason he gives—directly from his father—is because of Alex’s parents. According to Zach’s father, Alex’s parents aren’t married: “‘My dad says two women can’t be married.’”
When Alex tells Mama Kathy what happened, she assures her young daughter that, of course, they’re married. When Mama Kathy and Mama Lee were denied a marriage license years and years ago, they instead held a commitment ceremony, complete with legal contracts that permanently bound their lives together. Temporarily reassured, that night Alex, her younger brother Nicky and both parents share warm laughter watching the video of Mama Kathy and Mama Lee’s commitment ceremony. And in the morning, Alex has a plan . . .
Now that the laws have changed and their two mothers can legally marry, Alex and Nicky devise Operation Marriage. But they need to move quickly before the laws change again; already, even some of their neighbors—including Zach’s father—are posting signs in their yard, ready to deny same-sex couples the right to marry.
Just in time, Alex and Nicky get their mothers to the altar: “Most kids don’t get to see their parents marry. But we’re not most kids.” And Zach? Well . . . cookies speak louder than words!
For those who believe, true love does conquer all.
Tidbit: When I first opened Operation Marriage—all I knew about it was that I admired the author’s previous titles—Cynthia Chin-Lee’s dedication jumped out at me: “To the real Alex and Nikki, who inspired this, and to the First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto.” I don’t see that spelling of “Nikki” often … and a little light started going full tilt in my head. Then I saw the names Kathy and Lee as I turned the pages, and had a near heart attack . . . of joy. Immediately, I sent a message of delighted shock and gleeful surprise . . . !!
So it turns out, I’m in the book (by association)—in that commitment ceremony video the family enjoys together. I was there in that lovely old stone church in Harvard Square those many, many years ago (we really were oh so young then!) celebrating the marriage of my favorite college running buddy Lee (how many endless times did we run Balch Hill and Occom Pond??) to the love of her life Kathy. I didn’t make it to ceremony #2 (alas, alas), but I am seeing Lee next month. Hopefully the rest of the crew soon, too!
Like I said, for those who believe, true love conquers all. Makes little miracles happen, too. For penguins and people, ahem!
by Jules Boykoff
Social Movement Studies Journal
In late 2010, NGOs and grassroots activists flocked to the United Nations climate change conference in Cancún, Mexico where they engaged in a variety of creative actions to raise awareness, challenge proposed policies, offer innovative alternatives, and vie for media attention. Sierra Club members stuffed their heads into the Cancún sand as a symbolic critique of specific countries’ unwillingness to take action to mitigate climate disruption. Greenpeace and tcktcktck coordinated an underwater performance to highlight rising sea levels. La Via Campesina, a network of peasant organizations, choreographed a cross-country caravan that culminated in Cancún. Meanwhile, groups like 350.org orchestrated human sculpture installations around the world that were designed to be visible from space. Dissident citizens knew they needed to play to the media’s penchant for novelty while not coming across as too bizarre for the mainstream-media-consuming public. In Re:Imagining Change, authors Patrick Reinsborough and Doyle Canning offer a constructive framework for riding that fine line, proffering a creative approach for political activists to rethink their tactics and strategies, imbuing them with story-based narratives in the hopes of ramping up effectiveness. This is an engaging, accessible book with use value for social-movement scholars and activists alike.
The book chimes with ideas from Thomas Kuhn’s classic treatment of paradigm shifts in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, focusing on the discursive dimensions of paradigm shifts and tacitly anteing up an agentic, “story-based strategy campaign model” for understanding such macro-change. Social movement scholars have long leveled their analytical attention on the concept of framing, usually settling into one of two tracks in dialectical tension: (1) the examination of mass-media frames that appear in the news, or (2) the exploration of how activists can frame their grievances in ways that are most convincing to policymakers, the media, and the general public. Re:Imagining Change falls squarely in the second track, offering a variety of paths for activists to gain greater prominence for their preferred frames.
The book hinges on the idea that stories, if told with both vigor and rigor, can be powerful agents of socio-political change. The authors strive for “holistic social change practices” by which they mean concertedly “shifting from issues to values, supplementing organization building with movement building, and exploring creative new strategies for confronting systemic problems” (11). Creativity is key, and is consistently foregrounded as the authors present their toolbox for effective activism.
Reinsborough and Canning introduce numerous concepts to help activists re-tool and re-tune their messages. A cornerstone concept is the “meme” (pronounced like team), which they define as “a unit of self-replicating cultural information (e.g., idea, slogan, melody, ritual, symbol) that spreads virally from imagination to imagination and generation to generation” (122). They liken memes to information packets that help convey stories that can challenge “control memes,” which are often concocted by public-relations specialists and politicians to reinforce the status quo (35-38). The memes Reinsborough and Canning promote aim to destabilize rather than reproduce the machinations of hegemony, forging a fresh vision of possibility rooted in equity and equality. The authors encourage activists to make use of “psychic breaks”—by which they mean “moments when status quo stories no longer hold true, and a critical mass of people can’t deny that what is happening in the world is out of alignment with their values”—as vital pivots on the hard-trammeled road toward social justice (105).
Being keenly aware of one’s audience is crucial, and a central element in Re:Imagining Change is distinguishing between the “the story of the battle” and “the battle of the story.” The former entails mobilizing those with whom you share core values, while the latter involves reaching out to bystander publics as persuasively as possible. “The story of the battle” includes solidarity-building activities like sharing facts and deepening analysis in order to motivate like-minded people to take action. “The battle of the story” builds from there, with social movements taking their story-driven messages to the general public in hopes of gaining new recruits and more widespread support. For Reinsborough and Canning, “the battle of the story is the larger struggle to determine whose stories are told, how they are framed, how widely these stories are heard, and how deeply they impact the dominant discourse” (46). Given that activists can make claims and adopt frames in the “the story of the battle” that they would not use in “the battle of the story” for fear of alienating potential supporters, it would be interesting to get the authors’ assessment of how social media and self-surveillance culture (the YouTube-ificiation of dissent, if you will) might be erasing the seemingly sharp border between these two realms. Social media, which modern-day activists use with abandon, may well undercut this theoretically useful, dichotomous heuristic, and, more importantly, undermine activists’ efforts to message specific groups in particular ways. It would also be interesting if the authors explicitly worked the concept of political opportunity structure into their analysis. Given the authors’ impressive ability to convey complexity in forthright fashion, I imagine they would be able to bring political opportunity structure alive for contemporary activists, thereby bridging the gap between academia and activist circles in ways that could help foster movement success.
In the twenty-first century we find ourselves at a crossroads in terms of the practice of dissent. How can activists slice through the din of the 24/7 news media-o-rama? How can social movements not only impact policymakers but political culture more generally? Re:Imagining Change antes up concrete answers to these questions. As such, this book holds promise for undergraduate courses on protest and social change as well media politics and civic engagement. The authors offer a wide range of real-world examples of dissident citizenship to illuminate the concepts in their book, from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to Iraq Veterans Against the War to ecological justice movements. Bringing this work into conversation with scholarly research on framing and collective action could enliven classroom discussions. And the book is certainly an excellent resource for practicing activists.
By Madelene Rathbun Barnard
Hold the mayo and enjoy this delicious vegan title. In fact, no eggs, dairy, meats or any other animal products were harmed in the making of this book. This book covers being vegan as a teenager. This is a street-wise read for any teen considering veganism. This self-help guide not only covers the rudimentary guidelines, but it also provides the nutrition tools and consumer-health products caveats necessary to sustain a vegan life. Moreover, it takes a serious look at animal rights as well as the social obstacles amongst the carnivores in your life. The author covers topics ranging from “how to let the parents know about your choice without them freaking out” to “how to get out of biology class when they are dissecting.” Her heartfelt experiences are sprinkled amongst the tips, resources, and readers’ advisories. She is experienced in these matters. She has been a vegan since 2005. In addition, her articles have been featured in Vegnews magazine and Vegetarian Journal.
As a Food Network junkie, this reviewer especially enjoyed the recipes and the vegan kitchen wisdom. The “New Food” chapter is also yummy. Aside from the long run-on sentence paragraphs and the sometimes raw adversarial approach, Generation V is a recommended purchase for the young adult collection.