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Prince of Gadflies on Our Man in Boston

Mather HS /Chicago- my alma mater
By Robert Birnbaum
Our Man in Boston
October 15th, 2014

Mather HS /Chicago- my alma mater

Looking back at my education in the 60’s era Chicago public schools, I am struck by how little I learned (although because of certain teen age biological imperatives regarding my long-legged history teacher, I can still identify the British monarchy’s succession from the Stuart’s on up.)Now this ought not be taken as a condemnation of that system as clearly multitudes have benefited from their school experiences. But it does speak to my process of edification sans erudition. Not a bad way to go.

Given the scarcity of gadflies,contrarians, truth tellers, iconoclasts and such—dare I call them prophets (maybe wise men and women works better), I hold the few that I have come across in very high regard. I am tempted to offer that conversing with that small but persistent cadre as a necessity of a well lived and mindful life but I suspect that may fall on the deaf ears of the new and mobile media transfixed of my fellow citizens,

Paul Krassner a patriarch of the radical “new journalism” of the 1960s is one of those wise people. I first ran in to him at a University of Illinois (Chicago)lecture and there after became an appreciative reader of his incendiary and satirical magazine, The Realist. And that discovery was at a moment when having your “mind blown” was still a novelty.

The Realist Issue No. 44 - Lenny Bruce arrested (1963)

The Realist Issue No. 44 – Lenny Bruce arrested (1963)

The second time I ran into Krassner was at the legendary Alternative Media Conference in 1971. Somewhere I have a photo of he and poet and Fugs member Tuli Kupferberg sitting on a park BMW motorcycle.Twenty something years passed and Paul Krassner came to Boston for the publication of publication an anthology of Krassner’s writing, The Winner of the Slow Bicycle Race

We had a nice chat. Here’s sampling

RB: What would Lenny Bruce have gone on to become? If he had reached a ripe age of even fifty, what do you think he would have…?

PK: I think he would have continued to evolve as an icon. When I first interviewed him and asked him what’s the role a comedian and he gave a very formal answer: “To get a laugh every 15 to 25 seconds.” And then as he got more and more involved in the world, he would get more serious sometimes in his performances. Instead of yelling out, “Lenny, you’re funny,” people would say, “Lenny, you’re honest.” And I said to him, “You remember you said the role of a comedian is to get a laugh every 15 to 25 seconds? That’s not happening now.” And he says, “Well, I’m changing.” I said, “What do you mean?” He says, “Well, I’m not a comedian; I’m Lenny Bruce.” So he knew that he had become a symbol, and I think he would have continued in that vein. He would have spoken out.

Here’s kindred spirit, Kurt Vonnegut on Krassner:

I told Krassner one time that his writings made me hopeful. He found this an odd compliment to offer a satirist. I explained that he made supposedly serious matters seem ridiculous, and that this inspired many of his readers to decide for themselves what was ridiculous and what was not. Knowing that there were people doing that, better late than never, made me optimistic.

So, Paul Krassner has a new book Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials (courtesy of the fine people at PM Press) contains his acute absurdist understanding of two odd headline events of the late 20th century the kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army and assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and gay leader Harvey Milk. There are a couple of other tidbits in this book including an Outspoken Interview with Krassner

Paul Krassner [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Paul Krassner [photo: Robert Birnbaum]

Currently reading Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford (ECCO)

Buy Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders | Buy the e-Book of Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders | Back to Paul Krassner's Author Page




Newer Songs: "Venceremos" reviewed on Red Wedge

By Alexander Billet
Red Wedge Magazine
October 14th, 2014

What does the story of slain Chilean folk-hero Victor Jara have to teach today's young left?


The shadow of Victor Jara looms large, and it’s only gotten larger with time. Just last month it was announced that a court in Chile had indicted three retired army officers for their involvement in the legendary folk-singer’s death in the wake of the coup that overthrew then-President Salvador Allende. Certainly, the open-endedness of Jara’s saga (more than forty years after his murder, nobody has been brought to justice) has contributed to his legend, intertwining his impressive skills with songwriting. The beauty of one combines with the horror of the other; like it or not, the two have become inseparable.img_6327

All of which is to say that if there is anyone whose stature approaches that of a modern martyr-saint for the social justice set, it’s Victor Jara. Why then, at this juncture in time, would it make sense to release a pamphlet on him? Venceremos, penned by Gabriel San Roman and published by PM Press, is just such a pamphlet.

It runs a scant 23 pages, and there is little here that will be news to those familiar with Jara’s story. A comprehensive tome on the musician’s life this isn’t. It is, however, a solid and sympathetic overview: the social struggles and conflicts in Chile in the decades leading up to Allende’s election, the gestation of the Nueva Cancion movement, Jara’s rise through that movement along with the groups Inti-Illimani and Quilapayun, the intrigue against Allende’s government, the coup that overthrew him and finally Jara’s defiant last moments before his gruesome death in the Estadio Chile.

San Roman relates all of this in the broadest of strokes (he would have to if he can do it in only 23 pages!) and though it may not seem apparent at first, there is a virtue in this kind of story-telling. That virtue is of straightforward agitation.

Naturally, a pamphlet can’t be read in a vacuum. As the author points out toward the pamphlet’s end, Chile’s own legacy of protest has been revived in recent years with the movement against neoliberal education measures. Across the continent there’s been a similar revival over the past several years. And of course to a greater or lesser degree it’s also played out in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and beyond.

As recently as five years ago the lay of the land seemed calm enough that we could distinguish between those spurred into activism via the songs of a left-wing artist and those whose activism would introduce them to left-wing art. Now the distinction has been blurred; art and politics are both moving too quickly for either to be neatly separated to one side or the other. One hopes that readers will walk away from a pamphlet like Venceremos having confirmed their own instinct that there is no separating politics from culture, protest from art.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

This is particularly prescient, seeing as how despite a great many significant recent upsurges, there seems to be little collective memory of art movements that take hold as a result of and in tandem with mass movements. There are certainly plenty of people for whom the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the 1960’s are synonymous with the Beatles and Stones, Dylan and Joan Baez. But past that there is a broad lack of awareness of just how deep the interconnectedness ran, how many artists saw their words and sounds as directly responding and calling back to the events in Paris, Saigon, Chicago and Mexico City, even seeking to influence the participants.

Victor Jara was part of this same broad epochal breaking of cultural barriers. “The strength of the NCCh [New Chilean Song movement] as a phenomenon at the time is, in part, attributable to the strength of the Chilean Left,” writes San Roman, “particularly of the Communist Party, and the peculiarity of la via chilena al socialismo (the Chilean path toward socialism).”

The author doesn’t spend much time elaborating on the strengths or shortcomings of this path that may have contributed to things turning out differently (its overemphasis on electoralism, the bureaucratization and so on). To do so would admittedly pull away from the illustration of how Jara, Nueva Cancion and the NCCh weren’t just products but at times part and parcel of a pitched social battle over the future of the country and its people. San Roman continues:

Changes in the overall political climate of Chile during the 1960s and seventies are extremely important in fostering an understanding as to why the NCCh resonated with many Chileans and arguably became the strongest political folk music movement in Latin American history. The historical impact is lasting as Isabel Parra, daughter of [folksinger and Nueva Cancion innovator] Violeta Parra, has said, “‘La Nueva Cancion’ was a movement and still is one that has a tremendous importance to make a connection with Chile.”

In fact, what the author lays out is that as an artistic ethos Nueva Cancion — and Jara in particular — consciously shared a historical viewpoint with the movement that gripped it; both possessed balanced sense of acknowledgement toward what Chile’s elites thought better left in the past and the role of such elements in a radical future. One of the pamphlet’s most interesting sections is “The Rural Roots of Nueva Cancion,” in which the music of the Chilean countryside is elucidated upon. Like much rural popular music, it was looked down upon by “respectable society” precisely because, quoting San Roman again, it “highlighted the symbolic imagination of the poor, in effect making them a cultural interstice where the ruling elite did not establish full hegemony and where and where future counterhegemonic cultural movements such as NCCh could spring forth.”

This notion of the “cultural interstice,” the physical and expressive spaces that capitalism has neglected and underdeveloped is certainly, and not coincidentally, key to understanding popular culture in times of inequality and struggle. Jara clearly understood that this exact culture, the art created in the cracks and crevices and empire, can easily find itself launched into the position of vanguard during such times of struggle. In some ways he and the rest of NCCh consciously fostered this dynamic in songs like “El Derecho de Vivir en Paz,” which combined instrumentation instantly recognizable in 1960’s American psychedelia over rural folk arrangements:

San Roman’s description of these musico-cultural realities are what make his brief story cohere. They provide a foundational depth one might not expect to see in an introduction to Jara’s tale, through the way in which Quilapayun poked fun at the right-wing opposition to Allende in songs like “The Little Pots” to his tragic last song performed in front of fellow leftists rounded up by Pinochet’s soldiers right before they summarily executed him. The idea of music being “dangerous” is bandied around quite a bit, but this was an artist and a musical movement that, because of what it represented, was quite literally viewed as a threat.

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -

Which brings us back to the original question: Why bother publishing a pamphlet on all this? San Roman provides an extensive bibliography at the end of the booklet for those interested in more in depth reading, which means there is clearly the intent of readers learning more. Why then, doesn’t PM Press just recommend these other books on Jara, Chile and Nueva Cancion on its website?

There is, I would think, a hope that copies of these pamphlets would make their way into the “freshly initiated,” the young MC who has recently read his first Chomsky, the aspiring poet who got a job at a coffee shop to make ends meet and now finds herself walking out to demand a living wage.

What these folks would glean from Venceremos is often unacknowledged: that art doesn’t just have a role to play in agitating people, but that it can be agitated over. It’s not hard to find attempts on the part of less-than-honorable elements to take over the “cultural interstices” on society’s margins, from the push by record labels to figure out “the next big thing” to Nazi boneheads showing up a punk gigs. But, as with everything, this can be resisted.

Hammering this home seems to be in the wheelhouse of a pamphlet like this. But again, only if it gets into the right hands. That so many of Jara’s killers still have avoided punishment seems to underline the importance of this happening. San Roman ends the pamphlet by pointing out that one of the men charged in 2012 with the artist’s death, Pedro Barrientos, is residing in Florida. The US government has no plans of extraditing him so that he might face a court. It is worth wondering what might happen if more musicians, artists or just artistically-inclined workers were to demand that Barrientos finally stand trial. A cultural movement like this isn’t as far-fetched as it might have once seemed.


Buy “Venceremos”: Víctor Jara and the New Chilean Song Movement now | Buy “Venceremos”: Víctor Jara and the New Chilean Song Movement e-Book now | Back to Gabriel San Román's Author Page




Towards Collective Liberation, or Why We Won’t Stop Talking About Racism

By Dawn Haney
Buddhist Peace Fellowship
October 9th, 2014

Race was a central theme at BPF’s National Gathering, with offerings like:

  • The Invisible Majority: Will the Real Asian American Buddhist Please Stand Up?
  • Revisiting the Middle Passage Pilgrimage
  • Black Rage, Black Healing
  • The UNTraining: Healing Personal and Social Oppressions

Some have called our focus on race “divisive.” Rather than a divisive topic, direct discussions of race are essential for our liberation. Buddhist feminist social critic bell hooks writes “Until we are all able to accept the interlocking, interdependent nature of systems of domination and recognize specific ways each system is maintained, we will continue to act in ways that undermine our individual quest for freedom and collective liberation struggle.”

My friend and mentor, Chris Crass (pictured above), speaks directly to our quests for truly collective liberation in his book, Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy. He dreams, “We need liberation movements of millions of people, from all backgrounds, from all walks of life, with a wide range of experience, playing many different roles.”

One of things I most appreciate about Chris is how he models what feminist anti-racist leadership can look like in the form of a white, straight, middle class, cis-gender man. As a former organizer with The Catalyst Project, he has trained other white people (including me!) about how to be in alliance and solidarity with liberation movements led by communities of color.

Guilt and shame often come up for white people when we learn about how racism has harmed people of color, whether through historical processes of slavery, genocide, and colonialism or through present-day versions like mass incarceration of Black men, ecological devastation of Native lands, and immigrant children detained in dehumanizing conditions. But staying stuck in guilt and shame serves no one:

Like many white anti-racist activists in our generation, some Catalyst Project members came into our early anti-racist consciousness and commitment weighed down by a lot of shame and guilt. These feelings made sense in response to the horrifying history and ongoing violence of white supremacy.

Within a collective liberation vision, white people work to end racism not for or on behalf of the interests of people of color, but because our lives and humanity depend on the eradication of racism as well. ….

One way to move through guilt and shame is to get clear on what we have to lose if white supremacy continues, and what we have to gain by choosing the side of justice and humanity, and locating ourselves alongside the people of the world struggling for liberation.” – Catalyst Project Collective

It is in discussing racism and the logic of white supremacy that I learn not only how these systems dehumanize people of color, but how they limit my own humanity as well. I learn that it is the systems of racism and white supremacy that are divisive, as they pit us against each other. It is in hearing multi-dimensional stories at the BPF gathering of Asian American Buddhists refusing to be invisible and of pilgrimages made by people of African descent retracing slave routes that I am able to get outside of what Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the danger of a single story” and locate myself alongside people who seek liberation from oppressive structures.

If it is true, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, that “the next Buddha is Sangha,” then our work is to learn how to be in community together. To do this, we must understand how racism (along with other dimensions of oppression) divides us so that we can dismantle this system piece by piece. As King says, “We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”

If you feel unsure where you fit in when discussions of race – or gender, class, sexuality, or disability — take center stage, I invite you to read Chris Crass’ book and seek out other folks with similar privileges who have explicitly aligned themselves with oppressed people. We aren’t talking about racism to alienate you, but because we need your help to dismantle these systems.

If systems of domination are interconnected, then systems of liberation are also interconnected. If systems of liberation are interconnected, then we must help white people, men, and middle- and upper-class people create and win these systems and go through a transformative process of change while working for systemic change. While personal transformation has always been part of anti-oppression politics, interconnected liberation brings with it a vision that creates more space for possibilities of who we are becoming, as opposed to just knowing what and how we do not want to be.” – Chris Crass

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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




Crime Fiction and Political Activism: Where They Meet and How

By Peter Handel
Truthout
October 4th, 2014

Crime fiction is in many ways a perfect lens through which to view contemporary society. From the crime novel's mainstream inception in the early 20th century in the United States, numerous authors have explored a wide range of politically charged themes, including class distinctions, government corruption and the oppression of women and people of color.

The tradition carries on, and award-winning novelist Ken Wishnia is one of the best and most perceptive practitioners today. His series, featuring the irrepressible, tough-talking and street smart Latina private investigator Filomena Buscarsela, tackles a range of social injustices including environmental crime, corporate greed and revolutionary upheaval over the course of five books, the latest of which, Blood Lake, is currently being reissued by PM Press as a trade paperback with a new introduction.

Peter Handel for Truthout: You have an academic background – you're a professor of English at Suffolk Community College with a doctorate in Comparative Literature. You also write crime novels. Can you connect the dots for us?

Ken Wishnia:
Yeah - I needed a day job. Next question.

Oh, you want more, eh? OK. A couple of years in soulless office cubicles convinced me to go back to graduate school while I did my writing on the side. So I wasn't that moderately pathetic cliché - the graduate student in English who wants to write a novel. I was a novelist who went to graduate school.

I've learned a great deal about writing from teaching literature in college. A lot of contemporary literature depends on ambiguity to create dramatic tension: If a married couple are having a disagreement that gradually escalates in intensity, the best authors will skillfully embed details that show the audience that she's part right and part wrong, and he's part right and part wrong, too. In the best crime novels, the line between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" is similarly blurry.

Why is it that crime novels, which take on myriad guises including detective stories, police procedurals and studies of serial killers, often reflect deeper subtexts such as class-consciousness, racism in everyday life and general alienation from society at large?

As far as I'm concerned, contemporary American crime literature begins with Dashiell Hammett in the 1920s, not just because of his brilliant style, but because his experience as a detective for the Pinkerton agency forced him to confront the rampant corruption of the Prohibition era and the inequalities of our justice system. Aside from some of the great SF novels, crime fiction is the popular genre with the longest history of this awareness of the "mitigating circumstances" that lead to so much crime. It's embedded in the DNA of the American crime novel from the very beginning.

There are plenty of bestselling thrillers that deliver escapism - that spine-tingling "rollercoaster ride" that harried readers crave, but they never really engage with terribly serious issues. (When was the last time anyone thought about a serious issue while plunging six stories at 50 mph?)

A lot of serial killer novels are like that: You're supposed to just keep turning the pages while thinking, "Oh my God, they've got to catch this sicko before he kidnaps another victim!" And there's nothing wrong with that. But I'd love to read a thriller that actually dares to probe the issue of why the US happens to lead the world in serial killers. Surely there are some underlying social, historical and even economic reasons for this. But don't try selling that idea to a commercial publisher looking for the next blockbuster beach read.

In the context of the question above, how does the work of an author who writes detective novels compare to the writer of police procedurals? Isn't the detective a classic "loner" while a cop is part of the power structure?

That is broadly true: Sherlock Holmes is certainly a classic "loner." Although he often works with others (Watson, Lestrade, etc.), he frequently asks not to be disturbed so he can solve the puzzle in his head. And police procedurals like Ed McBain's classic 87th Precinct series stress the group dynamics involved in solving a crime.

The individualistic crime fighter has a long, strange history, going back to such romantic figures as Robin Hood in England and the six-gun-toting stranger who's just passing through town in the American Wild West, who are, paradoxically, forerunners of the modern PI. Many westerns take place at the limits of the frontier, in a land where the justice system is fragile or lacking, and it's up to the hero to make his own justice.

Even an iconic figure like Hamlet fits this tradition: He is simultaneously an insider and an outsider, viewing the "official story" with considerable skepticism, even though he is part of the power structure that perpetrated the story in the first place. A lot of today's police procedurals combine these elements as well: The protagonist is a member of a more-or-less trusted official institution, but often functions as an "outsider on the inside," reporting back to us that there is no reason to trust the "official" version of events. Ian Rankin's Edinburgh Police Inspector John Rebus is a perfect example of this.

Give us a few examples of your favorites, or authors who particularly excel in this key aspect of the genre,

Let me cite an unusual example: Thomas Harris. There's a great scene fairly late in the action of Silence of the Lambs when Clarice Starling is closing in on the killer, and the whole audience is on her side, and she stops into a high-tech crime lab to get some crucial information - and the male scientists are snotty and dismissive of her.  It's a total gut punch. She's trying to save lives, and these morons are treating her - and therefore us as well -with complete contempt. This scene isn't in the movie, and yet it was so emotionally powerful that I still remember it years after I read it. Harris doesn't come right out and say, "Gee, men shouldn't treat female investigators badly because that's male chauvinism." He puts us in her shoes and makes us feel the helpless outrage at the way they're treating her. He makes us want to strangle those idiots.

Lee Child, author of the hugely popular Jack Reacher series, is brilliant at this type of emotional manipulation as well. For example, in Gone Tomorrow (2009), a bunch of gung-ho NYPD cops and federal agents deprive Reacher of his basic rights, detaining him in an underground cell and treating him so badly ("No ID, no names, no Miranda, no charges, no lawyer. Brave new world, right?") that we can't wait for him to let loose and kick their collective asses - and these are supposed to be the good guys who are charged with protecting us! (Lee told me he got tons of nasty emails for merely depicting the awful conditions at a VA clinic in Nothing to Lose [2008]).

Do you think there's been a "golden era" of crime fiction addressing social ills and issues, or is it an ongoing aspect of the genre?

It's an ongoing aspect, but it seems like writers who explore such issues have always been in the minority.

Are there any crime writers outside of the US that you also read or are aware of who critique their own social realities?

My broadest experience is with Latin American authors (I've translated numerous crime stories from Spanish for publication in the US), so I'll just say that when I told an Ecuadorian literary scholar that I've been criticized for being a "political" writer, she said that "there's no other kind of writer" in Latin America. "Every writer here is political."

You've said that many of the great works of literature in the Western canon are in fact murder mysteries. Can you elaborate on this theme?

I've read widely (though never widely enough) in world literature from all epochs, and it's clear that some of the greatest works of the Western canon are in fact murder mysteries. Oedipus Rex is about a man trying to solve a terrible crime through a series of interrogations of witnesses who are brought before him. It even has a "surprise" ending: The detective discovers that he is the guilty one. Hamlet is also about a man trying to solve a murder, which has been revealed to him through supernatural means. Poor Hamlet is often described as a world-class ditherer who can't make up his mind. But the problem he confronts is quite practical: He can't very well assassinate the current king of Denmark based on testimony from a ghost, now, can he? So he has to find a way to uncover the truth in a manner consistent with at least some of the basic laws of evidence - not an easy thing to do in the days of absolute monarchy.

How does your series protagonist, Filomena Buscarsela and the cases she gets involved in reflect your own analysis of political and social realities in the country today?


Every one of the novels in the Filomena series deals with the challenges of being a woman in a man's world - or more specifically, a Latina immigrant in a white man's world. But there are always major subthemes taken straight from the headlines: environmental crime, the poor treatment of immigrant workers, the lack of affordable housing (and of corporate accountability), unjust drug laws, and the fact that the law often applies to the poor and marginalized, but not to the rich and well-connected. I guess you could say she's a modern Robin Hood.

Is it fair to say there's a bit of Ken Wishnia in Filomena Buscarsela?

My parents belong to that well-known demographic, Marxist atheist Jewish academics. (My mom is one of the founders of the Women's Studies Program at SUNY Stony Brook.) So naturally, even as a third generation American, at times I felt somewhat alienated from mainstream US culture when I was growing up. Example: even back in 7th grade, I found the idea of mandatory attendance at pep rallies rather fascistic (this was during the Nixon Administration, after all). When I got married to a Latina Catholic (and first generation immigrant), we spent our first two years together living in Ecuador; I decided that writing from the point of view of a Latina immigrant would be the perfect way of plausibly using my own sense of alienation and emotional vulnerability in a way that readers would accept more easily than if I modeled the character more closely on myself. In other words, when confronted with the prospect of writing in the voice of a wimpy man or a strong woman, the choice was obvious. So yeah - you could say that, in many ways, Filomena is just me in drag (except that she gets to do some of the stuff I'd like to do, but can't get away with).

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DK Maxxx.

by Kris Needs
Classic Rock Magazine
September 2014

Five years in the making, this first major work on America's massively influential punk band will be pounced on and devoured by the huge Dead Kennedys global fan-base.

After forming to instant controvesy in San Francisco in 1978, Dead Kennedys were the first hardcore punk band to gain a major following in Europe after their 1980 debut album Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables was released by the UK's Cherry Red Records. It eventually gained a US outlet on frontman Jello Biafra's Alternative Tentacles imprint. Since then the band's legend and influence has ballooned, while Biafra has become one of America's most high-profile activists.

With Jello's approval and input, noted punk author Alex Ogg captures vividly the group's formation and story, focusing mainly on the debut album. The book's authenticity is further enhanced by interviews with main players, photos from the archives of Search & Destroy's Ruby Ray, and rare memorabilia diligently sourced from the global underground punk network by designer Russ Bestley. The band's original artist Winston Smith supplies his ininmitable cover designs and flyers, crucially allowing the famous DK logo to adorn what will stand as the ultimate document on this seminal band. 8 out of 10.

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Sometimes the Spoon Runs away with another spoon

by Dave Parker
PFLAG Greensboro

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

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

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

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

by Vic Mucciarone
Animal Voices Radio
July 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Listen HERE

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

by Sasha
Earth First! Journal
June 26th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Festival exploring gender continues to see growth

by Ryan Kasley
Philadelphia Gay News
September 25th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, visit www.genderreelfest.com.

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Speaking OUT: reviewed on PFLAGG Greensboro

by Dave Parker
PFlagg Greensboro

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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