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Black Flags and Windmills: 1 of the top 5 books to read in 2011

by Elizabeth DiNovella
The Progressive Magazine
December 21, 2011

crow is a long-term activist who shares the lessons he’s learned in organizing.

He and a few others founded the Common Ground Collective in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There’s a lot of trauma in NOLA, and that comes through in the book.

But you also get the sense that writing this book was healing for crow.

“I don’t tell a personal narrative to build myself up but to show that we can all do this,” he told me during a phone interview a few weeks ago. “I’m not trying to set myself up as a hero. I’m setting ourselves up to be heroes for each other.”

crow has been subjected to close scrutiny by the FBI. He requested his FBI file and received back 440 heavily-redacted pages. In 2006, he found out he was listed as a “domestic terrorist” due to his activism. He has been arrested in demonstrations but never charged with anything more than trespassing.

crow says the surveillance and ongoing criminalization of dissent is “an absolute farce. People like me are paper tigers. If you are going to have a war on terrorism, you need terrorists. Who are easy to find? Social activists.”

He knows that the FBI uses surveillance as a way to intimidate activists. “What everyone fears about surveillance, it’s happened to me, and I’m OK,” he says. “It hasn’t been pleasant. But I’m OK.”

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to scott crow's Author Page

Black Flags and Windmills on The Rag Blog

by Mariann G Wizard
Rag Blog
December 13, 2011

scott crow's book tells of the abandonment of a great American city by the powerful, the refusal of its poorest and most vulnerable citizens to lay down and die, and the necessity for community self-reliance that is Katrina's great lesson.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina, a Category 3 storm, the sixth strongest recorded to date, scored a direct hit on the City of New Orleans. Over the next days and weeks, as neglected levees failed and federal and state governments and aid agencies floundered, Katrina became the costliest natural disaster, and fifth deadliest, in U.S. history.

Katrina affected millions, changed the lives of hundreds of thousands forever, and called some to rise above all personal considerations and give themselves to the Herculean task of saving the Gulf Coast and its people.

Among the latter was a Texas anarchist, a lanky East Dallas white guy who looks like he's from way over in East Texas, easy-going but hard-bitten. And while the person he was before Katrina may still be, he was forever changed by what he witnessed and achieved in Louisiana.

scott crow, like the poets raul r. salinas and e.e. cummings, doesn't capitalize his name. This is one of those odd contradictions, wherein a desire to de-emphasize an individual's importance to, say, an international movement for compassionate autonomy, births the need to explain that this particular person doesn't do something most everyone does, thus making it necessary to consider her or him individually.

Well, humility can't help but call attention to itself, if only by its contrast with the egocentric world-at-large. As I told scott recently, I've been wanting to read his autobiography since I met him.

I knew his name before we met because a nonprofit foundation that I serve as a board member gave money to hurricane relief work, beginning, I think, in 2006. But I didn't know he and his life partner, Ann Harkness, were living in Austin until they came to my book release party that fall with former Louisiana political prisoner Robert King and a couple of his other friends.

Both Ann and scott have been valuable change-makers in Austin since moving here shortly before Katrina. scott is Director of Ecology Action, the grassroots community organization that pioneered recycling in Austin while he was in grade school. Ann is a gifted, witty photographer. Both are active in many community groups and the core of a lively social scene that also embraces King, antiglobalization worker Lisa Fithian, and other activists who date their lives in Austin from Katrina's floods.

Our community has also seen them undergo the very public trauma of having a former friend and sometime-colleague exposed as an FBI informer, in this reviewer's opinion responsible for inciting two younger activist friends to plan violence at the 2007 Republican National Convention.

Black Flags and Windmills
, crow's first book, focuses on Common Ground Collective, an anarchist-based relief organization he helped found when official disaster relief efforts not only failed to meet the needs of affected residents along the Gulf Coast, but seemed intent upon criminalizing them.

But that wasn't what he set out to do. While millions sat stunned, weeping at televised images of a drowned metropolis, as mythic to the American psyche as Atlantis to the Greeks', scott crow drove from Austin, Texas, to New Orleans to look for a stranded friend.

Black Panther Party matriarch Kathleen Cleaver's insightful introduction sees this as the fulcrum, asking, "What deep motivation drives anyone to travel by boat across an unfamiliar flooded city looking for a friend under life-threatening circumstances?"

The answer comes from another BPP icon, Geronimo ji Jaga: "Revolutionaries are motivated by great love for another world."

It is that love that most illuminates scott's character and the pages of this work. From details of organizational process-building among a shifting cast of residents, volunteers, and core activists, to gritty descriptions of clearing long-clogged storm sewers and scraping dead animals from the streets, the bottom line is that he doesn't leave anyone behind.

It almost doesn't matter that the friend he went to find was Robert King, former BPP activist who served twenty-nine years in solitary confinement in Louisiana's notorious Angola Prison. scott and Ann Harkness met King shortly after his 2001 release. scott may not see it this way, but I think he would have done the same thing for any number of other friends and comrades.

King's particular circumstances and his exemplary humility and dedication
he continues to work for the release of his Angola comrades, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallacecertainly helped draw crow back to New Orleans after a first failed, frightening, surreal sortie.

The courage of NOLA residents who were also there at the beginning, Common Ground co-founders Malik Rahim and Sharon Johnson, kept him there for months under incredibly demanding circumstances. But the initial determination to help a friend underlies all of scott's work, pre- and post-Katrina, and has made him something of an icon, if a reluctant one, to antiglobalization activists around the world.

As an autobiography, Black Flags and Windmills is unconventional; one must look to the "About the author" addendum to discover scott's age. He spends 15 pages on his childhood and youth. A small, loving section on his Mom, Emily, shows the origins of his empathetic nature. It reminds me of cousins and classmates, perhaps a couple of years younger and drawn to the 1960s subculture in which I participated. Emily came to womanhood before the words "women's" and "liberation" ever met, when racial segregation had but recently fallen, and "race mixing" was still rare.

Scott was born in 1967; the Vietnam war was still escalating. Emily, a single mom, wasn't an activist
but she surely knew people who were. She wanted a better world for her son. I knew young parents in Austin then who sent their children to the "hippie school" in the country, or helped in a free breakfast for schoolchildren program inspired by those of the BPP. Emily sent scott to an East Dallas preschool run by former BPP activists. While the preschool was not overtly political, the BPP's 10-Point Program is in his book and is a cornerstone of his activism.

Between East Dallas and New Orleans, scott recounts his evolution as a "libertarian anarchist," a phrase I applaud in theory but find somewhat wanting in rigor. Despite having been influenced by socialists and socialist-influenced activists, he expresses more anti-communist views here than anti-capitalist ones, although it may be that a critique of corporate capital is implicit in the work as a whole.

He seems to view communism and/or socialism solely as political systems
authoritarian, anti-democratic ones at thatrather than economic ones. This leads him, IMHO, into the error of rejecting a priori tools that could serve a libertarian anarchist society rather well, and this is a topic I plan to pursue with him and with Ann in time.

Most of the narrative of Black Flags and Windmills, however, is not analytical but tells one man's story
a man careful to "leave room for other stories"of the abandonment of a great American city by the powerful, the refusal of its poorest and most vulnerable citizens to lay down and die, and the necessity for community self-reliance that is Katrina's great lesson.

Government cannot help you. Government seeks to control you. In any disaster or emergency, help yourself and those around you. Many tasks cannot be performed by one person, thus, make principled alliances, work cooperatively, share decision-making and resources. Ask what people need; don't assume. Express your own needs clearly.

Starting with three people and $50, Common Ground helped thousands of individuals and families, saved and rebuilt entire communities, and raised over a million dollars in small contributions in two years, an astonishing feat in the nonprofit world.

scott's ruminations on privilege
his privileges of being white, male, able-bodied, etc. illuminate an ongoing contradiction of radical organizing: a person on the edge of starvation has little time for considering organizational culture, yet such consideration is vital for long-term success. His solution is to use whatever social privilege he has for the benefit of those who have none.

Stretched to his physical and emotional limits, sleeping on the ground in sticky Louisiana heat, eating bad food, surrounded 24-7 by the stench of decay, death, and constant crisis, scott's "privilege," one may argue, is what kept him up late writing and rewriting the organizational principles, procedures, and other expressions of self-determination necessary for group cohesion.

Expecting certain rights also motivates one to demand them. scott's experiences in New Orleans, a white outsider in a black community rightfully skeptical of offers to "help," made me recall a personal white-girl introduction to in-your-face racism: I was furious because a friend of mine was insulted, my anger not for his humiliation, but mine. That was an expression of privilege, you betcha!
but also a time-release capsule of truth, exposing just how limited such privilege was and its unacceptable costs.

Racism continues to fester beneath public civility and political correctness today, finding sustenance in toxic, chaotic situations. The privilege of opposing it remains with the white moiety from whom it springs and whose deception is among its aims. The illusion that white skin, male gender, a college diploma, or other privileges are proof against oppression and exploitation remains a primary obstacle to social change.

crow's frank, no-nonsense discussion of armed self-defense is also a valuable contribution; recommended. As a young man, he feared guns and had to overcome the phobia to become a good marksman when the need became clear. The East Texas in him seems to have won out here; his attitude is more that of a farmer who would resolutely drop a wild hog ripping up his crops than of a poseur power-tripping on fancy weaponry.

Again BPP principles are seen, not only in Common Ground's acceptance of self-defense as legitimate but in the determination to keep resources gathered for the community from being stolen or destroyed.

scott is as frank in discussing Common Ground's internal issues as its external challenges, and while his desire not to personalize problems can be frustrating to the nosy reader, the conclusions he draws are surely of more long-term value.

We don't need to know who wanted to, "Damn everything but the circus!" to recognize the "type" scott describes in a section so subtitled: the loudmouth who shows up to "volunteer" with their own, most often self-serving agenda. Sometimes, after due consideration and an often numbing amount of talk, you just have to show them the door.

In this regard, the book is also notable for what is doesn't include: long explanations of why scott was right and other people wrong, or details of endless debates over points that later were seen to be pointless. Through principled, shared decision-making, Common Ground has been able to grow through its occasional and inevitable disagreements relatively unscathed. It apparently furthers one to have someplace to go!

In sharp contrast to this overall amicability, crow's brief criticism of the racist, sectarian New Black Panther Party is well-founded and pulls no punches. Two so-called "socialist" sects also come in for a well-deserved basting; a disaster area is not a place to sell your newspaper! Leaders have to speak against bullshit even when it wears a revolutionary cloak.

Yes, I said the "L" word, and so does scott: "Leadership happens when someone is given permission by the rest of the group to lead." Accountable, anti-authoritarian leadership must be demanded, and taught. The notion that leadership is always to be avoided, a major dilettante cop-out of the 1960s, has hopefully been relegated to the dustbin of history!

Black Flags and Windmills is chock-full of juicy quotes from rebels, poets, and rockers, and has whetted my appetite to hear a bunch of bands I somehow missed, perhaps during my deeply reggae years, such as Ministry, Skinny Puppy, the Replacements, the Coup, and more.

But I was most struck by this quote from the early Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose chords are echoed today by Occupation troubador Makana:

"Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you

Ye are manythey are few."

from "The Mask of Anarchy"

Another contribution of crow's book is its Appendices, including notes, memoranda, and both internal and external Common Ground communiqués. Here are appeals to the world outside for money and materiel, desperate descriptions of need, calm accounts of the unresponsiveness and outright hostility of government and other "official" disaster personnel to the agile, popularly-based, collaborative self-help afforded by and through Common Ground.

These documents may not only be useful to historians of the future who seek to understand the impact of Katrina, or the failures of the G.W. Bush administration, but to today's activists who seek to build new institutions, new processes, and a new culture.

No matter how dire the circumstances, it seems, this process is not easy nor always harmonious. A great deal of sweat and inconvenience is involved. Troublesome details must be constantly addressed. The more you bite off, the more you must chew. This book will help you sharpen your teeth.

Black Flags and Windmills combines hands-on information about what it really takes to change this world, one big mess at a time, and a seeker's vision of a better world. Well done!

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to scott crow's Author Page

Staughton Lynd reviews Rebel Voices

by Staughton Lynd
Industrial Worker
December 2011

The first words the reader of this book will see are by IWW member and Starbucks organizer Daniel Gross. At the beginning of his Preface to this new edition of Joyce Kornbluh’s classic collection, first published in 1964, FW Daniel writes: “You hold in your hands the most important book ever written about the Industrial Workers of the World.”

It’s true. Whatever you thought you knew about the founding convention of the IWW in 1905, or the massacre of Wobblies on the Verona at Everett, Washington, or Joe Hill’s thoughts while awaiting execution, you will know more after encountering Rebel Voices. This is the most important book on the subject because in it countless rank-and-file Wobblies speak for themselves through the pamphlets, excerpts from IWW newspapers, cartoons, song sheets, and other written sources brought together at the Labadie collection in Ann Arbor. This is history from below, created by the working men and women who made that history.


Apart from the sheer delight of immersing oneself in the irreverent Wobbly sub-culture, Kornbluh’s compilation requires revision of several misconceptions as to what the IWW was all about.

First and most important, it is commonly said that members of the IWW were opposed to written collective bargaining agreements. This perception mistakes means for ends.

The Wobblies were opposed to contractual agreements that limited direct action and solidarity. At the time the organization came into being, most unions were “craft” or “trade” unions. That is, they did not include all workers at a given workplace, but only those workers who practiced a specific skill. Each craft bargained for a separate contract with the employer, covering only its own members. Thus in a steel mill, for example, there was not a single contract for “steelworkers” employed there, rather there were separate contracts for each of the skills involved in making steel.

Obviously, quite apart from the language of any particular contract, the very existence of such contracts tended to turn a workplace into a mosaic of different kinds of workers, each kind bound by a specific written agreement. The termination dates of the contracts were likely to differ. Even in the absence of express language limiting the right to strike, a work stoppage initiated by one group of workers was unlikely to be honored by members of different crafts.

Overcoming the division between members of different craft unions belonging to what the Wobblies called “The American Separation of Labor” was the main reason the IWW was created. This is made crystal clear by the letter of invitation to the founding convention, dated January 2-4, 1905, signed by (among others) Bill Haywood, Mother Jones, and Eugene Debs. The worker, so the letter declared, “sees his power of resistance broken by craft divisions.” These “outgrown” and “long-gone” divisions had been made obsolete by modern machinery, the authors continue. “Separation of craft from craft renders industrial and financial security impossible. Union men scab upon union men.”

Debs, whom we don’t ordinarily think of as a spokesperson for the IWW, gave a speech in Chicago in November 1905 in which he offered precisely the same rationale for the creation of the organization and illustrated that truth from his own experience. “We insist that all the workers in the whole of any given plant shall belong to one and the same union,” Debs declared. “I belonged to a craft union from the time I was nineteen years of age,” he went on. He remembered the evening that he had joined the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen, and the zeal with which he had labored “to build it up.” But he had come to see that a single craft union, even a federation of craft unions, was not enough, and so had undertaken to organize the American Railway Union. The employers, in response, showered favors on the several craft brotherhoods in the knowledge that these craft unions protected them from the power that “we Industrial Unionists” could exert. Referring to a specific lost strike in 1888 Debs concluded: “A manager of a railroad who can keep control of 15 percent of the old men can allow 85 per to go out on strike and defeat them every time.” (This speech appears, not in Rebel Voices, but in American Labor Struggles and Law Histories, ed. Kenneth M. Casebeer,  91-99.)

As it happened, of course, the creation of CIO industrial unions in the 1930s did not offer workers the freedom to undertake direct action whenever they wished. The very first collective bargaining agreements between the United Automobile Workers and General Motors, and between the Steel Workers Organizing Committee and U.S. Steel, in the early months of 1937, gave away the right to strike for the duration of the contract. No law required this. The officers of the new unions as well as the giant corporations with which they negotiated feared the unrestricted direct action of the rank and file.

Readers who are “dual carders’ —that is, Wobblies who belong both to the IWW and to a conventional trade union—should find this clarification helpful. Fellow workers may find it difficult to understand why one should oppose written contracts as a matter of principle. They will find it easier to grasp the idea that workers should never give up the opportunity to engage in direct action when, where, and how they perceive it to be appropriate.

A second misconception has to do with the idea of “sabotage” and the black Sabby cat that became its logo.

What the word “sabotage“ meant to Wobblies, Kornbluh makes clear, was “striking on the job” or “striking and staying in the shop.” Striking on the job could take a variety of forms. When workers mysteriously produce only half of what they ordinarily produce during a given shift, such a slowdown is a form of what the Wobblies meant by ”sabotage.”  When workers meticulously obey all the safety rules—rules ordinarily disregarded in the interest of getting product out the door—that, too, is sabotage as originally understood. When protesting bus drivers provided the usual service but declined to collect fares it was still another instance of the black cat at work. When lumber workers walked off the job together after the number of hours of work they considered appropriate, it was “sabotage” without the use of imagined wooden shoes. The same was true in 1935-1937 when Akron rubber workers or automobile workers in Flint occupied the places where they worked rather than walking out of the plant. Such “sabotage” had nothing to do with violence or destruction of tools.

Indeed, a major surprise in the pages of Rebel Voices is to find some of the most radical IWW organizers using the term “passive resistance.” Joseph Ettor, addressing textile strikers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, said: "As long as the workers keep their hands in their pockets, the capitalists cannot put theirs there.  With passive resistance, with the workers absolutely refusing to move, lying absolutely silent, they are more powerful than all the weapons and instruments that the other side has for attack."

Wobbly organizer William Trautmann advised strking workers to go back to work and use “passive resistance.”          

Finally, it seems clear from these pages that the original Wobbly understanding of the “general strike” meant more than folding arms. It meant taking over the means of production and beginning production for use. In a speech in New York later summarized in an IWW pamphlet, Bill Haywood called the Paris Commune of 1871 “the greatest general strike known in modern history.”


Because the IWW itself was in a state of chaos and decline from the 1920s until recent times, the book’s account of the years 1924-1964 is fragmentary. This makes it all the more impressive that during those years the memory and mystique of the IWW continued powerfully to affect some of the most imaginative labor organizers in the country.

As I wrote in the Introduction to a book called We Are All Leaders, in the early 1930s the formation of local industrial unions was often spearheaded by individual Wobblies or former Wobblies. Len DeCaux wrote of his fellow CIO militants that when they let down their hair, “it seemed that only the youngest had no background of Wobbly associations.”

Stan Weir, a lifelong rank-and-file radical whose writings have been collected in a book called Singlejack Solidarity, learned his unionism from Wobblies. Blackie and Chips were the “1934 men” who taught him the lessons of the San Francisco general strike in classes on shipboard. Likewise John W. Anderson jumped up on a car fender to become the chairperson of the 1933 Briggs strike in Detroit, worked as a volunteer IWW organizer for three years, and later became a dissident local union president in the UAW.   

Another gifted leader from below was steelworker Ed Mann, whom my wife and I came to know intimately after we moved to Youngstown. After years of nurturing a rank-and-file caucus called the Rank and File Team (RAFT), Ed became president of Local 1462 at the Brier Hill mill of Youngstown Sheet & Tube. He retired when the mill was shut down and became a leading spirit of the Workers Solidarity Club of Youngstown. When we identified ourselves at the beginning of each meeting, Ed would say:  “Ed Mann, member of the IWW.”  Shortly before his death he explained: "I like the Wobblies’ history: the Bill Haywood stuff, the Ludlow mine, the Sacco-Vanzetti thing. I like their music. I like the things they were active in."

These folks believed that workers should exercise power, instead of handing it over to bureaucrats they elect, and letting the bureaucrats make the decisions. The people have to live with the decisions.

Thus Ed Mann kept the faith with the Wobbly idea that what is  needed is, in Kornbluh’s words, “not piecemeal reform but revolutionary change.”  To be a Wobbly, this book affirms on every page, is to entertain a profound vision and strategy of emancipation. Like participants in Occupy Wall Street, these out-of-pocket rebels refused to be content with demanding this or that specific change. They demanded a new world.


Finally, Kornbluh tells us that only a year after the magnificent founding convention of 1905, “quarrels erupted in a chaotic 1906 convention” leading to the withdrawal from the IWW of its strongest constituent union, the Western Federation of Miners. Following the repression of radicals during World War I there was, she also reports, “a serious schism in the IWW organization in 1924.”
Sadly, problems associated with national conventions and similar gatherings of delegates seem to persist. IWW members are at home in local, improvised direct actions with longtime fellow workers. They are not in their element at representative assemblies encased in a myriad of procedural rules. 
National organizations are difficult to live in without drifting toward scheming and manipulation destructive of comradeship. I experience my own version of political Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in reaction to the disintegration of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at the end of the 1960s. Pre-convention caucusing, challenging of credentials, hidden agendas, pressing for repeated votes or votes at unexpected times, interminable proposing of resolutions, nit-picking of each and every suggested wording of anything, verbally abusing comrades who espouse a position different from one’s own, all express an absence of faith that we can make the road as we walk it together. 
These practices must stop. The students and workers who look to our activity as possible paradigms of a longed-for better way of doing things are often horrified by what they see us actually do. We must exemplify what we say we believe.  A set of words beloved by my wife and myself, initially formulated by a committee supportive of Polish Solidarity, read:

Start doing the things you think should be done.
Start being what you think society should become.
Do you believe in freedom of speech? Then speak freely.
Do you love the truth? Then tell it.
Do you believe in an open society? Then act in the open.
Do you believe in a decent and humane society? Then behave decently and humanely.

Buy this book now | Back to Staughton Lynd's Page | Back to Joyce L Kornbluh's Author Page

Love Leads Into Mystery: Raising a Child With Asperger’s

by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
Yes! Magazine
December 30, 2011

My son was not like other kids. But he taught me to drop my expectations about what life and parenting are all about.

We’re driving home around sunset, late summer. Daniel, age nine, says aloud, “Mom, what do you think is at the end of the universe? Dragonflies? Or just inky blackness?”

I write it down. A good moment when what shines in him shines through, but there are plenty of bad moments, too.

Daniel, as exquisitely creative, loving, and intelligent as he is, suffers from what experts label an invisible disability, a chemical imbalance, a little extra electricity in his system.

To kids his own age he’s a nuisance. To the school district he’s a special needs child. To psychologists he’s a quandary.

To teachers he’s a challenge. To relatives he’s a little too hyper. To other parents, he’s annoying. To piles of paperwork he’s another diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, epilepsy, hyperactivity. To child-rearing books he’s an exception to the rule.

To my husband, Ken, and me, he’s just Daniel, but even we can’t say what in his behavior is chemical, what’s within his control, what he’ll outgrow, what will sculpt and contour his growth in ways we cannot see, what’s a good sign, what’s a bad one. All inky blackness so much of the time, with moments of dragonflies flashing their brilliance across a dulled sky.

Nothing about Daniel’s life has followed anything I read in child-rearing books or heard about friends who already had kids. Even the birth itself was a surprise. After a long and very painful labor, I finally pushed Daniel out, a baby the color of old-fashioned dark lilacs. The midwife placed him belly-down on my belly, cord still attached, and he opened his eyes for the first time.

In some cultures, kids who have seizures, see visions, talk about spirit and death and the curve of the universe, are groomed to be visionaries for the community.

His black eyes burned into mine with an intensity that suggested wherever he came from, he brought it along with him.

“I don’t care where she is, get the doctor now!” the midwife whisper-yelled to the nurse. I wasn’t supposed to hear that something was wrong, that the Apgar score on this baby was only about four out of ten, that my first child was damaged in some way.

“He inhaled amniotic fluid,” they told me, “and he’s not responding to oxygen enough to breathe on his own.” We chose to go to the hospital, hopeful that our wait in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit would only be a day or so.

A week later, after one minor problem after another, we finally took him home. It was France’s bicentennial, and “La Marseillaise” played on the radio. “You’re free!” we told him, but was he really? He could only sleep when in our bed, and he needed to be held constantly. We figured such intensity was a reaction to a week in the NICU where he was poked and probed according to a constant explosion of beeps and lights. So we held him. So we slept with him. Being that he was our first baby, his intensity didn’t seem unusual.

A year later he almost died when his small intestine telescoped into his large one. Less than a year after that, when he could talk with great skill and a detailed vocabulary, he mainly discussed two topics: death and God.

“Mom, I’m going to die soon,” he said.

“No, you can’t do that. I’d be broken forever.”

He looked at me thoughtfully, and a few days later, said, “Mom, I’m going to die soon, but it’ll be okay. I’ll have God send you another boy.”

“No, it will not be okay. I’d still be broken forever.”

I negotiated with this two-year-old over his life for several weeks, until he told me he decided to live, but he also asked, “Do all babies, after they’re born, leave their parents to go back to God, and then come back?”

“No, Daniel, all babies don’t do that,” I told him.

And most toddlers do not approach other kids at the playground swings to ask them where their god monsters are, and what planets they come from.

I wondered if my panic while in labor the first time caused him to inhale amniotic fluid, and that caused him to have problems. I told the midwife this halfway through labor with my second child, a girl who would be very different than Daniel.

“I see our planet, the water, the land . . . I see it getting closer, and then I see a group of women singing and waving their arms. In a circle, dancing, laughing and singing and calling to me.”

“No, that’s ridiculous,” she reassured me.

But when your child is challenged, you can’t help but to blame yourself, as if you have any control. My daughter, born when Daniel was three, is the polar opposite of him. At three months old, she knows how to toss her head-full of dark curls and coyly look almost away when someone shows interest. By the time she’s walking, she can work the room of any group, drawing their attention to herself without sacrificing any charm. She’s born with an innate sense of knowing about all social situations, the secret language that eluded me as a kid that largely eludes Daniel now, encoded in her DNA.

The third child, another boy, follows her lead, flowing into groups of babies, then toddlers, then preschoolers without a blip. Like his sister, he knows how to work the system, while Daniel, on the other hand, doesn’t know without being reminded that there is a system, a way of relating in families, in classes, in clumps of kids who find each other on playground equipment.

Daniel looks past his siblings to me one night in the kitchen, pausing in the middle of a six-hour reading marathon that calms him like nothing else. “I’m feeling rather melancholy tonight,” he says, then returns to his book.

In some cultures, kids who have seizures, see visions, talk about spirit and death and the curve of the universe, are groomed to be visionaries for the community. Shamans who mediate between this world and the one beyond this world.

There is no answer. But I can’t stop looking. Not when I tuck my kid in at night, and he says, “I’m just a bad person.”

“In the place I come from,” says Cherry, a sixty-year-old African-American woman who grew up in Black community of post-war Detroit, “the old people would watch a child like that very closely. Because they would know he’s got something.”

When she visits, she and Daniel cuddle up on the couch and read Shel Silverstein poems aloud, together, then alternating who reads each line, their voices creating a harmonics of poetry about washing a butt not your own and losing peanut butter sandwiches.

“What do you see?” my husband asks Daniel one night. Sweet Honey in the Rock music is playing in his room, and Daniel has been staring out into space for some time.

“I see our planet, the water, the land . . . I see it getting closer, and then I see a group of women singing and waving their arms. In a circle, dancing, laughing and singing and calling to me.”

Daniel is in third grade, and I’m on the phone with his after-school day-care provider, who is throwing him out of her day-care center.

“It’s not that I’m throwing him out,” she explains to me repeatedly, and then goes on about how if Daniel has a sudden breakdown, and she focuses her attention on him and not on the toddlers there, one of the toddlers might get hurt, and then she would lose her business, and then her house. So can’t I understand? This is the third after-school program he’s been tossed from in two years.

Daniel cannot keep still. He must do his schoolwork and eat his meals while pacing the room, but that doesn’t worry me. What does worry me is that the falling down on the floor and crying has dissolved into outbursts of anger, of violence. He kicks a kid who makes fun of him. He rips someone’s shirt. “Accidentally,” he tells me later.

What does worry me is that he has no friends. That he’s been invited to fewer birthday parties than I can count on one hand. That no one ever invites him to their house to play.

What worries me are the looks family members give Ken and me at holiday meals when he yells out at the wrong time—looks that clearly tell us precisely what they say behind our backs.

What does worry me is that I’ve felt compelled to continually explain the medical terminology for Daniel’s conditions to other parents so that they won’t think he’s a bad child or I’m a bad mother. “He’s got Asperger’s disorder, that’s an autism spectrum disorder that basically means he can’t read social cues,” I tell them. “And on top of that, he has epilepsy and he’s kinda hyperactive. It all goes together—too much electricity in his brain, or he’s too inner-directed, or he’s too emotional and sensitive. A chemical thing. We can’t help it.” I buy into the explanations because it gives me some way to convey the impossible, to at least fend off people shunning him because they believe he’s bad, although sometimes I wonder if pity is any better than condemnation.

I sit in my room at night, right across from his room, and listen to the incredible stories he tells himself aloud at night when he’s falling asleep: long narratives about his life, his birth trauma, places he’s visited, how Pluto was formed, or how patterns of electricity work.

No one but those close to him knows he’s gifted also. All most people see are the problems—the behavioral problems or the disability, and it takes a long time to see behind that veil, to see that it’s not his intention to be obnoxious.

You wonder how it starts, and you wonder where it came from. I was a kid who probably had Asperger’s disorder myself. I had no friends in school: In fact, I was the kid other kids built their reputations upon. So I got beaten up constantly.

I blamed it on growing up in Brooklyn and central Jersey, on being small and a smart-ass, on having parents who slapped me around. But I see now I had the same problem Daniel has: I couldn’t read social cues to save my life. I would see a group of kids, want to be part of them, but had no idea what to do, and in fact, what I did do was usually the worst choice.

Negative attention is better than no attention? So I thought.

Where did that come from? Upon hearing what Asperger’s disorder is, my stepmother tells me that is absolutely what my father must have. She, his seeing-eye wife into the social world, would know. He has no idea what to say and often says what insults people most. But the more I hear of his childhood, the more I discover someone who grew up friendless and awkward, tormented and ignored. Like his mother behind him. Like her father before her.

He is the one, more than anyone or anything else in my life, who challenges me to improvise, to forget how it should be, to drop my expectations and ideas about what life is, what a child is, what a parent is.

I trace the Asperger’s line through my family. I stop at Daniel.

Yet I realize how strange it is to call “not reading social cues” a disorder, especially when it’s rooted in reading too much from the inside in, instead of the outside in. Yet I collude with the school’s category of “other health impaired” so he can get services to help him not turn completely in on himself.

The advice rolls in regularly, the panacea of drug, alternative, and other treatments. We try everything. We visit psychologists, shrinks, neurologists, nurse-practitioners, herbalists, massage therapists, homeopaths, social works, general practitioners, Asperger specialists, occupational therapists. The Ritalin, as well as some other drugs, make him violent and depressed.

“You just have to realize,” says a friend of mine whose son suffered from severe learning differences all through his schooling, “that nothing will work. There is no magic pill.”

There is no answer. But I can’t stop looking. Not when I tuck my kid in at night, and he says, “I’m just a bad person.”

“No, you’re not. You’re a good person.”

“That’s not true. Something is wrong with me.”

But it’s not your fault, I want to scream into his bones. You did nothing to deserve this.

Both the center of my heart and the edge of my universe contain Daniel. He is the one, more than anyone or anything else in my life, who challenges me to improvise, to forget how it should be, to drop my expectations and ideas about what life is, what a child is, what a parent is.

He teaches me about the psychic wounds I carry into my parenting, and my only choice is to heal myself.

I make many mistakes with him, moments I wish I could do over. I also do many things right, hold him in the middle of the day on the couch mid-winter for no reason, listen to him carefully.
“Mom, I have to make my own mistakes,” he says wisely, like any child would. But it’s very hard to watch a kid whose days are spent being shunned by peers, analyzed or dismissed or hoped upon by teachers, medicalized by health professionals, isolated by his own choices and the constant reinforcement of others who chose to isolate him. To watch your kid.

Daniel teaches me that all rules are arbitrary, answers are illusory, future visions are incomplete. He teaches me about the psychic wounds I carry into my parenting, and my only choice is to heal myself. He teaches me to be more patient, more accepting, more tolerant not just of him but of other kids. I see a nine-year-old hyper boy out in public these days, and I don’t get irritated with him; instead, I feel empathy and wonder how his parents are doing.

Mostly, Daniel teaches me that love is never arbitrary.

That love leads us into mystery where no one can say what comes next, or how, or why.

To my shock, everyone comes to his ninth birthday party, except one boy whose mother doesn’t want him to associate with Daniel. We meet in a pizzeria where Daniel opens presents in a haze of joy. Some of the girls argue over who gets to sit next to him. One kisses his cheek every time he opens another gift.

I hope what’s different about him in the best sense doesn’t get sanded off by the life ahead. Yet the life behind us shows me that Daniel has gotten through so far with his Daniel-ness fully intact.

In the future, there will be Daniel wanting to make pickets to go and storm the new chain bookstore that drove our locally owned one out of business. Daniel determined to teach a boy who torments him that “it’s not right” and not just. Daniel lecturing the other kids until they lecture us about the evils of McDonald’s and the loss of rainforest lands for grazing cattle.

And Daniel at Yom Kippur services with me, hitting his heart as he sings the prayers, determined and utterly earnest in his determination to ask forgiveness, to start again.

Now he is at college, a small nest-like college in a small Mennonite Kansas town. Immersed in a community where everyone knows everyone, social activities tend to be all-inclusive, and being a little different and a lot Jewish is seen as exotic, he’s thriving. He has friends, he’s pursuing his passion for prairie restoration and ecological activism, and he’s found a mild form of a Ritalin-like substance, which helps him study more steadily. Somehow he’s grown into and through his various diagnoses. A success story, his old special education teachers, autism specialists and paraprofessionals tell me whenever we see each other at the coffee shop.

Still, I worry, surely more than I would have had he not tunneled through rock and steel throughout his childhood. At the same time, I hope what’s different about him in the best sense doesn’t get sanded off by the life ahead. Yet the life behind us shows me that Daniel has gotten through so far with his Daniel-ness fully intact. 

Metaphors are ways to contain the uncontainable. Symbols to hold what cannot be held, like fear or hope contained in darkness and dragonflies. Illusions, but what other way can we get close to the center of what’s real?

It’s like the myriad of names for God in Judaism—all ways to circle around what cannot be touched.

I remember Daniel at age nine: he sits at the kitchen table, and over his pasta, tells us he’s convinced the universe does actually end at some point, that space curves into this ending. So there is an end, but he doesn’t know what’s there. He just knows all things curve into the future, into endings and infinity at once. And he can hold both the endings and the infinity in his head at once.

Like dragonflies in the inky blackness. Like Daniel in this world.

This article was excerpted for YES! Magazine from the book, My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities, edited by Yantra Bertelli, Jennifer Silverman, and Sarah Talbot and published by PM Press.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the Poet Laureate of Kansas and author of fourteen books in print or forthcoming. Her novel The Divorce Girl is due out this summer from Ice Cube Books, and her other books include four volumes of poetry, anthologies and more. She teaches at Goddard College, and she blogs at

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Chasers: My Year in Novellas: 4 of top 10 are PM Releases

by Jedidiah Ayres
Ransom Notes: The BN Mystery Blog
December 2011

I love love love having a pile of books always waiting for me to read, but with ever-dwindling time slots to devote to it, some of those doorstop novels look like a month-long slog. Thank goodness for novellas, I say. They’re a great shot of B12, (or pick a whiskey here if you prefer that metaphor) to perk me up and keep me fresh for the big project, cause nothing helps my reading rate like finishing books.
Here’s a few novellas I found to be just the thing for me in 2011.
By the Nails of the Warpriest and Old Ghosts by Nik Korpon. Korpon’s first novel Stay God was released last December and each of these novellas in 2011. Dude’s been busy, and I don’t mind. Nails is a speculative dystopian iller and Ghosts is a tight little crime story of trouble not left far enough behind. Both pack an impressive emotional punch so quick you won’t have time to get your guard up.
California and Gun by Ray Banks. Both have recently been made available as eBooks, which is good news for Americans—cause this Brit Grit is too good not to spread. Gun is about a low-level street criminal’s really bad day running an errand for his boss and California is both the starting point and the destination for a recently released con who wants to retrieve the loot he’s had stashed and start a new life. Best laid plans, eh?
Come Closer by Sara Gran. Strange things are going on with Amanda. Dark thoughts and wild urges that seem entirely out of character are coming up with increasing regularity. Is she losing her mind? Is she… possessed? Maybe pushing the word-count of a novella, but certainly a one-sitting read. One, very scary, tense read.
Every Shallow Cut
 by Tom Piccirilli. The most startlingly complete and complex character study I read this year was also one of the briefest. Piccirilli’s story of a man riding the razor’s edge all the way across the country, after losing his marriage, his home and his livelihood in one fell swoop. He loads up his car with the last of his earthly possessions and hits the road looking for his breaking point. Three travel days later in a pawn shop outside Denver, he buys a gun.
Low Bite by Sin Soracco. This tale of life behind bars in a women’s prison is raw and unsentimental, but few books this year gave me as much pure pleasure. A narrative thread about a scam and a murder emerges, but the real appeal here is the anecdotal structure—all this color, humor and savagery crammed into 130 pages? Yup.
A Moment of Doubt
 by Jim Nisbet. This hot-shot of nasty riffs on writing, technology and sex focuses on a parallel writer named Nisbet attempting to finish another one of his detective Martin Windrow (The Damned Don't Die) novels, hustle the rent and use a computer program to formulate a best-seller. It’s all over the place, but the Windrow segments are surprisingly tense (for a semi-comic piece), the erotic passages are over the top and it’s all rounded out with an unhealthy chunk of what I could only call retro-tech porn.
They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
 By Horace McCoy. As a man hears his death sentence read aloud by the judge, he tells us his story in flashback—how he came to meet the girl, befriend her and then kill her. The desperation oozes from every page of this depression-era classic
Thirst by Andrei Gelasimov. Kostya lost his face while he served as a tank crew-member in the Chechen war. Now he’s a reclusive carpenter, rarely showing his face outside of his apartment (except to scare the neighbor boy into going to bed, now and then, as a favor to the child’s single mother), but when his surviving comrades show up and drag him away to help them search for another soldier who is missing, the trip offers new perspectives on his past and new prospects for the future.
The Underbelly by Gary Phillips. Magrady is a dispossessed Viet Nam vet down and out in Los Angeles without a place in the world, but don’t think for a second that he’s done fighting. When one of his friends becomes just another missing person no one will miss, Magrady slips into combat mode for the concrete jungle. Phillips’ style is an incendiary mix of blaxsploitation rhythms and militant actions, it’s a hardboiled, hard-core street epic in a single, sweet, chewable capsule.
The Wrong Thing by Barry Graham. Speaking of an epic condensed, Graham sings the ballad of The Kid, a criminal cipher of the urban Southwest underground, from birth to death, with all the love, hate, crime and punishment in between in sparse, elegant sentences that strip it to the bone, and completes the tale in 130 pages.

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Who's your favorite Robin?

Nottingham Post
January 7, 2012

If Robin Hood were around today, Paul Buhle believes he'd be right in there with the Occupy movement, although he might struggle to find a forest to escape into when things get hairy.

Mr Buhle, 67, a retired lecturer from Madison, Wisconsin in the United States, has written the book Robin Hood: People's Outlaw and Forest Hero, in which he explores who Robin Hood was and why he's still a hero today.

The book is a graphic guide and includes comic art and illustrations of the medieval tale.

One collage depicts the Sheriff of Nottingham as a crying baby and another charts the rise of Maid Marian.

For Mr. Buhle, Robin Hood has always been a strong figure throughout his life.

He says: "He was among very few figures in our childhood who we would learn about almost immediately —along with Peter Pan and Winnie the Pooh. It made an enormous impression on me."

Paul's interest in Robin Hood was sparked further when saw the 1950s TV series, The Adventures of Robin Hood.

"Robin Hood seemed really interesting and wonderful for the reasons little boys think he's interesting and wonderful—because he's rebellious and romantic," says Paul.

The book discusses Robin Hood's influence on popular culture, not only looking at the many depictions of the man himself, but also at ways in which he's been recreated in other outlaw stories—including Zorro, Billy the Kid and Jesse James.

Paul lectured in American studies and history at Brown University in Rhode Island and decided it was time to write about the cultural significance of Robin Hood, but he didn't want it to just be a purely intellectual piece of work like his previous publications.

He says: "As I neared retirement I thought, 'what is it that I can write apart from these scholarly books that only undergraduates read?' I stumbled across the idea of comic art books and graphic novels, in my case historical works. It seemed to be a natural way for people under thirty to discuss these kinds of things."

As well as popular culture, Paul also believes Robin Hood has left his mark in politics, holding a special significance for left-wing artists and activists across the world.

He says: "I think that since Occupy has begun, the figure of Robin Hood has gone shooting upwards. The only problem with a modern-day Robin Hood is whether he would have a forest to escape into."

Paul's favourite Robin is in the 1950s TV series, in which Richard Greene plays the outlaw and Alan Wheatley is his nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham. This is closely followed by Sean Connery in Richard Lester's version, Robin and Marian. Although another Robin holds special memories for him.

He says: "One will always think of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, who was just fabulous.
"Errol Flynn laughing seems to be the singular most popular piece of Robin Hood imagery of all time."

Paul's book Robin Hood: People's Outlaw and Forest Hero is available to buy from most bookshops. Paul will be visiting the city in May to lecture at the University of Nottingham.

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About Face: A Review

by James Russell
New Clear Vision
January 4, 2012

Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused by the U.S. government of leaking documents to whistleblower website Wikileaks, served as one of many faces for the year’s sweeping protests (and even at pride parades, as I reported for Truthout). That Manning’s leaks showed that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are disasters gave fuel for a movement just hunting for a symbol. But understanding why Manning leaked the documents requires knowing the movement that adopted him.

About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War (PM Press, 2011), the oral history collection from the GI (Government Issue) resister organization Courage to Resist’s Audio Project, does just that. This distinctive entry into the literature and media about GI resistance is a collection of interviews, articles, and photos that share the stories of the soldiers, including many women and people of color, who refuse to fight or return to their service. By sharing their stories, the book humanizes this group of largely chance activists and their supporters who are driven by a desire to change their broken system.

The strategy of successful GI resisters could inform any burgeoning social movement. But, as publicizing is only part of the whole strategy, humanizing is only step one. Humanizing their cause evolves into something larger—the opportunity for the social movement to articulate its vision and to finally be heard.

If a movement is to be successful, it must evolve into a vast united front, as Mann argues in Playbook. Whether GI resisters or Wisconsin Republicans protesting their governor at the statehouse or climate change activists risking arrest outside of the White House, the chance activists who emerged this year onto a staid and tired activist scene came with a willingness to collaborate and gave energy and vitality to the protest once again. But they did not ignore the activists who saw that vision—the promised land, as Solomon describes it—long ago, they joined them instead. Indeed, as Talen and Savitri said to Truthout earlier this year, “the First Amendment is back.”

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Operation Marriage on Kirkus

Kirkus Reviews
January 2012

Wearing its heart on its sleeve, this message-driven text could attract like-minded readers but is unlikely to engage anyone beyond those already in the gay-marriage-rights choir.

When Zach tells Alex he can't be her friend because his dad says her parents aren't really married, Alex seeks to defend her moms relationship while also fighting against Proposition 8. Alex and her brother Nicky decide to launch "Operation Marriage" to inspire their moms to get married before the proposition's passage, and Mama Kathy and Mama Lee decide to marry in haste. When Alex shares wedding photos at school, even Zach acknowledges her family's special day. After Prop 8 passes a month later, Zach and his mother (she's not homophobic like his dad) show up with a plate of cookies to offer apologies and support.

All's well that ends well, with homophobia neatly situated in one mean character who stands for all who voted to overturn equal marriage rights in California. Watercolor portraits of the characters do little to extend the story, instead documenting the characters and their struggle.

More editorial more than story, this title will situate itself as part of the early-twenty-first century movement toward same-sex marriage rights. 

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Redrawing the Line: The Anarchist Writings of Paul Goodman

by Paul Comeau
The Fifth Estate
Spring 2012

While relatively unknown today, Paul Goodman was one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century. In books like Growing Up Absurd, published in 1960, Goodman captured the zeitgeist of his era, catapulting himself to the forefront of American intellectual life as one of the leading dissident thinkers inspiring the burgeoning New Left.

Goodman, who passed away in 1972 at the age of sixty, was an iconoclastic radical with a wide ranging scope of intellectual vision and a multi-faceted character. He was an anarchist, a family man, openly bisexual in a sexually repressive era, a psychologist (one of the founders of Gestalt Therapy), and a poet. He saw himself as a classical man of letters, and at his peak output, released nearly a book a year.

PM Press has recently reprinted some of Goodman’s writings in three volumes. The first, Drawing The Line Once Again: Paul Goodman’s Anarchist Writings, collects short essays from throughout Goodman’s lifetime including “The May Pamphlet,” one of his earliest pieces. Many of these pieces were later incorporated into his longer works.

“The May Pamphlet” is in many ways Goodman’s manifesto, outlining some of his basic principles. From advocating a free society, to discussing the nature of language, to an examination of the education system and its function as a system of coercion, the themes and principles outlined in it are revisited time and again throughout his writings.

One of the key ideas examined in the “May Pamphlet,” is his concept of a free society. This is one constantly striving towards what Goodman calls the natural society or how we would live and interact with one another if outside elements did not intrude in our lives.The free society strikes a balance between our natural impulses and desires, and the cultural expectations of society at-large.

“A free society,” Goodman writes, “cannot be the substitution of a ‘new order’ for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of the social life.” While the move towards a free society can be gradual, it cannot occur without “revolutionary disruption,” of some areas of society, “e.g., war, economics, sexual education—any genuine liberation whatsoever involves a total change.”

After establishing the baseline for his manifesto, Goodman moves on to develop what he calls “A Touchstone for the Libertarian Program.” “The Touchstone is this,” he writes, “does our program involve a large number of precisely those acts and words for which persons are in fact thrown into jail?”

Goodman argues that only acts which are truly libratory are ones that are illegal because they threaten the established power structures. “What I urge is not that the libertarian at once bestir himself to commit such ‘crimes,’” he is quick to qualify, “but that he proceed to loosen his own ‘discipline’ and prejudice against these acts.”

By libertarian, he really means anarchist, and his call is not for anarchists to run out and commit acts of property destruction, or other acts mainstream society would consider violent, but instead to deconstruct the societal perceptions that lead to those things being considered violent and attempt to understand the larger implications of those perceptions.

How do we develop those perspectives? Where do they originate? From the oppres- sive power structures of our coercive society, Goodman would likely answer: “For most of us do not realize how broadly and deeply the coercive relations in which we have been born and bred have disciplined us to the continuation of these coercive relations."

Goodman expands on his libertarian program by offering a critique of the revolutionary theory espoused by Marx and Engles, and demonstrates the futility in applying it to our modern society. He breaks down Marx and Engels thusly: “the dynamism of the people’s revolution into socialism rises from the interaction of two psychological attitudes: (a) the spiritual alienation of the proletariat because of the extreme division of labor and capitalist productive relations, from man’s original concern with production and from natural social co-operation; (b) the brute reaction to intolerable deprivation brought on by the falling rate of profit and the capitalist crisis.”

Goodman saw in his day that point (b) had been largely removed, or at least shifted to the point that instead of survival, the working class now struggles for better “standards of living,” taking the coercive nature of the system as a given.

Point (a) of Marx’s program had also undergone a dynamic shift, but in the opposite direction. “Marx saw wonderfully the empti- ness of life in the modern system;” he writes, “but he failed to utter the warning that this emptiness could proceed so far that, without the spur of starvation, it could make a man satisfied to be a traitor to his original nature. What he relied on to be a dynamic motor of revolution has become the cause of treason.” This situation, Goodman calls “sociolatry,” “the concern felt by masses alienated from their deep natures for the smooth functioning of the industrial machine from which they believe they can get a higher standard of living and enjoy it in security."

In essence, this is an ideology that sells out the working classes' own interests for the interests of the dominating class, and Goodman rightly rejects it. He further rejects the Marxist call for state socialism as the solution, arguing that true socialism "implies the absence of state or other coercive power."

The revolution Goodman desires is not the sudden seizing of the state apparatus, but a revolution by degrees, slowly building until it culminates in a free society. The revolutionary process he envisions is the common anarchist vision frequently paraphrased as “building the new world in the shell of the old,” with small groups working by mutual agreement and mutual aid and developing ever expanding circles of cooperation and free association. There is a practical reason for this as, “Our action must be aimed not as utopians, at a future establishment; but . . . at fraternal arrangements today, progressively incorporating more and more of the social functions into our free society.”

Goodman expands on this with a six point program, which seeks to harmonize our natural lives and our social lives. This includes: reassessing our standards of living to something more in line with our natural “humane wellbeing;” working in jobs that realize individual and collective human powers and achieve human satisfaction; exercising direct initiative in local community problems “housing, community plan, schooling, etc.;” engaging in group psychotherapy to encourage members of the free society to cast off the shackles of the “alienated way of life,” they are otherwise forced to live; and, along the same lines, encouraging sexual satisfaction including in adolescents and children to prevent them from developing neurotic prejudices to their natural impulses, and an “anxious submissiveness to authority;” as well as “progressively abstain[ing] from whatever is connected with the war.” In this last point, he means the Vietnam War, but any of the state’s recent wars can act as an equally odious stand-in.

Of Goodman’s program, the only point that seems questionable is his advocating the sexualization of adolescents and children. While we understand that the puritanical browbeating that constitutes our current system of sexual education is inadequate to create people who can engage in sexual relations without domination or coercion on rational, emotional, and physical levels, I am skeptical that encouraging the sexuality of children or adolescents is a solution. Ultimately though, and I think Goodman would agree, it is up to the freely associating members of our society to determine for themselves and their chil- dren what are appropriate levels of sexuality and sexual conduct.

“The May Pamphlet” concludes with a section on “Unanimity,” in which Goodman emphasizes the importance of “Positive Action.” He writes “It is unprofitable to strive, in coercive conditions, for a relative advantage in a situation that, even if the victory is won, is coercive.”

He argues that there is no choice of a “lesser of two evils,” in natural ethics, so it is essential in a free society to take what one considers to be the morally correct position at all times. To do any less, to shirk the social responsibility shared by all members of a free society, is to limit our own free actions, and can lead to suffering and hardships only correctable through great sacrifice.

Thus, for him it is important that all members of society always be involved in “positive political action,” to engage in political and economic action and discussion in all aspects of their day-to-day lives. It is only when we make politics an integral aspect of our daily lives, that they become a natural part of our free society, and not an outside coercive force, exercising unwanted power and authority over us. This idea is among the finest examples of the anarchist ideal in print.

In “Some Prima Facie Objections to Decentralism,” also in the collection, Goodman makes the case for decentralism by addressing and debunking a number of the greatest arguments made against such organization. For him, it was important to respond to these objections as a means to challenge the in- creasing centralization of everything in our society, from the university, to the workplace, to the government. Such powerful centralization made it difficult for people to engage in society as free citizens, and make decisions that represented their own interests. The essay would later form the basis of the opening chapter in his book People or Personnel (1965).

Another of the collected essays, "The Black Flag of Anarchism," traces the history of anarchism, and demonstrates how the New Left student movement of the 1960s drew inspiration from, and acted on, the philosophies and principles of anarchism, whether they realized so or not. Substitute the “Occupy movement” for “the student movement,” and what we have is an essay that is completely relevant to today’s social movements.

The “participatory democracy” called for by the students of the New Left, is the same organizational structure advocated by Occupy Wall Street, and its offshoots. This essay is notable not only because of its relevance to our own times, but that it first saw print in no less a mainstream media outlet than the New York Times Magazine in 1968.

What emerges in Drawing the Line Once Again is a collection of short works introducing the basic themes and concepts of Goodman’s writings. It is an excellent starting point for readers unfamiliar with his work to jump into an understanding of his ideas.

Throughout his works, Goodman’s success as a writer is in the clear and lucid ways in which he portrays often complex ideas. This makes the ideas, often contrary to conventional thinking, easy to not only comprehend but to engage with in a way that leads readers to new understanding. Where much political writing today drowns readers in jargon, or assumes levels of advanced scholarship, Goodman’s writing has the potential to reach a wider and more diverse audience, giving strength to his ideas that other equally intelligent writers might lack.

Note: Reviews of New Reformation, and The Paul Goodman Reader, two other PM Press reprints, will appear in our next two issues.

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The Meaning of Freedom: A Review

by John Duerk
Political Media Review
November 11, 2011

Angela Davis has written and lectured extensively on a variety of historical, social, political, and economic issues.  This 2008 talk is a great introduction for anyone who would like to learn more about her thoughts on race as it relates to our proclivity for incarcerating people by the millions here in the United States.
As someone who has taught in a state prison, I’ve thought a lot about a number of the concerns that she raises in this lecture.  For example, a majority of the 13 million people who enter and exit some level of the penal system each year are people of color.  Moreover, the practice of removing someone from society by itself does not teach an individual what he or she needs be a productive citizen upon release. Consequently, inmates too often experience a “civil death” because they are not reincorporated into the communities from which they came. All of this is very important for us to reflect upon if we have any intention of reevaluating how we address criminal behavior.
However, her most profound argument involves the connection between slavery and the current prison system. Davis acknowledges the advancements that have been made in society (e.g. abolition of the slave trade, 13th Amendment, Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965), but asks: “What about the whole scaffolding of racist ideology?” that persists today despite the commonly cited benchmarks of progress. Racism once manifested itself as the institution of slavery, but now it does so in the form of mass incarceration. In addition, this is further complicated by the fact that “prisons thrive on inequality” and hide social ills from us because sentencing people is much easier than determining what is wrong with them.
Beyond the ideology of racism, the relationship between our brand of democracy and capitalism allows the prison system to grow. Private companies see the opportunity to take advantage of incarceration rates, thereby leading to increased privatization of facilities and massive profits. The more time, energy, and money diverted toward prison building (both public and private), the less attention that is paid to other important issues like schools and employment. Furthermore, our system becomes a model for other countries.
While Davis thoroughly examines the intersection of race and incarceration, she could expand on what can be done to counter the problem. Yes, challenging people to rethink our conception and practice of democracy is important, but the list of suggestions that she briefly mentions at the end (e.g. living wage) could be explored in greater depth. People can rely upon their imaginations to visualize new approaches, however providing them with more direction is imperative when it comes to complex issues like this.
Angela Davis has long been an influential activist-scholar. Her work challenges you to reassess what you know about race as her analysis of ideology and institutions is unlike any other. I highly recommend that you listen to this lecture because the argument(s) she makes is (are) powerful.

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