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Update on the United for Justice, Not Divided by Racism

poster project by Melanie Cervantes and Chris Crass
reposted from DignidadRebelde
Originally posted November 22, 2011

To downoad "United by Justice, Not Divided By Racism" click here.

Thank you so much to all of you who played many different roles in making this project highly successful. From raising money, making donations, giving feedback, distributing the posters, and spreading the word about the project. Special love to Caitlin Carmody who shipped all of the posters from Berkeley.

Overview of the impact of all our efforts thus far.

• We printed up 15,000 11x17 inch posters at the radical printing press Inkworks, in Berkeley. They also hooked up low cost shipping. The posters went out to thirty cities in twenty states.   

• We know that the anti-racist collective Groundwork, gave out hundreds in Madison, Wisconsin at a Recall Gov. Walker rally. Posters have been given out at political education sessions at Occupy Washington D.C.  

• In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the state-wide immigrant rights organization, Voces de la Frontera, got 2,000 posters to use in their campaign work.  

• They have gone out to Occupy activists in Phoenix, Miami, Chattanooga, Boston, Knoxville, Greensboro, Wall Street, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland, Burlington, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Santa Rosa, Louisville, New Orleans and more. They also went to (Un)occupy Albuquerque.  

• In Oregon they are going to Portland, Salem, and Hood River (Oregon represent!)

• They are being used in a "Good Jobs" union campaign in Los Angeles, in the immigrant rights struggle in Alabama, by the Vermont Workers' Center in their state-wide organizing in mostly white working class communities, and by the North Carolina Justice Center in their efforts.

• The Unitarian Universalists are distributing 1,000 of them to congregations around Ohio and Arizona to use in their work.  

• Half a dozen Occupy anti-racism working groups are using them to help strengthen the overall racial justice analysis in their local Occupy efforts.   

• Additionally hundreds of you sent the poster out electronically in your networks, to organizations, family and friends, to your local Occupy, and beyond. We know folks in Grand Rapids, Michigan and New York City printed up their own copies of the poster to distribute.

Next Steps

For all of you distributing the poster or who are now inspired and want to print up your own or do it electronically, below are the goals of the project and suggested ways of using the poster. There is a also a link to a downloadable pdf.

Thank you for all the incredible ways each of you is bringing your leadership to this historic time of mass movement against inequality and for another world. In whatever ways you are contributing, it is significant. This is not a time for energy spent on "well I could be doing more" or "what I did wasn't that big a deal." This is a time for honoring that movements for justice are made of millions of people doing what they can, when they can, and I know what many of you are doing and it's amazing.  

Everyday has a victory, when we remember what our movements have won and achieved, and believe in our personal and collective ability to significantly advance liberation struggle. Small victories build our capacity to both create and win liberation. Thanks for helping make the poster project a series of small victories.

Goals of the "United for Justice, Not Divided by Racism" poster

1. We want to build up powerful, working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. The Occupy movement is an incredible convergence of movements for economic, social, racial, gender, and environmental justice. The Occupy movement not only resonates with millions of people, but it actively invites millions of people to participate in the creation of both the movement and the vision of what we are working towards. This poster is a tool to help build up the Occupy movement, deepen the anti-racist analysis of the movement, and express the solidarity of white communities with immigrant families of color in the 99%. We hope the poster will help express the Occupy movement's support for immigrant rights struggles around the country.

2. We want to give anti-racists around the country tools for building up stronger anti-racist politics and practice in white communities. We hope the poster will give white people a way to express their outrage for the profound inequalities of capitalism and white supremacy. We want white people to have visible ways of standing with communities of color against racist attacks. We want to support the growing consciousness that racism against communities of color hurts everyone, and is part of what keeps the inequalities of capitalism intact. We want to support white people resistance to the brutality of racism against communities of color, while simultaneously helping white people understand the necessity of
ending white supremacy as part of their own liberation from systems of oppression.  

3. We want to challenge the ways that racism divides movements for justice, and give white people tools to work against these divisions. We want to support white people standing with communities of color in ways that feed and nurture a culture of solidarity, dignity, and love. While we work against the impacts of systems of oppression in our communities, families, and lives, it is essential that we also build up liberatory culture, relationships, alliances, and practices.  

Suggestions for using the poster

1. We encourage anyone and everyone who wants to distribute, hang-up, print-out, and use this poster, to please do so. We have also created the poster with the above goals of reaching white people. With that said, the suggestions below are geared towards reaching white people, but they can also be used to think about reaching out to people in all of our communities.  

2. Take a moment to think about who you would like to distribute the poster to and why. You might think of people in your life and networks, as well as organizations, spiritual communities, places of business, Occupy lists, and so on. Write up a short statement about what the poster means to you and why you think it's important to work against racism and for economic justice. If you are sending it out to organizations, or Occupy lists, maybe write something about what it means for the work you all are doing and how you can use the poster to help move that work forward.  

3. If you can, distribute the poster, and other posters from the "We are the 99%" series, through organizational newsletters, blogs, websites and use it as an opportunity to talk with people you work with about why it is so important that we work against racism and for justice. Use this as an opportunity to express this organizationally in the distribution of the poster.

4.  Print up copies of the poster and distribute them widely at Occupy demonstrations and other important locations. In fact, print up copies of all of Melanie's "We are the 99%" posters and distribute them widely.

5. Think about ways to distribute the posters through networks and locations that will reach white people who are among the more then 53 percent of the country who support the Occupy movement message, but have never come to a demonstration. Think about ways the poster can be a stepping stone to help white people who have never thought of themselves as part of a movement, to feel more connected to this one. Think about ways the poster can help white people think about anti-racism and economic justice, while simultaneously being given an opportunity to take a stand. White people can put the poster up in windows at home, in businesses, places of worship, and community centers. In states around the country with anti-immigrant laws, white people can use the poster to show their opposition to these laws. 


6. Use the distribution of the posters in the Occupy movement as a way of engaging thousands of people of all backgrounds who are new to activism, about why anti-racism is a catalyst to building the powerful, working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation that we need. It is often helpful to have conversations with white people about racism, white privilege, and anti-racism, in the context of talking with them about something they can concretely do about it. It is important to help move people through, understandable, guilt, shame, and fear, by presenting positive options for thoughtful action.

7. Use the poster to step further into your power as an anti-racist leader in your community, organization, and Occupy demonstration (we are all leaders!).  

8. If you are part of a group of people distributing these posters, share experiences, lessons, and advice with one another. Momentum is a powerful force for moving people into action

Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




We are the 99 %. United for Justice, Not Divided By Racism

poster project by Melanie Cervantes and Chris Crass
reposted from DignidadRebelde
Originally posted October 30, 2011

A new 8.5 x 11 downloadable poster available. Click HERE to download.

This poster was collaboratively developed by anti-racist organizer Chris Crass and myself.

Chris Crass is a father and longtime organizer working to build powerful working class based, multiracial movements for collective liberation. As part of the global justice movement he helped start the Catalyst Project in 2000, which develops and supports anti-racist politics, leadership, and organization in white communities. Catalyst also works to build up working class and multiracial organizing efforts nationally. He has written widely on anti-authoritarian leadership, movement strategy, and organizing white people against racism and for collective liberation.

Chris's Statement about "United for Justice, Not Divided By Racism"

"When Melanie Cervantes approached me about making a poster based on a picture of my family at Occupy Knoxville, I jumped at the opportunity. The Occupy movement has opened space for all of our justice movements to step forward and provide leadership on the most critical issues we face as a people. Melanie's "We are the 99%" posters are giving shape to the movement by bringing struggles in communities of color into the center. I wanted to do this poster with Melanie, as a way of helping unite the Occupy movement to the struggle for immigrant rights. White supremacy pits white communities struggles for justice against communities of color struggles for justice. This poster represents the vision of anti-racist leadership in white communities joining with liberation struggles in communities of color, with the goal of collective liberation. When I look at my 4 month old baby, I think about how powerful this movement moment is for the future of our society and the world. We can do this. Thank you Melanie for all you are doing to help us see ourselves as a movement through your visionary art."

Goals of the "United for Justice, Not Divided by Racism" poster

1. We want to build up powerful, working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. The Occupy movement is an incredible convergence of movements for economic, social, racial, gender, and environmental justice. The Occupy movement notonly resonates with millions of people, but it actively invites millions of people to participate in the creation of both the movement and the vision of what we are working towards. This poster is a tool to help build up the Occupy movement, deepen the anti-racist analysisof the movement, and express the solidarity of white communities with immigrant families of color in the 99%. We hope the poster will help express the Occupy movement's support for immigrant rights struggles around the country.

2. We want to give anti-racists around the country tools for building up stronger anti-racist politics and practice in white communities. We hope the poster will give white people a way to express their outrage for the profound inequalities of capitalism and white supremacy. We want white people to have visible ways of standing with communities of color against racist attacks. We want to support the growing consciousness that racism against communities of color hurts everyone, and is part of what keeps the inequalities of capitalism intact. We want to support white people resistance to the brutality of racism against communities of color, while simultaneously helping white people understand the necessity of ending white supremacy as part of their own liberation from systems of oppression. 

3. We want to challenge the ways that racism divides movements for justice, and give white people tools to work against these divisions. We want to support white people standing with communities of color in ways that feed and nurture a culture of solidarity, dignity, and love. While we work against the impacts of systems of oppression in our communities, families, and lives, it is essential that we also build up liberatory culture, relationships, alliances, and practices. 

Suggestions for using the poster

1. We encourage anyone and everyone who wants to distribute, hang-up, print-out, and use this poster, to please do so. We have also created the poster with the above goals of reaching white people. With that said, the suggestions below are geared towards reaching white people, but they can also be used to think about reaching out to people in all of our communities. 

2. Take a moment to think about who you would like to distribute the poster to and why. You might think of people in your life and networks, as well as organizations, spiritual communities, places of business, Occupy lists, and so on. Write up a short statement about what the poster means to you and why you think it's important to work against racism and for economic justice. If you are sending it out to organizations, or Occupy lists, maybe write something about what it means for the work you all are doing and how you can use the poster to help move that work forward. 

3. If you can, distribute the poster, and other posters from the "We are the 99%" series, through organizational newsletters, blogs, websites and use it as an opportunity to talk with people you work with about why it is so important that we work against racism and for justice.  Use this as an opportunity to express this organizationally in the distribution of the poster.

4. Print up copies of the poster and distribute them widely at Occupy demonstrations and other important locations.  In fact, print up copies of all of Melanie's "We are the 99%" posters and distribute them widely.

5. Think about ways to distribute the posters through networks and locations that will reach white people who are among the more then 53% of the country who support the Occupy movement message, but have never come to a demonstration. Think about ways the poster can be a stepping stone to help white people who have never thought of themselves as part of a movement, to feel more connected to this one. Think about ways the poster can help white people think about anti-racism and economic justice, while simultaneously being given an opportunity to take a stand.  White people can put the poster up in windows at home, in businesses, places of worship, and community centers.  In states around the country with anti-immigrant laws, white people can use the poster to show their opposition to these laws. 

6.  Use the distribution of the posters in the Occupy movement as a way of engaging thousands of people of all backgrounds who are new to activism, about why anti-racism is a catalyst to building the powerful, working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation that we need.  It is often helpful to have conversations with white people about racism, white privilege, and anti-racism, in the context of talking with them about something they can concretely do about it.  It is important to help move people through, understandable, guilt, shame, and fear, by presenting positive options for thoughtful action.

7.  Use the poster to step further into your power as an anti-racist leader in your community, organization, and Occupy demonstration (we are all leaders!). 

8. If you are part of a group of people distributing these posters, share experiences, lessons, and advice with one another.  Momentum is a powerful force for moving people into action.

Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




Black Mask: Trip Through an Anarchist Turf War

By Paul Buhle
Truthout
February 5, 2012

I recall seeing the legendary Ben Morea only once. It was at a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) national convention, probably in 1967, and he appeared about to explode. People on each side of him held him down as he attempted to rise, apparently in response to what was being said on the stage, although he didn't shout (as I recall) and the particulars were a bit mysterious.

Very Morea, in other words. By 1968, black and red flags crossed at the front of the SDS convention, and it seemed a fine moment for anarchism . . . and the global revolution. My own Radical America magazine, syndicalistic by nature, had begun planning the translation/publication of Society of the Spectacle, the Situationist text (by the time it happened, SDS had imploded), and documents as well as analyses of the crossover from student radicalism to black power and working class resistance, not to mention feminist initiatives. "Marxism" was much too small for all this.

Thus, Morea and his comrades. He was, as we learn in the last section of the book (a 2006 interview reprinted here) an artist who experienced his teen years in Manhattan, somewhat older than new left types (like me). A substance abuser, he spent some time in jail, emerging to grasp onto the Living Theater as lifeline and radical art of some kind as his mission. Dada, surrealism, Zen, and more fed the mix, and he formed a group with like-minded types in the middle 1960s. Black Mask, (co-founded by Morea and Ron Hahne, who otherwise disappears from this publication), a pamphlet that looked like a tabloid, first appeared in 1966. For those days, it was wild.

So was the group. They believed in a kind of anti-art, a disruption of galleries and exhibitions that represented the official art world, offering guerilla theater and bold statements in Black Mask, sold for a nickel or given away free. Likely, the most famous incident involving the group was not theirs: Valerie Solaris' attempted assassination of Andy Warhol. Morea not only wrote a pamphlet defending her act and her politics (she was a brilliant and extremely funny polemicist), he probably left a gun around where she could grab it. Because Warhol was seen as corrupting the possibilities of avant-garde art, he was (and is, in the interview) seen as an appropriate target.

Much of the rest of the story belongs in that same time period, when experiments with LSD were likely to accompany the boldest antiwar activity; when rock promoter Bill Graham represented the performance music industry and in response The Family (a broader entity around Morea and Black Mask) could seize the stage, enforcing a free night of music for eager youngsters; and when resistance against police seemed to rise to the occasion, at least sometimes. If anyone inspired the Affinity Groups that accompanied demonstrations and confronted the law, for better or worse, it was the group that was called UAW/MF (they accepted the title without calling themselves that).

They also promoted the merger of the counterculture with the homeless, on the Lower East Side, thus offering a precursor to Occupy. That on the positive side. The negatives should not be ignored. In retrospect, they appear larger than they did at the time.

When UAW/MF disrupted peace-poetry readings because old-timers were of Popular Front vintage; when pacifists found themselves outmaneuvered by macho tactics; when efforts to build coalitions were damaged and, in relation to the young feminist movement, made nearly impossible, the limits of anarchist tactics had been more than reached. The nearness of possible revolutionary transformation justified what could not otherwise be justified or perhaps even comprehensible. It should also be added: the degree of ego was too evident. Black Maskees could not work with Situationists (even more conspiratorial and egotistic) or with anarchist chieftain Murray Bookchin (despite his brilliance or because of it, urgently seeking Bookchinites, his own camp followers), making issues often seem  less political than personal. It was a turf war.

Readers can judge for themselves, because this book reprints the entirety of Black Mask, albeit not in the tabloid format, along with assorted leaflets. The documentation is terrific and worth the price alone.

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




Capital and Its Discontents: A Review

By Kate Drabinski
Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
January 22, 2012
 
In their interview with Sasha Lilley, Leo Panitch and Doug Henwood argue that the Left must seriously reflect on the workings of the global economy if it is to effect change: "there really does need to be some more serious talk about how the world works and what kind of world we would like to see and how we get from point A to point B" (89). This call is heeded in Lilley’s Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult, a collection of interviews with leading academics, economists, activists, and artists emerging from Lilley’s work on KPFA public radio’s program Against the Grain. Lilley’s radio interviews have been extended and completed, and the result is a remarkable collection of interviews that challenge and deepen much of the received wisdom that shapes contemporary popular movements. The collection could not be more timely, given the rise of popular movements against states and capitalism worldwide, and the fourteen interviewees raise important questions for the Left, which needs to actively think about and strategize the current crisis in capitalism that is marked by falling world markets, threats of a global depression, and mounting ecological crises.

The interviews are divided into three parts:‘Empire, Neoliberalism, and Crisis, which offers a variety of diagnoses of the current crisis; Commodification, Enclosure, and the Contradictions of Capitalism, which explores the connections between capital, ecology, and environmental crisis; and Alternatives?, which raises more questions than answers. Taken together, the volume is a thought-provoking, accessible, and essential collection of conversations that should be widely read.

The first section offers pointed critiques of some popular Left views, and this alone makes the volume an important read as it deepens the analysis of the current crisis and moves beyond approaches that call for a return to a time before capital, make overblown contentions about globalization, or insist that the real problem is simply a lack of government regulation. For example, in Ellen Meiskins Wood’s interview, she argues against the Hardt and Negri-type view that globalization has rendered the nation-state less powerful. She argues instead that "what’s really characteristic of globalization is the growing disparity between the global reach of capitalist economic domination and the persistence of the territorial state which it still needs, because capital needs an orderly, predictable legal and administrative apparatus more than any other social form has ever done" (37). Lilley’s deft follow up questions allow Meiskins Wood to extend her thoughts as well as link them back to Marx’s writings themselves. The result is a thoughtful exposition of historical and current debates about the role of the state in organizing capital that both explains the view that globalization means a decline in the nation-state and a rise of Empire, yet contests that "the state is perhaps more than ever the point of concentration of capitalist powers" (42).

This book continues with similar intellectual treats. David Harvey’s explanation of the rise of neoliberalism in the United States and around the world in the 1970s offers much-needed historical context, arguing for neoliberalism as itself a class revolt. Panitch and Henwood also take on the question of globalization, arguing that it has led to a growth in state power while also making possible an international movement of workers; global production means that a strike at one end of the supply chain can ripple around the world. David McNally explains the global economic meltdown, and challenges popular assumptions that increased governmental regulation is the solution. In the closing interview of this first section, Sam Gindin, Greg Albo, and Panitch extend McNally’s observations and call for greater political organization of workers and social movements more generally if the Left is to have a voice on the political stage at all. They also offer possible Left demands that could unify a larger movement, including free public transit and universal pension programs that would fund government deficits and democratized social benefits. As a group, these interviews deepen our understanding of the relations between state and capital, offer new diagnoses of the current global economic situation, and call for new political organizing in the face of this crisis of capital.

The second group of interviews focuses on Marxist understandings of ecological crisis, and makes a strong case for understanding social, economic, and environmental crises as part of a single "crisis." John Bellamy Foster resituates Marx’s materialist conception of nature and reminds us that for Marx, the problem of alienation is not just a matter of labor, but also of nature. Foster argues that resituating Marx in this way can help us see the importance of the green movement’s addressing the entire capitalist system rather than simply individual consciousness. Jason Moore’s interview is especially good at resituating the environmental crisis. Moore challenges us to move away from thinking about the "twin crisis of capitalism and the environment" and instead see them as the same crisis, in order to "open up a new way of seeing those large, so-called 'social' processes that we always refer to—globalization, imperialism, industrialization—as themselves ecological projects’ that attempt to refashion the relationship between humans and nature, as if the two are separate from each other" (136).

Gillian Hart looks to East Asia and South Africa to examine different paths to capitalist development and how struggles around land and livelihood can be both highly contextualized and link to struggles in other places. Ursula Huws brings issues of gender explicitly into the discussion, asking how labor organization might arise from those working at home or away from traditional workplaces. This section of interviews roots the global crisis in place(s) and reminds us that context, history, and geography all matter, not just in how crisis plays out, but also in how we imagine solutions.

The final section of the book—Alternatives?—aptly ends with a question mark. The interviewees here continue to diagnose the current crisis, but with an eye specifically toward other ways to organize the world, and yet their ‘alternatives’ remain largely hidden. Vivek Chibber looks at how states have largely supported capitalist development even when ostensibly regulating it, and calls for state and labor to make different political choices given this reality. Refusing to offer a blanket alternative, he rightly argues that context matters, and that different national capitalisms demand different responses. Mike Davis calls on the Left to remember Isaac Deutscher’s thought as potentially useful to politics, but he does not offer a clear explanation of how Deutscher might be useful in imagining alternatives in the present. Tariq Ali reviews his own involvement in Left activism during and after the war in Vietnam and argues that the lack of a socialist bloc that serves as an organizing alternative means the Left must imagine new ways of organizing. John Sanbonmatsu defines and explores the limits of postmodernism, arguing that the refusal to make normative ethical and political claims cedes too much to the right, which has few qualms in this area. Noam Chomsky and Andrej Grubacic come closest to offering "ways out." Chomsky reminds us that any move toward a stateless society must offer clear alternatives that would transform society, though he does not tell us what those alternatives would be, partly because we cannot know in advance what our new world might look like. Grubacic discusses his involvement in the Peoples’ Global Action, and draws on that experience in offering several explanations for what revolution might look like, acknowledging that revolutionary socialism would not look the same in all contexts. In the U.S. context, he argues that what is needed is strategic clarity and increased political imagination. These final interviews do not offer a clear answer to the implicit question "What is to be done?," but they do offer several models for imagining what we might do now and in the future.

As a whole the book offers incredibly thought-provoking interviews, made more so by Lilley’s excellent questioning, and demonstrates her deep and insightful knowledge of the issues and the thinkers with whom she engages. Readers hoping to find a roadmap to revolution might be disappointed, but it is a disappointment we all must face. There is no single answer, no single vision of the world after a final capitalist crisis. There is struggle, best waged with a clear idea of the many facets of the situation itself. This book is an invaluable resource for thinking critically and in complex ways about our current crisis, while also offering examples of resistance and revolution. In his interview, Gindin argues that what the Left needs are alternatives: "I don’t think you have to convince people that capitalism isn’t wonderful. You just have to convince them that there is something they can do about it" (120). This book leaves readers with the sense that not only is there something we can do about it, but we no longer have the choice to do nothing.


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Zen Monk Offers Up Brutal Enlightenment in Bloody Little Gem of a Contemporary Noir

By Paul Goal Allen
Barnes&Noble.com
February 2012

“I was never afraid of him, but other people are. Yes, they still are. They’re afraid of a dead man. They think he’ll still come and get them if they don’t keep their mouths shut.”
 – The Wrong Thing by Barry Graham

My motivation for picking up and reading books varies from title to title—generally it’s because I’m already familiar with the author or series, oftentimes the interest is based on a particularly positive review or suggestion, and sometimes it’s something as simple as intriguing cover art. None of these, however, are why I was compelled to seek out and read Barry Graham’s The Wrong Thing—it’s because of Barry Graham himself.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Graham is a Zen monk who, according to his website, serves as the Abbot of The Sitting Frog Zen Center in Phoenix— and he also writes brutal, soul-wrenching crime fiction.

The Wrong Thing was a bloody little gem of a contemporary noir, revolving around a young Mexican-American drug dealer known as the Kid. Raised in a low-income neighborhood of Santa Fe by unloving parents, the Kid’s savage childhood—stabbing a bully in the face with a pen, slicing open a dishonest drug dealer’s face, etc.—has become almost mythologized, like a modern-day Mexican-American version of Billy the Kid. He has become “a legend created in the barrio, a phantom who was blamed for every unsolved act of violence by a Mexican.”

Fueled by unhealthy doses of existential angst, sex and violence, a particularly remarkable element of The Wrong Thing is in the way in which it is told. The narrator is a junkie who only met the Kid once, just moments before his death:

“This is what they are saying about him, what some people are saying about him. And it may be true. Or it may be lies. Just like the story I am about to tell you. It may be a lie, it may be the truth, or it may be both. Nobody knows. The only one who knows is him, and he can’t speak anymore. And I can’t speak for him; I don’t know what he would say. I can only speak of him, tell another version of the story.”

What transpires is a retelling of the Kid's short existence—fleeting moments of transcendence in a life filled with darkness and more than a few missteps.

The Wrong Thing was one of those rare reads that stays with you, like shadows lingering in your subconscious. Although this was a relatively quick read (only 128 pages), it explores a diversity of weighty subject matter—classism, racism, the death penalty, the power (or lack thereof) of love, etc.— and is deeply thought provoking. It's about someone who has lost his way in the world—a young man who is perceived as a monster who is still a scared little boy at heart—but, ultimately, it is about every one of us and our struggle to understand and heal ourselves.

A brutal blend of modern-day myth and crime fiction, The Wrong Thing is the right thing for adventurous readers looking for literary enlightenment.

“Then he was dead, and some people cried, but most didn’t. And the people with lawns and 401 (k) plans and straight white teeth felt safer now, because the Kid was gone.”
The Wrong Thing by Barry Graham
 
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. 

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Activist Recalls Bloody Train Incident, Nonviolent Life in New Book

By John Dear SJ
National Catholic Reporter
January 31, 2012

On Sept. 1, 1987, one of the most dedicated peace activists in the nation sat down with friends on the train tracks outside the Concord Naval Weapons Station near the Bay Area in California to block a U.S. Navy Munitions train loaded with weapons bound for Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Instead of stopping the train and arresting the protestors, authorities ordered the train to speed up to three times faster than permitted. While some protestors barely made it off the tracks and one jumped onto the front of the train, Brian Willson was hit directly and run over. As friends watched in horror, Brian tumbled over and over again under the train. The top of his head and his legs were torn off, and he suffered nineteen broken bones and many severe cuts. But by a miracle of God, Brian survived.

Almost twenty-five years later, Brian has published an astonishing autobiography, Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson (PM Press, Oakland, CA, 2011, 441 pages, with an introduction by Daniel Ellsberg). This massive book is one of the best accounts of nonviolent resistance in our nation's history. Like Ron Kovic's Born on the Fourth of July, it should be required reading. Brian's story carries the same weight as the stories of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero and the Berrigans. He has much to teach us.

Blood On the Tracks tells of his heroic life, determined dedication, risky resistance, sharp social critique and steadfast commitment to nonviolence. He takes us through his painful personal journey as a metaphorical map guiding us out of the "American Way Of Life" into a new nonviolent, liberated humanity. Along the way, he provides in-depth analysis of American militarism in Vietnam, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia, occupied Palestine, Ecuador, Brazil, Iraq, Cuba and Chiapas. Finally, his subtle spiritual journey points us toward a slower, simpler, more authentic, peaceful way of life.

Brian constantly challenged himself to grow into a better, more open human being. Reading his book does the same for us. As he deconstructs the myths of American war-making and takes steps to resist, we ponder our own journeys and what new steps we can take. He concludes with reflections on his current pursuit of a simpler life rooted in the earth and local community.

I call him Brian because I have known him since the mid-1980s. In 1986, while I was working at the Washington, D.C., office of "Witness for Peace," trying to stop the U.S. war against Nicaragua, I met Brian and helped him support our friend Charlie Liteky, a Vietnam veteran who turned in his Medal of Honor at the Vietnam wall. Once, we spent an afternoon walking the streets of D.C. debating how to stop the U.S. wars in Central America through active nonviolence. His passion for peace had a huge impact on me. I was twenty-five at the time and still recovering from experiences the year before in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Brian told me I had a responsibility to resist and disrupt the culture of war here at home.

Like Ron Kovic, Brian was born on the Fourth of July, in 1941. He grew up in small-town rural America as a "Commie-hating, baseball-loving Baptist" and underwent a life-changing experience as a soldier in Vietnam. In the years that followed, he began to join other vets to protest the war. As he traveled the world and learned about U.S. war-making, he became a full-time nonviolent resister. He organized, spoke out, marched, fasted, lobbied and was arrested and jailed for peace.

In the fall of 1986, he and his friends began a high-profile water-only Veterans Fast for Life against the U.S. contra war on Nicaragua. That fast, and his trips through Central America, led to his protest at the weapons depot the following year.

On one trip to Nicaragua, he met hundreds of campesinos who had lost their legs because of U.S. bombs and landmines. He wondered how he could live in greater solidarity with them. In the summer of 1987, Brian knew that his resistance to U.S. war-making in Central America needed to escalate.

"Violence is our business to stop
nonviolently," he wrote in a statement before the fateful day. "None of this is possible as long as we are unable or unwilling to pay the price or endure the risks of living and working for justice and peace."

"Once the train carrying the munitions moves past our human blockade, if it does, other human beings in other parts of the world will be killed and maimed," Brian wrote just before Sept. 1. "We are not worth more. They are not worth less. Let us commit to ourselves and the world that we will claim our dignity, self-respect and honor by resisting with our lives and dollars, no matter what it takes, any further policies designed to kill others in our name, in each of our names ultimately."

Thankfully, Brian doesn't remember the events of that day. The book, however, includes many color photos as well as the transcript of a recording of the event. The government denied that the train sped up, but media film footage captured the entire event, and supported the witnesses' claims. It was shown around the world, and spurred thousands more to protest our wars. Brian writes:

"In one instant, I experienced, in my own body, the brute force of U.S. power that so many poverty-stricken villagers feel every day around the world. I survived, but my legs were taken from me. Since then, I've been walking on Third World Legs . . . From now on I would declare myself Absent With Out Leave from the American Way Of Life. My quest would be for an alternate way of life that I could promote. I thought about the villagers in Viet Nam and the campesinos in Nicaragua, and it seemed to me that these peoples lived a simpler life in tune with the earth that was not inherently violent, destructive, or imperial."

After Brian was run over, thousands journeyed to the Concord Naval Weapons Station and were arrested blocking weapons shipments. In the years afterward, every train and truck was blocked, and thousands were arrested on the tracks.

Blood On the Tracks is a major accomplishment and will live on for years as a testament of nonviolent resistance to American war-making.

"All of us are covered in the blood of war through our complicity with the American Way Of Life," he writes. "The alternative to genocide and ecocide is living humanly and wholly in local, steady-state, relatively small, food- and simple-tool-sufficient communities. We need to learn the art of becoming uncivilized."

He concludes:

"My body healed long ago, but that does not mean my healing has ended. My journey continues. I realize now that the U.S. engine of prosperity cannot be stopped until we change our very way of life. Each one of us must choose between an American Way Of Life that values selfish material prosperity and a way of life that values our collective humanity."

We don't have much time to choose wisely. Today, our national addiction to material comfort is so grotesque that, though we comprise only 4.6 percent of the world's population, we consume [up] to half of the world's resources. Our sky is filled with pollutants, our seas with plastics, our lands covered with pools of toxic waste. In our desperate desire for more, we are now waging war on our own home, the earth itself.

Blood On the Tracks should be reviewed by The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and every other major paper in the nation. He should be featured on all the national TV programs. The churches should grapple with his extraordinary witness, his crucifixion for protesting our wars and weapons. But if that doesn't happen, at least every one of us who struggles for justice and peace should read and ponder Brian's life and witness.

I hope Blood On the Tracks will inspire others to follow Brian out of the "American Way Of Life" and into the new life of peace and nonviolence. We don't necessarily have to sit on train tracks, but like Brian, we do have to figure out what our responsibility is. Brian Willson shows us the way.

***

John will speak Feb. 4 at the Seattle Spiritual Books Festival and Feb. 6 in Portland. His new book, Lazarus, Come Forth!, explores Jesus as the God of life calling humanity (in the symbol of the dead Lazarus) out of the tombs of the culture of war and death. To see John's 2012 speaking schedule, go to John Dear's website. John is profiled with Dan Berrigan and Roy Bourgeois in a new book, Divine Rebels by Deena Guzder (Lawrence Hill Books). This book and other recent books, including Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings; Put Down Your Sword and A Persistent Peace, are available from Amazon.com.

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500 Years of Indigenous Resistance on Razorcake

By Steve Hart
Razorcake
November 22, 2011

The story of smallpox being introduced to Native Americans and the decimation of the First Nation people has been well-documented, but there was always something about that story that didn’t sit well with me. I’ve sat in classes with Native Americans and Hawaiians and watched them squirm in discomfort while the smallpox story makes them sound weak and unable to defend themselves. By the succumbing to smallpox, my friends felt embarrassed for their ancestors, like there was something wrong with them. This history, of course, doesn’t take into account the absolute filth the European occupiers lived in. It doesn’t mention the bizarre quasi-religious superstitions the Europeans believed in (Queen Elizabeth of England rarely bathed throughout her life)—instead, history condemns indigenous people as collateral damage.

500 Years of Indigenous Resistance is an attempt to rectify this history. From 1492 to present day, indigenous people have resisted the European onslaught. Gord Hill details battles between the indigenous people and the colonizers. While civilization (in the European sense) was seen as mutually beneficial, 500 Years points out how European hegemony has been, and still is, resisted against by indigenous people from South America, Central America, and North America despite going against the machinations of civilization. I’d like to see this book used in history classes as a supplement or a contrary point of view from what is normally taught.

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Robin Hood in North Adams Transcript

By John Steven
North Adams Transcript
February 6, 2012

It's doubtful there has been a rebel that has endured longer than Robin Hood, and part of his longevity is certainly attributable to the fact that, as a fictional and somewhat mysterious character, he is entirely malleable to fit the needs of any age.

In Robin Hood: People's Outlaw and Forest Hero, Paul Buhle takes a thematic approach that, through sheer luck, pairs with much of the political movements going on today.

Specifically, Buhle comes from an extreme leftist viewpoint, almost revolutionary, and his examination of the legend of Robin elicits Occupy and Anonymous more than anything else. And the existence of those two entities speak more than anything else as to the continued relevance of the legend of Robin Hood in our society.

Buhle takes an unique approach to the examination, alternating between dense essays and lighter graphic summations. It's with this tactic that Buhle's book achieves the very trait it trumpets—populism. There's plenty of information to be had in the essays—all of it fascinating—but as Buhle winds through the history of Robin Hood—both literary and historically—the short graphic asides become an easy guide to the wider sweeps his essays capture.

In this form, the stories of rebellious preacher John Ball, feisty peasant Wat Tyler and the many manifestations of Maid Marian are laid out simply, and truly do leave you wanting.

There's a ton of material for a future all graphic edition, to be sure, as Buhle looks back the fight to allow normal citizens to read the Bible in England, as battled specifically by theologian populist John Wycliffe, who embarks on a plot with radical Oxford students to translate the Bible into a common language and moves through the ballads, novels, films and TV shows that have portrayed rebellion in the form of one guy in green.

In one fascinating chapter, Buhle traces the links between Robin Hood and the pagan personages within British and Celtic folklore, such as the Green Man—no surprise if you've ever seen the Druiderific British television show from the 1980s—and other religious and mystical links. Robin is a social weapon, for sure, but he is also the voice of the land.

There's so much to be said about Robin Hood that there's no way Buhle's modestly-sized work could ever say it all—but in relating a cultural history of Robin of Sherwood Forest, he makes a lot of information accessible at a time when Robin is more needed than ever.

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On the Ground on RalphMag

By Lolita Lark
RalphMag
February 2012

If you had the misfortune to live through the Eisenhower years, you will know how stifling, tedious, uneventful, yawn-inducing, stultifying and ultimately soul-killing those times were. We all knew that a small clan in Washington along with an even smaller one in Moscow held our lives in their hands as their hands inched towards the red buttons marked ICBM.

They threatened each other but not as much as they threatened us—for the button-pushers all had bunkers where they would ride out the ruination of the world. With that knowledge—you and me fried, them bunkered down underground—they were scaring the rest of us to death. They flitted from crisis to crisis, getting closer to the moment when most of the rest of us would be no more.

Those who didn't live through it will never know how bleak these times were. We were all sitting on death row and the executioners babbled on, obviously not caring what we thought or wanted. All our lives hung by a threat (I meant to write "thread," but the other will do as well). The continuing close calls (Berlin, Hungary, Suez, Cuba, Quemoy, Matsu) made the rest of us sure that we were going to be incinerated by a blaze initiated by a bunch of dolts. And every time we protested, we were accused of siding with the enemy.

I think most of us reacted as people do when they are faced with their own immanent death. Those floating at the edge—capital punishment, cancer, heart disease, no matter how brave, pious and accepting—seem to turn inwards and distant, what Keats defined as ending up in the place

    1.    "Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
    2.       Where but to think is to be full of sorrow."

§   §   §

And yet in the midst of this madness, a ray of light burst forth. First there was Paul Krassner's Realist. Within a short time, Max Scheer's Berkeley Barb, Art Kunkin's Los Angeles Free Press, John Wilcock's East Village Other, the Oracle in San Francisco (one of the most fetching, with its delicate tracery) . . . along with others at East Michigan State University and the University of Texas.

Then suddenly there were hundreds of tabloids, filled with a sane madness, all made possible by "photo-offset." So simple, so obvious, so cheap. All you had to do was to stick stuff on a piece of cardboard (typeset, rub-on letters for headlines, halftones) and then you'd take it to the printer, and he would shoot it, and you'd say "we want 5,000 copies," and they would do it on newsprint, cheap rough paper, and suddenly, as Thorne Dreyer writes, "It was amazing because it started out being five or six underground newspapers and eventually there were hundreds all over the world."

On the Ground consists of interviews with a couple of dozen of those who were there at the beginning: Krassner, Kunkin, Scheer, Shero, and—trying to tie them all together—the Liberation News Service. It's a great deal of fun to read these memoirs, brings back memories of ratty offices with people everywhere, doing all sorts of weird stuff. For example, Judy Gumbo Albert worked for the Barb, in their sex-ad department (and their sex ads were a howl): "I always knew when one of my favorite clients was walking down the street on his way into the Barb office because I recognized the loud clanking from the chains he wore." He was, she tells us, "very sweet and polite" and he would write his ad, "Seeking young man for western games."

    1.    I was a naïve young woman from Canada; this job really opened me up to, and made me appreciate the diversity of human sexuality.

§   §   §

One of the best interviews here is with Harvey Wasserman. He helped start LNS and here he nails down for all of us the ethos of the times. It was about building a community, about suddenly finding others who felt that America was on the wrong track . . . feeling that we had a chance to get things back on course again.

In the process, we built communities, communities of like-minded people, who we could hang out with, get stoned with, work with: "You start off with a small core and people are on each other's wavelength, personally and politically, you think the same way . . . and there is no decision-making problem. It's a family situation, really."

    1.    We never had editorial meetings. Anybody in our little group who wanted to put out an article put it out. We all loved each other's stuff . . . we really were just all on the same page.

And then, sigh, inevitably, "The group in New York wanted to have editorial meetings to decide what was going to go in the news service. Our feeling was: we're not a newspaper, we're a news service, we're putting stuff out there and if the editors want to run it that's up to them."

    1.    It was a magical time for us. And that word "magic" was used because somehow everything was impossible, all the situations we confronted were impossible, and somehow we got through them.

And then "they wanted to throw us out . . . We started having these meetings to work things out. It's like a marriage, when you start having meetings you know you're in trouble."

§   §   §
If you are an old underground fan like I am, the pictures here will knock you out. Full page spreads from the Barb or the Seed or Rat . . . and the drawings: "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers"—I actually had friends from back then that looked like the three of them. Oh, the cartoons. My god, there are a couple here by Crumb that in the not-so-stoned twenty-first century could get you locked up in the gray-bar hotel. We're surprised that PM had the guts to publish them. And as I am writing this I am thinking: What has happened to us now? What are we so afraid of now?

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Spray Paint the Walls in Razorcake

By Kurt Morris
Razorcake
January 23, 2012

The almighty Black Flag . . . what can you say? The Flag, if not the favorite, is certainly in my top three favorite bands ever. And I don’t shun any of their stuff, either. In fact, I celebrate their entire catalog: I love everything from The First Four Years to In My Head (including the B-side of My War)—all of it. I find an emotional and mental connection with their lyrics and the alienation they displayed. The insanity of Keith Morris’ vocals, the intensity and anguish of Henry Rollins’ growls, all displayed through great musicianship, especially Greg Ginn’s amazing guitar work. It’s some of the most creative guitar playing I’ve ever heard, especially as it relates to hardcore punk.

That all being said, Spray Paint the Walls has a lot to live up to and, for the most part, it succeeds. It follows a chronological history of the band. Each of the chapters takes the title of a Black Flag song and starts with a quote from one of the members of Black Flag or someone associated with them. The details can be impressive. While I’m not a scholar on the band, I did consider myself someone who was fairly knowledgeable of them. But even I learned a lot. I learned about the background of many of the members: where they were raised, what their family life was like, how they got into playing their instrument, and how they got into punk. It was interesting and helped me come to a better grasp of how Black Flag was shaped. There was also a lot of context provided for lyrics. For example, I learned that “Room 13” was the number of the room that Greg Ginn’s girlfriend lived in at the time the song was written. I learned that the Strand mentioned in “Wasted” is a path near the ocean in Hermosa Beach, and that “My War” is about Greg Ginn.

Author Stevie Chick did a fine job of compiling a lot of various sources into a generally fluid narrative, including interviews with band members, roadies, friends of the band, and those who worked at SST (Black Flag’s record label) to describe the motivations of individuals in the band. He accurately described the sound of Black Flag better than just about anyone else I’ve read and he did so without leaning on clichés, silly metaphors, blanket generalizations, or putting in his two cents when he easily could have done so. His decision to include a number of black and white photos of Black Flag in the middle of the book is a superb idea. They capture the intensity and energy of the band live, as well as showing some of their more casual side away from the stage.

I certainly found the book engaging and hard to put down, but there were numerous problems, although none of them fatal. Primarily, while I understand it may be near impossible to get it to happen, the lack of quotations from Ginn and Rollins (beyond sporadic interviews they’ve provided in the past and material pulled from Rollins’ Get in the Van) left a lot unsaid. While Get in the Van is incredibly helpful, even Rollins has admitted he left a lot out of the book.

Furthermore, Spray Paint the Walls had many of the band members making harsh accusations against Ginn. While they all acknowledged his superior skills and tough work ethic, they also pointed out a number of personality flaws that drove members out of Black Flag. Ginn may have been the propellant for the brilliance of the Flag, but, according to many in the band’s circle, he was also the reason for its ultimate demise. An inability to hear Ginn’s side of the story left the book with a big hole that needed filled.

Due to their superfluous nature, there were a number of portions of the book I skimmed or passed over entirely. At times, Chick segued into a history of Southern California punk, or, more specifically, on bands such as Redd Kross or the Minutemen. A chapter was flowing well and—in the midst of providing some context to Black Flag or a member of the band—someone not directly part of the Black Flag camp was mentioned and their history was given. It was not integral to the story that the reader be aware of how, say, Steven McDonald from Redd Kross got involved in punk. There were multiple times when Chick provided history of loosely affiliated individuals and it broke severely with the fluidity of the narrative. If someone such as McDonald had some thoughts to share about Black Flag, great, but there was no need for anything more than identifying who he was in the scene.

Chick’s writing struggled at making a decision as to whether he was writing a biography of Black Flag or if he’d rather have written a history of Southern California punk. While some might argue that the two must be told together, based on the material written about Black Flag alone, Chick seemed quite capable of creating an all-encompassing picture of the band on its own without including the SoCal hardcore scene material.

While the interviews for the book were key, many of the interviews were comprised of long blocks of quotations that ran over the course of many paragraphs. It was occasionally confusing as to who was speaking, as their commentary might run a page or more. Further editing of these blocks (any fan of punk knows Mike Watt and Keith Morris are ramblers) would have been helpful in seeking out the most essential material about the band. These interviews were often cited using footnotes, but in a very sporadic manner. While the notation can be helpful, Chick should have either done the footnotes fully or not used them at all.

This wasn’t the most comprehensive biography of Black Flag (I know it’s not Chick’s fault, but without Ginn and Rollins chipping in, things will never feel entirely complete). If you read Spray Paint the Walls along with Rollins’ Get in the Van and the chapter on Black Flag from Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, however, you’ll get about the most well-rounded picture you can hope for of one of the best punk bands in history. All complaints aside (hey, I’m a critic and a huge Black Flag fan—you can’t expect me not to nit pick), Spray Paint the Walls is essential in filling a large piece of the story of Black Flag heretofore not compiled in one place. –Kurt Morris (PM Press, PO Box 23912, Oakland, CA 94623)

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