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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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Rad Dad in Razorcake #2

By Kurt Morris
Razorcake
January 23, 2012

I am not a dad and have no intention of ever becoming one, so, in one sense, I am probably not the target audience of this book, nor am I perhaps the best person to review it. That being said, I still enjoyed Rad Dad. Edited by the author of the zine, Rad Dad, and the blogger of “Daddy Dialectic, these pieces (whose contributors include a wide array of men) delve into the idea of how to raise your child with a counter-cultural viewpoint. In other words, if you’re an activist or punk rocker or some kind of “outsider,” how do you make your child aware of those ideas in a society that can seem very sexist, racist, and/or homophobic? How does the father pass on those attributes that made them into who they are, as well as made them aware of their own hegemony, as men? I find this topic interesting, especially as I get older and see more punk rockers having children. So many punk rock fans fall out of the scene as they leave their twenties and think they have to adjust their lives in a more “adult” manner. Rad Dad is seeking to show dads that they can still retain their punk rock values and be dads, too.

The book is broken down into essays in various categories that include: Birth, Babies and Toddlers; Childhood; Tweens and Teens; and Politics of Parenting: Gender, Race, Allies, Visions. Finally, there is a section of interviews with various individuals including Ian MacKaye, Jeff Chang (author of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation), Ta-Nehisi Coates (writer for The Atlantic), author Steve Almond, and others. The Q&A between the editors and these individuals is fluid and insightful, and for those who aren’t parents it is also the most accessible portion of the book. The short essays that precede those interviews cover a range of topics including war, gender, sexuality, feminism, and patriarchy.

Just to be clear, though, this is not a self-help parenting book for men. This is a book of experiences fathers have had and, often times, there isn’t a happy resolution to the problems the dads are facing. As the subtitle says, these are “dispatches from the frontiers of fatherhood.” There are arguments and frustrations and, sometimes, the dads say, “I don’t know all the answers.” But I suppose, for many dads, that might bring some comfort knowing that they’re not alone in their challenges.

(PM Press, PO Box 23912, Oakland, CA 94623 / Microcosm Publishing, 636 SE 11th Ave., Portland, OR 97214)

 

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Missing Out On the Grotesque

By Isaac Dwyer
Parallax
February 8, 2012

Rearing his avant-garde head from a sea of psychological torture and anarchy, Nick Blinko, of the eighties British punk band Rudimentary Peni, has constructed a semi-autobiographical tale accompanied by his own bizarrely intriguing pen drawings. In The Primal Screamer, the story follows the transformation of Nat Snoxell from a quiet yet tormented soul into a still tormented, still suicidal but at least almost-famous punk-rock star that manages to survive the adolescent merry-go-round. Told through Nat’s psychiatrist, Dr. Rodney H. Dweller’s journal, the story’s plot is delightfully rich and the images and events described in Dweller’s journal entries intriguing and fanatical. However, a majority of the actual prose of the book lacks the macabre poetics that the plot sets up the reader to expect.

The book begins with a telling of Nat’s first visit to Dweller’s office, where he ends up after a nearly successful suicide. The reader is intrigued by the mere shock value of the situation, and continues to read the descriptions of the various lengths Nat has gone to, including using the jaw bone of a dead animal to slash his veins. Searching to rattle his readers, Blinko goes on to write that, “Nat had hacked away at his wrists but, he claimed, become too bored with the murderous task to finish the job. Lacking this passion, he had returned home, where his mother found him when she got back from her part-time work.” Who wouldn’t keep reading about someone who finds suicide as boring as watching paint dry?

After the initial fascination, however, the reader’s interest begins to wane—as much of the rest of the book is written in a detached first-person that makes the reader flatly disinterested. While the plot that the narrator describes appears to be interesting, the format handicaps the reader’s ability to truly enjoy the bizarre images being described. Instead of constructing prose that incites the reader to feel the intensity of the imagism, the writing relies instead upon goofily bolding any word that Blinko hopes will make it sound important: “Nat’s fantasy fear here was that an evil nun lurked menacingly behind a tree, waiting for him. We found no such thing, so Nat pointed out that the towering trees had faces in their branches.”

While having a tree populated by nun faces is cool, weighing it down with bolded text and detached prose makes it lamer than a donkey with laminitis. To its credit, however, the book nearly makes up for it all with the final journal entry, which describes a torturous dream of Dweller’s: “A grotesque with a hollowed out head and titanic green fungus sprouting vigorously, visibly growing where the brains should have been, was shuffling among us. Creatures of predatory inclinations snapped at the morbid growths; indeed, all and sundry soon partook of the pickings.”

Perhaps if Blinko were to write a novel of surrealist nightmares, it’d be worth picking up before bed for a little roller-coaster ride through hell. As for The Primal Screamer, nick a copy from a friend to read the last six pages and look at the pretty drawings of malformed fetuses, leichenwagens, and distorted heads being strangled by ribcages.

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New American Vegan: A Review

By Amy Steele
Entertainment Realm
February 2012

“Cows, chickens, sheep, pigs, bees, and other animals have nerves, memories, fears, wants, and interests just like cats and dogs—just like you and I do.”

New American Vegan opens with a very thoughtful and thorough introduction on being vegan and why author Vincent Guihan went vegan. Guihan has chapters on techniques and tools; soup; sauces; side dishes; sietan & potatoes; desserts. There’s an excellent index at the back of the cookbook.

There is the Best lentil soup recipe EVER—Old-Fashioned Hearty Lentil & Vegetable Soup—I will make this again and again. I’ll also make the Mango Chili with Tahini Cheese & Cilantro as well as the Stick-to-Your-Ribs Yellow Split Pea & Greens soup. Obviously I like to make soup.

Guihan devotes an entire chapter on sauces. “Sauces and dressings are prominent in many cuisines. They both add high points of flavor and color to a dish.” He claims that every vegan has/uses a lot of sauces. Well, not this vegan. I use salad dressing, salsa and stir fry sauce. That’s it. I don’t put sauce on everything I consume. Guess I’m more of a no-frills vegan. I like the taste of most veggies, grains and fruits as it. Maybe a touch of spices.

The recipes are just a bit too wordy for me. Plenty of soup recipes in this cookbook which is a great thing. Many recipes needed too many ingredients or called for something I didn’t have in my pantry. With Veganimicon and The Moosewood Cookbook, I don’t think I’d be grabbing this one too often.

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The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow: A Review

Charles De Lint
Books to Look for

In Doctorow's The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow, Jimmy Yensid and his father are trying to preserve Detroit, the last standing city in the United States, as a historical artifact. Their failure to do so results in Jimmy being cast adrift in a wilderness filled with communities trying to change the world for the better but often with horrible results.

At the same time, Jimmy—a transhuman; i.e., genetically engineered almost immortal stuck in pre-puberty—just wants to grow up. But he's trapped protecting the last of his father's artifacts: the Carousel of Progress exhibit from Disneyland.

Though much of the story is a fun read, the novella has a dark undercurrent and comes to a sobering conclusion. Still, it's pure Doctorow, filled with more invention and movement than many writers can fit into a book series.

Also included here is a transcript of Doctorow's manifesto: "Copyright vs. Creativity," a must read for anyone involved with ebooks and the like, as well as a freewheeling interview conducted by Bisson.

These are beautifully designed and produced books. What I like about a series such as this is that you get a really well-rounded picture of the author: there's a sample of their fiction, you see what they look like from the cover jacket, hear their more-or-less formal essayist voice in some nonfiction, and finish up with their casual day-to-day voice in the interview.

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The Wild Girls on Books to Look for

Charles De Lint
Books to Look for

I've long admired Terry Bisson as a writer, but I had no idea he was an editor until the small, attractive trade paperbacks showed up in my post office box. Now I've got another reason to admire his work.

The PM Press Outspoken Authors Series has eight entries so far, including such genre stalwarts as Kim Stanley Robinson, Michael Moorcock, and Rudy Rucker, as well as editor Bisson in Volume One. Each book has a photo of the author on the cover and contains a meaty novelet/novella along with one or two essays, poetry (at least in Le Guin's case), a bibliography, and an interview conducted by Bisson.

Le Guin's book opens with a classic story of a rigid society and genera relationships, told as only she can tell such stories, and presented here in a revised version. There's also the poetry (an excellent, if brief section), an essay on modesty, and my favorite piece in the book, a reprint from Harper's called "Staying Awake While We Read," in which she takes on corporate publishing and explains the inherent fallacy of trying to fit the buying habits of book lovers into the annual growth mold that stockholders expect from their "product."

I'd recommend you buy this book simply to read that essay, though you won't be disappointed by the rest of the collection.

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Represent Our Resistance: Love and Struggle: Review

By Dr. Lenore J. Daniels
BlackCommentator.com
Feb 1, 2012
Issue 457


There’s no escape . . . There’s only what you do.
—Catholic Monk to James Orbinski, Doctors without Borders

My heart’s in this struggle. My people will overcome. All the peoples will overcome, one by one.
—Pablo Neruda, Canto General

I was eager to read Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond, but apprehensive too. Review a book written by an imprisoned ex-member of the Weather Underground (WUO). I knew of David Gilbert, and of course, the WUO, Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd and others, activists who split from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) to engage in armed struggle “underground.”

When I left Operation Breadbasket in Chicago, not long after the organization split from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), I had had enough of the Christian, conservative, don’t-rock-the-boat, reform is good mentality of the mainstream Blacks. I was trying to remain committed to the revolution and the tasks of resistance ala Fanon, Freire, Guevara—while a Black woman—at a predominantly white college campus in Illinois, knowing that the misogyny of more radical Black organizations would be as oppressive as those State forces who murdered Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

In the years of WUO’s bombings of State buildings, I followed the news of the latest arrest or murder of Black activists or Black Panther Party members. Tread carefully above ground was the message my generation of Blacks received from the State. The struggle for Black liberation in the United States is over! We are simply rounding up the excess “waste,” picking up the corpses. Respond with anything other than a blank expression, and we’ll know. We’ll know . . .


I had not read anything written about or by Gilbert, nor had I listened or read an interview he had given the past. I expected a typical self-aggrandizing narrative in which the passive reader encounters the “greatness” of the man David Gilbert and his “legendary” role in piecing together pipes and wires, sneaking here, passing that guard and boom! Good ole’ boys at the usual, historically Western, good ole’ boys stuff . . . But no! This is not Gilbert’s narrative.

This narrative reveals an author who is still profoundly commitment to revolutionary change—and who is not, frankly, an obnoxiously white man in the business of glorifying his or the white support network’s past activities on behalf of people of color.

Before he is eligible for parole, Gilbert needs to reach his 111th birthday, and he is sixty-eight years old, a political prisoner at Auburn Correctional Facility in New York, serving a life sentence. Gilbert is not apologetic for his commitment to the Struggle and there is a struggle continuing, one that Gilbert clearly understands never ended, as it has for so many white and Black “activists” of the 1960s and 1970s era.

If anything, the liberal, young, white, middle-class Columbia University student who wants to be helpful at first, who observes older organizers, the poor and the Black, who debates the level of commitment necessary for revolutionary change, and then who determines that commitment to radical thinking and activism will be for him a way of living personally and publicly among his fellow human beings, made costly blunders in judgment and remained silent when he should have openly expressed his concerns.

There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go. (Richard Bach, American writer).

Love and Struggle is David Gilbert’s work! It is Gilbert’s work for readers and activists. It is a dialogue, and, if we are serious students of movement organizing, then reading Love and Struggle becomes a way to critically engage in a dialectic dialogue with a fellow fighter and lover of human rights. And for that reason and more, it is a must read for anyone active in the process of building an anti-capitalist and an anti-imperialist movement.

“Measured by either standard—full solidarity with the Third World or support by a majority of white people—the WUO was a failure.”

Recalling a collective of “internal discussions” at WUO meetings, Gilbert writes that the five main aims of “armed propaganda” had been to:

1) draw some heat so that the police and FBI couldn’t concentrate all their forces on Black, Latino/a, Native, and Asian groups;
2) create a visible (if invisible!) example of whites fighting in solidarity with the Third World struggles;
3) educate broadly about the major political issues;
4) identify key institutions of oppression; and
5) encourage white youth to find a range of creative ways to resist, despite repression.

These aims could be considered “abstract today,” Gilbert writes, since armed struggle is off the agenda of the “anti-imperialist movement in the U.S.” But at the time, he continues, these aims “resonated and even had a certain urgency . . . when revolutionary struggles were raging throughout the world.” But Love and Struggle suggests that these aims should not be “abstract” today.

Revolutionary struggles are raging throughout the world: The Arab Spring uprisings and Europeans and U.S. citizens are in the streets!

The FBI’s COINTELPRO operation has not disbanded, but expanded into the Patriot Act, Homeland Security. The most recent indefinite detention law (NDAA) is war against civil liberties at home. The disconnection between the American Dream of white Americans and the institutionalization of repression experienced by people of color within the United States, is acknowledged by the young adults today, and once again, the aims of radical struggle no longer seem “abstract.”

It was not the aims but the forces, both internal and external, that sent the white activists back to their familial homes and liberal pursuits, the Black, Indigenous, and Latino/a to ghettos and prison cells, and left the Empire free to expand its wars for profit and shrink social services and civil liberties.

The sad reality is that the status quo, the day-to-day comfort, the conventional wisdom of empire is insanely anti-human. True human sanity does not consist of remaining calm, cool, collected—going on with life as usual - while the government murders Black activists, carpet-bombs Vietnam, trains torturers to ‘disappear’ trade union organizers in Latin America, and enforces the global economics of hunger on Africa.

Tweak a little here and there: add the list of 800 U.S. bases and a list of wars and proxy conflicts; add the documented names of the tortured and those rendered to other regimes for abuse; add the “disappeared” unions and union representations along with the disappeared jobs; and add the cities and towns of Kansas City, New York, Chicago, L.A, the reservations of Lakota lands, anywhere in the U.S., after Africa, as places where children suffer from Empire- induced hunger. Does this insanity/sanity scenario resonate with us today?

As Gilbert points out, yesterday’s movements (including the armed struggle led by WUO) drifted from a focus on solidarity with the struggles of people of color, in order to challenge imperialism and capitalism, to a focus on a “particular set of tactics.”

The killing of ruling class individuals or their armed enforcers, no matter how justified by the bloody war they waged on the oppressed,would be hard for those who hadn’t experienced the repression directly, even radical white youth, to accept. If our mass support evaporated, we wouldn’t be able to sustain armed struggles on any level.

Gilbert rightly rejects a romantic image of the Black struggle in the United States, but at the same time, Love and Struggle’s narrative unabashedly lays out what many of us have been writing for years now: the white support networks abandoned the struggles of people of color, without offering critical, useful,compassionate debate regarding the tactics of both the Black and white armed or unarmed struggles. This abandonment furthered the marginalization of the Black, Latino/a, and Indigenous struggles, and also led to the aims for fighting imperialist oppression to be viewed as “abstract” nonsense.

The prevailing wisdom in the United States is that good, law-abiding citizens will come to their senses when presented with the enemy in their midst. Consequently, police assaults against Black organizations and individual fighters continued. More and more Black fighters became prisoners of the State or corpses permanently buried underground. The “politics of creating an example and [a] presence of solidarity with people of color,” (an “essential step for developing any kind of revolutionary movement worthy of that name among white people”), was replaced with “self-serving motives.”

Activism promoting the organization’s leadership, Gilbert explains, and individuals pursuing “status within the organization,” became the work of WUO—when the bombs were not going off. As with most organizations of the '60s and '70s designed to fight imperialism, the hierarchal structure of WUO became “too top-down”; consequently, “the danger of being captured and the demands of armed actions put a premium on discipline and cohesion, while clandestinity and compartmentalization made open, organization-wide debate difficult.”

I could identify with David Gilbert as the observer of “rhetorical excesses accompanying a correct direction.” In a supportive position within the WUO, he had to contend with the chain-of-command, and, on the other hand, he was reluctant to express his “discomfort” and criticize decisions: “I didn’t want to be left out of the cadre who would be chosen to pursue armed struggle—to be, in the status consciousness of the day, revolutionaries ‘on the highest level.’”

Externally, the forces of power were in full swing, working to convert the non-activist, counter-culture generation into self-absorbed mutes, if not out and out capitalists.

As Love and Struggle argues, after the killings of four white youths at Kent State, white youth turned from forming solidarity with the struggles of people of color. It was too dangerous! The government would not hesitate now to kill white American youth! Youth were killed at Jackson State but they were Black!

White youths suddenly found themselves in the business of commune building and spirituality, (“the latter both in the progressive sense that we’re all one soul and in the more mystical way of looking to various supernatural forces for the answers to our problems”). Gilbert explains that the commune began as a “wonderful effort” to live cooperatively and in harmony with nature, but, by the mid-1972, the commune becomes more about “retreat - not just to the countryside but also from opposing the system.”

It is an old American story, and Love and Struggle does not avoid confronting and analyzing the announcement of its return in the heyday of the 60s/70s era. It co-opted the language of the youth movement, but it was the same American story: A “new consciousness” is sweeping the nation or a “new astrological age” is dawning! Live “in harmony with the spirits of nature or with the feminine goddesses.” In short, “achieve change without struggle”—without the people of color, particularly without the Black American!

Gilbert saw the unraveling of the movement coming while he was still engaged in his work with WUO. As he recalls, when the Left saw itself up against “a colossal and ruthless power,” it “retreated into a form of magical thinking: a recitation of Marxist dictums on revolutionary agency as a substitute for the concrete analysis of our actual conditions.” In the meantime, he writes, “the people we most admired, the BLA [Black Liberation Army], were now getting gunned down by the police and were on the run.”

Gilbert recalls the discussions that divided activists between those who blamed the movement’s crisis on too much theory and those who saw actions without theory, and the armed struggle in particular, as too defused and divisive. But Gilbert recognized that the problem was not theory per se, “but rather the deep history and powerful material impact of white supremacy and benefits from imperialism. He continues, “the repeated drifts into white opportunism also characterized movements that didn’t invoke M-L (Marxist-Lenin) at all, such as populism and women’s suffrage.”

Individual corruption breeds organizational corruption. For some, that corruption came in the form of drug addiction or in the pursuit of money or in fear of difference. For Gilbert, it was ego. Ego, he writes, lured him from the aims of liberation. The “‘exceptional white person’ mentality” does not engender solidarity with people of color and further “undermines any serious effort to organize other people against racism.” Similar to Mumia Abu Jamal behind bars, Assata Shakur in exile, and other political prisoners, David Gilbert continues to confront the forms of corruption that breed alienation rather than solidarity.

Whenever I start feeling full of myself or sense that I’m taking a direction that’s not right, I need to grapple with that and, if possible, get help. "How does or doesn’t this particular path advance the interests of the oppressed?" "What self-interest do I have here and how do they complement or conflict with the goals of the struggle?"

This book is an act of love. It is a timely gift to a new movement of young and old activist veterans. Love and Struggle is for you, if by now, 2012, you know which way the wind blows.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. 

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Revolution and Beyond: A Review of Love and Struggle

By Matt Meyer
WIN Magazine
Winter 2012


The main lesson of "the Sixties," now passed down through numerous generations, has been that once upon a time there was an amazing period of social, political, cultural, and sexual revolution; too bad most current activists were unfortunately born too late to be involved. That proverbial decade of upheaval—the historic period which began around 1954 and ended late in the 1970s—has had more than its share of written documentation: memoirs, essay collections, and analysis filling whole sections of libraries. Studies of "the Sixties" have become a cottage industry as common as the proverbial "white on rice," and just about as fulfilling and ethnically diverse.

It is therefore especially striking that not one but three new books offer special and significant insights on those turbulent times; each of these titles contain insights which, unlike so many of their predecessors, suggest humble paths for the current struggles-occupations and otherwise. The fact that they each grow out of the context of white anti-war and human rights activities is amongst the only similarity with their countless companions. David Gilbert's Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond (PM Press, 2011), Amy Sonnie and James Tracy's Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times (Melville House, 2011), and Harry Targ's Diary of a Heartland Radical (ChangeMaker Publications, 2011) share important insights on combatting racism, building alliances, and designing campaigns based on solidarity and creative linking of issues.

The core weakness of our inter-connected movements-discussed at every Occupation, Social Forum, and networking space where an honest confrontation with "what is to be done" is addressed-is clearly articulated in Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz' foreword to Hillbilly Nationalists.

"What neither Marx nor the abolitionists nor later leftists and oppressed nationalities in the United States have fully grasped," she correctly asserts, "is the reality of the United States as a colonizing state in which, as historian William Appleman Williams phrased it, empire has always been a way of life." The common, vital, and unusual contributions of all three new books is their detailing of how anti-imperialism-in different forms and for different peoples-became a way of life for various white folks struggling to support self-determination for the national liberation struggles which were such a prominent feature of the end of the twentieth century. Sonnie and Tracy use oral history and substantial research to recover an almost-lost history of poor and working class whites who built grassroots organizations in direct solidarity with the Poor People's Campaign, the Black Panthers, the Young Lords, and other local efforts.

Documented in this eminently readable book is the work of Chicago's Young Patriots Organization and JOIN Community Union (Jobs or Income Now), the October 4th Organization in Philadelphia (named based on a 1779 expropriation of hoarded food and clothing, distributed to the community during the American War of Independence), and the Bronx group known as White Lightening. The late 1960s and early 1970s alliances built by these efforts were, as the authors describe, the first real "rainbow coalitions" for social change across both race and class lines.

Peace studies political scientist Harry Targ has been an institution at Purdue University in Indiana for over four decades. His books and essays have long been essential reading for many movement "insiders," and/Diary of a Heartland Radical/ happily collects many insightful short reflections on life as a rural-based revolutionary. Less a diary than an assembly of blog posts written since 2008, Targ nonetheless covers some of the fundamental lessons of his years in the struggle, connecting all to the contemporary urgent tasks that still need our committed work. Also focused on the contours of race, class, empire, and resistance, Targ is at his best when he combines his "scientific" thinking with a stridently anti-militarist approach and a good eye for socio-cultural commentary. His point is well taken, as he reviews the early days of the Obama administration, that the Department of Defense—as in the 1960s—has a "blank check," with academic researchers (now more than ever) providing the data and theories which lead and/or justify disastrous foreign and military policy. The new techniques of "humanitarian" imperialism are explored, as Targ writes about the truly global, growingly privatized, largely antiseptic (weapon delivery through pushing buttons on a computer) nature of twenty-first century empire-building. Targ is also deeply concerned about the strategies and tactics of resistance, evidenced in a wonderful piece on the political economy of the bagel (that Jewish projectile of working class origins) and most significantly in a longer essay on the anti-racist, class struggle history of the United Packinghouse Workers of America (UPWA), another almost-lost part of U.S. left history. Commenting on his own involvement in the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), Targ understands that our task is to build as broad a network of progressives as is possible, and his book takes us some meaningful steps in the right direction.

Perhaps the most significant of these new books, however, is Gilbert's evocative review of his days as a leader of the Columbia University anti-Viet Nam war movement, his days underground with the Weathermen, and his life just before beginning the 75-years-to-life sentence which he is still serving in the prisons of New York State. Love and Struggle pulls no punches-at the movement which led Gilbert to move away from his early commitment to nonviolence or at himself for the consequences of the choices he made. But, more than in any individual, self-aggrandizing life stories found in most autobiographies I have read, Glibert's reflections are not presented to spotlight or defend his actions, but rather to carefully review the tumultuous times which were a feature of his youth. He dispassionately discusses events he obviously felt passionately about, in order to provide some food for thought to the activists of today. Gilbert's story, and the book, begins in a context familiar to many of us; his Massachusetts upbringing was in a nice, liberal family where the lessons of "American democracy, with liberty and justice for all" were the cornerstone of his early education. "It sounded beautiful," Gilbert recalls, "still does." But he admits that some naiveté must have been at work for him to have "missed the wink" which lets us in on the dirty secret that the "all" referred only to white males with money. "When the myths were later exploded by the eruption of the civil rights movement," Gilbert writes, "I became deeply upset."

A common feature amongst Gilbert's supporters and detractors alike is that he was (and is) one of the much-vaunted "best and the brightest" of his generation. It is of little surprise that he rose to the leadership of Students for a Democratic Society, well-liked by his peers and faculty members alike, praised for his analytic achievement (author of some of SDS's core pamphlets and positions) as well as for his generous and loving demeanor and organizing abilities. The surprise, therefore-beyond the fact that Gilbert, then and now, maintains a humility uncharacteristic for leaders of those heady times-is that he chose a life not of academic comfort but of on-the-ground street action and revolutionary sacrifice. Throughout the book, Gilbert gives insight into these choices, but none so poignantly as when he reflects upon the common late-1960s question of whether there could be a "revolution in our lifetime." In the analysis of many in the student movement, Gilbert remembers, "the majority of white people in this country had been deflected from the class struggle by the benefits, the privileges compared relative to Third World people, from the spoils of empire and white supremacy at home." In reflecting on the idea that the empire's strengths-global reach and plunder-could now become its weakness (with an over-extended military overseas and a growing resistance movement at home), the notions of hope and possibility are not unlike our own twenty-first century moment today. While Gilbert forthrightly admits to the mistakes which led him and others to costly circumstances, he does so without giving up the sense of hope that social change can and must come through mass political action.

It may seem strange for a magazine committed to revolutionary nonviolence to give a glowing review to Love and Struggle, or any book coming out of the Weather experiment. But Glibert's basic treatise—that it is "our job is to win large numbers of white people to solidarity with people of the world" in order to create alternatives to "bloody wars" and "less wasteful" lifestyles—is the call to our own critical times. He has forthrightly stated his apologies and regrets, noting that "the colossal social violence of imperialism does not grant those of us who fight it a free pass to become callous ourselves." Like any true adherent of revolutionary nonviolence (and Gilbert's life-long friendship with Dave Dellinger gives testimony to this), Gilbert see no contradiction between the need for continued militancy and intensity in fighting against imperialism on the one hand, and, on the other, "the need to take the greatest care to respect life and to minimize violence as we struggle to end violence." Any humanitarian observer of the United States at this historic juncture must surely see that David Gilbert-and all U.S. political prisoners must immediately be freed if we are, as a people, to arrive at a moment of reconciliation and justice. Any contemporary activist wishing to learn from the exciting achievements (as well as the mistakes) of the 1960s needs to read this essential book.

Noam Chomsky, in his recent acceptance of the 2011 Sydney Peace Foundation prize in Australia, cited the work of A.J. Muste. Reminding us that Muste "deplored the search for peace without justice," Chomsky re-asserted Muste's urging that "one must be a revolutionary before one can be a pacifist." These three important contributions to our understanding of the past and our engagement with the future will undoubtedly help us head their sage advice.

Matt Meyer, WRL ACC member and founding chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Association, is also a founder of the local anti-imperialist collective Resistance in Brooklyn (whose acronym RnB has sometimes been interpreted to stand for the title of this essay). This essay is from the forthcoming issue of WIN Magazine, Winter 2012.

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The World Turned Upside Down Reviewed on Folkword

By David Hintz
Folkword Online

As a part-time collector of Leon Rosselson, I am pleased to see this comprehensive dour CD set spanning a full half-century of original folk music. Like Dominic Behan and others, he actually started playing well before some of the more famous acoustic guitarists in the UK. In fact he was twenty-five years old in 1961 where this collection starts. His work with vocalist Roy Bailey in the 1970s is some of the strongest folk material from the UK in that era. There is plenty of bite in the lyrics of his songs, yet the delivery is comfortable and welcoming. His guitar work is excellent in a classic style, lacking the audacity in Davy Graham's style making him more of a fitting partner for Martin Carthy. There is an intelligence and wit to his music that seems to set the stage for an artist luke Robyn Hitchcock).  Although his hard left protestations are more prevalent and less ambiguous, reminding me more of Phil Ochs.

The first CD covers the sixties and begins in 1961 with good topical folk music. Martin Carthy and Liz Mansfield assist on the gorgeous "Across the Hills" with Carthy present in several songs including full folk band cuts The 3 City 4.  There is a nice mix of songs and even some jazz piano and bass that sneaks in. The second CD moves into the 1970s with Roy Bailey joining in on many of the vocals. The themes are still sharp edged and topical. There are some nice nearly experimental vocal moves on "Plan" which features John Kirkpatrick and songs stretch to five and seven minutes. CD Number Three heads to the 80s with Martin Carthy still assisting at times. Frankie Armstrong joins in on vocals with a piano also featuring in several songs. The synthesizer is odd, but the Oyster Band electrifying things on one song is a nice touch. Finally, the fourth disc covers the past twenty years. The style and lyrical bite is similar, but there is a more forceful message sung politely, but by a crusty older man. "It's Just the Song" is directed my way (as a critic) to tell me that he does not need me to tell me his songs are good and that we have it all wrong anyway.

Even if I do have it all wrong, this is a compelling set of songs. If you are not politically hard to the left, some of the lyrics will push you more than you like. Of course, any perspective over four discs will get a little tiring. But each song is strong in its own right and most are thought provoking. The sound quality is uniformly excellent and the booklet with lengthy explanations of the songs is interesting even by itself. Hopefully this release will help elevate Rosselson's status around the world, as he does not seem quite as well known as some of the other famous UK guitarist singer/songwriters.

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