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Another Father is Possible

By Tom Ricker
Left Turn Magazine
November 4, 2011

“The other day someone asked why I keep doing Rad Dad even though my kids are teenagers. I smiled and said, 'I do it because I'm a father, and I know I'm a better father when I have community.'” - Tomas Moniz, co-editor, with Jeremy Adam Smith, of Rad Dad: Dispatches from the Frontiers of Fatherhood.

When I was asked to write a review of Rad Dad, I was like, “Oh yeah, I love that book!” Oddly that love has made this a real challenge. Over the last four weeks of fits and starts I began having the sinking feeling that I was not nearly rad enough of a dad to do the book justice. For a variety of reasons, mostly related to my son’s adoption but then I suppose to habit, I stopped going to protests in 2007. I really stopped being any kind of organizer a year and half later when I moved to Houston with my wife. And though I recently got refocused on organizing, my work has been submerged under a barrage of institutional crises that are far from exciting. At the same time, the Occupy movement has taken off across the country. And though it reached Houston a couple of week ago, surgery and the new job (ironically) have mostly kept me away from the parks and stuck in the house. 

At some point, however, what all of this has made me realize is that the key theme of the book, as I understand it, is that we all need a community of support to realize a vision of parenting which actually manifests that other, better world we’ve all been working toward for so long. In other words, the “rad” part has little to do with protests. The family is a microcosm for society, and the confluence of race, class, and gendered hierarchies flow right through it, often in the person of the father. It would be simplistic to say that challenging these hierarchies as they enter the household is the key to a revolutionary movement. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine a successful revolutionary transformation that doesn’t include a radical redefinition of parenting, and fatherhood in particular.

And so whatever else Rad Dad has to say (and there is a lot here), I think it is clearly a call to fathers to get it together, literally, and start talking about the privileges we assume in the household and in the world. Then start to dismantle those privileges in favor of that deep sense of democratic practice that motivates movements like Occupy Wall Street, at least at their best moments. The women’s movement challenged us to redefine our understanding of public and private—not as competing spaces, but as mutually reinforcing spaces. In a way, Rad Dad breaks down that barrier for activists.

Funny and moving

Now that I have presented a really heavy agenda for the book, I should say that it is often funny, always moving (I cried several times reading it), and constantly thought-provoking. There is no ten point platform here for effective radical fathering—and certainly no “radicaler-than-thou” kind of line. It is full of personal stories of fathers figuring out what it all means. Sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding, but always finding that once you’ve determined parenting to be an intentional activity that challenges the conveniences, trends, and identities embedded in the dominant culture—it's really fucking hard.

There is the blatant consumerism that surrounds us and that we all take part in, even as we push back against the worst of it and try to live outside the “juice box.” There is also the ever-present militarism that seems integral to the development of gendered understandings of maleness in this society. It’s so prevalent that many dads who make extraordinary efforts to keep the celebration of violence and war out of the home find their sons pretending to shoot their friends and neighbors anyway. Then there is the constant discovery that even the most pro-feminist dads among us still exert power in our relationships or assume privileges that derive from gendered hierarchies.

All of these struggles are discussed directly and also serve as a backdrop for personal narratives. It is impossible not to find yourself as a dad here, having made the same efforts and the same mistakes. The conversation that results is an important one. You discover you are not alone in the “failures” and that there are ways to navigate through them if you are willing to talk about it. Even the first chapter of the book, Keith Hennessy’s “Notes from a Sperm Donor,” which launches the conversation with a fascinating self-exploration of being a father but not a parent, raises interesting questions about what it means to even want to be a father to begin with. What is behind the desire to reproduce ourselves?

One of the great things about Rad Dad is how the collection gives voice to some of the concerns of fathers facing all of the above, plus additional hurdles. Sean Taylor’s discussion of confronting racism in a visit to a park to play with his daughter is one of the most powerful stories in the book. Racism and identity politics are present throughout Rad Dad, but Sean’s narrative forces a direct confrontation with the reality of racism in a way that is unique in the volume.

Burke Stansbury’s discussion of the challenges he and his partner confront parenting a medically fragile child with an extreme muscular disorder raises many issues both personal (navigating the distance between his expectations of being a father and how things have unfolded) and systemic (serious problems of access in our healthcare system). Jack Amoureux talks about raising his child as a transgendered father and how this intersects with moving in social and professional life beyond a dichotomous notion of gender. If there is a second volume, I’d love to see more of these stories.

Leave no one behind

The book is rounded out by a section of thematic essays on “The Politics of Parenting” built around personal narratives that primarily feature the editors Tomas Moniz and Jeremy Adam Smith. Tomas Moniz’s “A Kid Friendly Wild Rumpus” is particularly timely:

People have embraced the mythology of the revolutionaries and activists who left their families behind, so total was their commitment. But how about a new mythology, one that celebrates revolutionaries who refuse to leave anyone behind and refuse to remain silent.

I was just finishing the book the weekend Occupy Wall Street began. At the time the action itself seemed very far removed from my concerns as a father, even if the issues of economic inequality and poverty are inherently family issues. Indeed, it seemed the only way for me to participate (and I was certainly interested) was to leave the family behind. Since then it has been fascinating to watch some of the occupations incorporating a variety of “kid friendly” or family friendly activities. Parallel teach-ins focused on families; numerous Halloween activities, sleepovers, and art classes have become features of the movement. It is obvious that this was not part of the original “occupation plan” but that parents have created spaces to be included as parents—refusing to “leave anyone behind” and refusing to “remain silent.”

This third section ends with a clarion call from Tata to “Wake Up, Dads!” and fight for a society that truly acknowledges and appreciates parents—while making it possible for more of us to play that role at home with our children. The volume concludes with a great collection of interviews with “rad dads” like Ian Mackaye, Jeff Chang, Raj Patel, Steve Almond, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

So, I would encourage anyone to read this, dad or not. But for the dads there is real value here, a richness of explorations about the challenges of fatherhood that is unique in my experience. Jeremy Adam Smith writes in one of his essays, ending a passage about how his commitment to feminist ideals was challenged by becoming a parent:

There are alternatives; you don’t have to be the man your father was; you don’t have to be the idiots we see on TV; you can be a new kind of man, and you can help your sons become that kind of man.

I can think of no better aspiration, indeed a more radical agenda, for fathers. And we are going to need each other to do it. So, dads, let’s get started!

Tom Ricker lives in Houston and is the proud father of Benjamin Won-bin Dennis Ricker.  He has been an organizer in social justice and solidarity circles since 1995 and is currently the director of the Quixote Center.   Also a musician and writer, in December 2011 he will release (with Austin based producer David Wilson) the CD Wünderland under the band name Minivan Gogh. He can be reached at ricker.tom (at)

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Rad Dad in Razorcake

By Steve Hart
January 23, 2012

I’m a father of four kids. The youngest is nine and the oldest is twenty-one. None of them are mine, biologically. I became the father of the youngest three children when the youngest was three years old. I found fatherhood overwhelming at first. None of the kids came with an instruction manual and I was scared that I would pass on some of the less-desirable traits that my father passed on to me. In other words, I didn’t want to be an asshole.

The coolest aspect of reading Rad Dad is knowing that I’m not the only one who wants to raise children in a safe environment and continue to retain our “radness.” Rad Dad is a collection of accounts from a variety of fathers from all spectrums of life. Every chapter is a good read, even if I couldn’t relate exactly to every situation. Most importantly, Rad Dad is written by a group of fathers who also don’t want to be assholes.

I’ve kept Rad Dad with me during the long Thanksgiving weekend, pulling it out when I had a chance. It was fun to read while the kids played in the ocean, screaming at each other, while throwing handfuls of sand. I felt connected to something bigger, like a secret society. If you’re a father, or a father-to-be, treat yourself to a great book. –Steve Hart


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A Fine Chapbook: Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Wild Girls Plus…

By Brit Mandelo
October 10, 2011

The “PM Press Outspoken Authors” series of chapbooks includes such writers as Cory Doctorow, Michael Moorcock, Kim Stanley Robinson—and Ursula K. Le Guin, whose book is the sixth in the series, featuring the novella “The Wild Girls,” as well as essays, poetry and an interview. Two of the pieces are previously published, but the rest are new.

The Wild Girls Plus . . .  runs exactly a hundred pages. It’s a fine little book; I was immensely satisfied with it and the variety of contents it contained. There’s something to be said about its appeal as an art-object, also, which most chapbooks strive to be in some way—it’s not overly plain or overly pretentious, but just right. The inviting photograph of Le Guin makes for a great cover, and the text of the title, credits, and series name & number are unobtrusive.

The titular novella, “The Wild Girls,” is an upsetting, evocative story, originally published in Asimov’s, which deals with the kidnapping, abuse and slavery of a pair of sisters, Mal and Modh, in an extremely hierarchical, patriarchal society. It makes no assurances, and offers no comfort—it’s a painful story, emotionally vivid and wrenching, that ends in a tragedy which will go unremarked and change nothing in the society.

In some ways, I would call it a horror story; not in the way that we generally use the term, but in the sense of a story full of horrifying things. The willful cruelty of the City people toward the nomadic tribes, whom they refer to as Dirt people, is omnipresent and made deeply personal to the reader. After all, Mal and Modh are stolen as children to be slave-wives, and Mal in the end murders the man who buys her when he tries to rape her in her bed, which results in her own death. Not only that, but she’s tossed to the dogs instead of being given a proper burial, an assurance that her spirit will come back to haunt—which it does, resulting in the childbed death of Modh at the end.

Cruelty and willful blindness on part of the patriarchal society bring about the horrors of hauntings and madness, which only sisterhood had previously abated even a little. Implicit in the terrors of the story are Le Guin’s critiques of hierarchy, patriarchy, and racism. Despite the difficulty it presents to a reader emotionally, or perhaps because of it, it’s a beautiful, intense story. Le Guin’s prose is breath-taking, and the story she tells with it equally so, though in a different way.

Following it come two essays, a handful of poems and an interview. Both of the essays are incisive, witty and well-written; one, “Staying Awake While We Read,” was first published in Harper’s Magazine. Its stand-out argument is about the appalling failure of corporate publishing in recent decades: “to me one of the most despicable things about corporate publishing is their attitude that books are inherently worthless” (68). She continues to enumerate the ways in which corporations have misunderstood how book publishing works, gutting midlists and backlists, devaluing art and artists, et cetera. It’s a brilliant take-down of corporation-style publishing.

Next come the poems; all short works, each with a theme slightly different from the others.

The one that struck me the hardest was “Peace Vigils,” on the hopelessness and hopefulness of continuing to try in the face of metaphorical, implacable rains. The rest are also moving, including the more experimental piece, “The City of the Plain,” which has a powerful ending stanza.

Another essay follows, “The Conversation of the Modest,” which deals with Le Guin’s strong ideas about what modesty actually is and means, and what the value of it can be if conceived of properly. It takes to task the misuses of the word “modesty” to trample the rights of women, and reinterprets it for the artist as a valuable ability to truly evaluate one’s work without too much self-doubt or too much self-confidence. It’s a neat little essay, drawing finally on ideas of community and conversation in relation to the value of modesty, and I find Le Guin’s candor in it especially refreshing.

The last bit of the chapbook is the Outspoken Interview, titled “A Lovely Art.” I adored this bizarre, sometimes off-the-wall interview, which also asked some great questions—or, questions that got great answers. For example, a favorite of mine: “Even though you occupy a pretty high perch in American Letters, you have never hesitated to describe yourself as a science-fiction and fantasy author. Are you just being nice, or is there a plot behind this? I am nice. Also, the only means I have to stop ignorant snobs from behaving towards genre fiction with snobbish ignorance is to not reinforce their ignorance and snobbery by lying and saying that when I write SF it isn’t SF, but to tell them more or less patiently for forty or fifty years that they are wrong to exclude SF and fantasy from literature, and proving my argument by writing well” (83).

That’s fabulous, is what that is. As I’ve said earlier in this appreciation, Le Guin is incisive and witty—and that’s on full display in this interview. She speaks the truth, as openly and clearly as she possibly can. The questions range from her reading habits to her writing habits to theories about life and time, plus some other stuff like what kind of car she drives. To be perfectly honest, I would have bought this fairly-priced chapbook for this interview and the novella alone; the essays and poetry make it doubly worthwhile.

I appreciate that there are publishers making little neat books like this one, with a mixture of contents that span the different writing-hats a person like Le Guin has worn in her career. Too often books are restricted to one sort of thing; a fiction collection, or an essay collection, or a poetry collection. The Wild Girls Plus . . . is all of these things, and provides an enjoyable, worthwhile reading experience, especially for existing fans of Le Guin like myself.

Brit Mandelo is a multi-fandom geek with a special love for comics and queer literature. She can be found on Twitter and Livejournal.

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logoThe Retort imprint publishes books and pamphlets in the spirit of resistance to capital and empire, emerging from the collaborative activity of the Retort group of antinomian writers, artists, and artisans.

1. West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California edited by Iain Boal, Janferie Stone, Michael Watts, and Cal Winslow
2. Ned Ludd & Queen Mab: Machine-Breaking, Romanticism, and the Several Commons of 1811-12 by Peter Linebaugh


West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California
Editor: Iain Boal, Janferie Stone, Michael Watts, and Cal Winslow
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-427-4
Published: March 2012
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 320 Pages
Subjects: History-California, Politics

In the shadow of the Vietnam War, a significant part of an entire generation refused their assigned roles in the American century. Some took their revolutionary politics to the streets, others decided simply to turn away, seeking to build another world together, outside the state and the market. West of Eden charts the remarkable flowering of communalism in the 1960s and '70s, fueled by a radical rejection of the Cold War corporate deal, utopian visions of a peaceful green planet, the new technologies of sound and light, and the ancient arts of ecstatic release. The book focuses on the San Francisco Bay Area and its hinterlands, which have long been creative spaces for social experiment. Haight-Ashbury's gift economy—its free clinic, concerts, and street theatre—and Berkeley's liberated zones—Sproul Plaza, Telegraph Avenue, and People's Park—were embedded in a wider network of producer and consumer co-ops, food conspiracies, and collective schemes.

Using memoir and flashbacks, oral history and archival sources, West of Eden explores the deep historical roots and the enduring, though often disavowed, legacies of the extraordinary pulse of radical energies that generated forms of collective life beyond the nuclear family and the world of private consumption, including the contradictions evident in such figures as the guru/predator or the hippie/entrepreneur. There are vivid portraits of life on the rural communes of Mendocino and Sonoma, and essays on the Black Panther communal households in Oakland, the latter-day Diggers of San Francisco, the Native American occupation of Alcatraz, the pioneers of live/work space for artists, and the Bucky dome as the iconic architectural form of the sixties.

Due to the prevailing amnesia—partly imposed by official narratives, partly self-imposed in the aftermath of defeat—West of Eden is not only a necessary act of reclamation, helping to record the unwritten stories of the motley generation of communards and antinomians now passing, but is also intended as an offering to the coming generation who will find here, in the rubble of the twentieth century, a past they can use—indeed one they will need—in the passage from the privations of commodity capitalism to an ample life in common.


"As a gray army of undertakers gather in Sacramento to bury California's great dreams of equality and justice, this wonderful book, with its faith in the continuity of our state's radical-communitarian ethic, replants the seedbeds of defiant imagination and hopeful resistance." —Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz and Magical Urbanism

“Utopias—we can't live without them, nor within them, for long. In West of Eden we see California, an earthly utopia, and the Sixties, a utopian moment, in full flower. Brave souls creating a heavenly host of communal spaces on the edge of America, hoping to break free of a world of capital, sexism, oligarchy, race. An amazing place and time that, for all its failures, changed the world—and which finally gets its due in this marvelous collection.”  —Richard Walker, UC Berkeley, author of The Country in The City

“There are a lot of versions of the sixties, and this is one that isn't stale or familiar, a book by a lot of good writers and original thinkers about how some much older ideas about the commons and the community were tinkered with, enlarged upon, turned into experiments that sometimes succeeded, sometimes failed, but left legacies that mattered. It's also a book about California's tendency to go experimental, idealistic, and eclectic, a fit successor to the classic California's Utopian Colonies that looked at some of the great nineteenth-century experiments.”  —Rebecca Solnit, author of Storming the Gates of Paradise

“The counterculture—from the North Beach Parnassus to the underground press—and ‘the Movement’—from Marxists to anarchists—all of it depended on a magnificent base, and here it is described, magnificently: the Oakland breakfast program, the Alcatraz occupation, the Mime troupe, and pot farms, the communes, the collectives, the co-ops of California during the 1960s. On the lam? A bad trip? Burnt out? Cracking up? AWOL? Dropping out? Requiring metamorphosis? These could provide rural and urban alternatives to Cold War, patriarchy, speed-up, or death in the jungle. With roots in previous decades of struggle by trade unions, ethnic enclaves, religious breakaways, and nineteenth-century dreams, and with branches in the lore of our own contemporary foodways, child-rearing practices, decision-making and meeting protocols, sexual politics, and DIY culture, the California communards cleared the path. Both veterans and young folk, grey hairs and newbies will find beautiful memoire, authentic experience, and brilliant analysis in these pages West of Eden."  —Peter Linebaugh, author of The Magna Carta Manifesto

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Ned Ludd & Queen Mab: Machine-Breaking, Romanticism, and the Several Commons of 1811-12
Author: Peter Linebaugh
Publisher: PM Press/Retort
ISBN: 978-1-60486-704-6
Published: March 2012
Format: Pamphlet
Size: 8.5 by 5.5
Page count: 48 Pages
Subjects: History, Social Movements

Peter Linebaugh, in an extraordinary historical and literary tour de force, enlists the anonymous and scorned 19th century loom-breakers of the English midlands into the front ranks of an international, polyglot, many-colored crew of commoners resisting dispossession in the dawn of capitalist modernity.


"Sneering at the Luddites is still the order of the day. Peter Linebaugh's great act of historical imagination stops the scoffers in their tracks. It takes the cliche of 'globalization' and makes it live: the Yorkshire machine-breakers are put right back in the violent world economy of 1811-12, in touch with the Atlantic slave trade, Mediterranean agribusiness, the Tecumseh rebellion, the brutal racism of London dockland. The local and the global are once again shown to be inseparable—as they are, at present, for the machine-breakers of the new world crisis." —T.J. Clark, author of The Absolute Bourgeois and Image of the People

"My benediction" —E.J. Hobsbawm, author of Primitive Rebels and Captain Swing

"E.P. Thompson, you may rest now. Linebaugh restores the dignity of the despised luddites with a poetic grace worthy of the master. By a stunning piece of re-casting we see them here not as rebels against the future but among the avant-garde of a planetary resistance movement against capitalist enclosures in the long struggle for a different future. Byron, Shelley, listen up! Peter Linebaugh's Ned Ludd and Queen Mab does for 'technology' what his London Hanged did for 'crime.' Where was I that day in Bloomsbury when he delivered this commonist manifesto for the 21st century? The Retort Pamphet series is off to a brilliant start." —Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums and Buda's Wagon

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Days of Rage, Rebellion, and Revolution

by Mumia Abu-Jamal
Socialist Viewpoint
Nov/Dec 2011

Perhaps it is the times: the election of a Black president. The renewal of the right wing, or even something so prosaic as the press of age, but there has been a resurgence of Weather Underground material of late.

David Gilbert, a published author (No Surrender), a long time prison AIDS prevention activist. and a founding member of the Weather Underground has joined that number.

Without commenting on the nature and/or motivations of many of the other works, Gilbert’s reasons for writing this volume, which he has strongly resisted in the past, is clear.

First, he pens it because his adult son, Chesa, requested he do so, announcing his previous work “almost all analytical.”

Like many men and women of this new, Twitter-age, what seems most important is the personal, rather than the political. Secondly, hundreds of activists in various movements have written to him, and while they seemed to be looking back at Weather as an almost mythical organization, Gilbert felt the need to demythologize both the movement and the era, and speak openly of the mistakes made as well.

This is not “Glory Days.” It is a reflective, critical (and self-critical), gripping; and yes, tragic account of an important and pivotal movement in the twentieth century. How it came to be, the forces which brought it into being, as well as the internal and external forces which ripped it asunder, are here for all to see—naked as a newborn. What theory should we follow? What principles should drive our working inter-organizational relationships? Should we adopt Maoism? Marxism-Leninism? How do we fight the State? These questions and more are hashed out; some more thoroughly than others.

Gilbert is a fine writer, and despite the understandable reluctance to write this kind of movement memoir, (many in the movement looked down on such things as individualistic) he does so with remarkable honesty, sensitivity, and insight.

What makes this work shine, however, is its forthright take on an issue that, even today is regarded with alarm—race.

Race—that is, the reality of race as lived by real people, in Vietnam, and in Harlem, opened an idealistic Jewish boy’s eyes into the dangerous knowledge that things weren’t as his teachers—or even his parents (not to mention his rabbi) said.

Inquisitive, intellectually curious, questioning by culture and training, he sought his own answers of why the world was the way it was—and thus, albeit unknowingly, he began his trek towards the revolutionary road. We learn, as in the case of many of his generation, that the powerful, uncompromising orations of Malcolm X stirred many from their slumber. While a student at Columbia, Gilbert attends a speech by him—three days later the Muslim minister was assassinated. He also recounts the hypnotic and captivating power of Black music (Rhythm & Blues); that opened up a young, sensitive soul to the humanity and beauty of Black people. (We can only wonder, what message lies encoded in today’s Black music, and what resonates in the minds of today’s white youth who listen?)

Gilbert has trod this ground before (of shortcomings of the white radical movement of the era) in some of his essays In No Surrender, but here, he recounts the missteps, the supremacist attitudes, and yes, the betrayals that occurred on that long, red road, one which has substantial echoes in American history whenever whites and Blacks opted to join hands against the rulers.

With Love and Struggle, David Gilbert adds heart and bone to the stuff of distant (mid-twentieth century?) history. He, in a sense, explains why we are where we are, in this schizophrenic nation, where our stated claims of equality fall lifeless and as dead as turned leaves before they hit the ground. In a sense, this work is a testament to the road not taken—against racism (in fact and not merely in symbol) and anti-imperialism (as the nation grapples in a slew of imperial wars).

To illustrate by way of example and pure serendipity, this very day, when I have completed the manuscript, a news report interrupts from a tinny whining local radio station. A sixtyish prison guard at SCI-Pittsburgh has just been indicted for over ninety counts of sexual abuse of prisoners, many of whom are themselves in prison on sexual abuse charges (usually of children). The reporter, reading a wire service account, quotes the Allegheny County DA as saying “at least” eleven other guards will be arrested shortly for similar charges, stemming from the rapes of imprisoned men—or their activities in forcing other men to sexually assault other prisoners. Now, one wonders, why is this even remotely relevant to the review of Gilbert’s book, a trek through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s?

Because Gilbert and his cohorts, idealists all, sought to transform American society, in part because forty years ago, they saw the savagery the State unleashed at Attica, the upstate New York prison, where forty-three people—prisoners and guards alike—were slaughtered by state troopers on orders of then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Gilbert and his comrades sought to wipe that kind of racist violence from the nation’s history.

Forty years later, we have rape prisons—unofficial, yes, but no less real. And for millions of Americans who pride themselves as reasonable, good, Christian folks (well, white folks), they could not care less.

They fought, imperfectly, to be sure, to bring forth another future—certainly not this.

For that, they should be studied.

For that, they should be taken seriously.

For that, Struggle should be read.

For that, they should be remembered.

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s book—Jailhouse Lawyers: Prisoners Defending Prisoners v. the USA is available from City Lights Books

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Against Capitalist "Rehabilitation": Reading David Gilbert's Love & Struggle

In the Context of Judith Clark's Renunciation

by JMP
M-L-M Mayhem!
January 13, 2012

According to a recent New York Times article by Tom Robbins, Judith Clark, former Weather Underground member who was arrested in 1981 for the attempted robbery of a Brinks truck, has renounced her radicalism and is now politically "rehabilitated." Robbins describes pre-rehabilitated Clark as if she was a member of a religious cult: she was a "militant zealot," a member of "a wild tribe of radicals," a "dogmatist"—in essence, the victim of leftist brainwashing. For Robbins and his ilk, the actions of Clark and other 1960s-1970s U.S. militants were an insane response to a sane society that just needed the help of a few enlightened liberals rather than a sane response to the insane reality of capitalism. Now Clark has recovered her sanity, now she has healed from the madness of revolutionary ideology, and so now, Robbins argues, she should be let out of prison and allowed to become part of productive liberal society—after all, seventy-five years of incarceration for simply driving a getaway car is only permissible if she still believed that robbing an armoured truck to fund a revolution was morally okay. Before now, before her "rehabilitation," she was simply a brainwashed stooge.

But as the friend and comrade who introduced me to this article [thanks Jude W!] pointed out, the fact that Clark's radical politics are treated as an instance of cult-like brainwashing is extremely ironic in the context of state brainwashing described unintentionally by Robbins. Clark's "rehabilitation" comes after two years in solitary confinement where a sociologist makes her feel guilt about the child she was forced to leave behind when she was imprisoned. Anyone who knows anything about the treatment of revolutionaries in the prison-industrial complex, and the mechanisms that are levelled upon people who resist status quo ideology (for more repressive, by all accounts, than what is suffered by the general prison population), also knows that solitary confinement and the interrogations connected to solitary confinement are designed to politically condition and "rehabilitate" prisoners. That is, Clark's reconversion to liberal ideology is not some honest recovery of "sanity" but an instance of ideological control and psychological torture—an instance of brain-washing.

What is interesting about this recent news of Judith Clark's "rehabilitation," though, is that it has happened around the same time that one of her former imprisoned comrades, David Gilbert, had finally written and published his memoir, Love & Struggle: my life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond. Unlike Clark, however, Gilbert refuses to be politically rehabilitated, has resisted decades of attempted brainwashing and psychological torture in concentration camps of the American prison system, and is generally known as one of the "poster-boys" of U.S. political prisoners.

Although Gilbert has written other books, Love & Struggle is his first attempt at a thorough and systematic autobiography. Indeed, Gilbert claims in the introduction that he has long resisted writing an autobiography because the idea "always felt too self-involved." Thankfully, for those of us who have wanted to read these memoirs, the son Gilbert has only known through conjugal visits convinced him otherwise.

Except Love & Struggle is not simply another collection of remembered politics on the part of a revolutionary who is still a committed revolutionary communist, nor is it just a who's-who inventory of the radical 1960s and 1970s—though it is, in some ways, both of these things. But Love & Struggle is truly worth reading for the following reasons: a) it is a book written by an imprisoned revolution who (unlike his former comrade Judith Clark) continues to resist political rehabilitation; b) parts of it are grouped around revolutionary concepts, leftist in-jargon that is usually obscure to a new radical, that are demystified through Gilbert's autobiography; c) it is an honest and self-critical engagement with a radical period in US history, a bildungsroman of a revolutionary now behind bars who is not afraid to critique the naivete, or the social privilege, of his younger self.

While those of us who believe in a revolutionary break from capitalism cannot endorse Clark's brainwashed renunciation, and should never treat the action taken in 1981 as morally "insane," we also should be critical of the political strategy behind this and similar actions. And Gilbert is not afraid to critique the erroneous line of this strategy (i.e. see the chapter "Foco" as well as the chapters dealing specifically with actions taken by the WU and other organizations with which he associated) while maintaining the politics behind this strategy and the need for revolution.

Nor is Gilbert afraid of self-criticism [and even has a chapter about criticism/self-criticism], of harshly examining his actions and beliefs at different stages of political growth, and so this is not an autobiography written by someone who wants to hide his mistakes, to paint himself as an angel. He is quite critical of moments of internal racism and sexism, of personal errors committed amongst comrades.

The autobiography proper concludes with the author and his comrades being imprisoned three decades before he decided to write this book. Only a small afterword following the last chapter discusses the thirty years Gilbert has spent incarcerated, but it is telling when read in context with the political "rehabilitation" of his former comrade: "As my son approached college age, he became the strongest advocate for my expressing my sorrow and regrets in a direct and forthright manner—and I’ve done so publicly on a number of occasions. The colossal social violence of imperialism does not grant those of us who fight it a free pass to become callous ourselves. Especially in fighting for a just cause, we need to take the greatest care to respect life and to minimize violence as we struggle to end violence. There is no contradiction: I full-heartedly continue my commitment to the oppressed; I deeply regret the loss of lives and the pain for those families caused by our actions on October 20, 1981."

Whereas Judith Clark's child was used as brainwashing method of political rehabilitation, David Gilbert uses the existence of his son to remind himself that a better world is necessary. Whereas the political errors made by the actions in 1981 were used to produce a guilt and shame that would allow Clark to break from her politics, Gilbert accepts responsibility but refuses to reject a commitment to the oppressed. And it is Gilbert's position that liberal hacks like Tom Robbins will continue to treat as insane and fanatical unaware that, every time they celebrate comrades who have lost their way, they are condoning the most insane and violent reality.

(Also: the introduction by Boots Riley from The Coup is awesome.)

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

by Elizabeth DiNovella
The Progressive Magazine
December 21, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Black Flags and Windmills on The Rag Blog

by Mariann G Wizard
Rag Blog
December 13, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ye are manythey are few."

from "The Mask of Anarchy"

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

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

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

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

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Staughton Lynd reviews Rebel Voices

by Staughton Lynd
Industrial Worker
December 2011

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mostly, Daniel teaches me that love is never arbitrary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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