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Rad Dad on Left Turn

By Tom Ricker
Left Turn
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) gmail.com.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Tomas Moniz's Author Page
Back to Jeremy Adam Smith's Author Page




The Revolution Will Be Fictionalized: Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!

by Stefan Raets
Tor.com
November 14, 2011


Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!
is a cross-genre anthology of stories themed around riots, revolts and revolution with a dash of crime and noir thrown in the mix.

The book came to my attention because it features a story co-written by Cory Doctorow in addition to contributions by Michael Moorcock and Kim Stanley Robinson, but I’m glad I took the time to check out the rest of the collection because it offers a potent (not to say, incendiary) and diverse mix of original and previously out-of-print stories that work together to deliver a powerful punch.

(If you’re curious about the origin of the book’s title, check out this song by The Flys.)

Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail! features eighteen stories that vary in length from two page miniatures to novella-length works. The mix of contributors is equally varied, ranging from established SF authors such as Doctorow, Moorcock, and Robinson to writers who are better known for thrillers and non-genre fiction.

The common thread that loosely keeps this collection together is the subject matter: riots, revolutions, and uprisings. With a total of eighteen stories it’s hard to review all of them, so I’ll write about the three SF stories first, in order of appearance, and then highlight a few of my favorites from the rest of the collection.

The first science fiction entry in the collection is Kim Stanley Robinson’s “The Lunatics,” a beautiful story about slave laborers working deep underground in lunar mines, forced to excavate promethium, a mysterious substance that powers the distant Earth economy but also has the strange side effect of enhancing the slaves’ atrophied senses. “The Lunatics” is a great, claustrophobic story that feels somewhat like a lighter version of Joe Mastroianni’s stunning “Jordan’s Waterhammer.”

Next up is Michael Moorcock’s “Gold Diggers of 1977 (Ten Claims that Won Our Hearts),” which was originally published in 1980 as “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle” to go along with the Sex Pistols movie by the same title, and then revised in 1989 by Michael and Linda Moorcock. This novella is a wild, crazy ride through London (and through time) featuring Jerry, Frank and Mrs. Cornelius, as well as the shades of several dead rock musicians and a cast of regulars from the Jerry Cornelius stories. If you’re familiar with the Jerry Cornelius mythos and the Sex Pistols movie, you’ll have a blast with this hectic novella, and for Moorcock fans its inclusion may actually be enough reason in itself to buy this anthology. However, if you’re not that familiar with the many adventures of Mr. J.C. and his friends, this novella may be challenging because it refers extensively to many of the side characters and plots from other Cornelius stories.

The third SF story in the collection (and the one that originally led me to pick up the book) is “I Love Paree,” co-written by Cory Doctorow and Michael Skeet. Lee Rosen and his young cousin Sissy get caught up in a workers’ revolution in a surreal future Paris. The story follows Lee as he tries to free himself and discover what happened to his cousin. “I Love Paree” is dark and violent but at the same time surreal and fun, in large part because of its odd Clockwork Orange-like version of Paris.

Most SFF fans will probably pick up Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail! because of one or more of these three stories by famous SF authors, but if you don’t mind wandering outside of the boundaries of the genre, there are many other goodies to be found here. Here are a few of my favorites:

1.) “Berlin: Two Days in June” by Rick Dakan is a gorgeous little story about a young sales rep walking around present day Berlin, trying to sell a social marketing app to shopkeepers but getting caught up in the history of the city. The way this story hits the intersection of technology and human emotion is just wonderful.

2.) “Cincinnati Lou” by Benjamin Whitmer was, for me, the big discovery in this anthology. The story’s protagonist, Derrick Kreiger, is a fascinating scumbag you will want to read more about — and luckily, it looks like Whitmer’s debut novel Pike features the same main character. Based on “Cincinnati Lou” I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for more works by this author.

3.) “The El Rey Bar” by Andrea Gibbons (who co-edited the anthology with Gary Phillips) is a sad, beautiful snapshot of a group of people in a Los Angeles dive bar in the wake of unspecified terrorist attacks and riots. It’s one of several stories in this book looking at the human cost of revolutions, and one of the best ones.

Other favorites include Sara Paretsky’s “Poster Child,” a scarily plausible look at what the extreme polarization of a complex issue can lead to; Summer Brenner’s “Orange Alert,” a hilarious story about Golden Girls planning the next revolution from their retirement home; and Tim Wohlfort’s “One Dark Berkeley Night,” a beautiful two part story about the wide-ranging aftermath of a random shooting. And that’s not even mentioning other gems like “Masai’s Back in Town” by Gary Phillips, “Look Both Ways” by Luis Rodriguez, and the two gorgeous, mysterious miniatures “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and “Darkness Drops” by Larry Fondation.

Send My Love and a Molotov Cocktail!
is an excellent, eclectic anthology of stories, a perfect book to read now the cold autumn weather is starting to chill the OWS protesters. The struggle continues... so get your grind on!

Buy book now | Download e-Book now




Rad Dad in Bitch Magazine

by Rachel Fudge
Bitch Magazine
December 2011

Although this new collection features work by some undeniably cool cats—like iconic punk rocker Ian MacKaye, hip hop chronicler Jeff Chang, and skater/photographer Mark Whiteley, to name just a few—what makes the titular dads rad is not their tattoos, subcultural street cred, or half-pipe prowess. It’s actually way more radical than that: These are men who are deeply invested in questioning and challenging what coeditor Tomas Moniz terms “the social stereotypes of fathering that for so long have been used to justify gender-specific parental roles.” If that sounds a wee bit dry or self-righteous, don’t stop reading. The contributors may be earnest, but didactic they are not.

Drawing from pieces published in Moniz’s zine of the same name and Jeremy Adam Smith’s sympatico website, the Daddy Dialectic [see “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pop,” no. 50], Rad Dad’s short personal essays are, in keeping with the book’s zine and blog roots, more heartfelt than they are polished—but it’s precisely the raw, unedited nature of these pieces that gives them their emotional power. Happily, this is not just a collection of self-congratulatory essays about encouraging sons to wear pink and daughters to play football; as all the contributors herein could—and do—tell you, progressive parenting is way more complicated than that, and it’s the exploration of those complications that make for the most interesting reading.

When Moniz writes in “Losing the Battle, Winning the War” about his teenage children’s seeming rejection of his progressive values (his son embraces thug life; his daughter wants to look more white), his ability to rise above petty disappointment and trust them to make their own choices is all the more heartwrenching. As is Shawn Taylor’s “A Day at the Park,” wherein he captures both the beauty and the challenges of being a “tattooed, visually Black” father of a “little ethnically ambiguous toddler.” He addresses his fear of becoming “an absent father sleeper agent”; his pain at being invisible as a father (always mistaken for an uncle, cousin, or babysitter); fighting back his own violent impulses when faced with overt racism; and proving all his self-doubts wrong by simply putting his children’s needs first.

Rad Dad’s contributors are a politically engaged, profeminist, anticonsumerist bunch, but the truth is, even if they weren’t, this would still be a pretty radical book. Even in 2011, nearly 20 years after the debut of the like-minded Hip Mama zine, for men to talk seriously and introspectively about parenting is a pretty revolutionary act. As writer Steve Almond points out in his interview with Smith, “A lot of parents—particularly prosperous, over-determined parents like myself—get sucked inward by parenting. It’s a trap, because our apathy and moral disengagement is going to cost our kids in the long run.” For some men, however, especially those who are already marginalized by mainstream culture, simply telling their stories as fathers is a crucial challenge to the dominant discourse.

GIVE IT TO:
Anyone who describes fathering as “babysitting” (and anyone who reads “fathering” to mean “impregnating”).

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Tomas Moniz's Author Page
Back to Jeremy Adam Smith's Author Page




Common Notions


logoCommon Notions seeks to translate and circulate the tools of research utilized in movement-building practices in an effort to generalize common notions about the creation of other worlds beyond capitalism. Inspired by various autonomist traditions of militant research, Common Notions aims to aid in our collective reading of struggles and formulate new directions for living autonomy in our movements today.

1. In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines, and the Crisis of Capitalism — George Caffentzis
2. Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle — Silvia Federici
3. Sex, Race and Class--the Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952–2011 —Selma James
4. The Debt Resisters' Operations Manual — Strike Debt/Occupy Wall Street

  

 

 

 

The Debt Resisters' Operations Manual
Editor: Strike Debt/Occupy Wall Street
Publisher: PM Press/Common Notions
ISBN: 978-1-60486-679-7
Published: 03/2014
Format: Paperback
Size: 8x5
Page count: 224 Pages
Subjects: Politics-Social Movements/Current Events/Economics
$15.95

Over the last thirty years, as wages have stagnated across the country, average household debt has more than doubled. Increasingly, we are forced to take on debt to meet our needs—from housing, to education, to medical care. The results—wrecked lives, devastated communities, and an increasing reliance on credit to maintain our basic living standards—reveal an economic system that enriches the few at the expense of the many.

The Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual is a handbook for debtors everywhere to understand how this system really works, while providing practical tools for fighting debt in its most exploitative forms. Inside, you'll find detailed strategies, resources, and insider tips for dealing with some of the most common kinds of debt, including credit card debt, medical debt, student debt, and housing debt. The book also contains tactics for navigating the pitfalls of personal bankruptcy, and information to help protect yourself from credit reporting agencies, debt collectors, payday lenders, check cashing outlets, rent-to-own stores, and more.

Written and edited by a network of activists, writers, and academics from Occupy Wall Street, additional chapters cover tax debt, sovereign debt, the relationship between debt and climate, and an expanded vision for a movement of mass debt resistance.

Praise:

“That debt is neither inevitable nor ethical is one of the powerful assertions of Strike Debt, whose brilliant manual is both a practical handbook and a manifesto for a true debt jubilee: an economic rebirth in which the indebted are freed and financial institutions are reinvented.”
— Rebecca Solnit, author of A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

“The impact of the neoliberal assault on the U.S. population in the past generation has rightly been designated a ‘failure by design.’ This failure is sharply class-based—for the designers it has been a grand success, and a failure for most of the rest. The same is true of debt. That sets two tasks for those who care about the health of the society: change the design, and find ways to cope as effectively with the failures it imposes. This valuable monograph by Strike Debt provides a good guide to undertake both.”
—Noam Chomsky, author of Hopes and Prospects

The Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual is a powerful tool for resistance and creation. It shows how we can say 'no!' to debt—resist and refuse—at the same time it opens the possibility of alternative ways of relating and creating real value together, based on solidarity and care.”
—Marina Sitrin, author of Everyday Revolutions: Horizontalism and Autonomy in Argentina

“This Manual is a practical guide that will aid anyone who is struggling with debt. But even more important it is a political guide that illuminates the myriad kinds of debt relationships that define our society and helps us imagine how we can begin to organize collectively against debt.”
—Michael Hardt, author of Commonwealth

The Debt Resisters’ Operation Manual is a sober, practical book that will save its readers much money and many sleepless nights. At the same time it is a visionary text that goes into the bowels of the debt machine to chart a collective way out of the state of debt-induced indentured servitude that millions of Americans face. Get a copy and join the movement.”
—Silvia Federici, author of Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle

About Strike Debt:

Strike Debt is a network of activists, writers, and academics from Occupy Wall Street. Key contributors include authors David Graeber, George Caffentzis, Andrew Ross, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Astra Taylor, Amin Husain, and Natasha Singh.

The Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual is a project of Strike Debt, which is building a movement of debt resistance and liberation based on principles of anti-oppression, autonomy, democratic decision-making, and direct action. In addition to this manual, Strike Debt initiatives include launching the “Rolling Jubilee,” a mutual-aid project that buys debt at steeply discounted prices and then abolishes it; hosting debtors’ assemblies; and planning direct actions across the country, ranging from debt burnings to targeted shutdowns of predatory lenders.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Strike Debt/Occupy Wall Street's Page
 

In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines, and the Crisis of Capitalism
Author: George Caffentzis
Publisher: PM Press/Common Notions
ISBN: 978-1-60486-335-2
Published April 2013
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 288 Pages
Subjects: Philosophy/Economics
$19.95

Karl Marx wrote that the only way to write about the origins of capitalism in the sixteenth century is in the letters of blood and fire used to drive workers from the common lands, forests and waters. This collection of essays by autonomist Marxist George Caffentzis argues that the same is true for the annals of twenty-first century capitalism. Information technology, immaterial production, financialization and globalization have been trumpeted as inaugurating a new phase of capitalism that put it beyond its violent origins. Instead of being in a period of major social and economic novelty, however, the course of the last decades has been a return to the fire and blood of struggles at the advent of capitalism. 

Emphasizing class struggles that have proliferated across the social body of global capitalism, Caffentzis shows how a wide range of conflicts and antagonisms in the labor-capital relation express themselves within and against the work process. These struggles are so central to the dynamic of the system that even the most sophisticated machines cannot liberate capitalism from class struggle and the need for labor. Moreover, the theme of war and crisis permeate the text but are also given singular emphasis, documenting the peculiar way in which capital perpetuates violence and proliferates misery on a world scale. The collection draws upon a careful re-reading of Marx’s thought in order to elucidate political concerns of the day. The essays in this collection have been written to contribute to the debates of the anti-capitalist movement over the last thirty years. This book is meant to make them more available as tools for the struggle in this period of transition to a common future.

Praise:

“George Caffentzis has been the philosopher of the anti-capitalist movement from the American civil rights movement of the 1960s to the European autonomists of the 1970s, from the Nigerian workers of the oil boom of the 1980s to the encuentros of the Zapatistas in the 1990s, from the feminists of wages-for-housework to the struggle of the precariat for the commons. Trained as both an economist and a physicist he has taken fundamental categories such as money, time, work, energy, and value and re-thought them in relation to both revolutionary Marxism and to the dynamics of our changing movement. An historian of our own times he carries the political wisdom of the 20th into the 21st century. He is a lively and dogged polemicist; he dances circles around the pompous marxologist; with the passing of time his thought has grown in depth and increasingly tends to be expressed with pleasure and humor. The lever by which he overturns the world is light as a feather, and its fulcrum is as down to earth as the housewife, the student, the peasant, the worker. Here is capitalist critique and proletarian reasoning fit for our time.”
—Peter Linebaugh, author of The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All 

About the Author:

George Caffentzis is a political philosopher and autonomist Marxist. He is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern Maine and a founding member of the Midnight Notes Collective.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | George Caffentzis's Page 

 
Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle
Author: Silvia Federici
Publisher: PM Press/Common Notions
ISBN: 978-1-60486-333-8
Published April 2012
Format: Paperback
Size: 8 by 5
Page count: 208 Pages
Subjects: Women's Studies/Politics/Sociology
$15.95

Written between 1975 and the present, the essays collected in this volume represent thirty years of research and theorizing on questions of social reproduction and the transformations which the globalization process has produced. Originally inspired by Federici’s organizational work in the Wages For Housework movement, topics discussed include the international restructuring of reproductive work and its effects on the sexual division of labor, the globalization of care work and sex work, the crisis of elder care, and the development of affective labor. Though theoretical in style, the book is written in an explanatory manner that makes it both accessible to a broad public and ideal for classroom use.

Praise:

“Finally we have a volume that collects the many essays that over a period of four decades Silvia Federici has written on the question of social reproduction and women’s struggles on this terrain. While providing a powerful history of the changes in the organization of reproductive labor, Revolution at Point Zero documents the development of Federici’s thought on some of the most important questions of our time: globalization, gender relations, the construction of new commons.”
—Mariarosa Dalla Costa

About the Author:

Silvia Federici is a feminist activist, writer, and a teacher. In 1972 she was one of the co-founders of the International Feminist Collective, the organization that launched the international campaign for Wages For Housework (WFH). In the 1990s, after a period of teaching and research in Nigeria, she was active in the anti-globalization movement and the U.S. anti-death penalty movement. She is one of the co-founders of the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa, an organization dedicated to generating support for the struggles of students and teachers in Africa against the structural adjustment of African economies and educational systems. From 1987 to 2005 she taught international studies, women studies, and political philosophy courses at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. All through these years she has written books and essays on philosophy and feminist theory, women’s history, education and culture, and more recently the worldwide struggle against capitalist globalization and for a feminist reconstruction of the commons.

Buy book now | Download e-Book nowSilvia Federici's page

 

Sex, Race and Class--the Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952–2011
Author: Selma James
Foreword by: Marcus Rediker
Introduction by: Nina López
Publisher: PM Press
ISBN: 978-1-60486-454-0
Published: March 2012
Format: Paperback
Size: 9 by 6
Page count: 300 Pages
Subjects: Feminism, Literary Collection, Politics
$20.00

In 1972 Selma James set out a new political perspective. Her starting point was the millions of unwaged women who, working in the home and on the land, were not seen as “workers” and their struggles viewed as outside of the class struggle. Based on her political training in the Johnson-Forest Tendency, founded by her late husband C.L.R. James, on movement experience South and North, and on a respectful study of Marx, she redefined the working class to include sectors previously dismissed as “marginal.”

For James, the class struggle presents itself as the conflict between the reproduction and survival of the human race, and the domination of the market with its exploitation, wars, and ecological devastation. She sums up her strategy for change as “Invest in Caring not Killing.”

This selection, spanning six decades, traces the development of this perspective in the course of building an international campaigning network. It includes the classic The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community which launched the “domestic labor debate,” the exciting Hookers in the House of the Lord which describes a church occupation by sex workers, an incisive review of the C.L.R. James masterpiece The Black Jacobins, a reappraisal of the novels of Jean Rhys and of the leadership of Julius Nyerere, the groundbreaking Marx and Feminism, and “What the Marxists Never Told Us About Marx,” published here for the first time.

The writing is lucid and without jargon. The ideas, never abstract, spring from the experience of organising, from trying to make sense of the successes and the setbacks, and from the need to find a way forward.

Praise:

"It's time to acknowledge James’s path-breaking analysis: from 1972 she re-interpreted the capitalist economy to show that it rests on the usually invisible unwaged caring work of women."  —Dr. Peggy Antrobus, feminist, author of The Global Women’s Movement: Origins, Issues and Strategies

“For clarity and commitment to Haiti’s revolutionary legacy…Selma is a sister after my own heart.”  —Danny Glover, actor and activist

“The publication of these essays reflects in concentrated form the history of the new society struggling to be born. Their appearance today could not be timelier. As the fruit of the collective experience of the last half-century, they will help to acquaint a whole new generation with not only what it means to think theoretically, but, more importantly, the requirement of organization as the means of testing those ideas. In this respect, Selma James embodies in these essays the spirit of the revolutionary tradition at its most relevant.”  —Dr. Robert A. Hill, Literary Executor of the estate of C.L.R. James, University of California, Los Angeles, Director, Marcus Garvey Papers Project

About the Author:

Selma James is a women's rights and anti-racist campaigner and author. From 1958 to 1962 she worked with C.L.R. James in the movement for West Indian federation and independence. In 1972 she founded the International Wages for Housework Campaign, and in 2000 helped launch the Global Women's Strike whose strategy for change is "Invest in Caring not Killing". She coined the word “unwaged” which has since entered the English language. In the 1970s she was the first spokeswoman of the English Collective of Prostitutes. She is a founding member of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. She co-authored the classic The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community which launched the “domestic labour debate.”  Other publications include A Woman’s Place (1952), Women, the Unions and Work, or what is not to be done (1972), Sex, Race and Class (1974), Wageless of the World (1974), The Rapist Who Pays the Rent (1982), The Ladies and the Mammies—Jane Austen and Jean Rhys (1983), Marx and Feminism (1983), Hookers in the House of the Lord (1983), Strangers & Sisters: Women, Race and Immigration (1985), The Global Kitchen—the Case for Counting Unwaged Work (1985 and 1995), and The Milk of Human Kindness—Defending Breastfeeding from the AIDS Industry and the Global Market (2005).

About Marcus Rediker (Foreword):

Marcus Rediker is a an activist and Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh. His books include: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (1987), The Many-Headed Hydra (2000), Villains of All Nations (2004), The Slave Ship: A Human History (2007), and many more.

About Nina López (Introduction):

Nina López is the joint co-ordinator of the Global Women’s Strike. Her writings and edited volumes include: Prostitute Women and AIDS—Resisting the Virus of Repression (1988), Some Mother's Daughter: The Hidden Movement of Prostitute Women Against Violence (1998), The Milk of Human Kindness (2002), and Creating a Caring Economy: Nora Castañeda and the Women’s Development Bank of Venezuela (2006).

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Selma James's Page




Crises Can Be Openings

Adbusters
by Sasha Lilley
"The Big Ideas of 2012" issue


The past several years have witnessed the spectacular unraveling of capitalism . . . or so it has appeared. Venerated investment banks have vanished overnight, titans of industry have permanently shuttered their doors, and rich nations have lurched perilously close to default. The ideology of the free market, once seemingly unassailable, lies in tatters. While the death knell of capitalism may not yet be tolling, the crisis is undoubtedly of a different order of magnitude than anything seen in decades.

Crises can be openings: moments when the stanchions are kicked out from under the status quo, when the pieties of the recent past fall away, and a revitalized sense of collective power takes shape. But crises aren't always-or only-opportunities for radicals, mechanically ushering legions of the downtrodden to the barricades. In times of crisis, the far right often harnesses the insecurities of the precarious, as well as the monied, in the service of xenophobia and austerity. Paradoxically, crises of capitalism are opportunities for capital. Notwithstanding any frontal challenges to the old order, those capitalists who survive the shakeout and destruction of competitors can find fertile ground for a new round of expansion. Such demolition and regeneration are often aided by force of arms: contrary to the pacifist slogan, war is the answer, razing old capital and clearing the way for the new. Even the crisis of nature is fortuitous for capital, spawning green commodities and product lines as coral reefs, rainforests, freshwater lakes and rivers perish, and myriad species disappear forever. Capitalism begets crisis and then crisis begets opportunities for profit. And so it goes. Or so it has gone.

For better or worse-often for worse-the left has a long history of diagnosing the death throes of capitalism and the final conflict heralding radical change. As the old witticism has it, Marxists have predicted ten out of the last two economic crises, a perpetual chronicle of a crisis foretold. Yet in the midst of what arguably is the fourth global crisis of the capitalist system, radicals-whether in North America or South Korea-find themselves adrift and tentative. We should be thankful for the departure of the old mechanistic view of the world, at least from most quarters. But what has taken its place? Anxiety about day-to-day survival has deepened the abiding anti-utopianism of our age. An enduring fatalism about the possibility of radical social transformation, the scar tissue of dashed hopes and sanguinary defeats, has us firmly in its grip. With the exception of a few pockets of militancy (and at times adventurism) the idea of organizing for a postcapitalist future commonly seems delusional: one thinks here of the now oft-quoted saying that it has become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Another crisis, one of both vision and organization, is painfully in evidence.

It doesn't have to be so. We are living through an era of considerable flux. Ideas alone won't solve the crisis of the left, and revolutions cannot be summoned by fervent wishes. But ideas matter, as the often-tragic history of the left has proved. They are born out of action and shape the deeds of the future. They help us understand the world we unwittingly have helped to construct, grasp the many vulnerabilities of the current order, and weigh, and devise, avenues for fracture and revolt.

Sasha Lilley is host of the critically acclaimed program of radical ideas Against the Grain. She's the author of Capitalism and Its Discontents from which this piece was taken, and co-author of Catastrophism, due out in 2012 from PM Press. Lilley is also editor of the political economy imprint, Spectre.

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More Praise for David Gilbert

More Praise for Love and Struggle and David Gilbert:

“David Gilbert’s story is a tale of consciousness, counterculture, and action during the generation of revolution, love, and hope. A tale of the best and worst of America, of struggle and love, and of hope and repression.”
—Zack de la Rocha, rapper, poet, activist, Rage Against the Machine vocalist


“Required reading for anyone interested in the history of radical movements in this country. An honest, vivid portrait of a life spent passionately fighting for justice. In telling his story, Gilbert also reveals the history of left struggles in the 1960s and ’70s, and imparts important lessons for today’s activists.
—Jordan Flaherty, author of Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six


“This story is from a true freedom fighter, a warrior against U.S. imperialism and for peace and justice.”
—Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Outlaw Woman: A Memoir of the War Years, 1960–75


“When Malcolm X said John Brown was his standard for white activism, he could have easily meant David Gilbert. He is our generation’s John Brown. His support of Black liberation as a method of freeing the world is to be studied, appreciated, and applied.”
—Jared A. Ball, associate professor of communication studies at Morgan State University, author of I Mix What I Like! A Mixtape Manifesto


“David Gilbert’s memoir is a gift to the future. His story brings together three generations of social justice movements. The book is more than a fascinating history of an incredible life; it is an example of political praxis. Gilbert combines humor and humility, analysis and adventure, as he shows what it means to live one’s life in pursuit of freedom. Brimming with insight and optimism, Love and Struggle shows the way.”
—Dan Berger, author of Outlaws in America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity


“David Gilbert has written a rigorously honest, analytic memoir that grapples with the many dimensions of his history as a revolutionary anti-imperialist. Responding to a request from his son to write a book that reflects on his personal experiences, David is unafraid to examine his mistakes and shortcomings, especially regarding sexism and racism, while affirming the revolutionary principles that have guided him throughout his adult life. For thirty years, David has engaged in a dynamic conversation across the walls about radical history and the path forward. Love and Struggle is a compelling contribution to that critical dialogue.”
—Diana Block, activist, author of Arm the Spirit: A Woman’s Journey Underground and Back


“After suffering thirty years of hard time in several of America’s most brutal dungeons, after enduring separation and isolation and loss, after braving a decades-long campaign of demonization and misinformation orchestrated from the pinnacles of power, David Gilbert speaks up with hope and a simple clarity that belies his circumstances. This is a unique and necessary voice forged in the growing American gulag, the underbelly of the ‘land of the free,’ offering a focused and unassailable critique as well as a vision of a world that could be but is not yet—a place of peace and love, joy and justice. Gilbert’s humanity, dignity, and integrity are entirely intact, his fierce intelligence full up, his sense of urgency unchanged. Anyone who wants to understand the sorry state we are in and hopes to participate in finding a more hopeful path forward should read this passionate and compelling book.
—Bill Ayers, author of Fugitive Days and Teaching Toward Freedom

 




The Return of Paul Goodman

by Scott McLemee
Inside Higher Ed
October 26, 2011

The title of Paul Goodman's Growing Up Absurd (1960) has taken on a life of its own—mimicked or alluded to so often (e.g., Growing Up Amish, Growing Up Digital, and Growing Up Dead) that it seems familiar to people who not only haven't read the book, but have no idea there ever was one by that name. As for the subtitle, "Problems of Youth in Organized Society," it named one of the decisive questions of the decade that followed. One of the people interviewed in Jonathan Lee’s "Paul Goodman Changed My Life"—a documentary released by Zeitgeist Films and screening around the country over the next couple of months—recalls that for many years it was the one book found in every dormitory. Another says that you couldn't pick up a major magazine without finding Goodman mentioned, or as author of an article.

Within the limits of exaggeration-for-effect, that is actually a fair way to indicate how of a public presence the author had during the Kennedy administration, and he remained in great demand as a speaker, especially on campuses, for some while after that.

Goodman's political stance was unusual—“anarcho-pacifist communitarianism” about covers it—and certainly kept him on the sidelines during the 1950s. But his approach to social criticism was only occasionally that of declamatory denunciation. His approach, much of the time, was to make helpful suggestions toward the public good, in a spirit of responsible citizenship. Imagine the benefits of banning cars from Manhattan, for example, or ending the arms race immediately. Of course, trying to do most of the things he proposed would involve radical change, but so what? A famous piece of graffiti from the 1960s said "Be reasonable, demand the impossible." That might as well have been his slogan.

Goodman was anything but a one-book author, and social commentary was by no means his primary concern. The huge audiences he drew after Growing Up Absurd became a bestseller meant that publishers could not wait to re-issue his earlier work—his novels and poetry, his University of Chicago dissertation on neo-Aristotelian literary criticism, his volume of psychoanalytic reflections on Kafka, you name it.

Ditto for anything new he wrote. Between 1960 and his death in 1972, he published three or four books a year. He was easily one of the best-known and most-read figures in the country, and Paul Goodman Changed My Life is an excellent tribute to his memory and reminder of his influence. It should go a long way toward generating more interest in him than has been evident over the last two or three decades—when nobody, nobody at all, has been reading him.

An exaggeration for effect, of course. I've been reading him for most of that time, for one. Presumably a few other people have, as well. But still, close enough. Considering the scale of public response to Goodman’s work in final years of his life, the eclipse has been astonishing and all but total. The output of scholarly and critical literature on him has been thin in quantity—and, for the most part, quality. The most important exception is Here Now Next: Paul Goodman and the Origins of Gestalt Therapy by Taylor Stoehr, a professor emeritus  of English at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, who is Goodman's literary executor. It was published by Jossey-Bass in 1994, and is more far-ranging than the title may suggest. Before fame overtook him, Goodman was involved in a number of academic, psychoanalytic, artistic, and political circles, and Stoehr's monograph is the only attempt, so far, to chart some of his webs of influence and affiliation, at least to my knowledge.

And here is where Jonathan Lee’s documentary gives hope. It does an excellent job of evoking Goodman’s peripatetic and ramshackle career—the stints teaching at Chicago and Black Mountain College, the years as a lay psychotherapist, the role he played with the off-Broadway Living Theater group, both as playwright and house philosopher. The composer Ned Rorem recounts setting his friend’s poems to music. We get a glimpse of how contemporary students respond to one of Goodman’s essays in a class taught the by adjunct English instructor Zeke Finkelstein at the City College of New York. And, best of all, there are numerous clips of Goodman being interviewed or speaking.

While not charismatic, exactly, he is certainly fearless, an admirable quality in an intellectual and particularly valuable for its scarcity. The interview on William F. Buckley's show Firing Line in 1966 is a case in point. The documentary begins with Buckley introducing his guest as  “a pacifist, a bisexualist, a poverty cultist, an anarchist, and a few other distracting things.” Before responding to Buckley’s first question, Goodman objects to how he has been described. “I’m not a poverty cultist," he says. "I do think it's a sign of a good society that it is possible to live in decent poverty, especially if you so choose, that is, if you have more important things to do than to make money.” (He goes on to correct Buckley for misusing the word “axiomatic,” as the host concedes.) But what Goodman doesn’t respond to at all— noticeably enough—is the reference to his sexuality. He was candid about it to the point of losing at least a couple of teaching positions. It also got him beaten up.

Goodman could be prickly, egocentric, and not shy about communicating the assumption that he was a genius. Plus he made passes at everybody. He must have been difficult company at times. Some of this comes through in the documentary, and it serves as needed balance to any hagiographic impulse. On the other hand, there was never a valid criticism of Goodman that he hadn't made about himself in a poem or essay somewhere.

The film ends with a suggestion that Goodman's influence and example might revive. Fair enough: some of his work has been reprinted of late, and The Paul Goodman Reader, edited by Stoehr and published by PM Press, is a representative sampling of his work in several fields and genres.

But the possibility of a revival does not explain why his influence and example waned in the first place. During an e-mail discussion with Lee, I asked him why he thought Goodman's star had faded. One thing the director stressed is that Goodman “wasn't a specialist,and therefore did not become a star in any specific academic discipline. His brother Percival told me that if he had written only in one discipline, he would have become famous as an author in that discipline, say psychology, for example, and there would have been an academic constituency to carry him forward.”

At the same time Goodman’s work “is more intellectual, more rationalist, than say a Jack Kerouac, whose [On the Road] is in print. Paul Goodman challenges the reader to think, to act, and reading him is not a dumbed-down experience. I think that we've been continuing a dumbing-down of our public life—certainly what's available and popular in the mainstream media—and Goodman is too smart to satisfy the demand for easy, non-challenging material.”

Valid points, as far as they go, though they don’t exhaust the question. Not all of the failings are on the side of the public. The range of subjects in Goodman’s work is great, but so is the range of quality. You have to read a great deal of his work to see how parts of it hold together. He seems to have cobbled together a kind of intellectual framework from elements of Aristotle, Kant, Freud, Dewey, and Kropotkin— an interesting list, but a slightly odd one. And Susan Sontag’s description of Goodman’s prose is exactly right: “What he wrote was a nervy mixture of syntactical stiffness and verbal felicity; he was capable of writing sentences of a wonderful purity of style and vivacity of language, and also capable of writing so sloppily and clumsily that one imagined he must be doing it on purpose.” (Then again, only a mediocrity is always at his best.)

But there is a passage from the introduction to his book Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals (Random House, 1962) in which Goodman explains himself as clearly anyone could want, and with a kind of eloquence.

“As my books and essays have appeared," Goodman wrote, "I have been been severely criticized as an ignorant man who spreads himself thin on a wide variety of subjects, on sociology and psychology, urbanism and technology, education, literature, esthetics, and ethics. It is true that I don't know much, but it is false that I write about many subjects. I have only one, the human beings I know in their man-made scene. I do not observe that people are in fact subdivided in ways to be conveniently treated by the ‘wide variety’ of separate disciplines. If you talk separately about their group behavior or their individual behavior, their environment or their characters, their practicality or their sensibility, you lose what you are talking about. We are often forced, for analytic purposes, to study a problem under various departments—since everybody can't discuss everything at once, but woe if one then plans for people in these various departments! One will never create a community, and will destroy such community as exists . . . I make the choice of what used to be called a Man of Letters, one who relies on the peculiar activity of authorship—a blending of memory, observation, criticism, reasoning, imagination, and reconstruction—in order to treat the objects in the world concretely and centrally.”

There are worse models of intellectual activity than this, and Jonathan Lee has done a useful thing by reminding us what it looked like in person.

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W. Va. mine wars book updated for Book Festival

by Paul J. Nyden
WVGazette.com
October 19, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. —It's been more than 20 years since David Alan Corbin first published his history, The West Virginia Mine Wars: An Anthology.

He's updated the book with a new chapter and a new introduction, and rebranded it Gun Thugs, Rednecks and Radicals: A Documentary History of the West Virginia Mine Wars. PM Press will publish the new version next month.

"This book documents the history of the mine wars in West Virginia, the real history," Corbin said. "It lets the people involved speak for themselves, not just through historians.

Corbin will promote the book this weekend at the West Virginia Book Festival.

"Historians interpret history and distort history," he said. "This book gets the facts out as they were at the time. For years, the history of the Mine Wars was buried, kept out of the history books."

When he was working on his first book, 1981's Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880-1922, Corbin visited "the counties where the mine wars took place.

"Many people never heard about them. Or they were taught to be ashamed of these events, rather than take pride in them. We got the real story out."

Both of Corbin's books focus on three major confrontations:

The historic Cabin Creek and Paint Creek strikes in 1912 and 1913, when many union miners and their families were evicted from their homes in eastern Kanawha County.

The Battle of Matewan, fought on May 19, 1920. Miners and local police officers, including, Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield, battled Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency guards that coal companies sent to Mingo County to evict pro-union miners from their homes at Stone Mountain Coal Camp.

The Battle of Blair Mountain, fought between Aug. 25 and Sept. 4, 1921. It was the largest armed confrontation in U.S. labor history, involving 15,000 miners who marched from Marmet down to Logan County. That confrontation ended when federal troops were dispatched to Blair Mountain.

Gun Thugs, Rednecks and Radicals offers a host of articles and transcripts of testimony from people involved in those battles, including testimony Hatfield gave to the U.S. Senate and Senate testimony from the widows of Hatfield and his friend, Ed Chambers, after the two men were shot by Baldwin-Felts guards on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse.

The book also includes speeches by coalfield leaders, including Mother Jones and Frank Keeney. It includes testimony from people like Lee Calvin, a Baldwin-Felts guard during the Cabin Creek-Paint Creek strikes.

"As a guard on the Bull Moose Special company train that went up the creeks, Lee Calvin was repulsed at what was being done to the miners," Corbin said. "He told a Senate Committee what happened . . .

"I am really glad they are getting this out again now. Hopefully, it will help make people more inspired to rally around saving Blair Mountain today."

There is an ongoing dispute over preserving Blair Mountain. Arch Coal and Massey Energy (since bought by Alpha Natural Resources) have expressed interest in expanding mountaintop removal operations onto Blair Mountain, on the Boone-Logan county line.

Labor activists and historians believe the site should be preserved. Corbin says Blair Mountain should become a "national park, like Bunker Hill [in Boston] or Manassas [in Virginia]."

Both sides have talked about reaching an agreement in the near future.

Corbin, who worked for many years in the U.S. Senate, including 18 years for the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., now works for the president of the University of Maryland.

He's making final changes to "a semi-biography about Senator Byrd that will be coming out next year. It focuses mostly on Byrd's encounters with the presidents [with] which he served."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.

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Poetry as a Panacea in our Troubled World

by Manjula Kumar
The Huffington Post
November 3, 2011

All my personal and professional life I have made an effort to reach out to the Divine through the arts. While at school in a convent in India, it was comfortable and made complete sense to go to church and pray—"Lord make me an instrument of Thy Peace// Where there is hatred, let me sow love." At home there were numerous images of various Hindu Gods and the celebration of religious festivals was full of color and fun. I intimately mingled with my Muslim friends and became increasingly fascinated with their culture. Listening to the chanting in the morning from the Sikh gurudwara (place of worship) was part of my daily life. My Buddhist school friend opened another door to a world of simplicity, showing me another path of enlightenment. At that time, the religious practices of a Jain friend seemed hard to imbibe but certainly piqued my admiration. All these disparate threads of religious beliefs and cultural practices, unconsciously, played an important part in my development not only as a human being but in my eternal search for an ideal—a just and peaceful world.

Today, living in U.S.A., my adopted country, while my personal world is in unison, I am even more convinced of the need for interfaith understanding, as the external world seems to be tearing apart under the notions of religious strife and senseless violence.

We live in a multicultural society, ruled by technology, in which contact among different faiths is inevitable. As individuals we are constantly challenged to live in harmony with people from different faiths and backgrounds. The dilemma is how do we conceive of God today? How do we combine the practical everyday life with our own personal religious beliefs? I personally have found the answer in sharing multicultural expressions through the arts. Poetry especially, heals and compels us to study the human situation from various perspectives. Through the ages poets from different religious faiths have expressed their love for the Divine: 

In my soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church where I kneel. 
Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.
 In my soul there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church 
that dissolves, that dissolves in God.

Thus wrote Hazrat Rabia Basri in the eighth century, perhaps the first female Sufi saint who dedicated her life to exploring the true meaning of prayer and the doctrine of divine love. She followed the mystic path and was the first to practice the complete and selfless love for God. Her poetry rings true today with its pure and simple affirmation of divine love. The 13th century Persian poet Mewlana Jalal-ud-din Rumi, perhaps the best known Sufi poet in the West, expressed through his poetry a yearning for the Divine, a soul-searching for the Whole, the Complete. He proclaimed the Sufi path and in 2005 UNESCO proclaimed the Mevlevi Sema ceremony of Turkey as amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Amir Khusrau, the Indian mystic poet, composed his works in Persian and Hindavi. His poetry has rich examples of the religious, cultural and aesthetic values of 13th century India. Kabir in the 14th century, one of the saints of the Bhakti (devotion) and Sufi movement, inspired the great scholar, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore. His work is based on simplicity, honesty and the inward worship of God. He criticized dogmas and creeds and preached the simple path to God. His dohas (couplets) and short stories are popular today and often quoted by young and old. His compositions figure in the Sikh scriptures—the Guru Nanak Granth Sahib:

Love the saints of every faith:

Put away thy pride.

Remember the essence of religion

Is meekness and sympathy

In the 16th century Meera Bai, a Hindu princess, spread the teaching—love of God alone is true and eternal all else is ephemeral. The Mughal Emperor Akbar, himself a practitioner of religious tolerance, knelt at her feet in respect and admiration. The poetry of Bulleh Shah, a Sufi poet in the 17th c. who wrote in Punjabi, is recited today and is an important part of the traditional repertoire of qawwali—a genre of music that represents the devotional music of the Sufis:

You have learnt so much

And read a thousand books

Have you ever read your Self?

You have gone to mosque and temple,

Have you ever visited your soul?

In our own times, the unpredictable technocrat, former CEO, Steve Jobs, philosophized towards the end of his life—"different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don't. It's the great mystery." Today I realize that my dream is also the American dream—a world of peace and harmony, of religious and cultural plurality—a dream we all need to protect and preserve.

Just this year, Dr. Akbar Ahmed, renowned scholar, playwright, diplomat, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University, Washington, D.C. published his latest book on poetry Suspended Somewhere Between. The Oscar-nominated actor/writer Daniel Futterman, in his Foreword, has called Dr. Ahmed "a national treasure." Walking in the footsteps of great Sufi poets Dr. Ahmed expresses "primal emotions that are universal." His poetry touches the heart and soul while reflecting on the past with memories of the partition of India. It speaks to the present generation and will live on for generations. The title is derived from the poem and reflects the challenges we face as individuals in balancing our desire for material prosperity and spiritual well-being.

A special event is planned at the Gandhi Memorial Center in Washington, D.C. centered on the reading of Dr. Ahmed's works. There will be an informal intellectual exchange between the readers, the audience and the poet. This event is a perfect example of pluralistic America at its best. Mahatma Gandhi preached and practiced unity—You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. At this most appropriate venue, people from diverse backgrounds and faiths can collectively contribute towards a unified voice of the Universal Truth.
One of my favorite poems from the collection is:

The Path


I am on a journey

With others walking alongside

Some taking the help of imams and ayatollahs

Others the law of Moses or the love of Jesus

Yonder I see those who find the divine in the Ganges

Or on top of the Himalayas

They find the divine in the noble doings of Lord Ram

Yet others find other paths
I wish them all Godspeed

For all of them are part of the "nations and tribes"

That the Quran tells me I must love

So that I can love my God.

All these thinkers have a common thread—a nameless devotion to the Supreme, message of unity and belief in the equality among humankind. In our present world of political gymnastics, economic stress and brutal violence, poetry is the panacea!

The event at the Gandhi Center is just another step and we hope to continue this important dialogue on interfaith understanding and acceptance during the two-day symposium at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.: "Sufism at the Smithsonian: Searching the Divine through the Arts"—scheduled for Sept. 2012.

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Palo Alto family's experience depicted in children's book on gay marriage

by Aaron Kinney
San Jose Mercury News

When "Yes on 8" signs began popping up on lawns in their Palo Alto neighborhood in 2008, Kathy and Lee Merkle-Raymond found themselves on the front line of the battle over gay marriage in California.

The same-sex couple, who were campaigning against Proposition 8, had to explain to their two young daughters why some of their friends' parents didn't want them to be allowed to marry. Then, with their daughters' encouragement, the couple decided to tie the knot before the ban on same-sex marriage took effect.

Their story is now the basis for Operation Marriage, a new children's book that could make its way into classrooms and school libraries now that California passed a law ensuring that children learn about the contributions of gays and lesbians. Author Cynthia Chin-Lee debuted the book Wednesday at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park before an audience of local families, educators and faith leaders.

Chin-Lee, a publications manager for Oracle, has written several well-received children's books exploring cultural diversity in her spare time. With Operation Marriage, she has taken on the subject of gay rights, mixing in broader themes of tolerance and bullying.

"I see this not only as a gay marriage issue, but opening the conversation of how all families are different," Chin-Lee said Tuesday.

Operation Marriage tells the story of a brother and sister who are disparaged at school by a boy who insists their moms aren't really married. After their parents console them, trying to explain the difference between a commitment ceremony and a traditional marriage, the siblings scheme to persuade their mothers to get legally married.

The schoolyard confrontation is a product of Chin-Lee's imagination, though it's rooted in her own experience. She was bullied due to her ethnicity while growing up in Washington, D.C. Children of same-sex parents also are targets for bullies, who are ever on the lookout for children who are different. "One thing I feel passionate about is that kids should be able to grow up without being bullied for any reason," Chin-Lee said.

Ayden Casey-Demirtjis, 7, has been teased for having two mothers. The Mountain View third-grader, who attended Wednesday's reading with mother Shannon, said that some kids have asked whether his father is dead. "I don't even really have a dad," he'll reply. "Nobody's dead."

The owners of Reach and Teach, the San Mateo-based publisher of Operation Marriage, anticipates that a new state law written by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, could help them get the book into school libraries and lesson plans. The Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful Education Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in July, adds lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to a list of underrepresented cultural and ethnic groups that need to be represented in school curriculums.

Reach and Teach is putting together an outline suggesting how the book could be taught. The publisher is also working with Our Family Coalition, a Bay Area LGBT group that holds regular forums on elementary education, including how to make curriculums more inclusive. A previous Reach and Teach book, "Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon," has earned a recommendation from an arm of the American Library Association that focuses on gay literature.

Craig Wiesner, co-owner of Reach and Teach, said having same-sex parents can create dilemmas for children right from the start of their education. He noted that a common task for children of kindergarten age is drawing a family portrait.

"For 2 million kids across the United States, that picture is going to include two parents of the same gender," Wiesner said.

Reach and Teach, along with Chin-Lee and illustrator Lea Lyon, aims to give schools materials to help children explore, and even celebrate, the differences between them.

The real-life story of the Merkle-Raymonds and the Proposition 8 campaign wound up with a happy end, although same-sex marriage is against the law in California. The Merkle-Raymonds reconciled with a family that had backed the gay marriage ban, and daughters Alex, 14, and Nikki, 11, came through the experience with their youthful optimism intact.

"I think the kids understand that there's an issue of justice and equity that in their lifetimes will change," Kathy Merkle-Raymond said. The girls' perspective is, "Our friends are going to marry whoever they want to marry, and no one's going to care."

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357.

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