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Austin Film Fest '12: Sparks Fly At Premiere of "Informant" About Controversial Ex-Activist Brandoon Darby

by Stephen Saito
The Moveable Fest
October 23rd, 2012

“Let me say that we had nothing to do with making the film except that we were interviewed for it,” said Austin-based activist Scott Crow in one of the more unusual introductions to ever begin a Q & A session at a film festival.

Proudly identifying himself as an anarchist, but quickly adding that “the world I actually want to live in is an egalitarian world,” Crow ushered a touch of chaos into the typically staid practice of a post-screening chat when he took center stage at the Austin Film Festival’s premiere screening of “Informant,” which had won the festival’s prize for Best Documentary earlier in the day. Crow was accompanied by David McKay, a fellow Austinite who couldn’t attend the premiere of the last film that featured him as a subject – the 2011 doc “Better This World” – because he was incarcerated at the time.

Besides McKay’s presence, what made the evening so incredible was that after a film in which Crow and McKay can be seen being wronged by Brandon Darby, an anti-establishment radical who was involved in activist efforts to restore the Lower Ninth Ward following Hurricane Katrina before becoming an informant who reported back to the FBI on activist activities, each had the opportunity to give their own version of the story without either Darby or the film’s director Jamie Meltzer onhand to field questions.

If they’re to be believed, the portrait of Darby painted by Crow and McKay was far different than the one presented in the film. Crow insisted Meltzer “did a good job for what he was doing,” creating a well-crafted, evenhanded look at Darby by inviting him to sit and tell his own story in which he became disenchanted with the politics of his activist efforts and found his way to being a hero for blowing the whistle on a trio of young protesters, including McKay, at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul who were discovered with a crate of Molotov cocktails – makeshift bombs Darby appears to have had a hand in influencing being made - who has since gone on to become a successful speaker on the Tea Party circuit.

However, McKay and Crow would argue that Darby was a misogynist always out to prove his machismo who attempted to coax both of them and other activists towards violence long before he started participating with the FBI, growing frustrated with his inability to lead in a community of activists where equality was prized, and ultimately is a pawn in a much larger plot in the U.S. to profit off an ever-growing police state.

“This is a pattern by the U.S. government on activist and Muslim communities,” Crow said. “There’s been 500 cases since 2001, so they’re creating terrorism subjects in this country so they can justify this war on terror. It’s all about building military capacity for the police.

Corporations are making money on it. It just happens that this jerk [Darby] will talk about it a lot.”

Sunday evening gave victims of Darby’s testimony a chance to respond, both onstage and from the crowd. McKay, who spent three years in prison after Darby gave him up to the FBI, told the audience: “I feel immense feelings for Brandon, one of them is pity because experiencing those exact experiences with him, as far as I can know as truth and seeing where he has progressed with his own life, I don’t think his story is over in playing itself out, but I know it cannot be easy being Brandon Darby. And I think a lot of people who know him a lot better than I do, do have a little bit of remorse and pity for him.”

“No pity” was shouted from the right corner of the auditorium where some of Darby’s fellow activists from Common Ground, the collective that gave aid to Hurricane Katrina victims, were assembled. Most vocal was Lisa Fithian, another fiery Austin-based activist who stood up to seize the final word on the evening.  

“Brandon Darby has been a problem in this community for many years, back to 2002 and many of us raised issues about Brandon for years,” said Fithian. “But did people listen to the women that raised issues about Brandon Darby? No. Because everybody’s always so fascinated by him. He’s so interesting, isn’t he? Fuck that shit. He’s fucking destructive, he’s hurt people, he’s sent people to jail … If we don’t learn the lessons about how we let bullies and misogynists into our community and continue to be disruptive because we think they’re interesting or we don’t want to stand up to them, we get kids in federal prison.”

Well, it was almost the final word. While Crow seemed pleased that Darby’s story was getting this kind of platform since he believes it’s films like this that “bring some of these stories to the surface,” he couldn’t help but slip in at the end, “He would love it that we’re sitting here talking about him.”

“Informant” plays at the Austin Film Festival once more on October 24th at 3 p.m. at the Hideout Theater. It will next play at the Starz Denver Film Festival on November 9th and 10th at the Pavillions Theater and DOCNYC at the IFC Center in New York on November 11th and 13th .

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Repression against grassroots hurricane relief lingers in New Orleans

by Jake Olzen
Waging NonViolence
November 9th, 2012

The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has raised the question once again of whether post-disaster relief can help build organizations and networks that will create more resilient communities for the future. In trying to do so, East Coast activists and grassroots organizations — including the Occupy movement’s Occupy Sandy campaign — have been following in the footsteps of Common Ground Collective’s relief efforts in post-Katrina New Orleans. Even now, especially in the wake of Hurricane Isaac, the effects of organizing after Katrina are still being felt along the Gulf Coast.

Since Hurricane Katrina landed over seven years ago, residents of New Orleans and the surrounding communities have faced one environmental and humanitarian crisis after another. The BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 severely damaged the Gulf ecosystem, leaving the public to bear the costs. Epidemics of poverty, homelessness, violence and incarceration continue to plague New Orleans. When Hurricane Isaac recently pounded the Gulf Coast with heavy rains that led to extensive flooding in August, it left in its wake another environmental disaster.

In nearby Braithwaite, La., the Stolthaven Chemical Facility has reported that as many as 191,000 gallons of chemicals — including toxics such as octene — may have leaked into surrounding waterways and communities. The Times-Picayune has documented the troubling inconsistencies in Stolthaven’s own reports to those of the Coast Guard and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality regarding the contents of the spill. Residents were allowed to return to their homes — which have been severely damaged — for a few hours a day. With little support coming from government agencies, the continued experience of being forgotten and left to fend for themselves is par for the course for many New Orleans residents.

As people assess the damage and rebuild their lives and homes, the Common Ground Collective is one of the groups trying to help them do it. Common Ground was first established in the days following Hurricane Katrina as a community-organized response to the disaster when enough help did not seem to be coming from government agencies. One of the Common Ground Collective’s original co-founders, New Orleans resident and former Black Panther Malik Rahim, wants to bring it back.

“There has never been a collective like Common Ground Collective in the history of this nation,” wrote Rahim in an email to me. “No other organization can say [it has] provided the multitude of services that we have provided while at the same time exposing the blatant acts that transformed Hurricane Katrina from a disaster into a national tragedy.”

In the aftermath of Katrina, residents of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward were abandoned by nearly every institution meant to help in case of an emergency. Local, state and federal governments turned a blind eye to the most vulnerable communities, leaving the area’s residents — mostly black — to fend for themselves against armed vigilantes and rogue law enforcement as they searched for food, shelter, clean water and medical care. The Department of Homeland Security hired Blackwater mercenaries to protect property. Detention camps — like the notorious “Camp Greyhound” — and an overwhelmed criminal justice system disrupted citizens’ lives for years to come as they sorted out case after case of mistaken identities and wrongful accusations. Rebecca Solnit, in her book about the communities that arise in the wake of disaster, A Paradise Built in Hell, called Katrina a “sociopolitical catastrophe.” This has been the general consensus.

When official responses proved to have failed, a small group of volunteers — activists, DIYers, organizers — came together to do the work of rebuilding a community. The Common Ground Collective thus became the “largest anarchist-inspired organization in modern U.S. History,” according to co-founder scott crow in Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective. However, beginning in late 2006, alleged federal intervention played a role in tearing the collective apart.

Solidarity not charity

As many observers were openly criticizing the failure of the Bush administration and Mayor Ray Nagin to meet the needs of the Ninth Ward, it was an added shame that a rag-tag group of ordinary people were doing the relief that the government couldn’t. Contrary to media images and often-held assumptions that disasters create a vacuum for riot, rape and murder, the emergence of Common Ground after Katrina offered a glimpse of a better society than what the people of the Ninth Ward had before the storm. Young people flocked by the thousands to rebuild homes, cook food, clean up debris and repair homes. Health clinics, kitchens, work crews, cooperative housing and shared decision-making represented a viable alternative to the failed social order.

There were also hard lessons that are still being learned by those who tried to embody Common Ground’s mission of “solidarity not charity.” Cooperative and grassroots efforts like this are never supported by everyone, of course. Health department officials seized supplies and tried to shut down clinics and kitchens. Police harassed and arrested volunteers. In spite of all the fear and repression, millions of dollars of aid was raised and untold hours of time, talent and energy was given. But it didn’t last.

Naomi Klein, in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, details the ways in which advocates of neoliberal economic policies often take advantage of times of crisis and disaster, usually against the popular will. The period after Hurricane Katrina was a case in point; privatization was the response of the political class to every problem that arose.

The competing visions for a future New Orleans clashed most openly in Common Ground’s efforts to revitalize the Woodlands Apartment Complex in the neighborhood of Algiers. After Katrina, rent skyrocketed and homelessness was at an all-time high. The Woodlands had all but been abandoned by its landlord when Common Ground stepped in to rehabilitate the complex, implement rent control at pre-Katrina levels, organize a tenants’ association and develop a workers’ cooperative to create jobs. According to Malik Rahim, however, the Woodlands project came to a grinding halt when the Woodlands’ owner (and famous New Orleans restaurateur) Anthony Reginelli illegally raided Common Ground’s Woodlands office.

On October 31, 2006, Reginelli, accompanied by New Orleans police officers, seized — without warrant — leases, contracts, computers and other things that were crucial to the ongoing operations of the Woodlands, as well as the paperwork pertaining to Common Ground’s upcoming purchase of the 13.5-acre campus from Reginelli.

Common Ground had a verbal agreement with Reginelli to buy the former public housing complex, for which Reginelli was receiving federal aid subsidies even after Common Ground took over management. Rahim later admitted that it was a mistake on Common Ground’s part to enter into a “gentleman’s agreement” with Reginelli.

“There was a conspiracy to shut the collective down — literally destroy us,” believes Rahim.

Hundreds of residents were eventually evicted from the Woodlands, dealing a serious blow to the Common Ground Collective, which subsequently spun off into an array of sometimes-feuding organizations, including Common Ground Relief and the Common Ground Health Clinic, formed by anarchist street medics.

“They didn’t want us with this much property and 350 units of coop housing — all done under the direction of a black man,” said Rahim, who finally left left Common Ground Relief in 2010 because, in his words, “of turnover in organizational structure.”

Rahim maintains that Brandon Darby — the controversial Common Ground co-founder who later confessed to being an FBI informant — played a role in sabotaging the Woodlands project.

“Brandon was the only one who knew where [those files] were,” said Rahim.

Rahim’s 2009 Freedom of Information Act request for FBI files detailing Darby’s involvement with Common Ground were denied. The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Rahim seeking the release of the documents. Bill Quigley, one of Rahim’s lawyers and former legal director for the center, called the government’s refusal to turn over anything having to do with Brandon Darby “stonewalling.” The case will be heard in federal court early next year.

With an eye toward preventing this kind of infiltration from happening again in the future, Lisa Fithian, another key organizer from Common Ground, has written an exhaustive account — from personal experience — of Darby’s activities. Darby’s own account of his involvement with Common Ground and his work with state and federal authorities, inevitably, is more complicated. Nonetheless, Darby’s presence — coupled with state and corporate pressure bearing down on Common Ground — prevented the collective from realizing its vision as an alternative to neoliberal capitalism and its oppressive consequences.

Another hurricane, another crisis

As Hurricane Isaac neared the Gulf Coast this past August, Rahim reached out to Gary Roland — who had been one of the early organizers at Occupy Wall Street and then spent time at Occupy NOLA in New Orleans — to help coordinate post-hurricane relief. Roland, along with organizers from the InterOccupy network and other Gulf Coast activist groups, started Occupy Isaac Relief Distribution Network as a way to raise disaster relief funds and coordinate aid projects.

But as soon as Occupy Isaac had set up its community kitchen in the badly flooded city of Phoenix — 20 miles downriver from Braithwaite in Plaquemines Parish — word came that the whole area was contaminated due to the Stolthaven spill. The kitchen closed and Occupy Isaac folded, directing what little support it had raised to Common Ground Collective relief efforts such as resurrecting a tool-lending library for home repair and mold remediation. But Roland and Rahim still have a vision for doing more.

“In the aftermath of Isaac, our focus is on building sanitary housing and on re-kindling efforts to build a ‘solidarity hospital,’” said Rahim. What he envisions would be a replacement for the now-defunct Charity Hospital that used to serve New Orleans’ African-American community.

Rahim — who has suffered health and financial difficulties in recent years — says that the effects of state repression continue to linger, making it difficult to realize these ambitions. But he thinks it may be possible to try now. “I’ve made numerous attempts at re-organizing the collective, but due to the spirits of distrust, caused by Darby and others, the first few years were never right.”

Roland has a background in urban development, and he is drawn to reviving the original vision of the Woodlands — “a sustainable workers’ cooperative in the community,” as he puts it, one that could cultivate farmland to provide organic food and where people could direct a portion of their rent to community projects.

Progress is slow, but Rahim just started receiving his veterans’ pension, which he plans to use for helping the collective establish a legal clinic to protect itself with litigation. A few sizable donations have been made to the tool library, and the Solidarity Hospital and the Common Ground Collective are in the process of being established as formal nonprofit organizations for fundraising purposes. These are small steps, but Rahim and his comrades are continuing to build the resilience to weather the storms to come — from nature, repression and poverty alike — and not give up on their communities.

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As the crow flies

by Vic Cantu
December 13th, 2012

Anarchist spreads his message to Chico

“I am a revolutionary.” Thus began Scott Crow’s rousing speech about making the world a better place. Speaking in Ayres 106 on the Chico State campus on Dec. 6, Crow, an Austin, Texas-based activist and author and self-described anarchist, advocated fighting for what is morally correct, even breaking the law if need be. And Crow should know—10 of his friends, including his father and uncle, have been jailed for protesting, mostly for vandalism.

Crow spoke of his belief in helping the world whenever and wherever it is most needed, using what he called an “emergency heart,” which is the natural compassionate urge to help others who are in dire straits.

“I always wanted to do what was right,” he said. “I’ve slain giants, but at other times I’ve been a jackass.”

Such efforts, he said, do carry a risk.

Crow directed his listeners to use self-determination to improve the world. “Don’t wait for the government or others to act,” he said.

His proudest achievement, he said, was traveling to New Orleans in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There, he helped as many people as possible by creating several Common Ground Collective relief clinics for medical, legal and social aid. More than one of these clinics violated local codes and regulations to get up and running, and Crow said he was proud to do so in fighting to help Katrina’s desperate victims.

Crow described himself as an anarchist at heart, but spoke of his dislike for many of the so-called anarchists popularized in the news, like the ’80s punks whom he described as “self-absorbed egotists.” He values anarchism as a path to liberation and direct action in creating good for society. His beliefs are detailed in his book
Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy and the Common Ground Collective.

“Scott was great,” said Sue Hilderbrand, a Butte College instructor and former director of the Chico Peace & Justice Center at the conclusion of the talk. Hilderbrand had introduced Crow, whose visit was her idea and sponsored by the local chapter of the ACLU, of which she is a board member.

“He is a good friend of mine I met in New Orleans during the founding of the Common Ground relief effort,” she explained. “I also agree with the value Scott places in focused vandalism.” Crow lauded the anarchist vandals at the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization protests. Tens of thousands at the “Battle of Seattle” displayed dissatisfaction with the world’s financial rulers by marching, chanting and vandalizing local businesses.

Crow explained how vandalism can be useful in certain situations.

“Nobody cared about those protests until an anarchist put a rock through the window of a Starbucks,” Crow said. “[Seattle] was like a coming-out party for anarchy in the U.S.”
Countering the notion that vandalism is always wrong, he offered the analogy of a black slave breaking his chains to gain freedom.

Crow got his feet wet in the field of advocacy back in 1985 by protesting apartheid in South Africa. He explained that, prior to becoming an activist, he voted on many issues he was passionate about, but he never saw the world he envisioned come about. He said he flirted with socialism and communism until he traveled to East Germany and saw the nightmarish reality of what was practiced there.

“It was misery,” he said. “People hated it.”

One of his biggest inspirations, he said, was the Black Panther Party.

“Their nonviolent drive to help the downtrodden by providing free food, education and legal assistance was a huge inspiration to me,” Crow said.

He also recounted being inspired by the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas, Mexico, who he said rose up against what they believed was an extremely oppressive government and collectively cried, “¡Ya basta!” which is Spanish for “That’s enough!”

Crow has come to the attention of the authorities on more than one occasion as a suspected domestic terrorist. He said that for years he was on the government’s no-fly list and that his phone and Internet activities were tapped.

“If I could tell the FBI one thing about me, it would be, ‘Google my name,’” Crow said to laughter from the approximately 100 in attendance. “They saw I was a paper tiger—a puppet with no substance.”

These days, Crow said, he is not out to convert anyone.

“You all have to find the strongest causes in your own Chico community,” he said. As a possible solution to a question from an audience member about Chico’s homelessness problem, he suggested taking over and occupying foreclosed homes.

Crow remains optimistic. He said his speaking engagements are a way to let others know his cause. “Telling people why we do this creates power,” he said.

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Speaker preaches anarchy with a lowercase 'a'

by Kathryn Herron
The Sounds
November 12, 2012

“Do not be afraid.” This advice acted as the climax of a presentation about activism and anarchy by Scott Crow, one of the founders of Common Ground, an organization formed after Hurricane Katrina.

This event was organized by BRICK and occurred at South Puget Sound Community College on Oct. 25. BRICK (Building Revolution by Increasing Community Knowledge), is a club at SPSCC dedicated to supporting community members in their attempts to combat social injustice.

BRICK member Kayla Perez said that the club wanted to bring Crow to SPSCC because his “alternate perspective” supported their overall goal.

Crow’s alternative views include not capitalizing his own name.

“A small letter is a big way to undercut the power and prestige often imposed on an author in the public light,” said Perez.

His “little ‘a’ anarchism is about empowering people,” she said. This message contradicts the government’s ideas of terrorism which, according to Perez, “is about making them [people] cower.”

“[BRICK] is built on a premise that ideas are powerful creatures,” said Perez. Because of this foundation, Crow’s ideas about truth and anarchism really align with the organization’s goals.
Crow describes himself as a revolutionary, rather than a reformer. His strategy is based on four ideas: dream the future, know your history, organize your people, and fight to win.

To Crow, anarchy is based on common sense. Though not satisfied with his first experiences with anarchism, his second introduction brought a greater understanding. Through relief work after Hurricane Katrina and other various projects, Crow determined that activism can only be successful if you are resisting and creating.

“It’s easy if somebody’s hungry to feed them. It’s much harder to find out why they were hungry in the first place,” Crow said, illuminating this issue of connecting different struggles.

“Communism had failed, Socialism had failed and Capitalism is constantly failing. Anarchism provided another way to look at politics, especially on the radical left,” he said, explaining that with anarchy, specific community issues can be connected, rather than only focusing on national concerns.

Crow said he supports the autonomy of a community separate from the government, and the necessity of participatory democracy.

“This is not representative democracy where we are voting it away. I want to hear your voice,” he said.

This autonomy also includes defense and the ability of a community to protect itself, though not always with violence, and the power of a narrative and a vision of the future.

After Hurricane Katrina, Crow helped to found Common Ground, an organization based on the idea of “solidarity, not charity.”

Crow traveled to New Orleans after the storm to look for a friend. When he arrived, two days after levees failed, he witnessed government failure.

“It wasn’t the storm that caused the damage, it was government neglect…It wasn’t an accident, it was criminal neglect,” he said.

According to Crow, various agencies insisted on fighting over who would regulate search and rescue parties while thousands of people remained trapped by the flooding.

For outsiders, the destruction was unimaginable, said Crow.

“Everything that you think you know about the First World is gone,” he said.

Crow’s team decided to combat the pressing issues using civil disobedience to “break the law for higher moral law.”

These actions included not evicting people, helping people that were being forced to leave, and restoring a school without the school boards’ permission.

“We dared the police to arrest everybody,” Crow said.

Crow helped provide those affected by the storm with important resources. Common Ground offered free legal advising, women’s shelters, community defense, food and water distribution, cop watch, prisoner support and the development of community gardens, among others.

When the frenzy of Hurricane Katrina began to subside, Common Ground became traditional nonprofit organization and began working on lower scale projects such as wetland restoration, house building and technical training.

In the midst of this chaos, Crow was labeled as a domestic terrorist, though not officially accused of a specific crime.

“I realized that the War on Terror had started to target us, the general population” he said. “If you are going to have a War on Terror, you have to have terrorists. If we don’t really have terrorists in this country, you have got to manufacture a few.”

According to him, the most popular candidates for terrorists are Muslim people and people of Middle Eastern descent, environmentalists and anarchists. The jobs created and the money made from the War on Terror are the driving forces in its maintenance.

“Government doesn’t want to give up their maintained monopoly of civil society,” he said.
According to Crow, the government targets anarchists because they are easy to find. The only weapon they have against us, is fear, he said.

“If we give into fear, they have already won,” he said. His message urges activists not to stop their work because “the bonds of humanity” are “more powerful than any fear they can instill in us.”

Crow’s final advice encompassed the ideals of determining exactly what you, as an activist, are for.

“Our role as activists is to move radical ideas from the margins to the mainstream,” he said. These radical concepts prompt reform. Activists need to reach out of their comfort zones to present ideas and construct common goals.

Crow concluded his presentation by explaining that the most successful method of spreading ideas is “to build the road by walking” and not being restricted by the pressure to have all the answers now.

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Community Organizer scott crow Talks Shifting Culture Without Government

by DJ Pangburn
Death and Taxes Magazine
February 22, 2013

I recently spoke to noted community organizer scott crow about how average people—people with dreams, vision, grit and motivation—can effect change in a very real and quantifiable way after the vote. This isn't a playbook for smashing some McDonald's or Starbucks windows, but for taking the fight to communities.

A tired cycle exists in American electoral culture. Every two years we vote for federal representatives and senators, and every four years we vote in the presidential election. Each election cycle builds to a critical mass of ideological recriminations, crescendoing on election day.

Americans then rather sadly wash their hands of the mess, and resolve to do very little or nothing to actively make democracy work. There is a relinquishing of the responsibility of democracy to representatives. And as we've seen in the last twelve years of bitter partisan divide, it has produced paralysis instead of results. It has popularized politicians who behave more like actors or programmed holograms than actual problem solvers. 

Mr. crow has had a roughly two decade-long resume of working in community organizing circles, most notably as one of the founders of the Common Ground Collective, one of the largest and most-organized volunteer forces in the post-Katrina wasteland. When W's buddy “Brownie” (Michael Brown) was botching the FEMA response, and the National Guard was enforcing marshall law on New Orleans streets, CGC was busy cleaning out destroyed homes, mobilizing free healthcare, clothing and food, and otherwise delivering mutual aid to a grateful New Orleans population. 

Much of crow's current work involves helping communities build worker cooperatives and local economies horizontally, which is explained in more detail below.

Author’s Note: This is a long-form interview. I am testing the boundaries of what the Internet generation can handle. There will be no cats here. Are you with me?!

We Are More Than Just Voters & Consumers

The voter, says crow, must pass into oblivion. In his or her place must arise the doer, the creator—that person who sees all potential and jumps into action.

Ancient Rome suffered a political paralysis similar to contemporary America. In Rome voters were mostly irrelevant. Into this political void came the Roman emperors who, while bringing some domestic stability, only hastened Rome's fall. Whereas the great American political paralysis might be a melancholic moment for this country's patriots, scott crow on the other hand sees vast opportunities to do great things.

“There are a set of paths in the middle that we haven't even explored to a great extent in this country,” says crow. “The dominant paradigm tells us that we are just voters and consumers with a void of other alternatives. Life—politics, culture and economies—[involves] more complicated social relationships in this country.”

The trick, says crow, is to be a creator: someone who sees new paths and pursues them energetically. “The [new paths] aren't always going to be easy,” says crow. “But we will be doing them together; block by block and community by community, as needed.”

Asked if voting has any real redeeming value, crow is mostly pessimistic. “Voting is a lot like recycling: if you're so damned lazy that you can't do anything else, then at least do that,” says crow. “It’s the least you can do. Pulling the lever or throwing something in the correct bin; neither require great effort or thinking, but neither have real impact either.”

Community organizers like crow have no time for political saviors. They are individuals who eschew antiquated democratic politics. Dreamers and doers who depart the political reservation for more unknown trajectories.

“We've had this mythology of the Great White Hope, that some great leader who will take us from our chains into the future,” notes crow, a little astonished that so many still buy into the collective democratic hallucination. “When ‘he’ fails—as they always do—we blame the person and not the systems that got us there. We need to look anew at our world and think of the different ways we can engage with the world, our city, our neighborhoods, and ourselves.”

“We have other choices,” adds Crow. “Why is that we demand choices in MP3 players, sodas or schools for example but not in our economic, cultural or political systems that affect everything about us and our world?”

Work Outside Your Social Realm

Rare is the occasion when Republicans and Democrats reach across the aisle these days, but the potential for ideological opposites to do so in community organizing is promising. Crow reveals that lately he's been working more with social libertarians (and radicals of all stripes).

“It's been really interesting because they are people who came out of the Right libertarian movement in Texas,” says crow. “These were people who had voted for Ron Paul at different times, and they started to move beyond electoral politics and into this social revolution. They're much more diverse than the typical analysis would lead you to believe. There are rural people, city people, age and intergenerational differences, as well as class, race and economic differences.”

Crow believes there are untold numbers of social libertarians out there ready to get to work.
“If everything fell down today, if everything collapsed, I believe there are more of those people than there are radicals or anarchists in this country who would rally and do things,” says crow. “They might vote but they're also working on community issues like getting clinics started or launching cop watch programs. I've found them to be really engaging and the experience has been quite eye-opening and refreshing.”

Issues Do Not Exist in Isolation

Americans have the tendency to engage issues in isolation. For the extreme (and even the mainstream) conservatives, “socialism,” “immigrants” or “gays” are the viruses corrupting the system—other domestic and international considerations be damned. A matrix of interrelated issues work at one another like a neural network. One cause may have several effects. And that cause may itself be the byproduct of other variables.

“If you want to stop hunger, you can't just go, Well, I'll just feed somebody and it's over,” says crow. “You start with that and then ask, Why are they hungry? Did they not have access to good schooling? So then we need to fix the schools or create new ones. Did they not have good access to jobs? Then we need to create good jobs with a living wage, dignity and respect. Or did they have healthcare issues that aren't being addressed, even just basic stuff? Well then we need to get community clinics in every community so that people can have their basic needs looked at before they become major issues like cancer or diabetes.”

Crow had to look toward more revolutionary movements for this sort of education.

“I had to look at what the Black Panthers and the Zapatistas did for their communities,” says crow. “I had to look at what the Spanish anarchists did when fascism was taking over. They were inspiring in that they helped their people and rebuilt their world. Those are just political references. In every subculture, whether it's religious groups, charities, or hip-hop communities, there are examples of people doing things themselves without waiting for government or other people to do it.”

“In what I like to call 'anarchism with a little 'a',' we need to explore ideas of direct action so that we're not waiting on others to fix the problems,” adds crow. “We will it ourselves. Mutual aid, cooperation, collective liberation—the idea that we're all in this together. But there also needs to be an awareness that you are in this yourself.”

Crow points out the unvarnished political reality: no leader, party or group is going to do this for Americans. But there is a more salient point. Even if a single leader or political party had this sort of desire, the country is far too big and complex for such national policymaking. They are mere band-aids on gushing wounds.

“We need to de-centralize and localize to solve the problems around us, while looking to support other communities doing the similar things and connect on larger issues,” says crow. “And to do this we have to first look at history.”

Create Localized Economies

“It's absolutely cliché to say we need to think globally and act locally,” says crow. “But that's exactly what we need to do while we are creating localized economies (gift, barter or local currencies), opening the common spaces from the holds of corporate private property (like shopping malls) and becoming neighbors again.”

“We need to know what is happening around the world and share the information, successes and challenges that we face in our communities to help each other,” adds crow. “What happens to a rice farmer in India or a landless peasant in Brazil or a family in Appalchia is of utmost importance to me in thinking of supporting each other.” The internet and social media in particular will help in this flow of information.

Perhaps the most important lesson in the recent trend of localization is that scaling down just might be what saves us. It doesn't require a singular savior but hundreds of millions, indeed billions of them. Centralized government and corporations haven't worked for humanity, argues crow. And who would disagree in this second decade of the 21st century?

“Centralizing corporations—these giant pyramids with elites at the top—aren't working out for the rest of us,” adds crow. “And it's not just the 99%—it's not working out for any of us, not even some of the elites.”

Government and industry aren't the only institutions ripe for a downsizing, according to crow—the world's social movements could use it as well. “Instead of having one big movement, what if we have thousands of decentralized movements that are working toward common ideals?” suggests crow. “We need to value difference.”

In crow's practical wisdom this means not one ideological boat but many boats full of a multitude of dreams and ideas. “We start to move at our own pace,” foresees crow. “And we help each other along but maintain our autonomy and differences as individuals, neighborhoods, communities, etc., at the same time cooperating when necessary to reach the goals.”

Organizers like crow have noticed that even corporations are starting to see things this way. “Instead of trying to centralize, they're breaking it down,” says crow. “They see networks having advantages over their traditional hierarchies. Advertising is doing this in the corporate world in what they call micro-marketing.”

Crow also wants people to stop confusing convenience and choices with democracy. This is a difficult proposition in America, a country that has trained its citizens from an early age to expect convenience. And what is voting if not the culmination of convenience culture and democracy?

“A choice of 50 different soft drinks doesn't make us any more democratic than any other country,” says crow. “Especially when those 50 soft drinks are made by five or ten companies. The same could be extrapolated to political parties. There's a perception of choice, but its not meaningful or real and definitely not democratic.”

Build Horizontally

The worker cooperative has certainly entered the popular American lexicon, but it wasn't always so. Intrigued early on by the co-op's possibilities, crow says resources and literature on the subject were sparse. So he and other Austin organizers educated themselves and just started building their own. Eventually it led to horizontalization: the process of co-ops and other services overlapping in communities. Crow has spent the last several years building horizontal worker cooperatives and consulting when he can.

“There's no boss and everyone involved makes the same wage and has the same amount of say in their futures,” says crow. “I'm interested in creating localized jobs for people with dignity, respect and a living wage. These businesses have the potential to be small scale economic engines for localized economies, where we start to close the loop in taking care of our own transportation, healthcare, cultural and educational centers in neighborhoods or communities.”

Crow envisions a community in which these services would be offered to anybody who needs them. “These services would be offered in various neighborhoods and they would start to overlap,” says crow, with enthusiasm that is contagious. “Imagine instead of big box stores taking up acres of land, there were farm stands, free health clinics or small functioning schools on every corner. Community members of all stripes could actually benefit instead of corporations and governments sucking the resources away.”

Empower the Disempowered

A certain percentage of the US population believes that the poor and disempowered can only be lifted up through tax breaks and the good auspices of job creators. While job creation has its economic and political benefits (cynically, employed populations are much more passive than its opposite), it often doesn't empower any individuals in the labor force. There is the perception of power: a wage pays the rent and all of life's necessities. Beyond that, is there any substantial and meaningful empowerment?

“At Ecology Action [a recycling co-op] we often supported the homeless people that surrounded us,” says crow. “First by not criminalizing them but treating them with dignity and respect, then by allowing other service organizations to provide services live HIV information and testing, a needle exchange (which is illegal in Austin). Third we also provided a downtown space where people could sleep after hours as long as they followed guidelines we set up with them.”

Ecology Action, as crow notes, also held meetings with the transient population and made them reinforce the guidelines amongst themselves. “We never called the cops unless severe violence was taking place,” says crow.

Crow remembers one man's empowerment in particular.

“There was this one guy who just had a streak of bad luck, who didn't have a drug or alcohol problem, and he lived on our lot for a year and volunteered,” remembers crow. “We ended up hiring him in and he worked for Ecology Action for almost 3 ½ years. His experience as a 55 year old black man, who had never heard of horizontal organizing but worked at a job where his voice counted was an eye-opening, transformational experience for all of us. When he left he said it was the best job he had ever had.

“It didn’t make us saints or saviors,” says crow. “But it was a small piece of what we could do. And it's not the only example.”

Crow points to the Occupy movement when speak of power sharing. “It was the first grassroots movement of movements in this country, very decentralized,” says crow. “I went to 24 different Occupy camps across the country last year and all of them looked very different. “But there were very similar elements to them: the ideas of participatory democracy, power sharing amongst the people, the use of affinity groups, mic checks, general assemblies and spokes council models, etc. All of those things came out of at least 20 years of anarchism and decentralized organizing in this country.”

Community organizers like crow also see small businesses as integral to real empowerment. “The real engines of this country are small business,” says crow. “Corporations have more concentrated wealth, but there are still more small businesses employing more people everywhere. Some small businesses are starting to make themselves more egalitarian.”

Crow sees a trend of sharing power and resources because it makes sense. But he's quick to point out that this is not just his myopic view. “It's happening all over the world,” says crow, thrilled by this subtle cultural revolution. “And it's happening not because of one voice but many voices.

“There's more worker cooperatives, more intentional communities, consumer cooperatives, agricultural cooperatives than ever before. They're on the rise. And what's beautiful about it is that nothing is driving it but need and necessity.”

Shift Culture, Be An Innovator

Boring, informational leaflets aren't just going to cut it any longer, says crow. Not when corporate media can tailor its advertising message to individual subcultures in communities.

“If we don't create our own counter-advertising, we're just shooting ourselves in the foot,” says crow. “Living in this present political and economic system, we must use its tools. Creating beautiful posters, books, social/web media and videos.”

There is no better advertising than creating something better, says crow. People often need “to be shown by example what it can look like,” says crow. “Make it appeal it to people. Traditional advertising is part of that. Crimethinc has been doing it for 10 years. Just Seeds Artist Cooperative and Little Black Cart press are some other groups that have developed aesthetics with knowledge.”

“Our roles as radicals of all kinds, activists and organizers is to move ideas from the margin to the mainstream—that's really what we do,” says crow, who reminds us that slavery was at one point culturally and economically embedded in America's DNA. “We would not have built this country the way we did without slavery,” says crow. “Working to abolish slavery was an act of sedition—a crazy, radical idea.” This type of cultural shift, says crow, is what is needed in America.

“We need to stop protesting and think of other ways of doing things like creative interventions and valuing aesthetics along the way,” says crow.

No Government Required

It's almost a cliché to say that it only takes a small group of people to make change in this world. But it is a cliché that crow believes in wholeheartedly.

“After Hurricane Katrina, Common Ground Collective (CGC) was one organization of many that was doing things. At the most, we had 28,000 people involved from 2005 to 2008,” says crow. “In that time we served over 150,000 families. It had a huge political, social and cultural impact not only on New Orleans but on grassroots organizations around the United States.” The life-transforming experiences of so many CGC volunteers reverberated.

“Many Occupy participants and organizers came through it,” says crow. “CGC volunteers also went to Haiti as first responders. On the East Coast, Occupy Sandy and other decentralized grassroots efforts have taken CGC's models in new directions. Occupy Sandy organizers reached out directly to some of the core CGC organizers who either went and put boots on the ground or consulted.”

Crow believes that people have more power than they can imagine.

“Change is scaleable,” says crow. “It doesn't take much for ideas to spread. Look at all the bad ideas governments and corporations have spread over the decades. Remember Crystal Pepsi or the War on Iraq?”

Experience More & Be Content Not Knowing the Answers

Not knowing all of the answers doesn't bother crow at all. He believes a community organizer or cultural innovator should be prepared to learn. Lack of answers can function as the seeds for new ideas.

“I learned from the Zapatista Revolution that as revolutionaries you don’t have to have the answers just be willing to look at and be open to possibilities,” says crow, who believes the old days of “1-2-3- steps to revolution” failed and are now dead.

“My other role as an organizer—and part time futurist—is to be an innovator to challenge our own radical assumptions and ways of engaging as well as envisioning and spreading new ideas or ways to engage,” adds crow.

“I do this because I love people and have seen for decades that we have the creativity—once we add the determination and willingness to make substantial and powerful changes, we do,” concludes crow, ever hopeful against the prospect of the unknown.

“We are always standing on the edge of potential—so how is it going to look?”

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Building Bridges at the U.S. Embassy in London: Akbar Ahmed on the Huffington Post

by Craig Considine
The Huffington Post
December 26th, 2012

If there is one person in the world today that could ease the conflict between America and the Muslim world, it is Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, the former high commissioner of Pakistan to the U.K. and current Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic studies at American University. On Nov. 28, he was invited to screen his documentary, "Journey into America," at the U.S. Embassy in London, in which he was introduced as "one of the greatest scholars of Islam in the world today" by Minister Barbara Stephenson, the former U.S. Ambassador to Panama. In attendance was the who's who of Britain's Muslim community, among them Lord Gulam Noon, a British businessman from Mumbai, and Imam Qasim Rashid Ahmad, who had founded IQRA television, one of the U.K.'s leading television stations for Muslims.

Ambassador Ahmed's "Journey into America," which I had the privilege of directing, documents our travels across the length and breadth of the U.S. For more than a year, we traveled to more than 75 cities, visited more than 100 mosques, and talked to thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims. We discussed America's relationship to Islam with intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Hamza Yusuf, and politicians like Congressman Keith Ellison and former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff. We also discussed the nature of American identity with people from the roughest parts of Detroit, Mich., and with people in corporate boardrooms of Texas; with descendants of Muslim slaves on Sapelo Island, Ga., and in the sacred groves of the Mormon community in Palmyra, N.Y.

One of the first points that the audience picked up on was the diversity of Ambassador Ahmed's team, which was comprised of largely young non-Muslim Americans. Abid Hussain, an employee of the Arts Council of England, reflected upon the importance of the team when he stated that "Journey into America" changed his perception of America by showing him that there were indeed "advocates for the Muslim experience within the non-Muslim community." For Hussain, "Journey into America" also confirmed the importance of "having conversations and brokering relationships, as we can only distinguish between fact and fiction thraough dialogue with the other."

For other members of the audience, "Journey into America" cut straight through much of the pseudo-intellectual drivel of the post-9/11 era. The scene when the team went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit the gravestones of Muslim American soldiers, who died in the Iraq War, was particularly symbolic for one Muslim Metropolitan police officer. He said that he was able to relate to this scene on a deeper personal level: "When people see me in the street there are all sorts of stereotypes that are invoked," he said. "Sometimes I'm called names such as terrorist or bin Laden. As someone who has been a police officer working in counter terrorism and subject to the risks that we face, in particular as Muslim officers, this is particularly difficult to swallow." The officer continued: "By actually meeting people -- both Muslim and non-Muslim -- and sharing their views and experiences, you get an idea of how people actually feel opposed to the rather dangerous and frightening perception created post 9/11."

Another scene in "Journey into America" -- our visit to Arab, Ala. -- followed one of our female team members, who was dressed in traditional Islamic clothing, as she interacted with the locals. Though they were unsure of who she was or where she came from, the people of Arab were not hostile and, in fact, were quite friendly. For Laura Martin, an American student at the University of Edinburgh, the Arab scene was one of many in "Journey into America" that could help "create a framework upon which to build a necessary and critical dialogue both in reference to Muslims as well as addressing our American perceptions." The dialogue between Americans and Muslims must start somewhere, Martin added. "This film is a good starting point."

Given my experience as the director of "Journey into America," I am in a unique position to initiate the dialogue that Martin yearns for. For this reason I introduced to the audience my new One Film 9/11 interfaith initiative, which was created on Sept. 12, 2012. The goal of One Film 9/11 is to use "Journey into America" to counter the recently released anti-Muslim film, "The Innocence of Muslims," which depicted the Prophet Muhammad as, among many things, a child rapist and mass murderer. One Film 9/11 has the aim of building bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims by screening "Journey into America" around the Muslim and non-Muslim world on Sept. 11, 2013. To help drive One Film 9/11, I have created a blog and Facebook profile, so others can get involved and help us build bridges.

The importance of One Film 9/11's use of film and social media was echoed by Abid Hussain, who said that by combining these two resources, we can establish "a really powerful means to shaping and changing viewpoints." Hussain also stressed that One Film 9/11 can present "a counter narrative, which is critical during difficult and challenging political times where so many people form views not through direct interaction but through what they see and hear through the media."

In a world where ideologically driven commentators, self-interested politicians and religious fanatics fan the flames of misunderstanding, One Film 9/11 can serve as another means of building bridges between Americans and Muslims worldwide.

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Every Town is a Company Town: The Housing Monster

by Garrett Wright
War Resisters League
Winter 2012

This small book is crammed full of powerful critiques of the financing, production, and consumption of housing under capitalism. Similar to other publications authored by, the text is accompanied on every page with striking black-and-white drawings that flesh out the authors’ arguments.

The Housing Monster is at least partially an effort to make key concepts of Marxist economics more accessible to contemporary readers. We are led through an analysis of the labor theory of value, capital accumulation, and crisis through examples such as the exploitation of wage labor in the construction industry and the economic booms and busts of the housing market.

The roles of different kinds of capitalists (contractors, developers, landlords, and bankers) are discussed in detail. While sharing a common interest in making the maximum profit off of either exploiting or ripping off the working class, these different kinds of capitalists are also frequently at odds with each other. Employers might support demands for affordable housing—not because they have genuine concern for their employees’ welfare, but because lower rents allow bosses to pay lower wages.

The working class is also shaped by various forms of difference and riven by internal contradictions. Skilled workers who are homeowners may believe that they have more in common with their boss than with workers who experience more precarious employment and housing situations. People displaced from their neighborhood due to super-gentrification may find themselves actually becoming gentrifiers in another neighborhood.

However, there are major problems with the book’s discussion of identity and difference amongst the working class. The U.S. working class has always existed in relation to a specifically white supremacist (and patriarchal, heterosexist, nationalist, and ableist) capitalism. Unfortunately, the book tends to treat these interlocking systems of oppression just as differences hindering the ability of the working class to unite and struggle against their “real (capitalist) enemy.”

A contrasting organizing strategy is examined in Michael Staudenmaier’s “Truth and Revolution,” which details the work of the Sojourner Truth Organization (STO) in the 1970s. The STO was a predominantly white revolutionary organization that focused on building militant workers’ committees, while striving to challenge racism and white privilege among white workers. For the STO, such antiracist organizing was intended to combat white supremacy everywhere, which they viewed as a necessary part of any effort to build a multiracial anti-capitalist movement.


The book would have also benefited from more attention to the ways that racism and capitalism have constrained housing opportunities for people of color. As one example, when the federal government began intervening in the home mortgage market during the Depression, it exacerbated racial inequalities through the greenlining of mortgage guarantees for whites while redlin- ing communities of color. New homes that were only available to white purchasers reinforced what George Lipsitz has termed the “possessive investment in whiteness,” as racial exclusion was utilized to increase property values.

I also took issue with the authors’ treatment of patriarchy, sexism, and gender. Sections of the book do discuss how contractors benefit from macho culture among construction workers by getting them to take more risks, as well as some of the ways in which remnants of pre-capitalist patriarchal structures interact with newer forms of capitalist patriarchy in the domestic and public spheres. But these discussions are brief and lack the insight found in the works of autonomous Marxist feminists such as Silvia Federici.

The book does strongly make the case that capitalism will never tolerate housing reforms that truly threaten capital accumulation. In chapters on public housing, rent control, collective living, and unions, the authors acknowledge that working-class movements have, in certain times and places, been able to achieve improvements in their standards of living. But so long as the economy is structured around the principle of surplus value extraction by capitalists, the interests of the working class will continue to be undermined.

Despite my strong differences in opinion with portions of the book’s analysis, I would recommend it to anyone interested in housing issues. It is a valuable contribution to current debates on revolutionary alternatives to the unending housing crisis that is a permanent feature of life under capitalism.

Garrett Wright is an attorney at the Urban Justice Center’s Community Development Project, where he provides litigation support to community-based organizations that are fighting against gentrification and displacement and for the realization of housing justice. Garrett is also active in the National Lawyers Guild-NYC Chapter and is a proud mem- ber of UAW-National Organization of Legal Services Workers (Local 2320) and the Industrial Workers of the World.

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We, the Children of Cats in The Complete Review

by M.A.Orthofer
The Complete Review
February 21, 2013

We, the Children of Cats collects five stories and three novellas published by Tomoyuki Hoshino between 1998 and 2006; a lengthy afterword, 'The Politics of Impossible Transformation' by Brian Bergstrom, also provides a useful overview and introduction to the author and his work. 

Several of these pieces have some basis in real, highly public and often traumatic events, from attacks on Japanese schoolchildren to the hostage-taking at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Peru in 1996-7 (which also features in, for example, Arnong Grunberg's Het aapje dat geluk pakt), but Hoshino is not interested in presenting documentary fiction, instead merely using these events (or variations on them) as a foundation. For Japanese readers, the resonance -- echoing the familiar-from-the-news events -- is no doubt unavoidable, but the stories do not rely particularly heavily on any basis in fact -- and, indeed, Hoshino even goes so far as to remind readers that, as one his characters notes: "We mustn't let facts deceive us". Here and in the more freely imagined pieces there are also surrealistic elements, as Hoshino rarely presents a stable, easily graspable world. 

The written (and, to only slightly lesser extent, the spoken) word are important for writer Hoshino, but he repeatedly suggests they must be handled with care. As is noted at one point, "Humans thrive on words and are destroyed by words."

Opening this collection with the story 'Paper Woman' with its striking imagery (and tragic end) and featuring a woman who wants to become not a novel but paper itself, reinforces the sense of primacy of the written word -- but also it limits -- that follows. In this opening piece the protagonist is a writer named Hoshino, and while he doesn't put himself as front and center in the others, several of them do feature writers.

Beyond that, the pieces are noteworthy for the characters' efforts at creation -- not just in writing but in other ways, including in negation. So, for example, 'The No Fathers Club' features both a game of "No Ball Soccer", in which the players (and spectators) follow an entirely absent, imaginary ball, as well as a club that imagines absent fathers. In another story, a character describes the "hallucinatory penis" she finds herself with -- a sort of phantom limb -- and encounters a man who finds himself with an "air vagina"; their sense of identity as she describes it is one that seems to be shared by many of Hoshino's characters: "Counterfeit but real."

Hoshino is dealing with Japanese particulars in many of the pieces -- devastatingly so, for example, with a mass-poisoning at an elementary school in 'Sand Planet'. As a character who has moved to Peru explains in 'Treason Diary,' "Broken people are like fictions in Japan, everyone pretends they don't exist, but here in Peru I can have a real existence, and when I realized that, I decided to come here."

Many of the characters in these stories are broken in one way or another. Some try to make themselves whole, or recreate themselves -- turning themselves into paper, imagining new sexual organs or people, attempting suicide, even ... writing -- but their efforts rarely meet with full success. Indeed, perhaps the most representative scene in the entire collection is in 'Air', when Hina describes, "I plunged my air penis into his air vagina."

Even this most fundamental kind of union is here presented as complete negation: "As the two winds sounded their unbearably high-pitched notes in unison, their melting liquid bodies vaporized completely, billowing out the window into the boundless sky outside to evaporate into thin air."

The lesson Hoshino of the opening story learns is that "novels are already meaningless, that their meaning has always been illusory." Nevertheless, Hoshino the writer continues to write -- if not to find meaning so at least to capture and present, at least momentarily, the illusory.

With its very different stories -- of varying length (several are, after all, even billed as novellas) and intensity -- the collection can feel a bit unwieldy and is perhaps best read intermittently, rather than in one go. Nevertheless, We, the Children of Cats is an interesting collection, and certainly a good introduction to an interesting writer.

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Anarchy Comics in In These Times

by Kristian Williams
In These Times
March 5th, 2013

A new volume revisits the series that breathed new life into the genre

In the late 1970s, mainstream comics were a dull affair, dominated by superheroes and still bound to the politically conservative and culturally puritanical guidelines of the Comics Code Authority. Maus, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns—along with the broader recognition that comics “aren't just for kids anymore”—were still almost a decade away. The Underground Comix scene, like the hippie counterculture with which it was associated, had peaked a few years earlier and badly needed a new direction. Then, in 1978, came the first issue of Anarchy Comics. Thank god for punk rock.

Anarchy Comics, which appeared four times between 1978 and 1987, published by a collective in San Francisco, represented a unique collision of Underground Comix sensibility, punk aesthetics and utopian politics. On its pages, radical history, autobiography, poetry, satire, cultural criticism and gag cartoons gathered together promiscuously. Art and pulp, fiction and nonfiction, idealism and cynicism didn't merely appear alongside one another but often intermingled, and even blended together. The result was cacophonous, more chaos than order, closer to the antics of the Sex Pistols than the philosophical reflections of Kropotkin.

Now, PM Press has collected all four issues into a single volume. In addition to reproducing the content of the original comics, Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection also includes color reprints of the covers, unpublished sketches, archival photos, a long introduction from editor/contributor (and former In These Times cartoonist) Jay Kinney, a short preface from historian and comics scholar Paul Buhle, and a recent story by one of the original contributors, Sharon Rudahl.

Anarchy Comics was in many ways an obvious product of its time. The Cold War, the possibility of nuclear annihilation, the ascendancy of neoliberalism, and the Left's increasingly sectarian and politically-correct self-isolation, all form part of the background of the publication. Aesthetically, as well, Anarchy Comics reflects the moment of its birth. The irreverent playfulness of the Underground Comix era carries over into many of the pieces here, but they also incorporate a punk aesthetic (or anti-aesthetic) and thus feel hastily, or almost indifferently, slapped together. Some of the pieces make ready use of clip art; some pages are almost illegibly crowded with images or text; much of the art is aggressively crude; and several stories halt abruptly, without resolution, at the end of the page. As a result, much of the work seems unfinished, fragmented or abandoned, though this effect sometimes also provides a daring, experimental, spontaneous feel—like a flash of pure creative energy, brilliant for a moment but impossible to sustain.

The best qualities of the volume are represented by the contents of the second issue, which included an autobiographical tale in which Steve Stiles is interrogated by Army Intelligence about IWW activity; a punk-inspired Archie parody titled “Anarchie in Problem Child”; and lush, grotesque, erotic images paired with quotes from Emma Goldman. Some of the art, such as Clifford Harper's cubism-inspired illustrations for Brecht's poem “The Black Freighter,” is so striking that the word “cartoon” will not even come to mind.

Perhaps the most interesting element of Anarchy Comics is its roster of contributors. Featuring talent from throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe, the comic ranged freely across subjects, styles and outlooks. Altogether, the collection includes more than 65 separate stories from 30 cartoonists who as a group represent both the past and the (then-)future of anarchist cartooning.

Contributions from figures from the Underground Comix era—like Gilbert Shelton, the creator of the “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers,” Greg Irons and Peter Pontiac—give the book a sense of lineage, and help to position it at a pivot between two counter-cultures—the bleary hippy scene before, punk aggression after.

Fascinating too are the contributions from artists who had yet to reach their prime. Sharon Rudahl, who began in the 1970s Underground scene, went on in 2007 to publish a book-length comic biography of Emma Goldman called A Dangerous Woman. Her growth as an artist is on display in this volume as well, with a lovely short bio of Victoria Woodhull (from 2010) contrasting markedly with the competent but uninspired historical pieces from the first couple of issues. Meanwhile, “Quotes from Red Emma,” along with a firsthand account of facing censorship, illustrations accompanying a pair of Benjamin Peret poems, and the feminist fable “The Quilting Bee,” are all the work of Melinda Gebbie, who would later become notorious as the co-creator (with Alan Moore) of the self-consciously pornographic three-volume comic Lost Girls. Her Anarchy Comics contributions, while less constrained and less refined, are clearly the work of the same artist, and these early pieces—especially with their themes of free love, free speech and feminism—provide another point of comparison for her later, better known work.
Clifford Harper—who would become famous for his bold, dark, woodcut-like images, his anarchist portraits, and for Anarchy: A Graphic Guide—contributes a piece to every issue collected here, each in a startlingly different style.  The illustrations for “Owd Nancy's Petticoat,” in the first issue, resemble early nineteenth-century woodcuts; the Brecht illustrations in the second issue are nearly cubist; the ones accompanying Proudhon's “What is Government?” in issue three are softer, with rounded edges and gray shading; and by the last issue, his illustrations for “On the Night of March 3, 1982” finally achieve his characteristic high-contrast, block-print style. To encounter these decades-old works, knowing the artist that he would eventually become, is interesting, and even revealing.

Of course, alongside these works are other contributions which seem, at least in retrospect, silly, pointless, crude, or—perhaps worst of all—dull. It’s tempting to wish that the volume had been edited differently, offering the best works from the original issues and discarding the weak, unfinished or dated. But in fact Kinney has done us a favor in offering a facsimile edition. The raw, confused feel of the work included here—along with its uneven quality, and the occasional obvious failure—offers an honest picture of culture as it is created, and of politics as it is practiced. Neither masterpieces nor revolutions arrive fully formed. They arise, instead, haphazardly, from messy social circumstances, caught within the tensions of their time. To cut out everything embarrassing or regrettable would be to misrepresent the past, to lead us toward nostalgia rather than history.

Such an approach would also misunderstand the virtues of Anarchy Comics as a project. Considered in its context—born in the midst of the punk era, after the disintegration of the New Left, before “graphic novels” gained respectability—the effort seems bold, audacious, even foolhardy. The crass, awkward, ugly, amateurish elements are all a part of that. They remind us that success and failure are often twins—arriving in the same moment, emerging from the same process—and that continuous failure is sometimes a necessary accompaniment to the maturing of success.

Anarchism may be utopian, but, as Anarchy Comics reminds us, it has never been perfectionist.

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Burn Collector Recommended on Boingboing

Burn Collectorby Brian Heater
February 14th, 2013

A Dozen great zine anthologies

Those with a moderate knowledge of this site (or, for that matter, who have spent any mount of time on its Wikipedia page) can tell you that Boing Boing (nee bOING bOING) came into this world as a zine -- "The World's Greatest Neurozine,” no less. It’s genesis into a popular blog is certainly something of a rarity, of course. In a certain sense, the two mediums feel at odds -- the physical and the virtual -- particularly as one seems constantly under threat from the success of the other.

But as zines suffer at the hands on the online self-publishing explosion, there’s been a push in recent years to collect some of the best representations of the medium, to counteract their nebulous, dissolving nature with bound collections. While these don’t have the same thrill as newly printed single issues, it’s impossible to overstate the value of these volumes, which help to preserve a rich culture history that would otherwise vanish with the disappearance of their remaining copies.

Of course, not every zine is a masterpiece, but the great ones hold work on-par with the best professionally published books. And thankfully, publishers like Microcosm are doing their damnedest to preserve as many as possible. Below you’ll find some personal favorites. It’s hardly a complete list by any measure, but these are the ones I keep pulling off my own bookcase shelves to read and re-read.

Add Toner, by Aaron Cometbus. (Last Gasp)

I don’t know what to tell you beyond the fact that Aaron Cometbus is one of the best writers of the past 50 years. I believed this when I was a 13-year-old living in the East San Francisco Bay, and I believe it to this day. There’s a lot of catching up to do, if you’re not a frequenter of the zine sections of anarchist bookstores, much of which is out-of-print. This is probably the best possible place to start, a 368 page collection of the best zine that ever was. 2002’s Despite Everything is much more comprehensive, at nearly double the size, sure, but much of that collection is devoted to a writer attempting to figure out precisely what he wants his zine to do.

Also worth mentioning is the fact that the relatively recent issue 54 is easily one of the series’ best, a story of growing up, diverging paths and traveling Asia and playing Scrabble with his old childhood buddies, who are now one of the biggest rock bands in the world.

Scam: The First Four Issues, by Iggy Scam. (Microcosm)

Totally, totally essential for anyone with anything approaching a punk rock bone in their body. In more recent years, Iggy has contributed to This American Life and written a politically-minded tome featuring a back quote by none other than Howard Zinn. To those of us who know it, however, Scam will always be his legacy. This collection of the zine’s first four issues features plenty of types on how to live for free, chronicles of questionable police authority and honest-to-goodness music reviews, all alternating between type and handwritten text.

The sporadically published zine just celebrated the release of its ninth issues, an extended cut of the Black Flag oral history the author wrote up for the LA Weekly. For those with even a passing interest in the band and the hardcore scene, it gets the highest possible recommendation.

The Encyclopedia of Doris, by Cindy Crabb. (Doris Press)

Just about everything you could ever want from a zine collection: reproductions of hand-photocopied layouts, the typewritten lists, scribbled comics about bugs and stuff, feminist politics and memoir all rolled into one. Oh, and an alphabetical arrangement of the contents collected herein. I think what really enamored me to Cindy Crabb’s much-loved zine, however, is the author’s laying bare of her own struggles in politics and empathy.

“I have not always been a good transgender ally,” she writes. “I have been frightened by the implications of people born girl, deciding they are not that, and afraid that somehow that would undermine my struggle. It’s smart writing, obviously, and it’s clearly from the heart. Most importantly, it’s the words of a person with a lot to teach, still concious of the fact that she still has things left to learn.

Burn Collector: Collected Stories from One through Nine, by Al Burian. (PM Press)

Al Burian’s name invariably comes up in every list of great zines. And there’s no question why, really -- he’s one of the most talented writers ever to sit down and bang out a zine. Unlike most authors in the medium, there’s no shortage of ways to get Burian’s work, but this collection is really the most logical, for that rare series that came into the world mostly fully formed. And, unlike many of his contemporaries, who are hesitant to jump into the digital sphere, you can even buy the whole damned thing as an e-book. Those that kind of feels like cheating, no?

One More for the People, by Martha Grover. (Perfect Day Publishing)

Perhaps setbacks aren’t the sole source of inspiration. Maybe purpose can just as often arise from positive change, but it’s hard to argue the point that most great art is born of the unfortunate. None of this is to suggest, of course, that Martha Grover’s life is ultimately tragic, but this collection of eight year’s worth of Somnambulist is evidence of a writer finding literary purpose in adversity.

Her early family memoirs are terrific (“March 1, 2009: The [family] meeting is canceled because everyone has strep throat”), but One More for the People explodes with life a soon as “81 Symptoms” begins, chronicaling her diagnosis and eventual coming to grips with Cushing’s Disease, including, as advertised, a full catalog of the strange and potentially fatal disease’s laundry list of indicators.

One More for the People is strong and funny and ultimately hopeful, and Grover continues her honest-to-a-fault explorations in the final segment, “Personals,” closing the book with the wonderful list, “Fifteen Things I’m Not Putting on My OK Cupid Profile,” a section that opens with the pitch perfect, “This morning I put my iPod on shuffle, and strangely, the first two songs I heard were both about murdering women.” It probably says more about my own neuroses that I think that’s a perfect opener, right?

On Subbing, by Dave Roche. (Microcosm)

Along with fellow Temp Slave and Dishwasher, this one gives me great joy, as someone who’s lived his own personal Factotum in early post-education life. There’s no greater well of zine fodder than the dead end job, and Dave Roche’s a master catalogger of his struggles to engage a classroom full of children with special needs. Every bit as entertaining as it is heartwarming. I think I’ve accidentally purchased a couple of this over the years, and they were both worth it.

Ghost Pine, by Jeff Miller. (Invisible Publishing)

Old Erick “Iggy Scam” Lyle calls this one “Canada’s longest running and best punk zine.” I’m struggling to argue the point, but I’m not sure I can. On the former front, I can’t thing of anything I can claim to any of value I’ve performed consistently since the mid-90s. As for the latter, well, Jeff Miller spins an entertaining true life tale, especially when discussing his suburban punk rock youth.

This collection, clearly, is an attempt to highlight the literary merits of the long-running zine, collecting, non-chronologically, the best of the title into a prose volume that shares none of the aesthetic properties of the punk zines on which we were weaned, saved for the screen printed cover. But hey, entertaining writing is entertaining writing, bad photocopy or no.

Absolutely Zippo: Anthology of a Fanzine, by Robert Eggplant. (Benny & Son)

Now this is how a punk zine looks. And maybe it’s partially the fact that I purchased a used copy, but this feels like it’s going to fall apart in my hands every time I open the damned thing -- not like those loving compiled and beautiful bound collections we’ve seen from some of these folks. The glue holding together this volume undoubtedly has far less reinforcement than the staples that held the original issues together. And maybe there’s something to be said for that -- the etherial nature of fanzines. Not everything is meant to last forever, right?

But while some of the contents included herein no doubt hold some embarrassment for their creators in the decades that have since passed, there’s a lot to be said for the essential nature for all those harboring even a passing interest in 80s/90s punk rock. Between Eggplant’s own musings and contributions from the likes of Aaron Cometbus and Larry Livermore (whose “scene reports” seem to always include mention of just how hastily they were written), this is, perhaps, the definitive documentation of the Lookout / Gilman East Bay scene.

Touch and Go: The Complete Hardcore Punk Zine, by Tesco Vee and Dave Stimson. (Bazillion Points)

This collection happily skirts the line between the two, maintaining, for better and worse, the original layouts of the 22 issues it compiles, while creating a volume that’ll play nicely next to your fancy pants coffee table art books. Bazillion Points outdid its here. Every page is a hardcore show flier come to life, featuring interviews with and works by most of hardcore’s definitive icons, including Ian MacKaye, Keith Morris, Henry Rollins and, of course, the Meatmen’s Tesco Vee, who would go on to found the record label of the same name with co-author Dave Stimson and Necros bassist Corey Rusk.

This 575 page collection is important as more than just its insight into the label -- it’s a key document of one of the most powerful music movements of the past 35 years. And hell, who doesn’t want to look at full-size reproductions of early Black Flag concert fliers?

Schism: New York Hardcore Fanzine, edited by Chris Wrenn. (Bridge Nine Press)

Speaking of Hardcore, if you can find a reasonably-priced copy of the Schism hardcore fanzine collection by Bridge Nine Press, don’t hesitate. That book’s currently fetching more than $100 over on Amazon, which certainly feels like a lot to pay for a book that’s a fraction the price of the Touch and Go collection -- one that originally carried a $14 cover price at that. But the pictures and oft-lighthearted interviews with the likes of Agnostic Front and Gorilla Biscuits are pretty essential readings for anyone who live through the era -- and those who wished they had.

The Simple History Series, by J Gerlach. (Microcosm)

Like Howard Zinn broken up into bite-sized, Cliffs Notes volumes, this unbound collected series chronicles a diverse array of historical moments into easily digested. There’s ten books in all, and once you’ve finished the first issue on Columbus on your bus ride to work, there’s no getting out of this things they didn’t tell you in school history series. The day after getting this in the mail, I shot a letter to the publisher asking when volume two is set to arrive. The answer is eventually. But not soon enough.

Skate Fate: The Best of Skate Fate

Easily the best compilation I’ve seen of an 80s skate zine. And damned if it doesn’t make me happy, with its badly drawn comics and goofy interviews with folks like Lance Mountain. Nostalgia for the era has never been stronger, thanks almost single-handedly to the cinematic output of Bones Brigade founder Stacy Peralta. As great as his recent documentaries have been, however, there’s something to be said for the raw document that is this collection, with its hand-drawn ads, collections of abandoned logos and sometimes questionable grammar.
More than just about anything I’ve come across over the past couple of years, this thing makes me want to jump on my board. But, as I’m sure is the case with its creators more than 30 years after its inception, my knees just ain’t what they used to be.

Brian Heater (@bheater ) is a senior editor at Engadget and the founder of indie comics site, The Daily Cross Hatch. His writing has appeared in Spin, The Onion, Entertainment Weekly and The New York Press. He hosts several podcasts and shares an apartment in Queens with a rabbit named Sylvia.

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