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Rediscovering the Power and Utility of Selma James

by Victoria Law
New Clear Vision
December 14th, 2012

In 2002, when my daughter was a toddler, I joined a fledgling group called M*A*M*A (Mothers’ Association for Militant Action). We were mothers who felt pushed out of political organizing because we came with children and the additional needs that children bring. We attempted to challenge the idea that once a woman becomes a mother, she can no longer be politically involved. We quickly realized that, in order for us to organize, we needed childcare for our very young (and, in one case, developmentally delayed) children.

Our requests for childcare were usually dismissed. When we brought our children to meetings and events, we were given the evil eye, if not verbally chastised, when our children made noise. Now, ten years later, childcare is still not the norm although it is offered at certain conferences and events.

None of us militant mamas had ever heard of Selma James, although she has been writing about the gendered nature of parenting and other care work since the 1950s. That, in itself, says something about the invisibility not only of women’s work, but also of those who write about women’s work.

In 1972, when Selma James, an anti-racist advocate for women’s rights since the 1940s, published “Women, the Unions and Work, Or What is Not to Be Done,” she wrote, “The very structure of the union puts women off. All those rules and regulations and having to talk at meetings and having meetings at night when we are putting our children to bed and washing up, often confirm to us that we are ‘backward.’”

I’ve never been part of a union, but I can say, from experience, that forty years later, we can substitute “activist group” or “social justice organization” or “pressing political cause” and the same often holds true.

*           *           *

In 1972, James launched the Wages for Housework campaign, calling on governments to recognize the importance of women’s work in the home to both families and to the economy, saying, “We demand a guaranteed income for women and for men, working or not working, married or not. If we raise kids, we have a right to a living wage.” This demand has yet to be met except, perhaps in the UK where, under the 1948 Family Allowance Act, the government PAYS women for the work of caring for their own children.

Now why is it that, in 2012, so many of us — particularly those of us who struggle to balance paid work, social justice work and childraising (or what James would term “care work”) remain so unfamiliar with Selma James, her writings and her work? What lessons could we have drawn from the campaigns with which she was involved and her documentation of other campaigns?

Recognizing that James’s writings have addressed many of these questions, PM Press (which also published my book about resistance and organizing in women’s prisons) has reprinted a collection of James’s writings, aptly titled Sex, Race, and Class. These writings range from her 1952 “A Woman’s Place,” based on conversations with her working-class housewife neighbors, to her more recent articles about campaigns and movements in the UK, Venezuela, Haiti and Tanzania. In many of her writings, she contests the typical (male) Left dismissal of women’s issues as divisive. Instead, she challenges men to join women’s struggles: “The question is: Are they going to join us?” she asked in 1971. She continues to ask that question today; I heard it this past April when she gave a talk at the local bookstore in NYC.

In addition to championing the right of women to be paid for their housework and carework, James has also documented struggles that might otherwise be forgotten: In “Hookers in the House of the Lord,” James describes, in great detail, the twelve-day occupation of a church by the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) in 1983. She details the strategies and tactics of the women involved as well as outside supporters. For instance, gay male friends ran a crèche for the Occupiers. Others cooked and brought them hot dinners — one pot for vegetarians and one for meat eaters. Prostitutes who were not involved in the occupation showed their support by wearing ECP badges while working the streets. Given last year’s Occupy explosion and current sex worker organizing, why do so many of us know nothing about this historic takeover three decades earlier?

Not all of her writings are explicit blueprints for campaigns and actions however. James’s 2007 “Rediscovering Nyerere’s Tanzania” allows readers a look into how societies could be structured to account for women’s work. She gives an overview of the concept of ujamaa (which she defines as “a form of traditional African communalism, variously translated as ‘familyhood’ or ‘African socialism,’ updated and developed to meet the needs of the new Tanzania.” For me, this was the first I’d heard of such a concept — let alone a concept that a government had attempted to put into practice. Being wholly unfamiliar with Tanzania, I wished there had been more context — why had the RDA (built to create ujamaa society) been destroyed by Nyerere’s own party? Even after it was destroyed, what impact did it have? What did its participants come away with even after it had been destroyed? And what can we, as people struggling for liberation in our own communities, learn from this experiment while also understanding the geographic, racial, national, class and access divisions between 1960s Tanzania and 2012 United States?

She ends this particular essay with these words: “As we renew the movement to transform the nature of politics and the economy so that purpose is once again watu — people — we must educate ourselves and each other about our hidden history, which includes an Africa that gives leadership to our struggle, as women, as men, as workers urban and rural, waged and unwaged everywhere.”

We should take this as a challenge to delve deeper into such campaigns and movements and bring these histories into our present-day organizing for a truly liberated society.

Victoria Law is a writer, photographer, mother, and Contributing Author for New Clear Vision. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles Of Incarcerated Women (PM Press, 2009), the editor of the zine Tenacious: Art and Writings from Women in Prison, and a co-founder of Books Through Bars — NYC. Her most recent book, Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind, focuses on how radical movements can support the families in their midst.

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We Call This Progress: An Excerpt from Earth at Risk in Guernica

By Arundhati Roy
Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
December 17th, 2012

From a speech at the Earth at Risk conference, Roy on the misuses of democracy and the revolutionary power of exclusion.

I don’t know how far back in history to begin, so I’ll lay the milestone down in the recent past. I’ll start in the early 1990s, not long after capitalism won its war against Soviet Communism in the bleak mountains of Afghanistan. The Indian government, which was for many years one of the leaders of the nonaligned movement, suddenly became a completely aligned country and began to call itself the natural ally of the U.S. and Israel. It opened up its protected markets to global capital. Most people have been speaking about environmental battles, but in the real world it’s quite hard to separate environmental battles from everything else: the war on terror, for example; the depleted uranium; the missiles; the fact that it was the military-industrial complex that actually pulled the U.S. out of the Great Depression, and since then the economies of places like America, many countries in Europe, and certainly Israel, have had stakes in the manufacture of weapons. What good are weapons if they aren’t going to be used in wars? Weapons are absolutely essential; it’s not just for oil or natural resources, but for the military-industrial complex itself to keep going that we need weapons.

Today, as we speak, the U.S., and perhaps China and India, are involved in a battle for control of the resources of Africa. Thousands of U.S. troops, as well as death squads, are being sent into Africa. The “Yes We Can” president has expanded the war from Afghanistan into Pakistan. There are drone attacks killing children on a regular basis there.

In the 1990s, when the markets of India opened, when all of the laws that protected labor were dismantled, when natural resources were privatized, when that whole process was set into motion, the Indian government opened two locks: one was the lock of the markets; the other was the lock of an old fourteenth-century mosque, which was a disputed site between Hindus and Muslims. The Hindus believed that it was the birthplace of Ram, and the Muslims, of course, use it as a mosque. By opening that lock, India set into motion a kind of conflict between the majority community and the minority community, a way of constantly dividing people. Finding ways to divide people is the main practice of anybody that is in power.
America has taken democracy into the workshop and hollowed it out.

The opening of these two locks unleashed two kinds of totalitarianism in India: one was economic totalitarianism, and the other was Hindu fundamentalism. These processes manufactured what the government calls “terrorism.” You had Islamist terrorists and you had what today the government calls “Maoists,” which means anybody who is resisting the project of civilization, of progress, of development; anybody who is resisting the takeover of their lands or the destruction of rivers and forests, is today a Maoist. Maoists are the most militant end of a bandwidth of resistance movements, with Gandhists at the other end of the spectrum. The kind of strategy people adopt to resist the onslaught of global capital is quite often not an ideological choice, but a tactical choice dependent on the landscape in which those battles are being fought.

Since 1947, ever since India became a sovereign republic, it has deployed its army against what it calls its own people. Now, gradually, those states where the troops were deployed are states of people who are fighting for self-determination. They are states that the decolonized Indian state immediately colonized. Now, those troops are actually defending the government’s rights to build big dams, to build power projects, to carry out the processes of privatization. In the last fifty years, more than thirty million people have been displaced by big dams alone in India. Of course, most of those are Indigenous people or people who live off the land.

The result of twenty years of this kind of free market, and this bogey of terrorism, is in the hollowing out of democracy. I notice a lot of people using the word democracy as a good word, but actually, if you think of it, democracy today is not what democracy used to be. There was a time when the American government was toppling democracies in Latin America and all over the place. Today, it’s waging wars to install democracy. It has taken democracy into the workshop and hollowed it out.

In India, every institution, whether it’s the courts, or the parliament, or the press—has been hollowed out and harnessed to the free market. There are empty rituals to mask what actually happens, which is that India continues to militarize, it continues to become a police state. In the last twenty years, after we embraced the free market, two hundred and fifty thousand farmers have committed suicide, because they have been driven into debt. This has never happened in human history before. Yet, obviously when the establishment has a choice between suicide farmers and suicide bombers, you know which ones they are going to encourage. They don’t mind that statistic, because it helps them; they feel sorry, they make a few noises, but they keep doing what they are doing.

Today, India has more people than all the poorest countries of Africa put together. It has 80 percent of its population living on less than twenty rupees a day, which is less than fifty cents a day. That is the atmosphere in which the resistance movements are operating.

Of course, it has a media—I don’t know any other country with so many news channels, all of them sponsored or directly owned by corporations, including mining corporations and infrastructure corporations. The vast majority of all news is funded by corporate advertising, so you can imagine what’s going on with that. The prime minister of the world’s largest democracy, Manmohan Singh, who was more or less installed by the IMF, has never won an election in his life. He stood for one election and lost, but after that he was just placed there. He’s the person who, when he was finance minister, actually dismantled all the laws and allowed global capital into India.

We should not be saying tax the rich, we should be saying take their money and redistribute it, take their property and redistribute it.

One time I was at a meeting of iron ore workers, and Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of that time, had been the leader of the opposition in Parliament. A Hindi poet read out a poem called “What is Manmohan Singh doing these days?” The first lines were: “What is Manmohan Singh doing these days? What does poison do after it enters the bloodstream?” They knew that whatever he had to do was done, and now it’s just a question of it taking its course.

In 2005, which was the first term of the present government, the Indian government signed hundreds of Memorandums of Understanding, or MOUs, with mining companies, infrastructure companies, and so on, to develop a huge swath of forestland in Central India. India has up to an estimated one hundred million Indigenous people, and if you look at a map of India, the minerals, the forests, and the Indigenous people are all stacked up, one on top of the other.

Many of these Memorandums of Understanding were signed with these mining companies in 2005. At the time, in the state of Chhattisgarh, which is where this great civil war is unfolding now, the government raised a tribal militia, which was funded by these corporations, to basically go through the forest to try and clear it of people so that the MOUs could be actualized. The media started to call this whole swath of forest the “Maoist Corridor.” Some of us used to call it the “MOUist Corridor.” Around that time, they announced a war called “Operation Green Hunt.” Two hundred thousand paramilitary began to move into the forests, along with the tribal militia, to clear it of what the government called Maoists.

The Maoist movement, in various avatars, has existed in India since 1967, which was the first time there was an uprising. It took place in a village in West Bengal called Naxalbari, so the Maoists are sometimes called Naxalites. Of course it’s an underground, banned party. It now has a People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army. Thousands of people have been killed in this conflict. Today, there are thousands of people in prison, and all of them are called Maoists, though not all of them are really Maoists, because as I said, anybody who resists today is called a terrorist. Poverty and terrorism have been conflated. In the Northeastern states we have laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which allows soldiers to kill on suspicion. In all of India we have the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which basically makes even thinking an anti government thought a criminal offense, for which you can be jailed for up to than seven years.

The Indian government—the largest democracy in the world—is planning to call out the army in Central India, to fight the poorest people in the world.

To read more, check out the full excerpt on:
Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics

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Dylan, Modest Mouse and the End of the World

By Dan Sharber
Red Wedge Magazine
December 10th, 2012

Dan Sharber takes a look at how and why some musicians are obsessed with the apocalypse.

So I read this book recently called Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth put out last month by PM Press. It’s about political tendencies that have an aspect of end-of-the-world gloom and doom. It covers a various range of topics over its short length -- from the environmental movement’s attempts to mobilize people through fear of the impending global collapse to right-wing catastrophists like Anders Breivik, who fear the end of the world is coming fast and multi-culturalism is the cause. it’s a good and very interesting book that I highly recommend.

But what made me think about writing something about it here is twofold. One, I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan a ton recently and his song “Let Me Die In My Footsteps” had been on my mind.

This song is about impending nuclear war and Bob’s desire to not go into the bomb shelters but to die in his footsteps above ground.

"I will not go down under the ground
’Cause somebody tells me that death’s comin’ ’round
An’ I will not carry myself down to die
When I go to my grave my head will be high
Let me die in my footsteps
Before I go down under the ground"

Isaac Brock
The second reason was that I recently pulled out Modest Mouse’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News.

I had not listened to this record in awhile and I remember when it came out just being ‘meh’ about it. But when I listened to it yesterday I realized how kick ass a record it is. It is not my favorite Modest Mouse record but even the fourth best MM record is still better than tons of other records out there.

But what got me this time was the song “Bury Me With It.” Especially this part:

"Well as sure as planets come I know that they end
And if I’m here when that happens just promise me this my friend
Please bury me with it
I just don’t need none of that Mad Max bullshit"

So now what does all this have in common you ask? Good question.

Well, the book posits in one of the essays that increased fear and a thorough appreciation of the level of destruction we’re seeing in the world right now doesn’t actually lead to people getting more involved in fighting against climate change. In fact in a lot of cases the opposite is true. People retreat and feel hopeless to make any change.

And while many “don’t need none of that Mad Max bullshit,” instead of trying to fight for a better world, many are more likely to simply want to “die in their footsteps.”

These songs do differ a little in fundamental ways though. Dylan’s song encourages the listener to get out into the country and see nature while you can so that you may die on your own terms. And while he does say that he would “throw all the guns and the tanks in the sea” this is predicated on him having “rubies and riches and crowns,” or put another way, power.

Dylan’s song is fatalist because he believes that we have no power to change these things and we should simply try to enjoy what little time we have left and not get buried by the fear. The sentiment at the end is good but the demoralization inherent in having no power to change things is demobilizing.

If you’re not rich enough to throw the tanks in the sea then just check out and get ready to die on your own terms.

To me this really relates to the theme of Catastrophism. For Dylan, the immense fear and almost incomprehensible destruction associated with nuclear war did not inspire action but caused crippling apathy and a move away from collective solutions into personal attempts to live right. While this of course is not true of all people historically, it is part of the point of the song.

Even when anti-nuclear activists hoped that the fear would spark action, the opposite was equally likely (and attractive to many).

Modest Mouse’s song is also about enjoying what little time we have on this planet but Isaac Brock takes this even further.

It is very pointed that the first verse has the line “I probably really should’ve been at work.” This song is not simply about the destruction of the planet (as the verse at the top of this deals with) but also about the stultifying nature of work in our modern capitalist system. Or as Karl Marx put it:

"[T]he fact that labor is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his intrinsic nature; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He feels at home when he is not working, and when he is working he does not feel at home. His labor is therefore not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labor is shunned like the plague."

Anyone that has ever worked any shitty job knows these words to be true. Marx’s philosophy though is based on action. He wrote about this bitter alienation to point people to how things could be better. To how things don’t have to be this way. And how we could and should work together to change them.

Those familiar with Modest Mouse know that Brock peppers many of his songs with references to jobs, getting jobs, getting fired from jobs, bosses, etc (for some examples see: “Custom Concern“, “Float On“, “Third Planet“, “Wild Pack Of Family Dogs” etc). Also there is a strand of anti-suburban sprawl environmentalism in some songs (again “Custom Concern” and also “Novocain Stain“).

But instead of Brock looking to inspire some sort of action, again there is the desire to check out. And shoot guns at a mound of dirt. And when you can no longer do that or any of the other simple (though wholly unsatisfying) escapist activity, it’s time to die.

"Please, bury me with it."

Despite the best intentions of those who fight for a better world for all of us, the politics of fear and imminent destruction are not helpful. I am, of course, not chiding Brock or Dylan on this but merely using their songs for examples. There are larger issues here about the context within which these songs were written but, while interesting, I don’t have time to get into those here.

The book does a great job of pointing this out and where Brock says he’s not interested in that “Mad Max bullshit,” the intro essay in Catastrophism puts it a different way:

“Dystopia is for losers.”

And while I think we can all agree on that, fear is not a good motivator. We desperately need a politics of hope; imbued with revolutionary enthusiasm. Now more than ever.

Anyway, jam out to the songs and read that book. Then instead of getting overwhelmed and checking out, get involved in making the world a better place.

We don’t need rubies or crowns because we have numbers. Remember the words of Percy Shelley:

"Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number --
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you --
Ye are many -- they are few."

Dan Sharber is an activist and socialist in Texas. He guest-writes at the music blog 70 Day Weekend (where this article first appeared), and recently spoke on environmental disaster in capitalism.

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Apocalypse Now?

By Sasha Lilley
December 21st, 2012

The end of history arrives today. While the Maya never actually predicted that the world would end on 12.21.12, apocalypse tourists have been flocking to Guatemala for the occasion, much to the chagrin of many indigenous people there. Others have been heading to a small village in the French Pyrenees, where they believe a spaceship, hidden in a mountain peak, will whisk those present at the appointed time to a new era. In southern Ohio, New Agers inspired by rightwing conspiracist and erstwhile sports commentator David Icke, have been caught planting quartz crystals and aluminum foil (baked in muffin tins) in the Native American Serpent Mound, the largest effigy earthwork in the world, to open a “stargate” when doomsday arrives this week.

These predictions are easy to laugh off. Certainly, anything that brings together Icke, evangelical Christians, and Brittany Spears is hard to take seriously. Yet the allure of the notion of collapse and rebirth has a strong hold on more than the New Agers. It resonates with what many feel about the times we live in, which are indisputably catastrophic. Global warming is not something looming in the future, but is here already, as the inundation of Manhattan and the destruction of the Jersey shore have shown (and have been even more magnified in the Global South, hit as they have been by the worst effects of climate change). The global financial crisis has upended the lives of those who did not already feel like their jobs were increasingly precarious. Why not hope that out of the ashes of the present, a better—or different—world might take shape?

The left has a long history of catastrophism—expecting collapse to lead to social transformation. So has the far right, with its emblem of the phoenix muscularly rising out of the embers of the old. For the left, such hopes have frequently been based on the idea that capitalism will run up against internal limits and then come crashing down. The beginning of the financial crisis was met with glee from some quarters that finally the behemoth that is capitalism, that we had not been able to vanquish over the last four decades of accumulated defeats for the left, had imploded under its own weight. Unfortunately, such hopes were short lived as the crisis proved—and as crises under capitalism tend to prove—an opportunity for elites to force concessions out of workers that would have been more difficult in less fraught times. In the United States, profits are at an all time high, while wages are at a record low as a percentage of GDP. So much for the self-destruction of capitalism. 

The idea that the current order will be transformed through collapse and rebirth is frequently connected to peak oil—the notion that readily accessible petroleum reserves are becoming scarcer and scarcer, ultimately leading to the unraveling of industrial society and the blossoming of a new way of living. Like apocalypse-predictors of old, peak oil catastrophists have no compunction about putting a date on the collapse, frequently in the immediate future. But as with the financial crisis, they lose sight of the destructive dynamism of capitalism, which sees such barriers as not final roadblocks but hurdles to overcome, opening up new avenues of investment and profitability. Hence, rather than teetering on the edge of a Mad Max-like scenario of oil scarcity and industrial collapse, the International Energy Agency recently announced that the United States will surpass Saudi Arabia in the next decade as the world’s leading oil producer, thanks to a destructive boom in hydraulic fracturing or fracking. Unfortunately, it appears that we have more than enough accessible petroleum to roast the planet, long before reserves run out.

Since these ideas tend to be misguided, why are such scenarios so appealing to those on the left? And why have they become particularly appealing—at least in certain forms—in recent decades? I would suggest that their allure is rooted in a politics of despair, resulting from the defeats the left has suffered over the past forty years and the ebbing of hopes for large-scale anti-capitalist social transformation. Or, to quote a phrase often attributed to Fredric Jameson, it’s become easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. That’s unfortunate, because there is nothing eternal about capitalism. It is a fairly new system historically and hopefully we will usher it out one day. But expecting it to collapse under its own weight or because of peak oil is ill advised. Such catastrophism—that harrowing external forces will bring about changes that we have lost faith in our own capacity to achieve—lends itself to bad politics: to the limited, sometimes desperate, actions of the few, and the paralysis of the many.

Fear and fear-based politics, do not tend to serve the left in the way that they serve the right. The idea of a cleansing catastrophe flows naturally from reactionary politics. The right thrives on fear. And it has a simple solution for the alarmist scenarios that it is constantly invoking: scapegoat the “enemy”—whether immigrants or other easily targeted populations—and demand authoritarian fixes. These do not work for the left (nor should they). Fear tilts right. Leftists enter into fear mongering at their peril.

A new beginning emerging from a fiery end has been predicted countless times before. In 1844, the followers of American Baptist preacher William Miller sold their possessions in anticipation of the return of Christ. What did not, in fact, follow is known as The Great Disappointment. It is unlikely that the aftermath of the 2012 apocalypse will leave such a mark. Who remembers now the rapture predicted on May 21st of last year? Or the follow-up, “corrected” date of October 21st? But it should remind us nonetheless of the limits of catastrophist avenues for social change–and the need to go about constructing our own real collective ones, drawing on our collective strengths, not our weaknesses.

Sasha Lilley is a radio broadcaster, writer, and coauthor of Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth, published by PM Press. 

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Don't Leave Your Friends Behind: A Q&A with Victoria Law and China Martens

by Kjerstin Johnson
Bitch Magazine
December 2012

A Q&A with Victoria Law and China Martens

Whether you organize at national conferences or around the kitchen table, you should pick up the new anthology Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities (PM Press). Seven years in the making, this book is full of tales, testimonies, and tips that caretakers will relate to and nonparents can learn from. Coeditors China Martens (pioneering mama zinester behind The Future Generation) and Victoria Law (who recently published her second edition of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women) were nice enough to take some time to share some starter’s tips below.

What is one barrier to making events family-inclusive?

Victoria Law: There’s a Western capitalist concept that parents are solely responsible for their children. Many feel that children don’t “belong” anywhere but in spaces specifically designated for children—amusement parks, toy stores, playgrounds, etc.

This is not how families are seen in other parts of the world. In Hong Kong (where my family is from), parents (and grandparents) take children with them everywhere. At the 2007 Zapatista Women’s Encuentro, children ran in and out of meetings, they were breastfed by their mothers, and some even addressed the hundreds of attendees about their realities. Those children aren’t shunted into corners, but are part of everyday life—including political work—and learn from being part of the world.

What do nonparents overlook when it comes to family-inclusive organizing?

China Martens:
There isn’t any one-size-fits-all answer. That said, here are some points to remember: All issues are also parents’ and children’s issues. If you do not see parents and children around you, ask why. Planning for family inclusion needs to start at the beginning, not at the last minute. Remember to discuss childcare issues and possible solutions collectively.

What are some basic steps to make organizing family-inclusive?

Talk with families—both caregivers and kids. Find out what they need to participate! 
Some need childcare, others need people to help with their children in the same room. Remember that not everyone’s needs are 
the same.

Make sure that the organizing spaces are safe and accessible for everyone. Caregivers should not have to worry about their children’s safety during meetings and events. If meetings are several hours long and no childcare or help with children is provided, it becomes impossible for caregivers to attend.

CM: Having food or help with homework allows parents with children in school to attend. If you have multiple points of entry and tasks with varying time commitment, people can join, lead, and stay involved 
in ways that work for themselves and 
their families.

What are three of your favorite activities to do with children?

CM: Breaking the ice by sharing an object I like, for example, a little plastic animal or art supplies. Meeting children where they are—even while holding an infant, you see the world in a different kind of way, you notice what they notice. Going for a walk: Once, when Victoria’s daughter was very young, she and I went for a walk and there were fireflies and we talked about our favorite movies, and it was in that moment that I realized she was my friend.

What do feminist conversations about parenthood often leave out?

CM: They frequently leave out parenting entirely! Or it has been a white, privileged women’s conversation between those who have economic privilege and multiple resources to support them in their parenting.

What’s the best thing about being a parent and an organizer/activist?

VL: I don’t know if there’s one best thing, so I’ll give an example: Last year, my 11-year-old daughter, whom I’ve dragged to prison-related meetings, conferences, and discussions for years, wrote about Dharun Ravi’s sentence for a class. While many of her classmates advocated that Ravi spend life in prison or be executed, my daughter offered an alternative that looks at trying to repair the harm he’s caused: For the rest of his life, he should have to volunteer with LGBTQ organizations and work with LGBTQ people. When children are included in social justice work, they can understand and explore possibilities of how to create a truly transformational, liberated world.

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You Can Read It in the Funny Papers

by Ron Jacobs
Weekend Edition December 21-23rd, 2012

When I lived in Berkeley, California during the 1970s and 1980s, I probably spent more money at Comics & Comix on Berkeley’s Telegraph Ave. than at any other store except for those that sold beer and food.  At the time, underground comix were still published frequently enough so one could get something new every few weeks. Plus, there were always old publications to buy. Sometime in 1978 the first issue of Anarchy Comics was published. The red cover caught my eye immediately upon entering the store (as it was intended to do, no doubt).  I skimmed the comic, saw artwork I recognized and forked over the coins to the clerk. “You’ll like that,” he said. “Got some Spain in there, some other cool shit.” We talked for a couple minutes and I left. My friends and I got into our van and drove back to our house in East Oakland. We had some weed, beer and a handful of comix. Our eviction was still a week away. We were set for the evening.

A mélange of history, utopian speculation, social commentary and just plain fun, Anarchy Comics were the brainchild of cartoonist Jay Kinney.  Previously known for his work with the comic Young Lust and the Bijou Funnies series, Kinney decided to explore his interest in the history and philosophy of anarchism via comic books.  When the first issue came out, it sold quickly.  In part, this was because of the cartoonists it featured; Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton (of Austin’s Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers), the Frenchman Paul Mavrides, JR Burnham, Epistoliery and Volny on the Kronstadt uprising, Clifford Harper of Britain’s Class War Comix , Melanie Gebbies, and Kinney himself.  The publisher was none other than Ron Turner, whose dystopian Last Gasp comix foretold a grim future of ecological devastation and human despair.

Over the next ten years, three more issues of Anarchy Comics would be published.  Always entertaining and informational, they continued to include most of the aforementioned artists, while adding others along the way, including underground legend Greg Irons and Marvel artist Steven Stiles.  Spain’s contributions continued to highlight anarchist history: Durruti in the Spanish Civil War and Italy’s Roman Spring of 1977; Harper turned his pen to more contemporary social criticism; Mavrides and Kinney collaborated on both.  The highlight of this collaboration is the story titled “Kultur Dokuments” that appears in issue number two.  This story begins with a tale about a not-too-distant future where the Picto family, depicted with paper-cutouts, lives a two-dimensional life proscribed by the state whose goal is to take over everyone’s brain.  As the family members succumb, only the teenage son avoids that fate.  After being locked into his room by his parents, he finds a comic book that is the best parody of the classic Archie comic series ever published.  Titled “Anarchie,” it is the story of Anarchie and his friend Ludehead engaged in shenanigans typical of the actual characters except with a twist of rebellion.  Suffice it to say, I never looked at Archie comics the same after reading this.

Recently, PM Press published the entire collection of Anarchy Comics in one volume.  Besides the content of the individual comic books, Kinney has included his tale of their genesis, a foreword by Paul Buhle, some ephemera and short biographies of each cartoonist.  Besides being an important event in the history of comics and underground culture, PM’s republication of these comix gives an entirely new generation to read, appreciate and be inspired by the art, humor and intelligence that went into them.

Speaking of comic characters, there are very few who are older than the German Kasper.  The classic figure of the trickster, known in every human culture from Coyote to Star Trek’s Q, the Kaspers of human culture are here to point out our shortcomings and our foibles; our injustices and our selfishness.  Their sense of humor is not always that funny and their finger pointing is often taken quite poorly.  This is as it should be.  In Germany, they are known as the Kasperle and appear in Fasching parades, political protests and on television.  They are loved for what they say and hated because they blame us all for being complicit.

The Bread and Puppet Theatre has spent more than four decades doing what tricksters do.  This is why it is only right that the recently published book from Peter Schumann, the troupe’s founder and inspiration, should be about this Kasper.  A collection of cartoons drawn over the past several years, Schumann’s Planet Kasper takes on capitalist globalization, its wars and its proselytizers.  This Kasper is a clever, subversive commentary on the culture and cruelty of modern capitalism. It is drawn with primitive lines evoking not only the puppets of the Bread and Puppet theatre, but also their predecessors from old Europe.  The parables told are simple and pointed.  The solutions to the problems presented are equally so.  It is the illusions that we believe that prevent us from seeing this truth.  Kasper’s task, like all tricksters, is to destroy those illusions.  Utilizing metaphor, sarcasm, and even a little scatological humor, Peter Schumann’s trickster does his best.  The rest is up to us.

Comics and cartoons are often meant to be funny.  They can also be an effective means of relaying history and ideas.  In addition, the best comics are also subversive.  The ultimate combination of art, words and story can turn the reader’s world upside down or at least into a twist, challenging previously held notions.  If we accept these criteria to define quality comic art, then Jay Kinney’s Anarchy Comics and Peter Schumann’s Planet Kasper are both at the top of the form.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at:

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Armed Affect: Revolutionary Love and the Politics of Care

by Eric Stanley
The Abolitionist, Critical Resistance's paper
November 29th, 2012

Born at the end of the long 1970s, I often find myself looking toward that decade with a somewhat politically dangerous sense of attachment. I cannot help but be endlessly inspired by the numerous anti-colonial and Black liberation struggles, the women’s and gay liberation movements, and the massive student and prisoner organizing of that period of history.

Living now, in what feels like an extended lull in radical politics in the US (even with the Decolonize/Occupy movements both flourishing and conceding), its hard not to nostalgically long to know what it might feel like to fight against empire as a part of a international and truly massive movement. This is not to suggest that this work, or our collective dreams for another world have vanished. Many of us do continue to organize and rewrite those traditions within our narratives of today. However, the raw power and urgency often articulated by those that lived these years seems to have been evacuated in the present and replaced by more protracted visions and constricted possibilities.  The revolution that many  believed was “right around the corner” has yet to come, or perhaps it is on the way, just much slower, and in a different form than was once thought.

Longing for another era is of course much easier than living in that time. But luckily we have records of this collective history, which can inform how we struggle differently today. David Gilbert’s new autobiography, Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground and Beyond (PM Press) offers not only a chronology of those explosive years, but also, and more importantly, he carves a personal, and often times emotional account of the wins and the many losses of those years. Gilbert, possibly more than most others who have written about that era from the inside, offers a necessary and productive foil to my naïve understanding.

From his jail cell at the Auburn Correctional Facility in upstate New York, Gilbert begins his story with his youth in the suburbs of Boston, MA. Looking back, he gleans his own history for traces of what and when his otherwise white middle-class upbringing was transformed into a commitment to undoing systematic oppression.  He attempts to understand his own political growth—beginning at the ends of the Civil Rights era to his arrival as an undergraduate at Columbia University in New York City as the war against Vietnam began to escalate.  The book follows his life from aboveground community organizer to underground freedom fighter and ends with his eventual imprisonment in 1981.

In the chapter “ The 1960s and the Making of A Revolutionary” Gilbert details his early college years where his activism and analysis intensified. In 1962 he joined CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) and then began working with the Columbia chapter of Students of a Democratic Society (SDS), a group which organized primarily on college campuses against the Vietnam War.  He states, “My turning point from ardent protest to throwing my whole life into stopping the war can be marked with an issue of Ramparts.” (45) unlike other alternative media of the day, Ramparts included full color photographs of Vietnamese children burned by napalm. He cites the “emotional impact” of those photos to be the lever that propelled him into a full-time organizer.

While both his personal history and the political sketch he offers are well articulated and important, I find the tone of his writing to be a vital intervention into the otherwise austere way the history of the US radical Left gets retold. This tone is supported by a deep commitment to self-reflexivity as he continually mines for missteps in his, and our, history. For example, rather then concluding his analysis with some compulsory comments on the category “women”, Gilbert offers a powerful critique of the ways the left helped produce a culture of misogyny that, like the larger world they were resisting, silenced women, reproduced the gender binary, and protected a kind of middle-class whiteness. Importantly, he undoes the often-used alibi that these practices were simply “symptoms of their time” he works to unpack how and why sexism was so ubiquitous, including his own active and passive participation in it.

And while he does offer some thoughts on queer liberation, this thread could be developed further, especially in relation to his co-defendant in the Brink’s case and long time friend Kuwasi Balagoon, who was arguable “queer” and died in prison a few years after their capture from AIDS related causes.

Another crucial moment in the radicalization of Gilbert, or at least an event that would eventually alter his life, was the infamous split that happened at the national SDS convention held in Chicago in June of 1969. While the intricacies of the split are both well documented and contingent upon who is offering that documentation, in short the split indexed a larger tension in the US, white student left between an analysis that suggest class was the major factor in oppression which was supported by Progressive Labor, and on the other side was the Revolutionary Youth Movement who argued that class cannot be understood without an analysis of racism and sexism (this antagonism still figures forcefully today). The convention ended with the walkout of many delegates instigated by, among others, Bernadine Dohrn.

This split lead to the creation of the Weathermen, later renamed the Weather Underground, a clandestine organization dedicated to militant direct action, namely bombing building—with precautions to not harm anyone—as a way to expose the violence of US imperialism both here and around the world. Reluctant at first, Gilbert eventually joined a Weather collective and headed underground.

While many others have written about living underground and of the Weather Underground in particular Gilbert’s account brilliantly oscillates between the intensity of living underground—evading police, obtaining and using fake IDs, building bombs, and then the monotony of everyday life—trying to find under the table work, months of planning for a single action and perhaps most vividly; the isolation from being cut off from your former life. While Gilbert offers insight on how power worked “inside” the underground, he writes with what I see with a deep sense of ambivalence. Not a political ambivalence, but with an honest and retrospective analysis of what it felt like to live underground. The affective dimensions of the book also offer us much for thinking about the necessity of care, which was then, as it often is now, discredited as “counter-revolutionary.”

“It is precisely because of our love of life, because we revel in the human spirit, that we became freedom fighters against this racist and deadly imperialist system” Theses words are from Gilbert’s’ statement in court on September 13,1982 after he had been arrested and charged in connection with the Brink’s truck robbery, an attempted expropriation done in solidarity with the Black Liberation Army, which eventually lead to his imprisonment. They encapsulate the spirit of his moving account of the pleasure and terrors of living a revolutionary life under the powers of a state that is intent on liquidating resistance at all costs. While Gilbert’s details of the Weather Underground and SDS fills in many of the gaps in those histories, his political commitment in offering us a tool for today is what makes Gilbert’s book necessary for all of us invested in structural change. Even after serving over 30 years as a political prisoner, Gilbert writes with humility, clarity, affection, and even humor, as he reminds us that care—care for each other and for our movements— produces as much, if not more, radical potentiality than a bomb. Revolutionary struggle, yes, but love too, love and struggle, indeed.

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Catastrophism — Left, Right, and Center

by Ernesto Aguilar
MR Zine
December 12th, 2012

One of the Left's great challenges is to understand when the great watershed of change is upon people and seize the time.  Racism, sexism, inequality, and uncertain futures have weighed heavily on the conscience of many a movement.  For every great moment, hundreds of crushing defeats never to be remembered are handed down.  Once in a rare moon, stunning defeats like the 1965 Selma to Montgomery demonstrations or the Long March galvanize participants and become iconic -- something history recalls as a moral victory that alters the fates of those involved.  But how often does that happen?  It's much more seldom than you'd think.

The expectation of sure and monumental societal shifts is not isolated to progressives.  The Right has more than its share of individuals who believe in the surety of change.  In some alternate, albeit anecdotal, universe, Left and Right, extreme flavors in particular, share a view that society, whether through greed, excess, loss of the moral barometer, or any number of factors, has lost its way and its people need to wake up to that reality.  In some cases, these subcultures of doom can shake people from slumber and even influence their outcomes.  No one will probably ever know how much blood committed people have spilled for the sake of change, either to spark it or stop it.

In Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth (PM Press, 2012), James Davis, Sasha Lilley, David McNally, and Eddie Yuen in four essays beautifully plumb the history of these hopes, even mad ones.  Part history lesson, part ideological soul searching, Catastrophism is a dense yet enthralling attempt to not only understand what brings Left and Right to believe in the inevitability of renewal, but also to take apart these visions in hopes of educating readers about what true social change means and why nothing can truly replace mass grassroots organizing.

It is not hard to figure out where even well-adjusted people adopt the idea of the certainty of social collapse.  Generations upon generations of popular culture has normalized the notion that the world is folding and that it is now on the shoulders of a few brave souls to battle for the future.  It's not just the wildly popular Christian Left Behind series to latch onto this storyline.  You'd be hard pressed to not find in the cultural landscape images of a dying world, which is a plot device in so many books, films, and television serials.  McNally reminds readers that horrific imagery has been for years a harbinger of public sentiment, especially a metaphor for what people fear most.  With Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero famously tapped into the zombie for a cultural criticism of capitalism as inherently cannibalistic.  The monsters of modern film seem numbingly banal, with their assorted social awkwardness, relationship problems, and lusts, and yet they still play the same cultural functions as classic monsters like vampires.  The average American is plunged each day into this world where conflict, death, and chaos are at every turn; Hollywood has merely found a way to profit.  The make-believe world, McNally says, masks real worries of neoliberalism, austerity, and similar horrors which now rule our daily lives.

Themes of fictional wars against the undead pock our imaginations and, increasingly, the political intelligence of the public.  The far right, as Davis investigates, has been virtually sculpted by beliefs in social apocalypse for nearly a century or more.  As the first Roman Catholic presidential nominee, Al Smith's losing bid for president in 1928 is widely credited by historians to be in part due to worries of conservative Christians that the White House would be controlled by the Pope.  Later, Minister Arno C. Gaebelein fought the New Deal, believing it was a cover for Russian Communism and, under that, Satan himself aiming to make all people his loyal servants.  Such ideas have endured to this very day, where the Pat Buchanans and Billy Grahams of the scene see the specter of one world government poised to vanquish traditional Christianity at any moment.  The Obama Administration has been a popular target for a spectrum of conservatives, from disgraced pundit Dinesh D'Souza to Texas conspiracy guru Alex Jones, as the iron first ready to seize true Americans' freedoms.  With such storm troopers apt to destroy life as we know it, ideologies like dominionism, which holds that natural resources were offered to humanity by God for its use and their exhaustion will hasten Christ's return, find a large and influential audience.  Farfetched as they sound, such concepts on the Right are plentiful.

Sadly, such fear mongering has created an especially nasty political class with a consistent message: those who are different than you are out to take what is white America's, and it's time to fight.  California Republican Brian Bilbray forecast future terrorists "coming in on a Latin name," while anti-immigrant activists like John Tanton use colorful rhetoric to suggest the Third World is ready to pounce on the West's bounty.  As the recent conviction of 33-year-old white nationalist Anders Breivik suggests, some are willing to viciously "defend themselves" from their imagined multicultural menace.  "This growth in extremism has been aided by mainstream media figures and politicians who have used their platforms to . . . spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which militia groups thrive," the Southern Poverty Law Center notes in its survey of far right extremists.

Lilley, co-host of radio program Against the Grain, and Yuen take on the Left's fascination with catastrophe, and do so incisively.  Marxists and anarchists of many stripes have opined that capitalism is bound to fail, though such claims misread capitalism's changeability and underestimate the Left's need to out-organize the powerful.  Yet in the last half century, clandestine U.S. groups like the Weather Underground Organization and the Earth Liberation Front, with hopes of kicking off a revolution with brash expressions of direct action, ended up winning little to nothing.  In numerous cases, these erstwhile movements hoping for mass revolt instead disconnected themselves from that potential in their misunderstanding of contemporary politics.  Anti-civilization anarchism, which speaks of destroying enemies and dismantling the infrastructure, even if it means people die as a result, surely sounds insane to most.  In other circles, the rise of repression, Nativism, financial collapse, and political corruption is hailed as a harbinger of revolutionary change, that greater suffering ripens the potential for an uprising.  Catastrophism contends no result should be considered automatic.

Marx's theory of crisis, Lilley reminds readers, did not depend on capitalism's breakdown.

Theorist Anton Pannekoek expanded on this view by positing that the matter was defeating capitalism in spite of its durability not because of the supposed inevitably of its failure.

Lilley refuses to legitimize the point of view of liberals who regard the Left as well as the Right with condescension, equating all left-wing political theories with catastrophism and tsking them away as outgrowths of extremism.  What about the election cycle-driven liberal catatrophism that demands progressives set aside their principles or else right-wing candidates could spell disaster for millions?  Among the liberal crowd, defeating conservatives is a rallying cry that is more important than food, education, justice, and virtually every other core value.  "Such fear-mongering in the service of the status quo reaches its apex with perennial liberal scares about impending fascism," Lilley writes.  "Such scares reached a fever pitch after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, when various liberals decided that the Constitution had been ripped up, replaced by a dictatorship."

Although consciously not a dictionary of strategies, Catastrophism's authors are clear on what does not work -- "and what works at great cost."  The book is best when exploring political areas without easy answers.  It is certain to spark the debate its authors intended, and perhaps create conversations about the need for the kind of organizing that must happen to initiate the diverse social justice agenda many progressives profess to want.

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Back to Sasha Lilley's Author Page
Back to David McNally's Author Page
Back to Eddie Yuen's Author Page
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Summer Brenner's Nearly Nowhere on Crime Fiction Lover (UK)

by PulpCurry
Crime Fiction Lover
November 25, 2012

Written by Summer Brenner – It might not be the best known publisher on the block, but California-based PM Press has delivered some solid hits with the Switchblade crime series. Benjamin Whitmer’s Pike was an absorbing, bleak read about a reformed hustler and drug trafficker who heads to Cincinnati to find out how his estranged daughter died. It is not for the faint hearted. The Jook by Gary Phillips, the story of pro footballer who has one last chance at the big time, was widely praised and has been on my to-read list for a while now.

I haven’t read any of Summer Brenner’s many books, but she comes highly recommended. And after reading her novel Nearly Nowhere, the latest Switchblade release, I can see why.

Kate, the main character, lives in a small, secluded hardscrabble town in northern New Mexico with her free spirited and beautiful teenage daughter, Ruby. It’s not exactly the happiest of relationships, due to Ruby’s wild ways and Kate’s habit of bringing drifters home for a bit of sex and companionship.

Her latest pick up is Troy. As is always the case with those she brings home, Kate has grown tired of him and wants to terminate the relationship and get him out of her life. Troy is a good looking, but very mentally unhinged young man. He has a violent streak that does not take kindly to being dumped.

No sooner does Kate think Troy is out of her life than she comes home to find her former lover nursing a gunshot wound, her daughter has disappeared, and a stash of drugs in the house she didn’t know she had. It’s hard to say much more without giving away the plot, but it’s safe to say that all roads lead to the Idaho’s beautiful and dangerous wilderness area, a haven for loners and the odd Neo-Nazi cult.

Brenner knows how to pen a nice turn of phrase. Like this description of an encounter between Kate and her daughter: “Ruby hated when he mother made their encounters seem like normal happy events. Kate’s cheerfulness in the ruins of their existence was an insult to common sense.”

In a strange way, not a lot happens in this book and that’s the central appeal. There’s no massive body count and very little violence. Nearly Nowhere just a wonderfully understated story of generational secrets and misunderstanding set against the backdrop of some parts of the US I am completely unfamiliar with.


CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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Revolution at Point Zero on Z Magazine

by Seth Sandronsky
Z Magazine
December 2012

Revolutionary feminist Silvia Federici’s scope is wide in her book of essays, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, written from
1974 to now.

A major force in the Wages for House work movement of the early 1970s, Federici shed light on the invisible and invaluable labor of women under capitalism—or socially reproductive work—with a preface, introduction, three sections, notes, and a bibliography. She expands our
understand ing of who per forms and benefits from such reproduction and how it connects with the capital-wage nexus. For the purpose of private wealth accumulation, capitalism’s dynamism constantly changes how we live and work. Thus, the trajectory of Federici’s writing reflects the
changing dynamics of, and resistance to, a system that increasingly relies on women to perform the unpaid work of caring for humans.

Their labor does not appear as part of the economy. Such household work, for in stance, goes uncounted in the gross domestic product of the U.S.  In Part One we get a sense of what constitutes the feminist revolt against unwaged women’s work that holds up our current socio-economic system. As she details, women’s labor services nurture the current and future generations of workers who, in turn, sell their labor-power to buyers in the capitalist market place who de pend on this exchange to turn a profit.

As capitalist production ebbs and flows, socially reproductive and productive labor services reflect this trend. Federici tackles such flashpoints—from unwaged bed rooms and kitchens to waged workplaces and social service demands in developed and developing nations.

In the second part of Federici’s book, she disentangles globalization and social reproduction. A main theme here is the evolving international and sexual division of labor, waged and unwaged.

A grow-or-die system weakens the ability of families to care for children with out more members of house holds entering the capitalist mar ket place. Women suffer particularly as primary care givers to children and elders, migrating to provide child-rearing services to families in developed countries, while leaving their own kin for years.

Thus, Federici argues that an anti-capitalist frame work is essential to feminist struggles against patriarchy. She locates within this critique the necessity for resistance to wars with bombs or structural adjustment programs, having first-hand knowledge of the latter duiring her time teaching and writing on the African continent.

The political economy of Karl Marx runs a red line through out Federici’s book, yet she critiques his failure to analyze the vital role of women’s reproductive labor to the over all system’s equilibrium.

The final and third section of Federici’s book takes up women’s role as main stays of the commons, areas of public life and resources out side global capitalism. Federici unpacks the nature and role of female “commoning” as a verb, less so the commons as a condition. She calls for left politicizing of eldercare, under going a crisis as capitalism monetizes such reproductive work while placing a greater burden on women. Thus, car ing for elders is a gender issue.

As Federici shows with examples from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, women are on the front lines of commoning. She unveils how and why they resist the corporate takeover of subsistence farming, explaining the land question as central to women’s lives. Mutual aid and solidarity of oppressed women are more than symbolic. We see here transforming acts of solidarity against the logic of capitalist relations that rely upon sever ing people’s access to land. Reading Federici em powers us to reconnect with what is at the core of human development, women’s labor-intensive caregiving—a radical rethinking of how we live.

In that living, she argues, is our capacity to create a new, egalitarian society as the Arab Spring and Occupy Movement illustrates within the lens of women’s commoning.

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