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Occupy Opportunities for Collective Liberation: Catalyst Project’s Anti-Racist Organizing Strategy


By Chris Crass
Left Turn
Originally posted December 14, 2011

Catalyst Project, a center for political education and movement building, has compiled a list of resources for anti-racist/collective liberation work to build up the Occupy movement. The following is an essay from the resource list, sharing key insights from Catalyst's anti-racist organizing strategy and how it relates to the Occupy movement. The resource list will be sent out widely soon.

The Occupy movement is one of the most profound organizing opportunities in decades, because of its mass invitation for the 99% to step forward and challenge systemic economic inequality. For white anti-racists, this is a moment when we can engage with, support, and organize hundreds of thousands of white people to deeply connect economic justice to racial and gender justice. 

For the past twelve years, Catalyst Project has been engaged in anti-racist political education, leadership development, organization building, and organizing, with a strong focus on white communities. Through our experience at Catalyst, we strongly believe that moments when people are in motion for justice create enormous openings for transformative anti-racist work in white communities. These moments will always be complicated, challenging, rife with racism/white privilege, and also full of opportunity to advance our overall goals of bringing millions of white people to a collective liberation vision, culture, strategy, and practice.

In the Occupy movement, as in all moments when significant numbers of white people are politically active, there is and will be example after example of racism and white privilege manifesting and damaging the movement. As long as there is systemic white supremacy, this is a given—not to be accepted, but to be factored into how we organize. We cannot escape history—all movements and organizations in this country have to deal with ways oppression and privilege play out externally and internally. A healthy movement isn’t one where these issues don’t exist; in our current circumstances, that’s impossible. A healthy movement develops through recognizing and challenging these dynamics in the context of shared struggle for liberation within the conditions in which we live.

As organizers, our focus isn’t to make our movements an island outside of society, but a foundation for the transformation of society. This doesn’t mean accepting the hierarchies of oppression and privilege inside our movement, but it means understanding our work against these systems in our movement as deeply connected to transforming the systems of power in society.

Anti-racist Organizing

Coming from this perspective, we offer an overview of Catalyst’s anti-racist organizing strategy.

Over years of working in white communities, Catalyst uses the shorthand “white anti-racist organizing” to describe our work. What do we mean by that? When we say “white,” we mean the historical and institutional development of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy in the creation of the United States, conditions which result in my now being a white person. The U.S. was created by the wealthy class to maximize private power and wealth through exploitation of the vast majority’s labor and oppression of the vast majority’s humanity. Wealth and power have been and are taken from the majority through slavery, genocide, colonization, indentured servitude, low paying/high profit making jobs, and unpaid reproductive labor in the home and community.

But wherever there is exploitation and oppression, there is resistance. Alongside the history of oppression, there is a vast history of resistance and liberation struggle. Slave masters in the South faced widespread individual and collective resistance from enslaved Africans, and at times joint struggle between enslaved Africans and Native American nations as well as with indentured Europeans.  Such uprisings of slaves and servants haunted the master class, which in response outlawed marriages between Africans and Europeans and outlawed gatherings of Africans and Europeans. They passed these laws because people were forming family and building community—not in large numbers, but in significant enough numbers to strike fear into the ruling class. They understood that bonds of love, family, and community across groups of exploited and oppressed peoples—the vast majority of the population—could be a foundation for joint resistance against the minority at the top accumulating and maintaining wealth and power.

Melanie Cervantes - http://dignidadrebelde.com

Ruling classes, through hundreds of years of experience, developed sophisticated methods of dividing and controlling people to take land, enslave people, and create a politically docile and economically exploited class of citizens. In the United States, this method was white supremacy. In order to prevent a foundation of joint resistance from forming, a racial order needed to be constructed to divide people. While the vast majority of people were exploited to create profit, citizenship with limited (but significant) political rights became a category in society for “white” people. While these political rights were originally for land-owning European males, this expanded to include all Europeans with European women primarily having access to these rights through relationships to men.

The expansion of these rights came primarily as a result of the ruling class responding to resistance from oppressed peoples. For example, with massive resistance from formerly enslaved Black people in the late 1800s, alongside a growing radical working-class movement with millions of newly immigrated, not-yet-white Europeans participating, the ruling class responded with a classic divide and control tactic: Americanization (white citizenship) process for Italians, Jews, Irish, Germans, Poles, Russians, and other European ethnic groups, and Jim Crow apartheid for Blacks.

White Privilege

White privilege is the flipside of racial oppression. As a white person in this country, I have an economic, political, cultural, and psychological relationship of privilege to institutional power. Race is not a biological reality, but rather a position within a hierarchy of power based in one's relationship to the state. The United States was created as a white nation, for white citizens. The devastation of New Orleans because of defunded levees during Hurricane Katrina, along with the Federal governments’ failure to respond, and the current criminalization of immigrants of color from Arizona to Alabama are two high-profile examples of this enduring reality.

“White” is not a category of who I am as an individual person. Rather, white is an historically developed social position I was born into within this country. My relationship to the state and the economy shapes what I have access to, how society interacts with me, and how I understand myself in relationship to others. This is not just a relationship between myself as an individual white person and the state and economy. It is the accumulated experience of hundreds of years of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. In short, white supremacy is internalized within me and has profound impacts on how I relate to the world around me. This internalized white supremacy is based on the material reality of political, economic, and social privilege I and other white people, experience every day as a white citizen of this nation.

It is important to make a distinction here between privilege and power. Most white people in the United States experience economic, political, and/or cultural oppression based on class, gender, sexuality, and ability, as well as race-based privilege. Privilege generally refers to rights, norms, standards, and attitudes that should apply to everyone, but that many people are denied. For example, for most of the history of the U.S., people of color were denied access to most jobs, legal protections, social services, civic participation, and neighborhoods (except to work in them). Additionally, violence against people of color has been social and in many cases de facto legally sanctioned.

Another example deeply impacting the current economic system is the ability to accumulate wealth through inheritance, or debt and poverty through inheritance. For most communities of color, there is a long history of land, labor, and lives of family members stolen through slavery, colonization, and genocide. Hundreds of years of slavery generated enormous wealth for the plantation master class in the South and the industrial capitalist class in the North, while Black communities inherited poverty, enforced illiteracy, trauma of families brutally pulled apart, and so on. In short, while many white people have and do experience profound economic hardships, the economic hardships of communities of color have been and are far more devastating, brutal, and enduring as that hardship is part of an overall white supremacist capitalism that daily denies the full humanity of people of color.

Social Relationship of Power

So, when we say “white,” we are primarily talking about a social relationship of power to the state and in the economy that shapes the culture of society. This relationship has been created to privilege white people, oppress people of color, and accumulate the majority of institutional wealth and power to the ruling class.

Melanie Cervantes - http://dignidadrebelde.com

By “anti-racist,” we mean engaging with white people to develop anti-racist politics, commitment, and practice as well as developing and strengthening powerful multiracial alliances and collaboration. We do this by taking action on issues impacting white communities, such as economic and environmental injustice, in ways that foreground white supremacy in the problem, anti-racist/multiracial movement building in the solution, and joining with and/or supporting similar struggles in communities of color. We also do this by joining organizing in communities of color and developing a strategy with organizers and leaders of color for bringing white people in large numbers into such struggles.

We specify here large numbers because in almost all racial justice struggles there are small numbers (from dozens to thousands) of white people involved in many ways (from leaders, organizers, educators, participants in events/demonstrations, volunteers, donors, supporters and more). While we work to develop skilled, visionary organizers and leaders to increase the effectiveness and size of this small number, we also look for ways to bring in tens and hundreds of thousands of white people to participate in meaningful ways to end white supremacy, and advance collective liberation in ways that have both immediate positive impacts and long-term transformative impacts.

Furthermore we want to build up and expand liberation culture and practice that supports white people to bring these values and commitments into how they are building community, family and raising children, and how they can bring leadership in their places of worship, schools, community activities, work places, neighborhoods, and networks. We want to develop effective anti-racist leadership to help further profound solutions based in economic, racial, gender, social, and environmental justice to the problems our communities face.

Revolutionary Politics

Talking about white privilege, white supremacy, and anti-racism needs to be connected to a larger revolutionary politics of ending all systems of oppression and creating systems of liberation. This means not only challenging white supremacy in the U.S. but also challenging the role the United States has played in the world. We must understand the centrality of white supremacy in the relationship between the U.S. ruling class and the Global South, as well as in the relationship between the U.S. ruling class and communities of color in this country. This understanding helps unite anti-racist work in white communities in the U.S. to the visions, strategies, and experiences of powerful people’s movements around the world.  This unity opens deeper possibilities for learning, solidarity, and collaboration.

Revolutionary politics means collective liberation, or a politics committed to the goal of liberation for all people from all forms of oppression. We see the goal of collective liberation as a long-term political commitment that guides our work, shapes our strategies, and helps us think creatively about our vision.  This commitment to collective liberation takes shape as 1) recognizing the exploitation and oppression in society; 2) understanding one's relationship to that exploitation and oppression; and 3) working to form alliances between people who experience both oppression and privilege to transform this society, recognizing the centrality of oppressed people's leadership in that process.

We think of collective liberation as a vision to work towards and as a strategic orientation to help us think about the work we do. We also look at white privilege as a way to unlock the white supremacist worldview that turns white people into individuals solely responsible for pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. For myself as a white person, I see how white privilege distorts my relationship to history and Melanie Cervantes - http://dignidadrebelde.com

my position in society.  This individualism and distorted worldview are barriers to collective organizing; they negatively impact the relationship of white people to other people in general, and to oppressed peoples in the United States and around the world in particular.

White privilege undermines our ability as white people to see ourselves as part of a historical process. It locks down our imagination and narrows our understanding of freedom to that of a scarce commodity that only a few can access. We challenge internalized white supremacy in mostly white sections of the left to push against the many negative impacts it has on the ability of white activists to positively relate to people of color-led collective action and collective organizing as well as multiracial collaborative organizing. The fact is, internalized white supremacy’s worldview of inherent hierarchy, domination, “us versus them,” fear-based competition for survival, ahistorical individualism, and self-blaming as opposed to systemic power analysis, negatively impacts white people’s lives and work for justice.

Power of Liberation

Anti-racism is a process of seeing the power of liberation as abundant and socially necessary for the physical, emotional and psychological health of all people. White supremacy leads white people to believe that only certain people can have access to power and that those certain people constitute a ruling class made up, primarily, of white people. Anti-racism is a commitment to changing this worldview through struggles to transform the conditions in society. When we say “anti-racist,” we mean the work that makes those changes, and the process of political development white people must go through to actually believe that a liberated world is possible and that all people can—and must—have power over their lives.

By “organizing” we mean breaking the solidarity of white people to the ruling class, by breaking off any and all sections of white communities that we, as white anti-racists, can. History has demonstrated that key constituencies in white communities are more likely to break from the ruling class based on their own experiences exploitation and oppression and their struggles for equality and justice. People who are women, working class, queer, transgender and gender variant, disabled and/or Jewish have historically moved to the left, and have been anti-racist leaders in this country. We believe that powerful, dynamic movements can and will come from these constituencies, and that their leadership is key to moving significant numbers of white people to work in a multiracial movement for collective liberation.

We also believe that white anti-racist leadership and organizing in white communities for economic and social justice is necessary, and that such organizing can and must connect to issues in communities of color and create opportunities for solidarity, collaboration, and multiracial alliance building. But critically, this organizing needs to be done both to build broad white support for struggles in communities of color, but also to liberate white people from the soul crushing, body punishing, mind distorting, white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

The goals for white anti-racist organizing are to shift any and all sectors of white communities away from an allegiance to the ruling class and towards active solidarity with liberation movements coming out of communities of color in the United States and around the world. To do this, white anti-racist organizing needs to unlock the imagination of white consciousness to conceive of liberation and believe it is possible, and the best way to do this is through firsthand experience.  The Occupy movement provides incredible opportunity for exactly that—not just the experience of one event, but of being part of movement. The job then of white anti-racist leaders and organizers is to think of the immediate goals of these actions/experiences as well as supporting people with political education, mentorship, reflection space, to make sense of their participation grounded in vision and strategy of collective liberation.

Melanie Cervantes - http://dignidadrebelde.com

In closing, for Catalyst, white anti-racist organizing is shorthand for how can we move as many white people in this country to a revolutionary agenda with a collective liberation vision, in solidarity and partnership with left leadership from communities of color. We see white supremacy as one of the primary organizing principles of this country that shapes the class structure and political system. Strategically, then, white supremacy is a key part of the foundation that we can tear out from under the ruling class to upset this oppressive system and unleash the possibility of collective liberation.

Much love to my editorial crew on this essay: Chris Dixon, Cindy Breunig, Z! Haukeness, Rahula Janowski, and Molly McClure.

Lots of love to my comrades who over the years in Catalyst Project developed this strategy and analysis: Alia Trindle, Amie Fishman, Ari Clemenzi, Betty Jeanne Rueters-Ward, Clare Bayard, Ingrid Chapman, Josh Warren-White, Kerry Levenberg, Missy Longshore, Molly McCure, and Rebecca Tumposky.

For more information about Catalyst Project go to http://www.collectiveliberation.org

Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




Update on the United for Justice, Not Divided by Racism

poster project by Melanie Cervantes and Chris Crass
reposted from DignidadRebelde
Originally posted November 22, 2011

To downoad "United by Justice, Not Divided By Racism" click here.

Thank you so much to all of you who played many different roles in making this project highly successful. From raising money, making donations, giving feedback, distributing the posters, and spreading the word about the project. Special love to Caitlin Carmody who shipped all of the posters from Berkeley.

Overview of the impact of all our efforts thus far.

• We printed up 15,000 11x17 inch posters at the radical printing press Inkworks, in Berkeley. They also hooked up low cost shipping. The posters went out to thirty cities in twenty states.   

• We know that the anti-racist collective Groundwork, gave out hundreds in Madison, Wisconsin at a Recall Gov. Walker rally. Posters have been given out at political education sessions at Occupy Washington D.C.  

• In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the state-wide immigrant rights organization, Voces de la Frontera, got 2,000 posters to use in their campaign work.  

• They have gone out to Occupy activists in Phoenix, Miami, Chattanooga, Boston, Knoxville, Greensboro, Wall Street, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland, Burlington, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Santa Rosa, Louisville, New Orleans and more. They also went to (Un)occupy Albuquerque.  

• In Oregon they are going to Portland, Salem, and Hood River (Oregon represent!)

• They are being used in a "Good Jobs" union campaign in Los Angeles, in the immigrant rights struggle in Alabama, by the Vermont Workers' Center in their state-wide organizing in mostly white working class communities, and by the North Carolina Justice Center in their efforts.

• The Unitarian Universalists are distributing 1,000 of them to congregations around Ohio and Arizona to use in their work.  

• Half a dozen Occupy anti-racism working groups are using them to help strengthen the overall racial justice analysis in their local Occupy efforts.   

• Additionally hundreds of you sent the poster out electronically in your networks, to organizations, family and friends, to your local Occupy, and beyond. We know folks in Grand Rapids, Michigan and New York City printed up their own copies of the poster to distribute.

Next Steps

For all of you distributing the poster or who are now inspired and want to print up your own or do it electronically, below are the goals of the project and suggested ways of using the poster. There is a also a link to a downloadable pdf.

Thank you for all the incredible ways each of you is bringing your leadership to this historic time of mass movement against inequality and for another world. In whatever ways you are contributing, it is significant. This is not a time for energy spent on "well I could be doing more" or "what I did wasn't that big a deal." This is a time for honoring that movements for justice are made of millions of people doing what they can, when they can, and I know what many of you are doing and it's amazing.  

Everyday has a victory, when we remember what our movements have won and achieved, and believe in our personal and collective ability to significantly advance liberation struggle. Small victories build our capacity to both create and win liberation. Thanks for helping make the poster project a series of small victories.

Goals of the "United for Justice, Not Divided by Racism" poster

1. We want to build up powerful, working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. The Occupy movement is an incredible convergence of movements for economic, social, racial, gender, and environmental justice. The Occupy movement not only resonates with millions of people, but it actively invites millions of people to participate in the creation of both the movement and the vision of what we are working towards. This poster is a tool to help build up the Occupy movement, deepen the anti-racist analysis of the movement, and express the solidarity of white communities with immigrant families of color in the 99%. We hope the poster will help express the Occupy movement's support for immigrant rights struggles around the country.

2. We want to give anti-racists around the country tools for building up stronger anti-racist politics and practice in white communities. We hope the poster will give white people a way to express their outrage for the profound inequalities of capitalism and white supremacy. We want white people to have visible ways of standing with communities of color against racist attacks. We want to support the growing consciousness that racism against communities of color hurts everyone, and is part of what keeps the inequalities of capitalism intact. We want to support white people resistance to the brutality of racism against communities of color, while simultaneously helping white people understand the necessity of
ending white supremacy as part of their own liberation from systems of oppression.  

3. We want to challenge the ways that racism divides movements for justice, and give white people tools to work against these divisions. We want to support white people standing with communities of color in ways that feed and nurture a culture of solidarity, dignity, and love. While we work against the impacts of systems of oppression in our communities, families, and lives, it is essential that we also build up liberatory culture, relationships, alliances, and practices.  

Suggestions for using the poster

1. We encourage anyone and everyone who wants to distribute, hang-up, print-out, and use this poster, to please do so. We have also created the poster with the above goals of reaching white people. With that said, the suggestions below are geared towards reaching white people, but they can also be used to think about reaching out to people in all of our communities.  

2. Take a moment to think about who you would like to distribute the poster to and why. You might think of people in your life and networks, as well as organizations, spiritual communities, places of business, Occupy lists, and so on. Write up a short statement about what the poster means to you and why you think it's important to work against racism and for economic justice. If you are sending it out to organizations, or Occupy lists, maybe write something about what it means for the work you all are doing and how you can use the poster to help move that work forward.  

3. If you can, distribute the poster, and other posters from the "We are the 99%" series, through organizational newsletters, blogs, websites and use it as an opportunity to talk with people you work with about why it is so important that we work against racism and for justice. Use this as an opportunity to express this organizationally in the distribution of the poster.

4.  Print up copies of the poster and distribute them widely at Occupy demonstrations and other important locations. In fact, print up copies of all of Melanie's "We are the 99%" posters and distribute them widely.

5. Think about ways to distribute the posters through networks and locations that will reach white people who are among the more then 53 percent of the country who support the Occupy movement message, but have never come to a demonstration. Think about ways the poster can be a stepping stone to help white people who have never thought of themselves as part of a movement, to feel more connected to this one. Think about ways the poster can help white people think about anti-racism and economic justice, while simultaneously being given an opportunity to take a stand. White people can put the poster up in windows at home, in businesses, places of worship, and community centers. In states around the country with anti-immigrant laws, white people can use the poster to show their opposition to these laws. 


6. Use the distribution of the posters in the Occupy movement as a way of engaging thousands of people of all backgrounds who are new to activism, about why anti-racism is a catalyst to building the powerful, working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation that we need. It is often helpful to have conversations with white people about racism, white privilege, and anti-racism, in the context of talking with them about something they can concretely do about it. It is important to help move people through, understandable, guilt, shame, and fear, by presenting positive options for thoughtful action.

7. Use the poster to step further into your power as an anti-racist leader in your community, organization, and Occupy demonstration (we are all leaders!).  

8. If you are part of a group of people distributing these posters, share experiences, lessons, and advice with one another. Momentum is a powerful force for moving people into action

Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




We are the 99 %. United for Justice, Not Divided By Racism

poster project by Melanie Cervantes and Chris Crass
reposted from DignidadRebelde
Originally posted October 30, 2011

A new 8.5 x 11 downloadable poster available. Click HERE to download.

This poster was collaboratively developed by anti-racist organizer Chris Crass and myself.

Chris Crass is a father and longtime organizer working to build powerful working class based, multiracial movements for collective liberation. As part of the global justice movement he helped start the Catalyst Project in 2000, which develops and supports anti-racist politics, leadership, and organization in white communities. Catalyst also works to build up working class and multiracial organizing efforts nationally. He has written widely on anti-authoritarian leadership, movement strategy, and organizing white people against racism and for collective liberation.

Chris's Statement about "United for Justice, Not Divided By Racism"

"When Melanie Cervantes approached me about making a poster based on a picture of my family at Occupy Knoxville, I jumped at the opportunity. The Occupy movement has opened space for all of our justice movements to step forward and provide leadership on the most critical issues we face as a people. Melanie's "We are the 99%" posters are giving shape to the movement by bringing struggles in communities of color into the center. I wanted to do this poster with Melanie, as a way of helping unite the Occupy movement to the struggle for immigrant rights. White supremacy pits white communities struggles for justice against communities of color struggles for justice. This poster represents the vision of anti-racist leadership in white communities joining with liberation struggles in communities of color, with the goal of collective liberation. When I look at my 4 month old baby, I think about how powerful this movement moment is for the future of our society and the world. We can do this. Thank you Melanie for all you are doing to help us see ourselves as a movement through your visionary art."

Goals of the "United for Justice, Not Divided by Racism" poster

1. We want to build up powerful, working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation. The Occupy movement is an incredible convergence of movements for economic, social, racial, gender, and environmental justice. The Occupy movement notonly resonates with millions of people, but it actively invites millions of people to participate in the creation of both the movement and the vision of what we are working towards. This poster is a tool to help build up the Occupy movement, deepen the anti-racist analysisof the movement, and express the solidarity of white communities with immigrant families of color in the 99%. We hope the poster will help express the Occupy movement's support for immigrant rights struggles around the country.

2. We want to give anti-racists around the country tools for building up stronger anti-racist politics and practice in white communities. We hope the poster will give white people a way to express their outrage for the profound inequalities of capitalism and white supremacy. We want white people to have visible ways of standing with communities of color against racist attacks. We want to support the growing consciousness that racism against communities of color hurts everyone, and is part of what keeps the inequalities of capitalism intact. We want to support white people resistance to the brutality of racism against communities of color, while simultaneously helping white people understand the necessity of ending white supremacy as part of their own liberation from systems of oppression. 

3. We want to challenge the ways that racism divides movements for justice, and give white people tools to work against these divisions. We want to support white people standing with communities of color in ways that feed and nurture a culture of solidarity, dignity, and love. While we work against the impacts of systems of oppression in our communities, families, and lives, it is essential that we also build up liberatory culture, relationships, alliances, and practices. 

Suggestions for using the poster

1. We encourage anyone and everyone who wants to distribute, hang-up, print-out, and use this poster, to please do so. We have also created the poster with the above goals of reaching white people. With that said, the suggestions below are geared towards reaching white people, but they can also be used to think about reaching out to people in all of our communities. 

2. Take a moment to think about who you would like to distribute the poster to and why. You might think of people in your life and networks, as well as organizations, spiritual communities, places of business, Occupy lists, and so on. Write up a short statement about what the poster means to you and why you think it's important to work against racism and for economic justice. If you are sending it out to organizations, or Occupy lists, maybe write something about what it means for the work you all are doing and how you can use the poster to help move that work forward. 

3. If you can, distribute the poster, and other posters from the "We are the 99%" series, through organizational newsletters, blogs, websites and use it as an opportunity to talk with people you work with about why it is so important that we work against racism and for justice.  Use this as an opportunity to express this organizationally in the distribution of the poster.

4. Print up copies of the poster and distribute them widely at Occupy demonstrations and other important locations.  In fact, print up copies of all of Melanie's "We are the 99%" posters and distribute them widely.

5. Think about ways to distribute the posters through networks and locations that will reach white people who are among the more then 53% of the country who support the Occupy movement message, but have never come to a demonstration. Think about ways the poster can be a stepping stone to help white people who have never thought of themselves as part of a movement, to feel more connected to this one. Think about ways the poster can help white people think about anti-racism and economic justice, while simultaneously being given an opportunity to take a stand.  White people can put the poster up in windows at home, in businesses, places of worship, and community centers.  In states around the country with anti-immigrant laws, white people can use the poster to show their opposition to these laws. 

6.  Use the distribution of the posters in the Occupy movement as a way of engaging thousands of people of all backgrounds who are new to activism, about why anti-racism is a catalyst to building the powerful, working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation that we need.  It is often helpful to have conversations with white people about racism, white privilege, and anti-racism, in the context of talking with them about something they can concretely do about it.  It is important to help move people through, understandable, guilt, shame, and fear, by presenting positive options for thoughtful action.

7.  Use the poster to step further into your power as an anti-racist leader in your community, organization, and Occupy demonstration (we are all leaders!). 

8. If you are part of a group of people distributing these posters, share experiences, lessons, and advice with one another.  Momentum is a powerful force for moving people into action.

Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




Black Mask: Trip Through an Anarchist Turf War

By Paul Buhle
Truthout
February 5, 2012

I recall seeing the legendary Ben Morea only once. It was at a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) national convention, probably in 1967, and he appeared about to explode. People on each side of him held him down as he attempted to rise, apparently in response to what was being said on the stage, although he didn't shout (as I recall) and the particulars were a bit mysterious.

Very Morea, in other words. By 1968, black and red flags crossed at the front of the SDS convention, and it seemed a fine moment for anarchism . . . and the global revolution. My own Radical America magazine, syndicalistic by nature, had begun planning the translation/publication of Society of the Spectacle, the Situationist text (by the time it happened, SDS had imploded), and documents as well as analyses of the crossover from student radicalism to black power and working class resistance, not to mention feminist initiatives. "Marxism" was much too small for all this.

Thus, Morea and his comrades. He was, as we learn in the last section of the book (a 2006 interview reprinted here) an artist who experienced his teen years in Manhattan, somewhat older than new left types (like me). A substance abuser, he spent some time in jail, emerging to grasp onto the Living Theater as lifeline and radical art of some kind as his mission. Dada, surrealism, Zen, and more fed the mix, and he formed a group with like-minded types in the middle 1960s. Black Mask, (co-founded by Morea and Ron Hahne, who otherwise disappears from this publication), a pamphlet that looked like a tabloid, first appeared in 1966. For those days, it was wild.

So was the group. They believed in a kind of anti-art, a disruption of galleries and exhibitions that represented the official art world, offering guerilla theater and bold statements in Black Mask, sold for a nickel or given away free. Likely, the most famous incident involving the group was not theirs: Valerie Solaris' attempted assassination of Andy Warhol. Morea not only wrote a pamphlet defending her act and her politics (she was a brilliant and extremely funny polemicist), he probably left a gun around where she could grab it. Because Warhol was seen as corrupting the possibilities of avant-garde art, he was (and is, in the interview) seen as an appropriate target.

Much of the rest of the story belongs in that same time period, when experiments with LSD were likely to accompany the boldest antiwar activity; when rock promoter Bill Graham represented the performance music industry and in response The Family (a broader entity around Morea and Black Mask) could seize the stage, enforcing a free night of music for eager youngsters; and when resistance against police seemed to rise to the occasion, at least sometimes. If anyone inspired the Affinity Groups that accompanied demonstrations and confronted the law, for better or worse, it was the group that was called UAW/MF (they accepted the title without calling themselves that).

They also promoted the merger of the counterculture with the homeless, on the Lower East Side, thus offering a precursor to Occupy. That on the positive side. The negatives should not be ignored. In retrospect, they appear larger than they did at the time.

When UAW/MF disrupted peace-poetry readings because old-timers were of Popular Front vintage; when pacifists found themselves outmaneuvered by macho tactics; when efforts to build coalitions were damaged and, in relation to the young feminist movement, made nearly impossible, the limits of anarchist tactics had been more than reached. The nearness of possible revolutionary transformation justified what could not otherwise be justified or perhaps even comprehensible. It should also be added: the degree of ego was too evident. Black Maskees could not work with Situationists (even more conspiratorial and egotistic) or with anarchist chieftain Murray Bookchin (despite his brilliance or because of it, urgently seeking Bookchinites, his own camp followers), making issues often seem  less political than personal. It was a turf war.

Readers can judge for themselves, because this book reprints the entirety of Black Mask, albeit not in the tabloid format, along with assorted leaflets. The documentation is terrific and worth the price alone.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to scott crow's Author Page




Capital and Its Discontents: A Review

By Kate Drabinski
Marx & Philosophy Review of Books
January 22, 2012
 
In their interview with Sasha Lilley, Leo Panitch and Doug Henwood argue that the Left must seriously reflect on the workings of the global economy if it is to effect change: "there really does need to be some more serious talk about how the world works and what kind of world we would like to see and how we get from point A to point B" (89). This call is heeded in Lilley’s Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult, a collection of interviews with leading academics, economists, activists, and artists emerging from Lilley’s work on KPFA public radio’s program Against the Grain. Lilley’s radio interviews have been extended and completed, and the result is a remarkable collection of interviews that challenge and deepen much of the received wisdom that shapes contemporary popular movements. The collection could not be more timely, given the rise of popular movements against states and capitalism worldwide, and the fourteen interviewees raise important questions for the Left, which needs to actively think about and strategize the current crisis in capitalism that is marked by falling world markets, threats of a global depression, and mounting ecological crises.

The interviews are divided into three parts:‘Empire, Neoliberalism, and Crisis, which offers a variety of diagnoses of the current crisis; Commodification, Enclosure, and the Contradictions of Capitalism, which explores the connections between capital, ecology, and environmental crisis; and Alternatives?, which raises more questions than answers. Taken together, the volume is a thought-provoking, accessible, and essential collection of conversations that should be widely read.

The first section offers pointed critiques of some popular Left views, and this alone makes the volume an important read as it deepens the analysis of the current crisis and moves beyond approaches that call for a return to a time before capital, make overblown contentions about globalization, or insist that the real problem is simply a lack of government regulation. For example, in Ellen Meiskins Wood’s interview, she argues against the Hardt and Negri-type view that globalization has rendered the nation-state less powerful. She argues instead that "what’s really characteristic of globalization is the growing disparity between the global reach of capitalist economic domination and the persistence of the territorial state which it still needs, because capital needs an orderly, predictable legal and administrative apparatus more than any other social form has ever done" (37). Lilley’s deft follow up questions allow Meiskins Wood to extend her thoughts as well as link them back to Marx’s writings themselves. The result is a thoughtful exposition of historical and current debates about the role of the state in organizing capital that both explains the view that globalization means a decline in the nation-state and a rise of Empire, yet contests that "the state is perhaps more than ever the point of concentration of capitalist powers" (42).

This book continues with similar intellectual treats. David Harvey’s explanation of the rise of neoliberalism in the United States and around the world in the 1970s offers much-needed historical context, arguing for neoliberalism as itself a class revolt. Panitch and Henwood also take on the question of globalization, arguing that it has led to a growth in state power while also making possible an international movement of workers; global production means that a strike at one end of the supply chain can ripple around the world. David McNally explains the global economic meltdown, and challenges popular assumptions that increased governmental regulation is the solution. In the closing interview of this first section, Sam Gindin, Greg Albo, and Panitch extend McNally’s observations and call for greater political organization of workers and social movements more generally if the Left is to have a voice on the political stage at all. They also offer possible Left demands that could unify a larger movement, including free public transit and universal pension programs that would fund government deficits and democratized social benefits. As a group, these interviews deepen our understanding of the relations between state and capital, offer new diagnoses of the current global economic situation, and call for new political organizing in the face of this crisis of capital.

The second group of interviews focuses on Marxist understandings of ecological crisis, and makes a strong case for understanding social, economic, and environmental crises as part of a single "crisis." John Bellamy Foster resituates Marx’s materialist conception of nature and reminds us that for Marx, the problem of alienation is not just a matter of labor, but also of nature. Foster argues that resituating Marx in this way can help us see the importance of the green movement’s addressing the entire capitalist system rather than simply individual consciousness. Jason Moore’s interview is especially good at resituating the environmental crisis. Moore challenges us to move away from thinking about the "twin crisis of capitalism and the environment" and instead see them as the same crisis, in order to "open up a new way of seeing those large, so-called 'social' processes that we always refer to—globalization, imperialism, industrialization—as themselves ecological projects’ that attempt to refashion the relationship between humans and nature, as if the two are separate from each other" (136).

Gillian Hart looks to East Asia and South Africa to examine different paths to capitalist development and how struggles around land and livelihood can be both highly contextualized and link to struggles in other places. Ursula Huws brings issues of gender explicitly into the discussion, asking how labor organization might arise from those working at home or away from traditional workplaces. This section of interviews roots the global crisis in place(s) and reminds us that context, history, and geography all matter, not just in how crisis plays out, but also in how we imagine solutions.

The final section of the book—Alternatives?—aptly ends with a question mark. The interviewees here continue to diagnose the current crisis, but with an eye specifically toward other ways to organize the world, and yet their ‘alternatives’ remain largely hidden. Vivek Chibber looks at how states have largely supported capitalist development even when ostensibly regulating it, and calls for state and labor to make different political choices given this reality. Refusing to offer a blanket alternative, he rightly argues that context matters, and that different national capitalisms demand different responses. Mike Davis calls on the Left to remember Isaac Deutscher’s thought as potentially useful to politics, but he does not offer a clear explanation of how Deutscher might be useful in imagining alternatives in the present. Tariq Ali reviews his own involvement in Left activism during and after the war in Vietnam and argues that the lack of a socialist bloc that serves as an organizing alternative means the Left must imagine new ways of organizing. John Sanbonmatsu defines and explores the limits of postmodernism, arguing that the refusal to make normative ethical and political claims cedes too much to the right, which has few qualms in this area. Noam Chomsky and Andrej Grubacic come closest to offering "ways out." Chomsky reminds us that any move toward a stateless society must offer clear alternatives that would transform society, though he does not tell us what those alternatives would be, partly because we cannot know in advance what our new world might look like. Grubacic discusses his involvement in the Peoples’ Global Action, and draws on that experience in offering several explanations for what revolution might look like, acknowledging that revolutionary socialism would not look the same in all contexts. In the U.S. context, he argues that what is needed is strategic clarity and increased political imagination. These final interviews do not offer a clear answer to the implicit question "What is to be done?," but they do offer several models for imagining what we might do now and in the future.

As a whole the book offers incredibly thought-provoking interviews, made more so by Lilley’s excellent questioning, and demonstrates her deep and insightful knowledge of the issues and the thinkers with whom she engages. Readers hoping to find a roadmap to revolution might be disappointed, but it is a disappointment we all must face. There is no single answer, no single vision of the world after a final capitalist crisis. There is struggle, best waged with a clear idea of the many facets of the situation itself. This book is an invaluable resource for thinking critically and in complex ways about our current crisis, while also offering examples of resistance and revolution. In his interview, Gindin argues that what the Left needs are alternatives: "I don’t think you have to convince people that capitalism isn’t wonderful. You just have to convince them that there is something they can do about it" (120). This book leaves readers with the sense that not only is there something we can do about it, but we no longer have the choice to do nothing.


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Zen Monk Offers Up Brutal Enlightenment in Bloody Little Gem of a Contemporary Noir

By Paul Goal Allen
Barnes&Noble.com
February 2012

“I was never afraid of him, but other people are. Yes, they still are. They’re afraid of a dead man. They think he’ll still come and get them if they don’t keep their mouths shut.”
 – The Wrong Thing by Barry Graham

My motivation for picking up and reading books varies from title to title—generally it’s because I’m already familiar with the author or series, oftentimes the interest is based on a particularly positive review or suggestion, and sometimes it’s something as simple as intriguing cover art. None of these, however, are why I was compelled to seek out and read Barry Graham’s The Wrong Thing—it’s because of Barry Graham himself.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Graham is a Zen monk who, according to his website, serves as the Abbot of The Sitting Frog Zen Center in Phoenix— and he also writes brutal, soul-wrenching crime fiction.

The Wrong Thing was a bloody little gem of a contemporary noir, revolving around a young Mexican-American drug dealer known as the Kid. Raised in a low-income neighborhood of Santa Fe by unloving parents, the Kid’s savage childhood—stabbing a bully in the face with a pen, slicing open a dishonest drug dealer’s face, etc.—has become almost mythologized, like a modern-day Mexican-American version of Billy the Kid. He has become “a legend created in the barrio, a phantom who was blamed for every unsolved act of violence by a Mexican.”

Fueled by unhealthy doses of existential angst, sex and violence, a particularly remarkable element of The Wrong Thing is in the way in which it is told. The narrator is a junkie who only met the Kid once, just moments before his death:

“This is what they are saying about him, what some people are saying about him. And it may be true. Or it may be lies. Just like the story I am about to tell you. It may be a lie, it may be the truth, or it may be both. Nobody knows. The only one who knows is him, and he can’t speak anymore. And I can’t speak for him; I don’t know what he would say. I can only speak of him, tell another version of the story.”

What transpires is a retelling of the Kid's short existence—fleeting moments of transcendence in a life filled with darkness and more than a few missteps.

The Wrong Thing was one of those rare reads that stays with you, like shadows lingering in your subconscious. Although this was a relatively quick read (only 128 pages), it explores a diversity of weighty subject matter—classism, racism, the death penalty, the power (or lack thereof) of love, etc.— and is deeply thought provoking. It's about someone who has lost his way in the world—a young man who is perceived as a monster who is still a scared little boy at heart—but, ultimately, it is about every one of us and our struggle to understand and heal ourselves.

A brutal blend of modern-day myth and crime fiction, The Wrong Thing is the right thing for adventurous readers looking for literary enlightenment.

“Then he was dead, and some people cried, but most didn’t. And the people with lawns and 401 (k) plans and straight white teeth felt safer now, because the Kid was gone.”
The Wrong Thing by Barry Graham
 
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. 

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Activist Recalls Bloody Train Incident, Nonviolent Life in New Book

By John Dear SJ
National Catholic Reporter
January 31, 2012

On Sept. 1, 1987, one of the most dedicated peace activists in the nation sat down with friends on the train tracks outside the Concord Naval Weapons Station near the Bay Area in California to block a U.S. Navy Munitions train loaded with weapons bound for Nicaragua and El Salvador.

Instead of stopping the train and arresting the protestors, authorities ordered the train to speed up to three times faster than permitted. While some protestors barely made it off the tracks and one jumped onto the front of the train, Brian Willson was hit directly and run over. As friends watched in horror, Brian tumbled over and over again under the train. The top of his head and his legs were torn off, and he suffered nineteen broken bones and many severe cuts. But by a miracle of God, Brian survived.

Almost twenty-five years later, Brian has published an astonishing autobiography, Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson (PM Press, Oakland, CA, 2011, 441 pages, with an introduction by Daniel Ellsberg). This massive book is one of the best accounts of nonviolent resistance in our nation's history. Like Ron Kovic's Born on the Fourth of July, it should be required reading. Brian's story carries the same weight as the stories of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero and the Berrigans. He has much to teach us.

Blood On the Tracks tells of his heroic life, determined dedication, risky resistance, sharp social critique and steadfast commitment to nonviolence. He takes us through his painful personal journey as a metaphorical map guiding us out of the "American Way Of Life" into a new nonviolent, liberated humanity. Along the way, he provides in-depth analysis of American militarism in Vietnam, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia, occupied Palestine, Ecuador, Brazil, Iraq, Cuba and Chiapas. Finally, his subtle spiritual journey points us toward a slower, simpler, more authentic, peaceful way of life.

Brian constantly challenged himself to grow into a better, more open human being. Reading his book does the same for us. As he deconstructs the myths of American war-making and takes steps to resist, we ponder our own journeys and what new steps we can take. He concludes with reflections on his current pursuit of a simpler life rooted in the earth and local community.

I call him Brian because I have known him since the mid-1980s. In 1986, while I was working at the Washington, D.C., office of "Witness for Peace," trying to stop the U.S. war against Nicaragua, I met Brian and helped him support our friend Charlie Liteky, a Vietnam veteran who turned in his Medal of Honor at the Vietnam wall. Once, we spent an afternoon walking the streets of D.C. debating how to stop the U.S. wars in Central America through active nonviolence. His passion for peace had a huge impact on me. I was twenty-five at the time and still recovering from experiences the year before in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Brian told me I had a responsibility to resist and disrupt the culture of war here at home.

Like Ron Kovic, Brian was born on the Fourth of July, in 1941. He grew up in small-town rural America as a "Commie-hating, baseball-loving Baptist" and underwent a life-changing experience as a soldier in Vietnam. In the years that followed, he began to join other vets to protest the war. As he traveled the world and learned about U.S. war-making, he became a full-time nonviolent resister. He organized, spoke out, marched, fasted, lobbied and was arrested and jailed for peace.

In the fall of 1986, he and his friends began a high-profile water-only Veterans Fast for Life against the U.S. contra war on Nicaragua. That fast, and his trips through Central America, led to his protest at the weapons depot the following year.

On one trip to Nicaragua, he met hundreds of campesinos who had lost their legs because of U.S. bombs and landmines. He wondered how he could live in greater solidarity with them. In the summer of 1987, Brian knew that his resistance to U.S. war-making in Central America needed to escalate.

"Violence is our business to stop
nonviolently," he wrote in a statement before the fateful day. "None of this is possible as long as we are unable or unwilling to pay the price or endure the risks of living and working for justice and peace."

"Once the train carrying the munitions moves past our human blockade, if it does, other human beings in other parts of the world will be killed and maimed," Brian wrote just before Sept. 1. "We are not worth more. They are not worth less. Let us commit to ourselves and the world that we will claim our dignity, self-respect and honor by resisting with our lives and dollars, no matter what it takes, any further policies designed to kill others in our name, in each of our names ultimately."

Thankfully, Brian doesn't remember the events of that day. The book, however, includes many color photos as well as the transcript of a recording of the event. The government denied that the train sped up, but media film footage captured the entire event, and supported the witnesses' claims. It was shown around the world, and spurred thousands more to protest our wars. Brian writes:

"In one instant, I experienced, in my own body, the brute force of U.S. power that so many poverty-stricken villagers feel every day around the world. I survived, but my legs were taken from me. Since then, I've been walking on Third World Legs . . . From now on I would declare myself Absent With Out Leave from the American Way Of Life. My quest would be for an alternate way of life that I could promote. I thought about the villagers in Viet Nam and the campesinos in Nicaragua, and it seemed to me that these peoples lived a simpler life in tune with the earth that was not inherently violent, destructive, or imperial."

After Brian was run over, thousands journeyed to the Concord Naval Weapons Station and were arrested blocking weapons shipments. In the years afterward, every train and truck was blocked, and thousands were arrested on the tracks.

Blood On the Tracks is a major accomplishment and will live on for years as a testament of nonviolent resistance to American war-making.

"All of us are covered in the blood of war through our complicity with the American Way Of Life," he writes. "The alternative to genocide and ecocide is living humanly and wholly in local, steady-state, relatively small, food- and simple-tool-sufficient communities. We need to learn the art of becoming uncivilized."

He concludes:

"My body healed long ago, but that does not mean my healing has ended. My journey continues. I realize now that the U.S. engine of prosperity cannot be stopped until we change our very way of life. Each one of us must choose between an American Way Of Life that values selfish material prosperity and a way of life that values our collective humanity."

We don't have much time to choose wisely. Today, our national addiction to material comfort is so grotesque that, though we comprise only 4.6 percent of the world's population, we consume [up] to half of the world's resources. Our sky is filled with pollutants, our seas with plastics, our lands covered with pools of toxic waste. In our desperate desire for more, we are now waging war on our own home, the earth itself.

Blood On the Tracks should be reviewed by The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and every other major paper in the nation. He should be featured on all the national TV programs. The churches should grapple with his extraordinary witness, his crucifixion for protesting our wars and weapons. But if that doesn't happen, at least every one of us who struggles for justice and peace should read and ponder Brian's life and witness.

I hope Blood On the Tracks will inspire others to follow Brian out of the "American Way Of Life" and into the new life of peace and nonviolence. We don't necessarily have to sit on train tracks, but like Brian, we do have to figure out what our responsibility is. Brian Willson shows us the way.

***

John will speak Feb. 4 at the Seattle Spiritual Books Festival and Feb. 6 in Portland. His new book, Lazarus, Come Forth!, explores Jesus as the God of life calling humanity (in the symbol of the dead Lazarus) out of the tombs of the culture of war and death. To see John's 2012 speaking schedule, go to John Dear's website. John is profiled with Dan Berrigan and Roy Bourgeois in a new book, Divine Rebels by Deena Guzder (Lawrence Hill Books). This book and other recent books, including Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings; Put Down Your Sword and A Persistent Peace, are available from Amazon.com.

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500 Years of Indigenous Resistance on Razorcake

By Steve Hart
Razorcake
November 22, 2011

The story of smallpox being introduced to Native Americans and the decimation of the First Nation people has been well-documented, but there was always something about that story that didn’t sit well with me. I’ve sat in classes with Native Americans and Hawaiians and watched them squirm in discomfort while the smallpox story makes them sound weak and unable to defend themselves. By the succumbing to smallpox, my friends felt embarrassed for their ancestors, like there was something wrong with them. This history, of course, doesn’t take into account the absolute filth the European occupiers lived in. It doesn’t mention the bizarre quasi-religious superstitions the Europeans believed in (Queen Elizabeth of England rarely bathed throughout her life)—instead, history condemns indigenous people as collateral damage.

500 Years of Indigenous Resistance is an attempt to rectify this history. From 1492 to present day, indigenous people have resisted the European onslaught. Gord Hill details battles between the indigenous people and the colonizers. While civilization (in the European sense) was seen as mutually beneficial, 500 Years points out how European hegemony has been, and still is, resisted against by indigenous people from South America, Central America, and North America despite going against the machinations of civilization. I’d like to see this book used in history classes as a supplement or a contrary point of view from what is normally taught.

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Robin Hood in North Adams Transcript

By John Steven
North Adams Transcript
February 6, 2012

It's doubtful there has been a rebel that has endured longer than Robin Hood, and part of his longevity is certainly attributable to the fact that, as a fictional and somewhat mysterious character, he is entirely malleable to fit the needs of any age.

In Robin Hood: People's Outlaw and Forest Hero, Paul Buhle takes a thematic approach that, through sheer luck, pairs with much of the political movements going on today.

Specifically, Buhle comes from an extreme leftist viewpoint, almost revolutionary, and his examination of the legend of Robin elicits Occupy and Anonymous more than anything else. And the existence of those two entities speak more than anything else as to the continued relevance of the legend of Robin Hood in our society.

Buhle takes an unique approach to the examination, alternating between dense essays and lighter graphic summations. It's with this tactic that Buhle's book achieves the very trait it trumpets—populism. There's plenty of information to be had in the essays—all of it fascinating—but as Buhle winds through the history of Robin Hood—both literary and historically—the short graphic asides become an easy guide to the wider sweeps his essays capture.

In this form, the stories of rebellious preacher John Ball, feisty peasant Wat Tyler and the many manifestations of Maid Marian are laid out simply, and truly do leave you wanting.

There's a ton of material for a future all graphic edition, to be sure, as Buhle looks back the fight to allow normal citizens to read the Bible in England, as battled specifically by theologian populist John Wycliffe, who embarks on a plot with radical Oxford students to translate the Bible into a common language and moves through the ballads, novels, films and TV shows that have portrayed rebellion in the form of one guy in green.

In one fascinating chapter, Buhle traces the links between Robin Hood and the pagan personages within British and Celtic folklore, such as the Green Man—no surprise if you've ever seen the Druiderific British television show from the 1980s—and other religious and mystical links. Robin is a social weapon, for sure, but he is also the voice of the land.

There's so much to be said about Robin Hood that there's no way Buhle's modestly-sized work could ever say it all—but in relating a cultural history of Robin of Sherwood Forest, he makes a lot of information accessible at a time when Robin is more needed than ever.

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On the Ground on RalphMag

By Lolita Lark
RalphMag
February 2012

If you had the misfortune to live through the Eisenhower years, you will know how stifling, tedious, uneventful, yawn-inducing, stultifying and ultimately soul-killing those times were. We all knew that a small clan in Washington along with an even smaller one in Moscow held our lives in their hands as their hands inched towards the red buttons marked ICBM.

They threatened each other but not as much as they threatened us—for the button-pushers all had bunkers where they would ride out the ruination of the world. With that knowledge—you and me fried, them bunkered down underground—they were scaring the rest of us to death. They flitted from crisis to crisis, getting closer to the moment when most of the rest of us would be no more.

Those who didn't live through it will never know how bleak these times were. We were all sitting on death row and the executioners babbled on, obviously not caring what we thought or wanted. All our lives hung by a threat (I meant to write "thread," but the other will do as well). The continuing close calls (Berlin, Hungary, Suez, Cuba, Quemoy, Matsu) made the rest of us sure that we were going to be incinerated by a blaze initiated by a bunch of dolts. And every time we protested, we were accused of siding with the enemy.

I think most of us reacted as people do when they are faced with their own immanent death. Those floating at the edge—capital punishment, cancer, heart disease, no matter how brave, pious and accepting—seem to turn inwards and distant, what Keats defined as ending up in the place

    1.    "Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
    2.       Where but to think is to be full of sorrow."

§   §   §

And yet in the midst of this madness, a ray of light burst forth. First there was Paul Krassner's Realist. Within a short time, Max Scheer's Berkeley Barb, Art Kunkin's Los Angeles Free Press, John Wilcock's East Village Other, the Oracle in San Francisco (one of the most fetching, with its delicate tracery) . . . along with others at East Michigan State University and the University of Texas.

Then suddenly there were hundreds of tabloids, filled with a sane madness, all made possible by "photo-offset." So simple, so obvious, so cheap. All you had to do was to stick stuff on a piece of cardboard (typeset, rub-on letters for headlines, halftones) and then you'd take it to the printer, and he would shoot it, and you'd say "we want 5,000 copies," and they would do it on newsprint, cheap rough paper, and suddenly, as Thorne Dreyer writes, "It was amazing because it started out being five or six underground newspapers and eventually there were hundreds all over the world."

On the Ground consists of interviews with a couple of dozen of those who were there at the beginning: Krassner, Kunkin, Scheer, Shero, and—trying to tie them all together—the Liberation News Service. It's a great deal of fun to read these memoirs, brings back memories of ratty offices with people everywhere, doing all sorts of weird stuff. For example, Judy Gumbo Albert worked for the Barb, in their sex-ad department (and their sex ads were a howl): "I always knew when one of my favorite clients was walking down the street on his way into the Barb office because I recognized the loud clanking from the chains he wore." He was, she tells us, "very sweet and polite" and he would write his ad, "Seeking young man for western games."

    1.    I was a naïve young woman from Canada; this job really opened me up to, and made me appreciate the diversity of human sexuality.

§   §   §

One of the best interviews here is with Harvey Wasserman. He helped start LNS and here he nails down for all of us the ethos of the times. It was about building a community, about suddenly finding others who felt that America was on the wrong track . . . feeling that we had a chance to get things back on course again.

In the process, we built communities, communities of like-minded people, who we could hang out with, get stoned with, work with: "You start off with a small core and people are on each other's wavelength, personally and politically, you think the same way . . . and there is no decision-making problem. It's a family situation, really."

    1.    We never had editorial meetings. Anybody in our little group who wanted to put out an article put it out. We all loved each other's stuff . . . we really were just all on the same page.

And then, sigh, inevitably, "The group in New York wanted to have editorial meetings to decide what was going to go in the news service. Our feeling was: we're not a newspaper, we're a news service, we're putting stuff out there and if the editors want to run it that's up to them."

    1.    It was a magical time for us. And that word "magic" was used because somehow everything was impossible, all the situations we confronted were impossible, and somehow we got through them.

And then "they wanted to throw us out . . . We started having these meetings to work things out. It's like a marriage, when you start having meetings you know you're in trouble."

§   §   §
If you are an old underground fan like I am, the pictures here will knock you out. Full page spreads from the Barb or the Seed or Rat . . . and the drawings: "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers"—I actually had friends from back then that looked like the three of them. Oh, the cartoons. My god, there are a couple here by Crumb that in the not-so-stoned twenty-first century could get you locked up in the gray-bar hotel. We're surprised that PM had the guts to publish them. And as I am writing this I am thinking: What has happened to us now? What are we so afraid of now?

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