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Towards Collective Liberation: A review by the War Resisters League

by Joshua Stephens
War Resisters League
September 2014

With Towards Collective Liberation, veteran activist and writer Chris Crass has filled a number of conspicuous voids in radical literature, seeking to render the aspirations of feminist and antiracist struggle plain, practicable, and their realization imminently possible. Through autobiographical reflections on his early years as an anarchist organizer in San Francisco, a few brief essays, and a series of interviews with key figures in contemporary horizontal organizations, he has crafted what might be the first primer on the intersection of antriracist/feminist politics and anarchism aimed squarely at a white cis-male audience.

While innumerable and notable authors have tackled the corrosive effects of white supremacy and patriarchal relations within radical social movements, and some have even done so with explicit reference to anarchist politics, the literature that has resulted figures as a sort of archipelago of scattered sources—an often daunting or unnavigable card catalog for younger, less-initiated readers. Little in the way of deeply practical, comprehensive introductory writing has been on offer, even as movements on the ground have created a stunning, dynamic body of knowledge around how race, gender, sexuality, and class intersect and collide in organizing. Consequently, less-experienced activists inhabiting positions of privilege often take years to develop any meaningful understanding of the baggage saddling the projects they join, and the ways their own (often subtle) behavior threatens the prospects for genuinely collective liberation.

In Towards Collective Liberation, Crass eschews broad abstractions in favor of case studies, practically daring readers not to see their own experiences reflected in the stories he draws out. San Francisco’s Food Not Bombs’ (FNB) growing pains during the 1990’s figure as the largest of these, comprising nearly half the book. Organizational structure (or a lack thereof), differing strategic visions, and unchecked, entrenched behaviors unfold in Crass’s retelling, yielding scenes likely all too familiar to most anyone who’s spent time in grassroots organizing. What’s most powerful in his approach, however, is his blunt candor about the outcomes—outcomes many will also recognize. For Crass, the composition of our movements, their longevity and sustainability, and their relationships with disproportionately impacted communities are not incomprehensible realities. He walks the reader (sometimes tediously) through an almost forensic account of how FNB found itself at various crossroads, and why.

To say it’s a convincing diagnosis is to considerably understate what Crass accomplishes. It frankly leaves little about which to be convinced. He then swiftly moves through a survey of lessons from antiracist, feminist movement and literature—drawing on everyone from Ella Baker to bell hooks—setting up the ethics, vision, and commitments that animate what amounts to the prescriptive portion of Crass’s work: how to build antiracist and feminist praxis into movement-building work. He accomplishes this through an account of how San Francisco’s Catalyst Project approaches its mission, as well as interviews with contemporary organizers with The Heads Up Collective, Oregon’s Rural Organizing Project, Louisville’s Fairness Campaign, and Wisconsin’s Groundwork Collective.

Throughout the book, Crass is adamant about a pervasive and under-discussed stumbling block: the tendency, on the part of those interrogating and challenging their own racist, sexist socialization, toward self-reference and self-absorption. “Frequently I came across as cold, angry, or self-righteous, none of which were particularly helpful,” he writes. “If my goal was… alleviat[ing] my own guilt and shame for being white and male, then this was perhaps a useful approach… [But] I needed to take time to really understand my motivations. I needed to get grounded in an understanding of my own self-interest in liberation.”

Crass’s earnestness, however, has also yielded a repetition that feels, at times, appropriate only for a high school textbook, assuming a certain lack of comprehension on the part of the reader. For a strictly introductory text, it works; for a more experienced audience, it may prove prohibitive. No favors are done the text by the rather large volume of typographical errors, either (about one per page, including paragraphs that end with commas). Ideas are a matter or content, and here Crass shines—even breaks critical ground. Writing, as vector for making ideas stick, however, still places demands on form. If his readers can forgive on the latter point, they will be rewarded on the former.

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




Most Social Change Groups Grapple with White Privilege—But This Book Can Help

by Joshua Kahn Russell
YES! Magazine
September 17th, 2014

The work of activism is full of messy contradictions. In Towards Collective Liberation, Chris Crass breaks down the influence of racism and patriarchy, including helpful how-tos—like “Twenty Careful Steps Toward Anti-sexist Action.”
As an organizer in the climate movement, I see many young white people grappling with racism and privilege, struggling to break through the limitations of middle-class white environmentalism. So it’s exciting that compassionate facilitator Chris Crass has written a book that will help.

Towards Collective Liberation is a memoir, toolkit, self-help book, strategy reflection, and call to arms all at once. Its lessons about how to work in solidarity with frontline organizations ring true to current challenges and remind us that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Crass brings deep insights from the canon of critical race analysis to a practical level. His writing is rooted in his personal journey, offering examples of the impact of racism and patriarchy on how we form organizations, develop leadership, and build multiracial movements.

Towards Collective Liberation spans 20 years of experience and a wide range of contexts: The Battle in Seattle and the Global Justice movement, projects like Food Not Bombs, movement-support groups like the Catalyst Project and the Heads Up Collective, and racial and economic justice community organizations. Crass acknowledges that this work is full of messy contradictions. His articles, reflections, and interviews are interspersed with how-tos for real-life situations (such as “Twenty Careful Steps Toward Anti-sexist Action”).

Crass’ fierce self-interrogation lends the book a particular authenticity and deflates the self-righteousness that often accompanies the discussion of privilege.

Towards Collective Liberation is a gift to help us bring our most powerful selves to the work. It reminds us that none of this is new; we stand on the shoulders of our movement ancestors.


Joshua Kahn Russell wrote this article for The End of Poverty, the Fall 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Joshua is global trainings manager for 350.org.

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

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Stealing All Transmissions: A Review

by John Murphy
Spectrum Culture
September 7th, 2014

How did the late ’70s arrival of the Clash to a nation they loved and who loved them, in Randal Doane’s phrase, jostle the privileged perch granted FM free-form radio and long-form rock journalism in American popular culture? Doane attempts to answer this complex topic in Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of The Clash. He matches an affection for what was pitched as “the only band that matters” with a professor’s determination to apply theory and scholarship about popular culture to the band’s American impact.

FM radio crackled with battles between disco and new wave, Steely Dan and the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell. Guitar heroes Van Halen threatened Boston and Kansas. Pre-packaged rock radio in syndication, and then MTV, took advantage of alternative rock trends. The Clash and other punks rallied to break down barriers on air. Doane examines, circa 1978-81, a brief success by the underdogs against the suits. Intriguingly, the Clash was signed to CBS. That band marketed its message as widely as possible. The result (as this reviewer can attest) is that many younger listeners picked up guitars and books, inspired by not only the “molten” noise of early import singles, but the Clash’s lyrical range and cultural references.

A dean at Oberlin College, Doane combines academic critique (and its concomitant tendency to lapse into seminar-speak) with livelier glimpses from his formative years as a fan growing up in Stockton, California. He enriches these youthful reminiscences with an imaginative journey. He invents a quest narrative, following the figures narrated over four sides of London Calling as that album’s storyline follows dreamers and schemers from the band’s hometown across the sea to success or failure in Manhattan. (I note as an aside that the first box-set retrospective issued by the band is called Clash on Broadway, a location which fits both London and New York City, even as it emphasizes the latter.)

Doane straddles the boundaries between fan and critic throughout this study. He analyzes the music industry as a Clash historian, and as an often discrete investigation into the state of American rock radio in the 1970s. He documents the struggle on FM stations between AOR, disco, hard rock and the new wave upstarts. These were often marketed by Sire Records and eager labels, some indie, some subsidiaries of the majors, who allied with the bands which claimed to challenge the system. Of course, they also aspired to chart success and lucrative tours. This bifurcated presentation, by not only the bands in their clash of ambitions but Doane’s staggered structure of his chapters between those on the Clash and those on radio, weakens this as a cohesive thesis. However, considering particular chapters apart from this diffused presentation, Doane’s attempt to analyze the Clash within an American moment as the ‘70s leapt into the ‘80s provides a useful perspective of the band’s impact. It draws upon books by Clayton Heylin and Jon Savage, integrating their research with his own predilection for New York City area rock stations. Belying its subtitle, this case study is not a secret history so much as an archival retrieval of that region’s left of the dial airwaves during and after their countercultural birth. Doane looks into how they did or did not play the Clash, along with rivals or colleagues from both local and British punk and new wave scenes.

This book is enhanced by backline roadie Barry “the Baker” Auguste’s introduction. He conveys the changing fortunes of a band gradually if seemingly suddenly, for one behind the scenes, lifted from clubs to theaters to arenas by its third album, London Calling. Doane spends a lot of time figuring out when its iconic album cover was photographed. On the other hand, this book does not delve very far into the mid-1980s phase of the Clash’s line-up. Instead, Doane sticks to the first three albums, and he shows what worked and what did not on the various domestic and import versions of their incendiary self-titled debut, and the more, uh, diverse, follow-up, Give ‘Em Enough Rope, produced by Blue Öyster Cult associate Sandy Pearlman. As for the sprawling triple disc, the what to me felt the never-ending experiments of Sandinista!, brisk coverage is given. Doane marvels at it, as diehard fans tend to do.

Tellingly, he offers no real attention to their more mainstream album, the last one with their steadiest line-up, Combat Rock, and none to the album made by Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon and new recruits to replace Mick Jones and Topper Headon, the widely disdained Cut the Crap. It would have been intriguing to follow the fortunes of the band: their tours, their radio play and their LP sales. Certainly one wonders how the Clash, once they topped the charts, dealt with their long-term prospects. It’s a relevant example of the music industry’s own determination to encourage or ignore a band. Yes, the band’s saga during their global roller coaster of the 1980s has been covered before. But Doane stops the story early on, preferring to end while the band anticipated greater fame in the U.S. and beyond.

Given this wistful denouement, Doane’s study offers a muted celebration and a cautionary tale of how rock radio and promotion U.S. markets tried to fend off, ignore, or embrace us, then-scattered and once few, fans of punk and new wave. Even if the academic tone slows his pace, Doane places the Clash within their attempt to break into the American market. Best of all, his diligence and scrutiny reminds readers about when such inventive music, combative attitudes, and intelligent lyrics (well, some of the time; I never liked “Rock the Casbah” and its ilk) mattered for millions of fans growing up then. Today, the hit-and-miss history of the one punk band which made it big as arena rockers endures. And, professors grow up to be fans, or in my case, reviewers. For, the Clash was the first “real” band I ever saw, in March, 1980, at the Santa Monica Civic. They arrived hours late, but nobody (except for punctual me) seemed to mind.

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Preoccupying: Selma James

Selma_InlineOccupied Times
August 28th, 2014

Selma James is an activist and a prolific writer on anti-racism and women’s rights, founder of the International Wages for Housework campaign, and current coordinator of Global Women’s Strike. The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, co-authored with Mariarosa Dalla Costa, launched the ‘domestic labour’ debate. It posited that the work that women do – not simply the ‘role’ that they play – outside of the market produces (and reproduces) the whole of the working class and, by extension, the market economy. In 2012, she published Sex, Race and Class: The Perspective of Winning, a collection of her work spanning sixty years.  We sat down with Selma, Nina from Legal Action for Women and Laura from the English Collective of Prostitutes at the Crossroads Women’s Centre for a conversation which covered a wide variety of topics and struggles, the majority of which is reproduced here.

Occupied Times As part of the International Wages for Housework campaign you demanded money from the state for women’s unwaged, domestic labour. The lives of women with families continue to be characterised by unwaged work, and many also have the added struggle of more traditional waged labour. Do you sense a re-emergence of the kinds of analysis and drive that led to this campaign in the 1970s? What lessons can we learn from its successes and failures, and how best can we continue to challenge the exploitation of women today?

Selma James There is clearly a re-emergence of interest in Wages For Housework. I wear the badge now [points to badge] People ask me about it [WFH], they didn’t for a long time. And feminism – the wave of feminism that began in the late 1960s — was very hostile to WFH… That is not true today in the same way. Those who consider themselves feminists and who are spokeswomen or in other ways public as feminists, are not hostile to WFH in that way – and I have to mention the reasons for that. Women, in general, are much more interested in WFH.

Now, what happened with WFH was that it came out of the movement of the 60s. It came from single mothers who fought for welfare, who immediately turned onto WFH, when we talked about it, and who said that the state was paying them too little for the work that they were doing. What women would say from that movement is ‘I have money of my own and therefore I am financially independent of men. My next door neighbours are often jealous of me because I have more freedom than they have in spite of the fact that they have access to more money. They themselves have less money that is their own. All they have is the family allowance (now child benefit)’.

That was a very common view among single mothers. I’d also been kind of thrown in with the ‘welfare mothers’ in the US. One day in Detroit some friends called to tell me there was a demonstration of welfare mothers and would I like to go? And of course I went and I saw how they made a claim on the state which was also a claim against the military budget, because a lot of those women were fighting for their sons not to go to the Vietnam War – this is 1969. So, this stayed in my mind. And certainly when the women’s movement burst out here in Britain, I could see that the only thing to ask for – which was what women were already asking for – was money from the state, which meant that they could refuse the job outside the home they didn’t want.

Now, I had been a full-time housewife, but I had also been a factory worker, an office worker, a typist, and I wanted money so that I didn’t have to be a factory worker and an audio typist. I’d been my husband’s [C.L.R. James] secretary, I’d been doing all this secretarial work but I didn’t think of myself as a secretary. I was just doing the work. It was kind of the ‘family business’. And I was raising a child and then I was also helping to raise a stepchild. I was the caring side of the family.

I had also just finished reading, in a study group, Volume One of Capital and discovered that [Marx] speaks about labour-power as a commodity and I thought my comrades had really been remiss in not mentioning that women made the basic capitalist commodity. And of course they’d never made the connection between labour-power and women – as astonishing as that seems it took a mass movement for that to be clear. That’s true with mass movements; they clarify a lot of things.

Nina There was a demand for 24-hour childcare

SJ That was one of the first demands. I was not for that. I didn’t fight it, but I was not for 24- hour child care. It was enough that you had to give your child to the state when they were 4 or 5 years old, I found that intolerable. But I didn’t want to give my life to educating my children. I shut up and swallowed hard, but many of us believed that the children we have should not be handed to the state for its morality, its view of history, its view of discipline, for the state’s view of who you are and what you should be doing with your life – that’s what the schooling system was.

Many women were eaten up with the fact that they had to be as good as men in the waged workplace; otherwise they wouldn’t make their mark. So much was this true that when we fought for breastfeeding breaks at the ILO, we were opposed by women trade unionists.

Was it Sweden where they were a big advocate? Yes, they said, women should not have breastfeeding breaks, because then employers would not hire women. The idea that you should not be allowed to breastfeed when that is what children would thrive on because the job was more important than what your infant ate! This was insanity. There was no way in which we were not to be entirely at the disposal of capital, fundamentally.

That’s not so true now. People who oppose it [WFH] aren’t threatened in the same way.  Women have made their mark and have gone up in the society, like the women on the front benches who came in via the Labour party, and now the Tories, even they have a few feminists in front. They know they’re going to get some jobs, or they’re going to fight among each other over which one is going to get the job. But, there’s a job there for girls and so, they don’t feel as threatened. But, the grassroots women are different. Women felt they deserved the money, but they didn’t think they’d get it, and they didn’t see that feminism would’ve supported them getting it. And so, they decided, I’m going to go for a job. They went for a job because they wanted money of their own. Now, this is 30-40 years later, they’re tired. They’ve been there, done that, are fed up with the lot of it and they know they’re not going anywhere unless they make a struggle, and so they are interested in WFH and considering what their chances are and how they can organise for it. But they haven’t decided yet. You’ll know when they’ve decided it, because you’ll look out the window and they’ll be there, in some thousands. Until that happens, they’re still making up their minds, people are working it out…

The climate has changed in all kinds of ways. And WFH has changed, that’s the other thing. WFH has a much more international view, a much more comprehensive view of who’s doing the work and what work is going on. For example, justice work. Women are always defending men. Nobody noticed that it’s always women – mothers, daughters, partners, sisters, grannies, aunties, they’re all there when the police stop and search or whatever happens.

That is a crucial part of the caring work that women do and so the WFH campaign, which has expressed itself through the Global Women’s Strike from the year 2000, is constantly pointing out the work that women do in the course of the struggle which is still unseen, still unacknowledged, still crucial to the reproduction of the human race and still crucial to the movement. Yes, labour-power is part of it but the important thing is that women reproduce the human race and the Left hasn’t noticed! Marx said that capital can leave the reproduction of the working class to itself, and he begins to hint that reproducing the working class is rather a big job but he doesn’t go all the way because there wasn’t a mass women’s movement when he did his work. You know, a women’s movement would have clarified his views [clicks her fingers] immediately. That’s the kind of guy he was. That’s what he was looking to find out from. He knew where to look for information.

OT In Revolution at Point Zero, Silvia Federici rethinks the Wages for Housework campaign, stating ‘the creation of the commons… must be seen as a complement and presupposition of the struggle over the wage’ and that the production of commoning practices are of crucial importance. Federici mentions new collective forms of reproduction and confronting divisions of race, gender, age and geographical location that have been forced upon us, whilst acknowledging that communal forms of living are central to reorganising everyday life and creating non-exploitative social relations. Do you agree with Federici’s assessment? If so, what do you believe the creation of the commons will require? What steps can women, and communities more broadly, take to transform everyday life in ways that will last?

SJ I don’t know about the ‘creation of the commons’ but I do know that many people in the industrial world are trying to squeeze some forms of cooperation into their lives outside of production — community farms, communal childcare. In Africa, collective work is traditional, though much of this has been destroyed by imperialism. But the power of the state/industry/the market limits our time and resources even to begin most of the time, and they sabotage our every attempt to be independent of them.

Our centre tries to be a genuine collective, but it’s a struggle. Wages for Housework stands for women and men having the choices to live our lives with as much autonomy from the state as we can, but we have no illusion about building a utopia within capitalism. When we first demanded wages for all unwaged work some people said, we want services instead; we replied: we demand money, we are owed and we’ll make the services we want, that we collectively determine. Confusing wages for housework with this call for collective services is going backwards. It was hard enough to build collective services in Venezuela when there was a revolutionary government headed by Hugo Chavez. And they were wonderful. The neighbourhood women often ran them but they often didn’t get paid. There is no alternative to confronting their market, their repression, and organising to do that.

The big change in Wages for Housework is that we have been involved in grassroots struggles in a number of countries. That has transformed us into collective anti-racist organisers.

We are just about to issue an international petition for a living wage for mothers and other carers that is the product of years of careful work undermining the divisions of sex, race, age, nation, immigration status etc. Building a grassroots movement for money for those who work hardest and have least — women and children — is what’s needed and what Wages for Housework has been engaged in doing.

To believe that “the possibility of the commons is that it has the potential to create forms of reproduction enabling us to resist dependence on wage labour and subordination to capitalist relations” is a fantasy for most of us in the world who are struggling to survive. Are sexism and racism going to evaporate? Is it no longer necessary to address them or to address class power? The idea that we can remake society without overthrowing the state is classical utopianism. Yes urban gardens, yes collective childcare, if we can and when we can, but it cannot be an alternative perspective to undermining sexism, racism, every discrimination, in order to organise to overthrow capitalism. I found utopianism absurd – again for academics. For most of us struggling to survive it is a joke but not a funny one.

[On violence against women and rape]

SJ [Women are] uncertain about whether they should organise as women, for many good reasons. But when they do organise as women the first thing they organise against is rape. Because that is absolutely intolerable and that is a woman’s fate unless we organise against it. The fury that women feel about rape — at our Centre you can see how strong that is — that fury against rape expresses the fury against all the other restraints that women suffer. But they feel that we can get through more easily on the rape issue because it is now morally indefensible: even the state says it’s wrong. Mind you, they don’t do much about it, and then you have to fight against them because the police will not investigate and then they’ll drop it and they treat you like hell. And then they finally get something together and the CPS gets some stupid lawyer to prosecute. And then the rapist gets a woman to represent him. It is widespread for women barristers to represent rapists. And they tell you that they do that, women barristers do that, because they say that they can’t get jobs defending people accused of other crimes. So for many at least, the only jobs open to them are defending rapists. And they behave just like any prosecutors defending a rapist: demeaning and destroying the victim.

[On academia and “the Left”]

SJ You know, we had a demonstration at the Left Forum. In 2012 I attended the Left Forum because the anthology Sex, Race and Class was published so the publishers arranged for me to go. And the Strike [Global Women's Strike (GWS)] had a workshop on prisons (I work with Mumia Abu-Jamal and edited his book ‘Jailhouse Lawyers’ which is really a good read, he did a wonderful job.) And so I met Victoria Law, who concentrates on women prisoners and she said “You know I’ve been trying to get the Left Forum to have childcare and they will not have childcare.” The GWS was there, we started a petition, we got signatures. 2013 we still agitated. In 2014, there was still no childcare. We met someone who was interested in having a demonstration and we said “YES!” And about 50 women, and there were some men and children in it, had a demonstration within the Left Forum and they watched us as we passed. I never saw anything like it. Some younger men applauded but very few came and joined us.

If you want to know about academia, that was a really good snapshot. And we were quite shocked. They have not acknowledged the work that women do except as an academic subject. They have not acknowledged that a crucial part of what keeps any working class movement together is the work that women do. They have not acknowledged the debt that the anti-police repression movement owes to women who have always been there in the courtroom, in the prisons — this is the work of keeping the movement together. This is the work of undermining repression. They have never acknowledged what it means, really, to reproduce the working class, what it means to be raising a working class kid. What a tragedy that is for women on a mass scale. All of these questions the Left has left out.

What people now see is not WFH as a demand – which indeed it is. It means we should have welfare, it means benefits and services should not be cut as they are doing. But the implications of women NOT being paid — people see that. They see that as they never saw it before. There is an increasing understanding and deepening of what the implications are. And it has taken the movement a very long time for these issues to be clear among those who consider ourselves the movement, as well as those who never did, but who very often are. We have the English Collective of Prostitutes, which is definitely about money and against police repression. We have rape, which is definitely about money – almost always the crucial issue. We have Single Mothers Self Defence.   The state wants to remove mothers from the family or remove mothers as the protectors for the young, and a ‘good’ mother is someone who goes out to a job. If you are not exploited, you are not a good mother. I think a lot of these issues are now on the agenda of the population.

[On Technology, Marx and Work]

SJ The left is interested in a very 20th century idea of what production is about. Anybody who says ‘we want jobs’ is not addressing people today. Technology eliminates jobs but not work, and at the same time governments are eliminating welfare, so that, fundamentally, we will be threatened with starving to death or at least dying young. And there are so many ways they are killing us. The food industry is destroying our health and then Big Pharma is interested in giving us medicine to keep us alive until we keel over. They are into death. They are into culls of animals, and they are culling us too. People in the movement are not always clear about how much we are under attack. The Left have a great fascination with technology and think that “development” is the development of technology. Now, in that book I showed you ['UJAMAA: The hidden story of Tanzania's socialist villages']: Nyerere, first President of Tanzania, said ‘Development is the development of people’. We haven’t heard that from anyone in a long time.

Towards the end of his life, Marx had understood that he had made a mistake about his emphasis. He also saw that societies which were not capitalist and that were collective, had to be protected and could be, what he called, ‘the fulcrum of social regeneration’. We don’t want to go back to doing everything by hand. But he knew, always, that central to production was people, and he said that’s the difference between us and the capitalists: their end and aim is not people, but their own wealth. And, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – they do it because the money itself requires them to make money, the whole economy is based on the necessity to increase and develop, increase and develop to compete. We are not interested in any of that – we are interested in whether people are developing, and that the technology is at our disposal. People don’t seem to know that about Marx. People on the Left seem not to mention that. They say we want jobs. We’ve never wanted their jobs, we wanted technology to eliminate those jobs so that we would have time, including to remake the world – it’s a crucial part of what you do when you have time, you remake yourself or your community! You have time to consider, if you’re not working for them all the hours that god gives. That’s part of what Wages for Housework stands for. Marx says that communism is the end of work. When I read that I said, well I am a Marxist!

OT In thinking about looking for wages for domestic and reproductive work and trying to tackle this idea of capital accumulation at the same time, it’s interesting that you mentioned prophecy. Are we now in a time of a contradiction of capitalism where productivity is being squeezed so much with new technology, and labour-power strangled with redundancies, zero-hour contracts and so on? We have seen capital remould itself in times of crises, but after the last round in 2008, which we are still feeling the effects of from the state and in the labour market, how do you think capitalism will progress?

SJ There is no capitalist crisis. There is a working class crisis. You know, they’re getting richer and richer – they’re not in crisis. We are in crisis because we have not worked out how to build the movement in a way which will not turn out to be the opposite of what we intended. That’s our crisis. Every single movement we have built, has turned into ‘a whip for your own back’. So that all of the movements are now headed by people who sit down and negotiate with the enemy and then, if they don’t, the media says the leaders are “irresponsible”. Irresponsible means you have not sold out your membership. We lost the miners’ strike because of the unions, because most of the unions scabbed, and the members of the union did not collectively say ‘no’. That’s part of the crisis that we face.

And then you have a situation where women have built an anti-rape movement, and most of so-called anti-rape groups seem to take money from the police or the Home Office, or other arms of the state, which ensures that they never insist that police be sacked if they don’t do the job, that the CPS has to stand with women of whatever race or class, or be replaced.

People are very tired; tired from over work and tired from not winning, tired from betrayal, and they do not want to go through all the things that you go through to build a movement – lose their jobs, even your life, go to prison, the children who don’t get food because their parents are fighting, and all the rest. And then what?! Lower pay, fewer benefits. That’s the crisis. Isn’t that known?!

[On Social Movements and Conflict]

OT It’s known, but it’s not talked about – ‘public secrets’. We’ll all accept it, but let’s not actually do anything about it, let’s not struggle against it or call it out when we see it. That was one of the big problems we saw with the Occupy movement – this very same process which came from this overarching umbrella concept of some kind of popular uprising, but women were shoved out, people of colour were shoved out. Nothing which questioned the validity of the state was allowed, nothing that mentioned capitalism was allowed. It became a naked careerist thing for people to put something on their CV to show that they ‘do’ politics, to get jobs, to do PhDs, be PR executives etc. The rest of us were thrown back to the scrapheap to try again.

SJ This is a really good statement of what happened with Occupy here in London. Different things happened in different places. What you are saying is that people came into Occupy because they thought of it as a career option, which is very common in organisations of the movement. It means a number of things. Police agents would be welcome because their purpose was the same as careerists: to ensure that the boat did not rock. And included are the vanguardists – which is another form of pursuing power for oneself. The only way to ensure that those types don’t dominate is to organise and ensure that the grassroots is in charge, and make a fight about the question of racism and the question of sexism even if it causes splits. There isn’t another way that I know about. If Occupy had been split some part of Occupy still might be going. But because it didn’t split good people were put off. I wasn’t directly involved in Occupy but women and men from our Centre did tell us about what was going on and your report of what went on there is much like theirs. In some places Occupy was much better than that because those who were determined not to be divided on race or gender or other lines, dominated because people who were very seriously anti-capitalist and not vanguardist dominated. And they were determined that people would have their say and Occupy would take the direction of the activist and the ones who were anti-capitalist from whatever sector and in fact every sector.

In general it has been difficult to stay autonomous because so many people want to take you over once you have organised a little power. The way we have done it in the Wages for Housework campaign is to be very disciplined among ourselves and to ensure that our principles are constantly before us judging what we do as well as what others do and listening hard to people in our network for what they think and what they are doing. We work on ourselves and our consciousness rather than on anybody else’s, and that consciousness is shaped by the fact that we have autonomous organisations — women of colour, queer women and men, single mothers, women and men with disabilities — there is a group of Payday men who relate to the Strike. And that ensures that these issues are always dealt with, always on the basis of the principles that we all agree about – autonomy but not separatism. Commitment but not careerism or egotism. And we also use “reliable testimony.” It’s the phrase that a yogi some hundreds or thousands of years ago in India used to describe leadership. That is, people who, when they speak, you trust their motivation, and everybody gives them a good hearing. They in turn use everybody as their points of reference so they are always including people rather than excluding them, and always bringing the principles of the organisation to the fore and seeing how they apply to what any of us is doing or has been doing. There is no other formula that I know about. It’s very hard to maintain yourself organising in this way. But I don’t know another. And ultimately, when you organise in this way you train others, and others train you, so that you can be of great ongoing use to the movement. Just one example is that when the hunger strikes began to take place at Yarl’s Wood detention centre for asylum seekers, it was Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women of Colour/Global Women’s Strike who advertised it, supported it, got media for it and especially let people know that it was happening and were constantly in touch with the women inside. The Strike did that job because we had been trained in all that we had been doing up till then. It was our job to support them in ways that would promote them rather than ourselves. That’s a big principle and everyone who is serious, politically, needs it.

Once you are organising in this way, police agents and careerists stand out like sore thumbs. They are very easy to identify if your political perspective leads you in a direction that is so opposed to theirs. Then you fight it out on that basis. If people are not ready to take a position that is principled and anti-capitalist, then you have to leave and call it from outside. I must add that each situation is different and once your principles are clear you have to sit down and discuss how you can be a strength for the most serious people who are the grassroots or speaking for the grassroots. Each situation is unique though the principles are always the same. So the question is how precisely to apply them. That requires collective discussion and determination.

OT But that’s why they were successful isn’t it because they joined that, they didn’t get that, history records something else, and so the next wave thinks that the struggle starts at that point and you are sort of always working backwards until nothing can be questioned?

SJ Exactly. Now they think they have reached an absolute. They say 5.5 million people have been killed in the Congo, although you can’t really be submerged by that otherwise you won’t be able to sleep at night. But they are going on as usual! They are talking – Angelina Jolie and this idiot the foreign secretary.

They are talking about ending rape in war, but they are not talking about ending conflict. You should kill the women, just don’t rape them, just chop their heads off! We would have equality then!

SJ Is rape the worst thing about war? It’s a bad thing, it’s not a good thing, but what about the killings, the displacement, the destruction, the fear, the justification of rape, torture and mass murder? They’re saying war should not rape; you think we could have something that says that war should not kill? It’s absurd. The reason the state likes rape as an issue is because they can pin it on individual men; it’s not about the society generally. Then this Nazi, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Hogan-Howe, said there was ‘unconscious bias’ in the police. How high does the unconscious bias go? Is it only on the ground or does it go all the way to the top? And, what happens when unconscious bias meets institutional racism? Now that’s a question that the Met might want to consider. So they have had so much of a pummelling from women generally and from, I have to say, Women Against Rape in particular, and Slutwalk played its role, that they now have to say this, that there is unconscious bias, because the figure of 6.5% conviction rate for reported rape are not tenable, that can’t be argued with. The police are disgraced constantly. It’s important to draw out the connections between the policing of rape, race, domestic violence, MPs, football fans, student protests, every protest . . .

[On building movements]

SJ It is the challenge of building a movement. The movement, by its nature, must cross these boundaries, which means that you are always addressing the power relations among us and always in your struggle, whoever you are and wherever you are, you must seek to undermine these divisions. That’s what your job is. Your job is not merely to organise; your job is to – I hate to use the word now that it is discredited – ‘unify’. But unify in such a way that nobody’s demands are demeaned or ignored. They have to be all on the table so that our struggle, broadly, represents all the people who are working together, or whom you want to work together with. We do that all the time. It’s not even that difficult – people are in the habit; we don’t think of doing anything else. I think that intersectionality is a word that academia uses in order to draw the lifeblood out of the struggles to destroy the power relations among us. To overcome those divisions is really to win against capitalism.

[On History: Lenin and Vanguardism]

SJ Ranged against you are the Tory party using China’s rate of exploitation as their point of reference. Then of course you have the other part, the Lib Dems, who are Tories lite, then there is Labour who are Tories-not-so-lite.

Lenin went through the 1905 revolution and was torn because the communist societies, the Obshchinas, in Russia, really fought after the working class in Russia was defeated. They kept fighting. Lenin was a fighter and he said, well let’s join them, but the Party said no, these societies are finished, they have to go through capitalism, and he seems not have pursued it. But by 1906/07, according to C.L.R., he had grave doubts about what he had written in 1902 (What is to be Done), calling for a vanguard of intellectuals. C.L.R. would say to me often, often because it was something that preoccupied him, that Lenin didn’t want What is to be Done spread about. He would ask, are you sure this is what we [the Bolsheviks] should be saying? Why are they reprinting it? Lenin didn’t know where he stood on What is to be Done because it is a very elitist view, and he had gone through a revolution, which changes you dramatically. It says only the intellectuals can have revolutionary consciousness, and that the working classes can only reach trade union consciousness. Can you imagine?!

The academics would agree with that entirely. By the end, 1923, Lenin wrote three important essays. One of them is On Co-operation. He was offering the population to take charge of production through co-operatives because he was turning away from the whole emphasis of a vanguard; he thought they could do it through their collectives now that they had state power. In this and other writings, he was trying to work out how the working class could take power. And this is the exact opposite to What is to be Done. Every Trotskyist and most other organisations of the Left, except the ones who are horizontalist, believe in What is to be Done. It’s over 100 years old, it’s mouldy, it’s reactionary, and it’s not Lenin any more. We know another Lenin.  The one who made the revolution could not have believed in that because the party would not take power and Lenin said ‘If you do not take power, I’ll go over your heads to the masses’ who loved him. He said, I’ll just push you aside, so they said, all right, we’ll take power. That was the great Russian Revolution led by the Bolshevik Party. This is the party that was no good then, it was also anti-semitic and chauvinist against the nationalities.

They attacked Trotsky because he was Jewish. Stalin made jokes about him because he was Jewish and the Party laughed. You know, this is the real Vanguard Party. They never questioned the name ‘Russian’ Revolution’. I used it here, but it was a revolution of Russia and the nationalities, the colonies of Russia. When I said that to a woman who I met at the BBC — they never give credit to the nationalities, they even spoke different languages, she immediately said, ‘15’. So this was not a new question for her. They had figured out how many nationalities had been left out, and there were 15! When you say Russia, it exposes an imperialist view of the revolution. It was the Russian Empire plus colonies that made the revolution.  Like Lenin said, scratch a Bolshevik and you find a Russian Chauvinist! It’s another view.

[On Racism]

SJ What has happened on race is crucial. People are against racism. Most white people don’t like racism. It doesn’t mean that they are not racist, but it means that you can win them over with a show of Black power which is compassionate and which is class-based, which means the poor are us and you and me, we belong together. In “Bulworth”, Warren Beatty sings that ‘white people got more in common with coloured people than they do with rich people’. You can work with anybody today in a way that would have been impossible, even in the sixties. Racism, sexism, and anti-gay etc, is discredited.

When a sex-worker began to talk at Slutwalk, the response of the audience made me think that they were all sex workers, but of course most weren’t; it was just that they don’t see a dividing line, a ‘I’m respectable and she’s not’ – there’s little or nothing like that any more, it doesn’t exist. Of course, it exists in pockets, and of course it can still be exploited by the State and employers, and of course people still use racist and sexist etc. language, but it has little credibility any more because most people don’t really like to identify with it.

If you look at any corner of Kentish Town, at the kids going past, there will be a white group with one or two Black people, or they’ll be a Black group with one or two white people. I’m talking about kids. They don’t want it any more. They haven’t entirely overcome it because the Black movement is weak, because it has been so sold out. But once the movement comes up, these prejudices will not be the problem they used to be. I wish it would hurry up and come together!

 

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New Forms of Worker Organization in Industrial worker

by Steve Thornton
Industrial Worker
September 2014

I was discussing the recent wave of fast-food worker strikes with two friends. We had all witnessed the walkouts and joined the picket lines sparked by the one-day actions. Each of us came away with different takes on the viability of this campaign. I said it reminded me of the Justice for Janitors movement in the 1980s: a lot of flash, powerful, courageous actions by the mostly immigrant workers—actions that weren’t exactly strikes—and a strategy focused on the big money that hired the cleaning companies.

One friend had been reading recent critiques of the fast food organizing efforts. He dismissed the “paid staff” and “bureaucratic, big, centralized unions” that have run the project. My other friend replied: “Paid staff? Centralized? You could be talking about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and the early IQQ!” That’s about how far the conversation got.

In fact, Gurley Flynn was a paid organizer and the IWW did change its structure in the face of criticism over top-down control. It wasn’t until 1915 and the creation of the Agricultural Workers Organization (AWO) in Kansas City that the IWW really built its power among farm workers in the western part of the country. The AWO also fostered the system of “roving delegates” who could sign up workers on the spot and collect dues, another change from the old practice of centering everything in Chicago.

Like my friends and I, it seems that most who complain about the current Fight for Fifteen campaign are acting like (as we used to say) armchair revolutionaries. That’s why “New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism” is such a valuable addition to the debate. Published this year by PM Press and edited by Immanuel Ness, “New Forms” provides a worldwide perspective on bottom-up organizing efforts from the past and present.

Ness argues that it won’t work to “reinvigorate” conventional unions or to reach “density” in particular industries. I was fortunate to hear him speech recently at “How Class Works,” a biennial conference held at Stony Brook University and sponsored by the school’s Center for Study of Working Class Life. At his workshop, Ness posed the question that is at the core of this book: Can we create solidarity unions within (or in spite of) current labor organizations?

“New Forms of Worker Organization” is a book of essays divided geographically between Europe and Asia, the Global South and the Global North. With contributions from 16 writers, Ness describes the struggle of autonomous workers’ organizations and their efforts to take hold. From worker-peasant coalitions in Madagascar to the IWW Jimmy John’s campaign in Minnesota, these writers provide detailed accounts of struggle by workers to build powerful, democratic and independent movements.

We learn, for example, from Steven Manicastri about the history of Italian operaismo, also known as autonomous Marxism, based on “the thinking and practice of politics” in the workplace. Independent operaist groups organized strikes and slow-downs in the 1960s, initially to force their official unions to act on workplace safety or wage issues. Such decentralized activity spilled into the community, where mass squatting, rent strikes, and refusal to pay the full price of utility bills because the practice of thoughts. Operaismo has since evolved into the creation of Confederazione die Comitati di Base (COBAS, or base committees)—independent worker groups that may include migrant workers, students, retirees and the unemployed. They have resisted education cuts, austerity and the power of banks. In a sense they are the “dual unions” that the American Left has alternately loved and hated. Described as the “Zen Buddhist of politics,” COBAS have been operating without official leaders or formal rules of discipline for over 20 years.

How did Exxon and Witness for Peace (WFP) facilitate revolutionary unionism in Columbia? Now there’s a story, and Aviva Chomsky explains it all in this book. In brief, Exxon built a giant coal mine in the 1980s that displaced indigenous communities, mostly small farmers and livestock herders. The National Union of Workers in the Coal Industry (Sintracarbon) learned about the mine’s poisoning of water and land from a WFP fact-finding delegation. The union asked WFP to bring all the parties together and the result was a negotiating demand by the mine workers that would require the coal company (now an international consortium) to recognize, negotiate with, and compensate the affected communities. In 2006 Chomsky and others formed an international solidarity group to support that process. She let the parties speak for themselves in a series of reprinted letters from Sintracarbon. It is clear that the union’s commitment to the indigenous people gee deeper as the negotiations progressed. In the end, in the face of a possible strike, the union won a small victory by forcing the boss to discuss the community issue and agreeing to participate in “social programs” offered by the company. Today Sintracarbon continues to fight alongside the community, most recently against the diversion of a major river.

A book on horizontal organizing would not be complete without Staughton Lynd. In his brief introduction, Lynd tells us of a dream he had 50 years ago. In this dream he and his wife Alice are helping neighbors are put out a forest fire. He describes the frantic work to douse the blaze, “incessant activity” as he calls it. “Then something else had taken over.” Lynd writes. “Slowly it came to me. It had begun to rain.” What is more effective than the toil of small efforts? A storm that brings a new world from the ashes of the old.

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Ursula K. Le Guin is the 2014 recipient of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters

National Book Awards


In recognition of her transformative impact on American literature, Ursula K. Le Guin is the 2014 recipient of the Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She is the Foundation’s twenty-seventh award recipient.

For more than forty years, Le Guin has defied conventions of narrative, language, character, and genre, as well as transcended the boundaries between fantasy and realism, to forge new paths for literary fiction. Among the nation’s most revered writers of science fiction and fantasy, Le Guin’s fully imagined worlds challenge readers to consider profound philosophical and existential questions about gender, race, the environment, and society. Her boldly experimental and critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and children’s books, written in elegant prose, are popular with millions of readers around the world.

“Ursula Le Guin has had an extraordinary impact on several generations of readers and, particularly, writers in the United States and around the world,” said Harold Augenbraum, the Foundation’s Executive Director. “She has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated—and never really valid—line between popular and literary art. Her influence will be felt for decades to come.”

Ursula K. Le Guin

“Ursula Le Guin has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated—and never really valid—line between popular and literary art,” said Harold Augenbraum, the Foundation’s Executive Director. "Her influence will be felt for decades to come.”

Born in 1929 in Berkeley, California, and educated at Radcliffe College and Columbia University, Ursula K. Le Guin published her first novel, Rocannon’s World, in 1966. Over the course of her literary career, Le Guin has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, seven books of poetry, four collections of essays, thirteen books for children, and five works of translation. Her first major work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness, established Le Guin’s reputation for daring experimentation and her internationally best-selling Books of Earthsea have been translated into thirty-one languages.

The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Le Guin won a National Book Award in 1973 for The Farthest Shore, and was a Finalist in 1972 for The Tombs of Atuan and in 1985 for Always Coming Home. Le Guin also has received a PEN/Malamud Award for short fiction, a Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, twenty-one Locus Awards, six Nebula Awards, five Hugo Awards, three Asimov’s Readers Awards, a Pushcart Prize, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and a Newbery Silver Medal. Le Guin’s lifetime achievement awards include the title of Grand Master from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the Margaret A. Edwards Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), the Willamette Writers Lifetime Achievement Award, the Los Angeles Times’ Robert Kirsch Lifetime Achievement Award, the University of California-Riverside’s Eaton Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Maxine Cushing Gray Fellowship for distinguished body of work from the Washington Center for the Book.

Le Guin lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Changing the world with comics

By Sreejita Biswas
Bangalore Mirror
September 12th, 2014

Known for his illustrated journal World War 3 and Spy vs Spy, American cartoonist Peter Kuper who will be in Bangalore gives us a peek into his life and work


Peter Kuper says New York City is his ultimate muse. In fact, all his works have been motivated by his love for travel. Whether it's long journeys to corners of the world or mere subway rides, travelling is his favourite way to reinvigorate his ideas. "I love the process of discovery. Visiting a foreign country almost makes me feel like a newborn. Each environment affects the way I draw. The visuals, smells and sounds all get into my fingertips and are deciphered in my sketchbook," he says with a smile.

One of the best known American cartoonists, Kuper's claim to fame is perhaps his incredible work on Spy vs Spy. Ask him and he'll give you a detailed explanation. "Spy vs Spy is a spy dressed in black with a very pointy nose, trying to kill a spy dressed in white with a very pointy nose. They kill each other in every comic in complicated ways and return to do it again and again. It was created by a Cuban artist, named Antonio Prohias, in 1961 as a comment on the Cold War. It's Ying vs. Yang, Hindus vs Muslims, War vs Peace. Futile destruction — everybody loses, but in the case of Spy vs Spy there are also laughs," he says.

Those who have wandered beyond the popular know that his association with World War 3 is an epic in itself. An illustrated magazine that addressed political and social issues through comics, World War 3 was founded in 1979. It's made up of a number of people from various backgrounds, genders and ideologies united by the idea of telling a story through comics. "The magazine represents the kind of society we'd like to see; driven not by profit but by artistic expression towards a better understanding of our world and ourselves."

As digitisation rapidly overwhelms the print form, some believe the art form of comic journalism is dying a slow death. But Kuper is not one of those pessimists. "It is a developing art that opens the door to communicating big ideas through a series of images and text," he says. "When done properly and printed or photocopied, it can put a great deal of information into peoples' hands without expensive computers and an internet connection. It is a democratic form."

When asked how difficult it is to make a comic, he unsurprisingly admits that it is perhaps the hardest. "For an individual to create a really smart, compelling comic they have to be a writer, penciller, inker, letterer, colourist and designer. They have to know visual pacing, understand how to direct the reader's eyes, know perspective and architecture, fashion and character design and have something to say that connects with readers."

His message for his in India: "I'm looking forward to meeting comic readers and learning more about the culture and inspiration that made them get interested in this art form. I'm also interested in getting exposure to India as a country."

The author is the co-founder of StripTease the Mag, a magazine about comics and graphic novels from all over the world


The Bangalore Comic Con will be held at White Orchid Convention Centre, Nagawara from 11 am to 8 pm on September 13 and 14

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Cazzarola!: a review in The Fifth Estate

by Steve Izma
Fifth Estate
Pg 33-34
Fall/Winter 2014

Italian and Spanish anarchism have long inspired anti-authoritarian movements in the Americas.

Anarchists fleeing fascist governments in Mussolini’s Italy and Franco’s Spain during the 1920s and 30s sped up a process already underway through normal emi- gration to not just Spanish speak
ing countries in the West, but to Canada and the United States as well.

Cazzarola! [don’t say it in polite Italian company!] traces generations of resistance
to fascism and bourgeois society in Italy
Emma Goldman and other activists influenced the ideas and conditions of these anarchists, especially as part of international solidarity programs for those facing repression from totalitarian regimes.

Today, North American English-speaking anarchists have access to many classic texts dealing with the movement in Spain, especially those dealing with the Spanish Revolution of the late 1930s, but literature on the Italian movement of that era is harder to find.

In many ways, anarchism formed contiguous movements in these two southern European regions, separated by not much more than language and a few cultural details. Both were strongly rooted in trade unions but also had a significant presence among peasants and intellectuals. Despite dif- fering chronologies—the ebbing and flowing of the movements’ strengths are out of synch historically—the highs and the lows have been remarkably similar.

Italian anarchism had more room to manoeuvre in the chaos and discontent immediately following World War I, but the Italian ruling class learned how to build fascism as a successful repressive force earlier than their cohorts in Spain.

On the other hand, the Italian variety failed sooner than the Spanish regime, and that gave anarchism a chance to recover there shortly after World War II. Such space didn’t open up in Spain until the mid-seventies following the death of Franco.

Yet even with the ability to organize above ground in the 1950s, Italian anarchism stagnated, then splintered, showing little vitality. Only in the late sixties and early seventies, as a new wave of radicalism ran up against the limits of a Marxism still dominated by the old Left, did anti-authoritarian concepts and history begin to reassert themselves on the streets and in the workplaces, re-invigorated with the desire not just for a new politics, but for a new way of living.

Early on, the new anarchists discovered that even the atheism of their political predecessors hadn’t freed up the social spaces and values long controlled by the Catholic Church. As in many other places, a patriarchal ethos still dominated political organizations, and traditional anarchist habits still had as much difficulty with gender issues as capitalist society.

We biography and inspired documentary media. But the gut-level tensions and exasperations of living under modern capitalism lend themselves much more readily to narrative fiction.

A documentary can easily get bogged down in telling the compulsory “how and why,” but good fiction shows you the experience and puts you to work evaluating it in terms of your own life.

Norman Nawrocki’s novel, Cazzarola!, explores the microcosm of the Italian experience through a few generations of Italian militants from the late 1800s to recent events. It doesn’t chronicle the lives of these families as much as bring some of the episodes of their struggles to life in an almost stream-of-consciousness remembering—not as irrationality, but as the vivid and confusing, breathtaking and brutal confrontations with bourgeois society that circle round and round throughout this history.

The book’s title is a kind of expletive that often punctuates the speech of people caught up in such confrontations.

Nawrocki clearly wants to connect the experiences of family members from different historical periods, even though each has expressed their goals differently. State repression has fundamentally the same roots and remarkably similar methods throughout this history, but the experience of people fighting it comes out of different visions of the free society they are trying to achieve.

The state hardly changes in character throughout these years. It wears different clothes, but its rigid character armour underneath is instantly recognizable in the way it treats each generation of the Discordias, the family Nawracki chronicles through the years.

The most striking differences across the generations and the real flesh of Cazzarola! have to do with contradictions of gender and ethnicity. The modern-day story centres on the movement of immigrants into Italy, in particular the Roma who, persecuted more openly in their eastern European homelands, respond in the way such minorities and conquered people have for thousands of years: they quite rationally move to places appearing to provide a more secure means of survival.

Their Otherness within Europe, however, reduces the Roma to lumpenproletariat status for Italy’s worn-out industrialism, and fodder for the hate strategies of neo-fascist gangs and politicians.

A new generation of political activists, now motivated by broader social justice concerns, in defending the Roma, find themselves up against a modern thuggery recognizable through their grandparents’ memories.

Interwoven within this story, and in some ways more prominent on the surface of it, is the condition of women. On one hand, the novel presents at its centre a tragedy within a tragedy, the constant threat of violence to a young Roma woman who, despite her remarkable strength and agility, hangs on precariously in a makeshift Italian refugee camp with her widowed mother and two younger siblings.

On the other, we read about the ambiguous role of women throughout this century-long period of Italian anarchism. Typically for that era, men dominate the words and actions of the class struggle, which mostly takes place in the public sphere—in factories, in organizational meetings, in militant activities.

But in significant scenes, Nawrocki shows how women insist on being part of the struggle; that men take the domestic sphere into consideration in strategies of resistance. As well, women attacked truckloads of fascists with boiling water and other bombardments from the upper stories of their tenement buildings.

Women’s activities on the surface appeared to be merely support for their male relatives, but in fact added depth to the struggle within society and turned such tactics as factory occupations into a social crisis, not just an economic one.

However, the novel’s sketching of historical continuity through the genealogical thread of the Discordia family episodes raises the question of anarchism as a tradition. Is an anarchism handed down from parent to child qualitatively different? What distinguishes it from other inherited practices such as religion? Or, is anarchism such a good idea that it should be readily embraced no matter where it is found—the university, the factory, the family, or the street?
The novel touches on all these forms of transmission, but pays particular homage to the family.

Anarchists frequently argue that the family is a reactionary structure, always forcing on children the authoritarianism and patriarchy of the parents.

But the family structure traced in Cazzarola! bears no resemblance to the traditional nuclear family. It is emphatically an extended family with individual beliefs and strategies developing through a power structure that is more horizontal than vertical.

It puts the diverse personalities of siblings and cousins on flatter ground where love and loyalties make this a collective process. Nawrocki’s interweaving of these characters’ questionings and challenges presents a microcosm of the fundamental idea of an anarchism that nourishes the dialectic of individual liberty within a community.

The book is not without problems, however. Keeping track of the various characters, many of whom have similar names, is often difficult even with a list at the beginning of the book (which would be more effective as a chart). While subheadings help in signalling the shift in time-periods, they are confusing as markers of narrative voice changes.

Nonetheless, the book’s multiple storylines keep you going and its dramatic tension builds immediately. An early scene clearly gives us a sense of the future—we suspect, correctly, that it is taking place after the main events in the book, but it is suffused with such tragedy that I carried with me a feeling of foreboding and anxiety through each new scene depicting the main protagonists.

This is hardly a flaw; a novel like this warns against complacency even in the glow of an anarchist history that really does move forward and a love story about which you want all obstacles overcome.

Given this, and given what we’ve learned from generations of liberators about fighting an oppressive society, we would be foolish to assume that the system we face treats us any less cruelly.

Steve Izma worked at Dumont Press Graphix, a worker- owned and controlled typesetting shop in the seventies and eighties, and continues to work in publishing. He lives in Kitchener, Ontario.

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How and why I wrote: Cazzarola!: Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy: A Novel

by Norman Nawrocki
Fifth Estate pg 42-44
Fall/Winter 2014

As an anarchist writer, I’m no different from other scribes who try to be socially engaged in their work and lives. I drink beer, write, and do my best to live according to my anarchist principles. And I try to incorporate anarchist thought, experiences and visions in all my creative work.

It’s a daily, lifelong challenge.

So, when the Fifth Estate asked me to write a piece about my first novel, CAZZAROLA! Anarchy, Romani, Love, Italy, I thought maybe it could be useful for anyone interested in the arts and anarchy. Maybe some- one might be inspired to dig out a mothballed manuscript and finish it.

The five-year creative and investigative process of writing CAZZAROLA! and the same-named companion theatre piece and musical soundtrack, is one example of how and why I work
as a writer, a musician, an actor and an anarchist. It was no non-stop flow of ideas, research and writing.

Life often got in the way. As did death and ill- ness and breakups and paying the anarchist’s bills. But despite all the setbacks in my writing schedule – I wanted to have the book out in one year – it took five – and given the current rise of neo-fascism across Europe, the book is actually more relevant now than I could have ever imagined.

In the beginning

In 2007, I head to Italy to promote the Italian translation of a previous book (The Anarchist & The Devil do Cabaret, Black Rose Books, 2003, trans- lated into L’Anarchico e il Diavolo fanno cabaret, Editrice Il Sirente, 2007). My Italian publishers organize an incredible tour jam-packed with shows, interviews, appearances at the Rome Book Fair, visits to anarchist squats and endless convivial meals where tables are crammed with paninni, pizza and beer. It’s full-on red carpet treatment unlike any I have ever experienced before.

Day and night I am pum- melled with questions about the book. Meanwhile, out of the cor- ner of my eye, I catch glimpses of TV news clips – something about Roma (“Gypsy”) refugees and their camps. At the time, I can’t make sense of it. My Italian isn’t good enough and I’m busy per- forming shows and promoting the other book (it also included a musical soundtrack and a theatre piece).
The tour is a huge success and I return home to Canada vowing to churn out a collection of Italian- themed short stories. But after a few weeks of intense writing day and night, I stop. Whoa! Sure, I can fic- tionalize all my wonderful tour ex- periences, but something is nagging me. What’s actually happening to the Roma over there?


I Google-translate the Italian daily press. Jaw drop. Thousands of Roma refugees are being persecuted across Italy as a result of deliberate political policies targeting them by the neo-fascist Berlusconi government in power. There are daily attacks in the streets and violent evictions of their camps.


The attacks are intensifying. My growing collec- tion of short stories now makes less sense. Instead, previously faint images from Italian TV news clips I caught over there come into focus. I set aside the dozen or so pieces I have written and switch gears. Time for serious research into the history and poli- tics behind the attacks on the Roma. But how to tell this story? How do I make it truthful and engaging? I dig up the roots of the current neo-fascist cancer consuming Italy and provide a historical context for it’s regeneration. At the same time, I explore the multiple forms of resistance to neo-fascism and fascism from the 1920s to today.


I’m thinking: the book has to reach a broad audience. So I base it on the life of a not quite ordinary, fictional Italian family from 1880 to today – the Discordias– and the life of a contemporary fictional Roma refugee family, the Dinicu. My aim: an his- torical novel interwoven with a contemporary love story. Because what’s an anarchist novel without a love story?

I give myself a one year writing deadline. Shelve the new poetry, new albums, new shows. Priority creation: novel. Given the gravity of the situation in Italy, it has to come out ASAP, ring alarm bells and direct attention to the plight of the Roma – right now.

But a novel is a massive undertaking. It demands 24/7 feeding. In return, it can be all-consuming. After countless setbacks and revisions, this one takes five years to complete. (Meanwhile, the impatient one in me fast forwards two poetry collections and gets them published.)

I spend days and nights researching Italy and the Roma and immerse myself in the two cultures. I buy and borrow countless books, try to watch an Italian or Roma movie every night and teach myself more Italian. I borrow hundreds of music CDs from the library and listen to a century of Italian and Roma music – all genres.

I read classic and contemporary Italian novels, poetry and short stories, Roma, too. I attend lectures about Italian history, call old Italian friends, meet new Roma ones, interview Italian and Roma political activists, neighbours and friends of friends. I try to absorb everything. I live in my book, breathe in and out the idea of my book. I imagine myself in Italy and in Romania, home of my Roma family.

I dream in Italian, cook and drink only Italian, and in my mind, create and imagine the characters that will bring my book to life. It’s more of a challenge to live and dream in Roma, but sporadically, the dreams come.

In 2008, I return to Italy for another book tour and firsthand research into endless questions. What are the historical origins of Fascism? How to understand the problems of a mono-cultured, ethnocentric country like Italy, now post European Union, undergoing profound change in a globalized 21st century? Who are these neo-fascists? Who is resist- ing them? Where do the Roma fit in?

When I tour a Roma refugee camp on the edge of Rome and see the pathetic living conditions, I ask the people: “How can I help? They say: “Tell the world our story. Write your book.”

The collective editing

Meanwhile, I invite some 15 close friends, comrades and respected colleagues – academics, activists, bibliophiles, editors, authors, booksellers, and more – to read and critique the manuscript. Each has their speciality: Roma culture, Italian history, anti- fascist history, Italian culture, anarchist or anti-racist movements, editing, etc. Each has something important and useful to contribute. Each makes a difference to the book. Again, I thank them all.
As the critical feedback and fact checking notes trickle in, I begin the first of several rewrites of the manuscript. The process is both exciting and painful, slow and demanding.

At times, it feels like I’m wrestling with a great blue whale—slippery and beyond my puny grasp.

The book heads in multiple directions as I try to redirect it while making sense of it and making it make sense. I also find myself confronted with characters in my novel who have their own agendas apart from the project as a whole. Over Italian wine or Romanian beer, we have long discussions. They make compromises; I make compromises. The book makes progress.
One day, many revisions later, all the characters in the book and myself agree: done. A distinguished editor and respected comrade from PM Press, Terry Bisson, handles the final edit.

CAZZAROLA! The theatre piece


After my 2007 visit to Italy, I realized that my one year book deadline is unrealistic, but I still wanted to get the message out now. The solution: a short, dramatised version of the story. I take four characters out of the book and reconstruct them in a 30 minute solo theatre piece. The soundtrack for the performance inspires the subsequent full-length musical CD soundtrack for the novel.

With two recent tours of Italy behind me, end- less research material burying my desk and overflowing my bookshelves, and my characters having dialogue with each other and keeping me awake at night, I am primed for a show. The themes: current Euro-politics, Italian history, the backlash against immigration – specifically targeting Roma refugees – neo-fascism, and a heartbreaking love story.

I hang out with Italian and Roma friends to fine tune my fictional and historical cast. I walk the streets of Montreal in character as the 1926 would- be anarchist anti-fascist assassin, a contemporary arrogant suit-and-tie, nationalist, racist senator, a pining, naive Italian boyfriend and his street-wise Romanian Roma girlfriend who lives the refugee nightmare.

CAZZAROLA!, the theatrical show, premieres at the May 2008 Montreal International Anarchist Theatre Festival. The bill includes the first Montreal visit of New York’s phenomenal anarchocultural institution, The Living Theatre, with Judith Malina.

Four hundred people attend. Post-show, audience members approach me, incredulous.

“This isn’t happening in Italy today, is it? It’s from the 1930s, right? It’s fiction, yes?”
As I performed the piece, I was unaware that on the same night across the Atlantic, gangs of neo-fascists and local citizens were physically attacking and driving out hundreds of Roma from two Napoli refugee camps which they burned to the ground. I read the report in the morning news. It was a horrific incident, worse than what I was portraying on stage. The situation had deteriorated. I return to Italy that summer for more research.

In the Fall, I tour Canada with the theatre piece. The story resonates. Everyone wants to read the book and get the soundtrack. They’ll have to wait a bit longer.

CAZZAROLA! the CD, by me & amici
I’m a writer but also a musician/composer who can’t resist the temptation to create and release a companion musi- cal soundtrack for the book. Hence, CAZZAROLA! the CD. I imagined a musical invitation to read the book. Another entry point into the novel that would complement the story with real period soundscapes and songs reflecting, based on and inspired by the novel. I wanted an album, too, that could stand on its own as an audio document, a brief musical survey of Italy from the last 130 years covering key historical events in song from an anti-fascist and anarchist perspective.

I consult ethnomusicologist friends, Italian musician friends and others for suggestions, and issue an open invitation on Facebook for collaborators. I also again do endless research online and in person, more interviews and scour the Montreal library’s Italian music collection.

In the end, I choose some traditional period songs, compose new ones and ask for contributions from Italian friends. I visit Italy a few times to do field recordings and meet and work with local musicians. Amazing collaborations follow.

Driving through the mountains of Abruzzo for example, in search of any shepherd and his herd, we find one in a vast meadow dotted with brilliant alpine flowers. With his permission – and that of his seven sheep dogs – I walk through the grazing herd recording them live.
Musician friends in Italy introduce me to other musicians. I run into people in the street and invite them to play on the album, recording them after their workday in an enclosed town square. One day it’s a spontaneous recording in a 15th century Italian abbey. One night, it’s a marching band in a mountain village with local fireworks. I record everything on the spot with a portable H2 Zoom recorder.

In another village, I accidently hear random pings from a metal sculpture dedicated to emigrants who died in search of work. I record the sounds and give them to musician friends with a request to compose a piece based on these precise notes. I am incredibly fortunate to meet generous, creative, talented musicians all over Italy and deeply grateful for their contributions.

In the end, the 100 minute long album offers music that ranges from traditional Italian folk – kind of world beat – but updated – to contemporary Italian-themed compositions of my own that are folkloric, ambient, electro-acoustic and somewhat indie. The songs, arranged chronologically follow- ing the story in the book, span 130 years of Italian history from 1880 to today. There are waltzes, folk dances, love ballads, prisoner songs, and different soundscapes, from a 1920 auto factory about to go on strike, to Rome street music today.

The Book Tour

I realized I was competing with a gazillion other books circulating on and offline if I want to get word out about this book. So I offer a cross-promotional packaged tour event.

Each book launch includes a roundtable discussion with local community Roma/refugee/immigrant and migrant worker/human rights advocates – where available – to open the evening, followed by the solo theatre piece (with soundtrack and visuals), and a live music show based on the CD (solo violin) with a sing-along of new skool Italian anarchist songs. This is a free offer! “Who wants it?,” I ask.

I devote the summer of 2013 to organize events in 25 cities, Québec City to Denman Island, B.C., with some 30 different presentations in church basements, bookstores, cafés, bars, theatres, community centres, universities and bookstores.

There are youthful, now university educated sons and daughters of Latino immigrants who worked in hog slaughter houses testifying about the racism and discrimination their parents and they faced once having arrived in Canada. There are Hungarian Roma refugees talking about their fight against the current wave of Canadian deportations. This country has shut the door on Roma refugees.

There are reps from migrant farm workers groups describ- ing the massive injustices these overworked, underpaid labourers confront on a daily basis. It’s like labour conditions the IWW fought 100 years ago. All across Canada, I think I count fewer than 10 Italians or descendents of Italians who attend the launches. The ultra-conservative, old school Italian community is just not interested.

For this tour, I do a massive social media campaign, enter dozens of online chat-rooms, and aim for major media exposure. Local comrades poster, flyer and write articles for their community press. The media hype works for the west of Canada, but, apart from a 120 person plus book launch extravaganza in Montreal, kind of pans out for the east.

No explanation. Books or music, it’s the rock ‘n roll truism of touring.

Norman Nawrocki is a Montreal cabaret artist, violinist, actor and educator. He has written a dozen books, several theatre musicals and cabarets and recorded over 50 music albums, solo and with his diverse bands. He tours the world performing music, theatre, poet- ry, anti-sexist ‘sex’ comedy shows, and giving ‘Creative Resistance’ workshops about using the arts for radical social change. nothing- ness.org/music/rhythm

Buy Cazzarola! now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Norman Nawrocki's page




Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables in Musings

Musings on music, books and life
August 26th, 2014

This is not a book about the Dead Kennedys career. It is more a tale of how they got together, recorded and released one of the iconic punk rock albums. The story of such a now fractured band requires a lot more discussion

Fresh fruit was different to so many other records at the time as there was no major record label providing financial supports. This was a band that were taking the shock aspect of punk and putting a positive message forward. The book charts the formation of the band as their early singles were released. The first two being “California über alles” and “Holiday in Cambodia”, both having raging guitar hooks, intelligent lyrics and breakneck rhythm. The story behind the controversy of the artwork and Biafra’s onstage antics is given great detail. How the album came about and the involvement of cherry red and subsequent setting up of alternative tentacles is included. All necessary components to the make up of the dks

Most of us now that the band did not finish on a good note or certainly the trajectory since their finish has not been a mutually happy event for the members. However it is good to see that not getting too much exposure here as that can be the sequel. For now we can read about one of the greatest albums of all time by one of the most innovative bands ever. We can get an idea of America at the time, the punk scene and the socio economic environment.

It is quite obvious, reading between the lines, that vocalist Jelllo Biafra, has a completely different outlook then guitarist east bay ray on pretty much all matters Dead Kennedys relating. It is hard to see what tale is fiction and what one isn’t but the fact is the record came out with those songs and we have been able to listen to them for years. The dead Kennedys had such a huge influence on music and this is summed up by the many quotes at the end from people like actor Elijah wood or slash from guns and roses or dave grohl from foo fighter/nirvana. The effect this album has had is phenomenal and is most worthy of the written word too

Another thing the book offers is a reminder of how great the artwork of Winston Smith is. It is reproduced here as are many of the fliers and posters of the day. Considering the author was involved in the art of punk book that came out over a year ago it is no surprise now has teamed up with once again with russ bestley to ensure that the words are accompanied with the relevant graphics and it’s all packaged very well

If you have ever listened to a punk roots and enjoyed it ten you should have a read of this
niallhope

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page



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