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Towards Collective Liberation in Nora McKay

by Nora McKay
Noramckay.weebly.com
May 8th, 2014

Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis, and movement strategy is what I would call an activist’s handbook. Through a series of essays, interviews, and personal accounts, Chris Crass shares with the reader the passionate, gritty, inspiring, and practical aspects of creating, continuing, and expanding a movement. Using examples of movements from the Civil Rights Movement to Food Not Bombs, Crass sheds light on the numerous struggles involved in activism, discussing everything from finding the time and space for activism, to confronting issues of privilege within groups of activists, to getting arrested. What is so unique (and wonderful) about the book is the very fact that it is not at all framed as what it is: a how-to book. Crass simply discusses every gritty detail of success and failure experienced within the movements and thus gives the reader a comprehensive overview of the components of a successful movement.

What made such a significant impact on me was the realization that the leaders of any and every movement make a lot of mistakes. They are confused. There are times when they don’t know what the next step is. That I didn’t realize this before sounds naïve to the point of ridiculousness, but it’s true. I always had the vague conception that the leaders of activist movements were people who knew all the facts and could work the system and had a plan for every step of the way. I have never had all (any?) of those things, and for that reason I excluded myself from the possibility of ever being anything but a follower in activism. Hearing about the failings of some of these movements actually inspired me! It gave me a sense of solidarity, a recognition that the leaders of these movements were and are really no different from me.

Of course, there are moments when I felt like Crass knew that the book was serving the purpose of a how-to guide even though he didn’t frame it in that way. The last chapter in the book for instance is called, “We Can Do This: key Lessons for More Effective and Healthy Liberation Praxis”. In it he includes eight tips for successful activism. Some of them are more practical like, “Cultivate a developmental organizing approach. Continually look for patterns, stages, and common dynamics that help move individuals, relationships, and efforts towards their goals, as well as what hinders them.” (274) Others have that distinctly hopeful, ethereal tone that I associate with whole-hearted activists, particularly: “Embrace the beauty and joy in the world. It is important that, even as we have a keen eye  for injustice and a passion to end it, we also open ourselves up to the beauty and joy of the world around us.” (282) This last one is my favorite; a reminder that being hard-core, passionate activists doesn’t mean we have to feel guilty about appreciating all of the good stuff and the beautiful stuff that’s happening in the world as well. Because there is always something.

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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Towards Collective Liberation in Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture and Action

by Adam Lewis
Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture and Action

May 2014

Anarchism has long prided itself on being one of the few perspectives and movements that is committed to resisting all forms of oppression and domination. Anarchists have participated in many movements that themselves might not be defined as anarchist, and anarchists continue to add their critique of the state, capital, and all forms of oppression to whatever context that they find themselves working in.

Despite this wide commitment to root out all forms of oppression and domination, anarchists still have a long way to go to make their theory match practice. Anarchist movements in settler colonial ‘North America’ and Europe continue to be mainly white dominated, sexism still permeates anarchist movements, and the intersectional nature of anarchist politics is constantly in need of renewal. People of colour, Indigenous communities, and queer and trans* folks, to name but a few, have continued to work with and within anarchism to make anarchist theory meet up with anarchist practice to renew and expand the commitment to resist all forms of oppression and domination.

A key resource in this continuing struggle is Chris Crass’ book. Crass has worked within a wide range of social movement contexts from explicitly anarchist groups, to Food Not Bombs chapters, Challenging White Supremacy Workshops, the Catalyst Project, and Colours of Resistance. Many of these projects and groups continue to have a lasting imprint on social movements, groups, and individuals in settler colonial ‘North America’. They also continue to serve as further resources for those just entering into political consciousness and for long- time organizers. It is evident that these experiences are what have led to the writing of this book as both a set of reflections on his own movement experiences and also a powerful set of lessons and possibilities for others who are also interested in intersectional struggles for liberation. In this sense Towards Collective Liberation is partly a memoir, partly a challenge to current social movements to do better, and a sort of promise that something better is indeed being built.

Crass has assembled a key resource for anarchists and all those who are committed to, or realizing their commitment to, movements of ‘collective liberation’. His work brings anti-racist and feminist struggles front and centre with an eye to building long-term, resilient, and effective movements of resistance and change for all people. His own positioning as a “white, mostly straight, man” means that there are key lessons in this book for those who might share a similar identity. He is candid and speaks from the heart about his own struggles and experiences of coming to consciousness in a world that is rife with oppression and domination and where those with privilege are often able to take the easy way out of ignoring continuing realities of oppression. Crass is clear that his own struggles have not been just his individually but that there have always been a strong number of mentors ready to challenge his own perspectives and help push his own understandings forward.

The main aim of this book is to argue for continued and expanding commitments to building movements for ‘collective liberation’ based in praxis. Crass defines ‘collective liberation’, drawing from bell hooks, as the need for movements to develop an intersectional understanding of oppression and domination, otherwise they will continue to manifest oppression themselves and undermine the work they are trying to push forward. Such movements also need to link theory and practice into sustained commitments for change. Most directly, Crass argues: ‘If systems of dominance are interconnected, then systems of liberation are also interconnected’ (18). This fundamental orientation, though quite simple, is what underlines Crass’ book and social movement work, and what is in need of constant renewal within all social movements that are moving towards a free society.

In many ways Towards Collective Liberation is a challenge to take resistance to racism, sexism, homophobia, hierarchy and domination seriously within all movements and not leave these realities on the back burner or to be dealt with after victories have been won. Crass argues for this commitment to collective liberation here and now, as a means to creating a better, and more just, society. It requires learning from and being accountable to communities that are at the forefront of struggle and recognizing that it is those who are often the most marginalized by systems of oppression that are the most radical about societal transformation and also the most realistic (160), rather than always those who are most outwardly radical. This observation is a key reminder that movements need to take people where they are at but that they also need to be ready and willing to listen to those they are claiming to support.

A number of points in the book would serve as key lessons for anarchists in particular. Most generally, and similar to the work of the late Joel Olson (2009), Crass argues that anarchists need to look carefully at current and historic struggles for civil rights and against racism and white supremacy. Racism is a fundamental aspect of historical and continued power relations in the white supremacist and settler colonial ‘U.S.’ and yet many anarchists do not have an anti-racist praxis at the core of their politics. In particular, Crass argues that anarchists need to look to women of colour-led movements to challenge their own politics and begin to develop a more nuanced and sustained anti-racist orientation.

One of the lessons from women of colour-led movements that Crass highlights is the value of leadership. He specifically points to the work of Ella Baker as one example for how effective forms of leadership might be developed. He suggests that the anarchist rejection of leadership carries with it the possibility of opening up potentially more hazardous informal hierarchies within groups. Leadership, he argues, is not something to be feared, but something that might be used to empower members of groups to take on the hard work of developing as organizers. It is also something that we must be attentive to, or else we run the constant risk of informal leadership arising along with informal hierarchies.

An additional point that Crass stresses is that anarchism (and movements for liberation more generally) need to be more ‘flexible and constantly evolving’ – including participating in reformist and electoral campaigns but also reaching out and becoming more relevant to the contexts and experiences of those that fall outside the typical white middle class milieu.

Anarchism, Crass argues, needs to engage with other groups and movements beyond just their ‘stated intentions’ and see how further relationships of solidarity and support might be built. Electoral and reformist participation are often thorny issues in anarchist circles. Anarchists certainly have tended to steer away from such types of social movement or political work. I think, however, that Crass has an important point.

Often the ideological or principled rigidity of anarchism leads to dismissing possible fruitful points of collaboration or exchange or leads to anarchists downplaying their anarchism in such spaces. Given the examples that Crass draws from organizing led by women of colour, anti-racist movements, and movements for gender justice, many of which are often not explicitly anarchist, there is clearly room for some increased engagement. Anarchist participation, of course, carries the potential to bring non-hierarchical forms of organizing and praxis into such spaces, but there is also the potential for anarchism to be continually challenged to live up to its purported intersectionality. Electoral campaigns, on the other hand, might be better seen as strategic or tactical engagements based on their usefulness for attaining other more specific goals or for the purposes of movement building. There is no doubt that reformist campaigns, and changes that happen through the exercise of political power, do affect the lives of many less privileged people in significant ways. Anarchists cannot lose sight of this reality, especially when seeking to build diverse and intersectional movements of resistance.

All the same there does need to be a strong caution or critique that comes from anarchism as to the limitations of such participation or the possibilities for cooptation. Anarchists do critique and reject the state and party politics for a reason, after all; however, at the same time, anarchists cannot lose sight of the improvements of daily realities that such participation might bring. The point here, I think, is to be pragmatic about such engagements and their benefits rather than dismissing electoral or reformist politics wholesale. I think the pragmatism and flexibility that these sorts of possibilities invite are exactly what Crass is arguing for in terms of creating and expanding movements for collective liberation. At certain points we need to meet people where they are at, but also stoke the fires to expand the commitment to collective liberation.

There is one aspect of Crass’s work that I do think could be further developed. He traces important links between anti-racist and civil rights struggles in the US and their importance for informing broader movements for collective liberation. A great deal of this work focuses on migrant communities and African-American struggles, and there is no question that these struggles need more attention, especially from white-dominated anarchist movements. However, the one area that seems somewhat absent, or only minimally discussed, is the struggles of Indigenous peoples in the context of the settler colonialism.

First off, I do not think this is an intentional lack of focus. Crass is speaking from his own experiences and the movements/groups/organizations that he has participated in. He speaks from the heart and the value of this book and its lessons cannot be overstated. At the same time, there is little engagement with how the continued realities of colonization continue to influence movements for collective liberation. What are some of the lessons that might be drawn from Indigenous struggles or settler-Indigenous interactions along the similar lines of white-black interactions that Crass discusses? Indigenous struggles, especially recently, have often been at the forefront of resistance movements against environmental destruction and against legacies of colonial violence. They have also been significant in challenging the settler privileges that come to all those who have immigrated to the lands of settler colonial ‘North America’. Just as movements need to continue to develop sustained and committed anti-racist and feminist consciousness and action, there needs to be a similar and connected call to develop anti-colonial and decolonizing consciousness and action. The need for this commitment seems incredibly prudent given that movements of resistance and liberation continue to engage in their struggles on land that has most often been stolen from Indigenous nations. The continued realities of colonization, and emerging movements such as Idle No More, resistance to tar sands development and fracking, and land reclamation and rehabilitation efforts, indicate that it is imperative for settlers to begin to engage in a self-reflexive and self-critical process of decolonization within ourselves and within our movements.

Anarchism has been involved in many solidarity efforts in support of Indigenous struggles and yet there has been little specific and critical discussion of theory, practice and praxis in relation to anti-colonialism and decolonization. Indigenous communities have challenged left social movements to take Indigenous thought and action seriously and work towards critically interrogating colonial privilege. Further, Indigenous feminists like Andrea Smith (2005) have argued for a similar intersectional focus within social movements that looks at the interplay of colonialism, capitalism, the state, white supremacy and heteropatriarchy and the need to build movements that take on all of these realities of oppression and domination. These conversations are starting and ever-expanding but there is some need for a more specific concentration on the realities of colonization, colonial privilege, and colonialism’s ties, intersections and overlaps with other forms of oppression and domination. Although Crass alludes to several colonial dimensions of collective liberation, these could have come through more forcefully and explicitly in his work. As a result, a number of questions are left unanswered: Have there been specific instances where he has been challenged on this front?

Are there mentors and experiences that have been influential in moving towards anti-colonial consciousness? Are there lessons from Indigenous movements or their challenges to other movements and struggles? What are the connections between anti-colonialism, decolonization, anti-racism and feminism? What are the connections between Indigenous and black liberation struggles and resisting white supremacy? These are some of the questions that we need to begin to ask carefully and more explicitly in all of our work for collective liberation.

Overall, Chris Crass has put together a thoughtful and insightful book that will be a key reference point for building anti-racist, feminist and anti-authoritarian movements for collective liberation in years to come. It speaks especially to white, cis-gendered men and the work we all have to do to reflect carefully and critically on the privileges that we continue to receive from systems of oppression and domination. It challenges anarchist movements to continue to develop more sustained anti-racist and feminist commitments, a more nuanced understanding of leadership and organizing, and connections to people of colour-led movements. Although the realities of colonization and Indigenous struggle, and challenging settler and colonial privilege in anarchism and social movements, could have come to the fore more forcefully in this book, Crass’ work on collective liberation provides tools for engaging with such struggles. Debates over leadership, self-critique, mentorship, strategy and tactics, as well as more sustained efforts to further develop anti-racist and feminist consciousness are critical for all movements.

This book presents a wealth of resources and practical examples, especially from the interviews at the end of the book, of how we might continue to struggle for liberation movements for all, in a wide variety of contexts. The task at hand, then, is to begin to do this work, here and now –to build movements and expand struggles, and take theory and put it into practice – in communities, in the streets and within ourselves.

Adam Lewis, “Reaffirming Our Anti-Racist and Feminist Commitments: A Review of Towards Collective Liberation.” Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action, Volume 8, Number 1, Summer 2014, pp. 101-106.

References
Olson, Joel, 2009. “The Problem with Infoshops and Insurrection: US anarchism, movement building, and the racial order.” In Contemporary Anarchist Studies: An Introductory Anthology of Anarchism in the Academy, edited by Randall Amster, Abraham DeLeon, Luis A. Fernandez, Anthony J. Nocella II, and Deric Shannon, 35-45. London and New York: Routledge.
Smith, Andrea, 2005. Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

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




The Angry Brigade's John Barker, 40 years on: 'I feel angrier than I ever felt then'

by Duncan Campbell
The Guardian UK

June 3rd, 2014

In 1972 John Barker was one of four Angry Brigade members sentenced to 10 years in prison for a series of bombings. And although his newly published novel is a crime story rather than a political tract, there's still plenty to feel outraged about
 John Barker. Photograph: Graeme Robertson
'These are horrible times' … John Barker. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

Just over 40 years ago, John Barker appeared in the dock at the Old Bailey charged, as a member of the Angry Brigade, with conspiracy to cause explosions. He was jailed for 10 years at the end of what was then Britain's longest trial. Now he has written a novel, Futures, a tale about crime, the financial markets and cocaine dealing, set in 1987 amid the first signs of the City mayhem that would bring such chaos in its wake.

Futures by John Barker

The Angry Brigade carried out a series of bomb attacks in the early 70s, aimed at the embassies of far-right regimes, the homes of cabinet ministers in Edward Heath's Conservative government, the army, the police, property speculators, the Miss World competition. Each attack was followed by a communique written on a John Bull printing set in which the motivation was explained, whether it was internment in Northern Ireland, the Vietnam war, the government's industrial-relations policies or sexism.

The explosions led to the formation of the bomb squad – now the anti-terrorist branch – and the eventual arrest of a dozen leftwing activists, of whom Barker, then aged 23, was one. He stood trial in 1972 with seven others: the Stoke Newington Eight, as they were called, because of the location of their flat.

Four of the defendants were acquitted but Barker, along with Hilary Creek, Anna Mendelssohn and Jim Greenfield, were convicted on majority verdicts. While some of the evidence against them was dubious, Barker acknowledges that "they framed a guilty man". The jury asked the judge for leniency and Mr Justice James, having told the defendants that they suffered from "a warped understanding of sociology", duly gave them 10 years rather than a possible 15.

Barker defended himself in the trial. "At least one person in a political trial should always do so," he says when we meet in his small flat, not far from where he was arrested all those years ago.

Some of the lawyers in court said he could have made a successful barrister and the Observer likened his closing speech to that of "a Non-Conformist minister trying to put over the Message".

Futures was written more than 20 years ago and its publication by the radical imprint PM Press later this month (via Kickstarter) follows earlier editions in France and Germany. It tells the story of Carol, a young single mother and drug dealer, Gordon, a "tasty", self-regarding old-school London gangster, and two coke-snorting financial analysts, Phil and Jack, who entertain a fantasy of a cocaine futures market. Their internal lives are described in a richly original, cliche-free style and the book is remarkably prescient. "It's a kind of crime novel – in no way a political tract," says Barker. "Will Carol or won't she do this one big deal that will get her out of the drug world? I feel very sympathetic to her – she is representative of a very ordinary person who has to make this decision. I wanted the gangster character to be totally unromanticised – nasty but boring."

The son of a sub-editor on the sports desk of the Evening Standard, Barker grew up in Willesden, north-west London, and was attending CND demonstrations at the age of 15. He read English at Clare College, Cambridge, where he met Greenfield, later a co-defendant. In what was called the Campaign Against Assessment, he and a group of like-minded students tore up their final exam papers. "We went to the front of the exam room and said 'Down with elitism', or something like that. The university was very annoyed. It was quite a sustained campaign – we did it because the British education system is basically one of exclusion, repressing any kind of critical thinking for most people."

An Angry Brigade march in north-west London in 1972.    An Angry Brigade march in north-west London in 1972. Photograph: Hulton Archive

Initially, he made a living with a weekend book stall in Petticoat Lane market in east London, and building work. His increasing involvement with politics, in Notting Hill via the Claimants' Union – which campaigned to get people the benefits to which they were entitled – and other groups led him eventually into the world of the Angry Brigade. Their aim was to damage property rather than people and no one was killed or seriously injured by their actions.

"Looking back, the kind of things the Angry Brigade did would be far more relevant now," he says. "We thought, 'Oh yes, we're going to win, society is going to be transformed in a socialistic direction.' But I feel angrier than I ever felt then. The way in which the crisis of 2007 got flipped, so that suddenly it's not bankers but people living on welfare who are the problem, was extraordinary. These are horrible times.

"At one level, it's not all defeat," he says, citing gay rights, the women's movement and race as areas where things have at least improved in the last 40 years. "Everyone asks why people are so passive, but my experience is that they aren't, it's just that a lot of the fights now are defensive – keeping nurseries or libraries open."

He wrote about his jail time in Bending the Bars, published in 2006, recounting that when he arrived at Brixton prison on remand he found himself beside a giant of a fellow prisoner who asked if he was "one of them bombers". "Alleged," Barker replied. "That's the style, son, you stick to that," said the giant. He adapted to life inside, reading, listening to the radio – "John Peel never let me down" – and playing the flute and harmonica; he still plays sax with a band in Greece, where he now spends much of his time.

Barker found himself back behind bars in 1990. "I ended up on on this conspiracy rap for importing cannabis and was amazed at how different things were. In a sense, prisons in the 70s must have been the golden days because in a lot of ways the cons were on top. When I went back, so many things we had fought for had been lost. I was shocked by the lack of solidarity and also there was an awful lot of heroin."

Of the eight defendants, only one has written at length about the case: Stuart Christie, who was acquitted, recounted his own experiences in his memoir, Granny Made Me An Anarchist, and described Barker's advocacy in court as "worthy of Tom Paine". Those convicted never went into print about it.

"There was no vow of silence but I don't think anyone wanted to trade on it in any way," says Barker. "After we came out, we all got involved in politics in different ways and none of us wanted to discredit whatever we were in – 'Oh, these dreadful people who were in the Angry Brigade'. To be honest, I don't think it's that interesting. I'm not saying this out of false modesty but our support group was more interesting than us."

Not that there has been any shortage of novels – from Hari Kunzru's My Revolutions to Jake Arnott's Johnny Come Home, or screenplays (Our Friends in the North) loosely based on them. There have also been non-fiction books: Anarchy in the UK, by Tom Vague, published in 1997, was reviewed thus by Barker for Mute magazine: "It's a grisly business being given a book about your own past. There's this vaguely iconic photo of one's younger self and the feeling that you're trapped in a sheaf of yellowing news clippings."

On release from his second stretch inside, "by luck, I got a job at an overnight news-clipping agency that wasn't interested in my past, which I did for two years. Then an old comrade kindly showed me a few tricks about book-indexing, so that's been my main bread-and-butter ever since." As literary inspirations, he cites James Kelman and Madison Smartt Bell, Kafka and William Faulkner. Kunzru has praised Barker's novel as a "portrait of a cynical money-hungry culture" that "skewers a moment in history".

He has two other novels in the pipeline, one about the media, called Radio Signals, the other, a love story, set in Greece in 1981, at the time of a brief political optimism there.

His current political involvement is with a project entitled Loomshuttles, with Austrian artist Ines Doujak, about "textiles and colonialism", which will take him shortly to Sao Paulo, where it will feature in exhibition form at the Biennale. "Textiles was the first mass tradable commodity, so I've been investigating the globalised trade over the last thousand years." He is also involved with compiling a series of anti-dictionaries called Terms and Conditions that define such key current words and phrases as "not fit for purpose", "empowerment" and "mission statement", the publication of which should not lead to a visit from Special Branch. At least, not yet.

Buy Futures now | Buy Futures e-Book now | Back to John Barkers Author Page




The Struggle For The Commons

by Paul Buhle
Swans.com
June 2nd, 2014
 
Peter Linebaugh has long been one of the most unusual, some would so idiosyncratic, left-wing writers in an era when orthodox Marxism has become so rare, heterodoxy threatens to banish its old rival entirely. Why so rare, this Linebaugh? A good question, a very good question.

Let us begin from the standpoint of the world-historic mentors that we share: E. P. Thompson and C.L.R. James, two fellows who (among other things) substituted initials for their first names to everyone but intimates. These giants gave off the scent or sense of nineteenth century dreams and ideals, English novelists shared and savored since childhood, the instinct for a very particular class struggle, and an even more particular working-class sport: cricket. James was an avid Hegelian; Thompson seemed to be a non-Hegelian or perhaps he only wanted to be viewed as a digger into historical archives (he did it longer than James, though they dug up treasures on display for millions of readers in two revolutionary classics, The Making of the English Working Class and The Black Jacobins, respectively). That Thompson was a Communist through his youth, until a dramatic break, and James a Trotskyist until an equally dramatic break, also seems to bear upon Linebaugh, somehow.

The struggle for the "commons," the common space once held widely and increasingly stolen away over the centuries, is the leitmotif. Linebaugh enjoys wandering around the subject in the way that Walt Whitman loved loafing: not really a form of laziness but rather a meditation not to be reached in a straight, i.e., scholarly, path. The long memory of the European forests and their uses by common people, the connections of casual theft (wood, for instance) with Luddism and resistance against the emerging power structures and their mechanical world, the literary specification of resistance in Shelley's Queen Mab, the connections of William Morris and E.P. Thompson, memories of the Magna Carta and of Wat Tyler -- all these connect with the English history that Linebaugh knows so well and has explicated in London Hanged. I appreciate in particular his exploration of the first canonical (if rarely accepted as such) English poem, Piers Plowman, because Linebaugh has perfectly captured the pitch of this seemingly theological but actually quite political classic. I am drawn to this analysis because I plundered it so thoroughly for my little book on Robin Hood (with the same publisher).

I am not sure that his exploration of American themes is so keen. He offers his own Tom Paine, to good effect, leaving aside the Paine with almost imperial wishes for imposing reason upon an unreasonable world. He travels on to nineteenth century reformers, white and African American, those dreamers who spelled out utopian possibilities of a transracial society and worked on them concretely, in the Underground Railroad. He goes on to sketch out his perspectives on Indigenism, failed revolts to create a different republic (or several, or many, of them) decades before Abolitionism took hold of large populations.

Linebaugh closes with an odd rumination on the late 1940s Nevada days of C.L.R. James, the dexterous thinker working with his hands on a ranch in that state so as to finalize a divorce from one wife (back in Trinidad) and marry another, destined to be divorced in short order.

Linebaugh envisions the out-of-place figure as the savant of a disappeared and invisible Commons. He points to counter-evidence: James, the great race-theorist, seemed oblivious to the very Paiute territory that had been plundered and on which he worked, sat, and wrote what came to be called "The Nevada Document," aka "Notes on Dialectics." There's a bit more stumbling here, as the reference to James publishing "The Gathering Forces," an incomplete essay written by several hands, in the student radical journal Radical America in 1971. The essay, meant to be part of a group document never completed, had been written years earlier and James only consented to have us publish an excerpted version in what was still a New Left but no longer a student journal.

I'm quibbling, mainly because Radical America happened to be my journal and Linebaugh has not quite successfully brought the centuries and generations, Commons and memories, or dreams of a restored Commons, together. Never mind: there are thoughts here, often uncollated, more than enough to go around.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Peter Linebaugh's Author Page




Accompany for Change

by Chris Kortright
Anthropology Now
February 25th, 2014

As an academic discipline that draws its force from work in the field, anthropology has a long and complex relationship with movements for social change such as anti- colonial and land claim movements as well as agrarian insurgencies. Some anthropolo- gists use ethnography to voice concerns and draw attention to rural and urban struggles at the local and global scale. Although they well may be committed to the support of, and solidarity with, social movements, more often than not their position is that of the “expert”—positioned outside. Researchers enter a location for an extended period of time but ultimately they return “home.” Home is, again, on the outside. That said, there are many intellectuals and researchers who are creating projects that challenge this position of outside expert; they attempt to produce research practices that involve working closely with the community, which in turn helps to set the direction, scope and goals of the research. There is much to learn from this approach to research practice and collaboration. And to learn, intellectuals are beginning to listen to voices rising from within social movements themselves.
One such voice—actually a pair of voices—is that of Staughton and Alice Lynd.

Although Staughton Lynd is author of record, his partner Alice Lynd has contributed significantly to the text; this makes for a dynamic volume informed by both their backgrounds.

They both wear a lot of different hats. Staughton Lynd is a labor historian, lawyer, author, conscientious objector, peace activist and civil rights activist as well as tax resister. Alice Lynd is an author and paralegal turned lawyer who has worked with conscientious objectors and prisoners; she is a peace and civil rights activist as well as tax resister. This small and accessible book weaves together their experiences fighting for social change with oral histories they have compiled alongside philosophical and spiritual reflections.

The Lynds distinguish two different, yet entangled, strategies of social change: or- ganizing and accompanying.

In the first part of the book, they argue that the political left should move away from long-standing practices of “organizing.” In this model, organizers are “experts” separated from those they are “organizing.” This practice of organizing has its tradition in the labor movement and is iconically represented in movies such as Norma Rae and discussed through the example of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation Training Institute and the Student Nonviolent Co- ordinating Committee (SNCC).

Here the “organizer” is sent into a town where he or she seeks to organize and unionize a local labor force. Win or lose, the organizer eventually hits the road for the next campaign, leaving the local workers on their own for better or worse. The Lynds dismantle this model in the first half of the book to raise questions about the role of expertise in relation to projects of political engagement. “If an organizer considers that he or she already knows not only the objective to be sought but how to get there,” Staughton writes, “there is no reason to give equal importance to the people being organized. Listening, under these circumstances, will be merely tactical, asking the question: “Is there enough support ‘out there’ for our pre- planned campaign to succeed?”

In contrast to this model of teaching and tasking, “accompanying” is presented as practices of listening, learning and moving jointly—practices and experiences the Lynds believe are the first steps necessary for “walking together” into what the Zap- atistas call “another world.”

Accompanying, or accompaniment, is a loosely intrarelated set of practices centered on equality, listening and seeking consensus. Best articulated as equality of all participants, this practice is founded on listening and flexibility in which outcomes are not predetermined. But it does always require the elimination of vertical power relations (owners-workers as well as experts-community) and political alien- ation. The reader learns that understanding accompaniment is only possible through the possibility of “doing.” As a practice, rather than a model, accompaniment is explored through the work and networks of conscientious objectors and war resisters, the journey of awakening by Archbishop Oscar Romero, insurgent prisoners and the Occupy movement.

The Lynds analyze “organizing” and “ac- companiment” by looking at five social movements in which they themselves participated: the labor, civil rights, anti-war, and prisoner rights movements as well as movements emerging from Occupy Wall Street. They criticize organizing methodol- ogy and philosophy by telling the stories of those struggling for horizontal relations and practices within vertical and hierarchical situations. While analyzing the organizing practices of the CIO, for example, Staughton tells the stories of individuals such as Marty Glaberman and John Sargent whose practices fell much closer to “accompaniment” than “organizing” as they worked within their local unions challeng- ing the structure and direction of a centralized and hierarchical labor movement.

True to their own practice of listening, the Lynds present the Little Steel strike of 1937 at Inland Steel as an oral history told by Sargent. The steelworkers had failed to win a contract, but got an agreement that obligated the company to recognize and negotiate with either the Steelworkers Union or “any other organization” the workers wanted to represent them. So “the rank-n-file” took the local union in their own hands. Sargent tells the story in his own voice: “... as a result of the enthusiasm of the people in the mill you had a series of strikes, wildcats, shut-downs, slow-downs, anything working people could think of to secure for themselves what they decided they had to have.” Later when the official union was recognized as the workers’ ex- clusive bargaining power, many of the “rank-n-file” workers felt they lost power because of clauses prohibiting strikes for the life of any given agreement.

In a similar vein, the personal histories of individuals such as Sylvia Woods, Katherine Hyndman and Vicky Starr are used to illus- trate the gendered struggles of female workers as they demanded to be heard by their unions and their employers. Struggles within the SNCC are told through the stories of Ella Baker, one of its founders, who was skeptical of centralized organizing practices and institutional political structure in the early years of a movement that was a complex mixture of traditional organizing layered with accompaniment.

For “accompaniment,” too, the authors deliver a series of cases to think with. Each case articulates “a” practice of accompani- ment that is contingent upon the particularity of the place and time as well as the specific lives of those involved in the struggle. Each case offers an articulation of accompa- niment but not a blue print or formula. While looking at the Vietnam War, the Lynds track the lives and experiences of both draft resisters and conscientious objectors, but they complicate the analysis by looking at those who object to “a” war or “a” situation and not war in totality. The story of Howard Zinn as WWII soldier and anti-imperialist is placed next to the story of Hugh Thompson and his helicopter crew who not only refused to participate in the My Lai massacre but defiantly picked up Vietnamese civilians. The stories of the Vietnam War are read next to stories of resistance by soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Bringing the past and present war resisters together challenges the US government’s ar- gument that a “volunteer army” eliminates resistance from soldiers.

The book’s critical engagement with expertise, social movements and community- building offers ideas for anyone doing participatory action research and/or politically and community-directed research; but it also offers ways to think about the practice of anthropology. The book proposes a new language to think with and suggests that the important work is in listening and consensus making. The text might serve as a wake- up call to those anthropologists who pride themselves on listening, on taking the emic ways of knowing seriously, yet fail to engage political projects in the field in a way that can be meaningful for those with whom they work.

Much like the union organizer who can float in and out of a community, the lone intellectual who analyzes political projects in the field site, while remaining an outsider, continues to raise questions about power in the field. These are important is- sues for engaged intellectuals: about whether it is right to simply be organizers and power brokers who wander in and out of communities and whether one should cultivate intimacies and create longstanding relationships without moving toward something more collaborative.

The Lynds join a long conversation that has been taking place in anthropology about relationships to informants, interlocutors and collaborators. This kind of work— engaged, collaborative, consensus-based, moving between the disciplines and the fields—has already emerged in several instances, including the “Community Knowledge Project” and “The Asthma Files.” Each of these projects is structured around different communities, needs, knowledge bases and constraints, but both are framed on an attempt to accompany the communities with which they are engaged. Inspired by the Environmental Justice Movements, the Community Knowledge Project is a codesigned project that focuses on community health policy and systemic change in Central Santa Ana. It tries to transform the relationship between people and research by putting “on equal footing, expert and local knowledge makers.” The project creates new ways of community planning driven by residents while at the same time “explicitly addresses the systems and structures of in- equality in which all humans and nonhumans live.”

Further Reading


“The Asthma Files: A Collective Inquiry into Complex Conditions.” http://theasthmafiles.org/. Accessed December 1, 2013.

“Community Knowledge Project.” http://www. communityknowledgeproject.org/. Accessed De- cember 1, 2013.



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| Buy this e-Book now | Back to Staughton Lynd's Author Page




Revolution at Point Zero reviewed in Feminist Review

by Emma Dowling
Feminist Review
(2014) 106

Revolutions do not simply result from changes at the top of a regime, from the replacement of one leader for another. Real transformations occur when the social relations that make up everyday life change, when there is a revolution within and across the stratifications of the social body. In Revolution at Point Zero, feminist scholar and activist Silvia Federici offers the kind of revolutionary perspective that is capable of revealing the obstacles that stand in the way of such change.

Her work concentrates on the hierarchies and divisions that divide and pit us against one another in a system that relies upon the devaluation of human activity in order to impose its rule. Moreover, for Federici, an unfinished feminist revolution characterises our present, meaning that any transformatory perspective must contest the subjugation of women’s bodies and labour, not as a separate sphere, but as part of the collective transformation of social relations necessary for real change to occur.

The essays in this volume are collected from nigh on four decades of involvement in social movements, bringing together Federici’s political thought across the myriad of everyday experiences that have informed the questions she has pursued in her writing. The guiding thread is the theme of social reproduction, ‘the complex of activities and relations by which our life and labour are daily reconstituted’ (p. 5). Importantly, this pertains to the ways in which women’s bodies, labour and emotional capacities have been exploited in the relentless and destructive pursuits of capitalist accumulation.

Revolution at Point Zero is divided into three parts. The first part of the book consists of Federici’s writing on the theory and politics of housework as it developed through her active involvement in the International Wages for Housework Campaign from 1972 onwards. The second part spans the period of the 1990s and early 2000s, when Federici spent some years teaching in Nigeria and experiencing first-hand the effects on developing countries of neo-liberal structural adjustment and a debt-fuelled austerity programme. The kind of feminist perspective she played an active role in furthering is one that looked to anti-colonial struggles and analyses to make visible the gendered and racialised dimensions of a global division of labour. It is a feminist perspective that can account for how the transformations characteristic of the neo-liberal era not only spell out a (partial) marketisation of domestic labour in response to feminist struggles, but also explain how the global reorganisation of work fuelled by the drive to impose the commodity form in ways that seek to harness and exploit labour in its unpaid and low-paid dimensions. The third part turns its attention to the commons and social reproduction, consisting of essays written in the early 2000s up until 2010 and the emergence of the most recent wave of anti-austerity struggles across the globe, including the Occupy movement.

Core to the feminist notion of reproductive labour is its double character as ‘work that reproduces us and valorises us not only in view of our integration in the labour market, but also against it’ (p. 2). Here lies the crux of what this perspective can yield for praxis: the need to find ways of living not confined to the measure of value on capitalist terms. This is not only about the satisfaction of basic material needs, but also about the emotional and psychological dimensions of social life. Confidence in one’s own self-worth and the need for real communities of mutual care are crucial for a politics of the present and a view towards a common future.

The perspective of social reproduction offers a generative lens through which to make sense of the contemporary crisis, bringing into view how an austerity regime increases unpaid reproductive labour as the financial crisis is off-loaded via the state onto individuals and households, and especially onto women. Federici is also concerned with how this goes hand in hand with, and indeed is played off against, both the further marketisation and financialisation of social reproduction. Her recent work on micro-credit regimes attends to this latter aspect, where she is concerned with the ways in which individuals and communities are suffering under the yoke of debt. Indeed, the shift from the wage to debt as a disciplining device calls for a feminist analysis that can understand the transformations in political economy that are taking place: both the politics of the relationship between debtors and creditors and the affective dimensions of indebtedness and the ways that feelings of shame and inadequacy are mobilised. Precisely in this context, it is necessary to build collective practices of care to undo and transform individualisation and isolation.

Federici offers an appeal that is as astute as it is empathetic to the challenges that contemporary social movements face in building sustainable, self-reproducing social movements that can imagine and enact forms of sociality not beholden to capitalist appropriation and command—that is, a viable social body. Revolution at Point Zero will be of interest to anyone concerned with feminist history. But much more than that, this is a collection of essays that speaks to our present condition and how change can happen. In so doing, thought and action are not separated but constantly woven together in an inspiring and unwavering commitment to bringing about a better world.

Buy Revolution at Point Zero now | Buy Revolution at Point Zero e-Book now | Back to Silvia Federici's Author Page | Back to George Caffentzis's Author Page




The Cost of Lunch, Etc. reviewed in Ralph Mag

by Richard Saturday
Ralph Mag
Issue 249
2014


There are twenty stories here and instead of calling them The Cost of Lunch, Etc. they might better have been entitled just Etc. Or even better Leftovers from the Slush Pile. Some of these are so disjointed that we get the feeling that Piercy had gotten to the tail-end of the mine, was in a hurry to send them off to her agent to get published and make off (like a bandit) with the check.

It may have to do with logorrhea. Or just simply word weariness. By this time in her life, Piercy has published seventeen novels, eighteen books of poetry, and seven books known merely as "Other."

There are a few themes dotted about here and there that make it all very East Coast. There's lots of Martini drinking. Casual --- if not boring --- sex. Women who "breed." The clitoris makes a timely if ungainly appearance half-way through.

The last story, "How to Seduce a Feminist (or Not)," gives us five tedious date tales --- not date off the palm but the new guy on your doorstep: what are you gonna do with (or to) him?
There were a couple out of the collection that perked us up, though. In fact, two were about collecting. Stuff that older ladies pick up at garage sales, in Goodwill, or out on the sidewalks.

In "Saving Mother from Herself," Mom has to put up with a television reality program in which they show the world all this junk that she's carefully collected over the years. You have trouble getting in the front door, have to make a zig-zag path to get to the bathroom ... just like the Collyer brothers. So they clean her out, tote it off to the dump or to the junk shops in town and she has to sneak out furtively to the self-same junk shops to buy it all back --- the favorite (hers and ours) being a great dusty stuffed owl.

Then there are the cat ladies. In "What Remains," Sandra is dying of cancer so she leaves her three cats to her beloved sister. And after she is gone, the three cats take over Sis's house back there in Roslindale. She begins to add more and you have the distinct feeling that in a couple of years she'll be one of those people you read about in the National Observer who had 57 cats jammed in her house, yowling day and night, neighbors complaining because of the stink, the police come, she refuses to give them up, etc. etc.

The best story of them all --- "The Border" --- comes from Piercy's years as an antiwar activist. She drove young men to the border to help them escape the draft. In those days, back in the 60s, you could drive right up to the border town of Derby Line, Vermont; he'd slip out of the car, cross over Main Street ... and there he'd be in Canada.

Those were the days, right? When the USA trusted its own citizens to be honorable and good, when we pretended to be friendly with our neighbors --- and you could complain about our wars and get heard.

Or at the worst, get back to that genteel civilization there in the north.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Marge Piercy's Author Page


Until the Rulers Obey on Booklist

by Diego Báez
Booklist
May 1st

The Arab Spring that dawned in December 2010 has been exceedingly well documented in real-time tweets, nightly news reports, and academic debates. Yet media coverage of equally revolutionary activity in the Spanish-speaking world has been surprisingly scant.

This volume, an expansive compendium of interviews and essays, seeks to reconcile that disparity. Editors Ross and Rein, activists at the forefront of international labor movements, have collected testimonials from grassroots organizers across Central and South America. The chapters span 15 countries and include dozens of firsthand accounts, from middle- school instructors in Honduras to the mayor of reclaimed native lands in Ecuador to leaders of rural agrarian movements in Paraguay. The editors strike an appreciable balance between Marxist jargon and everyday articulations of social and political realities, and succeed in marrying theory with an unmatched collection of primary sources. Given ongoing protests in Venezuela, unprecedented inequality in Brazil, and rampant exploitation of the natural resources throughout the region, Latin American social movements deserve this kind of timely and rigorous attention. An irreplaceable addition to current discussions of global struggles against social injustice.

Buy the book now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Clifton Ross's Editor Page | Return to Marcy Rein's Editor Page




Check Out PM Press Authors at Left Forum 2014, May 30th-June 1st

Check Out PM Press Authors at Left Forum 2014, May 30th-June 1st

Left Forum is happening May 30th through June 1st in NYC at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York. A unique phenomenon in the U.S. and the world, Left Forum convenes the largest annual conference of a broad spectrum of left and progressive intellectuals, activists, academics, organizations and the interested public. As always, PM Press will be there, so here's your chance to hit up some radical and important panels with our authors, editors, and activists.


Can't make the conference?

Get 25% OFF all the PM Press books and eBooks from the featured authors listed below on Left Forum panels when ordering online with coupon code: Left Forum

To use the coupon code- go to https://secure.pmpress.org/ and place the titles from Left Forum attendending authors (listed below) into your shopping cart. Then when in the 'view cart' type in the coupon code and press apply. Then proceed with your checkout as normal.

Read more about the specific panel listings HERE

PM Authors participating include:

Mat Callahan, editor and composer for Songs of Freedom: The James Connolly Songbook and music CD; John P. Clark, coeditor of Anarchy, Geography, Modernity: Selected Writings of Elisée Reclus; James Kilgore, author of Prudence Couldn't Swim; Matt Meyer, coeditor of We Have Not Been Moved: Resisting Racism and Militarism in 21st Century America, editor of Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U.S. Political Prisoners, and contributor with Theresa Shoatz to Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz, as well as Oscar Lopez Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance; Ben Morea, coauthor of Black Mask & Up Against the Wall Motherf**ker: The Incomplete Works of Ron Hahne, Ben Morea, and the Black Mask Group; Vikki Law, author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles Of Incarcerated Women, 2nd Edition, and coeditor of Don't Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities; Richard Greeman, translator of Men in Prison; Alan Ruff, author of "We Called Each Other Comrade": Charles H. Kerr & Company, Radical Publishers; Angela Davis, lecturer on The Meaning of Freedom; Quincy Saul, coeditor of Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz; Richard Greeman, translator of Men in Prison and Ken Wishnia, author of 23 Shades of Black, Soft Money, The Glass Factory, Red House, and Blood Lake; Stephanie McMillan, author and artist of The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad, Earth at Risk: Building a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet, and Mischief in the Forest: A Yarn Yarn; Immanuel Ness, editor of New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism; Seth Tobocman, coeditor of World War 3 Illustrated: 1979–2014; Russ Davis, of Jobs with Justice and contributors to Jobs with Justice: 25 Years, 25 Voices; and Greg Albo and Leo Panitch, coauthors of In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives.




One Day We Will All Strike for More Than One Day

By David Swanson
warisacrime.org
May 15th, 2014

An international one-day strike by fast-food workers is something new, and also something old.  People without a union are organizing and acting in solidarity.  Others are joining in support of their moral demand for a living wage.  They're holding rallies.  They're shutting down restaurants. 

They're using Occupy's people's microphone.  They're targeting the one-percenter CEO of McDonald's who apparently is paid $9,002 per hour for the public service of ruining our health with horrible tasting processed imitation food.

Jeremy Brecher has released a revised, expanded, and updated edition of his 40-year-old book, Strike, that includes the origins of these fast-food worker strikes and puts them in the context of a history of the strike in the United States dating back to 1877. This opening passage of Chapter 1 sets the context beautifully:

"In the centers of many American cities are positioned huge armories, grim nineteenth-century edifices of brick or stone. They are fortresses complete with massive walls and loopholes for guns. You may have wondered why they are there, but it has probably never occurred to you that they were built to protect America not against invasion from abroad but against popular revolt at home."

And what revolts there have been! Brecher's book should be read for inspiration.  The most marginalized of workers have repeatedly taken matters into their own hands and won radical changes for the better.  Success has followed selfless acts of solidarity.  Failure has followed strategic calculation and compromise.  The potential for greater victories has been frustrated time and again by the decision not to press working people's advantage forward -- a decision generally made by labor unions.

The vision of replacing capitalism has driven the efforts that have reformed it.  A century ago, World War I provided the excuse to beat back workers. But their demands exploded upon the war's conclusion.  Workers took over Seattle and ran the city, effectively replacing the government.  In the 1930s, coal miners opened their own coal mines. Unemployed workers during the great depression joined picket lines in support of striking workers rather than competing with them.  Workers at a rubber factory in Akron developed the sit-down strike, which spread like wildfire and might work well in McDonald's restaurants all over the world today. Customers could join workers by sitting in at tables and not eating.  We could bring our own food; McDonald's has internet.

Brecher's book brings the story of strikes, including general strikes, up to the present.  The lessons it teaches open up possibilities not usually considered. Brecher sums up what we're up against:

"The ideology of the existing society exercises a powerful hold on workers' minds. The longing to escape from subordination to the boss is often expressed in the dream of going into business for yourself, even though the odds against success are overwhelming. The civics book cliché that the American government represents the will of the people and is therefore legitimate survives even in those who find the government directly opposing their own needs in the interests of their employers. The desire to own a house, a car, or perhaps an independent business supports a belief in private property that makes expropriation of the great corporations seem to many a personal threat. The idea that everybody is really out for themselves, that it can be no other way, and that therefore the solution to one's problems must come from beating other people rather than cooperating with them is inculcated over and over by the very structure of life in a competitive society."


Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Jeremy Brecher's Author Page

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