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Lindy West tells Trevor Noah #ShoutYourAbortion takes back the issue from the "tiny fringe"


by Dennis Perkins
AV Club
November 30th, 2018
 

Author, activist, and person perennially taking no shit Lindy West appeared on Thursday’s Daily Show to explain the title of her new book, Shout Your Abortion. Started as a hashtag online in 2015 (because, 2015), the phrase was originally appended to a friend’s strikingly honest story of how her own decision to terminate a pregnancy was both the right choice, and her right as a human being. Intended to counter the then-current and completely bullshit “Planned Parenthood is a baby-parts factory” propaganda films making the rounds of your most gullible relatives’ Facebook pages, that one post started a movement that, West told Trevor Noah, seeks to take back the conversation about abortion from “a tiny fringe group controlling the narrative.”

Calling the campaign “morally neutral,” West told Noah that her new book pairing photos and stories of women who have had abortions is intended to reframe the conversation the “evangelical right” wants to have about the issue. As West put it, it’s time for pro-choice people to stop feeling cornered by the prevailing rhetoric into expressing their rights by pleading, “We’re so sorry about this constitutional right that we have,” and start acting like the overwhelming majority (some 71 percent) who think that a person who can get pregnant is in charge of their own body. (West told Noah that she intentionally uses gender-inclusive language because “trans men and non-binary people can get pregnant, too,” with the acclaimed wordsmith asking, to applause from Noah’s crowd, “Why would I be inaccurate in the way that I speak?”)

As to the way that anti-choice activists have forced the conversation about abortion into a decidedly binary one, West was characteristically blunt in dismissing the hypocrisy involved. As she told Noah, one in four people who can get pregnant have abortions during their lives, regardless of party, religious, and geographic lines, and that, by seeking to outlaw abortion, such people are seeking only to legislate that some people will be able to have abortions conveniently and safely. Citing the fact that it’s pro-choice people who actually work on issues (comprehensive sex education, free birth control) that would affect the rate of abortion, West claimed that the cruelty is part of the point of anti-abortion rhetoric, and that it’s intended to trap poor people in the “cycle of poverty” for generations. “That’s the goal,” said West, concluding with the dig that, for the rich and powerful, “their wives, and mistresses, and daughters are always going to go and get an abortion somewhere.” And, perhaps, have their personal attorney pay for it. Allegedly.

Buy Shout Your Abortion now | Buy Shout Your Abortion eBook now | Back to Amelia Bonow's Editor Page | Back to Emily Noke's Editor Page 




Excerpt of Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women


Capitalist development began with a war on women, argues Silvia Federici in this extract from her new book ‘Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women.’ Illustration by Nivesh RawatlalNew Frame
October 1, 2018

From the spread of new forms of witch-hunting in various regions of the world to the worldwide escalation of the number of women murdered daily, the evidence is mounting that a new war is being waged against women. What are its motivations and the logic behind it? 

Building upon a growing body of literature on this topic, mostly produced by feminist activists and scholars from Latin America, I address this question by placing the new forms of violence in a historical context and examining the impact of capitalist development, past and present, on women’s lives and gender relations. Against this background, I also examine the relation between the different forms of this violence – familial, extra-domestic, institutional – and the strategies of resistance that women worldwide are creating to put an end to it.

Since the beginning of the feminist movement, violence against women has been a key issue in feminist organising, inspiring the formation of the first International Tribunal on Crimes against Women, held in Brussels in March 1976, with the presence of women from 40 countries, bringing testimonies about forced motherhood and sterilisation, rape, battering, incarceration in mental hospitals, and the brutal treatment of women in prisons. 

Since then, feminist anti-violence initiatives have multiplied, as have laws passed by governments in the wake of the United Nations World Conferences on Women. But, far from diminishing, violence against women has escalated in every part of the world, to the point that feminists now describe its lethal form as “femicide”. Not only has violence, measured in the number of women killed and abused, continued to increase, but as feminist writers have shown, it has become more public and more brutal, and is taking forms once seen only in times of war.

What are the driving forces of this development, and what does it tell us about the transformations that are taking place in the global economy and the social position of women? Answers to these questions have varied, but evidence is mounting that the root causes of this new surge of violence are the new forms of capital accumulation, which involve land dispossession, the destruction of communitarian relations, and an intensification in the exploitation of women’s bodies and labour. 

In other words, the new violence against women is rooted in structural trends that are constitutive of capitalist development and state power in all times.

The birth of capitalism and violence against women 

Capitalist development began with a war on women: the witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries that in Europe and the New World led to the deaths of thousands. As I wrote in Caliban and the Witch (2004), this historically unprecedented phenomenon was a central element of the process Karl Marx defined as primitive accumulation, for it destroyed a universe of female subjects and practices that stood in the way of the main requirements of the developing capitalist system: the accumulation of a massive workforce and the imposition of a more constraining discipline of labour. 

Naming and persecuting women as “witches” paved the way to the confinement of women in Europe to unpaid domestic labour. It legitimated their subordination to men in and beyond the family. It gave the state control over their reproductive capacity, guaranteeing the creation of new generations of workers. In this way, the witch-hunts constructed a specifically capitalist, patriarchal order that has continued into the present, though it has been constantly adjusted in response to women’s resistance and the changing needs of the labour market.

From the torture and executions to which women accused of witchcraft were subjected, other women soon learned that they would have to be obedient and silent, and would have to accept hard labour and men’s abuses in order to be socially accepted. Until the 18th century, for those who fought back, there would be the “scold’s bridle”, a metal and leather contraption also used to muzzle slaves, which enclosed the wearer’s head and, if she attempted to speak, lacerated her tongue. 

Gender-specific forms of violence were also perpetrated on the American plantations where, by the 18th century, the masters’ sexual assaults on female slaves had turned into a systematic politics of rape, as planters attempted to replace the importation of slaves from Africa with a local breeding industry centered in Virginia.

Normalising violence against women

Violence against women did not disappear with the end of the witch-hunts and the abolition of slavery. On the contrary, it was normalised. In the 1920s and 1930s, at the peak of the eugenic movement, female “sexual promiscuousness”, portrayed as feeblemindedness, was punished with institutionalisation in mental hospitals or sterilisation. The sterilisation of women of colour, poor women, and women who practiced their sexuality outside of marriage continued into the 1960s, “becoming the most rapidly growing form of birth control in the United States”, according to scholar Dorothy Roberts.

Violence against women included the widespread use, in the 1950s, of lobotomy as a cure for depression, this type of surgery being considered ideal for women destined to domestic work, presumably requiring no brain. Most important, as Giovanna Franca Dalla Costa has pointed out in Un lavoro d’amore (The Work of Love, 1978), violence has always been present as a subtext, a possibility, in the nuclear family, because men, through their wages, have been given the power to supervise women’s unpaid domestic labour, to use women as their servants, and to punish their refusal of this work. 

This is why male domestic violence was not, until recently, considered a crime. In parallel with the state’s legitimation of the right of parents to punish their children as part of their training as future workers, domestic violence against women has been tolerated by the courts and the police as a legitimate response to women’s noncompliance in their domestic duties.

The escalation of violence against women

While violence against women has been normalised as a structural aspect of familial and gender relations, what has developed during the past several decades exceeds the norm. Exemplary is the case of the murders of Ciudad Juárez, a city across the Mexican border from El Paso, Texas, where in the past 20 years hundreds of women have disappeared, their tortured bodies often found abandoned in public spaces. 

This is not an isolated case. The kidnappings and murders of women are a daily reality in Latin America, evoking memories of the “dirty wars” that in the 1980s bloodied so many countries of the region. This is because the capitalist class is determined to turn the world upside down to consolidate its power, which was undermined in the 1960s and 1970s by anti-colonial, feminist, and anti-apartheid struggles such as the Black Power movement. And it does so by attacking people’s means of reproduction and instituting a regime of permanent warfare.

We are witnessing an escalation of violence against women, especially Afro-descendant and Native American women, because “globalisation” is a process of political recolonisation intended to give capital uncontested control over the world’s natural wealth and human labour, and this cannot be achieved without attacking women, who are directly responsible for the reproduction of their communities. 

Not surprisingly, violence against women has been more intense in those parts of the world (sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Southeast Asia) that are richer in natural resources and are now marked for commercial ventures, and where the anti-colonial struggle has been the strongest. Brutalising women paves the way for the land grabs, privatisations, and wars that for years have been devastating entire regions.

Pedagogic cruelty

The brutality of the attacks perpetrated against women is often so extreme that they seem to have no utilitarian purpose. With reference to the torture inflicted on women’s bodies by paramilitary organisations operating in Latin America, Rita Laura Segato has spoken of an “expressive violence” and “pedagogical cruelty”, arguing that their objective is to terrorise, to send a message, first to women and then, through them, to entire populations that no mercy should be expected. 

By clearing large territories of their inhabitants, by forcing people to leave their homes, their fields, their ancestral lands, violence against women is a crucial part of the operations of the mining and petroleum companies that today are displacing scores of villages in Africa and Latin America. 

It is the other side of the mandates of international institutions, such as the World Bank and the United Nations, that shape global economic policy and set the mining codes, and are ultimately responsible for the neocolonial conditions under which corporations operate on the ground. It is to their offices and their development plans that we must turn to understand the logic whereby militias in the diamond, coltan and copper fields of the Democratic Republic of the Congo shoot their pistols into women’s vaginas, or Guatemalan soldiers have ripped open pregnant women’s bellies with knives in what continues to be portrayed as a counterinsurgency war. 

Segato is right. Such violence cannot emerge from the everyday lives of any community. It is “handbook violence”. It must be planned, calculated and performed with the utmost guarantee of impunity, in the same way as mining companies today pollute lands, rivers and streams with deadly chemicals with total impunity, while the people who live off these resources are imprisoned by security guards if they dare to resist. No matter who the immediate perpetrators may be, only powerful states and agencies can give a green light to such devastation and ensure that the culprits are never brought to justice.

It is essential to emphasise that violence against women is a key element in this new global war, not only because of the horror it evokes or the messages it sends, but because of what women represent in their capacity to keep their communities together and, equally important, to defend noncommercial conceptions of security and wealth. 

In Africa and India, for instance, until recently, women had access to communal land and devoted a good part of their workday to subsistence farming. But both communal land tenure and subsistence agriculture have come under heavy institutional attack, criticised by the World Bank as one of the causes of global poverty under the assumption that land is a “dead asset” unless it is legally registered and used as collateral to obtain bank loans with which to start some entrepreneurial activity.

In reality, it is thanks to subsistence farming that many people have been able to survive brutal austerity programmes. But critiques like the World Bank’s, repeated as they have been in scores of meetings with government authorities and local leaders, have been successful in both Africa and India, so that women have been forced to give up subsistence production and work as their husbands’ helpers in commodity production. 

The return of witch-hunting

As German scholar Maria Mies has observed, this coerced dependence is one of the specific ways in which women in rural areas are being “integrated into development” that is itself a violent process. Not only is it “guaranteed by the violence inherent in the patriarchal men-women relations”, it also devalues women, so that the men of their communities view them (especially when they are old) as useless beings whose assets and labour can be appropriated without qualms.

Changes in laws and norms of land ownership and in the concept of what may be considered a source of value appears to also be at the root of a phenomenon that has produced much misery for women since the 1990s, especially in Africa and India: the return of witch-hunting. Many factors contribute to the resurgence of witch-hunts, among them the disintegration of communal solidarity, due to decades of impoverishment and the ravages of Aids and other diseases in societies where malnutrition is rampant and healthcare systems have collapsed. Further factors are the spread of neo-Calvinist evangelical sects preaching that poverty is caused by personal shortcomings or witches’ evil doings. 

But it has been noted that witchcraft accusations are more frequent in areas designated for commercial projects or where land privatisation processes are under way (as in India’s ethnic communities), and when the accused have some land that can be confiscated. In Africa, in particular, the victims are older women living alone off some piece of land, while the accusers are younger members of their communities, or even of their own families, generally unemployed youth, who see these elderly women as usurping what should belong to them, and who may be manipulated by other actors who remain in the shadows, including local leaders, who often conspire with business interests.

New forms of capital accumulation and violence against women

There are other ways in which new forms of capital accumulation instigate violence against women. Unemployment, precarious work and the collapse of the family wage are key. Deprived of income, men vent their frustrations on the women in their families or try to recuperate the lost money and social power by exploiting women’s bodies and work. This is the case with the “dowry murders” in India, where middle class men kill their wives if they do not bring sufficient assets with them in order to marry another woman and acquire another dowry. A further example is sex trafficking, a key element in the expansion of the sex industry that is predominantly run by male criminal organisations capable of imposing slave labour “in its crudest form”, according to Mies.

Here, individual micropolitics mimic and merge with institutional macropolitics. For capital, as well as for men cast into conditions of precarity, women’s worth resides increasingly in the cheap paid labour they can provide through the sale of their work and bodies on the market, rather than in their unpaid domestic work, which would need to be supported by a stable male wage, something contemporary capitalism is determined to phase out, except for limited sectors of the population. 

Women’s work in the home and as producers of the new generations has not disappeared, but it is no longer a sufficient condition for social acceptance. On the contrary, pregnancy is often a liability, significantly increasing women’s vulnerability to violence, as men resent the responsibility it entails. The newly emergent political economy thus fosters more violent familial relations, as women are expected not to depend on men and to bring money home, but then are abused if they fall short on their domestic duties or demand more power in recognition of their monetary contributions.

Women’s need to leave the home, to emigrate, to take their reproductive work to the streets (as vendors, traders, sex workers) in order to support their families also gives rise to new forms of violence against them. Indeed, all evidence indicates that women’s integration in the global economy is a violent process. Migrant women from Latin America are known to take contraceptives, expecting to be raped by the now-militarised border police. Street vendors clash with the police trying to confiscate their goods. 

As sociologist Jules Falquet has noted, as women shift from serving one man to serving many men (cooking, cleaning, providing sexual services), traditional forms of restraint break down, making women more vulnerable to abuse. Individual male violence is also a response to women’s more assertive demands for autonomy and economic independence and, more simply, a backlash against the rise of feminism. 

This is the kind of violence that exploded in the École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal on 6 December 1989, when a man entered a classroom, separated men from women, and opened fire on the women, screaming, “You are all fucking feminists,” killing 14. 

Racialised violence

Misogyny is also compounded by racism. In the US, where since the 1980s the murders of women have been steadily rising, with more than 3 000 women killed each year, the murders of women of colour are less likely to receive media attention or to be solved than the murders of white women – see the glacial pace of the investigations into the serial killings of low-income African-American women in Los Angeles and other cities. 

Transphobia, too, compounds misogyny. Between 2010 and 2016, at least 111 transgender and gender-nonconforming people were murdered in the US, most of whom were black trans women. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programmes, 23 of these homicides occurred in 2016, the highest figure ever recorded by the coalition. 

In Canada, too, racialised violence has been on the rise. Dozens of women, mostly Native American, have vanished and have later been found dead along what is now called the Highway of Tears.

These forms of violence are obviously different from those inflicted on women by paramilitary, narcos, and the companies’ private armies or security guards. Yet, they are deeply related. As Sheila Meintjes, Anu Pillay and Meredeth Turshen have noted, what connects wartime and peacetime violence is the denial of women’s autonomy, which is in turn linked to sexual control and the allocation of resources. Mies has also noted that in “all these production relations, based on violence and coercion, we can observe an interplay between men (fathers, brothers, husbands, pimps, sons), the patriarchal family, the state and capitalist enterprises”. 

Domestic and public violence, such as military or paramilitary violence and witch-hunts, also feed each other. Often, women do not denounce the abuses they have suffered for fear of being rejected by their families or being subjected to further violence. On the other hand, institutional tolerance of domestic violence creates a culture of impunity that contributes to normalising the public violence inflicted on women.

In all the cases mentioned above, violence against women is physical violence. But we should not ignore the violence perpetrated by economic and social policy and the marketisation of reproduction. Poverty resulting from cuts in welfare, employment and social services should itself be considered a form of violence, and so should inhumane working conditions, as found for example in the maquilas.

The militarisation of everyday life 

Lack of healthcare, the denial of access to abortion, the abortion of female fetuses, the sterilisation of women in Africa, India and Latin America in the name of “population control”, and not least “microcredit” –  so often leading to catastrophe for those who cannot pay back the loans – these too are egregious forms of violence. 

To this we must also add the growing militarisation of everyday life, with its attendant glorification of aggressive, misogynous models of masculinity. As Falquet has argued, the proliferation of armed men and the development of a new sexual division of labour, whereby most jobs open to men (as private domestic guards, commercial security guards, prison guards, members of gangs and mafias, and soldiers in regular or private armies) require violence, plays a central role in forging increasingly toxic masculinities.

Statistics show that those who kill are often men who are familiar with and have access to arms, and who are accustomed to resolving conflicts with violence. In the US, they are often policemen or veterans of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. The high level of violence against women in the US military has been a significant factor in this context. As Frantz Fanon pointed out, with reference to the Frenchmen whose task was to torture the Algerian rebels, violence is indivisible: you cannot practice it as your daily occupation without developing violent character traits and taking it home. 

The media construction and dissemination of hypersexualised models of femininity has exacerbated this problem, openly inviting sexual assault and contributing to a misogynous culture in which women’s aspirations to autonomy are degraded and reduced to the status of sexual provocation. 

Resistance

Given the pervasive character of the violence women are confronting, it is clear that resistance to it must also be organised on many fronts. Mobilisations are already under way, increasingly shunning dead-end solutions such as demanding more punitive legislation, which  serves only to give more power to the very authorities that are directly or indirectly responsible for the problem. 

More effective are the strategies that women devise when they take things in their hands. Particularly successful tactics are opening shelters controlled not by the authorities but by the women who use them, organising self-defense classes, and building broadly inclusive demonstrations like the Take Back the Night marches that originated in the 1970s, or the marches organised by women in India against rape and dowry murders, which often led to sit-ins in the neighbourhoods of the perpetrators or in front of police stations.

In recent years we have also seen the rise of anti-witch-hunt campaigns in both Africa and India, with women and men going from village to village, educating people about the causes of illness and the interests motivating male traditional healers, local leaders, and other frequent accusers. In some areas of Guatemala, women have begun taking the names of abusive soldiers and then exposing them in their villages of origin. In each case, women’s decision to fight back, break their isolation and join with other women have been vital for the success of these efforts. 

But these strategies cannot produce lasting change if they are not accompanied by a process of re-evaluating the position of women and the reproductive activities they contribute to their families and communities. This cannot be done unless women acquire the resources they need to be independent of men, so that they cannot be forced, for the sake of survival, to accept dangerous and exploitative conditions of work and familial relations.

This is an edited extract from Silvia Federici’s new book, ‘Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women’, published by PM Press.

Buy Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women now | Buy Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women eBook now | Back to Silvia Federici's Author Page 




Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women in Red Pepper Magazine

By Jessica White
Red Pepper
December 31st, 2018

In the West, the witch is regarded as a fictional figure of fun, the bloody reality of witch-hunting in our past and present whitewashed from the public consciousness. In a cruel twist, fancy dress shops purvey sexy witch outfits to be trotted out on Halloween. The TV show Sabrina The Teenage Witch has recently been revived on Netflix, featuring a cute young blonde with magical powers. The sexualisation of witches for commercial purposes enrages Silvia Federici, who notes that the political class and religious institutions that colluded in the witch-hunts of the early modern era have never acknowledged, or indeed apologised for, the mass murder of women that took place.

Exact numbers are vague, but it is estimated that tens of thousands of women were killed as a result of accusations of witchcraft in Western Europe and North America. As Federici states, ‘No “Day of Memory” has been introduced in any European calendar to remind us of the massacres of the witches.’ It’s a poignant introduction to the collection of essays in Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women. Divided into two sections, the first part of the collection sees Federici re-visit themes from her 2004 book Caliban and the Witch, in which she addresses the causes and outcomes of the European witch-hunts. The central question she seeks to address is why this deeply misogynistic practice took hold at a time when modern ideas of science, economics and the bourgeois class were in the ascendency. Feminists and historians have pointed to the decline of magic, and the fear of women’s reproductive power in the Enlightenment period, as a key to the understanding the widespread persecution of women as witches – rational science bumping up with and asserting itself over the old world, by containing women’s messy, irrational bodies and destroying traditional knowledge of childbirth and healing practices.
Deviant behaviour was increasingly linked with animality in the modern period. Where once anthropomorphism played a role in folklore, the link between man and animal world was broken and animals lost their status as sentient beings, valued only for their use value to humans. The cat prevalent in imagery of witches was one of many creatures that appear in evidence at witch trials – these ‘familiars’ were deemed to be under the control of the witch, assisting her in her evil deeds.

But in analysing the break from the natural world, Federici goes further, pointing to the impact of early capitalism and the ‘enclosure’ land policies that were enforced on the English countryside during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the witch-hunts peaked. The transformation of agrarian economies, notably the privatisation of lands formerly regarded as ‘common’, led to poverty and created social divisions not previously experienced by rural communities. In this environment, it is easy to imagine how neighbour could suddenly accuse neighbour of spoiling their milk, harming their livestock or cursing their crops. It was particularly women – the widowed, friendless, socially outcast, all those deemed no longer productive – who presented a potential threat to the new socio-economic order and found themselves accused of witchcraft.

The second section of the collection is more complex, addressing what Federici describes as the escalation of witch-hunting in various regions around the world, coupled with extreme violence directed at women where processes of globalisation are underway. Drawing on evidence from countries as diverse as Tanzania, where it is estimated up to five thousand women accused of witchcraft are murdered a year; areas of India that are witnessing a rise in instances of witch-hunting; and parts of Latin America experiencing frighteningly high statistics of femicide.
Federici argues that the conditions that make this possible are similar to those experienced in early modern Europe. In traditional communities subject to globalisation and the enforcement of free-market policies, local economies are undermined, creating unstable social networks that result in the position of women and the elderly becoming tenuous. The younger population in countries undergoing economic transformation find themselves competing for land and resources and see an easy scapegoat in social groups that were once revered centres of power but are now sidelined and surplus to requirements. At the same time, institutions like the World Bank pressure governments and communities to move away from subsistence farming, forcing women to become unpaid domestic helpers, subservient to the main male wage earner. The result is that women are disempowered, and capitalist modes of production and labour reinforce patriarchal structures.

Many of the assertions about the rise of witch-hunting are supported by evidence from sociologists and field workers on the ground. However, the data is somewhat sporadic, covering vast continents and affecting communities with limited access to support services. Added to this, while applying a Marxist analysis to the rise of hate crimes against women, Federici leaves little room for distinctions between the murder and torture of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and cases of witch-hunting in Tanzania, though this is more due to a lack of space and time given to each case than a failure of ideas. This is a timely collection and one that warrants greater exploration from modern feminists, and, as she admits in the introduction, from Federici herself.

We do not need to look far to find contemporary examples of witch-trials and the devastating impact to those who are accused. A recent case of apostasy in Pakistan drew international attention when religious groups took to the streets demanding the reinstatement of the death sentence handed down to Aasiya Noreen in 2009. Noreen was freed this year after the evidence from her accusers was deemed unsafe. A Christian of low caste in a predominantly Muslim country, her co-workers accused her of blaspheming the Prophet Muhammad after a row ensued when they refused to share water from a cup she had drunk from while out harvesting fruit. She is currently prevented from leaving the country to seek asylum and her future is uncertain.
The low social status of the accused is a common denominator in instances of witchcraft, of which apostasy is a close relation. Currently 13 countries impose the death penalty for apostasy. It is a crime that draws on primal fears yet serves as an all too easy way for the ruling class to assert power over troublesome elements in society, or remove rivals for land or resources within communities.

In cases of witchcraft the punishment is public and frequently brutal, and are often preceded by a witch trial and public shaming. In the US, an attack on the credibility of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh this year resulted in Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexually assaulting her at college, providing a live testimonial of the events in a courtroom, broadcast live to a global audience. In these extraordinary scenes, an all-male panel interrogated Ford via a female adjudicator. In an extremely public arena, Kavanaugh was cast as the good patriarch, a male representing justice and the institution of the family. He was pitted against the either-lying-or-manipulated Ford, a tool of the dark forces of liberal-minded Democrat Party conspirators. Even Ford’s impeccable reputation and high social status could not prevent her being openly mocked by President Donald Trump, and following a deluge of death threats she went into hiding, fearing for her life. In modern-day America women and celebrities marched against the President and his supporters in support of Blasey, but the public vitriol levelled against a woman for speaking to power has echoes of the scold’s-bridal.

Against this backdrop, Federici’s attempt to draw together the work of feminists and activist from different parts of the world and place them in historical context is brave, thought-provoking and timely. Federici’s writing is lucid and her fury palpable. Let us hope the follow up is as good as Caliban and the Witch. It is just a shame that there is a need for books like these at all.

Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women
is published by PM Press

Buy Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women now | Buy Witches, Witch-Hunting, and Women eBook now | Back to Silvia Federici's Author Page 




Dr. Michael Fine Goes on a Health Care Revolt



 
By Tanya Feke
Diagnosis Life

September 19th, 2018

Welcome to Live-It-Uary, a place to celebrate life while we live it. Live-It-Uary honors people who show kindness, people who create and inspire, people who do good deeds. Thank you for making the world a better place.

 

A Broken Health Care System

If you aren’t aware, the U.S. healthcare system is broken. No, it’s not because of Obamacare, and no, it’s not because of Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare. Medicine was a mess long before that.

According to Dr. Michael Fine, we do not have a healthcare system at all. We have a marketplace. He is absolutely right. Medicine today is focused on profit, not care, and the American people are left to fend for themselves. From Big Pharma to insurance to hospitals, the system is set up on capitalistic principles that put money into the pockets of profiteers while doing little for the health of individuals or the population at large.

“We spend around three times more than we need to spend, compared to the countries that have the best outcomes. The countries with the best health outcomes, the lowest infant mortality, and the best life expectancy usually spend about $4,000 or less per person per year. They do it by having a healthcare system. In the United States, we have a healthcare market, not a healthcare system.” — Interview with Dr. Michael Fine in Guernica, October 5, 2017

The big question we need to ask ourselves is what is a healthcare system? Even more importantly, what can we do to improve health care in the United States?

Health Care Revolt

Dr. Michael Fine is the family physician at the heart of a grassroots campaign to change medicine as we know it. He is a chief health strategist for the City of Central Falls, RI, the Senior Clinical and Health and Population Health Services Officer for Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, Inc., and a board member for The Lown Institute. He was also the director of the Rhode Island Department of health from 2011 to 2015 and has won accolades including the Barbara Starfield Award, the John Cunningham Award, and the Austin T. Levy Award.

In his new book, Health Care Revolt: How to Organize, Build a Health Care System, and Resuscitate Democracy — All at the Same Time, Dr. Michael Fine makes a passionate argument for change. He holds no punches and takes a critical look at how the current system fails us. He criticizes the government and lobbyists for politicizing your health. He demeans Big Pharma and insurers for maximizing profits while withholding care. He attacks doctors and hospitals for ordering unnecessary tests to increase their bottom line.

We should never say, “Go down to Man’s Best Hospital to get your abdominal aneurysm fixed.” Instead, we should say, “An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a scary and dangerous thing. The risk of rupture and your dying from it is 5 percent per year. The surgery can be lifesaving, but the risk of not dying from it is 95 percent a year, the risk of a major complication is 10 to 20 percent, and the risk of getting an infection just from being in that hospital is 5 percent. And, by the way, the hospital CEO makes three million dollars a year and gets a bonus based on the financial performance of the hospital, so don’t be surprised that everyone at the hospital is pushing you to have the surgery.” — Excerpt from Health Care Revolt

Health Care Revolt is not only a rant about what is wrong, it also finds hope in what is right. Dr. Fine looks at public health programs, past and present, and points out policies that were able to make impactful changes. He also uses a critical eye to show why some of those programs fizzled out and what it would take to keep the momentum building.

Time for Change

We cannot afford to continue down the path of for-profit medicine. Too many people are left to suffer.

Dr. Fine encourages us to spread the word, to make people understand that they are pawns in a for-profit game, and to show them that they deserve better. There are better ways to build a healthcare system, one that will improve the health of not only individuals but of communities. If we do it right, we can grow healthy together.

Of course, there will be naysayers. People will say it cannot be done, that we are in too deep. Those making money off of your health will do whatever it takes to squash the message. They may use that very money to spread misinformation, anything from fear tactics to smear campaigns to lobbying and “fake news”, to stop change from coming.

Dr. Fine knows firsthand what it takes to strengthen a community. He has worked on the ground in Rhode Island and continues to support public health initiatives. Now, he has his eyes on the country. He is firing people up about what is wrong with the American healthcare system. His vision may be ambitious, idealistic, and even a bit daunting in scope, but it is a start. We need to see where we want to go and start taking the steps to get there.

Thank you, Dr. Fine, for being a voice for us all.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Michael Fine's Author Page




Fire on the Mountain in Big Pulp

Big Pulp

Starting with a simple twist to American history—What if John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry had succeeded? What if Harriet Tubman had led Brown's army to victory and inspired revolution among Southern slaves?—Terry Bisson's Fire on the Mountain travels 100 years of alternate history to examine a world in which the Civil War is known as the Independence War, and the American south has become the distinct nation of Nova Africa. Bisson's narrative slides between 1859, following the nascent abolitionist movement and the seeds of rebellion, and 1959, where we see the results of that rebellion, a socialist nation filled with scientific advances and wonders.

In 1959, Nova Africa celebrates its centennial and watches as her astronauts land on Mars, a full decade before the real America reached the moon. Archaeologist Yasmin Odinga, whose husband died on an earlier space flight, travels to a museum in Harper's Ferry to donate her great-grandfather's journal, which details his involvement in John Brown's rebellion. In addition to watching the Mars landing with her mother-in-law and daughter, Yasmin must inform her family that she is pregnant. Interspersed with the tale of Yasmin's travels are entries from her great-grandfather's journal, which describes his evolution from a naive, teenage slave to a fighter in John Brown's army to a successful practicing doctor.


Bisson's writing is solid and evocative, and creates a strong sense of place to bring the reader squarely into this new world. Similarly, his characters are exquisitely detailed and complex. Yasmin is conflicted about watching the Mars landing with her mother-in-law, hesitant to relive the death of her husband but unwilling to allow his mother to experience this historic event alone. Yasmin's daughter Harriet is independent and headstrong, while still requiring a loving attachment to her mother and connection to her deceased father.

The Harper's Ferry Museum was filled with dead things. Rifles that hadn't been fired in a hundred years, and would never be fired again; wool coats with bullet holes in them, one with blood splashed all over the collar. Swords, spears, pistols, knives. Harriet was sick of history. First a famous father, now a famous great-grandfather. Great-great. There was no room for real life. Her famous father crowded out the real father she loved remembering. Her mother spent her time digging up bones.

Unlike many novels that examine race and American slavery, Fire on the Mountain doesn't posit a dystopian future where minorities remain downtrodden or create an allegory in which slaves remain enslaved. Instead, Bisson starts with the premise of black empowerment to create a black-majority, scientifically advanced, socialist utopia, founded by people who were not given freedom, but fought for it, both during Brown's rebellion and later, to protect their new territorial boundaries. In this alternative history, Brown and Tubman are revered as the founders of a new nation, and Abraham Lincoln is a hated figure who launched a war to bring the freed slaves and their territory back under the control of the United States. Cleverly, within the narrative, a spec-fic novel examining American history had John Brown's rebellion failed tracks exactly with our nation's actual history and is considered a dystopian nightmare. While Nova Africa is thriving economically, socially, and scientifically, the United States—now known as the USSA—had a more difficult time adjusting to a new reality without its Southern states and slave workers, and a century later continues to feel the economic repurcussions. Bisson also hints at continued violence in America and a second Revolutionary War.

Fire on the Mountain is a masterful work of science and speculative fiction, and a classic of modern American progressive literature. For readers looking for speculative fiction that examines social change as much as politics and science, this is a worthy read. For anyone who admires fiction that tackles racial issues and imagines a better world than ours, this one is a must.

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Fire on the Mountain: Tor.com review

By Jo Walton
Tor.com
April 22nd, 2009


After reading Kindred, I wanted to read something where the slaves were freed, and not just freed a bit, but freed a lot. So that would be Terry Bisson’s Fire on the Mountain (1988). It’s an alternate history, and an alternate US Civil War where John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry is successful. The book is set a hundred years later in 1959 on the eve of the first manned Mars landing, but it also contains letters and a diary from 1859.

Terry Bisson is one of those brilliant writers who is inexplicably uncommercial. He has the gift of writing things that make me miss my stop on the metro because I’m so absorbed, but I almost never meet anyone who reads him. My very favourite book of his is Talking Man, an American fantasy, which I will no doubt talk about here in due course. A Fire on the Mountain runs it a close second. It got wonderful reviews—they’re all over this Ace paperback I bought new in 1990. His short work wins awards, and I’ll buy SF magazines if he has a story in them. I think he’s one of the best living stylists. But all he has in print are a three admittedly excellent collections.

It’s hard to write stories in Utopia, because by definition story-type things don’t happen. In Fire on the Mountain Bisson makes it work by the method Delany and Kim Stanley Robinson have also used, of having a central character who isn’t happy. (You can convey dystopias well by the opposite method of having characters who are perfectly cheerful about them. But dystopias are easier anyway.) Yasmin’s husband died on the first Mars fly-by mission five years ago. He’s a hero to the world, but she can’t get over not having his body to bury. The new Mars mission, which is taking his name on a plaque, is breaking her heart every time she hears about it on the news. She’s an archaeologist who has been recently working at Olduvai. She’s now going to Harper’s Ferry with her daughter Harriet to take her great-grandfather’s diary to the museum there. The book alternates between her trip, her great-grandfather’s diary of how he escaped slavery and joined the rebellion, and the 1859 letters of a white liberal abolitionist.
This is, like all Bisson’s work, a very American book. It’s not just the history, it’s the wonderful sense of place. I found myself thinking of it when I went on the Capitol Limited train down through Harper’s Ferry last summer, the geography of the novel informed the geography out of the train window. At one point I realised I’d just crossed the bridge that is destroyed in the book—but which wasn’t in real life. That was the turning point of history—in Bisson’s novel, Tubman was with Brown and they burned the bridge, and everything was different afterwards. In Bisson’s 1959, the south, Nova Africa, with it’s N’African inhabitants, black and white, and the north, the United Socialist States of America, are at peace, the border seems a lot like the way the border between the US and Canada used to be. (Speaking of Canada, Quebec is mentioned separately from Canada and must have gained independence somehow, or maybe Confederation happened differently. Unsurprisingly, Bisson doesn’t go into detail.)
I like the characters, all of them, the 1859 and the 1959 ones. The minor characters are done very expressively with just a little description going a long way:

Harriet was at the Center, Pearl said, working on Sunday, was that what socialism was all about, come on in? Not that Harriet would ever consider going to church, she was like her Daddy that way, God Rest His Soul, sit down. This was the week for the Mars landing, and Pearl found it hard to listen to on the radio until they had their feet on the ground, if ground was what they called it there, even though she wished them well and prayed for them every night. God didn’t care what planet you were on, have some iced tea? Or even if you weren’t on one at all. Sugar? So Pearl hoped Yasmin didn’t mind if the radio was off.

and the book’s style moves seamlessly from that kind of thing to:

Dear Emily, I am writing to tell you that my plans changed, I went to Bethel Church last night and saw the great Frederick Douglass. Instead of a funeral, I attended a Birth. Instead of a rain of tears, the Thunder of Righteousness.

I like the way the history seems to fit together without all being explained. I like the shoes from space that learn your feet, and the way they are thematic all the way through. I like the way the people in 1959 have their own lives and don’t think about the historical past any more than people really do, despite what Abraham thought when he wrote for his great-grandson, not guessing it might be a great-grand-daughter. I like the buffalo having right of way across highways and causing occasional delays. I like the coinage N’African, and I like that almost all the characters in the book are black but nobody makes any fuss about it. (They didn’t put any of them on the cover, though.)

There’s one heavyhanded moment, when a white supremacist (the descendant of the white abolitionist doctor) gives Yasmin a copy of a 1920s alternate history “John Brown’s Body,” a book describing our world. They don’t think much of it, and you can understand why. Their world is socialist, green, more technologically advanced—it’s 1959 and they have space manufacturing and a Mars mission, as well as airships (of course!) and green cars—and still has herds of buffalo and nations of first nations people. Texas and California rejoined Mexico. Ireland won independence in 1885. It’s been a struggle, and it feels complicated, like history, but not many people would prefer the racism, class problems and injustice of our world. Yet it isn’t preachy, except for that one moment.

I’ve heard it said that the US obsession with their Civil War, and the large number of alternate histories featuring it as a turning point, arises out of a desire to have slavery back. I think even the South Triumphant novels are more often Awful Warnings than slaver panegyrics, and A Fire on the Mountain puts the whole thing in a different light. People want to do the Civil War again and get it right this time. The book may be a little utopian, a little naive, but it’s a beautifully written story about a nicer world, where, in the background, people are landing on Mars. In 1959.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now| Back to Terry Bisson's Author Page




Fire on the Mountain: Alternate history with a political flavor

By Marion Deeds
Fantasy Literature
October 17th, 2012

What if America’s Civil War had been, not a war of unification, but a war to end slavery? What if John Brown had succeeded at Harper’s Ferry?

In his short utopian novel Fire on the Mountain, Terry Bisson contemplates those questions.
Bisson’s story is simple and human, but he uses it to muse on how the Civil War could have gone differently. Yasmin Abraham Martin Odinga is an archeologist recently back from a dig in Olduvai, returning home to Nova Africa. She is coming across the border into the United Socialist States of America to visit Harper’s Ferry, where she is delivering her great-grandfather’s memoir to the museum in that town. Yasmin’s great-grandfather was a twelve-year-old slave when John Brown and Harriet Tubman led their successful raid on Harper’s Ferry and started a war of insurrection against slavery.

Yasmin is not terribly interested in history. She has her own issues. She is on the way to visit her mother-in-law and her daughter, and she has important news for them. It’s 1959, and the Pan-African Space Agency is about to land a manned spacecraft on Mars. Yasmin’s husband, Leon, was a cosmonaut and should have been part of the team, but he was killed in an EVA accident five years earlier. Pearl, her mother-in-law, and Harriet, her daughter, have both come to grips with this loss, but Yasmin is still stuck in her grieving, in largely because there is no grave for her husband.

The book shifts between 1859, the start of the Civil War, and 1959, using the Mars landing as a timekeeper for Yasmin’s narrative. Bisson is not overly concerned with how and why the various technological jumps were made, although we have space travel, television, computers and hydrogen-cell vehicles in 1959. His story is about people. In 1859, we follow Abraham’s memories of the beginning of the war. In order to let us know what was happening in the North (for example, what Frederick Douglass was doing), Bisson includes a set of letters from a Virginian plantation owner’s son who in studying medicine in Philadelphia. Thomas Hunter is an abolitionist. He hears Douglass speak at the Bethel Church, and forms a plan to take medical supplies south for John Brown’s guerilla army.

For the most part, Bisson works the alternate-present technology gracefully into this story. Yasmin brings Harriet a pair of “smart” shoes, shoes that “learn” her feet and change shape and color as desired. Yasmin’s borrowed hydrogen-cell vehicle breaks, requiring her to ride in someone’s battery-operated car. The only technological wonder that seems to be a real stretch is the Mars mission itself. Fire on the Mountain is a very short novel, practically a novella, and Bisson could have spared one more page (I think that’s all it would have taken) to explain the history of this global space exploration program a little more.

The most powerful part of this book is the narrative of Abraham, as he watches the birth of the Civil War. As far as slavery goes, Abraham doesn’t have it badly; his mother is something of a partner to the livery-stable keeper who owns her, running a café for him and keeping his books. When Deihl and his mother tell Abraham that they plan to move north, she stacks up the coins they’ve saved next to Deihl’s Bible and Abraham notices that the two are the same height. Just because he is not beaten or starved does not mean he is safe or any less a slave. Deihl has no problem sending a twelve year old boy to help recover the bodies of southern cadets who were ambushed by John Brown’s men — a horrendous task he wouldn’t have sent his son to do, if he had one. When Robert Lee cannot drive out or capture Brown’s men, he resorts to acts of terror in the town, hanging black men and women on an almost daily basis, and Abraham sees this each day.

Looking back from 2012, it’s easy to laugh at the idea of socialism taking hold in the US, but Bisson’s story was written in 1988, before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bisson also imagines a smaller United States of America — the southeast is its own country, and Texas, Arizona and California have been annexed by Mexico.

Bisson is a master of creating intimate stories and deep relationships against truly different worlds, and Fire on the Mountain is a stellar example. The relationships reach symbolically across the century. Abraham talks about his cousin Cricket, who regularly visits the grave of his baby brother. Later, Abraham discovers that the grave is empty. One hundred years later, Yasmin mourns her husband, dead without a grave.

Message books are risky. There’s always the chance of being heavy-handed or preachy. Bisson falls into this trap once, with the book given to Yasmin by a malicious white supremacist, a book called John Brown’s Body. The museum curator, who has read the book, describes it as a “white supremacist fantasy” and goes on to talk about the imagined world where John Brown’s operation failed:

“It’s a white nationalist fantasy, and somewhat overdone. But you must admit, John Brown’s Body gives food for thought. What if the war had been started not by the abolitionists but by the slave owners? The political balance of forces was pretty precarious in the 1850s. What if the war had been fought to hold this nation together, instead of to free yours?”

Since Bisson used these questions as the jumping-off place for the whole book, this whole discussion is unnecessary.

Fire on the Mountain is a thought-provoking, politically flavored story that ultimately is heart-warming. It stayed with me after I turned the final page. I am glad this provocative little novel is available again.

Presenting an alternative version of African American history, this novel explores what might have happened if John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harper’s Ferry had been successful. Chronicling life in a thriving black nation founded by Brown in the former southeastern United States, this dramatic story opens 100 years later, just as Nova Africa is poised to celebrate its first landing of a spacecraft on Mars. The prosperous black state will soon be tested when the granddaughter of John Brown returns from Africa to reunite with her daughter and share with her a secret that will alter their lives forever.

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Michaelle Cruz Gonzales on staying punk and teaching lessons

by Luther Blisset
Freedom News.UK
October 19th, 2018

Spitboy was a Bay Area hardcore band active in the ‘90s. They sported an all-female lineup, a rarity in a scene long known just as much for being a hotbed of testosterone as for being the hotbed of creativity that produced, among other things, what became known as “alternative” rock.

Though they intentionally didn’t affiliate themselves with the then-nascent riot grrrl collective of bands, they did cover much of the same lyrical territory and beyond—misogyny, racism, sexism, rape culture. They simultaneously tried to navigate their existence in a scene that—despite its best intentions—continues to struggle with the fact it’s often little more than a microcosm of the greater society to which it strives to provide an alternative.

Gonzales, then known as “Todd Spitboy,” was the band’s drummer and one of its lyricists. The book is more memoir than a linear autobiography. Gonzales writes of her formative years in a small Northern California town, her discovery of punk, her move to the San Francisco area, her early musical endeavors, and the life of Spitboy, from formation to dissolution. Each episode is delivered in chapters that sometimes mirror the assorted photographs peppered throughout the book. They are short impressions that both document a given moment in time and contribute to a greater thematic thread.

While her story is of note in and of itself, Spitboy Rule is particularly affecting when she speaks of being a person of color within the punk scene, and the only person of color in her band. Recounting numerous awkward moments within the context of both, she talks of first trying to bury and supplant her ethnicity with that of a punk. She then rediscovers and embraces that ethnicity and its accompanying social class when it pops up and causes some uncomfortable situations between her, her peers, and her bandmates. Gonzales addresses the subject with candor and understanding. She raises some interesting questions in the process with a voice that is clear, singular, and introspective while never losing sight of the bigger picture and her place within it.

Included are pieces by Professor Mimi Thi Nguyen and Los Crudos vocalist Martin Sorrondeguy, who deftly provide context about Gonzales, Spitboy, and the time and world they inhabited. All told, The Spitboy Rule is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in gender/ethnic studies, Spitboy, the punk scene in which it existed, the often contradictory and landmine-ridden political climate of that scene, or simply a memoir about living an extraordinary life during an extraordinary moment in America’s musical timeline.

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Heart X-rays: A Modern Epic Poem: A Review

By Dan Cuddy
The Loch Raven Review
November 2018

Heart X-Rays is a very uneven book of poetry. Some of it is inspired and will amaze readers. Other sections are run-for-cover rhetoric, rhyme machine-gunning any ear within range as hip hop and Spoken Word poetry often are. The back cover blurb describes the book as a twenty-first century beat epic poem that ranges across landscapes and voices, with appearances by Banksy, Pussy Riot, hip hop, the down and out, the up and coming, heartbreak and joybreak, while exploring the mystery we call the human heart. Is the book on meth? Despite stretches of rhetoric the book has poems and passages that will excite the sober and sensitive reader. The poem Charleston on page 7 is a very serious and moving poem on the horrible murders of 9 churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in July 2015. The poem starts with these lines:

Tonight, I don’t know which God
  
You’re praying to.

I can’t tell which flag you salute.

I am not certain
  
If you believe in ghosts—

But tonight, I hear them singing:
  
Oh come, Oh come, Emmanuel

And I wonder just what
 
The cemetery shovels are burying

Tonight. Suppertime has long passed. 

That poem is by no means the only treasure in this book. The immediate predecessor is a poem titled Street Scene. It starts

while you


are walking,

your head cradled

in your phone,

your ears plugged

with plastic,

there is no way

to alert you;

while you are walking, cooing


to pictures of yourself,

there is no way

to warn you……………..

The poem ends with these power-packed lines—–

but


beside you,

matching your strid
e
with familiar eyes,

the rapist

is

wearing

those

cool

shoes

It is amazing how that one word “cool” carries so much ironic and symbolic weight. In this context the word explodes with contradiction. The best poetry can condense so much meaning and emotion in a minimum of words. Are victims seduced by inattention, by the aura of a much admired man or movement or promise?

The book is a collaboration between Marcus Colasurdo and G(regg). H. Mosson. I don’t know what each poet wrote. Perhaps they worked together on every individual poem. There is a vernacular consistency throughout. The only whiff of academia is in the second stanza of Game On. However, the use of such words as ”Inshallah”, “Shalom”, “Sherpa” is not to show off erudition but to bridge cultures. Basic humanity is the same; only the accidents of expression, language differ. Whoever wrote the passage containing those words did it to emphasize the common core.

Banksy? Pussy Riot? They are somewhat maverick artists, outside the official approved culture by the oligarchies. They go or have gone incognito throughout the streets of the world. The authorities don’t like wry comments on public buildings, or guitar slashes with revolutionary rhetoric, and especially not by women. This book of poetry is certainly kin to those artists. It has a bit of Whitman in its best rhetoric. However, the “Heart” being x-rayed is not of any particular individual but of the collective fragmented consumerist society. Are individuals and groups of individuals being attacked by the manipulators of such a society? Have values been co-opted, morphed into monstrosities? Are we as a whole victim to our technology? In Leaving the Gift Shop the third stanza begins:

Techno-Human Poly-Trans-One  
Facebooking the mothering void into insta-image
   Joe’s heart shows up on the assembly line looking for a date:
  
Do you like poodles or bulldogs, noise rock or classical music?
  
Gotta go and accessorize the heart.
  
I can shake your hand or run you over it’s such a crowd.

      Sold the land to TACO ABC
     
Got a bunk bed at 123 Furniture

Perhaps the language here is unlike traditional poetry. Even Hart Crane’s section “The River” of the epic The Bridge, the rhythm of it, is dated by the strange and all pervasive technology which has claimed the 21st century as its fiefdom. There isn’t majesty in the poem’s words above but there is truth, an abstract mind-numbing mercenary truth. Whimsy is the whore of invention these days. This book captures some of it. However, recapturing the human is a necessity. The book does that too, and that has echoes of the majesty from the past. Here is the closing stanza of Game On, the last poem in the book:

What is the difference between you and I?
     
Ocean, I am here, let’s open.

Shut the heart down.
     
Why is my longing a rainbow
And where does it go?
     
Coax the heart down.

Sea, bathe me in the lull of thinnest tide.
     
If I can’t cure this rooted pain,
     
Can I disperse it into delicate rain?
        
Shelter the heart now.
        
Sand, with your billion hands, uphold this body.

If the love I feel turns my words to thunder,
     
Let the heart peek out.
        
Waves, cradle me in your rhythm.

There is a lot to delight the average reader in this book. As with individual people in life, you have to look past the annoying quirks that may not be to your taste and you will find amazing genuine inventive poetry.

© Marcus Colasurdo, G.H.Mosson, and Dan Cuddy

Marcus Colasurdo is the author of 11 books including the underground classic novel Angel City Taxi. Over the years, he has worked as a bartender, boom microphone operator, waiter, taxicab driver, factory worker, Job Corps counselor, farmworker, journalist, construction laborer, teacher, and more. He is the founder of Gimme Shelter Productions, a nonprofit organization of artists whose performances benefit homeless shelters, feeding programs, and other worthy causes.

G.H. Mosson is the author of two books of poetry, Questions Of Fire (2009) and Season of Flowers and Dust (2007). His poetry has appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Measure, Smartish Pace, and The Tampa Review. He published the journal Poems Against War: A Journal of Poetry and Action. He is a writer, lawyer, father, and dreamer. He practices employee rights and disability rights law as well as civil litigation. With Mr. Colasurdo, he has performed as part of Gimme Shelter Productions.

Dan Cuddy is currently an editor of the Loch Raven Review. He has been published in many small magazines , e.g, Antioch Review, Free State Review, Iguana Review,  The Potomac, Connections, L’Allure des Mots, Broadkill Review, End of 83.  His book Handprint On TheWindow was published by Three Conditions Press.


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Setting Sights in MRR

By Hèctor
MRR
November 2018

The debate over gun control in the US seems to have faded out lately, but in reality, it keeps burning. The next tragic news will burst it up and the world will echo with it once again. The violence keeps seizing lives. For the most part, these deaths happen inside marginalized and oppressed communities. These people had no voice in life, and many take advantage of their absence to speak in their name. This is how pro- and anti-gun control discourses have silenced minorities, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, and their views.

Setting Sights confronts this debate with the ability to re-frame it in its own terms. Snatching the self-defense question out of state territory also means denouncing its monopoly of violence, the racial, class, and gender privileges of its advocates, and brilliantly in this case, encourages a communitarian egalitarian spirit.

Setting Sights is an interesting book even for those people who live in other parts of the world, in different social and cultural circumstances, far from this debate. This is because it invites us to rethink the defense strategies of our liberating projects and brings the creation and support of communities into a central place: self-defense not as an individual reaction but as a collective need. In this, guns may or may not play a role; in fact we can redefine what we consider our weapons, but these reflections open up a field to explore as they push us to consider how we deal with the inevitable violence of law enforcement and reactionary groups.
Any social movement that is able to formulate and carry out a project of its own, opposed to the prevailing system, will soon be forced to defend itself against the aggressions of power and its vassals. The power may try other ways to co-opt the movement, but ultimately, if integrating strategies fail, it will use violence. This threat, which hangs over our heads, is put into relevance in Setting Sights.

The book is divided in two sections: the first includes a collection of theory and analytical essays on liberatory community armed self-defense while the second presents historical examples of the 20th and 21st centuries. Anti-fascist activist scott crow is the editor and also pens some of the most remarkable articles. His first article brings us an understanding of the concepts developed later, placing special emphasis on the importance of gender, race, and class issues to develop mechanisms to prevent weapons that reinforce hierarchies and power relations. Later, in the second section, he speaks about his personal experience in supporting the Algiers neighborhood community in New Orleans during attacks by racist militia and the police during the days after Hurricane Katrina.

Several voices enrich the debate on community armed self-defense: Angela Y. Davis, Ashanti Alston, Kathleen Cleaver, Ward Churchill, Paul Avrich, Subcomandante Marcos, Dennis Banks, Mabel Williams, Gabriel Kuhn, Akinyele Omowale Umoja, in addition to collective writings by anti-fascist and anti-racist organizations such as Black Lives Matter, Redneck Revolt, Wasp, or Copwatch. They speak to us from their experience and critical thinking.

Perhaps at first glance, after the enriching reading that is the theoretical section of the book, the historical section seems unnecessary and redundant. It takes up more space and falls more easily in an apology of taking arms in scenarios that go beyond self-defense. Even so, as the reader gets into it, the essays become relevant as a collection of important experiences for our history of struggle and resistance. It is a compendium of victories and failures in which the use of guns is a decisive tool in revolutionary processes, but never alone. It is always accompanied by the construction of communities organized in equality and freedom.

However, I can't resist criticizing the chapter on women’s involvement in the Spanish Social Revolution. I think it is a mistake to reproduce here a text written by British anti-fascists (including typos in Hispanic names) since there were other groups from Spain that had much closer and accurate memories of these events. It is the article where the author shows the greatest distance from the narrated facts, while other chapters are written in first person or told from primary sources.

Nevertheless, it's still a minor fault in a book that channels its potential in expropriating a debate monopolized by our enemies. In the USA, this is represented by two sides with the same racist, capitalist, and pro-governmental substrate. There and in the rest of the world, wherever there is State, the oppressed communities are deprived of their ability to defend themselves. This is an unsustainable situation for any emancipatory project. Setting Sights arms us with arguments but doesn't intend to close the debate; now it’s our turn, we have our say and our conclusions must become our actions.

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