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How Do We Make a Better World? A Q&A With 'The Future Generation' Author China Martens

By Victoria Law
October 18th, 2017

The first to examine parenting in radical and punk subcultures, The Future Generation went on to become the longest-running parenting zine in the United States.

In 1990, China Martens was a young mother who felt the anarchist concepts of mutual aid and support weren’t being extended to her and other parents in punk and radical left subcultures. In an age before the internet, she began publishing The Future Generation: A Zine for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends and Others to express herself, share ideas, and create community. The first to examine parenting in radical and punk subcultures, The Future Generation went on to become the longest-running parenting zine in the United States.

Her early issues were old-fashioned cut-and-paste, with typewritten and sometimes handwritten entries interspersed with collages, magazine cut-outs, photos, drawings, and photo-booth strips. Later issues reflected the graphic design skills she learned as part of her post-welfare employment plans. Martens chronicled the events of her daughter growing and their lives changing—such as dealing with infant colic, raising a toddler among punks, and the demoralizing experience of being pushed off her social safety net as part of welfare “reform.” While the zine was often centered on her own voice, she occasionally included reflection letters from other punk parents, excerpts from books and publications like On Our Backs, and even an unfinished ghost story by her fifth-grade neighbor.

In 2007, Martens published an anthology of The Future Generation, covering 16 years of her daughter’s life—from infancy to teens. Ten years later, Martens is out with the tenth-anniversary edition of the anthology with an afterword written by her daughter, now in her late 20s.

In between those two editions, she and I formulated a series of workshops titled “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind”—practical discussions and workshops for activists and organizers about how to support parents and children in their movements. We presented these workshops at conferences and gatherings across the country; agitated for (and, in Martens’ case, organized) child care; and, in 2012, compiled the experiences of parents, children and caregivers into an anthology by that same name.

Rewire sat down with Martens to talk about parenting, children, and surviving the current political climate.

Rewire: It’s been 27 years since you first began putting out The Future Generation and ten years since you came out with the anthology. What’s changed since those years for radical families? Do you think there’s more support for parents and children now than there was in 1990 or even in 2007?

China Martens: Every person who becomes a parent gets hit with [the sense of being overwhelmed and isolated] fresh all over again. There’s somebody just starting, finding themselves totally isolated, and things aren’t working for them and they’re shocked. There’s a whole process that you go through anew. And the whole political climate—it’s getting harder than ever. Everything we feared and talked about could happen. In some ways, I feel like it’s the same thing, just magnified. There are more resources on the internet, but again, it depends on whether you have access. Conversations are expanding, but not everybody can get to the conversation.

Things that are discussed online—how we discuss rape culture, Black Lives Matter, uprising—in some ways, it’s like the ‘60s or the ‘70s. We’re getting back to having those really core conversations about racism and representation, but the physical realities of the time that we’re living in—your housing and your food and amount of safety that you feel and the amount of stress that you’re under just to survive—mean you don’t always have the head space to talk about these things.

The roots of my zine were me asking, “Would you like a better world? How is it you’re going to make a better world?” I was trying to carve out space for myself as a writer and a human being.  

Rewire: We started presenting “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind” workshops in 2006, when you were just starting to put your book together. Looking back, how do you think going through your life—and raising a child—influenced how you shaped “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind?”

CM: That influenced everything. I could remember the ways in which I had been left behind and the importance of support. Parenting as a revolutionary activity doesn’t happen in a vacuum. For me, as a single mom and as a low-income single mom, what I needed was more support like babysitting. For somebody else, they might want to have the support to be with their child. Maybe they couldn’t be with their child because they had to work or live in a different state away from their child. That’s what we learned with “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind”—everybody needs support in different ways.

I wanted to help build support for caregivers and children—with the whole community, especially those without children of their own, and younger active energetic folks—seeing how important community support makes a difference in radical parents’ and children’s lives. Since I then had “free hands” because my daughter was grown, I wanted to contribute to others’ lives, in the ways I knew that were important from my own life.

We started by sharing our own stories and facilitating group discussions with others about their experiences: what they didn’t have, what they needed to build the support that we knew we needed. We learned a lot by listening and asking others for their input. And we thought of “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind” as a continuing conversation that others can have in their own communities and movements.

I was involved with radical child care for a long time after that, trying to create an infrastructure so that we could take care of each other and create a supportive way so, whatever the situation was, that community could support the children and parents. Again, it’s not a model of one person, one overstressed babysitter.

Rewire: In an early issue of The Future Generation, you wrote, “There was a vacuum in the subculture where issues about children simply didn’t exist while The State was fully prepared—with its social workers, public indoctrination and other mechanisms—to take over.” Can you talk more about how this played out in your life? And how have you seen this change (or not change) over the past ten years?

CM: When I had my daughter in 1988, not many punks had kids. It was almost an oxymoron. A punk with a kid? An anarchist and a parent? You can exchange this with other categories as well I have seen others write about in the 1980s—having a mixed identity or being a mother and also a writer, or a revolutionary, a Chicana, and a lesbian. I do feel like we have more discussions these days about our identities and how different aspects of ourselves all make up the whole person. We are still having these conversations! After all, discovering yourself is always an ongoing process.

But even as the Insane Clown Posse protested last month, we have seen that parents have problems with having their children taken away from them for an affiliation with this band that’s been classified a gang—or what’s now being called [by some reproductive justice advocates] “The New Jane Crow,” which has been going on for some time, the criminalization of mothers of color.

When I was a young parent, there was less literature on the subject. Pop culture had different mothering tropes that set impossible standards on what a mother could be. Feminist publications at the time rarely included any issues about children, often coming from a middle-class, white, pro-choice standard where the problem [of how to care for children] could be solved with hiring a nanny and a housekeeper. In general, the perceived powerlessness, the overburdened and underrespected role of what it meant to be a “good” (and often white, middle class, heterosexual, Western, married) mother was something that young middle-class white feminist culture was rejecting. Those who addressed children’s issues or “family values” were often more conservative, punitive, or enforcing the status quo—such as the choice between public school or private school, Disneyland or happy meals.

Now there are more conversations [about how to both be radical and a mother]. But it would require a change in the system of power, to create the kind of equity we need, to actually respect mothers and other marginalized workers.

Rewire: In a later zine, you describe the experience of being pushed off welfare under President Bill Clinton’s “welfare reform.” The cover is a photo of you as a pin-up girl with the caption “Welfare mothers make better lovers.” We don’t often hear the voices of people who were on—or thrown off—welfare.

CM: I’m not trying to make a commentary on welfare. It was more like, “I am on welfare and I am talking about my life.” And you’re not supposed to be talking about your life. You’re supposed to be ashamed: Somehow your opinions aren’t valid.

You’d see it in the newspaper, like “welfare reform is doing great!” In my experience, at that point, I felt really frustrated in my life and I didn’t have job skills or ways to get money, and the only way I could do that was to go to college for something practical, like a trade. So I went to college to be a nurse. I had no interest in nursing, but it was a practical thing to get us out of poverty. That was when welfare reform came. My experience was getting a letter, coming into welfare—and you’d have to sign away different things like they could come to inspect your house or if you had another kid, you’d lose benefits. You’d wait in line for hours and hours and hours and look at all the people around you who really needed support, like grandparents or people with disabilities. Then you’d get to the top of the line and the person would tell you, “Well, welfare is gone. No more welfare.”

I told them, “I’m in school. I’m getting all A’s. I’m trying to get a job” and they’d say, “No, don’t do that. Drop out of school. Get a job. Welfare is over.”

Seeing the difference between what’s in your life and what’s being reported: that was the purpose of the zine.

Rewire: When your daughter was a preteen, you had to move in with your grandma in the suburbs because you weren’t getting the supports that you two needed. What did you need? How could the subculture and people around you have provided support?

CM: There was no place for us to grow. We needed jobs and learning spaces, community spaces, homes, and options that, as a bohemian low-income single mother, I was not finding. I started writing The Future Generation as a bold, fired-up radical. But by that time in my life—when my daughter was 10—I felt just like a regular poor person and very isolated. It sucked. And it happens. There will be times in life we need to reinvent ourselves and we need support, real-life support from others, whether they are ideologically aligned or not. Sometimes grandmothers can be our best support at these times if we are lucky.

I guess if there were places of employment for me, or more “alternative” parents, it would be better. At the same time, it seems these issues are timeless. Everyone starts over and encounters problems along the way in changing your parenting practices, outside of the ones you were brought up with, in trying to change the world, and keeping your own personality and desires as well as growing in your role as a parent. It’s going to be a struggle. Some have it better, some have it worse, but in this country right now, it’s a real struggle. Especially if you are poor, a single mother, a parent of color, or part of some other marginalized groups. Mothers are under attack.

Rewire: What are you hoping that people take away from your book?

CM: How do we make a better world? How do we do that with the choices we have today? I hope the book will inspire hope, and share some stories, and make people feel less alone and expand possibilities.

I’m still angry. I still want better. I’m not going to lie—things are hard. But we are here and looking for solutions and fighting for a future, part of a legacy, not alone. And that’s what The Future Generation was always about: expressing myself and trying to connect with others about real life issues as well as ideals and theories.

We need to be fighting for generations. I hope we get that chance, but, regardless, our lives are the good fight. We want beauty now. As far as how to make it better—change everything. You have to start somewhere. And that is always what the discussion is about …. to start, to continue, and to win.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to China Marten's Author Page

5 Questions with Chris Robe

Originally posted on City Lights

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?If you haven’t been here before, what are you expecting?

Chris Robé: I have been there many times. I think of the intimate environment with books nestled in wood and stacks and stacks of unheard-of ‘zines
populating the magazine racks.

CL: What’s the first book you read and what are you reading right now?

CR: I don’t recall–probably something with Snoopy. I generally read a fiction
and non-fiction book simultaneously. So I am reading both American War by Omar El Akkad and The United States of Jihad by Peter Bergen.

CL: Which 3 books would you never part with?

CR: Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; Roberto Bolaño, 2666; and Kafka, The Complete Stories.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

CR: Lots of Sonic Youth and Velvet Underground.

CL: If you opened a bookstore tomorrow, where would it be located, what
would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

CR: I would like to establish one on a comet passing by the earth so it
could have far reach throughout the solar system. I would call it The Ambassador as it will serve as a central place to liaison with alien life forms. The best-selling books would be tied: Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Yoss’s A Planet for Rent.

Buy Breaking the Spell | Buy Breaking the Spell e-Book now | Back to Chris Robe's Author Page

Challenge Racist Narratives with Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors

by David Pilgrim
October 25th, 2017

Pre-order Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors through Kickstarter to help cover the expensive printing costs of this 272-page, full-color, story-based book and increase accessibility by charging an affordable list price. Donations are tax deductible. Books will ship before the holidays. Check out the Kickstarter HERE.

I spent more than three decades collecting Ku Klux Klan robes, segregation signs, and thousands—literally thousands—of everyday objects that depicted African Americans as obedient servants, childlike buffoons, exotic savages, hypersexual deviants, and, most consequentially, menacing predators. I collected these objects because I believed—no, I knew—that objects, even hateful ones, could be used as teaching tools. In the mid-1990s, I donated the objects to Ferris State University; later, I used the collection to found the Jim Crow Museum. Today the Jim Crow Museum is the nation’s largest collection of publicly accessible racist objects in the United States. Our tagline doubles as our vision: “using objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice.”

Visitors to the Jim Crow Museum come from every state and dozens of countries. Not surprisingly, the number of visitors has increased in the last two years and the conversations are more intense—in no small part because of the growing racial divide in the country. The museum encourages the “triumph of dialogue,” and visitors to the museum welcome discussions about difficult topics, among them caricatures and stereotypes, the word “nigger,” institutional poverty, voter identification laws, police brutality, mass incarceration, and the rise and mainstreaming of white supremacy groups. They want to know how we, this nation, got to where we are.

I remember the conversations that occurred after the shooting of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man fatally shot by Michael Slager, a white North Charleston police officer. Scott was stopped for having a non-functioning brake light. A video surfaced of Slager shooting Scott from behind while Scott fled, which contradicted the initial police report. We talked about Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Martin—and we talked about decades-old depictions of black men as brutes. The brute caricature of black men as innately savage, animalistic, destructive, and criminal, deserving punishment and even death, is one of the many antiblack caricatures central to the stories that are told about young black men. It is an unfortunate truth that not all caricatures and stereotypes die. Some morph into the present.

Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors uses images from the Jim Crow Museum to explore many stories and their accompanying stereotypes and caricatures, which underpin the mistreatment of African Americans. Some of the stories are innocuous though irritating, such as the silly belief that black people are obsessed with watermelons. Some of the stories are nasty and mean-spirited, such as the many depictions of African Americans as monkeys or other simians. Stories that question the humanness of a people are demeaning, but there are other stories that are even more unsettling. I am speaking here of stories about the horrible things done to black lynching victims. Americans tend to like happy history. We like the history that can be celebrated with good food, dancing, parades, and fireworks. But there is nothing happy about the torture of more than 4,000 African Americans in this country. And though you will rarely see it written, there was a parallel practice just as ghoulish: the use of black people’s skin to make leather products. In the Jim Crow Museum we read and examine dozens of newspaper accounts from the 1870s to the 1920s telling stories about the skins of black people—not always lynching victims—being tanned and made into purses, wallets, belts, book covers, shoes, and razor strops. These accounts were presented in newspapers in matter-of-fact, nonjudgmental ways. To understand these practices is to better understand what it meant to be a black person during the Jim Crow period—and to better understand the roots of American racism. At the conclusion of each chapter of Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors, I tell a brief story from my journey as a way of countering the negative narratives and tropes.

All these stories matter. They matter to the white supremacists with Tiki torches and their counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia. They matter to the police officers who shoot unarmed black teenagers and the people who protest the injustices of the criminal justice system. They matter to the prankster who leaves a noose on a black colleague’s desk. They matter to the fraternities and sororities that darken their faces and host “ghetto parties.” They matter to politicians who pander to white anxieties. They matter to the people who are tired of talking about racism. Antiblack stories matter to us all—whether we know it or not—because they inform our race relations. These stories are told, listened to, and critiqued in the Jim Crow Museum. Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors offer the stories to a broader audience, to continue the dialogue and use these stories as teaching tools for understanding our current narratives around race in this country.



David Pilgrim is a professor, human rights activist, and the founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum. In a forthcoming book, Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors, he explores the origins and significance of antiblack stories in order to reveal often hidden histories of race relations in the U.S. and to challenge white supremacist narratives that persist today. He takes on racist caricatures and words, institutional poverty, voter identification laws, police brutality, mass incarceration, and the rise and mainstreaming of white supremacy groups.

As Henry Louis Gates Jr. says, "Undergirding Pilgrim’s effort is his powerful belief that we, as a society, heal better when we stare down the evils that have walked among us, together."

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Dr. David Pilgrim's Author Page

Watermelons, Nooses and Straight Razors - An Interview with David Pilgrim

by Zach Roberts
November 1st, 2017

This is the first in a monthly series where we feature a crowdfunded project. The projects will be ones that fit our goals for this website.

The rise of white supremacy after Trump was never originally intended to be something that Visu.News considered one of the pillars of our coverage – but after Charlottesville that all changed. That’s why when I came across this kickstarter project from PM Press and David Pilgrim, I reached out to them for an interview.

Watermelons, Nooses and Straight Razors: Stories from the Jim Crow Museum is a  272-page, full-color book that confronts and tells the stories that make up American history’s racism. It’s appropriate that the man writing this book is David Pilgrim, he’s the founder and director of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University. He also previously wrote the book, Understanding Jim Crow.

Pilgrims book is a grim yet fascinating retelling of many of the stories that make up American racist history. Illustrated by artifacts from the Jim Crow Museum it lays out an alternative narrative of American history through pamphlets, trading cards and figurines. For a nation that has pretty much from day one been obsessed with memorabilia a history of being black in America told though objects is more important than you can believe.

Watermelons does an incredible job of exploring how through advertising (Aunt Jemima), movies (Gone With the Wind) and tourism (racist postcards) racist portrayals of black Americans were not only mainstreamed but pictured as “culture” or “heritage.”

In the time of Trump, Charlottesville and monuments Watermelons, Nooses and Straight Razors might just be the most important book that you could read to wrap your head around why America is the way it is in 2017. I highly recommend that you kick in and get this book from PM Press… in fact please support the kickstarter to get a copy, and then when it hits bookstores buy one for your racist Uncle.

Why do you think it is that white people have a hard time grasping why things like black face and the Sambo characters are so deeply offensive?

It is my belief—certainly my hope—that most white people living in this country consider caricatured images of black people to be insulting and offensive. I know that many of the white visitors to the Jim Crow Museum are repulsed by racist depictions of African Americans. Nevertheless, one cannot go more than a day or two without reading newspaper accounts of white fraternities and sororities dressing in blackface, people wearing Sambo-like costumes during Halloween, or politicians and entertainers creating or sharing racist memes via email or Facebook.

Out of so many of the objects, musical records, lawn statues that you discuss for some reason it’s the postcards and trade cards that I don’t understand. Is this just an earlier version of the modern “internet meme?”

A racist society produces racist objects, and it racializes other objects. Postcards and trade cards are illustrative, neither has intrinsic meaning—but either or both can be used as vehicles for expressing racist ideas. When I was much younger I thought of propaganda as leaflets with short slogans and bad cartoons or old grainy black-and-white film telling me that someone was evil, but today I know that any object can serve as propaganda, including toys, ashtrays, games, detergent boxes—or postcards and trade cards. Racist postcards and trade cards were common ways that white Americans were taught to view black people as Lesser Others. Yes, memes can—and often do—serve a similar function today.

On page five you describe how the body of E.C. Deloach was found hanging upside down after the SCLC had marches in Prichard, “The mayor, V.O. Capps, said, “As far as we know, there are no racial overtones.” I can’t help but to think of Donald Trumps words after Charlottesville and about the NFL players kneeling. Do you think that Trump would learn from a visit to the Jim Crow museum? Is there a story that you would tell him from the book?

He does not need my money or the things my money can buy, but I would pay for President Trump to visit the Jim Crow Museum. We would walk through the museum—slowly. In each section I would ask him a simple question, “What is it that you see?” This is standard practice in the museum. We want to know what visitors see—and what ideas and beliefs about racism they bring into the facility. We also want them to hear the words of others…to hear others answer the same question.

I would show the President many objects, including objects that were made after the Jim Crow period. We would look at and discuss objects that defame and belittle President Obama: t-shirts that portray him as a monkey, a mousepad that shows him as a Rastus-like Uncle Tom, and shooting targets with the former president’s face in the middle. I would also show him one of the ink pens that President Lyndon Baines Johnson used to sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, creating the most comprehensive civil rights law in this country’s history. This is the good work that a president can do. I would share with President Trump a story about one of his predecessors, Woodrow Wilson, who allowed the movie, The Birth of a Nation, to be shown in the White House, which, of course, represented his tacit approval of the racial messages in the movie. And, I wouldn’t be much of an activist if I did not show him the section on George Wallace, the Alabama governor of my youth, who gained and retained political power by appealing to White anxieties and prejudices.

Beyond the racist Obama meme’s, and t-shirts that are pretty much directly racist tropes from the watermelon to the monkey what are some of the more subtle things that you’ve seen reappear over the last decade? Or new ones for that matter?

The best conversations that we have in the museum involve pieces that are not so obviously racist. I am thinking here of the book, Little Black Sambo. In 2003 I had the opportunity to “debate” Christopher Bing, an awarding-winning illustrator on NPR. Bing had recently reintroduced Little Black Sambo. He explained his nostalgic connection with the book. As a child he sat, listening intently, admiringly, as his grandfather read the story. He imagined himself as Little Black Sambo, a clever little boy who outwitted ferocious tigers. He said, “The book (story) to me means love.” He published his version of Little Black Sambo hoping to introduce a new generation of children, of all races, to the little black boy whom he admired. He dedicated the book to his grandfather. Bing explained that his version does not include the crude drawings done by Bannerman or the nasty caricatures found in later pirated editions: ink black skin, red or pink lips, wild darting eyes, and matted or wild hair. Little Black Sambo helped engender the bonding of Bing and his grandfather, but for African American children it was another instance of them being told that they were ugly and different. I told Melissa Block, the show’s host, that we should tell new stories instead of trying to sanitize old racist ones to make them more digestible to a new generation. I have no illusion that I persuaded Bing (or Block) to see the book through my eyes; nor did he convince me that the story of Little Black Sambo—even a “cleaned up” version—could divorce itself from its history.

In your dedication you say “I believe a better America is possible,” after all the things that you document in the museum and what’s on the news… how do you still believe that? Personally, I’m not sure.

Because of my work with the Jim Crow Museum, I often receive invitations to speak on college campuses. I almost always told the audiences, “We, the United States, are today more democratic and more egalitarian than we have ever been.” I don’t say that anymore. How could I continue to make that claim while listening to racist rhetoric—from the highest seats of power to folks friended on Facebook—that is reminiscent of what I heard in the 1960s in Alabama. So, I am not as hopeful as I was even two years ago, but I need to hold on to as much hope as I can.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Dr. David Pilgrim's Author Page

'The Feeling is Mutual: Interview with scott crow'

By Luisa Black
Rabble Lit

October 2017

Rabble is thrilled to welcome Luisa Black as a contributing writer, and to launch her new interview series The Feeling is Mutual, which will spotlight mutual aid projects around the country and amplify the voices of activists building our future from the ground up.

scott crow is an anarchist organizer best known for co-founding The Common Ground Collective, a grassroots relief network organized in the Lower 9th Ward of NOLA after Hurricane Katrina. His new book, Setting Sights: Histories and Reflections on Community Armed Self-Defense, discusses the historical context of U.S. anti-fascism, like the Young Patriot Organization and the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee, as well as more recently formed groups, such as Redneck Revolt. He emphasizes that these organizations and the Black Panther Party were influential in his political development as a poor, rough high school dropout and blue collar kid growing up in Garland, Texas.

We sat down in early September to talk about the connection between decentralized disaster relief and anti-fascism over a video call. From the first question, it’s easy to envision him on a bullhorn in the midst of a restless rabble, bursting with conviction. His energy is expansive, frenetic, and sympathetic. He punctuates his explanations with emphatic hand motions and staccato expletives. Every now and then he interrupts his own discursive tangents with “…fuck! What was the question again?” and checks with me frequently to make sure what he’s saying makes sense. We end up wildly diverging from my originally planned topics, managing to touch on everything from infiltrating mainstream media messaging, to internal critiques of anti-fascist organizing, to movement elders and building long-term sustainability. 


On Anarchy

Luisa: You describe yourself as an anarchist in your books and interviews. Can you explain what that philosophy means to you and how it looks in action?

scott: Well, anarchy is a set of ideas and principles and ethics to live by that really tries to pursue our own liberation and collective liberation for those around us. And it’s rooted in the ideas of autonomy, mutual aid, cooperation, and direct action, as well as being anti-authoritarian in many ways. And I think I’ve always been that way, I’ve always bucked the system and I don’t know why, it’s not like I had some great training. You know, I’m a working class white kid from a farm-and-ranch town but somewhere, I knew things were different.

So anarchy is a way to frame things, it’s a political reference for what we engage in everyday. It’s when we begin to trust and listen to ourselves and those around us to make decisions about our own lives. Anarchy is separate from just activism. It takes all different kinds of forms. It might be how you work, or how you engage with people, or how you think about the world you see.

The way I think is, we are all anarchists. People are like “we need law and order” but I can guarantee you that you and everyone in your family breaks the law everyday, because there’s so many laws, and you’re not even trying to be a law-breaker. But anytime you pull up to a stop light in a rural area and there’s no cars in any direction, and you just run through the stop light, that’s anarchy. So I think it’s just listening to ourselves, and listening to our own values, and not being rigid in those values that makes sense.

That’s the difference between anarchy and anarchism. Anarchism is much more ideologically tied to these sets of ideas, but anarchy is just living and breathing. And it has these similar foundations, but it looks different anywhere you are, but there are always those themes of mutual aid and cooperation, autonomy, and direct action, at the root. Is this boring as shit?

L: No not at all! I’ve gotten that a lot. I have a very stoic, impassive “listening” face but I am actually listening intently and digesting and trying to draw connections.

s: So if we want to talk about how it’s manifested itself in political terms rather than just personal terms, look at just what’s happened in [leftist] political movements since the late nineties. You’ve seen anarchy kind of ascend as, I don’t want to say the dominant idea, but the one with kind of the greatest sphere of influence… it used to be the communists and socialists with big “C”s and big “S” ruled, but that’s just not the case anymore.

L: I was just reading something similar about that shift, from communists kind of presiding over revolutionary spaces in Brazil. It’s shifted from communists in that position to anarchists being the facilitators, the people who are setting up infrastructure for liberatory spaces.

s: Right! Like in the nineties, there were maybe a few hundred of us.  People identified with the ideas, but politically, it was a hard thing to say you were an anarchist. You’d show up at protests and you’d be maybe one of two people [who identify as anarchists] or something, in hundreds. But now it’s like, you look around and it’s really — “we are everywhere.”

[giddy laughter on both sides]

L: At a certain point in your explanation, you said anarchy looks different for different people, because anarchy means listening to yourself, your desires, and your internal codes –

s: Absolutely.

L: — so what happens when two people who are living in this way have two drastically different internal codes or sets of values? What do you think would be an anarchist way of coping with that conflict?

s: Well, one thing is to recognize that there can be conflict. Anarchy doesn’t mean that everything will be conflict-free… If someone else’s desires and needs don’t impede on my own… in communal terms, if they’re not trying to extract resources, time, people, oil, or whatever, if they’re not using violence to do that, then I think we can come to common agreements without any intermediaries like lawyers or judges or law enforcement. I think we can get to that. And if we can’t, then you’re in conflict. That doesn’t mean that all of a sudden you’re in a battle, I mean it’s a spectrum… It could escalate to threat of force or force, and we could kind of speculate in the hypothetical… but they’re unknowns. All I can tell you is that it’s always different, every time.

L: Right. So in a scenario where someone is trying to extract resources, or trying to take away labor or human value away from someone, what then?

s: Well, then I think we have a right to defend ourselves by any means necessary. Malcolm X said it, and he wasn’t an anarchist, but we as individuals have a right to protect ourselves. Not like a given right from the constitution, or parliament, or anything like that — I mean the innate right. I don’t need a constitution to tell me that you have to fight for liberation. If you put the boot on my neck or on the necks of those around me that I’m in solidarity with, then I’m going to rise up and fight. We’re all going to rise up and fight. That’s just what happens.

But that doesn’t mean that we’re automatically bringing out guns or batons to fight. Whatever that means, that depends on how civil society looks. If it’s legal means, you have a lawyer doing lawyer shit, that’s what Indigenous people do a lot because that’s the only thing that the U.S. government recognizes in dealing with that, is legality. Whereas if they were burning tires like they do in Brazil, or in Argentina, like the piqueteros, they would just be killed immediately here, if they did that to try to bring attention to their plight. But they’re also doing pipeline defense and water protection. And those are different forms of direct action, a community determining what their own future is. Their own autonomy.

I’m not the smartest fucking person on the planet about this shit, there are so many people who have written so much better shit about this, [but] what I can do is make it accessible to, you know, people’s parents.

On Anti-fascists and Media Messaging

L: So that brings us neatly to what you’ve lately been in the media spotlight about, the idea of armed community self-defense. The timing of our conversation is actually really interesting to me, considering your background. We’re speaking at the tail end of a string of international headlines regarding back-to-back natural disasters, as well as anti-fascist clashes across the country. Could you talk to me a little bit about your background in natural disaster relief, and how that led you down the path to armed community self-defense?

s: So I do see them as disasters, both. I have a broader concept of disaster. Some people call them crises, but ecological, economic, and political – those are all different forms of disasters that drive people to really look for their liberatory potential because there’s nothing else there, do you know what I mean? Because capitalism has failed, and the state has failed. I think antifa was just part of that, it was a response to a political disaster. You can’t not see that we’re in a political disaster right now. So, [anti-fascism] came to the forefront as a response to that.

And the thing with the antifa stuff is, I work with Agency, the anarchist P.R. firm, and we started getting requests probably in December of last year for a lot of stuff, and we were trying to find people to speak to, especially after the actions of January 20th. We started looking for people to talk about it, and we could find literally no one. Young people who were getting arrested, and even people my age or a little bit younger who are still a part of it, didn’t want to speak to the media. So finally, eight months later, I was kind of just like “fuck it, I’ll do it.” So I just started talking to the media. Actually, that CNN interview I did, I probably did that in May or April. It was a long time ago actually, but then they released it now [after August 12th] and all the calls came in after that… I thought it was important, kind of in an immediate sense, to engage in the battle of narratives that is happening around anti-fascist work and engagements.

L: That’s absolutely necessary. You’ve mentioned before the need for people to be talking to the media and seizing control of our own narrative. Anarchists are so passionate about being in control of our own lives and our own autonomy in a very concrete sense. It’s important to be in control of the narratives surrounding your life. It’s excellent that you’ve been infiltrating those huge media sources. I wanted to talk to you about this new shift of anti-fascism into the mainstream. Recently, your interview with CNN was aired and I believe you did an interview with Fox as well. What do you think are the setbacks and advantages of that shift of this heretofore kind of niche tactic into the mainstream? Do you think there are any disadvantages?

s: There are disadvantages, but you have to balance it out. The corporate media is sort of the dinosaur media… They are innoculators in a population that many of us don’t inhabit. And so there’s sort of two ways to fight for control of the narrative. One is to create our own narrative, and we broadcast those amongst our own people and our own channels, and we can actually have a pretty far reach. And that’s something that corporate media can’t understand, like why wouldn’t antifa, or anarchists, or “black bloc” want to talk to us? But [anarchists] are not trying to reach you. They’re in direct communication with the people they’re in conflict with, whether that be corporations or neo-nazis, or whatever. Creating our own narratives is important because it helps build culture and solidarity, and that’s something we’ve done really well, through social media as well as all the different platforms. But it’s also an echo chamber.

The other [way to fight for control of the narrative] is intervention into major corporate media. And you have to weigh the cost versus benefit, because [corporate media is] not going to get it correct…they definitely want conflict so they can tell a story. When I work in that land, I’m not talking about the most radical ideas, though they are perceived as radical. I’m talking about the idea of taking up arms against nazis and why we would want to fight against fascists. I want to place those ideas in a broader [historical] context.

This form of fascism in the U.S. takes a special kind of fighting, and it takes the media landscape and the cultural landscape to fight too, as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s important, instead of letting democratic liberals and the right wing control the narrative about it, for us to really fight to take control of that narrative. Think about this, if I can make someone like my mom get on board with this… She’s not going to fight in the street, but she might consider herself an anti-fascist if she can say “yeah, I hate fucking racists, I hate sexism.” If someone like my mom can see herself in that narrative, that’s powerful. That’s how movements are built and that’s how the culture of those movements is sustained.

L: I’ve seen that in my own town. Not necessarily by infiltrating mainstream media, but just by building relationships with people who consider themselves moderates, while still being explicit about being an anarchist. Making a personal relationship with someone where they can see anarchism normalized. Not necessarily de-fanged, but just like “this is what an anarchist looks like when they’re just gardening or grocery shopping.”

s: We are real people, you know. I come home and take care of my dogs and things like that and we live our lives, but if we are only presented in this caricature way…  I think it’s important to make others see us as human, right? The other thing is that one interview doesn’t make or break anything. That’s the beauty of what I’ve learned over the past twenty years. Because of the way the internet bubble is, if you’re on CNN, only certain groups of people are going to see it, if you’re on It’s Going Down, only certain people are going to see it, but the thing is if the narrative crosses all those landscapes, then you’ve woven a tapestry that can’t be undone. It reinforces the narrative for other people like us, people who are isolated, then they can be like “oh my god, other people are talking about that.” And that’s not about creating empathy among enemies, this is just internal, just creating a culture amongst ourselves.

 On Doxxing and Paranoia

L: I think what keeps a lot of people who would identify as radical from talking to the mainstream media is mostly fear of repression and doxxing?

s: Yes, absolutely. Sometimes the internal echo chamber within our own movements gets to be too much and people start thinking that every action they do is so goddamn important that everybody’s gonna get doxxed, but that shit doesn’t happen. I’ve been doing anti-fascist work for twenty-five years, and it doesn’t happen like that. It happens to some people, but again there’s a cost-benefit analysis with that too. I’m one of the most prominent faces of anti-fascism, and I mean, I get hate mail, but I don’t care anything about it.

I got doxxed by the New York Times, you can’t beat that. [laughter] ‘Cause they inadvertently put my address out and photos of my house. I used to get letters to my house, but nobody does that any more. They just send emails, or they tweet like “I hate you” but why would I give a fuck about that? It can be a serious issue, but if they do it electronically, it’s just so evaporative. But I’m not saying some people don’t have lives ruined because of it, I fucking have white privilege out the goddamn ass to protect myself.

L: You mentioned that some people think every action  is so important and that they are so at risk of being doxxed. Can you talk a little bit more about that, and how we can protect ourselves against that mentality?

s: Yeah, this is a larger problem within activism in general in the U.S. We don’t have any political or social movement retention, and information doesn’t always get passed down, or passed through. For thirty years I’ve watched tens of thousands of young people come through, and then leave. Where the hell do they go? They went to live their own lives. How this relates to that question is that every new person who comes in wants to think that what they’re doing is the most important thing on the planet, and it is, to a degree, but it’s not in the bigger picture of things. It’s just a step in a direction. When people are coming in, whether they’re young or new to movements, they’re politically inexperienced. I’ve seen in animal rights movements, in anarchist movements, in radical environmentalist movements, in anti-fascist movements, that we begin to think that every action that we can do, we HAVE to do because some animal’s going to die, or some tree’s going to be felled. We’re great at being the fire brigade, to put the fires out, but the thing is the fire is still smoldering [underneath] because we leave and go do something else. Politically inexperienced people, they’re afraid, and usually when some repression does happen, they leave. Then there’s no lineage of stories, and only the horror stories get passed down.

The other part of it is that political and social movements think that the government knows everything about us. Actually, they don’t know shit. I can tell you that from personal experience, not conjecture. Sure they can look at Facebook, but if you don’t put everything on Facebook, they can’t know it.

On Elders and Building Sustainable Movements

s: When people mature, they go through stages. First, they have to reject authority.This is social psychology. We do this as individuals, and we do this as groups. As a teenager or later on, you start to question and reject everything you’ve been taught. At first maybe it’s God, or the police, your parents maybe, you go “They fucking lied to me!”

Then the second stage is, you begin to figure out who you are in contrast. You begin to figure out your identity. Whether you identify as an anarchist, or trans or a woman. [You say] “I grew up with an anglicized name, but I’m Chicano, so I will change my name to a Chicano name” or you take on an African name. You build the clubhouse and you only hang out with people who are like you. Here’s the anarchist clubhouse, here’s the feminist clubhouse, here’s the queer clubhouse…, you seek out that culture because it reinforces your new identity. It helps you flesh out your new ethics.

Then you grow out of it, and then you can re-enter the world because you have a sense of who you are and a sense of place. This doesn’t just happen to people just in their teens or twenties, it can happen to people at all stages of their lives. The third phase comes when you can say “I have a sense of who I am regardless of who I’m with.”

In political movements we get stuck in the first two phases. Everybody comes in because they want to reject authority and by the time people get to the third step, they leave. When they’ve figured out their identity we don’t have very much activism that keeps people there.

L: How can we change our spaces and culture to  retain people as they move through those phases? 

s: Activism is a cancer that must be killed, it cannot be reformed. [laughter] That’s what the working title of my book is. [more laughter] No, it’s actually called the The Politics of Possibility, but I do think activism has to be dismantled like everything else. We have to tear it apart and begin to really think about it.

All movements are made of eruptions. We have crises that come up, or disasters. Anti-war, anti-globalization, Occupy, these are eruptions. But then what happens between, there are lulls… when we’re supposed to reassess who we are, heal our wounds, take care of ourselves, and then be ready. Thousands of people come into the movement [during the eruptions], but they usually leave in that lull.  You’re left with few people to build infrastructure. Whereas if we started to build resilient communities and larger infrastructure, liberatory infrastructure, and I don’t mean only fucking non-profits or cooperative businesses. I mean infrastructure that meets basic needs: health care, education, food systems, child care, elderly care, all the foundations of civil society. so that when the [next] disaster erupts we already have networks that people can plug into…

Disaster reveals the failures of capitalism and the state but they also show us the liberatory potentials and opportunities. Once everything has failed everybody all the way, when you have nothing, then you can begin to work together, and that’s where anarchists ideas come in. How do we do that without the immediate disaster, the immediate crisis? I don’t know the answer to that.

L: I think it makes sense to consciously work with people for whom the ongoing disaster of capitalism is the worst, in our own neighborhoods and cities. For so many people, it is absolutely undeniable that this society is a disaster. I think the peasant’s movement in Brazil – I only keep bringing up Brazil because that’s where I’m from — but there’s a landless peasants’ movement in Brazil –

s: Yeah of course! I talk about them all the time. It’s one of the greatest autonomous movements.

L: Movimento de Trabalhadores Rurais sem Terra (MST). There’s a big emphasis in my own community, too, about building alternative infrastructure, and I think it’s because this idea of mass movement has already failed in front of our own eyes so many times.

s: Oh my god, every few years it fails. And every time people are like “but wait didn’t it work back–” and I’m like no, it never really worked. The other thing is, when you build infrastructure, how do you keep it liberatory? How do you build an infoshop or community space and keep it from becoming a liberal space, how do you make sure it keeps its liberatory elements? And I don’t know, but I have ideas, and that’s something I want to explore in my next book. How do we keep things like Food Not Bombs, or infoshops, or book-printing, or any of the standard anarchist things that we build, how do we keep those liberatory? And I think there’s a few examples we can look to around the world, and the landless peasants’ movement in Brazil is one of them, the Zapatistas is another one.

On Internal Critiques of Anti-fascism

L: Back to anti-fascism, what advice do you give to someone who hopes to start and sustain a resilient anti-fascist community in their neighborhood or city?

s: I don’t think that you can. I think that the idea of sustainability and anti-fascism are diametrically opposing ideas. anti-fascist movements are largely reactionary. They’re very short term, and they should be, because they’re not about building mass movement, they’re about direct confrontation, direct communication, direct action to stop fascism. Because of the reactionary nature of it, you can’t build sustainability. I think that a good example of that is Anti-Racist Action, the network. It’s been ineffective and dysfunctional. You could get 500 people to go fight Nazis but you can’t get 500 people to bring down a prison — not necessarily physically, but to do prisoner support or to work on larger issues. I remember in the 90’s when Anti-Racist Action wanted to work on clinic defense, and that was a big [internal] fight… Now it’s a standard activity for ARA, but at the time it was a huge controversy. And that’s because of the reactionary politics of it, it always tends towards fighting in the street because it’s fun and engaging and can be effective. It tends toward machismo culture, it tends toward secretive culture, it tends toward young people with little political experience, who are in that first stage, who just want to react to something. Which is all necessary and all good stuff, but you can’t build sustainable socio-political movements or communities based on that. That’s not what antifa people want to hear, but that’s the fucking truth of it.

L: Absolutely, that  aligns perfectly with my own experience, to be honest. In my experiences with organized anti-fascism, they often – bordering on always – tend to make themselves completely inaccessible to workers of all ages and backgrounds.

s: You’re goddamn right —

L: Especially those who are not very well-versed in the leftist scene or lingo.

s: I agree with you 100%. Antifa work doesn’t work with communities of color or marginalized people, they just take this one stance… You’ve got a cost/benefit analysis with that too… When fascism was not on the rise, there would be 10 or 15 of [the fascists] and hundreds of us. But now, because there’s hundreds or even thousands of them getting in the streets, and I think it’s important for us to actually be in the streets to fight them. But it’s a dead end game.

Also it has mainstreamed, and that’s been very interesting to watch. Even if the media coverage is very uneven about it, people are talking about it and asking about it. My mom asked about it. She was like “What the fuck is antifa?” She knew I was into something called Anti-Racist Action, but she didn’t know it was anti-fascist, she didn’t know what it was. But [anti-fascism] is part of the conversation now, and I think that’s something that couldn’t have happened if you only had liberals or progressives talking about alt-right versus the left, which is how they want to frame it. “Alt-left” or whatever the fuck they’re calling it.

L: The murder of Heather Heyer and the posthumous labeling of her as an anti-fascist, I think that was a powerful thing in terms of messaging because she was such a relatable figure for most people, those who would say that they hate racists but would not necessarily take the streets to punch a Nazi.

s: You bring up a really good point. Heather Heyer looks like everyday anti-fascism. You don’t have to say “I’m antifa.” If you hate neoliberalism, if you hate racism and white supremacy, then you’re an anti-fascist. If you hate corporate takeover the world, you’re an anti-fascist. So I think she actually is an anti-fascist, even though as far as we know she never punched a Nazi.

L: Because of her being labelled as an anti-fascist in some media messaging, I’ve seen people in my life who have decried the black bloc their entire political lives self-identifying as anti-fascists and offering material support to local people who they know to be taking the streets. I think that’s really powerful, and I don’t think that would have happened without people like you speaking in the media and giving a face to antifa.

s:  And the thing is, it’s working. How many counter-demonstrators, how many people who identify as anti-fascists used to show up to things? Maybe hundreds. In Charlottesville you had thousands, but after that — look at Boston, it was 40,000 people! Look at Berkeley! Look at Phoenix, where Trump spoke recently, it was like 10,000 counter-protestors there. Those people didn’t consider themselves anti-fascists last year! But they’re anti-fascists, whether or not they’re dressing in all black, they’re totally anti-fascists.

L: Obviously we agree on where anti-fascism is with accessibility. Do you have any ideas on ways that we can make it  more accessible, rather than just an alternative scene, like for mostly white punk dudes?

s: I think we already are, just by having conversations about it. We’re already having a culture shift. I’m actually going to launch something soon, you’re the first person to know about it. It’s called “everyday antifa,” and it’s going to be just photos of people, and them explaining why they’re anti-fascist. It started because there was a woman here in Austin, probably in her seventies, and she had this beautiful handwritten sign on the back of her wheelchair. It said, “I may be in a wheelchair, but I can still chase a Nazi if I have to.” [laughter] And I was like “THAT’S AWESOME!” I mean, I would have never seen that kind of shit before! So I think that despite the media backlash, that something really good is still happening.

If we had talked about antifa twenty years ago, I would have said it just needs to be killed, it needs to end. I was so sick of the reactionary politics of it. But for fifteen years I’ve been thinking about it and trying to see the value in it. I think it’s all tied into killing activism as we know it, and also de-emphasizing street confrontations. It’s a necessary form [of fighting fascism], but it’s not the only form. I think in the end it’s about, creating movements that people can stay in, where they can live and raise families,  take care of their parents, live their lives. Whatever antifa is will be integrated with that.

People always talk about Food Not Bombs being liberal, and how ineffective it is. People say it’s just dirty hippies doing it. But it’s a good training ground, and they keep it going regularly. Kids come in, it’s a way for them to figure things out. And then when Hurricane Katrina happened, who were the first people who showed up? Street medics, and fucking Food Not Bombs! All the different chapters that came, they said “We are willing to break the law in order to feed you, because we’re anarchists.” So all of the sudden, you have something that was innocuous in the eyes of the state, and NOW, it’s liberatory all the way. Is there a similarity within anti-fascist organizing that has that kind of crossover? I think we’re seeing what that is. I think we’re seeing that direct confrontation with Nazis is its useful part. Now what comes after that is up for debate… I’m sorry, I’m kind of working through these as we go along because these are not questions that people ever ask me about.

L: I appreciate you taking the time to think it through and talk it through. I want to make sure I understand, you’re saying an effective way of increasing accessibility is propagating entryist spaces that have liberatory potential?

s: That’s not my language, but yes. [laughter] That’s so much more academic, but you’re goddamn right!

L: Basically, a space that seems innocuous, or a group or activity that seems relatively unthreatening to authority, but —

s: Well… I think that we need things that have threats to them. I think that the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front have a chilling effect. So scientists who wanted to use lab animals to test their products are much more reticent to do so now. I think that implied threat needs to be there, because they don’t want to be targeted now. I think the same thing goes for anti-fascism, because if Nazis are organizing, they need to know that people will be there over and over again [opposing them].. But everything else that happens around that, what isn’t direct confrontation, that’s where it’s more open. That’s where I would agree, where we need other things that would keep us going.

L: I love this conversation, because literally the last thing I was doing before we started this interview is I was tabling for Food Not Bombs, giving out free food and sharing anarchist literature. [laughter]

s: Yes!

L: Trying to show the threat behind the bagels.

s: Of course! If we begin to learn that anti-fascism can take many forms, we can fight in the streets,, and then we can do Food Not Bombs, and we can also do childcare… things we do that aren’t just all about fighting in the streets. Having the culture shift, to see it all as a part of [anti-fascism], then that’s when you start to make it more accessible.

L: I think of Food Not Bombs as a way of fighting fascism in the street, or at least imperialism in the street, because you are confronting economic inequality head on and trying to reverse its effects. It doesn’t necessarily present a strong militant challenge to the systems that create that inequality, but I think it is a way of fighting in the street. And I’ve been trying, in my conversations with liberals and moderates, to draw the connections between various liberatory actions. Actions that seem less threatening and are as equally anti-fascist.

s: Nice! I think that’s a good hook.

L: To normalize it. Any time you take resources to the street and distribute them freely, or offer free medical attention to somebody, you are doing anti-fascist work because it is fascism and capitalism that have created these circumstances where not everybody has access to what we all need to survive. So you don’t necessarily need to punch a Nazi, you can give somebody a meal, and there, you did it! You are an anti-fascist.

s: Right, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Everyday anti-fascism…

L: So to wrap things up, do you have any heartwarming stories of effective mutual aid-based disaster relief or community defense? Something you would point to if an outsider asked, “What are you working towards here? What’s your vision?” 

s: The Common Ground Collective is a great example. It’s not perfect, I have internal critiques of Common Ground, but I think it’s a great example because we came to do search and rescue, to find a former member of the Black Panther Party, a friend of mine, and we ended up engaging in an armed standoff with white militias. That was anti-fascist work. And then we proceeded into this relief and recovery and deeper response stuff and this liberatory potential opened up. Like you were talking about, the everyday anti-fascist work of food security, education, and healthcare, in the face of the government. After Hurricane Katrina, the police were like “you can’t go there,” homeland security was like “you can’t do that,” so Common Ground volunteers broke the law every day to provide free food, to provide medicine, to provide free education, to open up preschools. These were illegal things to do. It was anti-fascist work, and it was also building counter-power.

Everything in history has brought us to this moment – in our personal history, in our political history, in our social history. And every moment is a new moment to open up possibilities. I don’t mean this in a fucking spiritual or abstract way. In every disaster, every lull, there’s that liberatory potential.

If we know that, then the question is, how’s it gonna look?


scott_crow--9_starscott crow is an international speaker, author and storyteller who is proudly from a working class background. He has engaged his varied life as a co-op business co-owner, political organizer, educator and strategist, activist, filmmaker, dad, and musician. For over two decades he has focused on diverse sociopolitical issues and the explorations of creating and exercising counter-power to capitalism, Power and unsustainable civilization.

22093768_10212959767216324_1625358545_nLuisa Black is a community organizer, community gardener, and all-around community enthusiast based in Norfolk, VA. She believes that there has to be something better, and that we can probably make it together.

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The worlds within worlds of Elizabeth Hand

Versatile author combines hard truth and strange fiction in ‘Fire.’

By Jim Ruland
San Diego City Beat
October 2nd, 2017

Fire., the latest installment in the Outspoken Author series from PM Press, features Elizabeth Hand. It includes a worthy and fascinating selection of previously published fiction and nonfiction, as well as an interview and a new short story. 

I got to know the author’s work through her series of crime novels that feature Cass Neary, a hard-living punk photographer who eschews all things digital and has a knack for stumbling over dead bodies. More hard-bitten than hardboiled, Neary is a fascinating anti-hero as she stomps and steals her way through coastal Maine in “Generation Loss,” Iceland in “Available Dark” and England in “Hard Light.”

When I reached the end of the series (so far), I was thrilled to discover Hand’s work in other genres, from contemporary horror to high fantasy to movie tie-ins for the Star Wars franchise.

With its mix of fiction and nonfiction, Fire. provides powerful insights regarding the autobiographical undercurrents in her work. For instance, Hand reveals that she drew heavily from her darkest experiences when creating Cass Neary.

In another essay, she talks about how her grandfather’s sprawling estate in the Hudson Valley, with its odd accoutrements and numerous staircases, seemed like a storehouse of secrets. So she used it as the setting for Wylding Hall, a thoroughly engrossing novella that won the Shirley Jackson Award in 2015—a fitting tribute as Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is clearly an influence on Hand’s story.

If the purpose of the Outspoken Authors series is to ensure that writers who work in marginalized genres aren’t overlooked, Hand is a fitting choice. Over the course of her career she has penned countless reviews and championed underground writers to make sure they don’t fade from memory.

The essay The Woman Men Didn’t See is a fascinating profile of a woman who wrote science fiction novels with a male pseudonym. But Alice Sheldon/James Tiptree Jr. didn’t stop there; Sheldon adopted Tiptree’s persona, which was decidedly masculine, in her correspondence with editors and other writers in the field. Hand’s portrait of Tom Disch, the prolific writer who popularized the term “speculative fiction,” is a soaring tribute to a life dedicated to the imagination.

Whether readers are new to Hand’s work or looking for a place to start, Fire. is an indispensible roadmap to her many worlds.  

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Truth in Beauty and Beauty in Truth: Graphic Memoir 'Diario de Oaxaca'

By Hans Rollman
October 13th, 2017

Peter Kuper’s work reminds us of the vibrant and inspired everyday people who live under the tyranny of petty and corrupt officials in both Mexico and the United States.
cover art

In 2006, cartoonist Peter Kuper and his family relocated from Manhattan to Oaxaca, Mexico, where they remained for roughly two years. Driven out in part by Bush-era politics, and in part by the desire to take a breather and give their young daughter some experience of the world, they descended directly into the horrific 2006 state-wide teachers’ strike. The seven-month strike by teachers and their supporters against state corruption and in support of education funding was violently repressed by the state’s governor with the aid of the federal police. More than 20 people were killed during the repressive state violence, including American journalist Bradley Will.

The tragic resistance by the state’s teachers comprises the first third of this powerful and creative book. Infuriated by the inaccurate and superficial coverage of the conflict by the world press, Kuper began doing sketches illustrating what was actually happening and sharing them with friends and family back home. Even after it was violently put down, the strike undergirds much of the rest of the book. The calm and colourful daily life of the region lies in contrast to the violence whose memory the state attempts to repress; the political silence in the wake of violent state repression is a condemnation of a different sort. But while posters and graffiti can be torn down or painted over, Kuper’s memory and the sketches inspired by it remain a poignant and potent tribute to the striking Oaxacans’ efforts to improve their lives.

Diario de Oaxaca isn’t just about the strike; it’s an eclectic and inspired collection of drawings and reminiscences of the author’s two years in Oaxaca. There’s a lot packed into the period, and yet one gets the sense that even this wide-ranging collection barely pierces the surface. From monarch butterflies and endangered tortoises, to Mesoamerican ruins, to the varieties of stray street dogs and the inspired art of a radish festival, Kuper offers the reader something more than just a sketchbook or graphic travelogue. It’s an impressionistic invitation to Oaxaca: a tantalizing sampling of the rich diversity the place has to offer. While acknowledging the violence that sometimes erupts in the place (as it does everywhere, including Kuper’s home country north of the border), he writes powerfully against the mainstream press’ depictions of an anarchic region paralyzed by daily violence.

“There I go again reiterating Oaxaca’s troubles, making it sound like a dangerous town,” he writes, during one of the diary-like entries which offer short analytical narrations of the experiences depicted in his illustrations. “Moving from light to dark and back again. It’s unavoidable; it’s the nature of the place. Or perhaps it’s in my nature to use a spectrum of hues when I paint my experiences. They say there’s truth in beauty, but there is also beauty in truth. That’s Oaxaca. But don’t take my word for it—go see it for yourself. It’s the only way to paint your own picture.”

The art and imagery of Diario de Oaxaca is impressively eclectic, and perfect for the nature of the work Kuper’s produced. Ranging from crayon-like splashes of symbolic and abstract art to cartoonish line drawings, he even integrates photos along with elements of Mexico’s diverse and ancient imagery. The eclectic style allows him not just to illustrate experiences but to express them, from psychedelic cultural fusions to ancient and mystical iconography. There are Mayan temples, scorpions and butterflies, market stalls and cobbled streets. There are stray dogs, riot police, bar scenes, and beaches.

Everywhere, there is life, and Kuper’s art expresses this in profusion: the teeming omnipresence of insects; the deep and sprawling roots of ancient trees; the stoicism of a woman sitting at a market stall and the laughter of a man downing a beer. Courage on the flaming barricades and the delighted laughter of children; a fight between a couple on the beach and the bright eclecticism of Day of the Dead festivities. Kuper succeeds handily in fulfilling his “desire to telegraph my enthusiasm for the place to anyone who will listen.”

Diario de Oaxaca is also fully bilingual, with short essays and illustrated captions alike all presented in both English and Spanish.

Kuper has been traveling to Mexico for decades, and it’s become a sort of second home for him. It’s been the inspiration for serious and complex work, like his award-winning graphic novel Ruins (also loosely based on his experiences of 2006-08). But Diario de Oaxaca is a much more personal sort of work, allowing him to reflect in first-person and adopt a more introspective tone. Originally published in 2009, the new edition includes several updated diary entries chronicling subsequent trips back to Oaxaca over the past decade, up through May 2017.

Diario de Oaxaca also feels driven by a sense of political urgency in the present and unfolding relationship between Mexico and the United States. Kuper doesn’t hold back any punches; he left America in part because of the mess President Bush was making of things, but he’s equally critical of the corrupt and violent political leadership of Oaxaca. President Trump’s anti-Mexicanism has added an entirely new dimension to the situation. Kuper’s work reminds us of the vibrant and inspired everyday people who live under the tyranny of petty and corrupt officials in both Mexico and the United States, and of the imperative to see the beauty of each place through the murky political fog and inaccurate, homogenizing reporting that so often obscures them.

“Given the xenophobic portrayals of Mexico spouted by U.S. government officials, my urgency to convey a broader vision of our neighbour is even greater today,” Kuper writes in closing. “With mandates to literally wall ourselves off from Mexico, it’s essential to question what would be lost. To narrow our vision of the planet into separate island-states is to isolate ourselves from art, culture, history and our collective means of survival. As if air can be halted by borders. As if weather can be contained by lines on a map. The ruins of fallen empires, evident throughout Mexico, are signposts our leaders would be advised to heed as they build their barricades.”

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Gabriel Kuhn on modern football and how 'implosion' is the only way the sport can save itself

By Shirsho Dasgupta
Doing the Rondo
October 20th, 2017

Born in Austria, Gabriel Kuhn grew up in Turkey, Italy, England and the United States till he returned to his country of birth to complete his formal education. He enjoyed a four-year semi-professional career in football in Austria, and in 1996 received a PhD in philosophy from the University of Innsbruck. Active in radical politics since the late 1980s, he is also the author of Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical PoliticsPlaying as if the World Mattered: An Illustrated History of Activism in Sport, Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy, and Sober Living For the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics. You can find his work here.

I had a chat with Gabriel on the origins of the game, its perceptions across continents, the state of the sport today, alternate clubs and possibilities of interventions, and the future of soccer itself.

Soccer, both in England and in the United States, began in the schools and universities of the affluent. How then did it emerge as a sport that we generally identify with the working classes?

Football started out at schools and universities, but factory owners soon realized its potential in pacifying the work-force: the game channeled workers’ energies into sports rather than protest, it empowered them, and factory teams led to a stronger identification with their employers. All of this applied to players and spectators alike. Besides, football is very easy to play: the rules are simple and you need neither expensive equipment nor special grounds. A game of football can be improvised pretty much anywhere. This is one of the main reasons why it became the world’s most popular sport.
Finally, once it was professionalized, it provided one of the few viable career options for working-class folks outside of the factory. Therefore, football did indeed become a working-class sport in the early twentieth century, although it was always controlled by the upper classes.

You write in Soccer vs. the State that in South America, football is generally considered to be “play” while in Europe it is “work”. What would you say is the reason behind this distinction? Is it because in South America the whole idea of “work” itself perhaps has overtones of colonialism, exploitation or oppression?

I think I referred to common perceptions regarding the differences between European and South American football. I myself would not draw such lines, as they are clearly simplistic. But perhaps these perceptions do include an anti-colonial element: colonizers, and European nations in general, are associated with rigid regimes of work, which many see reflected in their approach to football. German teams, for example, have long been very successful, but their success has often been attributed to “discipline”, “organization”, and a “fighting spirit” rather than technical skills and creativity. In this context, playfulness appears rebellious, something that has long been associated with South American teams, particularly the Brazilian one, which indeed played more attractive football than most European teams in the post-World-War-II era. Today, these differences are largely gone, but the common perceptions persist. When Dunga became Brazil’s manager in 2006, his focus on defense and efficiency was considered a betrayal of the Brazilian game, not least in Brazil itself.

Would you agree that perhaps this conceptualization is strange given the fact that South American fans care more about winning than perhaps Europeans in general? After all, South American fans have a reputation of booing or hissing at their own teams when they do not play well – in a sense they are perhaps, more unforgiving than fans of Europe.

Some people would say that this is simply a result of South Americans being more passionate about football than Europeans. Needless to say, we have to be very careful with such assumptions, as they reek of racial stereotypes: the “emotional” South American vs. the “rational” European. Sports commentators still use such clichés routinely: they criticize non-European players – especially African ones – for their apparent lack of discipline and tactical understanding, or dirty play, and for losing their temper.
In general, I don’t think there is that much of a difference in how supporters relate to the game globally. There are differences from country to country depending on numerous factors, and it’s hard to make out any patterns. In Europe, for example, you find some of the worst fan violence in Sweden, a country usually known for its level-headed and reserved population. It’s all rather complicated.

In Soccer vs. the State, you mention that the sport played an important role in the decolonization of Africa, especially in Ghana and Guinea. But how exactly did football help? Is it not, at the end of the day, a “European” sport? Why did the leaders of the anti-colonial movement not seek to use any other game, perhaps even a sport which is native to Africa?

Perhaps ironically, football helped for the very reason that it wasn’t an African sport but a global one. Africans being able to compete with nations from all continents, including colonizing nations, meant a lot for national self-esteem. Even decades after independence, the symbolic value of this remained strong. Senegal’s victory over France at the 2002 World Cup, for example, has played a significant role for modern Senegalese identity, although the country had become independent from France 42 years earlier. Cameroon player Roger Milla summed up the overall sentiment well when he commented on Cameroon’s successful run at the 1998 World Cup: “An African head of state who leaves as the victor, and who greets with a smile the defeated heads of state!…It’s thanks to football that a small country could become great.”

Young Africans, some even children, are lured and often brought to Europe with deceitful promises. They leave everything behind, often pay huge sums of money despite their poverty and then in Europe, they find that they do not have a future in football (which may be for a variety of reasons). Many call it a “slave trade”, yet Daniel Künzler, whom you interviewed yourself refuses to call it so. Do you agree? Or do you think while the situation might not be exactly the same, it certainly is analogous?

I concur with Künzler when he finds the term “slave trade” inappropriate to describe the transfer of African football hopefuls to Europe. It trivializes the horrors of the slave trade. Young African footballers are not forced at gunpoint to leave their countries, they aren’t put in chains and crammed onto boats for journeys many of them won’t survive, their legal status is not simply that of property, etc. So, there are significant differences.

However, there are enormous problems involved in the global trade of African footballing talent, and they are tied to colonial history. Young African players leave their families and chase their dreams because they have few other options to improve their lot. Very often this happens under dubious circumstances. Many young African players arrive abroad in a very vulnerable position, and the many unscrupulous people involved in the football industry take advantage of that. Many a gifted African player end up on the streets of Europe without money or documents; others are entirely dependent on the whims of erratic club owners. None of these dynamics will change before the global political and economic order changes. However, things can be done to mitigate the consequences. Organizations such as Foot Solidaire have done great work.

On that note, today’s footballing academies take in a lot of youngsters, yet of course, only a few are signed by clubs, especially the bigger ones. Why is it so? Has our new obsession with data and football analytics something to do with this trend?

Data and analytics might provide a new framework for selecting some players and weeding out others, but the fact that many talented youngsters never earn a professional contract simply has to do with high competition. The money generated by football has multiplied during the past twenty-five years, which also means that more money is invested in youth football and academies. Today, you have thousands of incredibly well schooled players at the age of 17 or 18, but there are only so many open spots on the rosters of professional teams. Many players simply don’t make the cut. And among those who do, many are out of a contract again within a few years when new and better players have come up through the ranks.

In the 1970s, if you made it to the roster of a professional team, you could count on a professional career of ten to fifteen years as long as you avoided serious injury. Today, the average career span is three to four years; there is an enormous turnover. Only the players at the absolute top can build successful careers into their 30s.

What about the grassroots development programmes? While it is true that they have perhaps “discovered” a lot of talented footballers from remote villages, many of these programmes are funded and run by corporate entities. In India for example, big mining companies encroach upon tribal lands and evict them from their homes and then set up football programmes under a mandate of “Corporate Social Responsibility”. Jacinta Kerketta in a poem highlighted how these programmes are used to lure tribal children away from education because the companies know that an educated child might protest against them.

It is an excellent poem. I find football to be a wonderful game with lots of liberating potential, but we have to be realistic: football also serves, and always has, as an opiate for the masses. There is no doubt about that.

Programs that supposedly help the poor, while in fact only creating new forms of dependence and exploitation, are pervasive, also in football. I am sure that there are people involved in these programs whose heart is in the right place, and some of the programs might indeed do some good, for example if they encourage young girls to play football. But we have to scrutinize them very carefully – and we should be suspicious every time a program is sponsored by FIFA or any of its subsidiaries.

With the increase in televised games, more and more people throughout the world are actively watching the game. Yet while a number of developing countries had always followed the sport, fan support seems to be changing. For example, in India while the older generations generally supported Brazil or Argentina during the World Cup, for a majority of today’s youth (who are growing up watching the European leagues) it is more natural to support Germany or England or Spain. Can this be interpreted as the beginnings of a radical universalism – the previously colonized has “forgiven” white Europe and is willing to stand beside it as comrades? Or is it another symptom of a Eurocentric global order?

I think mainly the latter, perhaps with a tint of the former.

In general, I believe it is a result of the stronger marketing power of European nations. Asia is the market that rich European clubs woo for the most right now. Summer tours of the continent have become a main feature of the clubs’ pre-season routine, although they take an enormous toll on the players who are already facing an ever more expanding schedule during regular season. At the same time, European clubs sign Asian players to secure television time in the players’ home countries. In the near future, we will see more and more Chinese players in Europe, for example. The modern football industry follows the laws of the market.

But, yes, it might also be the case that “post-colonial” identities are taking shape in formerly colonized countries, especially among the middle classes. Shedding anti-colonial sentiments might be a way of saying that you’ve become equal and that there is no reason to harbor resentment; it is self-affirming rather than self-deprecating. Perhaps this is a form of “radical universalism”, although I would leave it to others to make that argument.

Stadiums previously used to serve as meeting places for the working class. However
today as the prices of tickets continue to rise, football-watching is increasingly becoming an activity for the affluent. As a cheaper substitute, during international tournaments, FIFA generally prepares for a “fan zone” which is basically a viewing area with a big screen. However, entry to these zones, which are always in public spaces, restricted – making these spaces private. So faced with these twin-obstacles, will the working class nature of the game soon be destroyed?

I would argue that at the level you’re describing (big international tournaments and the big national leagues) the working-class character of the game has already been destroyed. In England, most working-class fans can no longer afford tickets; they gather in the pub to watch games instead. Football has become popular enough to attract masses of middle- and upper-class people as customers, and since they have more money to spend, they receive priority over working-class supporters (who, of course, are still expected to buy expensive pay-TV packages and jerseys with sponsors’ logos splashed across the chest). Ironically, the “working-class charm” of football remains a selling point for the middle- and upper-class customers. Maybe we can call this “classploitation”. The good news is that the working-class character of the game will always survive at the grassroots level: in the alleys, backyards, and meadows of the planet.

So now that the majority of soccer fans increasingly depend on televisions or the radio, can we foresee a situation like the one described by Borges in his short-story “Esse Est Percipi”?

I guess we’re entering the philosophical realm, as in: how is the media affecting our perception of the world? Professional sports is a theater, no doubt, and there is plenty of deception, from doping to match fixing to an ever growing disparity in resources and assets. One reason why people love theater is that deception can make life more bearable. In situationist terms, modern football is a near-perfect spectacle. Borges raises the specter in his story.

As a sort of resistance to the “new football economy”, a lot of “alternate” or “fan-owned” clubs have sprung up throughout the world. But should the football fan be content with these alternate spaces? Is it not a tacit acceptance that the mainstream footballing world cannot be recovered from corporate/right-wing interests? Would you say that while alternate clubs are fine, the real fight lies in reclaiming all of football from aforementioned interests?

Of course, and I think most of the people involved in alternative football clubs would agree with that. Ideally, clubs run by supporters, embracing values of solidarity, and not buying into the consumerist doctrine would form the nucleus of an entirely new sports world. Needless to say, it is hard to create such a world unless there is fundamental political, economic, and cultural change, but these clubs make their contribution in the field of sports – which is a field as contested and politically relevant as any other, if not particularly so due to the attention it receives and the passions it arouses.

On the topic of corporate ownership, what do you think will be the impact of the success of RB Leipzig in Germany? Germans after all take a lot of pride in their 51-49 ownership rule. Do you think the Bundesliga will slowly adopt the Premier League model wholesale?

I don’t think the Bundesliga will go the way of the Premier League, because I believe the so-called 50+1 ownership rule – meaning that a club’s members will always have just over 50% of decision-making powers – won’t fall. Germans are too aware of it being an important piece of the puzzle that makes the Bundesliga the most popular league in the world measured by attendance.

However, the rule is increasingly undermined in order to do away with the average member’s influence. RB Leipzig is a prime example. Membership criteria and fees are so prohibitive that the club has less than twenty members with voting rights, all of them close associates of Red Bull tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz.

In other clubs, we face the typical problems of electoral politics: members may be able to cast votes when administrative positions are up for grabs (often with only one serious contender), but they have no influence over the club’s everyday affairs. Furthermore, big sponsors often enough threaten to withdraw their support if their expectations aren’t be met. In other words, the 50+1 rule is far from ideal, but it at least keeps the possibility of a more democratic and participatory football culture alive, even on the professional level, something exemplified by FC St. Pauli more than by any other club.

On that note, what are your opinions on the Bosman Ruling?

When Belgian professional Jean-Marc Bosman went to the European Court of Justice in the early 1990s because a transfer fee demanded by his club RFC Liège stopped him from continuing his career in France even though his contract with RFC Liège had expired, he caused a complete overhaul of the football transfer system. Not only are players now free agents at the end of their contracts, but restrictions on signing players from foreign countries were also scrapped.
The Bosman Ruling strengthened the position of professional footballers vis-à-vis their
employers. That’s positive. At the same time, the ruling had some problematic consequences.

In football, too, the rich benefit more from “free trade” than the poor. Nowadays, it is possible for the big leagues to secure all of the world’s most promising football talent at a very young age, while the foundation of top-quality football in other countries is eroded. The same is true on a domestic level: small clubs lose their best players to the big clubs very early on. As a result, the gap between the strong and the weak in football grows by the year, economic injustice increases further, and competition becomes more boring. None of this is the fault of the Bosman Ruling per se,
which was correct, but it also fit the neoliberal agenda perfectly.

Since today’s footballing calendar is fixed according to television schedules, sometimes a team might end up playing 3-4 matches in a space of 8-10 days. What do you think is the toll that it takes on the players themselves?

No one would deny that the toll is enormous. Germany went with a B-team to this year’s
Confederation Cup in Russia, because the team manager Joachim Löw considered the big stars overplayed (the fact that Germany won the tournament might confirm that the stars on the other teams were overplayed, too). All of the big club teams that play in three competitions each year (the national league, the national cup, and the continental cup) have large rosters that allow for rotation among the starting eleven. It’s the only way to keep up with the schedule.

Needless to say, you need to have plenty of money to afford a star-studded roster of 20+ players. It’s yet another factor that contributes to the increasing gap between the top and the bottom tiers of modern football. But each game means a lot of money for the rich, which is most important. Look at the ridiculous decision to extend the World Cup to 48 participating nations. The only good thing is that the football industry is headed for an overkill: eventually, even the most loyal of fans will become victims of over-saturation. The biggest hope for modern football to end is an implosion.

Perhaps the greatest resistance against corporate football has been offered by ultras groups especially in Europe and Latin America. What are the differences and parallels between the ultras in the two continents?

Very hard for me to say since I have not been able to keep up with the development of Ultra groups in Latin America. My sense is that Ultra culture remains centered in Europe – Latin America has its own supporter cultures. But, obviously, the Ultras’ dedication and ability to turn even the most boring of games into an event due to their choreographs, banners, and chants, have attracted football supporters in Latin America as well. As always, the media likes to focus on the violence displayed by some Ultras, but the overall culture is very positive. Many Ultra groups are also clearly anti-racist and anti-fascist, even if their hierarchical organization, territorial claims, and macho tendencies clash with leftist ideals.

In terms of Ultra culture extending beyond Europe’s borders, it might be most interesting to look to East Asia and North Africa, where the influence seems strongest, albeit in different ways. In East Asia, it is mainly the aesthetics that are introduced to the big leagues, while in North Africa it is the politics – mainly the Ultras’ resistance to surveillance, police violence, and the political exploitation of the game – that define much of the supporter culture in the region. The role that the Egyptian Ultras played in the uprisings of 2011 are only the most famous example.

Can football, often called an “opiate of the masses” ever serve as an agent of the left? Can it possibly build solidarity given that its essence is competition – something that is often referred to as protracted war?

I don’t think the competition is the problem. The war metaphors are silly and overused. Most games we play have a competitive element. It is what makes them fun. We are competitive beings in the sense that we define what we are capable of in comparison to what others are capable of. We would never know if we were fast runners if we didn’t compare our running speed to that of others, something that children do in a playful manner. The problem is when competition loses its playfulness and becomes the engine of all activity. It is not surprising that football has gone that way since pretty much anything does in a capitalist society. In a socialist society, the competitive element would be kept at bay. In fact, football contains many aspects that contradict it: collaboration, respect, fair play. It also serves as a universal language, akin to music or dance.

If these aspects are at the center of the football experience, it can without doubt contribute to progressive social developments. The alternative football clubs are a case in point.

Finally, what is the future of the game?

As I said, football will always survive at the grassroots level, as a natural way for people to get together, exercise, develop social skills, have fun, and so on. Many things remain to be done to make this experience all-inclusive, especially with respect to the gender imbalance that still haunts the sport, but I think there’s been improvement in the last decades and I hope we’ll continue on this path.

Things are more difficult at the professional level. There, prospects are dire. The modern football industry is still exploring and conquering new markets, it is ruled by a quasi-feudal organization run by crooks, FIFA, and it will remain exploited both by ruthless corporations and politicians.

However, as I have also hinted at above, I think that modern football culture is nearing a tipping point; it is growing too big for its own good. Eventually, the circus will have replaced the game entirely and the bubble will burst. This, without doubt, will be a reason to celebrate.

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Help us challenge racist narratives with this new book by David Pilgrim

Help us challenge racist narratives with this new book by David Pilgrim

We here at PM Press have launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new book by David Pilgrim, Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors: Stories from the Jim Crow Museum, a 272-page, full-color book from the Jim Crow Museum which examines the significance of longstanding antiblack stories and challenges the integrity of racist narratives.

"Undergirding David Pilgrim’s effort is his powerful belief that we, as a society, heal better when we stare down the evils that have walked among us, together.” —Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African American Research

We seek to raise at least $10,000 through pre-orders to cover the expensive printing costs and increase accessibility by charging an affordable list price. Donations will be tax deductible.

Check out the Kickstarter HERE
More on David Pilgrim

Why Nancy Pelosi Is Right About The Left Wining Every Fight

By Ralph Benko
October 8th, 2017

Recently, the New York Times quoted House Minority Leader (and conservative bête noir) Nancy Pelosi saying “We didn’t win the elections, but we’ve won every fight.”

It’s a grotesque marvel. Yet Pelosi is right.

Want to know why this is happening? Follow along.

Two little-known, self-effacing, immensely potent leaders of the progressive movement, Patrick Reinsborough (long a friend and cherished archenemy) and Doyle Canning, are a big part of the reason for the left’s relentless success. They have recently published the second edition of the most important political book of our era: Re:Imagining Change: How to use story-based strategy to win campaigns, build movements, and change the world. They have quietly and effectively been teaching the left for a long time. It is working.

This book lays out, chapter and verse, the culture, strategy and tactics by which the left continues to achieve policy victory after policy victory notwithstanding political defeats. It is the hidden-in-plain-sight secret blueprint to the left’s most powerful “secret weapon.” It is a blueprint the progressive movement has been following, episodically but often with great success, for decades: the innocuous-sounding “story-based strategy.”

The good news? The culture, strategy and tactics they use are neutral. These would be as powerful in the hands of the right as they are in the hands of the left, at least if the right ups its game and powerfully stands for justice for all as well as liberty. (We certainly ought to be doing that.)

How powerful are these tools? They are the very tools which Donald Trump -- who, certainly, independently derived them -- used to propel himself to the presidency. Yet Trump, not exactly a man of the right, stands virtually alone in the GOP in so doing.

The bad news? The right, since Reagan (a maestro) left the scene, rarely deploys these tools. The right seems ill equipped to do so. Getting our hands on this book is kind of like being handed the blueprints to the atomic bomb. And yet, alas, we will now place it in Hangar 51, next to the Ark of the Covenant and the Crystal Skull, ignored.

Let's make an exception in passing for the extraordinary Steve Bannon, a true populist and a modern master of narrative. That mastery greatly contributes to his power.

I am very much a man of the right, once called by a Washington Post Magazine columnist, half in jest and whole in earnest, “the second most conservative man in the world” for my advocacy of the gold standard. That said, I also am a connoisseur of culture, strategy and tactics.

Also, I have an avid appreciation of radicals -- those who get to the root of things, not hooligans. My gusto extends to those who inhabit and project the counter-narrative to my own.

Game On!

Re:Imagining Change is a culture-shifting work. It shows exactly how the left is eating the right’s strategy for breakfast. It shows why the left is very likely to continue to do so.
As that great proto-Supply-Sider Peter Drucker once  said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

This book is mainly about culture.

There have been three primary defining works for political and social activists over the past century.

The first of these is the work, especially the “Prison Notebooks,” of Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci, imprisoned by the Italian fascists, conceived “cultural hegemony” and laid out the principle described by left wing activist and martyr Rudi Dutschke as “the long march through the institutions” to replace the classical liberal republican free market hegemony with their own.

A founder of the Italian Communist Party, Gramsci recognized that the Communists were too weak to take political power but could infiltrate and dominate smaller civic entities such as the local school board and church vestry. Under the aegis of these socially-accepted entities they could gain power and resources, advance their agenda, and grow in power.

This is still productively being used by the left today. The left has weaponized de Tocqueville. Fiendishly brilliant!

The second of these works is Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer For Realistic Radicals. Full disclosure: I, under the chairmanship of Saul’s son, David Alinsky, serve as president of the Alinsky Center. Alinsky is considered a man of the left. This is entirely because he dedicated his life to fighting against injustice, such as corporate and government racial discrimination.

Alinsky was entirely uninfluenced by Gramsci, the speculations of the ignorant notwithstanding. Alinsky was just a tough talking guy from the Chicago streets who liked to teach the little guy how to stand up for himself. As an aside, Alinsky detested Big Government, publicly calling LBJ’s “War on Poverty” political pornography. He provided strategic guidance to then-Cardinal Archbishop Montini (later Pope Paul VI, hardly anyone’s idea of a left winger) to defeat the Italian Communist Party. He was neither a communist nor a socialist nor a Satanist.

Rules for Radicals is a work of populist genius. Its tactics have been widely and successfully adopted by the left. Alinsky’s tactics are an integral part of the canon of progressive political activism. Deservedly so. The right would benefit from taking them up. One hopes the political culture of both the left and right will now begin to assimilate Alinsky’s ethics of human dignity and creativity.

The third? Re:Imagining Change. It is a big claim to say that Re:Imagining Change belongs in the political canon right next to Gramsci and Alinsky. That said, I am well steeped in such matters, a long-time movement conservative, close observer of the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy, and, in the day, a Tea Party leader. I speak on this matter with some authority.

Much evidence shows that the left’s proficient use of the culture, strategy and tactics described in Re:Imagining Change is the real reason that Nancy Pelosi is right to say “We didn’t win the elections, but we’ve won every fight.” And will continue to do so.

Re:Imagining Change is the most dangerous contemporary book in my library and, so far as I can tell, the world.

The ongoing victories by the left are not accidental. Reinsborough, Canning, and their colleagues, over decades, quietly have been training and guiding thousands of progressive activists in the cultivation and use of an overlooked political and social superweapon. Behind-the-scenes, although never surreptitiously, they and their immediate colleagues have been equipping the left’s political guerrillas with a superweapon far more powerful, and more valuable, than the ones being purchased with billions of dollars by the right.

What do Reinsborough and Canning now reveal? The introduction to the 2nd edition makes it plain:

Storytelling is a foundation of human culture and has always been central to successful social change campaigns and movements.

    1.    We live in a unique time in the history of our planet, which requires that we fundamentally shift the political, economic, and cultural systems that structure our lives. …
    2.    Social change happens when ordinary people come together to organize with a shared purpose as part of a broad-based social movement. …
    3.    In order to change systems we have to change narratives.

Bingo. The narratives by which we live are the fulcrum on which our political, economic, and cultural levers rest. Shrewdly adjusting the character of the fulcrum provides activists with far more power than does toying with the levers.

Re:Imagining Change
shows how to do that with astonishing lucidity and power.

Recognizing the power of narrative is not exactly a new insight. Yet they have uniquely and importantly recognized its political and social centrality.

Plato, in The Republic, millennia ago, wrote about the power, and danger, of narratives (and narrators), recommending that poets be banished:

It seems, then, that if a man, who through clever training can become anything and imitate anything, should arrive in our city, wanting to give a performance of his poems, we should bow down before him as someone holy, wonderful, and pleasing, but we should tell him that there is no one like him in our city and that it isn't lawful for there to be. We should pour myrrh on his head, crown him with wreaths, and send him away to another city. (398a)

In 1703, Scottish nationalist philosopher Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun wrote in a letter to the Marquis of Montrose:

I said I knew a very wise man so much of Sir Christopher's sentiment, that he believed if a man were permitted to make all the ballads he need not care who should make the laws of a nation…. (Emphasis supplied.)

In 1776, Thomas Paine wrote a brief pamphlet by the title of Common Sense. It ignited the American revolution. It, along with Paine’s ongoing The American Crisis pamphlets written at the behest of General Washington, gave the Americans the ideals, and idealistic principles, that inspired the War for Independence, their codification in the Declaration of Independence, and victory. As summarized at

‘I know not whether any man in the world has had more influence on its inhabitants or affairs for the last thirty years than Tom Paine.’ So wrote John Adams in 1805. In an age of political pamphleteering, Paine had become the most influential pamphleteer of all. His writings remain classic statements of the egalitarian, democratic faith of the Age of Revolution.

Napoleon Bonaparte, on June 17, 1800, casually but pointedly observed while reviewing some of prisoners of war whom his troops had captured, prisoners who cheered him:

What a thing is imagination! Here are men who don't know me, who have never seen me, but who only knew of me, and they are moved by my presence, they would do anything for me! And this same incident arises in all centuries and in all countries! Such is fanaticism! Yes, imagination rules the world. The defect of our modern institutions is that they do not speak to the imagination. By that alone can man be governed; without it he is but a brute.

Yes, imagination rules the world.

Reinsborough and Canning activate this key point. Although it is one which has lurked at the periphery of politics forever they have seized upon it and made it central within the progressive movement. This is the secret behind their policy victories.

Will the right get woke and take this lesson in culture, strategy and tactics to heart?

Likely not. If not, I predict the left will prevail. Likely sooner than later.

Reinsborough and Canning’s manifesto is indispensable because it takes the principle of narrative and then, meticulously and nearly flawlessly, instructs the reader how to put it to work. It lays out, vividly and specifically, how to change narratives. It teaches how to get right inside people’s heads and change the way people think.

Virtually every page conveys powerful strategic and tactical secrets. These are not mere theoretical insights. These insights have been implemented, repeatedly, with many successes and refined over decades to be made even more potent. Want to know how Save The Whales came about? Climate Change? GMOs? Black Lives Matter? Read it.

Its chapter titles give some flavor: Why Story; Narrative Power; Winning the Battle of the Story; Points of Intervention; Changing the Story; and Navigating Crisis and Transition: A Call to Innovation.

In discussing narrative power, chapter II, the authors declare:

Lesson one in narrative power: myth is meaning. Don’t be limited by the common pejorative use of ‘myth’ to mean ‘lie’ and miss the deeper relevance of mythology as a framework for shared meaning. Myths are often mistakenly dismissed as folktales from long ago describing fantastical realities, but even today a sea of stories tell us who we are, what to believe, and toward what we should aspire. These stories play the same role that myths always have: answering the fundamental questions of identity, origin, and worldview.

Make no mistake about the scope of the authors’, and the left’s, ambitions. The concluding chapter declares:

Growing instability means more psychic breaks. As they chip away at old worldviews, many fights are increasingly about who provides the narration for the culture--will it be the elite media, political figures, right-wing Twitter trolls, or progressive movements? Actively narrating the change means building the power and reach to define public interpretation of the shifts happening all around us.

If grassroots movements successfully narrate the changes that ordinary people are experiencing in their lives, there is an incredible opportunity to engage public participation in the fight for systemic solutions. But to win these types of macro-framing contests we must collectively promote narrative as a key arena of struggle.

The culture, strategy and tactics of the left really are brilliant.

The left does have an Achilles heel. Several of them.

Its “America The Evil” core narrative, if recognized as such, is politically toxic and will alienate the labor, and much of the ethnic, left as well as the broad electorate. The left’s skepticism of, and even hostility to, technology is widely unpopular and not just in America but very much around the world. And the dogmas of the left (just like the dogmas of the right) are beset with internal contradictions.

As just one example of such contradictions the left is rhetorically committed to democracy. There is a certain irony implied in advancing policies advocated by candidates overwhelmingly and consistently rejected by the voters. What kind of “democracy” is that? Their "democracy" is reminiscent of "People's Democratic Republics" around the world.

The left rationalizes this incongruity by claiming that the political system is rigged. It then proposes to rig it in its own favor. Virtually every single electoral “reform” propounded by the left would work distinctly to the advantage of left-leaning candidates. This reveals faux populism. The left isn’t really “reform” minded. It is intent on taking power.

Bravo to them! It is exhilarating to have adversaries of this genius and ruthlessness.

That said, I begin to despair. Unless the right recognizes the left’s key vulnerabilities and starts using comparable culture, strategy and tactics, the left’s story-based strategy ultimately will prevail. And the right shows little sign of interest in, or propensity to use, narrative.

And there you have it.

Now you know why Nancy Pelosi was, for the first time in her long career, right: “We didn’t win the elections, but we’ve won every fight.” The left wins every fight because it is astutely using the culture, strategy and tactics of Re:Imagining Change.

If the left stays on course and the right continues to ignore these extraordinarily potent insights the left will continue to win every fight. The GOP will go the way of the Whigs.
Don’t fancy Re:Imagining Change? Of course you don’t!

If you’re reading this you are likely a (center) right winger. Right wingers heavily favor argument, which is a weak form of rhetoric, over narrative, which is strong. Still, desperate times call for desperate measures. And listen up: It is too late to pour myrrh on Reinsborough's and Canning’s heads, crown them with wreaths, and send them away to another city. 

The left has already let the djinn of the imagination out of its imaginary bottle. That djinn is granting the left’s wishes for the power to change, dramatically, how we live.

We of the right must either soon release our own djinn or else lose, and lose, and lose again. America, then, will plunge over the Reichenbach Falls of the mesmerizing yet utterly chimerical narrative of a Socialist Workers Paradise.

Game Over.

Welcome to the ultimate political battlefield.

It is the battlefield for your mind.

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