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Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism

By Ron Jacobs
Counterpunch
Weekend Edition August 8th-10th 2014

Making Rabble Rousing Relevant Again

In recent months, a friend and I have been discussing the possibilities of organizing the adjunct faculty working at the numerous colleges in Vermont. In our discussions, my friend, who is both an adjunct and a labor organizer, has been pushing a model where faculty working at each individual college would organize within the college they worked at. The model I have been leaning towards would have adjuncts organize into a statewide union that set basic requirements for the contracts these workers sign with individual institutions, provided real support to insure those parameters were met and adhered to, and would negotiate for adjuncts as a group with all employing institutions. While the former approach might be a quicker process, it would probably end up being a more difficult one to set up and maintain. After all, since adjuncts often work for two or three different employers each semester (given the low pay rates and insecure nature of the employment), it would be easy for the employing institutions to annul any union efforts by just refusing to hire those adjuncts in said efforts. If the adjuncts organized their union specific to their positions as temporary and independent workers, they could negotiate terms with every employer and thereby avoid most attempts to blacklist those in the union.

The reason I mention these conversations is because they are a great example of the nature of work in the neoliberal capitalist economy of the twenty-first century. It is an economy where employers have the upper hand; a world where salaries, benefits and employment itself is determined almost entirely by the employers and the market they serve. The idea of employer loyalty to its workers—something tenuous in the best of times—is now considered not only out of fashion, but bad business. Unions are usually seen as impediments to progress, if not just plain wrong. This dynamic rules employment in both the public and private sectors and is the result of a number of factors associated with neoliberal capitalism —“free trade agreements,” tax breaks for corporations, the privatization of public services including education, water, energy and even roads, and the domination of the media by a very small number of capitalist entities determined to dominate not only the markets but the very world itself.

In order to survive in the world defined by neoliberal capitalism, workers have slowly come to realize that they must organize in new ways that respond to the new situation. It is this realization that might just prevent the total destruction of worker organizing. A new book edited by Immanuel Ness was published with this in mind. The book, titled New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism, presents several case studies of organizing drives among workers around the world. These case studies explore the shortcomings of bureaucratic unionism not just in its current practice, but in its fundamental understanding of unionism itself. From Russia, to China; from Sweden to Colombia; Minneapolis to London; the stories in these pages are ones almost anyone who has worked in the food industry or on a factory floor can relate to. Petty dictators for bosses, management willing to work for salary just to get a title and a hope for advancement, and workers wanting to organize but afraid of losing their jobs and ending up on the street—this is the situation workers find themselves in.

As the title suggests, there may well be a solution. It is called syndicalism. For those who don’t know what this is, the Concise Encyclopedia defines it as “Movement advocating direct action by the working class to abolish the capitalist order, including the state, and to replace it with a social order based on the syndicat, a free association of self-governing producers.” This is a set of ideas at least as old as industrial capitalism that reached its greatest popularity in the early part of the twentieth century when capital before it was quashed (often violently) across the globe. This book is dedicated to its rebirth. Among syndicalism’s adherents were the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or Wobblies. Indeed, this book includes essays describing two recent Wobbly campaigns: one amongst fast food workers in Minnesota and the other featuring janitorial workers in Britain. Both stories describe a workforce with faith in its power, a determination to win its struggle and optimism based on the facts of their lives and an understanding that by staying united they can make those lives better. Simultaneously, like the rest of the articles in this book, the IWW tales are tempered with an understanding of the real nature of the forces opposed to the workers’ success. Underlying everything is this reality—working people of the world cannot depend on the existing structures to work in their favor.

If they don’t wish to be denied justice in the workplace, they must be ready to organize themselves and fight for it.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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Peter Kuper, The System on DART

By Peggy Roalf
DART Design Arts Daily
August 7th ,2014

In a moment of heightened awareness one day back in 1995, Peter Kuper, while riding the packed #2 train, began wondering about his fellow passengers and their destinations in a new way.

“Was this trip all we have in common,” he thought, “or might our lives crisscross and impact one another in positive or even catastrophic ways. If the flap of a butterfly’s wings in China could cause a storm in Manhattan, what would the various actions of a subway full of commuters incite?”

Kuper is one of the co-founders of World War 3 Illustrated, which was launched in December 1979. The anthology magazine was a home for comic book work and graphic/illustrated storytelling that was anti-establishment and aggressively critical of the social and political right-wing conservatism that prevailed following the election of President Ronald Reagan.


Spread from The System, © Peter Kuper

It embraced the “us vs. them” politics of the Lower East Side of Manhattan including housing rights, gentrification, police brutality, racism; and economic inequality. Pages from World War 3 Illustrated were appropriated by protesters during the Tomkins Square Park Riot of 1988, to be transformed into improvised signage and DIY posters.


World War 3 Illustrated Cover

From this day-to-day laboratory of conflicts and coinciences, Kuper began mentally assembling The System, a wordless chronicle of the clashes and convergences of New York City’s populace. First published as three separate comics in 1996, later collected in a paperback anthology in 1997, The System is now available in a colorful hardcover edition. In the Introduction, Calvin Reed, co-editor of PW Comics World writes:

Originally published in 1997, The System serves as an early repository of all [Kuper’s] influences, graphic achievements, and attempts to reconcile comics to their own formal history, to life and to art, and specifically to the knockabout experience of life in New York City….A wordless pictorial novel reminiscent of Frans Masereal’s Passionate Journey, The System is a parable-like, sentimental meditation on the convulsive social drama of day-to-day urban life. It weaves its multiple narrative threads into a brightly patterned fabric of recognizable, fictionalized events—a kind of melodrama on the patterns of city life.

Kuper’s notion of the urban “system” is an elaborate network of coincidental encounters, parallel routines and, most important, the overlapping, interdependent tales of disparate social and politicized interests that loom over the lives of ordinary people, from strippers and crooked cops to martyred street artists, corporate financiers, and Pakistani drivers.

The System details the capricious power of coincidence, the simple bonds of affection, the daily grind, and the super-charged existential consequences of ethnic and social complexity—and illuminates it all with the glow of New York City’s scary magnificence.

You can meet Peter and get signed copies of The System (PM Press 2014) and World War 3 Illustrated at events coming up this fall:

Sept 2: Comic Symposium at Parsons The New School for Design

Sept 8-15: Bangalore, India Comic Con

Brooklyn Book Festival: Sept 17-19

Sept 27: New York Art Book Fair, PS 1 Moma

Sept 29: Comic Symposium Parsons (with all of WW3 artists)

Oct 9-12: NYC Comic Con 

Details on Facebook and Twitter: @PKuperArt

Peter Kuper is the co-founder of World War 3 Illustrated. He has written and drawn Spy vs Spy for Mad magazine since 1997. He has also produced over 25 books including an adaptation of Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Peter teaches comics at The School of Visual arts and is a visiting professor at Harvard. BlogWW3. WW3 Video.

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Postivie Force: DC Activism

By Shelly Jones
Photo by Owen Richards
Huck Magazine
June 26th, 2014

“The destructive urge is also a creative urge!” Robin Bell's new documentary about DC punk activist group Positive Force reveals the radical possibilities of a subculture.

“Revolution has to begin in the ruthless criticism of everything existing.”

Or so says the Marx quote that opens Robin Bell’s new documentary More Than a Witness about Washington DC-based punk activist organisation Positive Force. It’s summoned by one of the organisation’s co-founders Mark Andersen, who goes on to quote Bakunin too: “The destructive urge is also a creative urge.”

Combined, suggests Andersen, these quotes form the essential politics of punk. “It’s an all-out assault on business as usual,” he says, animatedly on camera, “on society, on the state, on religion, on the family. All of the sacred cows are subjected to the withering, truth-seeking gaze of punk.”

Positive Force emerged in 1985 – “rising from the creative, politically-charged ferment of DC punk’s Revolution Summer” – and Robin Bell transports us back to this heady era of political culture through archive footage of local bands like Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses and Bikini Kill and contemporary talking-head interviews with some of punk’s most influential pioneers – from Ian Mackaye to Penny Rimbaud (Crass).

Mark Andersen, however, is the anchor around which the film gravitates. Although Positive Force once had a network of a dozen groups around the States, Andersen’s faction, in DC, is the only one still active.

The group has a storied history – their Positive Force House (“a garden of radical possibilities”) teetered between serving as a hotbed of anti-systemic dissent and a more constructive community centre – but their commitment to making real social change through music, and culture in general, has been an inspiration for activists the world over.

We caught up with Mark to find out more.

When did Robin approach you about the film?
Robin approached me in 2009. He had been thinking about it for awhile, and even talked to Ian MacKaye to get advice about whether to do it, since it was going to be a lot of hard work and would require some serious fundraising to do it right. When Ian encouraged him, Robin decided to take the plunge.

Why did you feel that now was the right time to tell the Positive Force story?
Well, it really wasn’t my call. Robin wanted to do it, I trusted him, so it was simple to decide to help out. Also, Craig O’Hara at PM Press was key in this, because when he heard about this film, he was excited to put it out as a DVD. His support and enthusiasm has been extraordinary, we are lucky to be working with him.

What message do you hope the film leaves behind?
That people have the power to change themselves and their world. Together we can really do anything we put our minds to, as long as we also put our back into the work, and take care to make space for each other.

The film wrestles with a lot of contradictions within activism – disruption vs constructive community work, hierarchy vs horizontal etc. At this stage, do you feel like you’ve worked out the perfect way an organisation like this can exist?
I don’t know that there is a perfect way to do activism, or for an organisation to thrive. But I do have some sense that there needs to be enough structure to keep the group on the rails, getting things done, but not so much as to stifle individual initiative or creativity. Relationships are also key. It is a tricky balance to strike, and depends on folks with different attitudes or approaches to find a common ground to work from together. Do it yourself and do it together, in other words.

The 1980s was a great time for politically conscious culture. Do you see that spirit alive in contemporary art and music now?
Honestly, much of contemporary culture seems pretty sold out and safe, not wrestling with the big issues or trying to take a stand, to put yourself on the line. There are exceptions of course, but that is how I see it. Having said that, this tends to be the reality always, as human beings tend toward a certain passivity. Let’s remember that Reagan and Thatcher ruled the 1980s ultimately; we fought them but we lost, for now. Moreover, there are forever powerful commercial forces trying to just keep us consuming, making them more and more money, and trying to keep us from questioning the system or building a new, better one. At the same time, we can choose any time to fight back. And we must. Every bit helps, and we are all called to play our role. To be, “More than a witness,” if you will.

Why do you think figures like Ian Mackaye and Penny Rimbaud have been and remain such role models for a certain type of socially conscious punk? What is it about them that endures?
Ian and Penny – or other folks such as Gee Vaucher or Kathleen Hanna – are the real thing, as deep and true as the ocean. They ‘live the life” but – as punk would tell us – so can each of us, if we really want to do so. It is not easy, to be sure, but the rewards of living in some authentically conscious and compassionate way are immense, for ourselves and our world.

Positive Force has encouraged people to look at the injustice on their own doorstep. Do you think change is something that has to happen close to home before it can happen elsewhere?
‘Here’ and ‘there’ is too simple of a dichotomy. As we know, everything is connected, especially in this globalised world. However, a focus on the injustice somewhere else without wrestling first and foremost with that injustice right here amongst us is a danger, even a cop out. Change has to happen on all levels: personal, local, and global.

We live in the age of ‘corporate social responsibility’ and Bill Gates, who wants to ‘save’ Africa. What is your opinion on top-down humanitarian work compared to grassroots activism? Are we all on the same side?
It is hard to ignore the good that big money donors can do, but ultimately their money has to fuel transformation at the grassroots or it is not real. Of course, we also have to question systems that allow individuals to accumulate such huge mountains of money while others starve. In the end, this has to change as well, though in the short term, money from anywhere that helps people survive day-to-day is a good thing, I think. There is inevitably a certain element of thievery in how the rich make their money; thus they need to give it back, and the best of them realise this. As the [seventeenth-century English agrarian socialist group] Diggers said, “The earth is a common treasury for everyone to share.”

You must have seen a lot of volunteers pass through. Do you keep in touch with many? What kind of things have Positive Force volunteers gone on to do?
It has been hard to stay in touch sometimes, and remains so, though innovations like Facebook can help to some limited degree. PF members have gone on to start their own organisations, to write books, to be professors, community workers, lawyers, doctors, parents, and beyond. Punk – like revolution – is relevant in any circumstance you find yourself, and I have often been inspired by the creative ways my PF friends have expressed their ideals as they’ve grow older and entered into more mainstream society. Those human connections, those relationships remain perhaps the most powerful and positive legacy of Positive Force, I’d say. When we come together, people have immense and ultimately unstoppable power. So we need each other. As Chumbawamba said, “Isolation is the biggest barrier to change.”

Is Positive Force still active? If so what does it work on these days?
Absolutely. PF still does what it always did, organising benefit concerts, educational events and creative protests, as well as direct service work with seniors, the homeless, and other marginalised folks. Above all, we are trying to build caring, just and inclusive community, bringing people together across boundaries like race, class, religion, sexual orientation, culture, nationality, and even language.

What is the connection with We Are Family?
We Are Family is one of PF’s most critical partners in the above mentioned mission, and PF volunteers are crucial to We Are Family’s work, together with volunteers from many other diverse communities.

Is there a religious agenda?
Not for the group, though some members may well be driven by their religious convictions, just as others are driven by their anarchist convictions or socialist convictions etc.

What are your plans for the future?
To keep trying to find ways to remind people of the immense power and responsibility that we share for building better selves and a better world. As always, we all must do whatever we can with whatever we have wherever we are, right now. As PF has often said, “The revolution starts now with you.”

You can find out more about Positive Force and the More Than a Witness documentary on their respective websites.

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S. Brian Willson's Blood on the Tracks reviewed on the History News Network

By Jeremy Kuzmarov
History News Network
February 26th, 2012

Review of S. Brian Willson's "Blood on the Tracks: The Life and Times of S. Brian Willson: A Psychohistorical Memoir” - See more at: http://hnn.us/article/144792#sthash.tRsFUs8A.VcEWSBI1.dpuf

Jeremy Kuzmarov is an assistant professor of history at the University of Tulsa and author of a book on Vietnam and the War on Drugs and a forthcoming volume on American police training and counterinsurgency and its link to human rights abuses in the developing world. - See more at: http://hnn.us/article/144792#sthash.tRsFUs8A.VcEWSBI1.dpuf

On September 1, 1987, S. Brian Willson, a Vietnam veteran, was run over by a train outside the Concord Naval Weapons Station in Northern California while trying to block munitions shipments to the Nicaraguan Contras. Willson lost both of his legs and suffered brain damage. After his miraculous recovery, he was greeted as a national hero in Nicaragua and also received a letter of apology from Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, who told him that she was sickened by her father’s “aggressively anti-Sandinista rhetoric” and “absurd reference to the Contras as freedom fighters.”

In Blood on the Tracks, Willson discusses his remarkable life-journey from a young conservative to a peace activist willing to sacrifice his body in defiance of the empire for which he once fought. Willson grew up in upstate New York where he had a conventional boyhood playing cowboys and Indians and starring on his high school baseball and basketball teams. His parents were religious conservatives who supported the Republican Party, with his father gravitating to extremist right-wing organizations such as the John Birch Society and the Ku Klux Klan after losing his job as manager of a flour mill. In 1964, after graduating from a small Baptist college, Willson supported Barry Goldwater for president and advocated “bombing the godless communists in Vietnam into oblivion.”

In the Air Force, Willson’s job was to document bombing casualties in Vinh Long province, which opened his eyes to the terrible suffering caused by the war. Before going overseas, he heard Senator Ernest Gruening from Alaska give a speech describing the Gulf of Tonkin attack as a fraud. At the time, he had been skeptical but now began to consider it in a new light, particularly as he witnessed U.S. pilots mercilessly strafe villages, killing women and children. Near the end of his tour, Willson had dinner with a Vietnamese friend, whose family showed him a postage stamp honoring Norman Morrison, the Quaker peace activist who immolated himself outside Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara’s office. By this time, Willson had come to feel a connection to Morrison, someone who grew up just miles from his boyhood home.

After returning to the United States, Willson participated in Operation Dewey Canyon III, “a limited incursion in the country of Congress” where disgruntled vets hurled their medals over the Capitol fence, stating that the medals were “drenched in the blood of the innocent.”

Settling back into civilian life, Willson earned his law degree and worked as a public defender, penal consultant, and social worker, witnessing first-hand what he considered to be the injustices of the court and penal systems. He became increasingly disillusioned by mainstream politics after having difficulty lobbying for basic penal reforms. Willson’s political perspective was further shaped by his extensive reading in the history of U.S. imperialism as well as anarchist and socialist philosophies. While living in Washington, he attended lectures by people such as Noam Chomsky and encountered non-conformists such as Wally and Juanita Nelson, tax resistors who had been active in the civil rights movement and believed that each person had a duty to consume only what he or she could produce.

During the early 1980s, after experiencing painful flashbacks to Vietnam, Willson worked at a local VA center and aided in the Senate campaign of John F. Kerry, who later disappointed him by voting for the Iraq War. Seeing Nicaragua as yet another potential Vietnam, Willson became a tax resistor and joined in solidarity missions where he witnessed terrorist atrocities carried out by Contra operatives against rural campesinos who predominantly supported the socialist Sandinistas. As with the Vietnamese a decade earlier, Willson came to admire people who struggled valiantly in defense of their revolution. He also became connected with kindred spirits such as Charlie Liteky, a Medal of Honor winner turned peace activist, Phil Roettinger, a dissident CIA agent who had participated in the 1954 coup in Guatemala, and Bill Gandall, who had fought with the Marines against the original Sandinistas in the 1920s.

Back in the U.S., Willson gave lectures documenting Contra atrocities and attempted in vain to convince congressional delegates of the immorality of Reagan’s foreign policy. One congressman, Douglas Wayne Owens from Utah asked him, “Why should I believe someone who looks like you,” a reference presumably to his long hair. Devastated by this experience, Willson and several cohorts from Veterans for Peace, including Liteky and Roettinger, launched a forty-day-long fast on the Capitol steps that attracted wide-scale media attention and support from celebrities. The group then attempted to block U.S. weapons shipments, leading to the fateful train wreck in which Willson lost his legs (the others were able to escape just before being hit). The conductors, as he later found out, were under orders not to stop for protestors, considered to be “pests” threatening to arouse others from their indifference and passivity.

After recovering from his wounds and returning to Nicaragua as a hero, Willson traveled to many other countries devastated directly or indirectly by U.S. intervention, including El Salvador, Panama, Cuba, Palestine, Chiapas in Mexico, and Iraq. One again he was appalled at the devastation bred by mechanized warfare while taking inspiration from those standing up for indigenous rights. Willson’s experiences ultimately helped to solidify his belief that the roots of American militarism lay with the incessant consumerism of American society. He continues his work as a peace activist and has decided to opt out of what he calls the “American Way of Life,” focusing instead on living a simple, ecologically sustainable life in rural Massachusetts. Like other anarchist thinkers, Willson believes in decentralized systems of power and self-reliant communities functioning at one with nature, which he believes hold the key to human sustainability and progress over the long-term.

Willson’s journey from conservative Goldwater supporter to radical peace activist and environmentalist is incredibly inspiring and his memoir should be widely read. Over the past five decades he has encountered the range of human experience, including the barbarism of modern war, the arrogance of power, the banality of evil, as well as the courage of peace activists and dissenters and dignity of those struggling to survive against the odds. He himself appears to carry the weight of the American Century, with all its violence and destructiveness, on his back, and which has taken a profound psychological and physical toll on him.

Nevertheless, Willson has emerged strong and defiant and with a vision for the future. He is a wise and courageous man, and from him we have much to learn.

- See more at: http://hnn.us/article/144792#sthash.tRsFUs8A.VcEWSBI1.dpuf

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Green pioneer: Anarchy, Geography, Modernity in The Chartist

by Duncan Bowie
The Chartist
July/August 2014

Green pioneer

Elisee Reclus has been due for greater recognition. He was a leading French anarchist and one of the founders of human geography. Unlike his friend and fellow anarchist geographer, Petr Kropotkin, most of his works have never been trans- lated into English (though I do have an 1871 translation of his first major study- The Earth and a Bellamy library edition of his 1891 pamphlet Evolution and Revolution) and this new collection provides for the first time substantial extracts from his major political and geographical works. The editors, academics in New Orleans and Mississippi, also provide a 100 page introduction to Reclus’ thought, which complements Marie Fleming’s 1979 biography - The Anarchist Way to Socialism, which to my knowledge is the only previous substantive work on Reclus in English.

Reclus was a communard. He spent part of his life in exile in Switzerland though he also visited London and attended at least one meeting of the First International, at which he supported the case for land nationalization against Marx.

Reclus’s writings covered a wide range of topics. This collection includes pamphlets and extracts on nature, the extended family, evolution and revolution, vegetarianism, the state, culture and property and progress.

Reculs can be considered with Alfred Russell Wallace as one of the founders of environmentalism -much of his work focuses on the relationship between human beings and nature. I found the extract on “The Growth of Cities’ from volume 5 of L’Homme at La Terre, an excellent analysis of urban growth and the negative effects of densification, a text which should be read by all planners and ‘urbanists’. The final extract is a letter Reclus sent to comrades in Barcelona in 1901-— as advice from an ‘old man’ - “Do not quarrel or deal in personalities. Listen to opposing arguments after you have presented your own. Learn how to remain silent and reflect. Do not try to get the better in an argument at the expanse of your own sincerity.” Good advice.

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Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables in New Noise Magazine

by John B Moore
New Noise Magazine
July 15th, 2014
Reviewer rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

You thought your job today was hard? Imagine trying to write book about the highly influential, but notoriously litigious political punk band the Dead Kennedys – a group that seemingly thrives on trading insults at each other. That was the task faced by music journalist Alex Ogg and he managed to pull it off quite impressively with the absorbing Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years.

The book actually came out of a series of interviews Ogg undertook with band members when he was commissioned to write the liner notes for an 25th Anniversary reissue of Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, a release that was stalled thanks to… wait for it… a lawsuit by feuding band members. The interviews reflected here are pretty thorough, covering everything from the band’s founding, the writing and recording of the group’s debut and a tour of England. Recollections on just about everything, from who contributed the music to specific songs to how they came up with the track sequencing, differ greatly depending on the source; Singer Jello Biafra and East Bay Ray disagree vehemently on just about every detail of the band’s early years.

The book is filled out with a slew of cool fliers, collages and other artwork by noted punk artist Winston Smith, as well as photos from the band’s early days.

Even for the casual punk rock fan, the book is a quick compelling read, owning greatly to Ogg’s conversational, humorous writing style, as well as the band’s rocky story. The controversy and inner band turmoil is just starting to boil as the last chapter ends. But don’t expect Ogg to turn in a follow up. “At least two further great albums – as well as lawsuits, police busts, censorship charges, literally riotous gigs, Penis Landscape, Tipper Gore and Oprah Winfrey Show lay ahead,” he writes. “Some other poor bastard can tackle that, though.” (John B. Moore)

A long overdue book focusing on the early years of one of punk rock’s most notorious and greatest loved bands, The Dead Kennedys.

In his prequel, author Alex Ogg reminds us that The Dead Kennedys have never been written about at length (see John Robb’s tribute here). The Ramones, Clash and Pistols have over 100 titles between them, and yet DK are arguably one of the bands that typifies punk at its best. They stuck two fingers up to the music industry and then lunged in to attack it. And who doesn’t recognise that logo?

If you don’t know the Dead Kennedys then:

  • a) seriously?
  • b) you need to book yourself into the punk reprogramming camp (does the opposite of the one in Aceh they sent Indonesian punks to) and immerse yourself particularly in their early works.

For those already inducted, read on…

“Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years” does what it says on the tin. It starts by placing the key players and the band that would become Dead Kennedys in the context of the development of punk at a local San Francisco level and globally. It then charts their rapid progress in spite of, or possibly because of, a “cultural hand grenade of a name” from garage practices and their early performances, DIY released first 7 inch and onto their debut LP – all of which happened from their own reckoning by “pure dumb luck” – perhaps playing down the hard work and ingenuity which was partly responsible. As Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”.

Chapter titles are taken from DK songs, which is always a winner in my view, causing a wry grin. The pages are littered with band collages, Winston Smith’s art, gig flyers and Ruby Ray’s photos capturing the band in their infancy – which keeps the reader’s attention and makes this all the more difficult to put down. Photos of different covers and record middles from across the globe demonstrate how far their message spread across a world eager for acerbic high octane punk rock.  There are also excerpts from the “Hard Rock” comic about DK punctuating the story of pivotal events in the band’s early stages – in itself a humorous contradiction. I’ll be returning to this volume for a cursory browse at the pictures every now and then.

Alex Ogg manages to overcome the difficult job of providing a narrative that includes conflicting versions of events from former band mates who are at loggerheads, allowing the details and trivia to froth around so the reader can decide their own version of “the truth” from whatever bubbles to the surface.  He brings the story alive using interviews not only with band members, but with other contemporary witnesses including gig-goers. The writing manages to go some way to capturing the excitement, buzz, artistic freedom, true rebellion of punk rock in the early days when it really was a shock to the establishment rather than a music genre co-opted into corporate rock.  I came away from reading this book marveling once again at the musicianship, lyrical satire and sarcasm, theatrics, imaginative pranks and art that made Dead Kennedys stand out all those years ago – and still stand out now. Which led to me having a DK-athon over the last week!

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years is packed full of interesting facts and gossip:  I found out what that line about Serpents Eggs in California Uber Alles was really about rather than having a general gist it was “something bad”; the pizza delivery job Jello had back in Boulder being the inspiration for songs like Terminal Preppie and Holiday in Cambodia, and the true identity of Norm, the producer credited for Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  Want to know about production processes and techniques they employed to capture and embellish upon their live sound to create  great records (and the obligatory conflict in the studio within the band and between the band and engineer)?  That’s in here as well.  Want to know who really wrote a particular song?  You’ll have to make your own mind up as each stakes their claim.

A chapter based largely on a stowaway-cum-roadie’s reminiscences provides an insight into the first UK tour Dead Kennedys undertook, bringing such cultural imports as stage diving and an amusing anecdote where the band misread the crowd’s sense of humour, thinking they had themselves misread the irony in the band’s lyrics.

The end notes detailing sources and full quotes provide a deeper level of trivia that some nerds…errmm, I mean “fact fans”, will absolutely love.  In the days before the internet this volume would have been a punk pub quiz host’s bible!   I have to admit I skipped much of the “Yakety Yak” chapter, comprised as it is of quotes about DK from some predictable punk/HC luminaries, a few journalists and the less predictable Pete Townshend (Who?), Elijah Wood and Massive Attack. Probably even something in there to impress Bruce “Punks can’t play their instruments” Dickinson.

Russ “Dr. Punk” Bestley, responsible for the image laden design of this book, submits a 3-page profile/homage to Winston Smith, whose artwork helped amplify the sound and lyrics of DK to create notoriety on a scale the Pistols could only have dreamt of.  Dada, situationism, Jamie Reid and Gee Vaucher all get a mention, of course.

The tale closes,as the title would suggest, after Fresh Fruit was released and drummer Ted left in December 1980.  Alex Ogg has left unpicking the rest of the DK story for “some other poor bastard” but I think he has proven he is the man for the job (go on, you know you want to, Alex!).  Whereas some band/artist biographies get bogged down in so much technical detail that you forget the generality of what you have read and lose track of what went on (I am thinking in particular of People Funny Boy by David Katz) our author has mastered the art of distillation which is just what you need to plot a path through a contentious story such as that of the Dead Kennedys.  Finishing the book, I was left reflecting that the Moral Majority and PMRC couldn’t destroy the band but they have done a pretty good job on each other since via the court system.  That’s another story in itself.

~ Get your copy from turnaround-uk.com, activedistribution.org and pmpress.org - See more at: http://louderthanwar.com/fresh-fruit-for-rotting-vegetables-the-early-years-by-alex-ogg-book-review/#sthash.25ip858k.dpuf

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




Anarres Project with Chris Crass: Social Justice and Hope on Truthout

by Anarres Project and Chris Crass
Earth First! Journal
July 2nd, 2014


Chris Crass on Social Justice Heroes, Obstacles and Hope in the Movement, and Movies: The Anarres Project for Alternative Futures Interview

Chris Crass is a longtime organizer, educator, and writer working to build powerful working class-based, feminist, multiracial movements for collective liberation.  He gives talks and leads workshops on campuses and with communities and congregations around the U.S. and Canada, to help support grassroots activists efforts. He balances family with his public political work and believes they are deeply interconnected, as both are about working to bring our vision and values into the world.

Throughout the 1990s he was an organizer with Food Not Bombs, an economic justice anti-poverty group and network; with them he helped build up the direct action-based anti-capitalist Left internationally.  Building on the successes and challenges of the mass direct action convergences of the global justice movement, most notably in Seattle against the WTO in 1999, he helped launch the Catalyst Project with the support of movement elders and mentors Sharon Martinas, Elizabeth ‘Betita’ Martinez, and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.  Catalyst Project combines political education and organizing to develop and support anti-racist politics, leadership, and organizing in white communities and builds dynamic multiracial alliances locally and nationally.

In 2000 he was a co-founder of the Colours of Resistance network, which served as a think tank and clearinghouse of anti-racist feminist analysis and tools for activists in the U.S. and Canada.  After Sept. 11th, 2001, he helped to found the Heads Up Collective which brought together a cadre of white anti-racist organizers to build up the multiracial Left in the San Francisco, Bay Area through alliances between the majority white anti-war movement and locally-based economic and racial justice struggles in communities of color.  He was also a member of the Against Patriarchy Men’s Group that supported men in developing their feminist analysis and their feminist leadership.

He graduated from San Francisco State University in Race, Class, Gender and Power Studies.  Originally from California, he currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his partner Jardana Peacock and their son, River.  He is a Unitarian Universalist and works with faith-based communities to help build up the spiritual Left.  You can find his website

Anarres Project: What experiences did you have that turned you toward organizing?

Growing up, I saw my parents involved in a range of organizations and community efforts. My mom for example joined the PTA of my elementary school when I was kid, in part because my brother and I had learning disabilities and at that time most teachers didn’t know much about learning disabilities and instead of seeing that I needed special help, I was tracked into the slow learners who got less attention and less was expected of them.

So when my 2nd grade teacher told my mom that I likely would never be a good reader, my mom was pissed and she joined the PTA to help make a change in the school. She didn’t want to just get me a tutor or deal with me and my brother’s individual learning, she wanted to the school to be able to serve all the kids with learning disabilities. My dad was also involved in local city government and talked to me about the importance of well funded and resourced parks and recreational facilities in working class communities, like the community he and his brother grew up in.

I wasn’t a red diaper baby, but I was the kid of Kennedy Democrat parents who believed Gandhi, Dr. King, and Cesar Chavez were heroes and that we need to get involved in our communities to improve them. These experiences planted the seeds.

Becoming best friends with an anarchist, listening to political punk rock and working at a local food pantry for working class and poor families were the water that helped those seeds bloom. Mike Rejniak was a 16 year old working class anarchist punk who rocked my world. “There will never be peace as long as there are ruling classes who profit from war,” he said one day in our drama class. We became best friends immediately and started up an anarchist group, began recruiting others, organizing demonstrations against the Gulf War in 1991 and the Rodney King verdict, we affiliated with the national Love and Rage Anarchist Network and set out to make anarchism and left politics the coolest thing at our high school and with young people in the larger area. Punk rock was our soundtrack.

Working at the local food pantry helped turn me towards organizing in a few ways. I first went there because a girl in high school I had a crush on invited me to go with her. And I kept going, for a couple of years. I was reading about anarchist and socialist working class organizing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, I was reading the Communist Manifesto and Emma Goldman’s Living My Life, I was going to large scale anti-war demonstrations and reading about activism in newspapers like Love and Rage, Profane Existence and the Blast, and the food pantry became a weekly routine where I wasn’t just abstractly learning about capitalism and it’s racialized and gendered dimensions, but I was experiencing it as I packed bags of groceries for working class women, mostly of color, to pick up for their families, and where I was making sandwiches for bag lunches for homeless men. I had class anger, and rage and my heart broke over and over again. Our anarchist group started organizing two, three dozen kids from our community to come help out at the food pantry before holidays. It was always the anarchists and the Boy Scouts that would turn out young people. Out of that crew we started up a local Food Not Bombs as we were building up a community of people who believed we needed left anti-capitalist organizations, campaigns, collective mass actions, community counter-institutions, and a fighting movement that was rooted in working class communities, anti-racist, feminist, internationalist and that it needed to be the coolest thing everyone wanted to be part of.

Anarres Project: Who would you consider your social justice heroes and why?

My initial heroes were the Chicago anarchist leaders of the labor movement in the 1880s who were organizing tens of thousands of working people and families into a militant labor movement that fought the bosses, dreamed of a democratic commonwealth, and united revolutionary aspirations with reform oriented struggles for the 8 hour work day, the right to form a union, and better pay. These were people like Lucy and Albert Parsons, and August Spies. In addition to picket lines, strikes, and mass rallies, they also organized ice cream socials for families and kids, socialist ballroom dances, athletic and social clubs. I was inspired by the culture of solidarity, the vision of socialist and free society, and the strategy of counter-hegemonic reform fights (meaning they not only demanded an 8 hour day, but challenged the legitimacy of economic inequality and capitalism as a whole).

Later, after years of activism, with lots of questions about how to build effective movements, I started reading about the Southern Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. While there is a lot to learn from and be inspired by, I was particularly attracted to a cadre of organizers who developed a kind of Southern populist socialist orientation and profoundly influenced the movement. People like Ella Baker, Anne and Carl Braden, Myles and Zilphia Horton, and Septima Clark. They had a non-dogmatic, broad socialist vision of what kind of society we’re working towards, a class analysis of how power is organized, and a deeply democratic belief in the capacity of everyday people to make sense of complex reality, take courageous action, and ultimately govern society (not in a vision of everyday people running congress, but more in everyday people taking over local, regional and ultimately national positions of power in ever facet of society, and simultaneously transforming how power is organized, overall, away from authoritarian hierarchical models, towards egalitarian forms of governing and running society).

They operated from really inspiring, based in experience, ideas about how education, activism, culture, and change all worked together. They believed in the need for conscious leaders and organizers to help build up organizations, campaigns, and educational programs, but that everyday people could be their own leaders and that together we build people powered movements rooted in communities, that can change society. They believed in the importance of multi-pronged strategy that included legal, legislative, reform change, but emphasized the necessity of mass direct action, community empowerment through organizing, and that our goals must include building up democratic grassroots power so that we don’t just change a law or policy, but we shift power in a way that helps working class communities fight for more after this particular struggle has been won.

This tradition of Southern organizing continues today and it’s one of the reasons I love living in the South.

Anarres Project: What gives you hope for the future?

We live in times where, like in Lord of the Rings, where it seems like Mordor and the forces of evil are about to eliminate all hope and burn the world down. We face the fossil fuel capitalist economy-based crisis of climate chaos/change, the fast track of overall ecological destruction that an economic order that turns everything and everyone into a commodity to either be extracted or used up, the crisis of global economic inequality that subjects millions to premature death and permanent debt, and the spiritual crisis of our society in the U.S. in the face of all of this. But we are also in the courageous times that Samwise Gamgee reminds us and Frodo about, that even in dark times when it seemed all hope was lost, there was still some good in the world and it’s worth fighting for.

I have a lot of hope for the future. One of my spiritual practices is to regularly call forward the memory of past movements, of past movement ancestors and imagine moments when they felt overwhelmed, scared, hopeless, and call forward their courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. I sit in gratitude for the legacies, traditions, victories, mistakes, and lessons we have today because of their efforts. A spiritual connection to these histories helps guide me and ground me. That said, there are powerful efforts all around us that give me hope.  I’m just going to lift up a few.

There are more out LGBTQ people in the world today then any other time in history and the influence of queer liberation is helping shift thinking on family, community, sexuality, gender, culture and politics around the world.

There are more men influenced by feminism, womanism, and women’s liberation then at any other point in history. While in no way am I saying that the violence of misogyny and structural inequality of patriarchy are crumbling, I do believe that there are millions of men around the world who embrace, consciously or not, aspects of feminist values, promote them and practice them. For example, as a dad, I feel the impact of feminism all the time. Feminism has called on dads to me much more involved in the emotional lives of their kids and in the reproductive labor of the family. Every time I kiss my son and tell him how much I love him, I thank feminism for helping make space for men to be emotionally alive.

With both of these, advances in queer and feminist liberation, I’m not saying the days of heteropatriarchy are numbered (at least not yet), but that tremendous gains have been made, and that we have much more to build on today, as a result. It is vital that we hold on to, regularly claim and name past victories and gains. Far too often on the left, we seize victory and put it into the jaws of defeat, focusing almost exclusively on what wasn’t won, forget what was won. Perfectionism is poison that sets us up to always feel like failures. We have to be sophisticated and see the positives as well as the negatives, the gains and the setbacks.

The economic justice struggles around the world are inspiring and here in the U.S. the organizing to raise the minimum wage is hopeful. There are more and more statewide struggles to win universal health care, modeled after the successful efforts of the Vermont Workers Center, who won universal health care a few years ago. Following the Vermont victory, efforts in Maine, Pennsylvania, Maryland and elsewhere are leveraging resources in the cities to help build statewide organizations that can help support and unite leaders and activists from rural areas, small towns, suburbs and cities. Furthermore, these campaigns are helping unite people across structural divisions of race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and citizenship, to fight for shared goals. This is also happening with the National Domestic Worker Alliance and their allies like Hand in Hand which is organizing employers of domestic workers. This has led to successful statewide organizing to win Domestic Worker Bill of Rights legislation in New York, California, Hawaii, and most recently in Massachusetts.

I think these kinds of economic-based statewide struggles have the potential of generating a culture of solidarity that recognizes differences between people, particularly those based on historical and structural inequality, but is also able to transcend “difference as division” and create a “rainbow of humanity” with shared goals and aspirations for justice, dignity for all people, and respect for the earth.

But it’s not just struggles based in economic issues alone that is doing this. One of the other great sources of hope for me is the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina that is building a similar culture of solidarity that still recognizes the structural and historical divisions and has created a powerful shared agenda for education, reproductive rights, health care, living wage, and LGBTQ freedom. Moral Mondays came out of a longstanding coalition of community, faith-based and labor groups led by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP. It has grown over the years into a mass movement, with over 1000 people having committed civil disobedience, regular demonstrations of thousands of people calling for this broad-based set of demands, and in February of this year, there was a Mass Moral Monday march with over 75,000 people, the largest demonstration in the South since the 1960s.

On a more personal level I have hope in the beloved community of my family, friends and comrades and from my Unitarian Universalist faith tradition and movement.

Anarres Project: What do you think are the most significant obstacles to social justice in the future? 

The U.S. left has a strong aversion to power. Many of us see power as something to avoid, something that always corrupts, something that we must always be in opposition to. I think we need to be moving towards a flexible and experimental approach to winning, creating, and exercising power to help govern our communities, families, workplaces, schools and overall society to help achieve a Left agenda of racial, gender, economic, disability, immigrant, environmental and social justice.

I know that there are many reasons, historically and today, for the general aversion or outright denunciation of power, but I think it is one of the most significant obstacles to social justice that we face, and that we also have a high level of influence over (as oppose to say, the obstacle of the ruling logic of neoliberalism and the state as maintainer and defender of ruling class interests). I am influenced by both the Chicago anarchism of the 8 hour day movement in the 1880s and the Southern populist socialist tradition of the 1950s and 60s that I discussed previously. So when I think of power, I think about it in terms of struggling to both exercise existing power to achieve left goals and creating democratic grassroots power, simultaneously.

For example, in Jackson, Mississippi, the recent successful effort to elect a radical Black activist, Chokwe Lumumba to Mayor. The local movement didn’t just focus on getting him elected, his campaign for office came out of community organizing that created people’s assemblies where a plan for Jackson was developed. This plan included a vision of new cooperative economic institutions, and when Lumumba was elected mayor, victory also meant moving forward on worker cooperatives and other community-based efforts. This exciting and powerful experiment, in the largest city in Mississippi, has tragically been set back with Lumumba’s passing, in his first year in office.

In addition to electoral efforts, I think it’s vital that people on the Left occupy leadership positions (formal and informal) throughout our communities, schools, places of worship and society. It’s inspiring hearing about experiences of friends who are teachers or have served in leadership positions at their kids schools, friends building successful worker cooperatives, who are ministers or lay leaders of churches, or are playing important roles in the fast food worker organizing efforts and in the Moral Monday movement. The key, I believe, is that people need to take on those roles and positions with an understanding that what they are doing is part of a larger movement effort. An understanding that we are part of a larger team of people working for structural change and that we can only do it, by many of us working together, through many different avenues.

I know there are great risks, challenges, and difficulties with both exercising existing power and creating new liberatory power, but we need to greatly expand our sense of what is politically possible, and organize with the goal of making what’s currently politically, economically, and culturally impossible, possible. People’s power and grassroots movements are what makes liberatory change possible.

In addition to challenges of power, we also need to continue to develop and experiment with successful ways to organize as united people in ways that address, challenge, and transcend divisions of race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, citizenship and unequal structural power. In the past 10-15 years, there have been some significant advances in the movement that have helped make awareness and consciousness about privilege, oppression and power much more wide spread. There are real strengths to what is often under the umbrella of anti-oppression politics. And anti-oppression politics are an important part of the overall development people, our organizations and our movement needs to go through. However there is often a tendency to focus on language, behavior, inter-personal and group dynamics, in ways that usually acknowledge historical and structural power, but often lose focus on larger efforts to create systemic change. Often anti-oppression politics calls for people who experience privilege on some axis of power to be allies to those who are oppressed, and again this is often focused on interactions between people and efforts of small numbers of people. This is all very important work in the early stages of becoming activists, but it must be connected to organizing efforts with a wide range of people, so we don’t end up creating small activist scenes where the goal is more on “being the best anti-racist” or the “most radical”, versus, learning how to effectively work on campaigns, in coalitions, in community to create change.

Where anti-oppression often focuses on language, behavior, recognizing privilege, group dynamics, and how people can be allies, a collective liberation vision and strategy focuses on the question of how people structurally divided can come together to generate powerful transformative movements for systemic change, that creates new forms of democratic power and identities in the process. Anti-oppression work is vital but needs to be part of larger process of growth and development, with multiple stages of struggle, that includes countering oppressions work, and also includes work to develop liberatory power, cultures of solidarity and movements that can change society. All of this work goes hand in hand. I believe change is dialectical or developmental, and that we learn a tremendous amount by putting our ideas into practice with others. I think we need to do more experimenting with what collective liberation strategy and politics can look like. That’s one of the primary goals in my book Towards Collective Liberation: anti-racist organizing, feminist praxis and movement building strategy.

Anarres Project: What books would you recommend people look at for social change and why?

I’ve Got the Light of Freedom by Charles Payne is an incredible book drawing out lessons from the organizing tradition of Ella Baker, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi. This book has been defining in my understanding of successful and effective organizing.

We Make the Road by Walking is a dialogue between Myles Horton and Paulo Freire on popular education and social change. It explores more of the ideas of how to unite education and activism to help develop democratic movements to change society and in the process develop the capacity of everyday people to govern.

Feminist Theory From Margin to Center by bell hooks is a great introduction to women of color feminism or anti-racist feminism. This book is a great place to start, but make sure you read her essay “Love as the Practice of Freedom” in her book Outlaw Culture. This is one of the most important essays I’ve ever read as it outlines a vision of left politics rooted in an ethic of love and is where I first read the term collective liberation, which then became the basis for a lot of my thinking about interconnected struggles for liberation.

Another Politics: Talking Across Today’s Transformative Movements by Chris Dixon is an absolutely vital book for activists today. Based on interviews around the U.S. and Canada, this book draws out key insights and lessons from the politics, visions, strategies and experiences of some of the most important Left efforts over the past decade. This book is coming out in August, but you can order it here:

Anarres Project: Are there any movies you recommend for teaching about social justice and change?

Absolutely. I trace some of my early radical activism to the Star Wars movie. I was won over to the rebel alliance and the fight against empire at an early age!

I do actually think there are a lot of great lessons about organizing in a lot of popular movies. Friends of mine in Louisville, Kentucky, Attica and Advocate Scott after make a list, top ten lessons for organizing, after seeing movies like The Hobbit, or Transformers. I’ve done that for a long time as well with movies like Dirty Dancing, Foot Loose, and Flash Dance (or the trifecta of working class struggle dance movies). Of my top favorites, the Harry Potter series is up there. Hermione Granger is the Ella Baker of the wizarding world, Dumbledore’s Army teaches us much the process of supporting people to become activists, to develop their skills, confidence and analysis and become leaders. I recently wrote an essay on lessons from Harry Potter for social justice organizing, which you can read here.

There are lots documentaries out there that teach important lessons for organizing. Documentaries that I highly recommend are: Eyes on the Prize about the Civil Rights movement, Ballot Measure #9 about the organizing in Oregon in the early 90s against an anti-LGBTQ ballot measure, Southern Patriot about white anti-racist legend Anne Braden, Freedom on My Mind about the organizing in Mississippi in the 60s, and This is What Democracy Looks Like about the mass direct action convergence of movements against the World Trade Organization in Seattle 1999.

Norma Rae, Milk, and Stand and Deliver are inspiring and powerful and the labor classics Salt of the Earth and Matewan include a lot of useful organizing lessons.

That said, I love movies, and think almost any movie that calls forward our love for others, our love for the sacredness of life, that nourishes and inspires you, will contain some lessons for organizing, in that one of the key goals of organizing is helping people come alive, into their own power and into connection and community with others, which many movies and stories speak to. Then we have the challenge and opportunity of bring people together, in their own power, to work towards collective liberation. 

——–

About the Anarres Project: Inspired by the speculative fiction of Oregon writer Ursula K. Le Guin (Anarres is the “ambiguous utopia” from her novel, The Dispossessed), The Anarres Project is a forum for conversations, ideas, and initiatives that promote a future free of domination, exploitation, oppression, war, and empire. The Project is based on the understanding that past, present, and future are not separate. We are intent on uncovering the many living futures constantly coming into being in the present, those innovations and creative insurgencies happening everywhere in our midst, and exploring the affinities between them.

We seek to bring together activists and scholars from the arts, humanities, and social and natural sciences who are writing, thinking, and teaching about the themes explored in LeGuin’s work: gender, racial, and sexual justice, ecological sustainability, bioregionalism, left libertarian/ anarchist traditions, utopias & dystopias, alternatives to war, and cooperative economic arrangements.

The founders of the Anarres Project are Tony Vogt and Joseph Orosco, who both teach in the School of History, Philosophy and Religion at Oregon State University. Learn more at: imaginaurium.com/anarres/

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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




How Mischief-Makers Built Australia Through Pranks and Protests

by Madeline Ostrander
Yes! Magazine
July 8th, 2014

In his new book How to Make Trouble and Influence People, Iain McIntyre offers readers an alternative version of Australian history.

Australians have long been troublemakers—witty, willing to mock and thwart authority, and full of the kind of no-nonsense pragmatism that comes from making a society in a harsh landscape. Iain McIntyre’s How to Make Trouble and Influence People: Pranks, Protests, Graffiti & Political Mischief-Making from Across Australia is a new edition of a book that began as a zine nearly 20 years ago. While the title, of course, parodies the most famous example of the self-help genre, How to Make Trouble is more Howard Zinn than Dale Carnegie. It offers an alternative history of Australia, chronicling how it “has progressed by a series of little rebellions” (according to an epigraph at the front of book from politician and writer Leslie Haylen).

Some of the events described here are sobering, especially the 18th- and 19th-century accounts of violent uprisings led by Aboriginal groups and rebellions staged by convicts—and even bloodier reprisals from authorities and settlers. But subversive wit has also been a powerful force throughout Australia’s history: In 1876, a group of Irish political prisoners escaped by posing as Americans, commandeering a boat, and unfurling an American flag. In 1911, Australia’s burgeoning labor unions plastered the sides of lampposts with slogans like “A bad day’s work for a bad day’s pay.” In 1986, a group of activists stole a $2 million Picasso painting from the National Gallery of Victoria and held it for ransom to demand an increase in arts funding, then quietly returned it weeks later. In 2009, the “Ministers of Energy, Resources and Silly Walks,” wearing suits and bowler hats, joined hundreds of protesters at a polluting coal power plant to urge that it be decommissioned.

A section at the end of How to Make Trouble interviews famous Australian gadflies and activist leaders. They offer wit and wisdom about the ways art, humor, persistence, and defiance can penetrate politics and history.

About the Author
Madeline Ostrander wrote this article for The Power of Story, the Summer 2014 issue of YES! Magazine. Madeline writes about the environment and climate change. She is a contributing editor to YES! and lives in Seattle.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Iain McIntyre's Author Page




Dead Kennedy's Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables on Louder than War

by Nathan Brown
Louder than War
July 9th, 2014

A long overdue book focusing on the early years of one of punk rock’s most notorious and greatest loved bands, The Dead Kennedys.

In his prequel, author Alex Ogg reminds us that The Dead Kennedys have never been written about at length (see John Robb’s tribute here). The Ramones, Clash and Pistols have over 100 titles between them, and yet DK are arguably one of the bands that typifies punk at its best. They stuck two fingers up to the music industry and then lunged in to attack it. And who doesn’t recognise that logo?

If you don’t know the Dead Kennedys then:

  • a) seriously?
  • b) you need to book yourself into the punk reprogramming camp (does the opposite of the one in Aceh they sent Indonesian punks to) and immerse yourself particularly in their early works.

For those already inducted, read on…

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years does what it says on the tin. It starts by placing the key players and the band that would become Dead Kennedys in the context of the development of punk at a local San Francisco level and globally. It then charts their rapid progress in spite of, or possibly because of, a “cultural hand grenade of a name” from garage practices and their early performances, DIY released first 7 inch and onto their debut LP – all of which happened from their own reckoning by “pure dumb luck” – perhaps playing down the hard work and ingenuity which was partly responsible. As Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”.

Chapter titles are taken from DK songs, which is always a winner in my view, causing a wry grin. The pages are littered with band collages, Winston Smith’s art, gig flyers and Ruby Ray’s photos capturing the band in their infancy – which keeps the reader’s attention and makes this all the more difficult to put down. Photos of different covers and record middles from across the globe demonstrate how far their message spread across a world eager for acerbic high octane punk rock.  There are also excerpts from the “Hard Rock” comic about DK punctuating the story of pivotal events in the band’s early stages – in itself a humorous contradiction. I’ll be returning to this volume for a cursory browse at the pictures every now and then.

Alex Ogg manages to overcome the difficult job of providing a narrative that includes conflicting versions of events from former band mates who are at loggerheads, allowing the details and trivia to froth around so the reader can decide their own version of “the truth” from whatever bubbles to the surface.  He brings the story alive using interviews not only with band members, but with other contemporary witnesses including gig-goers. The writing manages to go some way to capturing the excitement, buzz, artistic freedom, true rebellion of punk rock in the early days when it really was a shock to the establishment rather than a music genre co-opted into corporate rock.  I came away from reading this book marveling once again at the musicianship, lyrical satire and sarcasm, theatrics, imaginative pranks and art that made Dead Kennedys stand out all those years ago – and still stand out now. Which led to me having a DK-athon over the last week!

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years is packed full of interesting facts and gossip:  I found out what that line about Serpents Eggs in California Uber Alles was really about rather than having a general gist it was “something bad”; the pizza delivery job Jello had back in Boulder being the inspiration for songs like Terminal Preppie and Holiday in Cambodia, and the true identity of Norm, the producer credited for Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  Want to know about production processes and techniques they employed to capture and embellish upon their live sound to create  great records (and the obligatory conflict in the studio within the band and between the band and engineer)?  That’s in here as well.  Want to know who really wrote a particular song?  You’ll have to make your own mind up as each stakes their claim.

A chapter based largely on a stowaway-cum-roadie’s reminiscences provides an insight into the first UK tour Dead Kennedys undertook, bringing such cultural imports as stage diving and an amusing anecdote where the band misread the crowd’s sense of humour, thinking they had themselves misread the irony in the band’s lyrics.

The end notes detailing sources and full quotes provide a deeper level of trivia that some nerds…errmm, I mean “fact fans”, will absolutely love.  In the days before the internet this volume would have been a punk pub quiz host’s bible!   I have to admit I skipped much of the “Yakety Yak” chapter, comprised as it is of quotes about DK from some predictable punk/HC luminaries, a few journalists and the less predictable Pete Townshend (Who?), Elijah Wood and Massive Attack. Probably even something in there to impress Bruce “Punks can’t play their instruments” Dickinson.

Russ “Dr. Punk” Bestley, responsible for the image laden design of this book, submits a 3-page profile/homage to Winston Smith, whose artwork helped amplify the sound and lyrics of DK to create notoriety on a scale the Pistols could only have dreamt of.  Dada, situationism, Jamie Reid and Gee Vaucher all get a mention, of course.

The tale closes,as the title would suggest, after Fresh Fruit was released and drummer Ted left in December 1980.  Alex Ogg has left unpicking the rest of the DK story for “some other poor bastard” but I think he has proven he is the man for the job (go on, you know you want to, Alex!).  Whereas some band/artist biographies get bogged down in so much technical detail that you forget the generality of what you have read and lose track of what went on (I am thinking in particular of People Funny Boy by David Katz) our author has mastered the art of distillation which is just what you need to plot a path through a contentious story such as that of the Dead Kennedys. 

Finishing the book, I was left reflecting that the Moral Majority and PMRC couldn’t destroy the band but they have done a pretty good job on each other since via the court system.  That’s another story in itself.

Get your copy from turnaround-uk.com, activedistribution.org and pmpress.org

A long overdue book focusing on the early years of one of punk rock’s most notorious and greatest loved bands, The Dead Kennedys.

In his prequel, author Alex Ogg reminds us that The Dead Kennedys have never been written about at length (see John Robb’s tribute here). The Ramones, Clash and Pistols have over 100 titles between them, and yet DK are arguably one of the bands that typifies punk at its best. They stuck two fingers up to the music industry and then lunged in to attack it. And who doesn’t recognise that logo?

If you don’t know the Dead Kennedys then:

  • a) seriously?
  • b) you need to book yourself into the punk reprogramming camp (does the opposite of the one in Aceh they sent Indonesian punks to) and immerse yourself particularly in their early works.

For those already inducted, read on…

“Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years” does what it says on the tin. It starts by placing the key players and the band that would become Dead Kennedys in the context of the development of punk at a local San Francisco level and globally. It then charts their rapid progress in spite of, or possibly because of, a “cultural hand grenade of a name” from garage practices and their early performances, DIY released first 7 inch and onto their debut LP – all of which happened from their own reckoning by “pure dumb luck” – perhaps playing down the hard work and ingenuity which was partly responsible. As Louis Pasteur said “Fortune favours the prepared mind”.

Chapter titles are taken from DK songs, which is always a winner in my view, causing a wry grin. The pages are littered with band collages, Winston Smith’s art, gig flyers and Ruby Ray’s photos capturing the band in their infancy – which keeps the reader’s attention and makes this all the more difficult to put down. Photos of different covers and record middles from across the globe demonstrate how far their message spread across a world eager for acerbic high octane punk rock.  There are also excerpts from the “Hard Rock” comic about DK punctuating the story of pivotal events in the band’s early stages – in itself a humorous contradiction. I’ll be returning to this volume for a cursory browse at the pictures every now and then.

Alex Ogg manages to overcome the difficult job of providing a narrative that includes conflicting versions of events from former band mates who are at loggerheads, allowing the details and trivia to froth around so the reader can decide their own version of “the truth” from whatever bubbles to the surface.  He brings the story alive using interviews not only with band members, but with other contemporary witnesses including gig-goers. The writing manages to go some way to capturing the excitement, buzz, artistic freedom, true rebellion of punk rock in the early days when it really was a shock to the establishment rather than a music genre co-opted into corporate rock.  I came away from reading this book marveling once again at the musicianship, lyrical satire and sarcasm, theatrics, imaginative pranks and art that made Dead Kennedys stand out all those years ago – and still stand out now. Which led to me having a DK-athon over the last week!

Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, The Early Years is packed full of interesting facts and gossip:  I found out what that line about Serpents Eggs in California Uber Alles was really about rather than having a general gist it was “something bad”; the pizza delivery job Jello had back in Boulder being the inspiration for songs like Terminal Preppie and Holiday in Cambodia, and the true identity of Norm, the producer credited for Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.  Want to know about production processes and techniques they employed to capture and embellish upon their live sound to create  great records (and the obligatory conflict in the studio within the band and between the band and engineer)?  That’s in here as well.  Want to know who really wrote a particular song?  You’ll have to make your own mind up as each stakes their claim.

A chapter based largely on a stowaway-cum-roadie’s reminiscences provides an insight into the first UK tour Dead Kennedys undertook, bringing such cultural imports as stage diving and an amusing anecdote where the band misread the crowd’s sense of humour, thinking they had themselves misread the irony in the band’s lyrics.

The end notes detailing sources and full quotes provide a deeper level of trivia that some nerds…errmm, I mean “fact fans”, will absolutely love.  In the days before the internet this volume would have been a punk pub quiz host’s bible!   I have to admit I skipped much of the “Yakety Yak” chapter, comprised as it is of quotes about DK from some predictable punk/HC luminaries, a few journalists and the less predictable Pete Townshend (Who?), Elijah Wood and Massive Attack. Probably even something in there to impress Bruce “Punks can’t play their instruments” Dickinson.

Russ “Dr. Punk” Bestley, responsible for the image laden design of this book, submits a 3-page profile/homage to Winston Smith, whose artwork helped amplify the sound and lyrics of DK to create notoriety on a scale the Pistols could only have dreamt of.  Dada, situationism, Jamie Reid and Gee Vaucher all get a mention, of course.

The tale closes,as the title would suggest, after Fresh Fruit was released and drummer Ted left in December 1980.  Alex Ogg has left unpicking the rest of the DK story for “some other poor bastard” but I think he has proven he is the man for the job (go on, you know you want to, Alex!).  Whereas some band/artist biographies get bogged down in so much technical detail that you forget the generality of what you have read and lose track of what went on (I am thinking in particular of People Funny Boy by David Katz) our author has mastered the art of distillation which is just what you need to plot a path through a contentious story such as that of the Dead Kennedys.  Finishing the book, I was left reflecting that the Moral Majority and PMRC couldn’t destroy the band but they have done a pretty good job on each other since via the court system.  That’s another story in itself.

~ Get your copy from turnaround-uk.com, activedistribution.org and pmpress.org - See more at: http://louderthanwar.com/fresh-fruit-for-rotting-vegetables-the-early-years-by-alex-ogg-book-review/#sthash.25ip858k.dpuf

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




Peter Kuper, cartoonist, interviewed on RiYL podcast on Boingboing

by Brian Heater
RiYL podcast on Boingboing
July 23rd, 2014

In the latest episode of the RiYL podcast, Brian Heater interviews the author of multiple Kafka adaptations and a sketchbook diary chronicling his time in Mexico.

Every time I speak to Peter Kuper, the conversation invariably turns to New York — or, as is often the case, begins there. It’s my own fault. I’ve got this insatiable need to ask fellow residents, artists in particular, what keeps them in the city’s orbit. Kuper is a particularly interesting case study, having left the city — and country — in 2006, for a life in Mexico.

It was, as one might, expect, a multifaceted decision to move his entire family down to Oaxaca, in part an attempt to expose his daughter to another language and culture — and certainly leaving the country at the height of George W. Bush’s second term was seen as a net positive for the oft political cartoonist. A few years later, the Kupers found themselves back in New York, but the experience generated, amongst other things, the lovely Diario De Oaxaca, a sketchbook diary chronicling Kuper’s time in Mexico, immersed himself in the area’s stunning counter-cultural murals.

More recently, Kuper returned to the book’s publisher, PM Press, in hopes of helping to anthologize World War 3 Illustrated, the progressive comics anthology he co-founded with fellow New York cartoonist, Seth Tobocman. The process was a touch more complicated, and when we sat down to speak at the MoCCA Arts Festival back in April, the duo had recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Even outside the long-running anthology, Kuper’s career has long been both fascinating and diverse, from multiple Kafka adaptations and his 2007 semi-autobiographical Stop Forgetting To Remember to an on-going stint as Mad Magazine’s Spy Versus Spy artist. So, you know, plenty to talk about.

About the Author
Brian Heater (@bheater ) is a senior editor at Engadget and the founder of indie comics site, The Daily Cross Hatch. His writing has appeared in Spin, The Onion, Entertainment Weekly and The New York Press. He hosts several podcasts and shares an apartment in Queens with a rabbit named Sylvia.

Listen to the interview | Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page


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