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After my abortion I felt relieved - and I'm in the majority

By Lindy West
November 1st, 2018

Abortion is normal. Abortion is common. Abortion is happening. And abortion, above all, is freedom

Excerpted from “Shout Your Abortion,” edited by Amelia Bonow and Emily Nokes to be published by PM Press in November 2018. Copyright © 2018 by Lindy West. Used with permission of PM Press.

In September 2010 I took one pill, then another, and lay in my bed for a night and a day, and then I wasn’t pregnant anymore. It was a fairly smooth experience, distressing only because my relationship was bad and I had no money. The procedure itself was an unqualified relief

I know that’s startling for some people to hear — we are conditioned to speak about abortion with reverence and a bit of melancholy, if we speak about it at all. But feeling relieved after my abortion didn’t make me part of some radical vanguard, it made me utterly mundane. A full 95 percent of people who have abortions report feeling that they made the right decision. My relief didn’t just place me in a majority; it placed me in a super-majority. I am part of the 95 percent. And 95 percent, as any fifth-grader can tell you, rounds up to pretty much everyone.

Abortion is normal. Abortion is common. Abortion is happening. Abortion is a necessary medical procedure. Abortion makes people’s lives better. Abortion needs to be legal, safe, and accessible to everyone. Abortion is a thing you can say out loud.

That’s not to say that stories more complex or painful than my own — stories of trauma, of abuse, of malpractice, of confusion, of impossible decisions — are unimportant. They are real, valid, vital threads in the vast tapestry of human experience. The fact that abortion stories are not a monolith is an indication, surely, that abortion shouldn’t be treated like one. We cannot legislate away regret; all we can do is empower every human being to make informed, sovereign decisions over their own lives.

There’s a reason why rape is a tool of war. When you take away a community’s ability to control reproduction, you take away its ability to conserve resources, to act instead of react, to focus on building for the greater good (the future) rather than scrabbling to sustain new life (the present). On an individual level, those who are forced to bear children are denied the ability to lead self-determined, fully realized lives. Rape is a weapon of mass destruction because forced birth obliterates the notion of freedom.

At the time of this writing, abortion has been legal in America for 45 years, and one in four people who can become pregnant will have an abortion at some point in their lives. Contrary to what the pundit economy would have you believe, abortion is not particularly controversial. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 70 percent of all Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, while 75 percent of Democrats believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. These are not numbers that indicate controversy.

And yet, in spite of those numbers, abortion bans and restrictions have been shuttering clinics at an unprecedented rate, leaving seven states with only one clinic, and 90 percent of counties in America with none. Regardless of legality, access to abortion simply does not exist for millions of Americans. Beyond that, the Trump administration is one dead or retired Supreme Court justice away from obliterating the right to abortion by overturning Roe v. Wade.

How did we find ourselves in a place where abortion access is being regulated in a way that is so profoundly out of step with public opinion? The answer is relatively simple: those who oppose abortion rights have dominated the conversation by framing abortion as murder. The Left has never figured out a compelling way to advocate for abortion rights, because the anti-choice movement has relentlessly flooded the discursive field with so much propaganda that even those who support abortion rights often do so from an apologetic stance. Those seeking to regulate reproductive freedom have intentionally created a cultural climate where talking openly about having had an abortion is a liability that most people are understandably unwilling to accept.

We cannot effectively advocate for abortion in the abstract. Abortion is good for women, families, and communities, and the proof is reflected in our own lives. Many of us have our careers or our children because of our abortions. Some of us would have never survived our abusers or our addictions without our abortions. One in four of us have had lives that were determined in monumental ways by our abortions, and the vast majority of us do not regret our decisions. But if nobody will admit they’ve had an abortion, we aren’t able to illustrate the connection between having an abortion and living a better life.

We have to keep pushing these conversations outside of liberal urban centers and social media silos. During the great post-2016-election blame game I read an article in Vox called “Everything Mattered” by a writer named David Roberts. He argued that, in the midst of all the fog, resentment, and disinformation, there was one undeniable defining factor behind Donald Trump’s “win”: entrenched partisanship. About 90 percent of self-identified Republicans voted Republican, and 89 percent of Democrats voted Democrat. People voted for Trump against their interests, against their better judgment, against their values. Roberts wrote:

Clinton bet most of her chips on there being some floor, some violation of norms too low even for today’s radicalized Republican Party. She thought responsible Republican officeholders would rally. She thought at least well-off, well-educated Republican women would recoil in horror. She was wrong. There is no floor. Partisanship has been revealed as the strongest force in US public life—stronger than any norms, independent of any facts.

But here’s the thing: Abortion as a liberal issue is not exactly truth—it’s branding. Abortion as a “debate” is not truth—it’s branding. We know, because care providers know, that Democrats have abortions, Republicans have abortions, rich women have abortions, poor women have abortions, women of faith, women with children, anti-choice women, rural women, suburban women, women in cities, the proverbial white working-class women. Trans men have abortions, and gender-nonconforming people have abortions. It seems counterintuitive, but I believe abortion has the potential to be one of our most unifying issues. It cuts through all of those boundaries: race, class, geography, religion. The key is to drag abortion out of that partisan framework entirely.

Under the Obama administration we had the luxury of a more nuanced conversation. We could say, “Abortion is normal.” Going forward we need to say, “Abortion is freedom.” Abortion is two incomes instead of one for your struggling family. Abortion is family values. Abortion is fiscal responsibility. Abortion is liberty. Anti-choice legislation is a form of unconstitutional government intervention that undermines personal freedom.

This country is ours just like our bodies are ours. Telling our abortion stories is a form of resistance.

Without abortion we are not free. We need to work to build a culture in which talking about abortion becomes as normal as the procedure itself. Then we can begin to communicate the truth to the people in our lives who don’t yet understand what we already know: people who have abortions are good people and abortion has helped millions of us live our best lives.

We are not sorry.

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"Shout Your Abortion" is Changing the Conversation

By Caroline Reilly
Bitch Magazine
November 1st, 2018

In 2015, Amelia Bonow shared her abortion story on her Facebook page.

Roughly a year after having her abortion, Bonow watched as the House of Representatives voted to defund Planned Parenthood, where she had gone to have her procedure. Incensed by a culmination of rising anti-choice animus, she decided to proudly and matter-of-factly announce that she’d had an abortion—and that she regarded this experience with gratitude. A friend, appreciative of her disclosure, asked if she could share it on Twitter.


What followed remains one of the most impactful and important pro-choice advocacy mobilizations. Bonow’s Facebook post was the catalyst for Shout Your Abortion (SYA), a movement of abortion storytelling that aims to normalize, destigmatize, and praise abortion as a common and social good. Shout Your Abortion intentionally centers the issue of abortion on the people who should be at the forefront of dialogue about reproductive choice: the people actually having abortions. Too often in the political sphere, conversations about abortion are detached from the realities of the people actually having them. This depersonalization is both fueled by and fuels abortion stigma; by removing actual abortion stories from the equation, abortion opponents can create their own shame-filled narratives that will in turn disincentivize honesty amongst abortion-havers.

Shout Your Abortion is an antidote to that culture of secrecy. Its message is abortion is normal; abortion is freedom; abortion is pro-life. Since its inception, the movement has manifested as a means to help others feel comfortable sharing their own abortion stories, from banners over highways and public events to unapologetic slogans on buttons and a column in O Magazine. Shout Your Abortion’s most recent project is a book of the same name, which will be published this month.

The aesthetic of Shout Your Abortion, which features work from over a hundred contributors, is almost candy-coated; perhaps a nod to the joy and normalcy the movement infuses into dialogues about abortion. Bright colors adorn tarot card–inspired place markers, and photos of SYA parties, merch, and other emblems are featured throughout. The book also includes interviews with abortion advocacy heavyweights such as Dr. Willie Parker and a foreword by Lindy West. The star of the show is, to no surprise, the abortion storytelling itself.

“This book is our first attempt at creating a snapshot of the movement, and in some ways, that felt impossible,” says Bonow. “SYA began as an organic collective response to oppression and because of that, it’s impossible to concretely define. A book can’t ever encompass the experience of abortion; there are an infinite amount of stories.”

Bonow—who wrote the preface, introduction, and her own abortion story for the book—says in spite of the challenges of distilling the Shout Your Abortion movement into a concrete book, she is proud of the finished product.“We took our time making it, and we included as many kinds of stories and individuals as we could. Like every one of our projects, the book shaped itself.”

Abortion is normal; abortion is freedom; abortion is pro-life.

In her foreword, Lindy West explains that despite the often-hostile discourse surrounding abortion, it is in fact one of the most unifying issues there is. “At the time of this writing, abortion has been legal in America for 45 years, and one in four people who can become pregnant will have an abortion at some point in their lives,” she notes, pointing to statistics that show the vast majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade and believe in the legality of abortion.

“These are not numbers that indicate controversy.”

West says the strength of antiabortion stigma and beliefs—even in liberal spaces—is “strong and pervasive” and combatting that necessitates truth telling. “It relies on the lie that only bad people have abortions. When we tell our stories, we make that lie impossible.”

The hallmark of Shout Your Abortion has always been radical honesty, a perspective sometimes lacking in progressive circles that too often sees abortion as one of the most difficult decisions a woman can make. This transparency and frankness extends to not only stories of the procedure itself but the reality that abortion decisions are interwoven with other aspects of life: children, relationships, family, and sex. Bonow, whose abortion story is refreshingly candid about sex, says this is crucial; it ensures the abortion narrative is one shaped by the experiences of people actually having abortions, as opposed to a reactive set of responses dictated by the anti-choice movement.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever heard someone say, ‘women and people who can get pregnant should be able to have as much sex as they want without fearing that they’ll be punished for an unwanted pregnancy with forced parenthood.’” she says. “We’ve all been brainwashed to beg for our rights in the most palatable, normative ways possible, and society is obviously extremely uncomfortable with sex, especially non-procreative sex.”

Bonow believes in the importance of acknowledging that people have abortions for different reasons. This is a reality strongly reflected in the pages of the book, which highlights abortion stories from cisgender women as well as gender-nonconforming and trans people and stories of people having the procedure before Roe v. Wade. The book features people of all ages who are living all over the country and abroad, including people who are religious, punks, sex workers, or mothers already. There are people for whom the abortion decision was hard, and others for whom it was easy; and people who are speaking openly and clearly about their abortions, and those who have chosen to remain anonymous. All these perspectives and more create a living, breathing, sparkling manifestation of the truth that people who have abortions are not a monolith; and that in and of itself speaks to the normalcy of abortion and the absurdity of its stigma.

“It’s important to consume a range of stories because that is the only way to begin to wrap your mind around what is essentially a universal experience,” says Bonow.

“Every single kind of person has abortions, for every single reason, and having an abortion makes people feel every single kind of way. We should talk about all of these stories because they’re all true, and because not talking [about] the things that happen to us has made us completely sick, and because exposing yourself to as many kinds of stories as possible is the exact opposite of internalizing repression as the norm.”

Shout Your Abortion is a triumph of this ethos and of these efforts, using storytelling as a way to shape the narrative around honesty and lived experiences instead of politics and anti-abortion pseudoscience. It puts a face to the issue of abortion, which is both a simple and radical goal. Simple, in that, as West put it, “abortion itself isn’t inherently traumatizing or scary or empowering. It’s simply a necessary medical procedure,” and abortion storytelling reinforces that normalcy. But the book is radical because it does so in the face of violent opposition, virulent stigma, and one of the most hostile political climates in decades. More than that, though, Shout Your Abortion is necessary—so necessary that calling it that fails to do it justice. It is crucial, vital, imperative. We need its messages more and more every day.

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

With Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, How Far Will the State's Attacks on Women Go?


By Liza Featherstone
The Nation
October 25th, 2018

Another reader asks about weathering a public #MeToo event with PTSD

Illustrated by Joanna Neborsky.




Dear Liza,

Women are staring down the barrel of a conservative Supreme Court that will likely dismantle Roe v. Wade. Abortion, as a right, is already hobbled, with many states essentially regulating it into oblivion.

Faced with increased career opportunities but a lack of support systems, women are postponing or refusing motherhood. I think that an awareness of the falling birthrate will soon reach the people in power. To me, this all seems like a perfect storm. Should we expect an even more brutal backlash against reproductive rights?

As a career-focused 30-year-old woman with no plans for a baby, I feel as though I should be making arrangements. What if my current methods of birth control fail? I’ve already started mapping states that will outlaw abortion—and mine, Texas, tops the list. Should I save money for emergency travel?

I have no sense of how far this backlash will go. What do you think the state, and our society, are actually capable of?

—Future Gileadean

Dear Gileadean,

Actually, says feminist activist Jenny Brown, the author of Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight Over Women’s Work, which will be published next year by PM Press, “we’re already experiencing this.”

In Birth Strike, Brown argues that the crackdown on women’s reproductive rights is a response, on the part of US policy-makers, to our declining birth rate. The ruling class worries that when women stop having babies, the smaller workforce will mean rising labor costs. Instead of improving the conditions for parenthood through universal child care and health care, free college tuition, more generous family leave, and higher wages, our elites have seized on what is, for them, a far less expensive solution: forced procreation.

With women holding significant social power, we’re unlikely to wind up living in The Handmaid’s Tale, or even in the pre-1970s United States, an era when my mother needed her husband’s permission to get her own library card. However, with right-wingers controlling Congress, the White House, and many state governments, our reproductive rights are under attack. The good news, according to Brown, is that “women are already taking this into their own hands. There’s never been a better time to have a DIY abortion.” Given where you live, preparing to exercise this option would be smart.

In South Texas, as the restrictions tighten, there is an extensive black market in abortion pills from Latin America (check out the flea markets). But for more reliable drugs and support, look into an organization called Aid Access, run by doctors and abortion-rights activists, which has been shipping abortion pills to women in the United States for the last six months. The group’s website includes information on how to take the abortion pills safely, and Aid Access even offers Skype consultations.

Such DIY measures not only help you, Gileadean; they can also, Brown emphasizes, become a force for change. In Ireland, when abortion was illegal, the prevalence of women performing it themselves “freaked out the authorities and also made a mockery of the law.” This greatly boosted the momentum for legalization, which succeeded—by a landslide—in a referendum this past May.

Dear Liza,
Watching the Kavanaugh hearings sucked. In the past, I was assaulted, although not sexually, and very few people believed me. Yet many of the people who didn’t, including feminist women, were tweeting and posting all over the place against Kavanaugh. I “liked” and boosted important content without regard for this past history, but it’s sticking in my throat. I can’t do anything about either the assault or the abuse without risking my position and my livelihood. I am going to therapy for PTSD, but is that even going to work when I’m stuck collaborating with these people? Even my goal in therapy is just to be able to better cope with a world where I will inevitably be called upon to give more compassion and solidarity than I receive.

Dear Unheard,

During the week of the Kavanaugh hearings, says Dr. Christie Jackson, a psychologist specializing in trauma, all of her patients spoke about them. And since the hearings, she reports, many more victims of violence are seeking therapy.

Not being believed “makes it incredibly hard to heal,” says Dr. Jackson, who has a clinical practice in New York City. But you can exercise more control over both your digital and professional environments.

You certainly don’t have to “like” or repost content from people who didn’t believe you, Unheard. In fact, you should take steps not to see their posts, especially during a high-profile event of this kind. Facebook’s “unfollow” feature is your secret weapon: It renders the offending person’s posts invisible to you without them knowing.

Liza Featherstone

While you may—like most people—have less control over your work environment than your electronic one, you can and must set some boundaries there as well. If people in your workplace have tormented you, Dr. Jackson says, your therapist can help you work on how to “be polite, but keep your distance,” as well as to set limits on their behavior. You have a right, online and off, to live free of abuse.

Most urgently, you deserve solidarity and deserve to be believed. Research shows that social support is what we need most when recovering from assault. It’s crucial that you find a few people—whether a partner, co-workers, friends, or a PTSD support group—who believe you.

To that end, remember that even as social media present painful dilemmas, they’re also a source of collective love. What if you were to post on Facebook—in vague terms, of course—about seeing people who didn’t believe you virtue-signaling their support for other assault victims? You could set the post so that only a select few would see it. If this seems too risky, what about posting on how tough it is to weather a public #MeToo event as a person suffering from PTSD? Either way, you will likely be flooded with supportive messages from people who do believe you.

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Rational Actors: Birth Strike excerpt Jacobin

By Jenny Brown

White, black, and Latina, immigrant and native born, US women are having fewer children — by some measures, the birth rate is the lowest it has ever been. In the United States, the costs and work of childbearing and child-rearing are pushed onto parents, women in particular, while employers increasingly avoid contributing anything to the raising of their future workforce. Other countries have responded to plunging birth rates by providing free childcare, paid family leave for both parents, and shorter work hours. But here in the United States, we face a cheaper, meaner strategy to prop up the birth rate: make it harder to get abortions and birth control. The result is that one in four of our births is unintended, roughly twice the rate in countries with robust reproductive rights.

Last December, when House Speaker Paul Ryan instructed Americans to have more babies for the good of the economy, women responded with fury: “I’ll tell Paul Ryan the same thing I tell my parents and all their noisy friends: you want me to have babies, create an environment where having and raising a child doesn’t cost an entire adult person’s salary and I’ll think about it,” wrote MazzieD on Jezebel. Her response is not unusual. The latest reports show that in 2017, women in the US bore even fewer children than in 2016, a thirty-year low despite the alleged economic recovery. To explore the causes and dimensions of this “birth strike,” National Women’s Liberation has been asking women their reasons for having or not having children. The testi-fiers here range in age from their twenties to their sixties and two-thirds are women of color. The names have been changed.

The responses show that women are feeling sharply the burdens that US society puts on them. Those who don’t want children give economic reasons as often as personal preference. Those who want children are weighing their desires against their lack of time, money, sleep, affordable health care, and the anticipated costs to their well-being.

What are your reasons for wanting children? For not wanting them? Has your thinking changed? Are your parents’ lives a factor in your thinking?


Doctor, 40s

I always wanted a child, always wanted to be a mom, I was a preschool teacher after college, dreamed of adopting a houseful of children. I pursued a difficult professional path that required a lot of hours, so I didn’t date. I didn’t meet my husband until four or five years ago, after I was established in a career, and in my late thirties I had my daughter. I felt a sense of urgency, I knew I was getting older, and I got pregnant almost right away, so we didn’t get to be a couple much without a child. I regret that because I think it’s an important part of a relationship. But my baby makes it all worthwhile. I come home completely emotionally drained and she says, “Ta-da mommy, supwise!” It’s work, but I can’t put it in to words how completely amazing and precious it is.

I always thought I wanted more than one child, but I will be forty-two in June. Now, Aisha’s three, my husband has had health problems, and I’ve struggled with my own health problems. At work, going on maternity leave would be supported, but I’m really, really tired. Working, taking care of a child, dealing with my husband’s recent illness, and there’s just so much to do all of the time that I don’t know how I would do it with another baby — materially, logistically, how that would work.

I need to work fewer hours; I would like to have health benefits whether I work or not; I wish I’d had more maternity leave, at least a year, then I wanted to go back half time. I want there to be places where you can go where people bring their children and their families and there’s food — healthy free food — and the kids can play together, and you can eat supper. I want that much societal help. I want free day care, after-school care, health care. The hardest part of my day isn’t taking care of a terminally ill patient, it’s coming home and deciding what to make for supper.


Student and technical worker, 20s

My mom had three. In my teens I wanted kids. I was good around kids and I liked being around kids. And I had this vision — as a kid, I’d sort of been a fighter personality because I was the oldest in an immigrant family, my parents had a lot of hard times navigating the system here, so I was a little “child adult” for a long time. So, I just had this vision that I would keep kicking ass until I had a kid, and then the kid would be one 100 percent of my focus.… [My thinking has] changed radically, I don’t want kids anymore and it’s because in this trajectory of kicking ass, I realize you don’t stop. If you’re going to college, and then you have a job and you have your ambitions and you’re feeling that more and more. I can’t turn that off anymore. And also, as I grew up, I started making notes about what I don’t want, [my parents’] absolutely horrid marriage, and how most men in my family are terrible in terms of sexism or not doing their share. So, there’s a deep-rooted fear that I have, that I want to avoid that at all costs, and if it means being alone then so be it. And currently I can’t even keep a plant alive.


Arts worker, 30s

I don’t have any [reasons] right now but I used to [assume] it would occur or transpire at some point in my twenties or thirties. For not wanting them, let me count the ways.… Understanding that there is no support in place for women who have children, that alone is enough for me to be like, “fuck that.” But seeing my friends who are in their early to mid-thirties now go through being pregnant, childbirth, and how that’s affected their careers and their relationships with their partners and their friends. I see them getting joy out of having children, but I see so many other parts of their lives crumbling, at least in my view, and that compromise doesn’t seem appealing to me whatsoever. I think that it would great to have a child with a partner that you love because it seems like a lovely thing, but I have also had the experience of starting a business with a partner and seeing how much of the slack I was constantly picking up. There’s no convincing me that the majority of the burden of child-rearing won’t fall to me regardless of who my partner is.


Retired clerical worker, 60s

I didn’t have children, though I expected to. When I was very young, my mother’s friend got me a job in a newborn nursery, trying to interest me in nursing, and I observed a couple of births. In the 1960s there was the episiotomy, it horrified me. Basically, I wasn’t interested until about age thirty-six, but then I didn’t have a partner. By the time I did have a partner, we still lived kind of low-[rent], but I guess there have been choices that I made, not just that I couldn’t afford it. When I got together with Nadine — this would have been at the very end of the possibility of getting pregnant — we could either afford to buy a house, or we could afford to have a child, and I picked the house. Also, my best friend from college — she’s heterosexual, same age as me — had saved money, went for those fertility treatments, and when it didn’t work, she decided to adopt. Her children, while lovable, are so difficult that this woman, who I have tried to figure out life with since age eighteen, stopped reading. I was horrified by that and still am.… I’m sorry that I didn’t have a child, but a child under supportive circumstances, which at present do not exist in this country. When I think of what work would be required and what I would have had to give up. I am sorry that I didn’t give my parents grandchildren. I was an only child and they were very disappointed.


Teacher, 30s

I spend a lot of time thinking about what it takes to raise a decent human being. Not all of it falls onto parents, but a good deal of it does. I feel actual joy when I’m with my nephews and other babies. I don’t feel joy with them all the time, but I feel it enough that I understand the reasons people have children. I can get joy from other things, but I enjoy getting that from children. Community is very important to me and this is one way, not the only way, to build community. Having children forces you outside of your world because those children have friends who have parents. They go to school. So, there are all these ways that community would expand for me if I had kids. [But] the conditions of [paid] work, the dynamics of a relationship with a male partner, make me think that I will have to sacrifice — or at least compromise a lot — my interests, desires, and dreams, to be a parent. As someone who has been taking care of others since I was nine years old, I am at a stage of my life where I want to put my self-care first for as long as I can. Children are also expensive, and I have chosen a career that isn’t lucrative and have accumulated a significant amount of school debt. I don’t physically care for my father, but I contribute money toward his care, and I will have to fund or do the work of caring for my mother when that time comes. I also organize my great uncle’s care.


Librarian, 30s

When I was younger, I didn’t like children. [At work I] dealt with babies and children every day. I had no interest in them. I wanted independence and children just seemed like a drag. Then when I got older, I did start to want to have a kid, but I put it off, because I worried about money, not being able to afford health care, not having paid leave, and the cost of childcare. I also worried about whether my husband was really going to put in the work. And I was at a point in my life where my younger brother was having a lot of problems … and saw the difficulty that my parents were going through with that.

I had Luca, despite the worries, about two and a half years ago. I would say I have zero desire for a second kid right now. I thought I wanted to have two kids in the abstract, but while I’m kind of doing ok, and Nathan and I are kind of doing ok, it’s like the water is up to your neck. The thought of another kid is just being swallowed up and going under, like a vortex. I just think it would be too hard — even the thought of it makes me feel nauseous. If there were no abortion available, I can imagine myself looking into getting a back-alley abortion if I got pregnant right now.

This article is excerpted from Jenny Brown’s forthcoming book Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work, published by PM Press. More testimonies appear there.

Buy Birth Strike | Buy Birth Strike e-Book now | Back to Jenny Brown's Author Page

The Movements of Movements in Humanity and Society

By Sara Smits Keeney
Humanity and Society
2018, Vol. 42(3) 387-393

Reviewing a volume of collected readings presents many challenges, however, the craft that Jai Sen puts into this publication speaks to his insight and keen ability to “compose” a truly remarkable piece. The Movements of Movements reads like a musical score that motivates social movement academics to begin to rethink and challenge their approaches to studying this phenomenon. Part I: What Makes Us Move? is the first part in a two-volume series, it also is the fourth volume in the OpenWord’s Challenging Empire series. The book opens with a poem by Shailja Patel, a Kenyan poet, playwright, and activist, entitled What Moves Us.
Although, the poem was not written as an introduction for this book, it eloquently illustrates what I believe Sen is trying to do in this collection:

... grapples with the chasms of all that’s gone before. Negotiate the heartbreak of decades of betrayal. Stretch our brains until we feel it, to hard analysis, until we get it, unpack systems, structures, models, mine the data, map the stories, ‘til we know what works and what does not. What truly moves us. (p. 5)

In the introduction, Sen explains why he put the collection together, what he thinks social movement scholars are missing, where he locates himself, and not only where he thinks we should be going, but how we get there. One of Sen’s main objectives is in fundamentally redefining how we view social movements. He would like us to not simply see movements in the traditional sense as social and political but rather as an expression of life itself. Moreover, he suggests that “movement” is everywhere and outlines this in providing both dictionary definitions of movements and a diagram from the Visual Thesaurus, all of which help to illustrate his main claim that we need to rethink how we approach the study of social movements. One of the first places he makes good on this challenge is when he locates himself in this work, describing himself as not a scholar in the traditional sense but rather an “activist doing reflective research” (p. 14). In his reflection, he pays close attention to how his own privilege or lack thereof is defined by the context. Ultimately, he claims we must do three things in reconceptualizing movements: First, accept the fact that movements are not unique phenomena, but rather common, everyday expressions of life that take many forms. Second, he encourages us to understand and reflect on both how and why movements exist in so many arenas of life. And finally, he invites us to broaden our perspective to contemplate at once all the movements taking place both locally and globally.

Sen’s challenge to academics to broaden their perspective on movements is compelling. First, he mentions he suggests viewing movements as a verb rather than a noun to take into account the breadth of the different movements taking place in our world. That being said, Sen’s collection focuses primarily on the “alter- globalization” or “global justice and solidarity” movement and its connected cor- ollary movements, as he argues we also must pay attention to the interconnectedness of these movements. Chapter 1, “Movementscapes,” consists of seven essays, high- lighting the influence of the Zapatista movement on the global justice and solidarity movement and emphasizing the need to include traditionally marginalized and missing voices in the discussion of social movements. As a way to demonstrate alternative ways of thinking and presenting social movement scholarship, Sen starts each article with a word cloud that visually represents what themes the essay brings into focus. The use of the word clouds primes the reader to engage with the author and the message in a way that is not traditionally valued in social movement liter- ature. The remainder of the book profiles other voices in representing a new way of understanding, studying, and being involved in social movements. Profiles of move- ments range from Latin American feminism to the anti-globalization movement in South Korea and include writings from both scholars and activists. Although there are few weaknesses in the book, there are two features that readers may raise questions about. First, Sen claims that in this collection he only focuses on a brief period of time, 2006–2010. Although this may be a guide Sen gave himself in selecting the pieces, the essays are certainly not limited to this period. I encourage the reader to read on and pay attention to the insights gleaned from the longer time spans interrogated in several chapters Secondly, to the average reader, the inclusion of a few of his pieces may be unexpected. For example, Roel Meijer’s essay on Yusuf al-‘Uyairi may be hard to categorize in a thematic study of the global justice movement. Profiling a known al-Qaeda leader may raise some eyebrows in the context of attempting to understand how and why movements grow. But, Sen’s choice may also readily push us beyond the traditional understandings of how inequality and poverty might motivate individuals to become a part of a militant group. It may prompt us to weigh in a macrotheoretical sense, the ideological principles underlying the drive in each of these movements, an important perspec- tive to consider in querying movement interconnectedness.

Overall, Sen has crafted a beautifully illustrative example of a fresh perspective of what the study and understanding of social movements could be. Moreover, in one essay by Xochitl Leyva Solano, she states, “Knowledge is not abstract and unlocated ... I here inscribe myself in a long tradition that seeks to produce knowl- edge which is useful not only for academics but that, above all, supports the strength- ening of the processes of transformation, liberation, and emancipation put in motion by the collectives, organizations, and movements of which I am an active part” (p. 162). This is precisely what I believe this collection does.

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Shout Your Abortion's Amelia Bonow is ready to fight

Illustration by Kathryn Rathke
By Leah Baltus
City Arts
October 26th, 2018

Shout Your Abortion went from hashtag to movement at lightning speed in 2015. Since then, cofounder Amelia Bonow has been working to center human experiences in the debate over abortion, manifesting everything from button- making parties to huge outdoor photo projections in cities across the U.S. Shout Your Abortion, a 239-page book out Nov. 1 from PM Press, edited by Bonow and Emily Nokes (who also designed it), collects the abortion stories of dozens of women in their own words, as well as interviews with providers and various abortion resources.

Why a book? SYA has done so much ephemeral, digital stuff.
It’s very much the first concrete attempt at a snapshot of what this movement is. Before the [2016] election, I thought this year would be about placing abortion in a larger context of reproductive life, including motherhood and miscarriage and stuff that might happen when you have sex. Then the election happened. And when our publisher hit me up, it seemed much more our speed to make a book that was a tool to share: This is what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and why and you can do it too.

How did you go about selecting the stories?
Geographical diversity, diversity of stories and of contributors was of utmost importance for obvious reasons. A person’s experience is shaped by their level of access and the cultural context in which they live, how much support they have—and that looks wildly different all over the country.

It seems like the work revolves around sovereignty and shame. When a woman breaks through the shame to tell her story, it frees her in a million other ways.
No doubt. That’s a through-line in the book, especially with the number of contributors whose stories involve some element of rape, domestic violence, sexual abuse, addiction or all of the above. People naturally frame their abortion experience—and the telling of it—as something that allowed them to process the shame and damage they experienced. Many people naturally frame their abortion as the first time in their life that they were like, I’m making this decision for myself, a moment of empowerment that had a ripple effect throughout their lives.

So, what’s it like to be working at the nucleus of a cultural meltdown?
We finished the book days before Justice Kennedy announced his retirement. One thing that’s beautiful in retrospect is how many contributors live in states where abortion very well may not be legal in two years, states that have “trigger laws” on the books—so if Roe falls, people who have abortions and people who perform abortions will risk immediate criminalization. These people knew that was a possibility when they chose to contribute to this book; that they did anyway is truly radical.

There’s nothing more inspiring to me than that absolute refusal to shut the fuck up. One thing to remember when something gets dramatically worse and people start freaking out: Some people are like things have been really bad for a long time, welcome to freaking out. If you’re the one freaking out that can feel minimizing; it’s important to acknowledge that things are about to get much worse. It’s going to get fucking ghastly. People are going to die and that’s totally real. At the same time, if you live in one of the seven states that has no abortion clinic or somewhere where an abortion clinic is 300 miles away or you can’t afford an abortion, the fall of Roe probably doesn’t feel like a new level of catastrophe.

The future is us learning to do abortions outside of the systems of federal regulation and capitalism because those systems do not mediate access to justice in equitable ways ever; they do just the opposite.

Has your courage changed while you’ve been on this journey?
I don’t experience very much fear—that’s always been the case. Before SYA happened I was feeling nihilistic and in some way the incident of courage that sparked [SYA] was part of a much larger trend of me not giving a fuck, you know? Not giving a fuck in a go-yell-at-cops, refuse-to-behave way. That shit is still there—but now I give all the fucks.

Does that feel like a gift or a burden or both?
It’s just a profound transformation. It’s been very disorienting. Now I feel responsible for taking care of my body so I can absorb things that other people with less privilege have disproportionately absorbed forever. It’s my duty as a privileged white woman to make myself strong and able to fight.

Bonow and various contributors read at Elliott Bay Book Company on Nov. 10. A book release party is Dec. 5 at the Neptune Theatre.

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A History of Pan-African Revolt: An Excerpt

New Frame
October 23rd, 2018

In 1938 C.L.R. James, the great Trinidadian Marxist, published two books. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution was an account of Haitian Revolution that is now widely recognised as a classic. A History of Negro Revolt, republished as A History of Pan-African Revolt in 1969, was a much smaller volume looking at Black struggles for freedom in Africa, the Caribbean and the United States from 1739 to early 1938. As Robin D.G. Kelley observed in his introduction to the new edition of the book, first published in 2012, it “has remained one of the best kept secrets among a handful of Marxists and black militants. It never sold many copies, but everyone familiar with James’s ideas or the resurgence of Pan-Africanism in the 1960s knew of its influence. The late Walter Rodney, the great historian and Guyanese revolutionary, once called it ‘a mine of ideas advancing far ahead of its time’.”

James’s survey of Black struggles includes a number of references to struggles in South Africa, including the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU). New Frame is delighted to be able to publish James’ account of the ICU with permission from PM Press.
-New Frame

South African industry has brought the natives together in factories, mines and on the docks, and the circumstances of their employment tended to drive them toward industrial organisation in the modern manner. There is also the influence of the Russian Revolution.

The South African Communist Party was founded only in 1924, but it had its origin in a previous organisation that was already in existence in 1920. It directed its propaganda chiefly to the natives. But whereas in Sierra Leone and Gambia, the black intelligentsia of the left for the moment are more vocal than effective, the South African system allows very few of these to exist, and drives even the few that are there into militant opposition. From these post-war conditions and the economic and political crisis of 1919 sprang the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU) of South Africa.

It was formed in 1919 by a Nyasaland (now Malawi) native, Clements Kadalie, and the organisation began with only 24 members. Without any help in finance, experience or encouragement, suffering persecution and arrest, they built a movement that matured in strikes, demonstrations and battles with the police, while white South Africa watched its incredible growth with alarm. Kadalie, as a native of Nyasaland could easily have been deported, but somehow he escaped this fate and drove his movement forward.

Port Elizabeth 1920

The first sign of the ICU’s real strength was the Port Elizabeth strike of 1920. The Port Elizabeth workers, mainly unskilled labourers, had demanded and obtained an increase of sixpence a day. In February 1920, a branch of the ICU was formed in Port Elizabeth. This demanded a further increase of sixpence a day, and as a consequence of fresh agitation, the workers obtained it. But this did not satisfy them and, on the advice of Kadalie, the president of the ICU, they advanced a demand for a minimum daily wage of ten shillings for unskilled male workers and seven shillings and sixpence for adult females.

Meetings were held all over the district by the ICU, at which workers were called upon to insist on this demand even to the point of a strike. This ICU agitation had a tremendous effect. Feeling was running high and the influence of Kadalie was increasing. At one meeting, the feelings of the workers were so aroused that some made a physical attack on Walter Rubusana, president of the South African Native Convention, who was known to be opposed to Kadalie. Rubusana was rescued by Kadalie, who, on seeing his danger, immediately intervened.

The police, meanwhile, were looking for an excuse to arrest Kadalie. This attack on Rubusana was used as a pretext. Rubusana made an affidavit concerning the attack on him, and Kadalie was arrested on 23 October 1920, without a warrant. When news of the arrest became known, the workers congregated in the nearest square. A meeting was held and a deputation was sent to the police to ask for the release of Kadalie on bail. The chief of police refused. When the deputation returned with this news, the meeting resolved to send an ultimatum to the police: unless Kadalie was released by 5pm, they would release him themselves. The South African native was openly challenging not only white employers, but the actual forces of the state.
The whole police force was armed. The railway police were called out. In addition, European volunteers were armed and stationed in front of the police station where Kadalie was detained. By 5pm, the demonstration numbered 3 000 people. The mounted police were ordered to charge, but they were unhorsed. An attempt was made to disperse the crowd by means of a water hose. But the masses replied with stones and other missiles. At this stage, two shots were fired and the crowd began to retreat. While the crowd was running, the police opened fire.
The official commission of inquiry stated: “It is established beyond doubt that immediately after the first shots were fired, the crowd stampeded in all directions, and that a rapid and sustained fusillade was directed on the retreating crowd from the police station for 60 seconds, as alleged by some witnesses, or two minutes as alleged by others. One civilian admitted firing 15 shots; another as many as 13 shots, with the most fatal results: one European and 23 natives or coloured males were killed or died of wounds. Native and coloured males wounded, 45; females, one. European females wounded, four. Total casualties, 76. Only two of these were shot immediately in front of the steps, the others fell in different parts of the street away from the police station, as far as Castle Street, 100 yards distant.”

Obviously the police were seizing the opportunity to smash the workers’ organisation once and for all. The net result, as so often, was to increase its strength. So powerful a force did the ICU become among black and coloured people that Barry Hertzog, a future prime minister of South Africa, thought it profitable to seek the support of the ICU in the Cape province. He sent a very cordial letter to Kadalie, enclosing a donation to the ICU, saying he was sorry he could not do more.

A membership of 100 000

Of course, immediately after Hertzog gained power, he persecuted the ICU even more fiercely. But the movement continued to grow, and in 1926 it reached its peak. In that year, it had a membership of 100 000. Teachers were leaving the profession to become agents of the ICU. In remote villages of South Africa, one could find a representative. Many who had not joined rallied to it in times of difficulty.

It will be difficult to overestimate what Kadalie and his partner, Allison Champion, achieved between 1919 and 1926. Kadalie was an orator, tall, with a splendid voice, and at his meetings he used to arouse workers to great heights of enthusiasm. At the conclusion of his speeches, his hearers were usually silent for some seconds before they were able to begin the applause. Champion was the very opposite of Kadalie in everything. More backward in outlook than Kadalie, who was aware of the working-class movement as an international force, he saw very little beyond Zululand, or Natal, and he was more organiser than orator.

The real parallel to this movement is the mass uprising in San Domingo. There is the same instinctive capacity for organisation, the same throwing-up of gifted leaders from among the masses. But whereas there was a French Revolution in 1794 rooting out the old order in France, needing the black revolution, and sending out encouragement, organisers and arms, there was nothing like that in Britain. Seen in that historical perspective, the Kadalie movement can be understood for the profoundly important thing it was.

After 1926, the movement began to decline. It could not maintain itself for long at that pitch without great and concrete successes. It was bound to stabilise itself at a less intense level. Kadalie lacked the education and the knowledge to organise it on a stable basis – the hardest of all tasks for a man of his origin. There was misappropriation of the funds. He saw the necessity
for international affiliation. But though the constitution of the organisation condemned capitalism, he would not affiliate to the communist Third International. The white South African workers refused his offer of unity, for these, petit-bourgeois in outlook owing to their high wages and the social degradation of black people, are among the bitterest enemies of the native workers.

Kadalie went to Europe, affiliated the ICU to the International Federation of Trade Unions and sought the help of left-wing labour members. He took back a white man, William Ballinger, to assist him. But the decline of the ICU continued. The organisation split. The two sections became but a shadow of the early ICU, and Kadalie kept a cafe in Port Elizabeth, where the workers were shot down while demonstrating for his release.

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Musician Mat Callahan Explores San Francisco Politics in The Explosion of Deferred Dreams

By Jessica Zimmer
The Potrero View
October 2018

Musician Mat Callahan was born in San Francisco in 1951, and lived on Arkansas Street, then Vermont Street, between 1969 and 1974.  Callahan, who sings and plays electric and acoustic guitar, was a member of The Looters from the early-1980s to late-1990s. The rock band played throughout the City, including at The Fillmore and Bottom of the Hill.

Last year, Callahan published The Explosion of Deferred Dreams, a 308-page book about the connection between politics and music in the City that developed between 1965 and 1975. In the volume he explores ties between the United Farm Workers and Santana; and the Black Panthers and Sly and the Family Stone.

“The essential theme is that there was a musical renaissance of great significance that took place in the Bay Area during this decade. Simultaneously, there arose a worldview that revolution was not only desirable but imminent. In this book, I show that the wall between the two was erected after the fact,” said Callahan.

According to Callahan, Explosion is intended for general audiences as well as younger musicians interested in the 1960s and 1970s. He conducted more than 100 hours of interviews with 60 subjects to write the book, including Hill residents Ron Davis, an actor in the political street theater group the San Francisco Mime Troupe; and Joel Selvin, a former senior music reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle.

“1965 is the starting point. Following high points of the civil rights movement and the Free Speech movement, something new began in San Francisco. The arrest of Ron Davis at a performance of the San Francisco Mime Troupe in Lafayette Park (in August 1965) was a key moment leading to the fundraising appeals. Simultaneous with The Family Dog (a Pine Street hippie commune that arranged parties and events), people were organizing benefits and dance concerts. Bands like Jefferson Airplane joined Allen Ginsburg to defend radical street theater. The music and guerilla theater were performing in the streets, directly connected to the politics of civil rights and the growing anti-war movement. Later, you saw other key political events occur, the (1968) Third World Liberation Front strike at San Francisco State and the (1969) Occupation of Alcatraz,” said Callahan.

Callahan started the book as an essay in 2007, but kept on writing. “I got the idea around the time of the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love. I felt a great falsehood had been perpetuated over the intervening years about what was going on in San Francisco in the Sixties,” he said.

According to Callahan, many histories of the time ignore the contributions of artists of color. “By 1969, there were more multiethnic bands like Santana and the Tower of Power. They were representative of a much broader constituency than college students listening to folk rock,” he said.

Callahan spent eight years writing the book, doing research online and in the Bay Area. He traveled several times from his now-home in Bern, Switzerland to Bay Area archives, including the San Francisco Public Library’s San Francisco History Center, the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and San Francisco State University’s Labor Archives and Research Center.

“I also worked with Lincoln Cushing, archival consultant of the “All of Us or None” collection of the Oakland Museum of California. Cushing provided a huge selection of posters from Michael Rossman’s social justice poster archive. The collection, which dates between 1964 and 2004, contains every single poster than hung on a wall or telephone pole. Cushing and I worked together to select a representative sample for Explosion,” said Callahan.

On October 27, from 4 to 5 p.m., Callahan will speak about his book at the Potrero Branch library on 1616 20th Street.  His visit to the Hill was facilitated by local historian, Peter Linenthal, a friend and former Lick Wilmerding High School classmate of Callahan.
“I thought Mat’s research for the book was amazing. It brought back many memories I’d forgotten, China Books in North Beach, for example, and how Mao’s little red book was suddenly available there,” said Linenthal.

Oakland-based PM Press, which issued Callahan’s songbooks, published Explosion. According to Stephanie Pasvankias, PM Press publicist, Callahan has previously spoken about the book.  “We worked with local historical groups and local papers to review the title and interview Mat specific to the (50th) anniversary (of the Summer of Love). (Last year), he came to the Bay Area and did a number of talks at local universities, bookstores, and events, like the Howard Zinn Book Fair,” said Pasvankias.

Pasvankias said the response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive.  “Most folks have been surprised that this book exposed and reframed the political and social context for the San Francisco Sound and the vibrant subcultural uprisings with which it is associated. But have been appreciative of it,” said Pasvankias.  Since its release 1,556 copies and 60 e-books of Explosion have sold.

Today, Callahan sings and plays guitar with his partner, singer Yvonne Moore, mostly in Europe. The duo has also toured the U.S.  “We do a wide range of music. We’re presently working on a new project, “Working Class Heroes,” a CD and a songbook. This follows our “Songs of Freedom” project which commemorates James Connolly, the leader of Ireland’s 1916 Easter Rising. We put his songs to music and sang them,” said Callahan.

Callahan said Explosion exposes manipulation that should be avoided by those who fight “repressive regimes. During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a very powerful social movement that sought to change the world. The difficulties we’re faced with today are a result of the defeat of the revolution. Recent efforts like Occupy, the indigenous struggle against the pipelines, and Black Lives Matter are all indications of the willingness and desire of people to resist. All of these efforts still have not galvanized into something as powerful as the antiwar movement of the 1960s and 1970s,” he said. 

Callahan believes the revolutionaries of those two decades made significant mistakes. “At the same time, some achievements were very important. Young people today can learn from reading a de-romanticized view of the era. They can use it for future generations,” he said.

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Out of the Ruins Reviewed in Pedagogy, Culture & Society

By Michael James Miller
April 3rd, 2018
Pedagogy, Culture & Society

Introducing the book, Robert Haworth writes his thoughts on what ‘radical informal learning’ is and might be, offering various insights that are echoed and elaborated on throughout the book, among them being developing spaces that are ‘critically reflective’ and ‘horizontal’, and within these spaces questioning our desires and the risks involved, hinted at by Haworth with concepts like ‘radical love’ (Freire) and ‘radical openness’ (hooks). Out of the Ruins is a book situated in the rich archives of radical (and particularly anarchist) writings on learning and learning spaces, and for a reader unfamiliar with radical and/or anarchist pedagogies, here might be a comfortable
compilation to get uncomfortable with – Haworth writes of his experiences when introducing notions of ‘free schools’ to pre-service teachers and the discomfort they often expressed when confronted with and challenged on their ‘fixed beliefs of what teaching and learning should be’ (8).

Haworth sets out with a sort-of warning and guide for readers, offering what will be an under-
lying (and often a primary) theme in the chapters that follow: ‘Because informal learning, in many cases, has become co-opted and embedded within the logic of a capitalistic economic system, it should be viewed with a critical lens’ (7). Perhaps this is an obvious statement by Haworth, but writing of past and ongoing successes, failures, and struggles (and the not-so-clear distinction between them) as the book does, elucidates the need for continued criticality while imagining/organizing/navigating more radical spaces and, as I would have liked to read more of, a suspicion of what emerges out of the ruins (even and especially when that includes ourselves). Many of the chapters in Out of the Ruins describe in varying detail personal accounts and collaborative efforts to create and sustain Radical Informal Learning Spaces, and importantly, after their emergences, issues that brought about the end (Chapter 13 emphasizes how crucial having a physical space can be); experiments in structuring organizing (Chapter 10 writes of working with tensions and disorientations); and pedagogical approaches in collectively addressing issues that arose (Chapter 11 outlines horizontal pedagogy) while working to create something outside of (Chapter 5 with techno-education), alternative to (Chapter 7 with the Really Open University), or even within main-stream educational institutions (Chapter 9 teaching the Sociology of Anarchism at university).

As a generalization, I’ve found edited books such as this tend to offer more glimpses and
peeks into the author’s thinking than allowing for more developed and in-depth analyses and
elaborations, leaving the reader to assume a lot, or assuming a lot of the reader. This is not always a detriment to the content, with some terms or concepts opening-up considerations to pursue beyond the book (for example, radical learning spaces facilitating the questioning of desires – particularly in the Introduction and Chapters 3, 6, 7, 10, 13 – brings me back to important work from Fraser and Lamble 2015; and Daring et al. 2012 particularly the Volcano and Heckert chapters, directly connecting and contributing to, though not offered in, these texts). However, I found some content lacking important analyses which had me searching or
returning to readings beyond this book, for example Tuck and Yang’s (2012) Decolonization is not a metaphor with Chapter 5 ‘explor[ing] radical educational alternatives using the metaphor
of decolonization’ (87). Tuck and Yang write that decolonization is ‘a distinct project from other
civil and human rights-based social justice projects’ (2); that the ‘easy absorption, adoption, and transposing of decolonization’, an example being calls to ‘decolonize our schools’ or ‘decolonize student thinking’, are incommensurable and is ‘yet another form of settler appropriation’ (3) which inhibits ‘more meaningful potential alliances’ (3). Other times I found passages to take too much for granted. For example, after reflecting on the experience and standard reactions to the introduction of more radical concepts of learning spaces from students based in (US) mainstream, No Child Left Behind-era education, Haworth states
Radical informal learning takes a significantly different approach to learning than what was stated above.

For one, radical informal learning would be an ongoing process and geared toward freedom, autonomy, critical reflection, and liberation rather than supporting hierarchical, authoritarian, and economically corrupt institutions and relationships. (7)

With what, I wonder, is the reader to do with these terms? While ‘freedom’, ‘autonomy’, ‘critical
reflection’, ‘liberation’ and ‘ongoing process’ are mentioned and alluded to throughout the book,
I do not consider these terms to be as self-evident as I often read them being used. Without
further engagement and analysis with these terms, I hesitate with what is being questioned and
challenged by the authors (e.g. education, learning spaces, desire).

Perhaps what I am looking for is too tedious a task for this format (a single chapter in an
edited book has limited space to say much, especially when there is so much to say and so much being said), perhaps these are even meant to be terms open to interpretation with informal understandings. But I offer this critique because perhaps the authors are taking for granted, even taking liberties with some common conceptualizations (e.g. ‘freedom’) while directly taking on others (‘learning’).

A stand-out example for me comes from the book’s co-editor John M. Elmore in Chapter 1,
which presents the reader with various provocations on authoritarianism, education, and restraint from ‘organic development’. I found some arguments in the chapter to themselves be restrained; while I support taking the strong position that ‘to oppose one system of domination while supporting...another, is to engage in intellectual hypocrisy of the highest level’ (27), there was no further analysis of opposition itself (for which I again go to Daring et al. 2012, specifically chapters by Conrad, and Heckert). Other passages I found to be restraining in themselves with an accepting and upholding of the authoritarianism the chapter and wider collection seeks to address and offer alternatives to. For example, when considering consequences of ‘Preventing learners from thinking and acting freely’ (again, more assumptions on terminology), Elmore brings in an Arnstine quote to support the point being made of the process in which ‘...entire societies can acquire the mentality of slaves.’ What Arnstine means by ‘the mentality of slaves’, and why Elmore offers this quote to try and substantiate the argument for ‘Finding alternatives to traditional schooling’ not only remains unclear in this chapter – as no elaboration or explanation is given – but is (at best) missing the mark. One might ‘get’ the sentiment of what is meant here, but given the complex, nuanced, opaque, beautiful, horrible work around slavery (for one example, the work of Saidiya
Hartman), this assumption is one of the more glaring examples of the over generalizations and
selective criticality scattered throughout this book.

I offer this review not necessarily as a dismissal of what all is contained within Out of the Ruins
to any would-be readers, nor of the authors whose work is used here as examples. Instead, I write this as an attempted contribution of necessary suspicion; I want to stay with and expose more tensions than are confronted in these texts, and if we are committed to emerging out of the ruins without bringing along the same patterns, systems, and naturalized ways of thinking and being, then our efforts must extend to our too-often assumed understandings and imaginings (thinking again with Haworth’s ‘critical lens’).

I found Chapter 6 offered a lot of important insights and questions regarding beginning, beginnings, and the difficulties thereof, particularly with ‘the policing of “possibilities”’ (107). Author

Sarah Amsler’s ‘critical lens’ was intently and intensely focused on the Social Science Centre of
which she is a part of, and their being compelled ‘to articulate new answers to fundamental
questions about the purpose of education, defining or redefining democracy, and what it means
to be-in-common and to learn’ (108). A few questions posed include:So what is it that we need to learn, and how can we approach these ideas if we do not already know about
them? If we could practice any kind of education we want, of what activities would it consist and why? What can these educational spaces do? Who is it for? How was it developed? How is it gendered, classed, raced, colonial, or epistemologically exclusive? Whose expression does it wear, in whose voice does it speak? What is its relationship to traditional, or even neoliberal, education? Are there spaces and cracks to work within and are they enough? How are the roles of student and teacher defined, if at all? What is to be done with intractable reproductions of power? How shall we subsist? Who is affected by our commitments? What are we willing to give, and to lose? (108).

These (potentially) unanswerable questions (not that they would have any one answer any-
ways) are importantly directed to people and groups who might be or work to be ‘at once united, diverse, divided, and aspiring to be in common’ (121). I read the contributors to this book being among those, and something discussed throughout these texts that I am thinking a lot about is ‘community’. I was interested to read different approaches and thinking’s about ‘community’ (and similar sentiments), and if/how this might be re/de/conceptualized in a general sense, and in relation to the idea of a ‘learning community’ more specifically. What might we mean and understand when thinking of ‘community’, what do we take for granted, and what violences does ‘community’ not just potentially counter or diminish, but also strengthen and reinscribe – including (and particularly) radical informal one’s? Included here (briefly) as further provocations and potential contributions when thinking ‘community’, works by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney variously discuss maroon communities (Harney and Moten 2013), sociality (Moten 2018), and of the need to abolish the community so that we might commune (Harney 2017). These notions and my study with them were further pressed with co-writing a conference paper bringing up these points (Miller and Miller 2017) and from the push back, questions, and conversations in response, particularly around what abolishing the community could mean, and how to not only recognize the communing that is already happening, but what to do at that point. This is an ongoing conversation...

Sprinkled throughout Out of the Ruins I found other seeds of intrigue and interest that I would have liked to read more about. Discussing AnarchistU, for instance, Chapter 12 wrote of distinc-
tions between the classroom and the community, and further had varying statements about
hierarchies that recognized pitfalls (‘hierarchies of expertise’) while also perceiving the created
space as distinct (‘different hierarchies than academic spaces uphold’ 235) and (boldly, intriguingly, somehow) free from others (‘while hierarchies of state and capital were eradicated, hierarchies associated with epistemologies of space were only somewhat mitigated’ 231). Another seed only mentioned briefly but I found of interest was ‘boredom’, particularly the expressed desire of ‘militating against boredom’ (Chapter 11, 219, 220). Here I wonder what might ‘boredom’ have to offer (for example, see Horning 2017), including and further than rumination, particularly if we are challenging that which we take as obvious. Similarly, I want to imagine further about engaging in a ‘tolerance of ambiguity’ with others as proposed in Chapter 4, which gives a few, perhaps inadvertent but nonetheless appreciated examples of ambiguity, by later writing of the ‘problem of abstractness and a lack of engagement with the specificities of teaching and learning’ (80).

Chapter 2 had a lot of imaginings, yet I read David Gabbard’s provocations as both pushing for
more creativity from teachers and students, while also implying/imposing limits on what might
be considered ‘useful’ creativity. Why must we shirk from an ‘impossible agenda’ – especially as
the chapter draws on Zizek’s advice to ‘start thinking’ and not ‘get caught in this pseudo-activist pressure’ to ‘do something’? (50, 51) – what might it mean to imagine the unimaginable rather than ‘stir up public debate’ which seems to me is the ‘doing something’ which is to be avoided?

I want to think more about the ‘useless’ in the ‘useful’ (h/t Tiqqun); the ‘impossible’ while we continue pushing what is ‘possible’.

Out of the Ruins offers an Introduction and 13 chapters with various anecdotes and attempted
antidotes, provocations and practical, experiential writing on experimental efforts to create and
maintain counter-hegemonic learning spaces and communities. Through different approaches,
reflections and emergences this book extends many important considerations. Whether we are
starting on our thinking of radical informal learning spaces, looking for examples from other’s
experiences, or how we might bring in more criticality, radical intentions and informal pedagogies to our own practices and experiences, Out of the Ruins is intended to be that place.


Daring, C. B., J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, and Abbey Volcano, eds. 2012. Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire. Oakland: AK Press.
Fraser, J., and S. Lamble. 2015. “Queer Desires and Critical Pedagogies in Higher Education: Reflections on the Transformative Potential of Non-normative Learning Desires in the Classroom.” Journal of Feminist Scholarship7 (8): 61–77.
Harney, S. 2017. “Stefano Harney Interview (part 2) by Michael Schapira & Jesse Montgomery.” Full Stop. http://
Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten. 2013. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions.
Horning, R. 2017. Ordinary Boredom. The New Inquiry.
Miller, Lindsay L., and Michael J. Miller. 2017. “Carceral Educations: Schools, Prisons, Police and the Obligations of an Abolitionist.” Paper presented at the 2nd International Conference for Carceral Geography, December 11–12, in Birmingham, England.
Moten, F. 2018. “Come on, Get it! with Thom Donovan, Malik Gaines, Ethan Philbrick, Wikipedia and the Online Etymology Dictionary.” The New Inquiry.
Tuck, E., and K. W. Yang. 2012. “Decolonization is Not a Metaphor.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society
1 (1): 1–40.

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Insurgent Supremacist: An Interview with Matthew N. Lyons on Antifascism, Anti-Imperialism, and the Future of Organizing
October 22nd, 2018

Matthew N. Lyons is an anti-fascist author and researcher whose work stretches back twenty-five years.  Always at the front of understanding how the far-right shifts and reconfigures itself, he has developed deep historical and theoretical work that is directly intended to aid in antifascist organizing that sees results.
His book Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, co-authored with Chip Berlet, looked through America’s history and dug into exactly what the elusive term “populism” means, and how it motivates working-class people to take up radical right-wing political movements.  He has been especially pioneering at the blog Three-Way Fight, named for the concept that in any revolutionary struggle you can have an insurgent force that is different that either the left and the ruling class, and it is at that point you can often find fascist ideologues building their own version of a revolutionary movement.

In Lyons’ most recent book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, he looks at the strains of fascism that appropriate anti-imperialist and other struggles often associated with the left, how the far-right is changing and creating new social movements, and how we can understand fascism’s future.
This is an interview with Matthew N. Lyons that asks some of these questions, how to understand populism and fascism, how fascists use anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist politics, and what we can do about it.
Your book spends a great deal of time discussing the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war movements that intersect with fascism.  What is the nationalist investment in these issues?  How does their perspective break from the left’s interpretation of these movements?
In the book sections you’re referring to, my focus isn’t so much on the intersection of anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war movements with fascism. Rather, it’s on the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war tendencies within far right movements themselves. These tendencies have taken various forms and have deep historical roots within both classical fascism and sections of American conservatism. In the United States today, far rightists believe that the U.S. government and many transnational institutions such as the United Nations are controlled by malevolent globalist elites, who are working to weaken and destroy traditional societies and homogenize everyone to help build up their own wealth and power. White nationalists define this supposed threat in racial terms, as Jewish elites versus the white race, while other branches of the U.S. far right (such as Christian theocrats and most Patriot groups) tend to define it as an attack on U.S. national sovereignty and western culture.
There are a couple of different things going on here. Fascists and other far rightists have a long history of offering distorted versions of leftist, radical politics, to help them capitalize on people’s rebellious energy and anger at the status quo. When I describe it this way, it sounds like political opportunism, and that’s definitely part of it. But on a deeper level, there’s also a genuine conflict here, between modern global capitalism and the traditional social hierarchies such as race and nation and gender that have served capitalism well in the past but now sometimes restrict it. Modern global capitalism depends on moving goods and services and workers and investments across old boundaries, national and otherwise. This threatens many traditionally privileged social groups, whose privilege is based on those boundaries and divisions. So then you get, for example, multinational corporations pushing to let in more foreign workers, and sparking an anti-immigrant backlash. And you also get multinational corporations pushing to project military power overseas to help protect their investments, and sections of the right, fascist and otherwise, lining up against them and saying our people has nothing to gain from these wars.
On a surface level, far right opposition to military interventionism or capitalist elites or imperialism can sound leftist. But there are basic underlying differences. Leftist politics is predicated – at least in theory – on promoting human equality and dismantling human oppression and exploitation. In contrast, fascists and other far rightists believe that human equality is a sham. They say that inequality is either unavoidable or a positive good to be protected. To them, global capitalist elites are evil because they see them as promoting equality, not opposing it. A related issue is that a genuinely radical critique of power focuses on systems of oppression and exploitation, whereas far rightists generally analyze power in terms of conspiracy theories, which blame social problems on a sinister group of outsiders (such as Jews) who supposedly distort the normal workings of society.
How do you define fascism?
In Insurgent Supremacists and other writings I offer a working definition of fascism as “a revolutionary form of right-wing populism, inspired by a totalitarian vision of collective rebirth, that challenges capitalist political and cultural power while promoting economic and social hierarchy.” This is based on an effort to combine two different approaches. The historian Roger Griffin sees fascism as a political ideology that emphasizes a myth of national palingenesis, or collective rebirth out of a near-fatal crisis. In contrast to that, a series of independent Marxists (from August Thalheimer in the 1930s to J. Sakai and Don Hamerquist today) have analyzed fascism as having a contradictory relationship with the capitalist ruling class – attacking the left and promoting class hierarchy but also pursuing an agenda that clashes with capitalist interests in important ways. Both of these approaches regard fascism as a right-wing revolutionary force, but Griffin is strong on delineating fascist ideology while the independent Marxists are strong on fascism’s class dynamics. Both are important.
I draw a sharp distinction between fascism and what I would call conservative authoritarianism. Most repression in capitalist societies operates more or less directly in the interests of big business. I see fascism as a drive to wrest political control away from big business and establish a new political elite. Historically, fascists have cut deals with capitalists to help them win power, but capitalists’ assumption that they could then rein in fascists has proved wrong. Instead, fascists have set about trying to reshape all spheres of society according to their own totalitarian agenda and, in the case of German Nazism, undertook a profound and far-reaching transformation of the social order in keeping with their racist ideology. Many capitalist regimes have pursued genocide against subject populations, but Nazism is the only regime that has pursued genocide against a significant section of the industrial working class, an effort that directly clashed with capitalists’ economic interests.
In the United States today, fascist politics is still driven by a totalitarian vision to reshape society, but that can take different forms. White nationalists’ vision centers on race and their dream of creating an all-white nation. But I think it’s appropriate to use the term “fascism” also for totalitarian right-wing visions that don’t center on race. The most important example is the hardline faction within the Christian right – spearheaded by Christian Reconstructionists – that wants to impose a full theocracy. That vision centers on religion, of course, but also on male supremacy and gender conformity – much more than race. Also, some fascist currents, such as the Lyndon LaRouche network, carry forward classical fascism’s vision of a large centralized state, but many fascists now want to impose their totalitarian vision in a decentralized manner – through “tribal” networks or segregated “ethno-states” or local churches and patriarchal families. I’ve used the term “social totalitarianism” to describe this kind of politics that is simultaneously authoritarian and decentralist.
How do you see the Trump administration in relationship to insurgent white nationalism?  Has your opinion of it changed in the time that Trump has been in office?
White nationalists – not just people with racist politics but people who specifically want to create an all-white nation – played a bigger role in electing Donald Trump in 2016 than they had in electing any of his predecessors. More specifically, alt-rightists’ skillful use of internet activism was a significant factor in defeating Trump’s Republican rivals and to a lesser extent in defeating Hillary Clinton. After the election, Richard Spencer proclaimed that alt-rightists were the vanguard of the Trump coalition. At the same time, alt-rightists were clear that Trump was himself not a white nationalist – he was useful to them, but he was not one of them. He would do some of what they wanted, and he would buy them time and space to spread their message, but he did not share their long-term goals.
Since Trump’s inauguration, alt-rightists have had very mixed feelings about his administration. They have liked his demagoguery and scapegoating and his moves against immigrants of color and Muslims, but wish he would go a lot further. They like some of his foreign policy actions, like challenging free trade orthodoxy and criticizing NATO and reaching out to Kim Jong-un. But to varying degrees they also think he has capitulated to (or maybe is being blackmailed by) the conservative establishment. They don’t much care for the staunchly conservative positions he’s taken on tax policy and destroying Obamacare. They hate his support for Israel and his missile strikes against Assad’s government in Syria. Some of them still look on Trump positively, while others think he is beyond redemption.
In Insurgent Supremacists, I argued that Trump’s administration represented a coalition between conventional conservatives of various kinds and “America First” nationalists, some of whom had ties with the alt-right. I still think that’s accurate. Several of the America Firsters have left the administration, such as Steve Bannon and Mike Flynn, but there are several still there, such as Stephen Miller, Peter Navarro, and especially Jeff Sessions. They benefit from what seems to be Trump’s sincere contempt for most establishment politicians, but they’re limited by the lack of a coherent organizational base and the lack of a coherent base of support within the ruling class. The Mercers and Peter Thiel are scary, but it’s unclear to me whether they represent a larger organic tendency within the business community or just hardline right-wingers who suddenly happened to become billionaires. It’s clear there are business sectors that are happy Trump is dismantling industrial regulations, but that part of his agenda is just an extension of previous neoliberal policies. Which business sectors support America First nationalism? I’m very interested to learn more about that.
The periodic warnings that Trump is either a fascist or is moving in a fascist direction seem to be picking up momentum again. I don’t agree, although I agree with some elements of the argument. A lot of people use the term “fascism” much too loosely, to cover any and all forms of right-wing authoritarianism or repression. To me, fascism has to involve a drive to systematically transform all areas of society according to a totalitarian ideological vision. I don’t see any evidence that Trump has such a vision or has the drive to implement any such systematic change, and he certainly doesn’t have the kind of independent organizational base you would need to carry it out.
What I do think is true and is quite serious is that Trump is making the U.S. political system more authoritarian. Part of that is continuing the process of incrementally expanding the government’s repressive powers and machinery, a process that has been going on for decades under both Republican and Democratic presidents. But Trump and his supporters are also dramatically changing the political climate, ratcheting up the scapegoating and demonization of political opponents, even mainstream ones, to levels we haven’t seen since the early 1950s. Trump and his supporters have vilified news reporting to the point that the New York Times can publish a major expose of his family’s tax crimes and he doesn’t even bother to deny it. These moves don’t add up to anything close to fascism, but they do significantly weaken the liberal-pluralist framework (it’s not democracy but it’s not a dictatorship either) and make it significantly easier for some kind of systematic, organized, ideologically driven authoritarianism to emerge and impose itself. I don’t think Trump is part of that but it could come quickly.
How do you define populism? Why do you think that there has been an upsurge of populism around the world right now?
I see populism as a type of politics that aims to rally “the people” around some form of anti-elitism. That’s how Chip Berlet and I defined it in Right-Wing Populism in America, and it’s based on political scientist Margaret Canovan’s work. Populism can be broadly divided between left-wing and right-wing varieties. John Judis in The Populist Explosion gives a good succinct explanation of the difference. He says that left-wing populists define the struggle in dualistic terms – the people versus the elite – while right-wing populists claim the elite is manipulating one or more out-groups – such as immigrants or Muslims or welfare mothers – so that “the people” are being squeezed from above and below.
There are serious problems with both left-wing and right-wing populism, but the problems are different. Left-wing populism can be a framework for attacking real inequity and disempowerment, and to that extent it can play a positive role, but it oversimplifies social conflict by reducing everything to the people versus the elite. So it tends to gloss over – and thereby reinforce – other forms of oppression that don’t coincide with that simple dividing line.
Right-wing populism glosses over lots of stuff as well, but the bigger problem is that it directly targets oppressed and marginalized groups for scapegoating and demonization, because its concept of “the people” is as much about defending privilege as it is about anti-elitism. In addition, the way right-wing populism defines the elite is itself based on a kind of scapegoating, which focuses either on a specific subset within the elite or on people who aren’t elite at all. So even though right-wing populism feeds partly on people’s anger at being beaten down, it channels that back into attacks that strengthen and intensify hierarchy and oppression and institutionalized violence.
As you say, there’s been an upsurge of populism lately in many parts of the world, and that includes both left and right versions. In very broad terms I see two big contributing factors. One is a crisis in the global capitalist system – highlighted by the 2008 financial crisis but going far beyond it – and a widespread recognition that the conventional policies that have dominated most governments for decades really only serve a tiny minority. The other big factor is the weakness of the radical left – brought about by a combination of external repression and its own internal failings – and the radical left’s inability to rally major segments of the population in most countries. So, many people are hungry for alternatives, hungry for a way out, and a lot of times populism seems like the best option.
Are there any examples of organized resistance happening currently that you think are a good model for combating the far-right?
I don’t know that there’s any one example where I’d say, “here’s the model of resistance for us to follow,” but I think there have been a number of very positive developments. I think the principle of “diversity of tactics” is very important – meaning actions organized so that there is room for people to take a variety of militant and non-militant approaches, and where those are understood as complementing and supporting each other, rather than competing or in conflict. I know that folks in the Bay Area and in Portland, for example, have worked hard over the past year or more to build coalitions based on this approach, and have had some important successes as a result.
I also really like the principle of “community self-defense,” as advocated by the Twin Cities General Defense Committee of the IWW and others, meaning that antifascists should not look to the state to protect us, because the state is really not on our side, but rather should look to build connections with, and base themselves in, working class communities. Another positive example I would cite is the network Solidarity & Defense Michigan, which is one of a number of groups that helped to halt the alt-right’s mobilizing drive in 2017-2018, and which has emphasized the linkages between resisting far rightists and combating institutionalized oppression in the form of housing evictions, police violence, deportations of immigrants and refugees, and so on.
I also particularly appreciate when people approach antifascist activism in a spirit of humility and willingness to learn from mistakes. I think an example of that was the article “Tigertown Beats Nazis Down,” which is a self-critical reflection on the April 2017 mass protest against Richard Spencer in Auburn, Alabama. I can’t speak to the specific events that happened there, but I thought the spirit of the article was really constructive and positive.
How can the anti-imperialist movement insulate against the far-right?
First, leftist and liberal anti-imperialists should have a strict policy of non-collaboration with far rightists. That means not attending their political events and not allowing them to attend ours. It means not giving them a platform on our media to air their views, and not legitimizing their media by accepting invitations to publish our articles or be interviewed.
Second, let’s recognize and combat oppressive dynamics within the left that resonate with far right politics – dynamics such as authoritarianism and transphobia and sexual violence. And more specifically let’s combat the elements of far right ideology that have influenced sections of the left itself. In the 1980s, the Christic Institute borrowed “anti-establishment” conspiracy theories from the Lyndon LaRouche network and other far right sources and repackaged them for progressive audiences. Today, groups like the Center for Research on Globalisation play a similar role. Let’s develop strong radical analyses of institutionalized power systems and reject fake-radical conspiracy theories, many of which are rooted in antisemitism.
And we need consistent radicalism specifically with regard to Israel. I’m an anti-Zionist Jew: I reject Israeli apartheid rule over Palestinians and Zionist appropriation of Jewish identity for racist and imperialist ends, and I reject smear campaigns that equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. But it’s disturbing and dangerous when we see self-described leftists portraying Zionists as some kind of super-powerful force controlling U.S. foreign policy or global capitalism, or dismiss any concerns about antisemitism on the left as Zionist propaganda.
Third, I think we need to reject simplistic left analyses that celebrate any perceived opposition to U.S. international power as “anti-imperialist” – and that automatically equate anti-imperialist with “progressive.” The Assad government has implemented neoliberal economic policies, collaborated with the CIA’s rendition program, and murdered thousands of Palestinians, but somehow it’s supposed to be anti-imperialist now. And if all anti-imperialism is automatically progressive, are we supposed to celebrate the 9-11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Those attacks hit the centers of imperialist power more forcefully than anything Assad and his allies have ever done, but they also killed 3,000 people and were carried out in the name of a deeply reactionary ideology. And if all anti-imperialism is automatically progressive, are we supposed to join forces with the neonazis who did in fact celebrate the 9-11 attacks as heroic blows against globalist Jewish elites? What’s needed here, again, is a recognition that there are more than two political poles in the world, and – as radical antifascists have been saying for years – my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend.

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