Civil Disobediences—Poetics and Politics in Action
Edited by Anne Waldman and Lisa Birman
Coffee House Press, 2004
You know when both Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Howard Zinn praise a book it’s got to be worth the read. Moore and Zinn are only two voices heralding the greatness of Civil Disobediences, an anthology created from content associated with Naropa University and The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. Indeed, Civil Disobediences deserves every bit of acclaim it’s been given. Composed of essays, lectures, and teaching materials by leading poets and scholars (including Alice Notley, Robert Creeley, Gary Snyder, and Laura Mullen), the anthology explores poetics from many angles. There are articles on the craft of poetry, the history of poetic/political action in the US and abroad, the development of ancient and modern poetic forms, the legacy of world-renowned poets, and the intersections between poetry and spirituality.
There are discussions of identity and gender politics, the role of our cultures in the world and in writings, linguistic theory and translations, and Hermeticism. Jumping from lichens and symbiosis to Egyptian hieroglyphs and Buddhist philosophy, the authors included in Civil Disobediences take many topics head-on within their articles. Each article takes a different aspect of this thing we call poetry and
creates a brightly colored thread to the poetic fabric of our world. Then each of these threads are woven together to create a beautiful and illuminating whole that is the anthology itself.
This is a must read for any poetry or political dissent fans out there—and for the those of us that are both, it’s a must keep.
Flesh From Ashes #4 zine
Flesh from Ashes, 2005
A 56 page zine from Ohio that also comes with a CD. The CD is an interview at WBGU 88.1 FM in Bowling Green, OH with DJ ThanatosE, who was arrested at the Republican National Convention in NYC in 2004 –the focus of this issue. "Code Pink Infiltrates the RNC," "The Real Fight for Freedom" (a personal account of protests against the RNC), and "Reverend Billy and the Church of the First Amendment: Protest Against Corporate Media" also address the RNC melee and there's a related story about a religious sect called Falun Gong who are being persecuted by the Chinese government and were holding protests during the RNC to call attention to their repression. Other articles in "Flesh From Ashes" are an account of attending a conference in Columbus that focused on voting fraud and destruction of ballots from mostly African Americans in Ohio during the 2004 elections; an account of protest against George Bush in Findlay, OH and a fair amount of poetry mixed in between the articles. A good read if you want to know more about personal experiences at the Republican National Convention in 2004.
Kitchen Sink #10
Neighbor Lady Community Arts Project, 2005
Do you have enough time to just sit around and talk to people? Many of us don't spend as many hours in the coffeehouse shooting the breeze as we once did. Our friends are still adventuring and philosophizing, but we've dispersed a bit over the years and don't talk as much as we used to.
Enter the magazine Kitchen Sink, for people who think too much. Reading this mag is like getting together with a bunch of people just to talk. Cool people, people who think as much as you do, yet they've had experiences you haven't had, and their stories add depth to your own experience. Issue 10 found me sympathizing with Nicole Neditch in "I'm Goth Too," on how some of the stereotypes that chase us can be mildly amusing and annoying at the same time. In the article "Glide Over and See Me Some Time, the Case For Prefab," Jen Loy writes about the strange perspectives of Janae Growden, an Oakland artist whose medium is window dressing. Stephanie Kalem describes life with an unusually decorated car. Art and music reviews are presented with the reviewer's personality left intact, allowing us to see or hear it through their eyes instead of describing the subject in a sterile manner.
Loosely themed, Kitchen Sink struck me as sort of an UTNE for people who've, well, grown out of UTNE. It touches art, music, politics, poetry, love, and war without trying to convince us that there is one good way to touch on anything. It's more like a good sit down chat with a bunch of smart, interesting people who all have time to talk.
The Dispossessed: Chronicles of the Desterrados of Columbia
Alfredo Molano, Translated by Daniel Bland
Haymarket Books, 2005
Letters of Love and Hope: The Story of the Cuban Five
Alice Walker, Nancy Morejón, The Families of the Cuban Five, Leonard I. Weinglass
Ocean Press, 2005
If knowledge is power, if control over official history is power; then so is control of land and control of movement: the ability to expel, to bar, to immobilize. We see this in architecture for public spaces, in immigration policy, in crowd control tactics. In these two books of testimonies, we see the power of forced migration and exile as weapons of war.
The Dispossessed: Chronicles of the Desterrados of Columbia is a translation of the 2001 Spanish publication by Alredo Molina, a respected journalist from Columbia, himself in exile in Spain. In the early ‘80s, Molina decided to “travel the length and breadth of the country in order to shatter the academic and official view of its history.” Molina recorded and edited the testimonies of Columbians “uprooted and exiled in their own country,” forced to move from rural Columbia to equally insecure urban poverty by the violent struggle for control of land between the state, cocoa (the raw material for cocaine) growers, and guerrillas. In this region of nearly absent state control, the identities of these power brokers and others morph and overlap. This is the region that justifies the US escalating aid to the Columbian military, funding drug eradication programs that escalate and perpetuate violence.
The Dispossessed compiles moving and heart-breaking first person testimony–children and adults narrating their displacement by cocoa growers, multinationals, and destruction of their communities. The elegance of Molina’s introduction and the honesty of the speakers allow us to witness their stories without being overwhelmed by sadness or anger. The emotions from the stories resonate with an importance far beyond their particulars. What also resonates: Displacement is a weapon of war and that those who profit from war have an interest in its continuance. Mabel González Bustelo’s exhaustive analysis of Columbian politics and the geography of violence included at the end of the book also proves an invaluable resource for understanding the complexity of the Columbian reality and an important counterpoint to the testimonies.
Letters of Love and Hope: The Story of the Cuban Five similarly shares the personal stories of those exiled from their home. Through letters between men incarcerated in the United States and their families in Cuba, the ordeal of the “Cuban Five” takes more human form. The Cuban Five were accused of various permutations of spying for Cuba and in 2001 received sentences varying from 15 years to 2 consecutive life terms. On August 9th of this year, the 11th Federal Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the convictions based on the lack of a fair trial in the virulently anti-Castro environment of Miami. Now, after seven years in prison (three before their convictions), the men are once again innocent, and a new trial will most likely begin.
Fernando González, René González, Antonio Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández, and Ramón Labañino monitored, infiltrated, and attempted to disrupt extremist anti-Castro groups and individuals based in south Florida, and relayed information to Cuba. These anti-Castro groups have carried out assassination attempts against Castro, bombings and attempted bombings of civilian and tourist targets, flights over Cuba to drop counter-revolutionary literature, and have operated paramilitary training camps in Florida. Some of them also monitored US military installations. For many Cubans, the Five are heroes for attempting to halt terrorist actions against their country. Here in the United States, where the government uses Cuba as the symbolic antithesis of freedom, the Cuban Five are the terrorists.
Through the letters included in the collection, including statements of commitment and perseverance, poems and photos, we come to understand what violence the separation of families inflicts on partners, children and parents and extended families. As Alice Walker points out in her generous and poetic introduction, we can extrapolate from these stories to the more than two million other families whose lives are so affected by the retributive inequality of our judicial system. We also come to understand that the dedication and loyalty of Cuban citizens to their country matches that to their families.
This collection is a bit baffling in terms of its intent. These stories were clearly printed to generate awareness and support for the legal case in process, yet there is almost no information about the case, details of which are essential to understand the injustice of the sentences, the righteousness of the men and their families, and therefore to mobilize support for their release. The strategy of generating sympathy by illuminating the suffering of female partners and children is problematic; the book seems to suggest it is on this basis that we should free the men. Again, if legal information or analysis were included, the reader could call for their release based on their innocence, not only their suffering. For this reason, the collection is more appropriate and most compelling for those already familiar with the case.
These two collections raise similar questions: Who defines terrorism? How does “shattering the official view of history” translate into action? How can individual stories function to mobilize action? What is our role as US citizens and residents in relation to violence in which we are implicated? Especially in Latin America, testimony has always been used to generate awareness and support for victims and survivors of injustice. In our media-saturated culture, effective advocacy must extend beyond tugging of heartstrings to cogent political analysis, beyond reliance on the ethics of readers to methods of involvement, beyond the specific to connection with other global struggles. Here, knowledge is power when accompanied with avenues of action. The accounts from Columbia and letters from Cuba remind us that our own culture immobilizes us, restricting our individual response to injustice, a paralysis of movement that is its own powerful violence.
-Sarah H. Cross
Making Stuff and Doing Things: A Collection of DIY Guides to Doing Just About Everything
Kyle Bravo, Ed.
Microcosm Publishing, 2005
In recent years, punk/radical culture has spawned a stunning amount of DIY guides, usually published in small-run, xeroxed zine format. They have emerged as a way to share and disperse new folk knowledge discovered by and gleaned from those involved in low-cost, resourceful living.
This book, the latest offering from Portland, Oregon’s Microcosm Publishing brings a bunch of these short-run DIY guides together under one cover. At 240 pages it is no small feat. Editor Kyle Bravo spent 2 ½ years making this book, collecting articles and guides, tracking down authors and stumbling across another collection from an aborted attempt at the same by Tree of Knowledge Distro.
This book is by far the most extensive DIY guide I’ve seen, packed with ways to hone your self-reliance skills and aid your retreat from capitalism’s grasp. It is arranged into topics such as: Self-Education, Fun & Entertainment, Arts & Crafts, Clothing, Creative Troublemaking, Gardening, Food & Drink, Pet Care, Outdoor Survival, Health & Body, Inspiration. Aside from DIY lifestyle staples that you would expect from this type of book: zine-making, sewing machine use, healthy sex tips, wild food gathering, wheat-pasting, home brewing, dumpster-diving, herbal medicine, working on bikes - some fun and funny creations and contraptions. More novel highlights include “The Fang Jockey,” a turntable modification using a paperclip as the needle to create a noisemaking machine, how to unstink your multiple day-old socks, DIY flowerpots from old vinyl records, and how women can pee standing up. All in all Making Stuff and Doing Things presents a good balance between the pragmatic and the fun, the everyday and the strange. All of the entries retain their original zine format, typed or handwritten, often with hand drawn examples and illustrations.
Rest assured, with Making Stuff and Doing Things in your library you’ll never again have an excuse to be bored. Not like you ever had one to begin with…
She Would Not Be Moved: How We Tell the Story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott
The New Press, 2005
Grammar-school history books sometimes resemble our most surreal dreams in which a parade of characters with no past, no future, no larger connection to anything, make dramatic gestures and disappear. In our dreams, they’re archetypal: a lizard man, a red queen, a train conductor catching us without a ticket. In history books, they are the folks whose fame fills one paragraph: Aaron Burr, Eli Whitney, Clara Barton, Rosa Parks – a third-tier coterie that someone will eventually gather onto a stage with witty, ironic dialogue à la Steve Martin.
In the meantime, Herbert Kohl brings one of these figures to our attention in an effort to rescue her from the floating world of footnotes. She Would Not Be Moved is an educational guide for teachers on how to incorporate Rosa Parks into a holistic curriculum that offers an uncensored, multi-voiced history on racism and the civil rights movement – the kind of program that teaches students how to form a question about the world in which they live, and act on its answer.
Kohl first corrects the widely circulated inaccuracies in textbooks and children’s literature which present Parks’ story as little more than an inspirational parable. Consistently evoking Parks as a “poor, tired seamstress,” and her legendary stance as an isolated incident, these versions ignore her role as a prominent activist with a history of resisting segregation laws (her action on December 1, 1955 became groundbreaking because it was the first time the bus driver, instead of removing her from the bus, had her arrested). Nor do the myth-perpetuating narratives explore the political workings of the larger, well-mobilized African-American community in Alabama who had been long preparing the bus boycott that followed Parks’ arrest. And too many texts refuse to scrutinize the frightening consequences Parks was forced to face because of her civil disobedience (Parks and her husband lost their jobs and received numerous threats from local racists).
In an honest and rousing language, Kohl provides a revised telling of Parks’ story, alongside a notable list of books by such writers as Eloise Greenfield and David A. Adler who grippingly contextualize her political demonstration. In the final section, the author also suggests linking Parks’ biography to classroom units on anti-racism, non-violent protest and the global human rights movement, and he alludes to a lesson plan that would focus on the faulty, fragmented texts to examine with students why those books are faulty in the first place. For the non-educators in Kohl’s audience, the analysis emerges as a quick but discerning meditation on the truths we’re taught as children, and a sharp-eyed glimpse into the story of historical revision itself and its still pervasive shortcomings.
The Silent Burning
Elitist Publications, 2005
"I wrote this so I wouldn't feel this way anymore and for the most part I've been successful." The Silent Burning is a complex journey through the disturbing spin of Ryan Bartek's psyche. The reader is a visitor at his or her own risk; Bartek slams you upon entering and like the ball in a pinball machine you are flicked aggressively from heartrending childhood story to barely coherent hate filled manifesto to disjointed poem to intelligently articulated commentary.
Very quickly after beginning this book I seriously questioned why I was reading it at all. Why was I exposing myself to this rage and despair? Why would I deliver myself to this offensive teenage ranting? My thoughts turned to Columbine; the Silent Burning sounds like it was written by the kids involved in that tragedy. Then I understood. Bartek explains in his introduction that he wrote this book so he wouldn't have to live with all these ideas churning in his head anymore. For each teenager who acts out the violent confusion burning inside, at least a thousand more are on the brink of that action. What if they could write the pain away? Or maybe they could read the pain away, hear their own perspectives laid out from a sympathetic party, and know that the writer found a way through it all.
My feeling was confirmed a few pages later in an essay entitled 'Columbine Revisited: The Tragic Tale of Eric Harris'. Bartek offers a unique view of Columbine. Bartek and Harris were actually born on the same day, and "if subjected to identical stress and alienation" might have ended up in the same position. This book is for those who are simmering with the anger of repression and persecution, and for those who want to understand them without judging. It also touches those of us who maintain a less hostile attitude towards society, but are just as disgusted with the mainstream version of reality.
Bartek lets the reader visit the world wherein he dwells, the world that brought him to this point of writing. He describes the stepfather who he loved, and who he lost to the ravages of alcoholism. He discusses the skinhead movement, writing of his disgust for the actions and politics of many in that group, yet admitting an admiration for their principles of self-reliance. The government, the bible, and mental illness are all analyzed in articulate essays, then juxtaposed with abstract fantasies and poetry.
There are no page numbers in The Silent Burning, but I will direct the reader to apiece three quarters of the way through the book. Titled '9.11.01', the first line reads "ALL OF MY PARANOID DELUSIONS CAME TRUE". Read aloud as that one line repeats eight more times, raising your voice until it reaches the tone of exhausted fury, and know that you are not alone.
- Stella Meredith
An Unreasonable Woman: A True Story of Shrimpers, Politicos, Polluters, and the Fight for Seadrift, Texas
Chelsea Green, 2005
I first saw that this was a book about protecting the environment from toxic chemicals my initial reaction was a big yawn, envisioning lobbyists roaming the halls of government or activists collecting street corner petitions to send off to Washington. That was before I heard Diane Wilson speak, before I met her on her book tour, and before I breezed through her spellbinding Erin Brokovich-style memoir An Unreasonable Woman in a single sitting in the course of an afternoon.
In the debate over environmental protection there is a tendency to portray environmentalists as a special interest group made up of elites who seek to burden ordinary people with regulations. Diane Wilson couldn’t be farther from that stereotype. Wilson is simply a shrimper and mother of five children on the Texas Gulf Coast who eventually gets tired of seeing empty shrimp boats coming in, dead dolphins floating in the gulf, algae blooms destroying fish nets, chemical plants blowing up, and workers getting seriously injured on the job, or becoming sick with chronic illnesses. So when Taiwan based serial polluter Formosa Plastics comes to Seadrift offering much needed jobs and seeking to avoid any environmental restrictions the fight as on.
Diane starts out knowing virtually nothing about politics or the toxic pollutants that companies like Formosa are discharging into the bay. Her main supporters at some of her first rallies were her children. But along with a friend, co-worker and an activist, and a lawyer in Houston she begins to learn about the issues, and also quickly learns to be skeptical of regulators and representatives of Formosa. Eventually she becomes an expert who knows more about Formosa's pollutants than the company itself and soon begins getting phone calls from whistle blowers, and sick and injured workers, about what is really going on at Formosa.
Part of Ms. Wilson’s thesis is that change can occur when one is willing to put oneself in harms way and make sacrifices. If Ms. Wilson was “reasonable” she could have accepted any of the numerous offers she received from Formosa that would have brought her personal wealth and security. Instead she put herself on the line to fight for an ecosystem that she loved and a way of life that many other people depended on. Being spontaneous has also led Ms. Wilson to do solidarity work with the victims of the Bhopal chemical accident in India. She currently faces criminal charges in Texas for scaling a tower at the Union Carbide plant near her hometown to protest the Indian governments decision (later reversed) to drop litigation against Union Carbide for the chemical leak that killed thousands of people. Ms. Wilson was also instrumental in starting the women’s anti-war group Code Pink.
In some ways it’s a bit sobering and depressing to see just difficult it is to get a corporation to change their behavior, and how impotent our own government has become at regulating worker safety, and environmental protection. But Ms. Wilson’s book poses a question that perhaps all of us need to think more about: is it "reasonable" to remain silent and passive when things we love are being destroyed by corporations?
So what is the explanation for Diane Wilson's commitment and courage? For her it seems very simple. It was her love for the bay she grew up with and considered alive that led her to ignore everyone who told her she was crazy for taking risks and fighting a polluter. And while her struggle has at times brought a lot of pain and heartache to her and her family following the path she did probably hasn't been all bad. Her story has provided a ton of inspiration to nearly everyone who has heard it.
Vegan Freak: Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World
Bob Torres and Jenna Torres, Foreword by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
Tofu Hound Press, 2005
There have been a couple of “Being Vegan in a Non-Vegan World”-type books written in the last few years (Erin Pavlina's Raising Vegan Children in a Non-Vegan World and Carol J. Adams' Living Among Meat Eaters come to mind), but the Torres' Vegan Freak takes a fresh look at the challenge of living an animal-friendly life in a world that makes it hard to do so.
Vegan Freak sets itself apart right from the start, letting us know that the “health nut” and “the hippie” aren't the intended audience for this book. Rather, the focus is on ethical vegans who are looking to recharge their batteries, reminding themselves why they're vegan and lacto-ovo vegetarians who are looking for that last nudge. They also let you know that you'll be seeing the word “fuck” a few times in their book, something you probably won't come across in the more family-friendly books.
The first chapter, “Vegan and Freaky,” takes a look at how the authors came to veganism and what it really means to be vegan. They advocate the “cold tofu” approach—going right to veganism for three weeks rather than slowly transitioning. Chapter two, titled “In Which We Get All AR On You,” takes a high-level view at the ethical arguments for veganism. It's surprisingly thorough while also being concise and features a nice, thick recommended reading list for further details.
The most difficult part of going vegan has nothing to do with nutrition or finding suitable substitutions for cheese. Nope... the worst part is having to deal with other people, particularly if you're the quiet, non-confrontational type. Chapter three, “Hell is Other People,” deals with exactly this issue. The recommendation: don't be aggressive, but don't be meek. This includes when dealing with anti-vegan vegetarians (because milk doesn't kill the cow!) and perhaps the worst group of all: the vocal ex-vegan.
Chapter four covers what to eat and chapter five focuses on what to wear. This includes what you wear when having sex (vegan condoms) and on your skin (making sure your tattoos are vegan). The book closes out with a basic, but important wish: Go Vegan, Stay Vegan. The authors realize that it's not just about transitioning to veganism, but living a vegan life for the long-term. Vegan Freak will help you do just that.
There's more support now than ever for new and transitioning vegans. Vegan Freak reminds us that being different is OK... and it's OK to be a freak.
- Ryan A. MacMichael
WHAT’S MY NAME FOOL?: Sports and Resistance in the United States
Truth be told, I have never been much for following sports. It always seemed to me that there was too much ideological baggage that came with it—usually of a racist, hyper-masculine, militaristic, homophobic, and/or heterosexist nature. Additionally, I live in Urbana, Illinois, a community bitterly divided over the racist farce of continuing to use an Indian mascot for the university’s sports teams. In many ways, Dave Zirin’s writing on sports is aimed at (among others) readers like myself who are too often tempted to write off the enjoyment of sports as fundamentally at odds with hopes for progressive change in the world. In What’s My Name Fool? Zirin uses sports as a cultural text, a lens through which we can understand the dynamics of both the processes of cultural dominance and exploitation as well as the history of movements based in resistance to continued racial, sexual, or economic colonialism which found expression in particular moments on or off the playing field.
While acknowledging, for example, that players’ salaries in certain sports can tend toward the excessive side, Zirin goes to great lengths to demonstrate that the primary source of economic inequity in contemporary sports is, without question, the seemingly bottomless pit of greed on the part of team owners. He “credits” former Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush for popularizing the corporatized stadium debacles of recent years (the team-owning classes populated, not surprisingly, by many of Bush’s friends and campaign contributors) whereby local municipalities capitulate to the extortion of granting tax breaks, infrastructure development, and essentially funding the remodeling (or more often, rebuilding) of stadiums whose profit remains safe in the tempered clutches of private hands, mirroring the corporate model where we see communities bidding in a race to the bottom for the “privilege” of having OmniMegaCorp, Inc. choose to set up shop in their area.
From Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali’s embrace of Islam and refusal to participate in America’s racist, colonialist war (“I ain’t got no quarrel with the Vietcong”), to Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising black-gloved fists on the medal stand of the 1968 Olympics, to Billy Jean King, to Barry Bonds’ calling out Boston as a racist city, to the Washington Wizards’ Etan Thomas delivering scathing criticisms of Bush’s domestic and foreign policy that read like the poetry of Amiri Baraka, Zirin highlights great (and even at times lesser-known) moments of political resistance in the world of sports. Zirin relates the telling anecdote of five-time MVP Bill Russell where “once in Marion, Indiana, he was given the key to the city during the day, only to be refused service that evening in his hotel’s dining room. Russell went to the mayor’s house, woke him up, and returned the key.” When asking Toni Smith, the captain of the Manhattanville College women’s basketball team who chose to protest the Iraq war by turning her back on the American flag during the national anthem, how she responds to those who suggest that “Sports is no place for political acts,” Smith countered:
During World War II, when America decided that we needed to show our superiority to other countries, they implemented playing the national anthem before sporting events and when they did that, they put politics in the middle of sports. The question is not why did I choose to turn my back on the flag. It’s why do we have to do this at basketball games? If they don’t want politics in sports then they need to take the national anthem out because that is inherently political.
Indeed! What’s My Name Fool? is full of plenty of stories just like these. Dave Zirin’s writing on sports is accessible, enjoyable, thought provoking, and truly original.