West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California edited by Iain Boal, Janferie Stone, Michael Watts and Cal Winslow. PM Press.
Reviewed by A. Iwasa
Coming out of what started as the Communes Project, a collaborative effort between the Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and the Mendocino Institute in 2003, this book is a striking example of the radical potential to utilize the resources of academia when people make a point of making them accessible to the general public.
Communes are placed historically both in the broader sense of general Utopian history, and the more particular focus of the book revolving around the 1968 social upheavals.
Fantastic chapters on the Native American occupation of Alcatraz and communalism in the black Panther Party work to dispel the myth of communal living as a white people thing.
Prominent also are back to the land projects such as the Morning Star and Black Bear Ranches. First hand accounts abound, and sources are extremely well cited for those interested in following up. The ongoing legacies of the communes and the people involved are also addressed from the pot economy to high tech industry.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in communal living, especially those now who think our much smaller and tamer communal living movement, or lack there of, is The Revolution. We’ve got a long way to go to rebuild what was, and the lessons we can learn from past efforts should be studied in works like this.
I think virtually every commune dweller past and present could fill a book this size alone with great stories fun and sad, economic and historical. All these sorts of details are very important, and the editors were great about never getting stuck on any of the specifics.
On a personal level, I was able to make it in the Bay Area from Slingshot 119 to 120’s editing largely because of a communal living situation I was able to get into on my credentials as a member of the Slingshot Collective doing research on the topic. Almost every place I’ve lived since I moved out of my mother’s house For The Last Time back in 2003 has been some sort of collective, so the topic is very dear to my heart.
I made a specific point of getting our review copy at the Howard Zinn Book Fair from PM Press because of this, and even though it’s a little old, Ramsey didn’t hesitate to donate it to us. It would be great to see more work like this, both about the 1960s and ’70s, and the time since then which has been fascinating in its own ways.
Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000 by Kris Hermes. PM Press.
Reviewed by A. Iwasa
Starting off with a strong Foreword then Introduction placing the 2000 Republican National Convention (R2K) squarely in the pre-9/11 National Security State trajectory showing again and again how the United States government had been steadily ratcheting up its monitoring and disruption of political dissidents long before 9/11.
Philly itself, host of the R2K and future host of the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC) is similarly contextualized in its bloody history of police brutality and heavy-handed injustice system when it comes to civilians, and total lack of accountability when it comes to the police.
Also the R2K Legal Collective and the defense of the R2K arrestees is outlined as part of the re-emergence of activist-led legal collectives and radicals leading their own defense in political trials.
Then with the beginning of the first chapter enters the infamous John Timoney. Sworn in as Philly’s police commissioner in 1998, I first became familiar with him after he led the oppression of the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests. The police brutality was so bad and systematic, it became known as the Miami Model. It turns out Timoney had been heading such affairs since the August 1988 Tompkins Square Park Riot in New York City. Here again, a systemic series of oppressive acts, regardless of which of the capitalist class political parties are calling the shots is outlines. He even policed the DNC in 1992!
Then Hermes moves on to the initial threats of political repression from the state and the beginning of street action. Similar to his own form of counter-protest hopping, Timoney had Philly police go to Seattle six months before the R2K to observe the actions against the World Trade Organization (WTO). This shows how we must also be vigilant, constantly studying the state, and not simply trying to use old tactics that may have worked in another time and/or place.
Along the same lines, February 2000 the FBI Academy in Virginia hosted a conference for police commanders around the country to study the WTO protests, and to prepare for future actions. Philly police attended other events in preparation such as the April 2000 International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank protests in Washington, DC, where they even conducted surveillance. And all this before the protests even started!
There are many reasons to read this book: history, strategy both in the streets and in the courts, and for those of us thinking of attending the upcoming protests against the DNC in Philly, and/or the RNC in Cleveland, Ohio. We should all be doing this sort of homework before we hit the streets, since we know the ruling class is doing theirs.
All out for Philly! All out for Clevo! All Power to the People!
Dark Tales from the Dungeons: Horrors from the ‘Hood for Youth to Beware
The Men for Honor Writing Group;
Edited by Dortell Williams
Reviewed by d’ eggplant
A totally unique DIY project that seeks to expand the voices of incarcerated people. That alone gets my attention and motivates me to turn pages. Sadly this book is so filtered through and through by the institution that’s killing these people I don’t end up lingering on the pages very long. While reading this I got the sense that every word of this work is scrutinized by some malevolent guard. The stories and poems here are laden down with a cautionary tone intent on converting youngsters off of a destructive path.
If you can get past that part then you’ll find some captivating storytellers. The people in prisons are immensely creative and quick witted. They tend to master the mind and exceed in social skills that most people stop flexing after college. They can master most fields given a chance as is evident here with regards to these half dozen writers. Their techniques using allusions, similes, puns and allegory are very effective in this book. They are people who have witnessed amazing things the least of which is seeing the human spirit soar while in toxic environments.
I wonder what if this book didn’t have to get approval from some bigoted prison guard. Having the writers coerced into using a confessional tone is another example of emasculating people who resisted the lingering effects of slavery and capitalism. In my utopian dream similar warning tracts would be crafted and delivered to the future police, bankers, politicians, developers, lawyers etc — the people in power who are educated and should know better, but continue to go on fucking everything up.