One of the best things about living in the San Francisco Bay Area is that a lot of people come here. A lot. Of course there are friends and relatives who want the benefits of sleeping for free on the couch, but any night of the week there are countless fun activities to choose from. This week, in particular, has been epic – four book readings at four different bookstores, four days in a row.
Monday, I saw Andy Cornell talk at the AK Press warehouse about his new book, Oppose and Propose: Lessons from Movement for a New Society. I had previously seen Andy talk during the weekend of the SF Anarchist Bookfair, about his research on US Anarchism from (roughly) World War I to the ’70s. He had slides. It was brilliant.
This small book highlights one small part of his research, the group Movement for a New Society, and how their work has influenced current anarchist organizing in the US. Where did consensus decision making come from? What is the basis of current self-education/anti-oppression organizing? Why did Movement for a New Society fade away in the ’80s, and what can we learn from their work, their choices, and their mistakes? Andy did a great job of explaining the historical context and legacy of MNS in a very accessible way.
Andy is super knowledgeable about all this stuff, because he has been studying it for the last eight years, and seems to have been uniquely positioned to do so. I first met him in the late ’90s and knew that he had worked at the Labadie Collection at the University of Michigan Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan – one of the largest collections of anarchist literature and ephemera in the U.S. I am thrilled that he is working on turning all of his research into a book on US Anarchist history.
On Tuesday, I squeezed into City Lights to hear Will Potter talk about Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege. First of all, City Lights itself is a treasure, and I love how it is situated on the edge of Chinatown and North Beach, within close walking distance of lots of great bars and restaurants (dive-y and spendy alike).
Will has been covering the Green Scare – systematic oppression of environmental and animal rights activists – for some time through his blog of the same name. It’s hard to say exactly how I feel about this issue because there is so much emotion wrapped up in it. Friends and friends of friends have been targeted and harassed and, well, it’s just a shitty situation for activists, creating (potentially? actually?) this chilling effect that prevents people from acting on their beliefs for fear of prosecution. For a long time, I’ve wanted to really think about how this has impacted the activist community and though I haven’t read it yet, I’m glad this book exists. It’s on my nightstand and on the shortlist of books to read next.
Beyond that, Will was the consummate presenter. He started with a story about why he wrote the book (he was visited by the FBI after leafleting with an animal rights group), he had & repeated his talking points (that this oppression has been advanced through legal, legislative, and extra-legal means), and ended what could be a depressing talk on an up note (that there is a fine line between anger and fear, and that anger is a great motivating factor). He was unhurried and deliberate, had notes, and spoke for about 40 minutes. And the questions were great. I loved how he answered the one about the differentiation between violence and property destruction, where he talked about how the word “violence” has been so overused as to make it meaningless, and how using “terrorist” to describe environmental activists who damage SUVs but not to describe anti-abortion activists who shoot and kill doctors is, well, absurd. I could go on, but you should probably just read his book.
OK, so now we’re on to Wednesday, and back in the East Bay to see Antonia Juhasz talk at Moe’s Books in Berkeley (by the way, one of my favorite Berkeley bookstores for its large used cookbook section). Her new book is Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill. I could probably sum up her talk by saying that if you want to know anything at all about the oil spill and its impacts, you should probably just ask Antonia, because when she talks she really seems to know absolutely everything there is to know. Though her background is policy and she is an expert on oil companies (her last book was The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry and What We Must Do to Stop It), this book, and her knowledge of the subject, is about so much more than that. What were the actual technical things that went wrong? Who were the workers who died during the explosion, and what companies were at fault? I wanted to ask her why she used “Gulf Oil Spill” in her book’s title as opposed to the “BP Oil Spill” – and really blaming the company like we do when we say the “Exxon Valdez” spill – but through her talk I quickly realized it was because it would be pretty awkward to say it was the “BP Halliburton Transocean Oil Spill” – because really, there were so many companies complicit in this “accident.” Her research & conclusions are that all the companies were negligent, they knew they were negligent, and it’s surprising that this didn’t happen sooner, or that it wasn’t a whole lot worse.
The other main thing I learned from her talk is that oil companies have been reassuring the US Government and the public that they know how to handle these things and they are prepared for worst case scenarios – but that in reality, they have no idea what they are doing and weren’t even close to being prepared for anything like this to happen. My head was spinning a bit when I left.
OK, so now it’s Thursday and you might think I’m getting a little tired from all these book readings, but tonight I headed out to Books, Inc. on Fourth Street in Berkeley to hear Linda Stout talk about her new book, Collective Visioning: How Groups Can Work Together for a Just and Sustainable Future. Linda argues that for social justice groups to truly make change in the world, we all need to be able to imagine and visualize a better future and build a road map to it. She is the director of Spirit in Action and has worked with many of my friends and colleagues through the Progressive Communicators Network.
This event was really a pleasure because I work with Linda through Aid & Abet, where along with my friend Sara we help authors and activists book speaking tours and publicize their messages. We really look at it as helping connect authors with people who want to hear their messages – which can be really thrilling because we’re working with people who are excited about their new books & projects. Sometimes it can be frustrating for Sara and I because most of the people we work with live far away and we never get to meet them and don’t get to go on our client’s speaking tours. Being in the room while people are interacting with audiences and supporters is really energizing – I wish we got to do it all the time. So even though it was the fourth reading of four days, it was totally worth it.
And while I was there I bought China Miéville’s Kraken because it’s finally out in paperback! I totally had to steer clear of the cookbook section though. Never mind that I also just got two books out from the library that I’m dying to read – I seriously need to stay home from some of these events and hit the books.
More soon. Lots to say – I’ve been storing it up for a few months and it’s finally coming out.