About a week ago I saw a preview of the new film, “If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front.” The film will begin playing in San Francisco this Friday, July 15 at Landmark Theaters in SF and Berkeley. I think everyone I know should see this film.
“If A Tree Falls” follows the story of the Earth Liberation Front, activists in the Northwest US who were responsible for property destruction, such as arsons and vandalism, against targets such as ski resorts or timber companies. Many of the people involved are now in jail, including Daniel McGowan. The complete promo description of the film(below, after the jump) does a good job of summarizing it (and the situation).
I like this film a lot for several reasons. First, they filmmakers did a great job of placing the ELF and the specific acts within a historical context – why did some people feel the need to escalate their activism to the point of burning down buildings? How did the actions of police and local governments increase tensions? The filmmakers use interviews with people who were active in the political and environmental scenes, particularly in Eugene, Oregon, to give us examples of what heightened tensions during that time. (One caveat – this section of the documentary includes footage of violence by police against protesters, including that f-ing crazy footage from 1997 Headwaters where police put pepper spray directly into the eyes of peaceful, nonviolent protesters with cotton swabs. I found this triggering, and you might too.)
Second, I really appreciated the emphasis on questioning how environmental activists have been labeled eco-terrorists, and the use of the word terrorism in general – something I also appreciated about Will Potter’s book, Green is the New Red. Since Daniel McGowan lives in New York, the filmmakers chose to illustrate this by juxtaposing the 9/11 attacks – which were intended to kill innocent people – with acts of property destruction where no person was injured. The film portrays the activists not as crazy extremists, but as individuals who felt moved by their beliefs.
Finally, the movie includes a lot of interviews with law enforcement at local and federal levels talking about how they investigated the crimes, how they gathered evidence, and how they built the case against the defendants. Every activist should watch the movie for this fact alone.
The government’s case relied heavily on the use of informants – in one interview, a man from the local police department says outright that they didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute anyone, and goes on to explain how they selected and pursued someone to become an informant, and how they used that informant to gather evidence against the others. This is really important to see and understand.
I want to encourage everyone to go and buy a ticket and see this in a Landmark theater. When films like this are played in mainstream theaters, how much money they make/how many tickets they sell really influences the future choices made by the theater about what films to show – This is a well made documentary about activists, and a good showing will encourage Landmark and other theaters to book good documentaries in the future – and good showings in cities like San Francisco can help a movie get released in additional theaters in smaller towns.
This is important. I want you to go see it and take your friends. Let’s make sure that films like this will continue to be made, and will continue to be shown in theaters where they can be accessible to everyone.
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.
And now on to much less controversial topics (hopefully), maybe a few book reviews? And then next I want to talk about economics. And housing.
A few weeks ago I attended a book launch for Rebecca Solnit’s forthcoming Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (UC Press, Nov 2010). Now, I know Rebecca, and I’ve known about this project for a long time, but rarely have I been to a book launch or release event where there were audible exclamations of “Wow!” from the audience during the presentation. OK, yes, the event was held at the SF MOMA and the audience was made up of artsy SF types, so that may not be saying much, but the presentation was so engaging, and the project itself is really just brilliant.
This atlas, a series of 20+ maps, depict San Francisco from many perspective. Several of the maps are being released as broadsheets by the SF MOMA as part of its 75th Anniversary celebration, and each map is paired with an essay. It was an enormous undertaking of artists, cartographers, designers, writers, and activists.
Many of the maps juxtapose two interesting concepts, and the first map to be released is no exception. “Monarchs and Queens,” beautifully illustrated by Mona Caron, maps both butterfly habitat and gay public spaces in San Francisco. While seemingly unrelated aside from geography, poet Aaron Shurin wrote the accompanying essay and spoke at the event. His moving talk unquestioningly linked the two by putting in to perspective the location of San Francisco in gay culture, particularly of past decades, and its role in helping countless gay men (and women) emerge into and embrace their public lives, as a butterfly emerges from its cocoon.
Also at the talk was cartographer David Rumsey, whose map library was instrumental in helping those who worked on this project. David gave a truly amazing presentation, showing a series of about twenty maps of San Francisco, in chronological order, going back to the earliest known maps of the Bay Area. He talked about the elements of maps (like the decorative titles (called cartouches)), how maps can illustrate concepts aside from geography, how maps have changed over the centuries, and how technology is influence the art and science.
My friend Arun Gupta wrote an article for Alternet called “How TV Superchef Jamie Oliver’s ‘Food Revolution’ Flunked Out.” and because I love food and because I read pretty much everything that Arun writes, I figured I better watch Jamie Oliver’s show so I could have an informed opinion on it. You can watch full episodes at ABC.com.
The show follows Jamie as he goes to Huntington, West Virginia, the so-called “unhealthiest town in America,” and tries to change what the kids are eating in schools. The show airs in prime-time on network TV and this is how the network describes the show:
The impassioned chef is taking on obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the USA, where our nation’s children are the first generation NOT expected to live as long as their parents. [...] Jamie is inviting viewers to take a stand and change the way America eats, in our home kitchens, schools and workplaces with the thought-provoking new series, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. [...] In the six-part series, Jamie heads to Huntington, West Virginia. Why? Well, Huntington has been called the unhealthiest city in America. Jamie wants to do something about that. Through his efforts in this one town, he hopes to start a chain reaction of positive change across the country.
Lots of my friends have been talking about the show. I mean, food issues are nothing new to my activist friends, and a lot of people are familiar with books like Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food or Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved. And what do people think about Jamie Oliver? Well, like Arun, some people hate his show. Personally, while I’m not in love with the show, I think it is very exciting, and I hope it continues.
Why do I like it? Well, let’s start by giving you some context. Here’s Jamie Oliver’s TED talk where he explains the show (it also includes a lot of clips from the show’s season):
OK, I will first like to point out that I think all of the criticisms of the show that I have heard are totally legitimate.
Last night I saw Dean Kuipers read from and talk about his new book, Operation Bite Back: Rod Coronado’s War to Save American Wilderness at Diesel Books in Oakland.
So, I haven’t read the book yet, and when I do, I’ll review it for Ampersand. But, I wanted to shout out about it because Dean’s talk was so great.
The book is essentially the story of Rod Coronado’s life in activism, written from Dean’s experience covering Rod’s actions and animal/environmental activism for years as a reporter with the LA Times.
During his talk, Dean gave a brief overview of how the government has used different legislation such as the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, the Patriot Act, and Terrorism Sentencing Enhancement, how those pieces of legistlation are related and how they have developed and worked over time, using Rod’s experience as an example. Dean is knowledgeable and talked about how this legislation has influenced the “Green Scare” cases. In his talk, Dean said that he felt that this has had a chilling effect on activism, and that mostly experienced activists have attempted to steer clear of actions that could be covered by these laws, while the legisltaion has primarily served to sweep up younger, less experienced activists who are looking for an outlet for their frustrations. Dean also discussed often controversial definition of “non-violent direct action,” and in general did a great job of navigating and discussing objectively a lot of the complex issues – is direct action effective? do animal releases or arsons help animals? is media coverage of activism worth it?
I’m going through this major period of renovation in my life. There’s no other way to put it, really. It’s about redefining who I am and how I think of myself, choosing the important things and letting other things go. This blog will be going under some kind of overhaul in the near future, no doubt.
So, in the meantime, this means starting new projects and ending others. Like, you know, the new blog I just started, coz I don’t have enough of a web presence, right? Anyway, it’s called AMPERSAND, and it’s a group book review blog, where there are lots of contributors who write about all the fascinating stuff they are reading. Old books, new books, and all sorts of topics – fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks, how-to, and yes, even poetry.
I have a big post I’ve been working on about independent media stuff, kind of a summary of the talks that I’m giving around the country over the next couple of weeks. That will be up in a few days, but in the meantime, I wanted to give a big huge shout out to The Sun–one of my long-time favs. Yep, that’s not a typo, this is issue No. 399 of this monthly, advertisment-free publication.
I read this issue on the way up to Portland last week, and honestly, this is one of the best issues I’ve read in a long time. Each issue features one long, in depth interview, and this time it is with Nicholas Carr, author of “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The interview is all about how we interact with each other, how the internet is changing those interactions and how we think about things and process information. It also talks about how Carr feels that computers have harmed our relationship with nature, and later in the interview, a really interesting discussion of how people behave on the internet. Like, how we claim to want privacy, but don’t act in a private way on the internet, giving out personal information about ourselves all the time, not just through obvious channels like blogs and Facebook, but through our shopping habits and the way that we give out information to corporations (like adding a “wish list” on Amazon, for example). Like all Sun interviews, this one is very thoughtful.
The rest of the issue has a lot about food, fiction and non fiction. I always enjoy the “Readers Write” section, which are essays from readers around a different topic (this time, “the dinner table”), and though there were several other pieces I liked, I particularly loved two: a reprint of a Wendell Berry essay from the ’80s about why he isn’t buying a computer, and a piece entitled “All of Me” by Patricia Brieschke. Brieschke writes about body image as a woman in her 60s, including reflections from her past about her relationship to food and her body. Like most women, body image has been an important topic to me, and I found Brieschke’s reflections to be refreshingly frank and honest.
I look forward to The Sun every month, and you know I have to say it: Although a lot of this content is available online, please subscribe to The Sun and other magazines, it’s the best way to help them remain strong and stable.
I just got the new Upping the Anti in the mail and wanted to post that first, they published my review of Stephen Duncombe’s “Dream: Re-imagining Progessive Politics in an Age of Fantasy.” Yes, I know I talk about that book a lot.
Although I wish UTA was published more frequently, and I wish they were a little more organized with their process, I respect that each issue is thoughtful and thorough, and as a journal (and not a magazine) the articles, reviews, interviews, and editorials are quite indepth.
This new issue includes content on Palestine, Six Nations, migrant labor, and sex work to name a few–as well as letters and several long book reviews. I just read the editorial from the UTA collective and was interested to note a discussion the root of the word “catastrophy”–a similar discussion is included in the afterward of “Re:imagining Change,” the smartMeme reader released last month–that the word literally means “to overturn.” What follows is a critical discussion of two critiques of capitalism–Naomi Klein et al’s “disaster capitalism” and John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen’s primitivism. The editorial collective saying that these critiques focus on the production part of capitalism (either reforming it and making it better or getting rid of it all together) and are not sufficient. For one, they concentrate too much on ownership and labor, and not enough on the relationship with the natural world. Is that relationship always one of domination? They ask, “What sort of production might redeem both human and natural history?”
Earlier this afternoon I saw the new film “Milk,” where Sean Penn portrays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to hold a major political office when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the late 197os.
A few weeks ago, I had gone on a bicycle tour of San Francisco with Chris Carlsson, part of the Counterpulse/Shaping San Francisco series of tours - one of the first stops was San Francisco City Hall, where Chris recounted much of Harvey Milk’s story, so a lot of the details were fresh in my mind. The bicycle tours, by the way, are not to be missed.
I am normally skeptical of biopics and historical dramas, because so much of it is left to the interpretation of writers. I believe that these types of films sometimes give viewers false impressions of actual events, of conversations that may or may not have happened, of actions that are recreated based on the biases and agendas of people who didn’t experience the events. A perfect example of how this falls flat is the Battle in Seattle movie, where the writer/director didn’t actually talk with any activists before writing the script. In Milk, however, it is clear that the script more closely follows actual events, and that most of the main characters are based on real individuals. In both films, actual film footage of the events is mixed in with scenes from the new, fictional movie.
There are several reasons why I loved this film. First of all, Penn is truly brilliant. USA Today calls his performance “breathtaking.”
Last Friday, I attended a really creative action in Oakland, California – a reenactment of the 1946 Oakland General Strike – the last general strike in U.S. history, where about 100,000 workers walked off their jobs in support of striking retail workers at two downtown department stores.
The interactive performance, called Oakland 1946!, was an original script, written by a bunch of activists, and the play is performed outdoors at the location where the strike actually began – Latham Square, where Broadway and Telegraph meet in downtown Oakland. Actors move in and around the crowd, and audience members are recruited as strike picketers or otherwise encouraged to participate in the show (when workers are winning, what do we do? We cheer! When the boss is winning, what do we do? We boo!). On Friday, about 150 people attended and the crowd was so anti-boss that at times it was difficult for the actor, radical theater professor Larry Bogad, to get his lines out! Read the rest of this entry »