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.