Media Mouse Action Alerts Component Launched

Last week, Media Mouse launched an “action alerts” component of the website to support lobbying campaigns and to help further our efforts to make media a catalyst for organizing. Current alerts focus on the local media’s coverage of the Iraq War, metallic sulfide mining in the Upper Peninsula, the supplemental funding package for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge, and the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI).

Late last week, Media Mouse launched a new “action alerts” section of the website as another way of making independent media and this website a catalyst for ongoing action rather than simply being a conduit for news. Since 1999, Media Mouse has worked to produced independent media with the intent not only to document struggles for social change but also to facilitate that process by presenting information that can be used for further organizing efforts.

The action alerts component furthers that effort by highlighting action alerts issued both by Media Mouse and groups working on the local, state, and federal levels. As of March 21, the action alerts section contains email action alerts aimed at stopping sulfide mining in the state of Michigan, encouraging state legislators to oppose the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), encouraging Michigan Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow to oppose President Bush’s supplemental funding request for Iraq and Afghanistan as well as drilling in the Arctic Refuge, and telling the local media to improve its coverage of the Iraq War. While Media Mouse does not believe that significant change will come from electoral politics or lobbying efforts, it is one tactic out of a plethora of tactics available in the struggle for social change and as such it is worth pursuing. Moreover, it is important to remember that while email action alerts are a quick and easy way to inform elected officials of your position, handwritten and personalized letters, phone calls, and most of all, meetings with aides or elected officials are weighed substantially more than email actions and should be considered as a first priority.

Additionally, Media Mouse accepts suggestions action alerts, visit the action alerts page for more information.

Campaign to get City Commission Resolution against the Occupation of Iraq Continues

Activity as part of a campaign asking the Grand Rapids City Commission to pass a resolution opposing the occupation of Iraq will increase this weekend with organizers circulating petitions at the March 18 antiwar march and rally and at the teach-in following the rally. The resolution will be introduced at the April 11 City Commission meeting.

An ongoing antiwar campaign in Grand Rapids to get a City Commission resolution opposing the occupation of Iraq is continuing through activities this weekend surrounding the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq with campaign organizers collecting signatures at the March 18 march and rally and presenting at a teach-in that will follow the rally. Additionally, the campaign has released a new flyer encouraging local organizations to look at ways in which they could use some of the estimated $136 million that has been diverted from Grand Rapids to pay for the war in Iraq. While the total spent on the war has been $245 billion nationally and $6.9 billion nationally, the campaign is asking organizations and individuals to look at what they could do with 1% of that money ($1.36 million) and the ways in which that money could be used to improve the lives of people living in Grand Rapids. Materials created by organizations will be posted online and will be used as educational tools by organizations and at the City Commission’s April 11 meeting when the resolution is introduced.

The resolution is framed primarily in terms of the cost of the war and the budget difficulties facing the City of Grand Rapids. According to outreach material prepared by the campaign, the city currently has an $11 million budget deficit that has caused them to cut basic services. The money being diverted from Grand Rapids to pay for the war could easily pay off the debt and fund a restoration and expansion of city services. Among the examples cited by the campaign:

  • Pay for 2,358 additional public school teachers for one year
  • Insured 81,504 children for one year
  • Built 1,255 housing units

The resolution also addresses the flawed rational for the war (no weapons of mass destruction and no connection to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks), public opposition to the war, and the deaths of Iraqi civilians and US soldiers. Moreover, the resolution mentions that similar resolutions have been passed in other cities with 76 resolutions calling for an end to the occupation passed around the United States. If the resolution passes, the following would be the position of the Grand Rapids City Commission:

The Grand Rapids City Commission, recognizing the grievous impact of the loss of lives in the Iraq war on families and communities on both sides of the conflict and the destructive social and economic effects of the costs of the war, urges the United States government to begin a rapid and orderly withdrawal of US military personnel from Iraq and to provide the people of Iraq with all necessary non-military aid to provide for their security and rebuilding of their country, and the City Commission directs the Clerk to provide copies of this resolution to President Bush, the Secretaries of State and Defense, and to the 3rd Congressional Representative Vern Ehlers.

It is also worth noting that in March of 2004 the Grand Rapids City Commission passed a resolution opposing the USA PATRIOT Act. Thus far, 405 resolutions have been passed as a part of that movement.

Organizers are asking that individuals and organizations circulate copies of the resolution to get signatures and that people make plans to attend the April 11 City Commission meeting (7:00pm, location to be determined). Organizers can be contacted at

How Nonviolence Protects the State

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Most people involved in political activism, especially any type of activism that is done outside the framework of traditional community organizing, have had a significant amount exposure to the ideas of nonviolence, and as Gelderloos argues in his book, nonviolence has likely been presented as the only acceptable tactical choice. Such arguments, based on readings of Martin Luther King Junior and Gandhi, have gained popularity since the 1960s and have largely been credited with winning major improvements in civil rights for people of color in the United States and with forcing the British Empire out of India. However, Gelderloos, after briefly defining advocates of nonviolence as “nonviolent activists” (or, as he says, “pacifists”), engages some of the key historical victories of nonviolence and suggests that in nearly all cases, whether it be the Civil Rights movement or the anti-colonial movement in India, proponents of nonviolence have frequently distorted history and has refused to consider the contributions of militants in these movements or the role of external events. He also then raises the point that the nonviolence by the European Jewish population against the Holocaust was entirely ineffective.

Central to Gelderloos’ criticism of nonviolence is the notion that nonviolence requires considerable privilege and that this privilege means that most advocates of pacifism are white. This line of reasoning is extended as he argues that there is a limited theoretical tradition for nonviolence and that what tradition does exist has been dominated by white liberals whereas revolutionary theory has been developed by the Franz Fanon, Ho Chi Minh, and others. He then makes the assertion that ultimately pacifists encourage pacifism for oppressed people of color because pacifists realize that they benefit from the current system and therefore do not want to overthrow the existing system. While the argument presents an interesting line of reasoning, it is not developed and serves to muddle his other assertions that pacifism fits into the state’s accommodation of dissent, that its proponents frequently seek to impose their ideology on others, that proponents frequently chose to advocate nonviolence without understanding the specifics of local contexts (as thought there is a single, universal “nonviolence” that will always be successful), and other such assertions—all of which can be argued easily and can be well-supported with examples from various popular movements in the United States. Moreover, Gelderloos raises valid criticisms and points for discussion when he confronts the racial and class privilege involved in advocating nonviolence and having the privilege to suffer arrests and other punishments at the hands of the state. Similarly, Gelderloos is right to raise questions about the lack of self-criticism involved in the decisions of many nonviolent activists who often simply decide on a tactic because it is nonviolent rather than for reasons of efficacy.

Early on in the book, Gelderloos dismisses the “peace movement” that arose in opposition to the war on Iraq in 2003 claiming that the movement among predominately white activists simply engaged in symbolic protests that did not challenge the war effort while the Iraqi people have engaged in a military resistance that has effectively challenged the United States’ capacity to wage war. In what will likely be one of the more controversial assertions in the book, Gelderloos argues that the Madrid bombings by Al-Qaida were more effective than the antiwar movement in limiting the suffering of Iraqis as the bombings, and therefore violence, caused Spain to withdraw its troops from the war. Gelderloos makes several other dubious claims, including the oft-repeated assertion that the militancy of the Seattle World Trade Organization protests helped get large number of new people involved in the anti-globalization movement. This claim, which is essentially taken as fact among much of the anarchist community (at least of those who haunt internet message boards), is never backed up with empirical data and Gelderloos makes no effort to support the claim. Moreover, as is often the case with arguments promoting a “diversity of tactics” as an alternative to nonviolence, Gelderloos appears to struggle with examples in a contemporary North American context and frequently mentions the black bloc tactic and the Earth Liberation Front, as few other examples exist that are immediately transferable onto the political context in the United States. As for historical movements, Gelderloos touches on what would be expected—the Black Panther Party, the Weather Underground, the American Indian Movement, and the Black Liberation Army, but his analysis of these movements is limited and his historical research and conclusions are based on a minimal bibliography. However, the most notable omission in the book is the alternative—if not nonviolence, what? While Gelderloos offers the alternative of anarchism and a respect for different tactical choices, this discussion is fairly brief compared to the time spent analyzing almost every aspect of nonviolence.

While Gelderloos’ provocative title will intrigue some, it will likely put off those who most need to consider his arguments. In reading the book, I cannot help but think of numerous experiences I have had with activists purporting to be “nonviolent” and their opposition to any tactics that do not fit within their ideology and it is no coincidence that Gelderloos’ frustrations stem in part from the yearly nonviolent civil disobedience held to protest the School of the Americas (Gelderloos served time in prison as a result of the protests). Nonviolence has frequently been defined to not only include the traditional framework of Martin Luther King Junior—no retaliation, willingness to accept suffering, and other similar positions that are reasonably sound depending on the circumstances—but have extended these principles to include not yelling, not running, avoiding manifestations of anger, and other such principles that have done nothing other than stifle political expression. I cannot recall all the times that I have participated in meetings only to be talked down to or dismissed simply because I do not wish to limit people’s tactical choices to only those that fall within the framework of nonviolence (which as was discussed above is often laughably narrow). It is fine to criticize people on the basis of tactics and strategy and indeed it is no more right to say that blowing up a weapons manufacturer’s headquarters is always preferable to holding a vigil in front of it, but rather we need to respect that there can be a “diversity of tactics” and that as long as they are not harming other living creatures or actively undermining the work that others are doing, we should respect the choices of others in the movement. Unfortunately, in activist groups both in Grand Rapids and around the country, that is rarely the case, instead I have experienced fairly regular situations in which adherents to nonviolence have actively tried to undermine the efforts of activists whom they disagree through the use of “peace teams” to “protect” property or to prevent protestors from engaging in disruptive tactics, the use of “mediators” and preemptive meetings with the police to “defuse” potential “conflicts,” and efforts to essentially infiltrate groups and tell them that they do not have the understanding or experience to make their own tactical choices and that they will just “get arrested” to no avail.

It is unfortunate that books such as How Nonviolence Protects the State continually need to be written and that the ongoing argument over tactics must continue, because outside of a specific organizing effort (i.e. the previous mention of how best to stop the production of weapons by a particular corporation), such arguments are needless abstractions and are generally little more than ideological discussions where nobody listens to each other. Instead of always assuming that a particular choice is morally superior, activists have to constantly reevaluate their tactics and critically examine how they act, a process that could be aided by a reading of How Nonviolence Protects the State. Despite its weaknesses, Gelderloos’ book can be useful in developing a critical examination of nonviolence, as it encourages proponents of such principles to examine their views and to examine some of the more troublesome aspects of nonviolence theory—the privilege required, the idea of moral superiority, racism, and classism—an examination that would hopefully result in more effective movements, as such examinations need to be undertaken by both those identifying as pacifists and those who support more diverse forms of resistance.

Peter Gelderloos, How Nonviolence Protects the State, (Signalfire Press, 2005).

Andrea Smith Discusses Sexual Violence and Activism

On Tuesday, native author and activist Andrea Smith delivered a lecture focusing on the role of sexual violence in conquest and its relationship to American indian genocide. Smith also offered a number of suggestions for organizing and building a more effective and diverse anti-violence movement.

Tuesday night at the Wealthy Theatre, Native American author, activist, and scholar Andrea Smith delivered a lecture titled “Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide.” Smith, who has been a Nobel peace prize nominee and is currently a member of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, discussed sexual violence in native communities and sexual violence’s role in colonialism. Smith said that she came to this insight based on three realizations in her life—that as long as native peoples were destroying themselves through violence within their own communities that they did not need to be so focused on external threats, that there was a striking silence in native communities about rape, and that efforts by rape victims to seek support outside native communities was often met by opposition from other natives who opposed the “airing of the community’s dirty laundry” outside the native community.

Beginning with the argument that sexual violence is an inherent part of the colonial project, Smith gave several examples of how colonial thought and theory has been intertwined with an ideology of sexual domination. She discussed how the United States viewed the bodies of natives as “impure” and therefore “rapable” and explained how the mutilation of women’s genitals and public display of them at the Sand Creek Massacre was a manifestation of the sexual violence inherent in colonialism. It was also argued that patriarchy has played a key role in convincing people of the necessity of domination and that projecting a patriarchal view of natives onto them was necessary in order for the colonial project to succeed. Cultural appropriation, an ongoing aspect of colonialism, was also discussed as a form of sexual violence as it is an act of control and intervention that has its roots in the rhetoric of sexual domination, while it is manifest in its most crude way in books on “Native American sexuality” and spirituality. Environmental racism, with its notion that certain communities are “fit” for the dumping of nuclear and toxic waste (as they are impure or dirty) is a form of sexual violence, especially when it is considered that the first effects of environmental racism often manifest themselves in women’s reproductive organs. Similarly, the forced sterilization that targeted native women’s reproductive systems, both by the government and medical professionals as well as the various population control movements that arose out of the environmental movements in the United States, is also a form of sexual violence.

For Smith, violence, and specifically sexual violence, is an inherent part of a society centered on a patriarchal state and the struggle against colonization has to be a central part of organizing against domestic violence. Smith described how it is impossible for the state to be a solution to a problem that exists because of it and that laws created by the state to criminalize domestic violence more often put victims in jail than perpetrators. The criminalization approach is therefore flawed given that the approach exists in a society where fifty percent of men have indicated that they would rape if they could get away with it. Since nobody would seriously consider putting fifty percent of men in prison, the criminalization approach, based on the idea that there are a few isolated perpetrators of sexual violence is fundamentally flawed. The idea of “restorative justice” for sexual violence is also flawed as it does not address state violence at the same time nor does it work in a sexist society that often sides with the perpatrator.

Smith, who in her opening remarks stressed that she did not want to be seen simply as one with a unique analysis but rather as a part of a collective struggle, also shared several strategies and tactics for organizing. She stressed that it is important that those working for social change in the United States work to build truly mass movements, citing an example of people she met in Central America who discussed how they repeatedly mobilized 10 million people over a series of weeks while activists in the United States typically muster no more than 200 people and spend time walking in circles where they were able to get permits from the state to “exercise their right to free speech.” Central to creating a mass movement is a need to rethink the nonprofit industrial complex, as Smith discussed how foundation funding limits mobilizing by making organizations reliant on foundations rather than their base for support which discourages organizing to mobilize constituents and instead creates a movement that is accountable to foundations rather than working directly for those in need of a particular service. Instead, Smith argued that independent movements outside of the non-profit sector are needed and that non-profits need to be made accountable to an independent movement. Similarly, Smith argued that while it is important to have people “working from the inside,” such efforts will have little success if they are not backed by a strong independent movement outside of the institution.

In order to build such a movement, Smith said that it is important for resistance to develop not just in isolated communities but that it needs to be spread into other communities in order to effectively fight empire and capitalism. To spread such ideas, movements in the United States need to look at how they organize and need to think of ways to organize so that people can participate in social movements when they have time rather than demanding the extreme self-sacrifice that often characterizes activism in the United States. Smith also argued that movements need to develop more creative tactics such as effective use of the arts, street theatre, and music, and use those tactics for outreach rather than always relying on the overly intellectual arguments and the notion that people can be convinced of a particular position simply from a deluge of facts. Such approaches are necessary because they can be used to convince privileged people that they are not benefiting from their privilege in the long-term and that by shedding short-term gains they could achieve substantial improvements in their lives as it is real only a few people that have the majority of wealth and power in the United States.

Winona LaDuke Urges Greater Environmental Activism

At two lectures last night at Grand Valley State University, noted indigenous activist, environmentalist, and author Winona LaDuke called for a move towards true environmental sustainability and a shift away from the anthropocentric view of the earth.

Last night, indigenous activist, environmentalist, and writer Winona LaDuke delivered two lectures at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). LaDuke, who is an anishnaabeg, has become well-known through her writings and two campaigns for vice president on the Green Party ticket in 1996 and 2000. In both lectures, LaDuke drew on her experience with political activism and shared a variety of insights into what that activism means in the current global reality as well as what it means to be a native person living in the United States.

In discussing her activism, LaDuke repeatedly stressed that it was borne out of necessity more than choice once she realized that nobody was going to come in and change her community in the ways that she desired. She also described how as a mother she has frequently wondered where the line between activism and being a responsible parent and what the difference is between the two. LaDuke used the aforementioned line of thought as a way to guide her lecture and looked at the ways in which common lessons of parenting could be applied in to the world. For example, LaDuke discussed how in her house she has always told her children not to steal but questioned what that really means when 85% of her reservation’s land is owned by non-natives and that she tells her children not to be greedy but American culture and society aggrandizes wealth that comes at the expense of those in the third world. She also explained that while she teaches her children to clean up their old messes before they create new ones, the United States has failed to do this and continues to pursue nuclear power while simply moving the waste onto native reservations.

LaDuke explained that if the United States considered land to be sacred that it would act in a profoundly different way. LaDuke talked at length about how if land was viewed as sacred there would not be the notion that mountains and rivers could be named after lackluster at best politicians, and in the case of the numerous places named Jeffery Amherst, named after murderers. The way in which people in the United States view land is rooted in conquest with citizens generally viewing the natural world from an anthropocentric view that places it at the disposal of humans. An alternative to this anthropocentric view would be to view land as sacred and to respect and understand the ecosystems in which humans are only a small part. LaDuke explained how such an approach would lead to a rethinking of energy and food policy, and ultimately, the whole way in which society is structured.

In LaDuke’s community, this has translated directly into activism with her tribe developing an energy plan for the next 50 years that will help the tribe to take advantage of the fact that their reservation has the potential to generate some 300 gigawatts of wind power. Her reservation is also working to attain a high level of self-sufficiency with regard to energy and food and is planning to reach a level of 70% self-sufficiency in the next 30 years by developing wind power and planting crops using traditional native seeds that are more healthy than the genetically modified foods sold in stores. LaDuke noted that Michigan has a significant potential for the generation of wind power due to the wind off Lake Michigan and while she admitted that many people have been opposed to such a plan currently because they “don’t like the way it looks,” she argued that eventually they will need to consider such a plan for survival. The prospect of using E85 gasoline was also raised as a way to reduce energy consumption, and for LaDuke’s home state of Minnesota, such a switch could also help keep jobs in the state by giving corn producers another avenue for selling their corn (the ethanol in E85 is produced from corn and other grains). Similarly, LaDuke said that the so-called “rustbelt” in the United States that has been caused due to the outsourcing of automobile production could be revived by shifting production at factories to the production of wind turbines for wind power that are currently not manufactured in the United States.

Given that her two lectures took place at a university, LaDuke also drew connections between the university system and the need for increased environmental awareness. LaDuke argued that traditional liberal arts universities have largely ignored the environment and have traditionally viewed themselves as separate or above nature. While such an anthropocentric view is nearly omnipresent in the university system, it ignores the reality that humans are inexorably connected to the natural world and that their human dignity is dependent on the dignity of the Earth. She suggested that universities could help overcome this problem by becoming more sustainability. She urged students to students participate in the Energy Action campaign to urge universities to start operating in a sustainable and energy efficient manner. Already the campaign is active on 150 campuses and has won numerous victories with a variety of universities adopting various measures to increase energy efficiency. Currently, Grand Valley State University has a sustainability initiative that has resulted in the construction of three LEED certified buildings and other projects, but student pressure could quicken the pace and increase the scope of GVSU’s Sustainability Initiative as well as ways to move beyond sustainability as simply a “cleaner” form of capitalism and extending the notion of sustainability to include animal, human, and labor rights (it should be noted that LaDuke’s discussion of sustainability came from a more holistic and inclusive perspective that questioned underlying institutional structures of society far more than most rhetoric on “sustainability”).

LaDuke also discussed what it is like to be a native person in the United States and explained how it largely means to be forgotten or purposely excluded by the institutions that govern daily life. LaDuke discussed how native peoples were formally denied their right to religious expression until the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act and how their oral history is always questioned by white “experts” who purport to know more about native people due to their academic studies, which as LaDuke pointed out, in the past included the horrific field of physical anthropology. Native people are also frequently excluded from the political processes that decide what is going to be done with native land by a variety institutional barriers. Such exclusion has not been limited simply to the dominant institutions but has also spread to various “left” political groups and publications, as LaDuke cited an example of activism early in her life in which the prominent left-leaning publication In These Times told her that they did not want to run an article on land and environmental policy on reservations because they had “already published the Native American perspective last month” and that she was a “biased” source on the subject. Even today, “leftist” political movements such as the anti-globalization movement exclude people of color and despite frequently being a subject of discussion, has largely failed to be addressed and has surfaced in the white-dominated antiwar movement.

Throughout her two talks, LaDuke discussed the need for systemic change in the United States and argued that out of necessity people need to become public citizens and work towards changing the world around them. For LaDuke, it is best to start in locally and act to change things at the grassroots level while always keeping in mind what is going on nationally and internationally and finding ways to connect local issues to global ones. She also explained how people living in the United States have a particular responsibility to seek change because a failure to do so results in the rest of the world being “hammered” by the United States.

Local Media Activist Toolkit Released

Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) released a new Media Activist Toolkit to help progressive organizations in Grand Rapids engage the media and to help organizations make their own media with the major focus on developing a successful media strategy. The guide begins with a brief amount of contextual information on the role media plays in our lives and then moves into the specific strategies of how organizations can develop a media strategy to improve their coverage in the corporate media. Moreover, the guide provides an overview of media ownership in Grand Rapids that includes information about the ownership of radio stations, movie theaters, outdoor advertising, and even information on the evils of Comcast as well as ways to hold the local media accountable and the data GRIID has collected over the years with regard to the local media’s representation of race, gender, and class.

Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration

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At first it might seem unnecessary for a book about the seemingly chaotic bike rides that take place on the last Friday of the month in some 300 cities across the world (including in Grand Rapids) . However, over the now 13 years (10 years at the time of publication) since the first Critical Mass ride in San Francisco in 1992, Critical Mass has spread across the world and taken on a life of its own both in its varying practice from city-to-city and in its underlying vision of a city based on the community that arises when urban geography is transformed from a car-centered to a bike-centered terrain.

It is in its discussion of the theory and vision of Critical Mass that Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration is its most interesting. For many who have facilitated or participated in Critical Mass rides in Grand Rapids over the past five years Critical Mass has been little more than a bike ride with a small group of friends and has never achieved the level of “celebration” articulated by many of the contributors to Carlsson’s book and has never “transformed” the city in any tangible manner. Whereas we have achieved a certain level of militancy in terms of developing an anti-car attitude in the Grand Rapids ride, we have done so at the expense of creating a more celebratory and inviting space that could create a brief glimpse of what a city could be like without the destructive impact of automobiles. Such an atmosphere has been created in Chicago where Critical Mass rides regularly have more than 500 participants and have developed an underlying attitudes wherein the focus is on the mass of bikes on the streets and the community within the ride rather than rage at other cars on the street. In Chicago and other large Critical Mass rides, the streets are literally transformed and while their may be an underlying anti-car sentiment, the ride is more about facilitating camaraderie between cyclists than simply upsetting individual motorists.

Within the context of how Critical Mass rides “feel” it other cities, the more theoretical pieces in Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration seem appropriate and in the case of cities like Grand Rapids, offer a vision and foundation for transforming Critical Mass. Underlying Critical Mass is the question of ownership relating to the form and function of public space, and in the case of Critical Mass, whether or not public space should be designed for the automobile, a form of private transportation that has largely destroyed the notion of community in the United States, or alternative forms of individual and collective transportation that foster and benefit community. Moreover, Critical Mass raises questions about the appropriate functions of roads as public space, asking if they exist predominately for the automobile traffic necessary to support a capitalist economy or if they can be transformed into an area in which truly communitarian activities can unfold. It is when these questions are considered that Critical Mass becomes more than simply a bike ride and becomes what Carlsson describes as a “social experience” that can, according to Joshua Switzky, “dictate the tempo and ambiance on the street” and ultimately demand “a democratization and re-visualization of streets as vital public space.” With the twenty-first century’s urban experience largely characterized by a series of seemingly random and inauthentic interactions, Critical Mass provides an authentic community.

Aside from the more abstract theoretical essays, the book also offers a number of practical organizational lessons that can be used by Critical Mass organizers. The book features an essay titled “How to Make a Critical Mass” that, drawing from the lessons learned by riders in the San Francisco Critical Mass, offers a host of tips and considerations for planning a successful ride that can be employed when planning a Critical Mass. Additionally, almost all of the essays offer tips covering a variety of issues—legal questions, communication during rides, promotion, choosing a route, dealing with aggressive motorists, and more—that will make a Critical Mass ride more successful. Additionally, the book features a considerable number of graphics and flyers that can be used to create outreach material.

Critical Mass: Bicycing’s Defiant Celebration perfectly captures the spontaneous bike celebration that is Critical Mass. By collecting contributions from around the world the book captures the nearly infinite variety in Critical Mass rides and with its focus on both the practical organizing of Critical Mass and the overlying theoretical implications of Critical Mass, Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration offers a comprehensive overview that both long-term participants and those who have never ridden in Critical Mass will enjoy. Moreover, it offers a variety of important organizing ideas that could be used to positively transform and expand Critical Mass in Grand Rapids.

Chris Carlsson, Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration, (AK Press, 2002).

Inside the Bottle: An Expose of the Bottled Water Industry


So how many Americans are drinking bottled water on a regular basis?

According to the Polaris Institute, 20% of consumers in the US drink bottled water regularly and that number is increasing. This fact, according to author/activist Tony Clarke, should concern us all since water is transforming from a necessity of life to just another commodity. In this expose Clarke takes on the bottled water companies, what Clarke refers to as the Water Cartel.

Inside The Bottle: An Expose of the Bottled Water Industry takes a look at the Big 4 bottled water companies, companies that control over 90% of the market; Nestle, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Danon. Clarke traces the origins of the bottled water industry to today and provides a great summary of the impact that putting water in bottles has meant for the public. Some of the areas covered are where the companies are taking the water from, the environmental/community impacts, the recycling scam, contracting with schools and a look at marketing methods employed by the industry. One of the more successful marketing schemes has been to manufacture public fear about the “safety” of drinking municipal water. The big issue raised in this book however, is the shift towards water privatization. Clarke says the success of promoting bottled water based on the public fear of tap water, has been a strategy used to pave the way for water privatization. The author provides numerous examples of where bottled water companies have spent billions of dollars to defeat tax increases in communities seeking to improve the municipal water system. This, like much of the lobby work around the country, tends to stay out of the public eye.

The increasing influence of the Water Cartel has not gone unnoticed around the world. Communities are resisting the privatization of water and water diversion projects. One whole chapter is devoted to looking a few case studies in places like Washura, Wisconsin, Florida, New Hampshire, Ontario and of course the local campaign in Mecosta County, Michigan. Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation has been taking on the Ice Mountain bottling company, a subsidiary of Nestle. Each of these cases where communities have resisted is a valuable part of the bottled water story. The book also includes great graphs, data, maps and resources that make this an essential tool for activists.

Tony Clarke, Inside The Bottle: An Expose of the Bottled Water Industry, (The Polaris Institute, 2005).

All the Power: Revolution without Illusion

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In the endorsement blurbs on the first page of All the Power: Revolution Without Illusion by Mark Andersen, Fugazi front man Ian MacKaye notes that “The fact that questions in a written form can at times resemble answers is a danger for most activist writers, as well as writing activists.” This observation adequately describes Mr. Andersen’s book within which he dissects and critiques various aspects of “revolutionary politics” here in the United States.

Mark Andersen is a longtime community organizer and fixture of the punk rock scene in Washington D.C. This is readily apparent as two of the recurring themes throughout the book are his experiences working with poor and minority communities in the nation’s capital and his constant use of punk rock lyrics to summarize his points.

The chapters of the book are each devoted to a particular type of organizing, within which the author offers his observations and critiques. The first half of the book deals with the punk rock subculture, college activism, identity politics and lifestyle activism as vehicles for social change. This is the more useful part of the book and the authors insights are thoughtful and based in personal experience. While he does sometimes contextualize his comments with material with other writers, such as Naomi Klein or Audre Lorde, the book does not rely much on other authors or works. For younger people, this part of the book could very well prove valuable, as it provides a perspective with a greater depth of experience than the novice activist is bound to have.

The seventh chapter, Don’t Mind Throwing a Brick, is the part of the book bound to cause the most controversy amongst radical readers. This topic addressed in this chapter is the role of violence in revolutionary politics. The author starts the chapter making a series of reasonable observations concerning the utility and appropriateness of revolutionary violence. After using several examples of international revolutionary struggles, he concludes:

“I don’t think that money or guns are the most profound base of power; I believe it is always the people. While armed struggle will sometimes be necessary, the only way this can ever work against a better trained and funded enemy is to have enough people standing behind the effort.

Make no mistake: I am hardly some wild-eyed “street fighting man.” No, I am simply a realist. Power will concede nothing essential without a struggle. Nonviolent confrontation is, of course, preferable. But when push comes to shove, this contest will tend to involve violence, at least in self-defense. This is shown by the history of my own country as well as much of the world.”

From this quite reasonable conclusion the author then launches into a several page critique of Ward Churchill’s short book Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America. While not disagreeing with Churchill’s central conclusion in that book, the author’s endorsement is grudging at best, with repeated criticism of Churchill’s historical analysis, tone, and “leaden” prose. From there the author goes on a long, and largely negative, analysis of the Weather Underground, a topic that has received a good deal of attention over the last couple years. His description of the Weather Underground contains quotes from various former members and is a highly critical, but fair examination of that group. Interestingly, the author does not devote nearly the same amount of time to two of the other armed revolutionary groups active at the time of WOU, the Black Panthers and AIM. Next the author starts a brief discussion about the appropriateness of “black block” tactics and direct action. The chapter ends with the author concluding, rightfully, that “while violence may be legitimate, even necessary in certain circumstances, it cannot take the place of a political strategy that seeks to convert masses of people.”

The next chapter, The American in Me, starts with the obligatory “where I was on 9-11” story that has become so common in books of all sorts these days. In this chapter the author talks about the possible uses of patriotism as an organizing tactic. After relating to the reader about his childhood patriotism and later disillusionment with the U.S., the author asks “If we give up on any possible redemption of this country, what is our alternative?” Somewhat surprisingly, the author answers this question by again discussing Ward Churchill, in even less complimentary terms than in the previous chapter. In the next two pages the author uses many of the same objections that the right wing is currently making in their crusade to against Ward Churchill, namely his “little Eichmanns” comment from the essay On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. Churchill’s essay is easily misinterpreted and written with a certain level of hyperbole. Perhaps due to this, Andersen mistakenly assumes that Churchill endorses the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon, and that he has called for other people to do the same.

The other writer mentioned often by Andersen, although in much less critical terms, is former 60’s radical, now respectable college professor and Mother Jones columnist Todd Gitlin. Somewhat surprisingly, Andersen refers to Gitlin’s writings several times, and always in complimentary terms. Considering that Gitlin was a supporter of Clinton’s bombing in Kosovo and seemingly spent more time during the 2003 invasion of Iraq criticizing the anti-war movement than actually organizing against the war, he seems an odd choice to be quoted repeatedly in a book ostensibly about revolution.

Regardless, Andersen’s book does what it sets out to do, posing questions that most serious activists will be forced to grapple with at some point in their organizing career. While not always claiming to provide the answer, Andersen accurately points out some of the tendencies and pitfalls inherent in political activism in the United States. While the book is not, nor is it intended to be a detailed analysis of all the various movements and issues confronting American would-be “revolutionaries”, the book is a good starting off point for discussion. The experienced activist may find parts of the book old hat, but others new to revolutionary politics may find All the Power to be a valuable read.

Mark Andersen, All the Power: Revolution Without Illusion, (Punk Planet Books, 2004).

Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies

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For many historians and participants in the various social movements commonly referred to as “the sixties,” the formation of Weatherman in 1969 as the faction that eventually came to control Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the largest student-based organization opposed to the war in Vietnam, was the beginning of the end of the antiwar movement. Rather than engaging in a serious evaluation of both Weatherman’s critique of non-violence and United States imperialism, as well as the tactical efficacy of their approach, numerous historians and movement participants have chose instead to ignore questions raised by Weatherman and dismiss the group as a sectarian cult of violence that led to the destruction of the antiwar movement. Of course, while such an analysis ignores many pivotal events that happened both after and during Weatherman’s actions, all of which-Kent State, the Winter Soldier investigation, and protests at Nixon’s 1972 inauguration reflect an antiwar movement that did not simply fall apart with the shift of some in the movement towards more militant tactics. While Varon states that Weatherman’s violence was “a dramatic failure from a tactical standpoint,” he is investigating the political violence of Weatherman to examine the broader revolutionary impetus of the late 1960s and early 1970s-a period in which there were innumerable physical confrontations with the state and, in the period from January 1969 to April 1970, 2,800 attacks on state and corporate property in response to the Vietnam war, with 281 attacks on ROTC buildings and 7,200 arrests on campuses alone.

Numerous individuals and collectives within the United States shifted towards attacks on state and corporate property during the late 1960s and early 1970s in response to the United States’ war on Vietnam-Weatherman was the largest and most well known group to make the shift. As such, Varon concentrates on Weatherman to construct an analysis of the wider violence of the New Left. In Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies, the history of Weather is broken down into three distinct events-the Days of Rage in October 1969 and the Flint “War Council” in December of 1969 as examples of Weatherman’s politics, and focuses on the Weather Underground (the organization was renamed after going underground) by way of the townhouse explosion in 1971. These three events, while pivotal events in the history of the Weather Underground, are frequently misinterpreted and used as the basis for dismissing the group, and to each event Varon brings a level of analysis and interpretation that has been sorely lacking from previous examinations of the Weather Underground. Weatherman’s ideology is examined in the discussion of the Days of Rage, a week-long series of “militant” actions that Weatherman hoped would “bring the war home” and inspire working-class youth throughout the United States to engage in militant action against the state in support of black radicals and in solidarity with the Viet Cong. Of course, the Days of Rage was poorly attended-the projected attendance of “thousands” ended up being a few hundred-and many key leaders ended up with multiple felony charges-while fe, if any, working class youth joined the revolution. Varon uses the failure of the Days of Rage as a springboard for a detailed critique of Weatherman’s politics, specifically looking at its attitudes towards class and its conception of revolutionary communism. The December 1969 “War Council” showed the isolation of Weatherman from both the majority of people in the United States, as well as those in the antiwar movement-and cemented the group’s resolve to engage in “exemplary” violence to “inspire” others to “pick up the gun” against the state-violence that, had the townhouse explosion not occurred in 1971, would have likely progressed towards individual representatives of state and corporate power. The Flint War Council allows Varon to examine the popular support of the Weatherman and examine how their isolation led to increasingly authoritarian tendencies. Finally, Varon interprets the townhouse explosion, long a target of scorn from those on the right and the left, as a “recasting” of the Weather Underground’s politics and a shift from violence to the multifaceted antiwar movement that it previously berated rather than just n example of sixties “excesses” as it has been portrayed by many.

By contrast, the violence of the Red Army Faction (RAF) was undertaken for a less direct purpose, and in many ways, seemed more random than that of the Weather Underground. As with the Weather Underground, the RAF attacked state and corporate targets in an effort to challenge the West German government’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The RAF engaged in “armed struggle” as a result of its sense of “proletarian solidarity” with the Vietnamese and West Germany’s role in supporting the Vietnam War as well as a vague sense that West Germany was becoming “fascist” in its response to domestic dissent. Student radicalism in Germany was met with draconian laws restricting dissent, many of which students and university faculty viewed as the harbinger of a new fascism and as such extreme forms of protest including violence towards property were justified. However, unlike the Weather Underground and New Left violence in the United States, the RAF moved its war from attacking property to attacking people complicit in “the system” and by 1978 and the end of the “second wave” of the RAF, 43 people had lost their lives as a result of the RAF’s “guerilla warfare,” including 28 people who were victims of left-wing violence and 15 guerrillas.

Varon argues that had members of the Weather Underground not been killed in the “townhouse explosion” in 1971 where Terry Gold, Diana Oughton, Cathy Wilkerson, and Kathy Boudin were preparing anti-personnel bombs to use at an uncomissioned officers’ dance, the Weather Underground’s attack on the state would have likely been comparable to the RAF’s and many more people would have lost their lives in a form of “armed struggle” that would have served no end other than to increase state repression. This thesis sheds new light on the Weather Underground, illuminating a shift in the Weather Underground’s approach after the townhouse explosion as Weather purposely shifted towards “armed actions” in which bombings were used to draw attention and embarrass the state while precautions were made to ensure that no lives would be lost. While critics of the Weather Underground have dismissed the group as being ineffective and counter-productive for any number of frivolous reasons, Varon’s analysis allows for a more accurate appraisal of the use of violence by the New Left and a reevaluation of tactics and the New Left, specifically in terms of the role of “violence” and the gains of the movement. Tom Wells’ The War Within has long been cited as proof of the effectiveness of the non-violence of the New Left; with Wells going to great lengths to show how protest directly limited the state’s capacity to wage war, specifically Richard Nixon’s November 1969 withdrawal of a plan to unleash “savage” attacks on North Vietnam, likely with some form of tactical nuclear weapons. However, Varon concludes that it was the diversity of tactics that helped limit the war, not one particular approach, while pointing out that the actions of the New Left succeeded only in adjusting the magnitude of destruction. Rather than reading Wells’ book simply as a testament to the power of non-violent protest as is often done, Varon argues that the book repeatedly makes it clear that the state was worried about the militant attacks on the legitimacy of state power and the very stability of the state while pointing out that had more been known about the United States’ actions in Vietnam, it is likely that more would have embraced militancy. In the end, despite “thousands of violent acts,” New Left violence in the United States unintentionally killed three people (two at the townhouse and one innocent bystander in an attack unaffiliated with the Weather Underground)-a small number compared to the “countless deaths, the toppling of governments, and deliberate assaults on domestic dissidents” by the state, the war continued and no form of domestic protest was able to stop the war.

With the lack of writing on the Weatherman, Bringing the War Home stands out as the best analysis of the movement. While Ron Jacob’s The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground, the only other history of Weatherman, provides a more detailed account of some of the specifics of Weatherman, it suffers from a lack of research and analysis. Bringing the War Home‘s contribution to the history of the Red Army Faction is slightly more difficult given the reviewers limited knowledge of the German New Left, but given Varon’s well-crafted analysis of the Weather Underground, it can be generally assumed that he has presented a similarly competent portrayal of the Red Army Faction. By way of comparing the violence of Weatherman and the Weather Underground with the Red Army Faction Varon strengthens his analysis of the effectiveness of political violence. Bringing the War Home makes an important contribution to both scholarship on the antiwar movement in addition to providing an important evaluation of violent forms of protest in the United States and West Germany and the potential ramifications and likelihood of success should contemporary anti-war movements make similar decisions.

Jeremy Varon, Bringing the War Home: The Weather Underground, the Red Army Faction, and Revolutionary Violence in the Sixties and Seventies, (University of California Press, 2004).