Sunday, August 11, 2013

Social Movement Summer Reading: An Informal Review

Summer reading in P Town
Street Graffiti by Caroline Shepard

I used to hate summer reading assignments.  Most kids do.  But when books of our own choosing fly in the door, into the mind, of ideas, opening up memories, hopes, tragedies, and the like, then summer reading becomes a lovely and gripping experience.  In between trips to the beach, hanging out, cyclones games, gossiping about the Weiner and sexting, banjo playing, blogging, finishing edits for a book, and bbqing, swimming in Cape Cod watering holes, and hanging out, I managed to peruse some of the social movement literature which has come out over the last or two.   A few of these texts include:

Cycling and gardening books and images, history and activism.
Scenes from Newtopia and Transportation Alternatives. 
Summer activism.  This author to left, Garden activist with cucumber to the right.
Photo by Diane Greene Lent

Crow, Scott. 2011 Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy and the Common Ground Collective.   Oakland, CA: PM Press.
Haugerud, Angelique. 2013.  No Billionaire Left Behind: Satirical Activism in America.  Stanford University Press.
Scholl, Christian.  2012.  Two Sides of a Barricade: (Dis)order and summit protest in Europe.  State University Press of New York. 
McKay, George. 2011. Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism, & Rebellion in the Garden.  Frances Lincoln Publishers London
Furness, Zack. 2010.  One Less Car: Bicycling and the Politics of Automobility.  Temple University Press.

            Each of the books tells a different kind of a story, using multiple methods for answering questions, pointing to a different direction for where social movements are taking us.  McKay and Furness point to gardening and cycling as a  ways of creating new models of sustainable urbanism.  McKay fashions gardening as a form of resistance culture, tracing an alternative history of the practice, while Furness suggests cycling offers a new kind of right to the city, tracing cycling activism from the women’s movement through European socialism, Situationism and anarchism.  He quotes Susan B. Anthony and her 1896 homage to cycling: "I think it has done more to emancipate women than any one thing in the world. I rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel. It gives her a feeling of self reliance and independence the moment she takes her seat; and away she goes, the picture of untrammelled womanhood."  Bikes really are freedom machines.  Part of what is important about these studies and stories is the way they point to forms of activism which impact everyday life.  One need not purchase a train or airplane ticket or use sick days at work to participate in these forms of activism, which are redefining and transforming cities the world over.  Instead we can all fight for our right to the city. 

The same sentiment can generally not be said of summit protests, the subject of Christian Scholl’s work Two Sides of a Barricade.  A scholarly work, the author acknowledges that the authorities have largely neutralized the tactic.   The text largely echos the work of Louis Fernandez, Amory Starr, and other street ethnography of the era, without engaging the overarching question: does summit hopping impact everyday living?  My sense is that security shows up; people scream; some get arrested.  And everyday life remains the same.  At least this is my impression after taking part in a few US convergence actions.  The question remains: are there better tactics approaches to living and social struggle?   Not that some of the summit actions were not amazing – but as the era of summit hopping continued after Seattle, mechanisms of power seemed to remain unchanged.  In the peak of the Occupation Movement, labor historian Staughton Lynd aptly noted:
In the period between Seattle in 1999 and September 11, 2001, many activists were into a pattern of behavior that might unkindly be described as summit-hopping. Two young men from Chicago who had been in Seattle stayed in our basement for a night on their way to the next encounter with globalization in Quebec. I was struck by the fact that, as they explained themselves, when they came back to Chicago from Seattle they had been somewhat at a loss about what to do next. As each successive summit (Quebec, Genoa, Cancun) presented itself, they expected to be off to confront the Powers That Be in a new location, leaving in suspended state whatever beginnings they were nurturing in their local communities. So far as an outsider like myself could discern, there did not seem to be a long-term strategy directed toward creating an “otro mundo,” a qualitatively new society.
Go local Lynd advises, pointing to creating counter institutions, worker centers, and communities of resistance, care and solidarity.  And most certainly, the transnational networks helped build support for other ways of living, being, and challenging systems of oppression.  But, many workers hoped for more sustained resistance in their own homes and communities.  Scholl’s work is a telling archive of a period in time, in activism.  Yet, we never want to fetishize one tactic over others.  Summit-hopping is but one of many, many tactics.  Still, Scholl's use of militant ethnography is an important methodological choice, one which I hope more researchers choose to engage. 

            Perhaps the most effective recent example of this methodology which I have seen is by anthropologist Louis Fernandez.  In his essay, “On Being There: Thoughts on Anarchism and Participatory Observation” from Contemporary Anarchist Studies: An Introductory Anthology of Anarchy in the Academy, Fernandez suggests militant ethnography is all about being there making sense experience of his experience.  He describes trying to conduct interviews during a WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico in 2003.  “We kept interviewing people, but kept a close eye on what felt like a tense situation,” he writes, in a major underestimation (Fernandez, 2009, p. 93).  “Soon a small group of young activists began throwing rocks over the fence, which landed on the helmeted police.  We continued with our interviews, feeling a bit nervous and sensing a clear shift in the mood of demonstration,” (p.93). The police have started throwing the stones back.  “[W]e could see medical crews disappearing into the thick crowd only to reappear moments later escorting individuals covered with blood seeping from head wounds,” (p. 93).  As medics move back and forth, he talked with one man about his struggle to hold on in the midst of economic tumult.  Breaking from the interview, the man commented on the circumstances of the protest.  “’Somebody is going to die today.  And its going to be a good horrible death.'  The truth of the statement almost knocked me over.  He was right,” Fernandez ruminated, observing himself in the his interview (p. 94).  And it could have been him.  For Fernandez, “these experiences only come from being there, by placing ourselves within and among the lives of those who suffer, by running risks and by placing ourselves among those who suffer,” (p. 94).  Fernandez’ writing in his book Policing Dissent serves as a case study in movement participant observation.  “Early on, I adopted a combination of approaches: one methodological, the other ethical,” (p. 39).  Herein, the researcher approaches his research subject with “deep connection with those one studies” “empathy, compassion, and understanding,” (p. 173, 40).  The method builds on notions of reflexivity.  His thoughts about knowledge and participation help propel the ethnographic narrative away from notions of objectivity or scientific method toward the observation of self and other. “Instead of adopting a stance of objectivity, then, my methods deliberately blur the distinction between protester and researcher,” he writes (p. 41).  “I deliberately blurred the boundary between observer and observed, hoping to induce in myself the fears and stresses that the police inflict on protesters as they employ the mechanisms of control.  This approach worked well, producing intense emotions,” (p. 41).   These feelings “fueled my analysis” (p.41). 
The Billionaires inaction  Images by Fred Askew

            Anthropologist Angelique Haugerud borrows utilizes a similar methodology for her ethnography of the work of a seminal movement group rather an event or history.   The title of the work implies a broad based study of the ludic tactic of satire.  Yet, her study of the satirical group the Billionaires is much for focused.  It masterfully considers the interweaving topics of disparities in wealth, big money in electoral politics, and the history of this group.  This is a thick and telling ethnography study of irony, activism, economics and culture.  And like the best of ethnographies, it is also a terrific read, with interviews and observations that kept me coming back day after day.  Haugerud’s ethnography begins with the 2004 period when the Billionaires took center stage in the street activism anticipating the Republican National Convention in New York.  With clashes between egos, undercover cops and direct action groups, reporters, critical masses and riot cops, and anti – Bush  activists, I recall this as a murky often uncertain period of activism.  Full disclosure, I was part of the Reclaim the Streets and Lower East Side Collective working groups of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, attended the first Billionaire meetings, even a few of their actions with my friends, including getting arrested in top hot, and spent years  observing the group and their interactions with the larger movement of movements.  When I first saw the book, I was apprehensive.  Were we ready to reconsider the billionaires?  They just left.  After witnessing the Billionaires, then the Billionaires for Bush (or Gore) in the previous election cycle, the joke of the Billionaires felt less fresh as some of the interviewees concede in my ethnography of this period of activism Play, Creativity and Social Movements: If I Can’t Dance Its Not My Revolution.  By 2004, the group which satirized the richest people  and the corrosive influence of wealth on our politics, had also come to emulate some of the snootiness they sought to critique.  The billionaires were the rock stars of the ironic activist set and they knew it.  Sometimes smug and pleased with themselves and their sartorial approach, the group seemed to leave questions about poverty, reproductive autonomy, and public policy to others, even while ridiculing those with an interest in social welfare policies who differed with their analysis.  Throughout the first presidential cycle for the group, the Billionaires choose to minimize the differences between Bush and Gore.  Certainly the Clinton era had its flaws and Gore was a terrible candidate.  No dought both candidates worked for the United States of Corporate America, as all politicians do.  But the policy differences, some large and small, between the two were real.  One acknowledged the reality of climate change, while the other had ties to the oil industry; one acknowledged a women’s right to reproductive autonomy, while the other supported a platform to do away from the policy; one supported energy alternatives while the other supported eroding environmental regulations; one supported expanding the Earned Income Tax credit; the other had never heard of it, etc. To paint these differences with a broad brush instead of a fine pen was a significant error for a group which prided itself on getting the facts right.  Gore lost the election in 2000 in a razor tight election, a razor tight election. Haugerud is right to point out that many grew frustrated with the group’s 2000 election cycle contention that there were minimal differences between the two.  Some went as far as to blame the election debacle of 2000 on the group.   Haugerud’s coverage of these debates is important.  It brings up an important point about what happens when “jocular exuberance” (p.137) becomes a substitute for a space where there is space for open debate, respect for differences, or room for ideas outside of group ideology or groupthink.  Sadly, Gore’s failures and the inability of the left to see any of his strengths opened the doo
for Bush and war.   

The author as Billionaire, in the middle, during 2002 World Economic Forum Actions in NYC.

            Still, in a world with the Patriot Act corralling dissent, the Billionaire message that we all work for the billionaires resonated.  After Bush was appointed by the Supreme Court, the whole thing felt like a big, ridiculous joke.   But it was better to laugh than cry, many contend although many did cry with the re emergence of the Christian Right on the national stage.  The first time the Reagan Bush crowd was around horrible things happens to Unions, people with AIDS, and family policies.   Marx’ adage -  the first time these sort of things happen, it feels like tragedy, the second time its farce – became the slogan of the day.   “For the Billionaires” writes Haugerud, “the consequence of ironic humor, is not meant to be simply more humor.  Political satire does not merely mirror societal incongruities or imbalances, it also helps us to define what is thinkable,” (p.52-3).
 In a 2005 interview, Zizek specifically argued there is a rationale for such thinking.  “The only way to signal you are serious, at the level of form, is to make fun of yourself,” he explained.  “This pseudo-Heideggerian jargon, we live in fateful times, the destiny of humanity is threatened blah, blah, blah – I think you cannot talk like that,” Zizek elaborated (Clover, 2005).  So one has to find different ways to engage the serious.   This, of course, was the point of the Billionaires and Haugerud’s study of the group.  Her captures an elegiac quality of the Bush years and the loss many of us felt, as the sartorial splender of the era gave way to bombs and blitzkrieg, shock and awe.   In the end, it was hard to look back at the difficult era in which the Billionaires made their way through three election cycles. The issue of efficacy is hard to measure and this is the core question facing the Billionaires, like all movement groups.  Suggesting the group helped support a culture of resistance,  Haugerud’s ethnography does this period justice.   

A mug shot of my friend Andrew Boyd, a founder of the group, is featured on the cover of Haugerud’s telling and important book.   Boyd sat for an interview for my book, excerpted below.  He began his interview with a discussion of his work with a college group called the Nuclear Saints and the United for a Fair Economy, a Boston based group organized around issues of economic justice.  Yet, unlike similar groups, they had Andrew Boyd who spearheaded a series of smart pranks designed to highlight the issue of economic fairness.  This history is the roots of the Billionaires.  So were Boyd’s exploits in satirical activism at University of Michigan.  The following excerpt from Play Creativity and Social Movements considers this ludic terrain:

From his work with United for a Fair Economy to the Billionaires for Bush, Boyd has made a career of borrowing from popular educational and theatrical forms (see Boyd and Duncombe, 2004) to highlight the issue of income inequality and the corrupting influence of money to electoral campaigns (Boyd, 1999, 2000, 2002).  He has also made use of irony.  When he was in college at University of Michigan, Boyd found out the school was conducting military research on campus.  So, instead of staging protest as others had, Boyd and company formed a group called the Nuclear Saints, who called for more military research, not less (Barto, 1983).   A press release from the 14th of November, 1983 established the rationale for the action.

            At       pm on Monday, November 14th, 12 members of the student organization, the Nuclear Saints of America, entered the laboratory of Professor Thomas B.A. Senior, demanding an increase in military research on campus.  Professor Senior’s lab was chosen as the sight of the action because of NSA’s fervent support for the Professor’s work on electromagnetic pulse shielding.
            The action is intended to demonstrate the organization’s commitment to national defense.  By volunteering to aid Senior, the NSA are working to ensure the reliable functioning of America’s first strike capability.  The NSA have come to do military research, and they will not leave until they get some done.

It included a rib at conventional campus activists.
            The NSA have also realized the necessity of purifying the laboratory after its defilement last week at the hands of a band of brutal leftist thugs.  At 3:00 pm, the NSA will commence a religious ceremony to cleanse the lab of the evil spirit left by the agents of darkness. 

Boyd would recall the ironic Nuclear Saints stunt as a key moment in the mythology of the Billionaires for Bush. It was also a useful example of the efficacy of play based organizing.  “When you’ve got a super serious target, it’s one way to take away the aura of authority,” explained Boyd some two decades later. “Like what we did with this guy in the military research lab.”  Clever, silly and non-too earnest, many of the gestures, include the mockery of the earnest left, the world would see with the Billionaires  could be witnessed in the Nuclear Saints prank. 
One of Boyd’s favorite pranks with United for a Fair Economy (UFE) was a mid-1990’s Boston Tea Party Action.  The goals for the action were twofold: 1) to counter Republican claims that the Flat Tax is good for working families and 2) to  reach the broad public with this message.  He recalled the prank:
So this Tea Party thing was doubly interesting because they were staging an event and we restaged it by intervening. These were two guys, two Republican congressman who I think are still congressmen, Dick Armey and Nick Townsend. One’s from Texas and one’s from Louisiana. They’d been campaigning for what they call a “tax reform,” which was a flat tax or a national sales tax. They were pushing to get rid of the entire tax code and institute this very regressive tax system. It seems fair because it was simple and was treating everyone the same way regardless of whether they had eighty billion dollars or negative assets and seven kids. So it was a flax tax vs. a sales tax. So they were promoting that and they came to Boston and threw a cask of tea overboard the Boston Tea Party ship, the historic one where it all happened back in 1773 or whenever it was, symbolizing their liberation from the IRS tax code. So we called up pretending to be Young Republicans and found out what their basic plan was. We read the stuff they were talking about doing in the Wall Street Journal. And so we kind of thought how to restage this in a way that sort of brought out the truth of what they were actually advocating. You know, you can give a press conference afterward and say how they were wrong, or you can get in there and mix it up. So we got in there and mixed it up. We got there before they did, set up our people in a way that they wouldn’t notice them. And then [the Republicans] were about to throw their tea overboard and at just the right moment, we had this little dinghy which had been hiding in the Boston Harbor on the other side of the [tea party] boat, sort of padding furiously underneath where they were about to throw [the tea]. And the dinghy boat had two people on it. One had a construction hat and the other woman had a kerchief and they help up a sign that said ‘Working families life raft.’ And they started saying, ‘Don’t sink us with your flat tax. Don’t flatten us with your flat tax.’ ‘We’re the working family life raft this tax will be terrible for middle class tax payers.’ And then [the Republicans] were sort of caught dead in their tracks ‘cause the photograph caught these guys [in the boat]. They are about to throw this thing overboard, but then not doing it, because our storyline was that would be a bad thing. And then we had all these sort of rich people on a boat. They started saying, ‘We’re the Rich People’s Liberation Front. We want this tax plan. We want this tax plan.’ [Illustration – insert andew boyd tax party photos]

Boyd’s boat tipped over at the exact same time that Dick Armey’s group dropped their cask of tea overboard.  “They threw it overboard and we capsized at just that moment,” Boyd explained:
People ended up in the water. This is the Boston Harbor, mind you, so it’s not cleaned up like the Hudson. So it was a huge thing. The photos were in the Boston Globe and it was looped on CNN. It was Tax Day.
But if you see the picture, you’ll see basically how we restaged it. That’s the point. We’re staging something and we understood how they were staging and what the various things meant that they were trying to invest with meaning. And we invested them with different meanings, sort of creating a stage around their stage. Not disrupting them and not stopping them, but restaging them.

Through the action, Boyd and company offered a compelling counter narrative to the schrill politics of Republican tax cuts.  “[A]ll politics happens in a very mediated way, its all about spectacle,” explained Boyd. “It’s all about symbolic communication with an audience. It’s all about storytelling and mythology and using and repurposing symbols and stuff like that they were doing. But we did it the same way.”  Yea instead screaming about what was wrong, their performance changed the storyline. “It may be play,” Boyd mused.  Here, part of the play of social movements is changing the rules of the game and altering the playing field.  For Boyd and company, their disruptive performance also served as a more inclusive production in democratic world-making. Boyd noted:
We’re not storming the boat. We’re telling them to do their thing. And here’s what it means for all of us. Again, you’re respecting the symbol system that they’ve set up. But you are re interpreting it. You’re restaging it. And in a sense you are hijacking their power, their prestige, their star status that turned out all the media. If we were going to stage something on our own, who would come? But no, we hijacked all the media and the spotlight. They already had a stage. And they had a stage because they were powerful.

The prank, gained media coverage on CNN and around the world (Ellis, 1998).  A good student of organizing, Boyd felt the action incorporated: “good research, symbolic engagement, surprise & stealth, timing & discipline, upstaging, straight/satirical combination, appropriate tech, ‘media wrenching,’ media spinning, and control of the confrontation.”  In terms of things which did not work so well, the activistsm “didn’t hold the field, didn’t stay in character, and didn’t document ourselves.”  The prank sent Boyd on a trajectory from Boston’s United for a Fair Economy, where he articulated his ideas about artful activism, to RTS New York, where he conceptualized the movement as an ‘Extreme Costume Ball’, to the satirical Billionaires for Bush (or Gore) where over the next decade (Boyd, 1999, 2000, 2002).
Part of Boyd’s work was articulating a set of ideas about activism as a meme for others to emulate.  Good artists borrow; great artists steal. William Etundi described this viral dimension of the politics of play:
I think the biggest assets to the politics of play are, to borrow some words from marketing, the viral aspects of public display. Like we create an interesting action, it’s five people. And fifty people see it. Of those fifty, ten people are into it. And those ten people go out and create an interesting action that a hundred people see. And of those hundred, twenty people go out and they are inspired and they do something exciting. And you start getting this exponentially increasing thing. And I think that’s the biggest strength of the politics of play.

New York activist Kate Crane concurred, mindful of how many people got involved with activism through their experiences with the Billionaires:
They were able to plug so many people in who otherwise would not have gotten involved. Like the main PR person for the Billionaires, she’s an ad executive who has no activism experience. She just knocked herself in full force and ran with it. There was a lot of it that people could plug into; they could feel it, they could identify. Here in New York because New Yorkers are sarcastic, elsewhere because it was fun. And also they were able to take their template and replicate it over and over again.

Throughout the decade, a movement of ludic groups seduced countless new bodies into political engagement and participation. Yet the process of getting people out was far from simple. New York party-promoter Abby Ehmann organized parties and used those ties to rally protesters against New York’s Giuliani Era XXX zoning law, adds: “I have to say, it has become more easy, because more people are pissed off. And also, a lot of the protesting has become more fun.” Through groups such as the Billionaires, Ehmann suggested the new activism, “saw that the way to get people out was to do it via nightlife. Like the Billionaires for Bush and the people who are making politics more palatable.”  Citing examples such as Critical Mass, she suggested it is a way of expanding a political arena. And from there, people got involved in many different kinds of campaigns. Etundi explained: 
You see that in More Gardens and Critical Mass and especially in RTS. If you look at those early RTS meetings, that was my first experience with political organizing. You know, Mark Read, Beka, Andrew Boyd, so many people gelled there and went on to do just faaabulous things. And it really spawned a whole lot of stuff. The Billionaires were inspired by that. Complacent came directly out of RTS. A lot of other projects have. And then these separate projects have spawned people to doing separate projects.

Here each project moves tactics forward.  When they are not, they lose their vitality.  “You know, the Billionaires got on my nerves; it got boring” Kate Crane noted. 
            One of the largest criticisms of the politics of play is it lacks gravitas.  To counter this charge, many have used research to substantiate group claims.  Some have done it to better effect than others.  For much of the 2000 election cycle, the Billionaires for Bush (or Gore) argued that there was no difference between candidates George Bush or Al Gore.  Corporations had bought both of them.  They argued the economic policies of Clinton/ Gore were be no different than what Bush’s would be.  To support their claim, the Billionaires noted inequality had grown substantially under Clinton/Gore, as a product of a neoliberal economic program which dominated both conservative and liberal governments around the world (see Harvey, 2005).  This was a fair and accurate claim. Yet, the group failed to account for the findings that poverty went down among almost every group of US citizens from 1993-2000, a claim that did not happened with Reagan or Bush.  Under Clinton / Gore  poverty in the US actually declined in ways not seen since the Great Society years of the 1960’s or afterward (Blank, 2000).  When I brought up this point during the first Billionaires for Bush (or Gore) meeting held at Judson Church in New York City in the summer of 2000, I was shouted down.  The utility of play loses its vitality in a movement campaign when provocation and defiant sarcasm becomes an abiding practice, a substitute for ideas connected with coherent claims or substantiated with comprehensive research.  Part of how ACT UP or Science for the People supported their causes, however unpopular, was to highlight the ways research was on their side (see Epstein, 1998; Moore, 2008).  It is vitally important for activist groups to back up their arguments with coherent research.  Otherwise, ludic protest becomes bluster, rather than a compliment to a well coordinated campaign.  Yet, as the years progressed, the group seemed to be right that billionaires were running things. 
From Katrina to Sandy, Common Ground to Occupy
In the years after the Republican National Convention of 2004, I gradually moved further and further into the world of cycling activism, which Furness describes (2010).  Bicycles were a core part of a Critical Mass changing New York City over the next decade.  In 2004, police attempted to shut down the movement of cyclists on the streets of the city.  A decade later, the city was embracing them as part of the solution to climate change and congestion.
"Wall Street brings the heat, we take the streets!" Polar Bears looking for ice storm Wall Street on the one year anniversary of Occupy.   Photo by Brennan Cavanaugh

 On the one year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, a group of activists on bikes dressed as polar bears looking for ice in the financial district of Manhattan.  “Wall Street brings the heat! We take the streets!” the polar bears, including this author, chanted.  The protest pointed to the politics of climate change and the ways the billionaires of Wall Street, pushing for financial and environmental deregulation, have only accelerated the process, instead of embracing safeguards to protect the environment.  A few weeks later, New York would see the effects of these policies up front, as it was flooded by Super Storm Sandy.  Relief efforts after the storm were developed out of a model born after Hurricane Katrina, which flooded the Gulf Coast in 2005.  With government inaction after the storm exposing race and class based politics of exclusion and disaster capitalism, a group of activists stepped into the void to take matters into their own hands.  Doing so, they formed the Common Ground Collective, whose model of disaster relief would serve as a best practice exemplar after Super Storm Sandy, when the tri state area faced similar devastation.  The story of the Common Ground Collective is the subject of Scott Crow’s masterful memoir of the period.  I love this book.  It kept me warm on a freezing night of travel, stuck in a train station in Germany.  And it points to a different kind of organizing, based on care and affect, gestures of direct action and support.  A compelling narrative, written by a master storyteller, it  is absolutely the best book I have read since this year. 

More than anything, fellow Texan Crow weaves a great tale.  Such stories help give us meaning, helping us cope, and provide direction for the future.  This was certainly the case for the Common Ground Collective, an anarchist inspired relief organization formed shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast in 2005.  “On September 5, 2005, a day of trails by fire against hope, Malik, Shanon and I cofounded the Common Ground Collective,” explained Common Ground co-founder Scort Crow (2011, 62). Crowe and company were aware that those in the Gulf who had not only suffered the storm but watched aspects of their culture attacked, ridiculed, and displaced.  Crowe and company understood they had the right to control their own histories.  “We would help communities to tell their stories and we would tell ours, so as to move people to action,” noted Crowe (p.62).  Common Ground Collective was a place where people could narrate their own stories instead of having someone else write them out of history.  This would inform the collective and their efforts at disaster relief.  “Part of shifting culture is changing  the stories we tell others and ourselves,” wrote Crowe (p.130).   “[W]e must develop our own narratives about our actions and what we imagine about the future,” he argued, nothing:  “Communities and movements gain power in telling their own stories.  If we tell our own stories we rebel against being defined by those who don’t know us., such as the government, corporate media, or others with ideological axes to grind…”  In sum, “By consciously, telling our stories we are about to reconnect with people in the real world, because it is in language they can see themselves within” (p.130). Through Common Ground, a new model of care informed narratives of disaster, anarchism, and  radical public health, took shape informing relief efforts for the decade to come.  Those of us involved in Occupy Sandy benefited from this model.  And certainly, those in the Gulf found some footing, relief, life and direction out of their connection with this story.

So, it feels like this essay about summer reading should end.   There are so many others I could talk and write about –  the novels Huck Finn by Mark Twain and Love and Garbage by Ivan Klima, William Styron’s memoir of madness, or Harvey’s Rebel Cities calling for us to take the revolution to the city streets.  Some of my favorites writing on social movements has been narrative based, Stacy Lanyon’s oral histories, Scot Crow’s memoir, and the countless amazing press releases from Queer Nation, ACT UP and Trans Alternatives.   I have loved many stories this summer, suffered others.  We live in the stories of our times. Sometimes we are captured by them.  Most of the time, this is a good thing.  In other times, we are immobilized by doubts or fears or conflicts in these stories which lead us into dead ends.  Through the stories highlighted here, hopefully we can pave a path toward solidarity and care and joy, even in the midst of the rubble of this world.

Post script
Its all about adapting to  a changing world.  Next week, join us as ride through the streets thinking about these questions.  Join Wendy and I for our Adopting to Change Ride this Tuesday at 6:30. 

Tompkins Sq Park’s Gaia Tree
Sandy’s storm waters surged into Manhattan, heralding a new 21st century reality. Bike with us to explore both the aftermath and solutions generated in the LES, East Village and East River Park that respond to the realities of climate change.

Join Ben Shepard of Play and Ideas and Wendy Brawer of Green Map System, and guest speakers including Jeff Wright, Claire Costello and Bethany Bingham of Partnerships for Parks.

Postponed if raining - find out more at

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