Friends of PM Press, May 2013 Edition

About a week and a half ago, I received:

  • The Human Front, plus “Other Deviations: The Human Front Exposed” and “The Future Will Happen Here, Too” and “Working the Wet End” Outspoken Interview, by Ken MacLeod. Number 10 in PM Press’ Outspoken Authors series, edited by Terry Bisson.
  • In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines, and the Crisis of Capitalism, by George Caffentzis. This contains reprints of articles from 1980 through 2010. Part of the Common Notions imprint, based on Brooklyn, NY. This is the same imprint as Sylvia Federici’s Revolution at Point Zero.
  • Asia’s Unknown Uprisings, Volume 2: People Power in the Philippines, Burma, Tibet, China, Taiwan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, and Indonesia, 1946-2009, by George Katsiaficas.

I am especially excited about The Human Front. The Outspoken Authors series has been great so far. There were a couple more books that I was hoping to receive this month, but I’ll just have to be a little bit more patient.

Here, there, and everywhere: when policing practices don’t line up with public good

The NYPD’s Stop and Frisk practices have garnered much attention recently, and rightly so. There have been a bunch of videos of men of color talking about their experiences with Stop and Frisk in NYC. The Open Society Justice Initiative just put out a video that covers the equivalent in Britain. Here’s the full report: Viewed with Suspicion: The Human Cost of Stop and Search in England and Wales.

Last year Open Society Foundations’ Public Health Project put out Criminalizing Condoms, an amazingly strong report comparing policing practices regarding the criminalization of condoms in Kenya, Namibia, Russia, South Africa, the United States, and Zimbabwe. There was also a good video that accompanied it and included the voices of people directly affected.

It’s good to remember that our policing problems in the United States are not unique. It’s also sad since this really hurts people and communities and it would be far better if nowhere had these problems. Even with Stop and Frisk, we in New York City are not isolated as people working on the issue may sometimes feel.

On a happier note, last week’s lobbying to support bill S1379/A2736 in Albany reported went well. Bill S1379/A2736 would ban the use of condoms as evidence of sex work in New York State. Red Umbrella Project has more information available here.

Friends of PM Press, April 2013 Edition

Small package this month, but still really good:

  • Barred for Life: How Black Flag’s Iconic Logo Became Punk Rock’s Secret Handshake, by Stewart Dean Ebersole, photos by Jared Castaldi and Stewart Dean Ebersole.
  • Soft Money, a Filomena Buscarsela Mystery, by Kenneth Wishnia. I am so excited about this. I was completely sucked into the first book in the series. It was good mystery writing combined with a solid female protagonist. I’ll probably end up writing a combined review for both since I will be reading mostof the new book on the subway this weekend.

More information on Friends of PM Press can be found here.

When Activism Goes Online: Anonymous, Hacktivism and the Law Lecture at NYLS

A couple weeks ago I went to a “When Activism Goes Online: Anonymous, Hacktivism and the Law” at New York Law School, co-sponsored by the Institute for Information Law and Policy, National Lawyers Guild- National Office, and Students for Free Culture. The panelists were Kenneth Citarella, an adjunct professor at NYLS and former prosecutor who specialized in computer crimes starting in the 1980’s, Abi Hassen, Mass Defense Coordinator with the National Lawyers Guild, and Grainne O’Neill, a defense attorney specializing in the intersection of law and technology.

Citarella talked a little bit about his experience as a prosecutor of computer crimes very early on. One of his main points is that he strongly dislikes the word hacker, specifically because he doesn’t feel like he known what it means. Later on in the evening he emphasizes the difference between in person actions and actions mediated by technology, without clarifying exactly how. Mainly, I think that he served as a prosecution-side counter point to the other speakers. The most interesting thing for me was hearing how generally conservative he is in his interpretation and squaring that against his early involvement in the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which serves as a good reminder that civil liberties is an area where many people can find common ground.

O’Neill started by talking about the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) of 1984. The CFAA was conceived of and passed in a time before the internet as we know it- both socially and technologically- and was passed to specifically protect financial institutions, the government, and interstate commerce. For purposes of the CFAA, “unauthorized access” is defined by the computer or website’s Terms of Service (TOS), violations of which would otherwise be only a matter of contract law, not criminal law. In effect, CFAA empowered private companies to dictate criminal law through their TOS. The CFAA’s definition of damages sets a low standard.

After covering the basics of what the CFAA, O’Neill compared the penalties for online behaviors to their closest offline equivalents. She placed a DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack as similar to a picket, since both are intended to provide visibility to the activists’ displeasure with the target. Theft of a cheap laptop in a coffee shop that contained sensitive information might be punishable by a year in jail, but accessing the same information via an unsecured wi-fi network would get up to 10 years in prison under the CFAA, and in that senario, the victim hasn’t lost use of anything. Even assuming that that the laptop is more expensive and taken from a home, burglary in New York has a maximum sentence of 7 years, which is still less than allowed for remote entry under the CFAA, and involves someone physically entering one’s home. After going over the potential disparate treatment of crimes based on the involvement of hacking or not, O’Neill reiterated that many online crimes are criminalized under non-online specific legislation and that we should look to our rich history of jurisprudence in seeking to address

Hassan put together a PowerPoint presentation which he titled “The Fifth Estate: Information Activism in the Age of Secrecy,” drawing on the idea that hackers and information activists (including whistleblowers) may work for the public good, as a watch dog, much as the press, or forth estate, has. An example of this he gave was Hamed Al-Khabaz, a Canadian student who was expelled from Dawson College after finding and reporting a major security flaw in his university’s storage of student information.  He also emphasized the role of “lulz,” vaguely defined as humor or mischievous satisfaction, in hacking. His example of this was Guccifer’s release of George W. Bush’s remarkably bad self-portrait while showering.

Hassan’s presentation included a couple of really great quotations on related topics from Bloomberg and Thomas Jefferson. He showed graphs from Google and Microsoft of requests for user information from governmental agencies and emphasized the contradiction of increased government and corporate secrecy with the decrease of personal privacy and increase of individual surveillance at the same time. He also gave a great run-down of current major hacking cases in the United States:

And of whistleblower cases:

The best part of the lecture was the question and answer session after the structured presentation. I didn’t take great notes on that part, and since the lecture was back on April 3rd, my memory is not good enough to flesh out the discussion. Highlights included: Citarella arguing that federal sentencing guidelines are frequently too ridgid and pointing out that in the case of Matthew Keys we should strongly consider the difference between what the end result of his giving out passwords was with what it could have been in understanding it’s treatment in the courts; Hassan building on his early talk of current cases and mentioning that 95% of cases end in pleas, largely because of the power that prosecutors have in their discretion regarding charges and requests; and O’Neill stating that the freedom to assemble is really the freedom to assemble anonymously and that it is the anonymity is key to the power of the freedom to assemble. Other items of discussion including emergent 4th and 5th Amendment issues as well an time-place-manner restrictions on in-person protests and how that translates into online activism.

Book Review: Epic Win for Anonymous

One of my favorite things about living in New York City is making use of the local libraries. The networking and proximity of libraries gives uses access to an entire borough worth of books to pick up and drop off at a local branch. It’s like interlibrary loan, but integrated in to standard library use. I recently made use of this by getting to pick up a copy of Cole Stryker’s Epic Win for Anonymous: an Online Army Conquers the Media, published by Overlook Press.

Epic Win for Anonymous covers the rise of Anonymous (big-A) and the history of anonymous (little-a) in internet culture. When I sat down to write this review, I noticed that the subtitle on the cover is an Online Army Conquers the Media, but inside the book, the subtitle is How 4chan’s Army Conquered the Web, a far more accurate description of it’s content. This is apparently only true for the paperback version. The hardcover appears to reference 4chan throughout. This difference and the publisher’s perceived need to change the title echoes what I feel public conceptions frequently miss when attempting to understand what has come to be known as “internet culture.”

My take on the book is that Stryker does come from this culture and is a good guide. He’s attempting to contextualize a weird, self-selecting youth culture (though participants do range in age). It lays out the social context of sites like 4chan, SomethingAwful, and Rotten; as well as Usenet, WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), and BBS, which came the generations before. He does a good job explaining the user experiences and information flows in the different communities and what that means for the culture that is fostered the different environments. He also looks at the roll of external factors in shaping internal community dynamics.

Chapters 1 (Memes: Shared Nuggets of Cultural Currency), 6 (The Meme Industry), and 7 (The Meme Life Cycle) present a coherent summary of the phenomenon of internet memes and their place in human history as a constant tendency lit up by the enabling hand of new technologies. With this, and the rest of the book, Stryker balances descriptions of individual incidents or memes with explanations of broad processes. He succeeds in using details to illuminate without bogging down. It helps that large parts of what he covers are, well, for the lulz.

This book features an impressive 11-page bibliography. I plan on making a photocopy for future reading list reference. It alone would have made this book worthwhile. I’m looking forward to reading Stryker’s second book, Hacking the Future: Privacy, Identity, and Anonymity on the Web. I don’t think that I liked this book as much as I have liked what Biella Coleman has said on similar topics, though I think it’s important to recognize that Sryker’s book has mostly avoided academic terminology and is more approachable without the background knowledge that Coleman’s require for full understanding. Epic Win is epic win as a first look beyond news stories on the deep background of Anonymous, including AnonOps and LulzSec, and why that background is important for making sense of current discussions on the future of internet communication, especially when it comes to identities, communities, security, fear, and privacy.

See also:

Book Review: Murder in the Collective

Last summer, a friend’s mom gave me a copy of Murder in the Collective, by Barbara Wilson, after I was venting about interpersonal difficulties in a political collective. She and her fellow collective house members left around their house back in the 1980’s to remind one person living there that he might not want to temp fate.

The story was engaging. The characters were believable, reminding me of people I have met. The premise is that there’s a mixed-gender printing coop and a lesbian-only type setting coop that are somewhat at odds but may be about to merge. There are contentious meetings, larger movement conflicts, and complicated inter-person dynamics as the background to a murder mystery solved by Pam Nilsen, graduate student-come-collective member-come-amateur detective. The ending was slightly rushed, but creative and surprising. The book recognizes and skillfully plays with movement dynamics, interpersonal dynamics, and conflicts along the lines of gender, class, race, sexual orientation, and family background.

The story opens up beautifully. I keep finding myself unable to say more about the book because I don’t want to spoil any of the surprises. There’s big-p-politcs and little-p-politics, the mundane mixed with geopolitical intrigue, and a villain who confirms our deepest fears without painting the future as hopeless. It isn’t the best murder mystery I’ve ever read, but I’ll definitely be passing the book on my pulpy mystery loving, social justice focused friends with a hearty recommendation.

Book Review: The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad

In addition to the high shock value name and reference to knitting, Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan’s The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad caught my eye from it arrived from PM Press because of the blurb on the back that referred to it as “Monty Python meets the SCUM Manifesto.” It did not disappoint.

The cover is brilliant. It has a knit background with a clothing label with the authors’ names at the bottom and most of the cover taken up by a shield shaped patch with “the knitting circle rapist annihilation squad” and a a ball of yarn with two knitting needles sticking through it and daintily dripping a single drop of blood. Copies of the patch are available from derickjensen.org and stephaniemcmillan.org.

The plot is surprisingly substantial and full of endearing and plucky characters. The roast of television news anchors is priceless. Men Against Women Against Rape (MAWAR), a parody of men’s rights and Christian masculinity groups, is spot-on. I was impressed by smooth prose and the perfect lambasting of everything from the USDA and Department of the Interior to manarchists and a PETA-like animal rights organization cleverly named “PATE.”

Unfortunately, like many otherwise good, pop-culture friendly versions of rape culture feminism, this book leaves much to be desired in regard to recognizing the depth of race and class’s effects of societal structures. While I enjoyed the light-hearted, sardonic narrative about the obliteration of rape, I couldn’t help but think that even if rape disappeared, there are many people, including many, many women, who would still face some serious every day barriers to the relaxed, post-exploitation life this book hopes for. Arguably, if one’s disbelief is suspended enough to believe that killing rapists with knitting needles will actually end rape quickly and without the knitting needle wielders getting caught, then enough disbelief has been suspended enough to accept that racism and class also have been solved. There were a few spots throughout the book that indicated that in the vision of a post-rape society, or at least the people who are moving us rapidly towards a post-rape society, did not shed some fairly major hang ups regarding gender and social norms. I was also disappointed by the lack of representations of trans* people and non-hetero relationships. In spite of that, this book was hilarious and definitely a good option of funny fluff that mostly hits the nail on the head.

Perfect vision of a post-rape world this is not, but wonderful summer beach reading this is. I suspect that title alone will also do wonders for repelling people one might not want to engage with at the beach or on the subway.

Friends of PM Press, March 2013 Edition

Today I got:

  • Between Torture and Resistance, by Oscar López Rivera
  • Earth at Risk: Building a a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet, Edited by Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith, which is a series of interviews with a pretty impressive group of people
  • Bicycle! a Repair and Maintenance Manifesto, 2nd Edition, by Sam Tracy

Friends of PM Press: great way to support a serious reading habit on a budget.

Book Review: Accompanying

Part history, part call to reflection, Staughton Lynd’s Accompanying: Pathways to Social Change is a compelling but brief argument for a framework of activism that consciously unites activists and people in affected communities as compatriots. After a brief introduction outlining Staughton and his wife Alice’s background as lawyers and activists, the book is divided into sections labeled “Organizing,” covering the relatively top-down, Saul Alinsky-influenced version of organizing that reached dominance in the 1960’s, and “Accompaniment,” detailing an alternative, longer-lasting, more egalitarian method of creating change.

Beautifully, in the introduction Staughton specifically writes that accompaniment is not “pandering” to the desires of the community and that activists shouldn’t unquestioningly move exclusively in the direction indicated by the effected community—rather that accompaniment means recognizing both the outside activist and the person from the community as experts. The beauty of this dynamic is that to move forward both much seek to understand the other. Neither is in control, rather they are moving together and both must be active participants in shaping the future. This is the heart of how accomanying works and how it not only creates lasting, stable change, but builds capacity for the long-term.

The “Accompaniment” section includes chapters on draft counseling during the Vietnam War, working with prisoners to fight solitary confinement, the Occupy movement, and a section on Oscar Romero, Archbishop of El Salvador during the 1979 military coup with strong ties to the liberation theology movement. The brief biography of Romero is both heartbreaking and heartbreakingly beautiful. Even already having read some about him and the liberation theology movement, I teared up on the bus while reading it. The rest of the section is hopeful, showing not only that we can create social change in better ways that acknowledge and assert the humanity of all people, but that there are many of us who are already doing it.

Accompanying whetted my appetite. I wish that it included a deeper examination of an accompaniment approach to social change outside of the Western Hemisphere. All of the examples he gives prior to Occupy Wall Street are either explicitly Christian or are areas of social justice work heavily influenced by Friends and Catholic Workers. This begs the question of if accompaniment is the product of specific interpretations of Christianity or if there is even more that we might learn from looking at similar approaches to social justice from other traditions, or at the very least understanding the deep history of the approach within the Friends and left-wing Catholic traditions.

My only dislike of this book is that I want more. There are holes, ideas left incomplete that I am not sure that I would have been able to fill-in adequately without already knowing the history of left-pacifist social justice for the past 50 or so years. I wish that there was a similar book that I could hand someone without the same background that I have. The ideas in this book are absolutely useful and important to all of us who are working for social justice, regardless of how long we’ve been involved or how much we know of the movement outside of our own work. This is not a complete history or guide to accompaniment, this is a beautiful picture of what can be told through six short stories and an excellent reminder of what we should strive for in our work and in our lives.

 

See also:

Smith, Christian. 1991. The Emergence of Liberation Theology: Radical Religion and Social Movement Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Approachable, in-depth history of both liberation theology and the social movements around it in Latin America.

Ellacuria, Ignacio and Jon Sobruim. 1993. Mysterium Liberationis: Fundamental Concepts of Liberation Theology. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. Seriously meaty English translations of major theological writings of Liberation Theology. Orbis Books is a Catholic press that publishes a lot of amazing books showing how religion can foster reconciliation and peace.

Both are worth reading, though you may want help with Mysterium Liberationis if you don’t have a background in theology.

Kidder, Tracy. 2003. Mountains Beyond Mountains. New York: Random House. Paul Farmer and Partners in Health are specifically mentioned in the introduction and PIH is an excellent example of the philosophy of accompaniment in a large organization have substantial impact world-wide.

Book Review: Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind

February’s Friends of PM Press package arrived today. In celebration and to keep myself motivated to power through the amazing books, I’ve sat down and finally type up my response to Victoria Law and China Martens’ Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind. I read the whole book back in November and have been mulling over it since.

I was initially super excited about the book since the full title is Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements and Communities. It’s a collection of 51 short pieces by a range of activists divided up into seven chapters with titles like “What’s Gender, Race, and Class Got to Do with It?” and “Don’t Leave Anyone Behind.” There a few essays that stood out as actually focusing on concrete actions and suggestions, but the majority were too focused on individual experiences and written in an autobiographical narrative style to be to my liking and felt more like reading a zine than a handbook on organizing.

Of the zine-style pieces, the overwhelming tone was that non-parents need to do all the child- and family- friendly organizing. The main desire was really good childcare at events and meetings. I live in NYC, which definitely sharpened my response. Space is hard to get, especially accessible space, and there is so much more work than organizer hours. While organizers everywhere have a tendency to over-extend themselves, it’s more acute here. I’m a lot more willing to redirect time and energy to a specific area if I know that I count on the people who are raising the issue working with me as a partner instead of dropping it at my feel with what amounts to a “you’re a bad comrade if you don’t do all this work for me with any cooperation on my part.” Surviving as an activist is hard even if one doesn’t have children, which the entitled tone of many of the pieces forget. Over and over, the authors writing as parents implied that there was no legitimate reason for objecting to how they or their children behaved in activists spaces in ways that felt self-centered at best but more often than not downright ableist. My main snark was that while I don’t want to leave my friends behind, I would like to leave some of those jerk-faces behind. As a whole, the book felt more like a collection of slightly grumpy rants about negative experiences as parents in radical spaces than an overview of how we can build stronger, more inclusive communities that have space for children and people with children.

There were a few pieces that stood out as exceptional. Rozalinda Borcila’s La Casita is Ours! A Conversation with Children in Struggle (pp 34-44) does an amazing job of illustrating how children can be active participants in a political struggle and includes a list of seven big take away lessons.  Organizing within an Anarcha-Feminst Childrearing Collective, by CRAP! Collective (Child Rearing Against Patriarchy), (pp111-115), provides clear suggestions on how to organize a family/ child block for a march in a responsible way. Babyproofing for Punks, by Clayton Dewey, (pp 133-135) is a great guide both for houses and less-finished convergence spaces that acknowledges that “perfect” isn’t always attainable and problematizes the idea of a “safe space.” Stacy Milbern’s two and a half page Accessibility (pp 205-207) is a short almost-check list of some accessibility features for events or spaces and shows how so much of the features that have been brought up previously in the book are not just applicable for children and parents.

The tension between Amariah Love/ Kelli’s Childcare Collective of Atlanta’s Radical Childcare Start-Up Notes (pp144-151) and Jennifer Silverman’s Equal Access: Community Childcare for Special Needs (pp180-183) best summarize my frustration with many of the expectations implicit in other writings. Much of my family, both chosen and biological, are educators who work with children professionally. They are seriously skilled in what they do. Being a teacher, childcare provider, or nanny is a vocation. Some of them have multiple high level degrees. Some of them are voraciously self-taught. All of them are amazing and dedicated. And all of them work in a field that is severely undervalued by capitalist society. I can’t in good conscience ask them to provide more of their undercompensated, underacknolwedged labor for free and I won’t lie to my community and myself that some random person can provide the quality childcare that the parents in this book are asking for. Given the centrality of gender and class in this book, why has this tension been left largely unaddressed? Why isn’t there more meaty mention of how undervalued caring is as a whole and tying that together?

I wouldn’t reread this book, though I might go back to a few of the pieces for reference. I don’t read autobiographic zines because I almost never enjoy them. Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind may be a good compilation of that style of writing, but it’s not the concrete guide that the subtitle implies. The book does a noteworthy job on including a wide range of perspectives and fearlessly putting forward race and class as absolutely central to understanding parenthood in our communities. There are writings by women, trans*/ gender non-conforming folk and men, both as parents and non-parent activists. Queerness and explicitly queer spaces are integrated into the book. The one demographic type hole I noticed is that most of the writings are about recent organizing. A lot of the people involved in the women’s peace/ anti-nuclear movement of the 1970’s and 1980’s are and were parents. Childcare collectives have been sprouting up since the 1960’s. I would have liked to get some sense of the historical arch of how we make movements accessible to children and parents. It isn’t liked radicals only started having kids in the past few years. I was also somewhat surprised that there weren’t any pieces written from a grandparent’s perspective. I have no doubt that this book is a decent starting place for young activists from white, middle-class backgrounds who have done most or all of their organizing in the context of college, but if this is the best guide on making movements and communities welcoming to children and parents out there, we’re all in trouble.

In the spirit of Reading Rainbow (“don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself”): dontleaveyourfriendsbehind.blogspot.com (the website for the book).