Books by Friends – August 2011

Family and friends,

Maybe it’s because of how challenging the political and cultural landscape is these days. Or maybe I’m just fortunate to know a lot of people who are engaging the world of ideas as well as the realms of organizing, civic engagement and community building. But whatever the reason, the list below is the longest and most varied since I started publicizing “Books by Friends” in 2007. (You can find all seven earlier “Books by Friends” lists on the Revolution in the Air website, which also contains new items related to that book, including an interview on the legacy of 1970s party-building efforts and several new reviews.)

Few of the books below get publicity from the mainstream media or their corporate sponsors. So especially at a time when freedom of information is under fierce attack (Support Bradley Manning!), please consider pitching in to spread the word about these valuable resources for political activists, the intellectually curious and all people of conscience.

Happy reading!


In this era of the Arab Spring, it seems fitting to kick off with a volume that challenges “simplistic and long-held assumptions about gender, sexuality, and commitments to feminism and justice-centered struggles” in the Arab World. The new collection Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence, and Belonging, edited by Rabab Abdulhadi, Evelyn Alsultany and Nadine Naber, tackles themes as diverse as the intersections between gender, sexuality, Orientalism, racism, Islamophobia, Zionism and the restoration of Arab Jews to Arab American histories.

Also looking at the feminist dimensions of a vital social movement is Maylei Blackwell’s ¡Chicana Power!: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement. Maylei’s book draws on both individual oral histories and archival research to analyze how Chicana feminism developed and produced “new forms of racial consciousness, gender awareness, and political identities.”

My own home state of Wisconsin is the site of one of the most promising progressive upsurges in the U.S. this year. For some great images from that fight – more than 65 color photos – and explanatory text, check out Barbara Miner’s on-the-spot book, This is What Democracy Looks Like.

Heightening resistance to austerity and injustice across the globe has led to a new outpouring of discussion about organizing strategies. Three new books by friends who have rich organizing experience tackle these issues from different vantage points; all offer provocative ideas for the volatile times ahead:

From Carl Davidson: New Paths to Socialism: Essays on the Mondragon Cooperatives in Spain, the Solidarity and Green Economies, and their meaning for both Marxism and Socialism today.

From Eric Mann: Playbook for Progressives: 16 Qualities of the Successful Organizer.

From Josh Russell: Organizing Cools the Planet: Tools and Reflections to Navigate the Climate Crisis, co-authored by Hilary Moore.

Speaking of navigating the climate crisis, a pioneering new policy paper by Al Weinrub offers a compelling direction for the country’s most populous state and is crucial background for the work of the Local Clean Energy Alliance: Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California.

Also concerning California – or at least the northern part of it – several friends are contributors to the new anthology Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-78. There’s Jason Ferreira’s essay “With the Soul of a Human Rainbow” looking at “Los Siete, Black Panthers and Third Worldism”; Tim Drescher’s “Lost Murals of the Seventies”; Estella Habal’s “Filipino Americans in the Decade of the International Hotel”; Deborah Gerson’s “Making Sexism Visible: Private Troubles Made Public”; and Lincoln Cushing’s “San Francisco Bay Area Posters: 1968-1978.”

Perhaps a break for fiction, poetry or music is in order for both this list and your fall reading?

Then check out Ron Jacob’s new noir novel The Co-Conspirator’s Tale (“There are crimes committed by the police in the name of the law. Excess in the name of revolution…”) Or Joe Navarro’s poetry in the anthologies Remembering: Poems Read at Willow Glen Books and La Lunada: An Anthology celebrating sixty full moons of spoken-word poetry at Galería de la Raza 2004-2010. Or give a listen to Nora Roman and the Border Busters’ new CD I Belong to No Man’s State. And though it is a book, this one may be in the same look-at-things-from-a-different-angle vein: Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land, due out in September, by Paul Buhle and Harvey Pekar.

Rachel Jackson, who I know will author a powerful book of her own someday, did the editing work on the eye-opening story of a North African Berber’s experience with discrimination, torture – and also friendship and survival: Donkey Heart, Monkey Mind by Djaffar Chetouane.

Take a look also at Disrupting Homelessness: Alternative Christian Approaches, a new volume from Laura Stivers, a veteran of the Just Economics collective.  One of the many legacies of struggle we have to draw on today comes from the Rainbow Coalitions built in Chicago and other cities in the late 1960s involving the Black Panthers, Young Lords and groups of poor whites. If you want to learn more about them, check out new volume by James Tracy and Amy Sonnie, Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times, with an introduction by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.

Martin Duberman’s latest book, A Saving Remnant, tells the story of the “radical lives” of my friend Dave McReynolds and Barbara Deming, both veteran fighters for peace.

For a history of the Movement for a New Society, a radical pacifist organization active in the 1970s and 80s, check out Andy Cornell’s Oppose and Propose. For a vivid look at what the other side was doing to try to repress the radical movements of the 60s and after – revolutionary organizations in communities of color first and foremost – the video documentary COINTELPRO 101 from The Freedom Archives is a must-see. Looking back further into revolutionary history is Bill Pelz’s accessible Karl Marx: A World to Win.

History is still with us: in numerous respects we are still fighting the Civil War. A recent detailed study of the right-wing concluded that “Contradicting the mainstream media narrative that the Tea Party is a new populist movement that formed spontaneously in reaction to government bailouts or the Obama administration, the facts show that the Tea Party in Congress is merely the familiar old neo-Confederate Southern right under a new label.” So perhaps it’s an appropriate moment to review some of the history of that war, and the ways that post-Civil War politics sanitized the Confederate rebellion so that so many people today think of it as a grand old cause instead of a defense of slavery and racism. A good place to start would be with Nina Silber‘s books or articles, for example The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900.

One book that has gotten large-scale mainstream publicity is Manning Marable’s Malcom X: A Life of Reinvention. Most of you already have this on your radar screens if you haven’t already devoured every page and entered into the already widespread discussion of it. But no list of friends’ books this year would be complete without mention of it – and of the loss our movements and communities feel from Manning’s untimely death.

Amid loss there is always hope. In that spirit I will close by recommending something that is not a book, but a remarkable essay by Roger Burbach: Mortality and the Utopian Quest. More than twenty years ago, Roger suffered a back injury in Nicaragua that put him in a wheelchair. Then in 2004 he was diagnosed with an incurable blood cancer and doctors told him he had only three to five years to live. But Roger is still fighting the good fight, and here is the final paragraph of his inspiring article:

“… despite a difficult convalescence, I was given a new future with the stem cell transplant. Doctors tell me I can look forward to a “good quality of life” for another couple of years or so, or even conceivably a cure. My quest for utopia continues. I want to participate as long as possible in the shaping of our world. I cannot join the camp of the pessimists who believe that the world is headed for disaster, perhaps even an apocalyptic ending. The global battle against the ‘dark side’ will be complicated and difficult, but the human species over the millennia has displayed amazing resilience and creativity, even in the twentieth century when we experienced two world wars, a global economic depression, a holocaust and the unleashing of nuclear power. The future is completely unpredictable, but it belongs to those who persevere and dare to struggle.”

Amen, Roger.

May Peace Be With You All.