Books, Films, Music & More by Friends – October 2022

This installment of “Book by Friends” begins with four new memoirs by longtime friends of mine and takes off from there:

Jon Melrod’s Fighting Times: Organizing on the Front Lines of the Class War is both deeply personal and astutely political… this eloquent memoir “recounts a thirteen-year journey to harness working-class militancy and jump start a revolution on the shop floor of American Motors…”

Daring to Struggle, Daring to Win: Five Decades of Resistance in Chicago’s Uptown Community, by Helen Shiller, tells the compelling story of a radical organizer turned independent city council member in a city notorious for the bitterness of its political battles.

Frank Emspak’s memoir, Troublemaker: Saying No to Power, is the autobiography of a unique figure within the U.S. left from the 1950s through the first decades of the 21st century, connecting “Old Left” and “New Left” and industrial union activism to broad working class education. 

Barbara Dane sang in union halls and at factory gates in World War II-era Detroit and later as a rising star performed with musicians from Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan. She carried her politics with her the entire time, performing at civil rights and peace demonstration across the country and from post-revolutionary Cuba to wartime Vietnam. Her memoir, This Bell Still Rings: My Life of Defiance and Song, tells her story in her own adventurous voice.

Organize, Fight, Win: Black Communist Women’s Political Writing, edited by Charisse Burden-Stelly and Jodi Dean, is a first of its kind collection that “returns the voices of Black women Communists to their rightful place in histories of labor, race, and gender in the 20th century.” Don’t miss the selections by Dorothy Burnham!

By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners is the new book by Margaret Burnham, Dorothy’s daughter. “A paradigm-shifting investigation of Jim Crow–era violence, the legal apparatus that sustained it, and its enduring legacy.”  

Meredith Tax’s landmark volume, The Rising of the Women: Feminist Solidarity and Class Conflict, 1880-1917, first published in 1980, was re-released this year. Sadly Meredith died last month, her many contributions were noted in this New York Times obituary.

Clive Knowles came from an impoverished family in Boston with Nova Scotian coal mining roots, became a Unitarian minister, resigned to become a labor organizer in the heyday of the CIO and served three years in the Merchant Marines aboard ship on the dangerous Atlantic runs during World War II. His memoir Passing Through: A Yankee Radical’s Journey tells his story.

Artist Joe Sances drew on C.L. R. James’ idea that Moby-Dick is a metaphor for capitalism in creating his unique life-sized mural, Or, the Whale. Tim Drescher’s remarkable ‘Catalogue Key’ to the work, a guide to both art and politics, can be viewed here.

A strong undercurrent of social justice and liberalism runs through South Asian communities, informed by a long history of anti-racist and social justice organizing…It’s this dissident diaspora consciousness that Brooklyn-based musician Sonny Singh taps into in his debut solo album Chardi Kala, a collection of songs that resists easy categorization, blending Sikh kirtan and gurbani with sounds taken from Punjabi folk, jazz, alt-rock, reggae and even the quintessential Indian wedding brass band.”

In Standing Up: Tales of Struggle Ellen Bravo and Larry Miller have taken inspiration from five decades of organizing to craft a novel about the people who clean bloody hospital sheets, forge parts for sewer pipes, arrange flights or process checks, and make “good trouble,” all while caring for kids, holding relationships together, and wrestling with multiple forms of oppression.

Featuring a racially diverse, multigenerational and multigendered cast of characters, Kate Raphael’s latest novel, The Midwife’s In Town, presents a chilling but inspiring picture of what a post-Roe United States might look like. Also see Kate’s contribution to Art in the Time of Unbearable Crisis, a sometimes comforting, sometimes devastating, but universally relatable collection of prose, poetry, and art about living through difficult times like these.

William I. Robinson’s latest book is provocatively titled Can Global Capitalism Endure? It’s a big picture study of the crisis of capitalism and the battle for the future of humanity.

Abolition Democracy: Essays Towards Liberation gathers Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s writings on abolition from over three decades of experience and leadership as theorist, researcher, and organizer. The volume draws on the lessons of grassroots organizing,  and offers new ways of thinking about mass incarceration and racist violence.

Through memoir, research, painting, and poetry, Beth Ching’s Next 10 Exists: Reflections on Race and Resilience in Vallejo, California takes readers on a thought-provoking journey through the author’s home town. How can we make structural change and practice the art of healing?

More Than a Wall/Mas Que un Muro is the fruit of photojournalist David Bacon’s more than three decades covering communities and social movements on both sides of the border. With compelling photographs and bilingual text, the volume makes vivid the author’s assertion that the wall “is not just geography, or a wall, or a river. It is a passage of fire.”

Robert Gumpert’s book Division Street is a story of living on hard streets, amid staggering wealth and empty promises, told through photographs, found text, and first-person narratives.

Turning to film, Jordan Flaherty served as producer for the documentary Powerlands, directed by Ivey Camille Manybeads Tso: ”A young Navajo filmmaker investigates displacement of Indigenous people and devastation of the environment caused by the same chemical companies that have exploited the land where she was born.”

The COVID-19 crisis inside California prisons has claimed the lives of over 200 incarcerated people, and infected tens of thousands more. Adamu Chan’s film What These Walls Won’t Hold tracks the origins of COVID-19 inside the State prison system and the work of a coalition, led by currently and formerly incarcerated people, that brought an abolitionist framework to a life or death situation. 

On the Divide, directed by Maya Cueva, follows the story of three Latinx people living in McAllen, Texas who, despite their views, are connected by the most unexpected of places: the last abortion clinic on the U.S./Mexico border. As threats to their clinic and their personal safety mount, the three of them are forced to make decisions they never could have imagined.

The Wisconsin TA Strike is the story of the 1970 strike that launched the first graduate student employee union in the country, the union that has continued to represent Wisconsin TA’s for over 50 years. One of the original 1970 filmmakers, Jim Russell, has re-edited the documentary, now available on DVD.

In Songs of Slavery and Emancipation Mat Callahan presents recently discovered songs composed by enslaved people explicitly calling for resistance to slavery, some originating as early as 1784 and others as late as the Civil War, as well as long-lost songs of the abolitionist movement. The book, which includes full song lyrics, can be ordered from here and the accompanying CD here.

.Mariana McDonald’s poem The Avocado is published in Issue No. 6 of Clerestory Magazine.

The new collection, Contemporary Asian American Activism: Building Movements for Liberation, features the voices of grassroots activists in a host of movements, from prison abolition, global anti-imperialism and immigrant rights to affordable housing, environmental justice, labor struggles and more. Alex T. Tom, Pam Tau Lee and Soya Jung are among the contributors brought together by editors Dine C. Fujino and Robyn Magalit Rodriguez.

Luke Elliott-Negri is one of seven co-authors of the new volume Gains and Losses: How Protesters Win and Lose. The book looks inside six different cases from three continents and different regime types to draw out lessons and warnings to fighters for deep-going change.

Mitchel Cohen is both editor and contributor to The Fight Against Monsanto’s Roundup: The Politics of Pesticides – an updated paperback edition of the hard cover volume published in 2019, with a foreword by Vandana Shiva.