All the books I read in 2013, with one sentence reviews
I kept a list of all the books I read in 2013 (and I’ve started again for this year). I’ve decided my New Year’s resolution is to write more about the books I read, as I read them. So… get ready for more posts, I guess.
East of Eden - John Steinbeck
On a second reading, even more compelling as a study of place and the way we pass on violence.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Alexander Solzenitzen
Also a second reading, still startling and powerful in opening the dark heart of the human condition.
Pillar of Fire - Taylor Branch
The second book in a crucial history of MLK that tells some (but notably not all) of the story of this period of the civil rights movement.
Villa Incognito - Tom Robbins
Tom Robbins is a goofball and this is a acceptable novel he wrote.
Quiet: the Power of Introverts - Susan Cain
Totally lacking in class/race/etc. analysis, but reveals some important things about the way that brains work.
At Canaan’s Edge - Taylor Branch
Finishing out the Branch Trilogy — basically, you should make the time to read these.
The Red Tent - Anita Dimant
Painfully beautiful and subversive retelling of parts of the Bible, with actual voice for women.
White Teeth - Zadie Smith
I let this sit on my shelf unread for way too long, and when I finally got around to it I was blown away.
A Field Guide to Getting Lost - Rebecca Solnit
Not adequate words for how great this one is: I’ve already given away two copies since my first reading.
Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center - bell hooks
Re-reading for the first time in many years, and re-acquainted with hooks’ power to clearly and powerfully define thorny issues in a way that is absolutely necessary.
All About Love - bell hooks
bell hooks puts love at the center of personal health and movement building, and I hope that more people find her work at the center of their practice.
The Road Less Traveled - M. Scott Peck
I read this because hooks uses it as a central definition in the above book, and it was rewarding in ways I never expected — it’s clear why it’s a classic.
The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison
I can’t recall how I ended up with Toni Morrison’s first book in my possession, but I’m quite glad I did because it’s poetic and painful in all the best ways.
Sula - Toni Morrison
Perhaps my least favorite book of hers, but worth reading if it’s around.
Further Along the Road Less Traveled - M. Scott Peck
Enjoyed the first book enough to pick up another; more elaborations and some clarifications of the first book.
Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson
Re-read this sci-fi classic around the time of the government shutdown and it gave me unique kinds of chills.
The Dance of Deception - Harriet Lerner
Another recommendation of hooks’, I took less from this than Peck, without being sure of what I was expecting.
The Wisdom of No Escape - Pema Chodron
Finally read after long-ago given advice, I found myself resisting much about this book while reading it, but going back for quotes and re-reads of sections later.
The World Split Open - Ruth Rosen
A history of the women’s movement, it felt tangibly incomplete while reading it — best as a history of the first and second ‘waves’, but stumbles when getting into post-70s territory, or intersectional critiques.
2001: A Space Odyssey - Arthur C. Clarke
This is just a classic.
2010: Odyssey Two - Arthur C. Clarke
Sequel to a classic, and the decline is clear.
Sweet Land of Liberty - Thomas Sugrue
Probably the best movement history I’ve yet read, it examines a broader historical scope than any other book about the civil rights movement I’ve read, with essential insights about movement behavior and social constructions of racial power. So good I’m breaking my own rule and giving it a second sentence to say you should definitely read this book.
Now Wait for Next Year - Phillip K. Dick
Was given this a while back — the first PKD I’ve read, it took a while to draw me in, but once it did I was very taken with his boldness and complexity here.
Jesus’ Son - Dennis Johnson
I did not care for Johnson’s ‘dudes rebelling and dropping out’ themes or his heavyhanded language.
The Best and the Brightest - David Halberstam
Caustic, detailed, if occasionally overwrought examination of how the US escalated the war in Vietnam, written from when we were still in it.
The Will to Change - bell hooks
I was reading this over the New Year, and it’s a crucial addendum to About Love, written with Men in mind — while it’s not as far-reaching or clear theoretically as the earlier book, it’s absolutely worth reading for men I know.
What is the climate movement and why do we need one?
The climate movement is experiencing some growing pains.
The number of people engaged in social justice struggles with a climate-related dimension has grown substantially lately, and it’s understandable that there will be disagreements about how new organizations and campaigns relate to each other, the degree to which they’re aligned, and how they express leadership.
I think one reason for some of these growing pains — certainly not all — is a theoretical hole at the center of our work: it feels like people don’t have a clear idea about what the climate movement actually is. For me, the climate movement is a powerful lever to change the slope of the playing field of many other struggles, and it’s my goal here to explain what that could look like.
A prime point of conflict has been how to navigate the intersections of climate work with other struggles. An intersectional climate movement is a potentially revolutionary force, but intersectional work needs to be done in a way that is respectful of everyone’s time (ie, connects with struggles where collaboration is possible/fruitful), and in a way that doesn’t simply reduce climate change to one issue on a list of grievances.
A few examples, and the kinds of questions that I’d like to answer — none meant to single out any project or campaign.
For instance, Power Shift, 2013. What does it mean to bring a group like the Dream Defenders to a space like Power Shift? They are both two eminently necessary projects, but how do they really intersect, pragmatically, beyond the time at the podium? And can both be stronger for it?
Another example: The Sierra Club’s support for comprehensive immigration reform. What role can an environmental organization really play in ending the heartbreak of America’s immigration system tearing families apart — as an environmental (or climate justice) organization? Does it strengthen either to make immigration rallies another thing that Sierra Club volunteers and staff turn out to, or is there more to be done?
As a movement that understands the intersectionality of climate change, we need to figure out what kinds of cross-movement collaboration are most effective, respectful and powerful, and that starts by clarifying what we’re doing and why.
To those ends, I’m going to do my best to lay out what I think the climate movement is, and why the world needs one. This is my attempt to offer on definition and analysis that I think others might find useful, but I don’t see it as in any way authoritative — my hope is to challenge and clarify these thoughts in dialog with others, but I recognize the need for a starting point for that discussion.
What is the climate movement?
For me, the climate movement is a network of organizations that fight for political solutions to address the root causes of human-induced climate change, and its impacts.
To break it down a bit more:
It’s a network, with multiple kinds of leadership and practices.
It’s made up of organizations, which is to say people affiliated around common purposes and goals.
It’s fighting for political solutions — seeking to change or create lasting institutions to restructure society and the economy.
It’s addressing the root causes of climate change, which to me means understanding that climate change is a product of multiple kinds of institutions, and not purely reducible to a single sector or set of actors.
It’s addressing the impacts of climate change, aligning itself with the people who are already impacted by the changing climate, who know best the need for political change, and who have the strongest ethical standpoint to challenge existing systems.
A few additions and clarifications that I think are necessary:
To be effective in all the ways it can be, the climate movement must be driven by a theoretical understanding of the climate system that connects the multifaceted nature of climate impacts, and a broad conception of its root causes. We have to push ourselves to not just think of climate change as a product of the fossil fuel industry, but also social systems that make using carbon fuels necessary and profitable. That means challenging consumption/transit patterns, agriculture, immigration systems, and a multitude of other dimensions to the problem of greenhouse gases.
It also means confronting the oppressive systems that are what really turn climate change into climate disaster: imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, in the words of bell hooks, which makes the poor, people of color, Indigenous communities and non-males particularly vulnerable to climate and environmental disaster.
Also: I think the climate movement owes a great debt to, but needs to distinguish itself somewhat from the environmental movement. Environmentalists were some of the first to see the gathering storm of climate change, and provide a global analysis that revealed the character of the crisis, and these insights will continue to be necessary as we move towards solutions.
However, to build the intersectional movement I think is needed, it seems important to say that the climate movement is in essence a movement to confront the largest possible human rights violation imaginable, which is not strictly an environmental question: we are wrestling with the destabilization of the conditions for life on earth in such a way that will most directly harm the poorest and most vulnerable, by the billions.
In that sense, the climate movement owes particular debt to, and needs to collaborate with, the environmental justice movement, which has long struggled against human rights violations at the hands of the same polluters who threaten the entire climate. This is the root of the call for climate justice, and the lessons already learned in decades of struggle need to be adopted with appropriate humility.
Why we need a climate movement.
Knowing all this, why does the world need a climate movement now, when there are so many things to confront as a global justice movement?
My answer is that we need a climate movement because of the many other things that need fixing, not despite them. Climate change is an inherently intersectional challenge with unique complexity and uniquely global characteristics, and in building political solutions to it, it’s an opportunity to upend a variety of oppressive systems at once.
Here’s an explanation that helped clarify this for me. The words “climate” and “incline” share a common root:
From Ancient Greek κλίμα (klima, “region, zone, originally slope”), from κλίνω (klinō, “I slope, incline”). (Wiktionary)
which led me to the realization that the climate is in an important sense the incline of the field that social justice struggles play on.
Right now the changing climate — with its disasters, displacement and hunger — is tilting the playing field against multiple struggles for justice, and it is the task of the climate movement to change the tilt of the field back towards a direction that will advance all of those struggles at once.
(In this formulation, it’s almost wrong to use the term ‘intersections,’ but on the other hand, I’m going to keep using the term because I think we need to both grapple with the multifaceted nature of struggles impacted by climate change while simultaneously addressing the specificity of the climate crisis.)
Many other struggles can’t win on a playing field sloped against them, and addressing climate change is a chance to change the conditions of the struggles, not just their alignment. Climate change is taking the ground out from underneath other justice movements (sometimes literally), and expanding the conditions of violence that surround them.
For instance, the work to end sweatshop labor is undermined by displacement and forced urbanization of millions of people in climate vulnerable countries, where climate change can become a form of large-scale dispossession.
Or, the work of international peace has been threatened by a wave of conflict brought on by the rapid rise in grain prices over 2010-2012 as drought has decimated crops across breadbasket regions in the US and Russia.
But to change the incline of the field, we need to tackle the political and technical complexity of the climate change problem in a way that requires people dedicated to addressing it specifically, and not merely as a laundry list of social justice struggles. It requires a globally coordinated movement that can push for real solutions across different national situations, restructuring society and economies — and on a harrowingly short timeframe, to boot.
There is an actual and real deadline to confront the climate crisis, and it’s a moment we must seize to help turn around so many connected struggle.
The ‘slope’ metaphor breaks down a bit at the edges, I must admit. Building effective climate solutions will require deliberate, humble collaboration with other movements and organizations, and not acting as if the climate movement is doing other struggles a favor by changing the conditions around their work. Humility must be a primary order of any collaboration the movement embarks on.
The opportunity contained within the crisis calls for dedicated political organizing around climate, as such. Simply put, social justice movements have never had such a powerful rhetorical position that so compellingly challenges right wing, neoliberal market ideology, and we must press the advantage as far as we can take it.
There is nothing to be gained by leaving our friends struggling around issues impacted by climate change (from immigration, to food justice, to housing, to transportation, etc. etc.) to confront the changing climate solely within their campaigns. Pushing for a climate solutions as a climate movement that understands its intersections brings all these issues onto new, yet higher ground.
In New York, for instance, I find myself talking about a handful of social justice issues that have long shaped the city when talking about climate.
For one, adequately pricing the cost of fossil fuel transportation (via congestion pricing for instance) could fund an expansion of the transit system and make MetroCards free. Also, the only way to make the metro area actually sustainable involves increasing the density of the inner city in a way that will require building much more affordable housing in neighborhoods that have rapidly gentrified in the past decade. Weather-proofing the city will require listening to environmental justice leaders who have long called for cleaning up waterfront industries that poison their communities.
A changing climate reveals the bankruptcy of neoliberal market ideology, and calls for solutions that relocalize our economies, open our cities to all, fix a broken agricultural system and revitalize the public sphere — all backed by the weight of scientific consensus and the (stated, at least) intentions of most of the world’s nation states. That’s a tool that must be taken up.
Climate change is a kind of challenge that no one has had to face before, and it requires a dedicated political movement with leadership with both insight and humility. My hope here is to provide clarity as to what I think we’re really saying when we talk about the climate movement, in the hopes of building it yet stronger.
Persuasion, conviction and change (slightly nerdy)
Another book I really recommend is Sweet Land of Liberty: the Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North, by James Sugrue. In addition to reviving a broad swath of movement history in the north, from the 1920s to the 1970s, Sugrue also draws out a few lessons about the character of mass movements.
One of the lessons from the book that I think is particularly insightful is that during the 50s-70s, changing public opinions on race had almost no impact on the fundamental indicators of racial justice — housing segregation, distribution of wealth, etc. In particular, despite historic numbers of white people saying that they wouldn’t mind having black folks as neighbors, or in their kids schools, essentially nothing really changed about either of those two realities.
This alone is a useful factoid that reveals a lot about the changing character of whiteness and racism in America, but I want to push it a bit further.
To me, this is a profound challenge to political communicators in social movements, indicating the need to shift our communication goals from persuasion to conviction.
Conventionally, the goal of public communication around politically charged issues concerns changing hearts and minds, and putting more people on ‘our’ side of an issue. Success is measured in public opinion polling, which is leveraged (in theory) to change the perceived interests of policymakers.
In contrast, where advances were made in the North during this period — changes in hiring practices of particular firms and governments, for instance — the results often came as the product of sustained pressure from community groups, usually involving some form of direct action. While persuading people that the cause was right was indeed one part of those efforts, the dam of inertia broke when people developed the conviction for bolder action.
In a tactical sense, I see a few implications of shifting from thinking only about persuasion to thinking about conviction.
First, as the left has been poked away from putting reason at the center of our persuasion strategies (at the behest of folks like George Lakoff and the like), there’s been an equal amount of emphasis placed on emotive messages. I think this is actually misguided. It applies a similar model of thinking about communication — disembodied message enters brain of message receiver, who has their opinions altered — simply placing faith into a new tool, poll-tested emotion, in the place of rational argument. It won’t cut the mustard.
Second, we need to develop more and better messengers, not just better messages. People follow people they can trust, and extensively tested language won’t do much good if not delivered by a trustworthy messenger who can connect culturally with an intended audience. Effective communication that convinces people to take risks and change behavior must be embodied in effective messengers.
Third, we need social proof that people are willing to take action to fix a given issue, not just numbers on a polling spreadsheet. Courage follows courage, and showing that people care with bold activism indicates that it’s ‘safe’ (or at least acceptable) for other people to join the fight. The more the merrier: it’s also possible that weak action with few people who are easily marginalized can discourage others from joining as well.
The process of persuading institutions to change will begin when the day to day reality of those institutions is disrupted — and that doesn’t take more people checking agree, it takes more people willing to check out of business as usual.
Turning the Tide: Connecting climate change and austerity to turn a global crisis into a progressive revolution
Adapted from speaking notes for a talk I gave at RootsCamp 2013, of the same title. Roughly replicates what I said before questions started.
“Climate change turbo-charges our existing demands and gives them a basis in hard science. It calls on us to be bold, to get ambitious, to win this time because we really cannot afford any more losses. It enflames our vision of a better world with existential urgency.” — Naomi Klein
The title of this is “Turning the Tide: Connecting climate change and austerity to turn a global crisis into a progressive revolution.” I put the word “revolution” in there deliberately, because I think it’s important to hold onto the enormity of the climate crisis. It is incredibly urgent, and incredibly dangerous, but for those reasons it is also potentially a greater opportunity. So, the basic direction of this talk will be to talk about the depth of the climate crisis and the opportunities that follow from that.
The rest of the talk will go like this: I’ll start with the analysis, then talk about an example of one kind of organizing that tried to embrace that analysis, then we’ll talk about other examples and use that to deepen our analysis.
Here’s a quick version of the analysis I use to understand how climate change and austerity are linked.
Climate change is not an issue. It’s a global crisis that impacts the fundamental conditions surrounding every major economic and transnational justice issue we care about. It’s the ultimate crisitunity.
There are two parts of the analysis. Here is the first half: many people in the left are already working on issues impacted by climate change, whether they know it or not.
From the sweatshops of Bangladesh, filled with people displaced by flooding in years of unprecedented storms
To the changing patterns of immigration bringing more people to the US as community support systems are destabilized by changing weather patters, as well as the immigrant families here who face incredible hurdles in rebuilding from disaster
To housing policies that put millions financially underwater, and simultaneously forced them into climate change-vulnerable communities, putting them literally underwater as well
To security and peace politics that have been upended by crises driven in many ways by rising food prices as more of the world’s agriculture is disrupted by climate change.
This is just my take — the list could go on. But this is my point: much of your work already IS climate work. Adding the climate lens and language to your work is potentially strategic — not least of all because it bridges a gap to connect our struggles as we confront a global crisis.
OK, that’s part one. The other half of the analysis is how the need for climate solutions — meaning, policies that reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero, begin to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, and adapt our communities to a changed climate — creates incredible leverage to advance the fights we’re already engaged in, described above.
Here’s the most important dimension of this part of the analysis, which I put in the title for a reason: adaptation and disaster response is the bottom line for the failure of austerity. Government spending to recover from Superstorm Sandy is some of the biggest government outlays since the 2009 stimulus, and it happened because the need was so glaringly obvious. Each disaster is a crisitunity to wallop the budget cut brigade in Washington.
It’s a linked struggle: on the one hand, climate analysis is a powerful tool to upend austerity thinking. Another way to put it is that we can’t stop the climate crisis without defeating austerity. Even Sandy money was cut back by the sequester.
Here are some other examples:
Density in cities will require reforming housing in a way that meets the needs of 100% of people 100% of the time. We can’t afford suburban housing lifestyle that underpins so much of our failed housing policy. Urban life is also a gateway, potentially, to a revived public sphere which can lift up many other struggles..
Eliminating fossil fuel transportation infastructure will mean reopening shuttered factories and building local again. As fossil fuel intensive jobs decline, we will need to fight for the dignity and rights of low-carbon work, which is often care and service work that is devalued under patriarchal capitalism.
And the simplest, most effective climate solution — putting a price on carbon pollution — blows the lid off of the idea that we are in any way running out of money, and does so in a way that directly confronts the global 1%.
So that is the other half: using the pressing need for climate solutions as leverage to transform the conditions surrounding our myriad struggles for the better. It is already happening, and it can happen better.
But it’s not happening enough, yet. Here are the two things I think we need to begin to put this analysis into practice.
First we need clearer and better policy ideas — climate solutions that will actually do all this work, and be powerful enough to transform the world in all the ways described above. To the degree we are already working on climate issues, this should be seen as a priority for everyone of working on all of the issues we described above.
The second is collaboration, and building bridges between the growing climate justice movement and the equally vibrant movements for economic justice, migrant justice and peace. We have to find ways to do the work together in a day-to-day sense.
Here is one example of that second thing, from work I participated in, in New York City.
Superstorm Sandy was a climate change-powered storm, and it hit neighborhoods that got the worst of the Bloomberg years and cutbacks of the last decade. Low-wage workers, service workers were losing affordable housing and health care already, and the storm accelerated that process. Public housing residents, immigrants, low wage workers have had the most trouble recovering from the storm as public money has had the hardest time reaching them.
So, for first anniversary of the storm, the Alliance for a Just Rebuilding began working on an action with 350.org called Turn the Tide on Sandy. The action didn’t just ask for rebuilding — the alliance is asking to make confronting inequality a core part of the rebuilding plan. That means: public accountability, more affordable housing, good local jobs with the rebuilding money, restoring health care cuts, and renewable energy.
Here’s what it looked like:
500 people turned out
Really great art and visuals
Support from key councilmembers, Commitments from new Mayor to enforce local hiring and increase transparency around spending.
and a vote on a bill to restore public accountability to the spending before the year is out.
This is one example about how we can potentially move this analysis forward. Here are some questions I’d like to ask to help develop it further.
First, about how climate already impacts our work, broadly:
How has climate change impacted your work to date?
How might more climate impacts — like fires, superstorms such as Haiyan or Sandy, droughts/food price increases, etc. — change your work?
What room do you see for talking more about climate change in your work?
Second, about how the work for climate solutions could impact our work in the future:
How would your work change in the transition to a zero-fossil fuel economy? After the transition?
How does your work interact with the fossil fuel economy? Would it be easier or harder to get the job done with a world without fossil fuels?
How would climate solutions — policies that reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero, and begin to pull carbon out of the atmosphere — potentially impact your work?
What kind of help is welcome from the part of the left that has traditionally focused on climate justice?
Doing the wrong thing better: your numbers will not save you.
Last night I finished The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam, a detailed, caustic look back on how the US became involved in an imperial war in Vietnam, written from the proximity of the early 70s. It’s a long but very worthwhile read for both its specific examination of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, as well as its incisive look on the general politics of bureaucracy.
I took a lot from it, but I’m going to talk here about organizing because it actually helped clarify my thinking and concerns about the phenomena of testing and data-driven organizing on the left, and I’d like to draw out some lessons while they are still fresh.
One of the central figures of the war was Robert McNamara, a data-obsessesed efficiency expert who moved between military and corporate positions before becoming Defense Secretary from 1961 to 1967. He brought a particular statistical outlook to the work of the military that actually obscured the reality of the war in Vietnam and helped bring the US military into a conflict that it should not have fought.
McNamara’s statistical war machine ended up finding ways to do the wrong things better, while producing data that obscured reality while claiming to reveal it in more profound ways. The rise of data-driven organizing raises similar risks in the work to save the world.
One thing that Halberstam shows in the book is how the military strategy for the US in Vietnam during the Kennedy Administration essentially consisted of finding how to fight the wrong war in better ways. In the aftermath of McCarthyism and the failure of US policy in China during the 40s, military planners adopted the outlook that all Communists were part of the same international structure, and that Communist leadership always meant a zero-sum tradeoff with US power. (Epitomized by a crypto-imperialist language of ‘losing’ countries to Communism) That led to the policy of containment enacted in Vietnam, propping up a repressive government in the mold of the previous French Imperial state to avoid ‘losing’ Vietnam to the Communists.
It was all basically bunk. For a lot of reasons McNamara ended up in the position of leadership on Kennedy’s Vietnam policy, and he dutifully went about trying to do the wrong thing better, without ever venturing to question whether it should be done. In the case of the US war in Vietnam, the measure was in the old-line military tradition: we counted how many enemies we killed, compared to how many people they killed. By that measure the US was always on the path to victory, when the fundamentals were constantly slipping away. The US should have never been in Vietnam, and its fundamental assumptions were constantly in shambles.
With the obvious caveats setting aside the bloodlust of the US military, I think there are lessons here for progressive organizers when engaging with data-led organizing.
First is that we may only be getting better at the wrong kind of things. If you need to measure your tactics, your tactics will only end up being the measurable, which runs the risk of putting you into a tactical box. You’ll probably work more generating clicks, doors and votes, and less on deep cultural work, or other kinds of movement building tactics.
I’m worried we may be obscuring reality in important ways. This is particularly true for organizations native to online organizing, which can easily end up valuinh a certain kind of feedback (clicks, opens, signatures, etc.), and have had an uncanny ability to find ‘success’ while the very big picture of our political reality deteriorates.
The left has gotten much, much better at optimization at precisely the time that the planet has begun to overheat and tens of millions of people have lost homes and jobs. From certain perspectives — technological, mainly — you would think that we’re better prepared to take on the right than ever, but the results haven’t materialized.
We can test headlines, subject lines, in-line images, email layouts, share buttons and more, and track those results in ways that can make the online organizing space smoother and more efficient than ever — but in doing so we set up informational feedback loops that make it harder than ever to examine whether we’re doing the right thing for ourselves and the world.
It’s incredibly satisfying to run a successful subject line test, or sharable petition, but that satisfaction might be providing safe cover to avoid the harder questions of whether we’re actually doing what’s necessary and timely to save the planet from itself, which could require substantially more sacrifice personally and professionally.
The pragmatism of McNamara and others in the Kennedy Administration shaped one of the defining characteristics of the US led war in Vietnam: it’s lack of mission and defined goals. I think this too has important parallels for the US left in this moment.
The US government throughout their war in Vietnam was constantly convinced of the nearness of victory. US forces were always better at killing than their opponents, and that led their leadership to consistently think that victory was nearby. The problem was that they never actually had a clear vision of what victory was, or how they could win it with their tactics of choice (shooting more people, militarily securing enclaves of US control, bombing). The US military constantly worked towards better ways to execute those tactics throughout the war, and got quite good at it.
But as long as they never examined the bigger picture, those successes were just more ways to become more deeply involved in a war that should have never been fought. The US was on a journey without a destination that they constantly thought they were about to arrive at.
The self-deceptive optimism is a bit too familiar. Organizations that put great energy into measuring list, petition or traffic growth have so many ways to spin their work as a success, and from following any number of progressive organizations online, you would find almost nothing but success being reported out to the general public. In the framework of directionless, data-driven growth, it’s very hard to tell anything but a success story as we better refine our tactical techniques.
But in a world where many fundamentals are slipping away out from under us, there’s an urgent need to talk about where we are falling short as well. The best way to do that is to commit ourselves more fully to publicly-held concrete goals that are measured in public policy changes and social shifts. This will indeed involve an element of personal risk for the people within the Professional Left who administer large organizations: we will be more likely to fail in ways that will make our particular online fiefdoms less viable in the future.
But I think the honesty of stepping out of our analytical bunkers will mean a richer, more honest and more effective movement for the world — which is why we should be doing this work anyways.
"Never let success hide its emptiness from you, achievement its nothingness, toil its desolation. And so keep alive the incentive to push on further, that pain in the soul which drives us beyond ourselves.
Wither. That I don’t know. That I don’t ask to know.”
"To have humility is to experience reality, not in relation to ourselves, but in its sacred independence. It is to see, judge and act from the point of rest in ourselves. Then, how much disappears, and all that remains falls into place.
In the point of rest at the center of our being, we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way. Then a tree becomes a mystery, a cloud, a revalation, each person a cosmos of whose riches we can only catch glimpses. The life of simplicity is simple, but it opens to us a book in which we will never get beyond the first syllable.”
Both from Markings by Dag Hammarskjöld, Leif Sjoberg and WH Auden translation.
"Working with obstacles is life’s journey. The warrior is always coming up against dragons. Of course the warrior gets scared, particularly before the battle. It’s frightening. But with a shaky, tender hard the warrior realizes that he or she is just about to step into the unknown, and then goes forth to meet the dragon. The warrior realizes that the dragon is nothing but unfinished business presenting itself, and that it’s fear that really needs to be worked with … the only obstacle is ignorance, this refusal to look at our unfinished business."
I’m voting in New York City for the first time, in the Democratic Primary. Here is who I’m voting for, in case you want help deciding:
Mayor: Bill de Blasio - a solid progressive who will provide important starting point for fixing many of the problems of the last 20 years of Bloomberg/Giuliani. Bill is better than other candidates on many issues that matter to me, and probably you, like stop and frisk, taxing the rich, and health care.
Comptroller: Scott Stringer - another solid progressive who will be far more competent and approachable on the things you want a comptroller to do well than his opponent Elliot Spitzer, who has a terrible record in government, and exited it in really dramatic ways.
Public Advocate: Tish James - a hard-working city councilwoman with the strongest record of public service and accountability for powerful interests, which is the most important role of the Public Advocate’s office.
Brooklyn DA: Ken Thompson - the only candidate running against incumbent Charles Hynes, who has been caught up in a number of scandalous things, including covering up child sexual abuse, false prosecutions, and general incompetence in handling police accountability issues.
City Council (34th District) - Antonio Reynoso: he is the strongest candidate to beat Vito Lopez, a disgraced former head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party who, among other things, was found to have sexually harassed dozens of women in his office over many years, and to have given himself a fairly outrageous salary, mostly on taxpayer dime, for a no-show job at the non-profit he founded.
Assembly (53rd District) - Jason Otano: running to take Vito’s spot in the Assembly, Otano is a reformer endorsed by people I trust in these matters, and is running to defeat one of Lopez’s top deputies in this race.
What's really wrong with CitiBike (nothing to do with NIMBYs)
As CitiBike has launched in parts of New York City, public attention has focused on certain manifestations of public backlash, usually in the form of NIMBY distaste for the bike stations on particular blocks, and general grumpiness about the role of cycling in the future of New York City transportation.
Alongside this public-facing displeasure has emerged a more profound series of critiques that have gone largely unmentioned by the press, or the city’s established transportation advocacy organizations and their allies in government.
The first issue cuts to the heart of the promise of a bike-friendly green economy, and should (nominally) speak to the organizations at the center of New York’s progressive coalition — wage theft. Alta, the company hired to install and run CitiBike has engaged in deceptive and manipulative labor practices in the operation of its bike share program in Washington DC.
Bike mechanics from the DC Bikeshare have come forward to document tens of thousands in owed back pay and unpaid medical benefits, combined with unsafe working conditions in the shops themselves. The whole story is here: http://inthesetimes.com/article/15051/alta_bicycle_share_faces_wage_theft_claims/, but in short: Alta misled about its pay and benefits, and in doing so, undermined the promise of a green economy that they are supposed to represent.
Bikes can and do create jobs, but if those jobs are underpaid and plagued by wage theft, you can’t say that you’ve done much good for the world as a result. In turning a blind eye to wage theft, transit advocates are cutting themselves off from workers that are crucial allies, and undermining the promise of the kind of city they hope to create. Selling the bike/green economy is more difficult you can’t ensure that pay and benefits will be an improvement on the car/fossil fuel economy.
The second story is CitiBank itself. The megabank just bought $21 million worth of rolling advertisements, making transit advocates the green in the greenwash for a company that finances the disastrous policies of climate disruption. Among other things, CitiBank is one of the top financiers of coal in the US, implicated in the human rights violation called mountaintop removal. Organizations ostensibly committed to addressing climate change should be very uncomfortable with making public alliance with a company with this kind of track record.
Still, I’ll acknowledge that greenwashing is a somewhat abstract problem — and one that we can fix with proper public shaming. But there’s another level at which outsourcing major transit infrastructure to a private corporation in collaboration with an evil private corporation is a bad idea, and it’s summarized in these two maps:
Basically, CitiBike has thus far replicated the same patterns of racial and neighborhood discrimination that CitiBank and friends displayed in the foreclosure crisis. To the degree that bike share is indeed a revolutionary technology and service, it is equally one that is being systemically left out of poor neighborhoods.
On its own, this is unequal and unjust. That’s unacceptable, and it will come back to haunt the project of developing alternative transit in New York.
First, it seems like this pattern of rollout actually fostered the media headaches that we have heard about. CitiBike is only in neighborhoods with well-heeled NIMBYs, not the people who would benefit most from cheap alternative transit options. NIMBYism itself is a product of class privilege, and so the ways that Citi maps to class privilege in New York, will make the backlash target bigger, and it’s potential pool of supporters smaller.
Second, is it further alienates transit movement leaders from New Yorkers who are working class, a not insignificant portion of whom have had their homes foreclosed on by Citi — or seen their neighbors, friends or families foreclosed on. Seriously: can you imagine seeing the name of a company that *stole* your family home on a bike share station? Would you want to ride that bike if that were the case? Citi is a toxic corporation, and having their name on the front of a premier alternative transit project is incredibly distasteful, to the point of being destructive.
So where do we go from here? It’s worth saying that I do think that bike share will improve the lives of people who can access it. But considering that alternative transit — bikes included — is a key part of sustainable cities and the future of stopping climate change, our job shouldn’t be to just do some good, but to do the kind of good that stands up to the size of the crisis, and to the importance of New York City as a model for the world.
Frankly, it’s embarrassing that the leaders of the transit movement in New York could muster no more than cheerleading for the program, and rearguard responses to NIMBY attacks on the system. No organization organized to make bike share better (if they did, they did not prioritize it, or succeed by the necessary measures), and that is a massive disappointment.
If the goal of the transit movement is do do enough good, rather than just some good, then it will need to step up substantially to address CitiBike’s shortcomings.
The 2011 Bangkok floods were the worst natural disaster in Thai history. Hundreds died, millions were affected and the monetary toll reached the tens of billions. But the outcome could have been even worse had neighborhood-level informal social networks not quickly mobilized to carry out their own responses to the catastrophe. In cities like Bangkok, where government cannot always be counted on during times of crisis, these networks are crucial to people’s survival. But a growing body of research suggests such networks can benefit all cities â indeed, recent storms in New York and New Orleans have shown how important citizen-led response can be as sea levels rise and severe weather becomes more common. Dustin Roasa reports from Bangkok to recount the tale of how one neighborhood, isolated by the rising water, improvised its own disaster response, and how other cities are readying their own informal networks for the era of superstorms. This special issue of Forefront is part of The Rockefeller Foundationâs Informal City Dialogues, a year-long collaboration with Next City exploring stories and insights from six rapidly urbanizing cities around the world.
I hear a lot about survivalists these days — people who are preparing for the apocalypse by building bomb shelters, stocking food and buying guns. But I’m pretty sure what’s going to get us through the next disaster is care, not freeze dried food. Here is a really amazing series of stories about how loving your neighbor will help you survive a disaster.
“Film allows us to examine ourselves in ways earlier societies could not—examine ourselves, imitate ourselves, extend ourselves, reshape our reality. It permeates our lives, this double vision, and also detaches us, turns some of us into actors doing walk-throughs. In my work, film and television are often linked with disaster. Because this is one of the energies that charges the culture. TV has a sort of panting lust for bad news and calamity as long as it is visual. … This is the force of the culture and the power of the image. And this is also a story we’ve seen updated through the years. It’s the story of the disaffected young man who suspects there are sacred emanations flowing from the media heavens and who feels the only way to enter this holy vortex is through some act of violent theater.”—
It actually took me a while to realize I was growing up.
Watching this kind of drama unfold a dozen times — Oklahoma City, Columbine, September 11th, two wars in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, Somalia — it’s easy to think that I’m living through turbulent times, a unique moment.
But, I also know I’m stepping into a river of history, swept along by a flow of tragedies that has been running for much longer than my lifetime. Unfathomable violence has long been a part of America’s history at home and abroad, and I’m only witnessing the most recent end of it. (I’ve been reading about civil rights workers in the deepest South lately, whose friends and communities were the target of heartbreaking vigilante violence, stuff that would leave me wasted for life, but who recognized it as routine.)
Basically, I don’t want to confuse the new with the new to me. I feel like the awareness that what I’m feeling isn’t just about something new, but also more universally held is necessary for wrestling down all the thoughts and emotions I have right now.
What stands out for me, today, is that I’m feeling less numb than ever. Maybe this is a blessing of my lifestyle, but as new episodes of public violence unfold — Troy Davis, Sandy Hook, Kimani Grey, Guantanamo Bay, Boston — I’m feeling myself more gutted, more invested, more vulnerable, and I think it’s the result of being closer to people and experiences that are connected to these events.
I mean, I know people in Boston in a way I didn’t know even a year ago. Shootings in schools have been a sad part of my life since I was in grade school myself, but it means something different knowing people who teach, or are starting to put kids through school themselves. I’m on the outside of much police violence, but I’ve seen enough capriciousness and cruelty on the part of the prison system to get just a sliver (a tiny, bitter taste) of what it might feel like to be endlessly held with no charges, or to see officers walk free after some new crime. I know people who have traveled to war zones and returned changed.
Maybe the point I’m trying to make is that I don’t think that these waves of violence are going to make us numb. I don’t think we’ll succumb in any new way. I think that people have succeeded in spinning love out of tragedy for as long as we’ve had pain and loss, and I think we’re going to keep doing it. There are perhaps certain ways in which these things will become more immediate and vivid thanks to newfangled technology, but it’s no more or less real than the extraordinary history we already have.
Ultimately, I have a great deal of faith in the people I know who are working hard (so. hard.) to make humanity into a softer, more deeply thoughtful version of itself. There are unspeakable things that people have witnessed, and set their minds to ending. That is the reason people aren’t shot down in the streets any more for demanding fair treatment at work; the reason that we put away certain weapons and not used them again; the reason that you see little red equals signs popping up in your Facebook feed instead of symbols of hate.
I think ultimately we’re all made of good stuff, and I want to keep shaping it into something ever more beautiful.
I woke up this morning to the news that Aaron Swartz had committed suicide yesterday. I knew Aaron only in passing, but admired his work, and it’s a pretty obvious loss to the world that he is gone.
I wanted to write this because for the last few months depression has once again been playing a prominent role in my personal and professional life both, and I’ve been thinking about how I was going to survive this thing that I now expect will be with me for my entire life.
As a bit of backstory, it’s been a long journey back to a point where I even think about depression in this way — as a disease (of sorts), that persists, rather than as merely a product of emotional circumstance. For a long time I stridently believed it wasn’t in any way a disease, since the medicalization of depression and mental illness works as a crutch for dominant political/economic systems that would rather institutionalize unhappy people than deal with its own bullshit. I still think that: I mean, if you’re not existentially, crushingly overwhelmed by the injustice in the world (at least sometimes), you’re likely not paying attention in all the ways you should be. The medical system that surrounds mental illness is still primarily one that diagnoses and then superficially treats symptoms of capitalism, be it poverty or alienation.
But not everyone is quite leveled by these things in the same way, and I realize now how susceptible some people can be to the overwhelming feeling of despair that I’ve felt at different points in my life. And these things can be inflicted on you too: if you’ve ever seen someone return from war profoundly changed, and unable to cope, you know what I mean. Depression is something that happens to you, and not always in predictable or fair ways.
(Side note: I think it’s really dangerous and revealing to see people pin blame for Aaron’s suicide on government prosecution. It’s obviously unfair and wrong for someone to be threatened like he was, but there are literally millions of people in this country who suffer equal or greater injustices at the hands of the prison industrial complex who do manage to cope. White folks, and people with privilege of different kinds are susceptible to depression and suicide more than others, and the assumption that this could lead someone to kill themselves reflects a privileged worldview that sees prison life as uncommon, rather than routine as it is for many people of color. Additionally, suicide, like mass shootings are contagious, and venerating someone as a martyr to a cause can very easily drive more people to self-harm. )
For my part, when it comes to dealing with my own particular depression, I’ve not (of late) felt like my options were the ones that Aaron apparently thought he had. But the options I thought I had felt rotten and it led me to think about how I was going to actually really confront this thing that was keeping me from friends, lovers and the work that I care so much about. For a couple months I had been walking around different options — in particular, diving deeper into the various interpersonal behaviors that I’ve come to recognize as a form of self harm (like abandoning relationships, quitting jobs, cutting down friends or colleagues, etc. etc.), or trying to enter therapy.
I know people who have used therapy to some success, and I briefly did so as a kid, but looking at what I realize now might be a lifetime of confronting this thing inside me, I really started to despair at the idea that this was my only or best option. For one, it’s expensive, and thinking about a lifetime of $100 an hour sessions felt incredibly burdensome. But more importantly, I didn’t want to leave this thing — which I had to remind myself, is often enough a fatal disease — in the hands of someone I had a business relationship with. It wasn’t right, it wasn’t sustainable, and I felt like I was putting myself in an incredibly precarious position. I didn’t know what would happen if I lost my job, or needed to leave it for other reasons, and I couldn’t let my mental wellness forever be tied to being able to cut checks to doctors on the regular.
Then there is the other thing which is harder to admit, but no less real, which is that I wasn’t quite ready to give up some part of myself to be treated. Depression is hard, it’s awful, but it’s part of the molten primordial stuff that formed the person who I am today, and I know for certain that without some of the episodes of deep, deep loneliness that I’ve passed through, I wouldn’t be in the place I am now, doing the things that I love.
There’s something internal to the attitude of therapy that I never could square with, in the strict medicalization of mental illness as an illness. It’s incredibly hard to think of something that fundamental to who I am as a disease. It gave me something akin to vertigo, thinking that a basic part of my identity and perception was malformed, twisted in a way that separated me from the reality that other people were perceiving. It was hard to admit that my internal balance, the emotional and intellectual tools that I use to navigate my life were to be treated as if I were broken.
So, after I felt a few episodes of those self destructive behaviors arising in ways that were distressingly beyond my control, I sat down to figure out what I wanted to do. It was hard to parse out some of the things I was considering from those destructive behaviors (is quitting my job removing a source of stress that exacerbates my depression, or is it me ditching a source of joy to hurt myself again?). I also know for a fact I’m going to have to return to this moment again and again, and I had to keep myself from looking for solutions with the assumption that they would be a final resolution, a hope that had led me to hurt myself or others before. But, I think I came to what I hope is a good place, for now.
Here it is: I’m going to talk about this, with more people, and more openly. For one, I’m really really upset about the stigma that people attach to mental illness, and I want to play my part in confronting that, but I also think that starting this conversation with friends is going to be a part of my self-care. Instead of pouring my heart out to someone I’m cutting checks to, I want to walk through these rough patches with friends and allies so that we can be stronger together as a result. It’s not something I can do alone, and being frank about the episodes of depression keeps me from starting down the narcissistic spirals of self-pity that usually put me in my holes to begin with.
I don’t think I quite knew what that meant when I decided this the first time, and I think I should have thought through how to do this much more carefully, so that my first real attempt wouldn’t have had to come under these circumstances, but here it is. This is part of my life, part of who I am, and it’s something I’m going to deal with for the rest of my life. If you’re reading this far, I suspect you’ll be walking on this path with me in some way, and I hope we can walk together with the hope and love we’ll need to fix so many of the other challenges and sadnesses we will need to confront.
This is also my hope that the other people I know and work with who suffer in the same way will find ways to talk about this in their own way. This isn’t easy, but no one should have to take this alone, and I want to be a part of making it easier for folks like Aaron to find the support and community they need to stay alive.
he was staring at me, scowling. as i passed, he leaned in close to my face and asked if i was hungry. i wasn’t sure what to say, so i told him i was, that i’d skipped breakfast. he looked startled, blinked a couple of times, and then shouted “well grab a snickers, you skinny motherfucker. and then, beat your parents to death.”
* Films in Tompkins. July 7: Coming to America; July 14: The Warriors; July 21: Star Trek; July 28: Arthur; August 4: The Pope of Greenwhich Village; August 11: Kick-Ass; August 18: Rosemary’s Baby; August 25: The Godfather; September 1: Stake Land. THURSDAYS, gates open at 6p, screening starts at sundown, Tompkins Square Park, Avenue A and 7th Street, Manhattan. $free. filmsintompkins.com
* Summer Screen at McCarren. July 6: Friday; July 13: Wayne’s World; July 20: Ghost World; July 27: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off; August 3: Chelsea; August 10: Jurassic Park. WEDNESDAYS. McCarren Park Ballfields, Bedford Avenue and North 12th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. $free. summerscreen.org
* Williamsburg Waterfront Concert Series. July 29: They Might Be Giants, Eugene Mirman and Pretty Good Friends with Kristen Schaal, Surprise Guests. Brooklyn. Doors at 5:30p, East River State Park, North 9th Street and Kent Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. $free. osanb.org
* The Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy. July 7: Manhattan; July 10-11: Henry V; July 13: The Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series; July 14: Ghostbusters; July 20: Brooklyn Bridge Tour — A Link Between Two Cities with the Brooklyn Historical Society; July 21: Sweet Smell of Success; July 28: Basquiat; July 30-21: Romeo and Juliet; August 2: Randy Weston; August 3: History Tour — Brooklyn’s Industrial Waterfront with the Brooklyn Historical Society; August 4: An American Tail; August 11: Breakfast at Tiffany’s; August 18: Crooklyn; August 19: PuppetMobile presents Bessie’s Big Shot; August 24 and 27: 235th Anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn; August 25: Rosemary’s Baby. Various times, Brooklyn. $free. brooklynbridgepark.org
* Socrates Sculpture Park, Outdoor Cinema 2011. July 6: Clermont-Ferrand Short Films (International); July 13: Who Wants to Kill Jesse (Czech Republic); July 20: Caramel (Lebanon); July 27: The Good, The Bad, The Weird (Korea); August 3: The Straight Story (USA); August 10: At the Edge of Russia (Russia); August 17: Biutiful (Spain); August 24: Silent Film Fest. WEDNESDAYS. Pre-screening performance begins at 7p, movies begin at dusk, Vernon Boulevard and Broadway, Queens. $free. socratessculpturepark.org
* Hudson River Park. July 6: The Social Network; July 8: The Karate Kid; July 10: David Berger Jazz Orchestra; July 12: Stars of Tomorrow Jazz; July 13: Easy A; July 14: Tune Yards, Austra; July 15: Despicable Me; July 17: Los Hermanos Colon; July 19: Stars of Tomorrow Classical; July 20: The Kids Are All Right; July 22: The Princess Bride; July 24: Octavio Brunetti’s Apeadero Sur Tango Orchestra; July 26: Stars of Tomorrow Jazz; July 27: The Other Guys; July 28: Metronomy, Class Actress; July 29: Toy Story 3; July 31: Nu D’Lux; August 2: Stars of Tomorrow Classical; August 3: The Fighter; August 4: Rumble on the River; August 5: How to Train Your Dragon; August 7: George Gee Swing Orchestra; August 9: Stars of Tomorrow Jazz; August 10: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World; August 11: Deer Tick, DOM; August 12: Shrek Forever After; August 16: Stars of Tomorrow Classical; August 17: The Town; August 19: Tangled; August 21: Blues Barbecue. Various times, Manhattan. $free. hudsonriverpar k.org
* Celebrate Brooklyn, Prospect Park Bandshell. July 1: Steel Pulse, Natural Expression Rhythm Band; July 7: Court Yard Hounds, The Abrams Brothers; July 8: Los Lobos, Hello Seahorse, Zigmat; July 9: Lyricist Lounge featuring Raekwon, Smif-N-Wesson, Joell Ortiz; July 14: Frankie Gavin and De Dannan, Liam O Maonlai, McPeake; July 15: Shirley Caesar, Vy Higginsen’s Gospel for Teens Choir; July 16: Dan Zanes with the Brooklyn Youth Orchestra and Bed Stuy Veterans; July 21: West Side Story dance and sing-along; July 22: Seun Kuti and Egypt 80, Faaji Agba; July 23: The Feelies, Real Estate, Times New Viking; July 28: Mark Morris Dance Group with the Brooklyn Philharmonic and the Brooklyn Interdenominational Choir; July 29: Oumou Sangare, Bassam Saba; July 30: Dr. John and the Lower 911, Chuck Brown, Red Baraat; August 4: Metropolis with the Alloy Orchestra and Marika Hughes; August 5: Ra Ra Riot, Delicate Steve, Buke and Gass; August 6: Ailey II- Revelations. Various times, Prospec t Park West and 9th Street, Brooklyn. $free. bricartsmedia.org
* Seaport Music. July 1: Lower Dens, Dirty Beaches; July 8: The Wake, Weekend; July 9: Ted Leo and the Pharmacists; July 15: The Radio Dept., Asobi Seksu; July 16: 4Knots Music Festival. Various times, South Street Seaport, Pier 17, Manhattan. $free. seaportmusicfestival.com
* Intrepid Free Summer Movie Series. July 8: The Goonies; July 22: Back to the Future; August 5: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial; August 19: Jurassic Park. Doors at 5:30pm, screening starts at sunset, West 46th Street and 12th Avenue, Manhattan. intrepidmuseum.org
* Central Park Summer Stage Concert series. July 2: Roy Ayers and the Jazz Mafia Symphony; July 3: RAM, Group Doueh, Baloji, Globesonic Sound System; July 6: Jarbe de Palo, Ely Guerra, Novalima, Mr. Pauer; July 9: ChocQuib Town, Rita Indiana, Ursula 1000, Que Bajo?!; July 11: The Metropolitan Summer Recital Series; July 15-16: Armitage Gone! Dance, Vijay Iyer with Dance Grand Moultrie; July 17: Pink Martini; July 18: Levon Helm Band, Emmylou Harris, Hayes Carll; July 23: Keigwin and Company / Creative Outlet Dance Theatre of Brooklyn; July 24: Marcelo D2, Pitty, DJ Nuts; July 27: Wanda Jackson, Imelda May; July 30: Forces of Dance Theatre; July 31: Yemen Blues, Watcha Clan, Shabate, Awesome Tapes from Africa; August 6: Shelebration!; August 7: Friendly Fires, the Naked and Famous, Cults; August 10: Joe Bataan, Johnny Colon, DJ Turmix, We Like it Like That — The Story of Latin Boogalo screening; August 13: Henry Santos; August 14: Gospel Explosion; August 17: Sangre; August 2 0: Tiken Jah Fakoly, Meta and the Cornerstones, Los Rakas; August 21: Rakim, EPMD, FunkMaster Flex; August 28: Jagged Edge, Avant, Melanie Fiona. Various times, Rumsey Playfield, 69th Street and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan. $free. summerstage.org
* Red Hook Summer Movies. July 12: Men in Black; July 19: Bring It On; July 26: Lords of Dogtown; August 2: Wall-E; August 9: The Karate Kid; August 16: The Fast and the Furious; August 23: The Iron Giant; August 30: Pump Up the Volume; September 6: Highlander; September 13: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. TUESDAYS, seating at 8pm, screenings at 8:30p, Valentino Pier, Red Hook, Brooklyn. $free. redhookfilms.org
* Beekman Beer Garden. July 10: Cheeseburger; July 17: X-Ray Eyeballs, Frankie Rose and the Outs, The Babies; July 24: The Swirlies, Psychedelic Horseshit; July 31: The Raveonettes, Eternal Summers; August 7: Mission of Burma. SUNDAYS, 3p, Northside Pier 17, South Street Seaport, Manhattan. $free. seaportmusicfestival.com
* HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival. July 4: Easy Rider; July 11: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; July 18: In the Heat of the Night; July 25: The Lady Eye; August 1: Cool Hand Luke; August 8: Airplane; August 15: High Sierra; August 22: Dirty Harry. MONDAYS, lawn opens at 5pm, screening starts at sunset, 6th Avenue and 42nd Street, Manhattan. $free. bryantpark.org
* Coney Island Flicks on the Beach. July 11: Saturday Night Fever; July 18: Rango; July 25: Top Gun; August 1: Iron Man 2; August 8: Annie Hall; August 15: Moonstruck; August 22: Justin Beiber: Never Say Never; August 29: How She Move. MONDAYS, screening starts at dusk, West 10th Street, Coney Island, Brooklyn. $free. thecidc.org
* Washington Square Music Festival. July 12: Opera in the Park; July 19: The Joy of Unfamiliar Music; July 26: Music Making by the Master; August 2: The Charles Mingues Orchestra. TUESDAYS, 8pm, Main Stage, Washington Square Park, Manhattan. $free. washingtonsquaremusicfestival.org
* River to River Festival at Castle Clinton. July 7: My Brightest Diamond, yMusic; July 14: Patti Smith. THURSDAYS, 7pm, Castle Clinton, Battery Park, Manhattan. $free. rivertorivernyc.com
It’s after dinner and my friend Drew is walking slowly around the memories he’s expected to have of combat in Afghanistan.
“It’s not like… ‘what did I do yesterday, I don’t remember.’ There are just…. things that you don’t remember. There are important things, stuff that matters… like shooting… shooting at people. When I was in a firefight, I remember discharging my weapon maybe… 4 or 5 times. But afterwards, two thirds of my magazine was gone. I don’t remember anywhere from a third to maybe… seventy five percent of what happened.”
In the pauses I watch him reassemble key moments, and then attempt to translate them into words that might make sense. He’s here, present, but I can tell that the language and culture of the Army in Afghanistan still have a hold on parts of him.
“I do remember that at some point, we… that is the big plat we… dropped a couple of mortars… shot some mortars… on them. What I don’t remember is that I was the person that called them in. These are things that people had to tell me afterwards.”
We’re discussing how Americans try to relate to the war. The three of us – Drew, his partner Molly, and me – compare films and photographs, particularly those of famous late war journalists, dismissing those which try to tell a too complete, too dramatic view of the war.
“Any way you put it, they still benefit from the wars… they’re war mongers… what ever their intentions… the definition of a war monger is someone who profits from war…”
These are films that try to convince us of the outsize drama of war, and earn photographers mantles of bravery. Distant, the war takes place on an alien surface of rocks and sudden violence. But the war isn’t some foreign affair. It’s taking place here, in America, in the lives of our 20-somethings, in boardrooms, in the Halls of Congress. In my living room, now. To understand it, we have to see it in the prosaic details.
Our conversation shifts back and forth from odd ends of his latest tour, to the shared fate of Americans today.
“I’m sorry I keep talking about Afghanistan… I guess it’s just my context or whatever… but I think it really explains a lot about our situation… I know it’s hard for most Americans to think about, but really…”
This war has been the background noise to my entire political education. The thought of how to end it rarely occurs to me, it has become so engrained in our culture. There just is an Afghanistan war.
“I think it’s actually why our economy is still shitty. I mean, it’s 4 trillion dollars – y’know, since it started every year, all added up – that’s gone to what? To trying to build a culture of Democracy? To bring the Afghani government closer to it’s people? The only time most Afghanis hear from their government is when the Army or Police show up, and that’s always at the prerogative of the Americans.”
Sometimes I just have to let him talk through to the end of a tangled thought.
“We’re continuing this war for the flimsiest of reasons… the only excuse left is the Commander in Chief’s so called political capital… like that’s worked out well for him… being there you literally can’t tell the difference between official US troops and the Halliburtons or the Oshkosh or whatever…”
Story after story of waste and nepotism come drifting out. Quagmire isn’t even enough of a word to describe it. If there was a war to win, it’s lost.
“Right now, we’re marching into the sea. And I’m not OK with that at all.”