Activist Reading

With a range of styles and topics, we hope one of the following titles might find its way onto your reading list this winter.

Footnotes in Gaza. Joe Sacco. ,
Metropolitan Books. 2009. 418 pp.

Stranger In a Strange Land
Few US Americans have a clue about what it’s like to live and die in Israeli-occupied Palestine. If you aspire to get beyond the Bubble, read Joe Sacco on his months spent in this god-forgotten land: Footnotes in Gaza. Sacco is no ideologue, nor does he pretend to somehow achieve objectivity. He reflects—and then distills—what he sees and hears. He’s a superb reporter and artist writing with candor, introspection and intellectual honesty. His black and white comic-book style drawings provide dense and telling detail.

I marveled at his skill capturing the postures, faces and words of Palestinians, and depicting the texture of their hardscrabble surroundings. I marveled at his gift for capturing the Palestinians’ scabbed wounds, their bleak prospects, their daily fear, their daily courage. I savored Sacco’s portrayal of his own puzzlement—gringo and non-Arabic speaker that he is—amidst individuals, families and communities too long on the edge.


A Man to Match His Mountains: Badshah Khan, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam.
Eknath Easwaran. Nilgri Press. 1984. 243 pp.

Mountain Man
“One learns a good deal in the school of suffering. I wonder what would have happened to me if I had had an easy life, and had not the privilege of tasting the joys of jail and all it means.” – Badshah Khan.

Islamophobia has been with us at least since the Crusades, but it seems especially virulent these days. That’s one good reason for anti-war, anti-empire and anti-occupation activists to seek to understand Islam, the faith of one fifth of the human species. A useful entrée to such understanding is Eknath Easwaran’s highly readable biography, A Man to Match His Mountains: Badshah Khan, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam. Khan, a Pathan (Pashtun) from northwest Pakistan, was a close friend and protegée of Gandhi. Arrested many times for nonviolent resistance, Khan [1890-1988] spent years in exile and 30 years in prison under both the British and the Pakistanis. Along with his sisters, Khan advocated for women’s rights. In 1985 he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

– Ed Kinane

The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism.
Barry Sanders. AK Press. 2009. 161 pp.

The Planet vs. the Pentagon
Working in an Earth Day coalition to plan a local rally a few years ago, I suggested that we have a speaker address the US war on Iraq. Much to my surprise, another activist argued that we shouldn’t stray into unrelated issues. I quickly explained the connection between militarism and the environment. I wish I’d had this dense little book of facts and figures to hand to him. Sanders, a retired professor from Pitzer College, tries to document the overwhelming scale of resource depletion and pollution caused by the US military in particular, and war in general.

Sanders gets to the main point right away in the introduction: “The military produces enough greenhouse gases, by itself, to place the entire globe, with all its inhabitants large and small, in the most imminent danger of extinction.” From the 60,000 gallons of jet fuel used by just two Apache Helicopter battalions (which each get half a mile to the gallon) for a one night raid, to the hundreds of thousands of bombs scattered about the landscape in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sanders enumerates the impacts of weapons manufacturing and testing, building bases, bombing campaigns, radioactive weapons (such as depleted uranium), fuel consumption and chemical and biological agents. His conclusion is dire: in order to protect the environment and challenge climate change, we must take on the Pentagon – or the planet will.


Knitting for Anarchists. Anna Zilboorg.
Unicorn books. 2002. 147 pp.

Knit One, Purl Two However Many You Want
In this age of internet information, my discovery of this book reminded me of the value of actually visiting the library. I stumbled upon this wonderful title by chance as I was perusing the shelves at the downtown branch of the Onondaga County Public Library. After reading just the first two pages of the introduction, I knew I had to have it: “In this book I intend to explain to knitters why they do what they do, and how to do it simply…understanding gives us power…without understanding, we are doomed to do what we are told. Anarchists generally do not like to be told what to do,” Zilboorg explains. The first few paragraphs present a simple, working explanation of anarchist thinking, and Zilboorg’s approach to knitting is similarly straightforward and refreshing. From the very basic structure of knitted stitches to the qualities and functions of different types of knitted fabric, the author encourages observation, critical thinking and fearlessness with chapters like “Regaining Our Illiteracy”. It’s a useful primer for new knitters and a fun read for knitters of any experience level.

-Jessica Maxwell


Karen, founder of the Community Choir, is a mother, counselor, and activist, and believes that everyone can sing, no exceptions!