Activist Summer Reading Picks

War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.
Chris Hedges. Public Affairs, 2002.
Chris Hedges first came to attention with his NY Times stories from the war in El Salvador in the 1980s. He has since reported during war from Serbia, Bosnia, Bush Sr.’s War in the Persian Gulf, the Sudan, and Algeria to name several. Hedges has been shot at, taken prisoner, beaten and tortured during his war correspondent years, and witnessed war photographers and journalists — addicted to war as he was — lose their lives.
This book speaks to what is addictive about wartime, and how governments create the myths to hook people on the drug. Hedges describes how national identities are forcefully and deceptively forged to create patriotic and nationalist fervor, to create the us and the other. He illustrates through the lies and madness he witnessed, a madness which had also intoxicated him. Chris Hedges’ incisive references to Shakespeare and the classics, plus his literary style, lift this book from good to great. (His mother, an English professor, still lives in Syracuse.)
Chris was recently heckled relentlessly for his anti-war, anti-US regime stance while delivering the commencement address at Rockford College. A transcript of the talk appears in the July issue of The Progressive magazine, for a sense of his style.
Shakespeare reminds us that though we may not do what we want, we are responsible for our lives. It does not matter what has been made of us, what matters is what we ourselves make of what has been done to us. (War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, p.182)
— elana levy

Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel.
Marty Jezer. Rutgers University Press,1993.
Like any good biography this text captures more than the life of an individual. Jezer’s book offers a detailed snapshot of the society and social movements surrounding Abbie. Particularly useful is Jezer’s in-depth account of Viet Nam era anti-war organizing. This herstory lesson offers myriad strategic and tactical pointers for today’s anti-war organizers.
An accomplished author, community organizer, radical prankster, and all-around outlaw, Abbie is perhaps best known for his work with the Youth International Party — the Yippies, who threw cash off the balcony of the NY Stock Exchange, took over Grand Central Station, and protested the 1968 Democratic Convention. However, Abbie also helped: support the civil rights battles of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; radicalize a large sector of the 1960s counter-culture; successfully organize St. Lawrence and Delaware River communities to fight toxic pollution; and put the CIA on trial and win!
Abbie wasn’t a flawless organizer. His sexism, egotism and domineering personality scarred movement organizations and inhibited the development of new leaders. Alerted to these unhealthy traits, Abbie denounced his chauvinism — “male supremacy must be smashed,” and videotaped his vasectomy so that men could learn about, and step up to their reproductive responsibility. Unfortunately, his overbearing ego and limelight addiction remained largely intact.
Despite intense FBI harassment, years of “underground” living, and personal struggles, Abbie never sold out. He remained committed to organizing a better society until his untimely suicidal departure. This book offers countless lessons for all organizers and organizers to be!
If you can’t find this book, steal it from me. :)
— Keegan Cox

Tinderbox: US Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism.
Stephen Zunes. Common Courage Press, 2002.

In his book, Mr. Zunes focuses on failed US policies in the Middle East. His description of two recent historical events illustrates the failure.
On August 2, 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait. During the fall, the US built up its military forces in the area threatening to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. The US rejected many attempts by other nations to negotiate a peaceful settlement including the Iraqi acceptance of a Soviet peace proposal to withdraw from Kuwait. The US elected to prosecute the war. Mr. Zunes thinks the war was preventable, and all the terrible events since then could have been avoided.
During the summer of 2000, President Clinton unsuccessfully attempted to broker a final peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. Clinton blamed the failure on Chairman Arafat. Since then there has been a constant chorus of criticism of Arafat by the US government, Israel and the US media for refusing the “best peace offer from Israel the Palestinians would ever get.” According to Zunes, Barak’s offer would have made it impossible for the Palestinians to form a viable nation, so was clearly unacceptable.
Stephen Zunes wrote this book to enable readers “to become better informed about US policy in the Middle East and so be able to contribute to the debate for the future direction of US policy.” I highly recommend Tinderbox. It has been indispensable to my understanding of the 13-year war against Iraq, the Israel –Palestine conflict, and the threat of terrorism.
Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of politics and chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He is also the author of Western Sahara: Nationalism and Conflict in Northwest Africa (Syracuse University Press, 2004).
— John Fitzsimmons

The following are some recommended picks from Mary Ellen Kavanaugh, founder and owner of My Sisters’ Words — The Next Wave: A Bookstore for All Progressive Minds.

Time for Choices: Deep Dialogues for Deep Democracy.
Michael Toms. New Society Publishers, 2002.
Events of the past two years have created a space for much needed dialogue about our values as citizens as well as a country. This collection of essays will help sort out what exactly those issues are and in what ways they might be talked about. Read Zinn on peace, Chomsky and Amy Goodman on citizens — the 4th branch of government, Joanna Macy and Thomas Moore on spiritual dimensions, and more. This book would make a great “study group” book.

Forbidden Truth: US-Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy and the Failed Hunt for Bin Laden.
Jean-Charles Brisard & Guillaume Dasquie. Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2002.
The #1 bestseller in France, this exposé reveals a history of secret negotiations between the Bush administration and the Taliban for control of Asian oil fields. If you are wondering about the place of oil in today’s world politics, you will find this enlightening.

Free For All: Defending Liberty in America Today.
Wendy Kaminer. Beacon Press, 2002.
Lawyer, social critic, and columnist Kaminar has said that she likes to think words have power but knows they don’t cast spells. Her taste for liberty, her legal training, and her wit help her elude the usual political labels and inform her writings on censorship, pop psychology, and more. Opening with a powerful overview of liberty’s tenuous hold on this “land of the free”, Kaminar offers incisive, original investigations of political freedom.

Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire.
Chalmers Johnson. Own Books, 2000.
The term “blowback,” invented by the CIA, refers to the unintended consequences of American policies. In this incisive and controversial book, Johnson lays out in vivid detail the dangers faced by our over-extended empire, which insists on projecting its military power to every corner of the earth, and using American capital and markets to force global economic integration on its own terms.

Born to Belonging: Writings on Spirit and Justice.
Mab Segrest. Rutgers University Press, 2002.
Mab Segrest is an organizer, teacher, and writer who has worked across genres and political movements as essayist, poet, anti-racist and lesbian for more than twenty years. Her most recent book, Born to Belonging, engaged me as few other non-fiction books have of late.
In 1995, Segrest was a delegate to the UN 4th Conference on Women, held in Beijing. In 1996 she was in Atlanta to research an article on gentrification and the 1996 Olympics; the following year in Memphis for the 20th anniversary of Elvis’ death; then in Hawaii for a gathering linking queer and sovereignty struggles; finally, in Johannesburg, South Africa for the General Assembly of the World Council of Churches. In between and amongst these trips she traveled home to support a brother dying of colon cancer and revisit family conflicts around her lesbianism. In a remarkably engaging way, she ties all these travels together as she explores the inter-relationships among capitalism, white supremacy, heterosexism and misogyny.
In the first chapter she “dives into the wreck” that has resulted from the western construction of individual identity, reflecting on how we know ourselves and how that makes us think about our place in the world. In the West, she asserts, the individual as free agent is the starting point for thinking about society. In effect, this view reduces community to little more than a collection of individuals who come together out of self-interest. A counterpoint to the western view, and a more fruitful point of departure for activists, says Segrest, is the Zulu word “ubuntu” (the source of the book’s title), translated as “a person is a person through other persons,” or “I am because you are.” A basic respect, empathy and compassion for others are understood in this phrase, as well as a respect for individuality. But it differs from traditional Western concepts of individuality as expressed in Descartes’ “I think therefore I am.” The individual in ubuntu is not solitary, but defined in terms of his or her relationships to others. Ubuntu visualizes a community where interdependence and reciprocity, not independence and self-sufficiency, are key.
As Segrest examines the ways colonization warps the colonizer and the colonized, the subjugated and the subjugator she draws on writings of Mao Zedong, Queen Liliuokalani, Martin Luther King and others. She wonders: do 21st century white people on a mass scale have an ability to change themselves if shown the implications of their actions? If activism is rooted in reform of consciousness, what fosters that heightened awareness that lets us see, and then requires us to act? Reading Born to Belonging brought me many new understandings of the links among our many human struggles. Thinking about the implications of an identity formed by community is a way to re-envision work for social justice.
— Donna Tarbania

Check Out These Websites
Compiled by Carol Baum

When the Peace Newsletter (PNL) editorial committee wants to find an article to reprint, these are the first websites we go to. You may have some favorite progressive websites too. If you do, please send them to <pnl@peacecouncil. net> with a short description for our occasional series on PNL readers’ picks.

ZNet is a community of people dedicated to social change. The top page contains several hundred articles listed by topic, with scads of links. It is an enormous site, containing cartoons, many more articles and links, “watches” in almost 50 content areas (each a major source in itself), self-contained “instruc-tionals,” areas for conversation, and more. It calls itself “a continuous town meeting and intellectual and activist service center for large sectors of the progressive community.” It is maintained by Z Magazine.

Common Dreams
Common Dreams’ subtitle is “Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community.” It includes reprints of breaking news from both progressive and mainstream media, as well as commentary. It also has a Progressive NewsWire, which posts the press releases and the statements from groups in the US’ progressive community in their entirety. It is funded exclusively by members and supporters. And there are links to hundreds of media sources and writers (of course). The articles posted on the top page are listed by date.

Foreign Policy in Focus
Foreign Policy In Focus describes itself as a “think tank without walls,” seeking to make the US a more responsible global leader and global partner by advancing a citizen-based foreign policy agenda — one that is rooted in citizen initiatives and movements. It publishes analysis consistent with broad progressive principles (such as respect for human rights, environmental protection, broadly shared economic development, a preference for multilateral solutions, and demilitarization). It is a collaborative project of the Institute for Policy Studies (see below) and the Interhemispheric Resource Center.

Institute for Policy Studies
There are fewer articles posted here, but the site is still well worth the visit. The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) is the nation’s oldest multi-issue progressive think tank and describes itself as trying to serve as a bridge between progressive forces in government and grass-roots activists, and between movements in the US and those in the developing world. IPS’ projects are in three clusters: Democracy and Fairness, Global Justice, and Peace and Security.