Tell me an effing story! That’s what I asked of the movie making world after enduring the film adaptation of Twilight. My god! Just tell me an effing story! Well, ladies and gentleman, tonight I was told a story. I was told a story so amazingly well, with such skill and passion that I am rendered nearly mute. Tonight I saw the movie Milk, the new Gus Van Sant biopic about the first openly gay elected public official in California, Harvey Milk. Milk, the man, was elected to the county board of supervisors for San Francisco in 1977 and on November 27th, 1978 he and the then mayor of San Fancisco George Mascone, were assassinated by Dan White a fellow member of the board of supervisors. The film beautifully weaves together the intersecting pieces of Milk’s life, loves, and friends. It captured a moment in history and a man who was actively making that history. It did not glorify Milk as the savior of a movement or the reason for its existence. Rather it depicted him as he was, a leader within his community…a sharp, savvy and kind man dedicated to making life better for gay people in California and beyond. Gus Van Sant used his skill as a director to call on his actors to act, to be the characters they were cast as and to distinguish themselves from one another. Thus a cast was born and a story told.
Over the past couple of months Boston has again been a place of scandal and intrigue within local and state government. This time around though, the crack down is raising some eyebrows. In the past two months two of the cities most influential and prominent black politicians have been arrested by the FBI for taking bribes from business owners hoping to get certain licenses moved along more quickly. Diane Wilkerson was the first African American state senator in Massachusetts in 1992. As a lawyer for the NAACP she fought long and hard to end discrimination against poor black people in Boston and a State Senator she has always been a voice against racism and discrimination. Chuck Turner has been a community organizer and civil rights activist in Boston since the 1960’s. Since 2000 he has been one of Boston’s most progressive and outspoken politicians supporting many community causes. In a city where the black community has long struggled to make ground in moving from the margins to gain some sense of power in the larger Boston political scene the arrests of these two long time prominent figures has sent waves of regret, anger and frustration through the community.
Friday, November 21st – It’s below freezing and the wind is howling. For reasons I can’t explain I’m ridding my bike through downtown Boston. Due to all my layers encasing my head my peripheral vision is next to none and my hearing is limited to the sound of my own labored breathing. A bone chilling wind is coming straight off the Charles River and hitting me and anyone in its way straight in the face. Snot is freely flowing down my nose and pooling in my balaclava. Not pretty to think about but it is what it takes to ride your bike in this weather. I’m headed over to the Landmark Center by Fenway to meet two friends for movie and a dinner. The night has long been planned. For it is another night when I get to fully express my obsession with pop culture phenomenons. Tonight its Twilight, the movie based on the best selling teenage vampire romance novels by Stephenie Meyer. I’ve read all the books…or rather listened to the all on tape. Can’t say they are great works of literature but I did enjoy them enough to finish all four. Mostly I was intrigued by the fan fare surrounding the books and the movies. I arrived at the theater, locked my bike up and called my friend to see where she was. “Hello? Ya, I’m here. Guess what? You won’t believe it. I got here and there were all these cops here and TV trucks and tons of people. So guess what? Two of the stars of the movie are here tonight, at our screening!” Read Onward!
A good many people I know are working hard on a project to build protests at the inauguration that reflect a moment in history and a moment in U.S. radical organizing the should give us all pause. The project is calling for a “Celebrating People’s History and Build Popular Power Bloc”. Since Obama won the election I have been able to have some amazing and thrilling discussions with friends and fellow organizers about what the election of the first black president means for radical organizing in the U.S. One friend in DC put it well when he started a conversation by saying ‘we’re going to have to protest him someday. He is bound to do something, as anyone in his position is, that warrants a protest’. But wait, there’s more
To take my ridiculous obsession with all things fantasy to a new level I goaded my two friends into traveling with me to New York City to catch the opening of We Are Wizards, a new documentary about Wizard Rock. The trip was a zippy little quest for entertainment. We were there for less then 24 hours and ate enough for two days. We had pizza, french fries, vegan Chinese, Pink Barry, Bubble Tea, cheese cake, cake and chocolate mouse. We also managed to buy a lot of plastic crap at Tokyo Toy. PICTURES ARE AT THE BOTTOM!
For 33 years Leonard Peltier has been held as a political prisoner for a crime he did not commit. From prison, his life’s work has been to raise awareness about his case and the U.S. Governments mistreatment of native peoples. For many of the past 33 years Leonard and his support committee have organized an annual holiday gift drive for the young people on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Oglala, ND. Pine Ridge is among the poorest place in the United States and the gift drive plays an important role in easing the hardship of life for many who live there.
On Friday November 7 Howard Zinn spoke on the relevance of the case of Sacco and Vanzetti to the current political discourse of today. He drew on the many parallels between the treatment of immigrants, poor people and radicals in the day of Sacco and Vanzetti and today, particularly on the systematic racist and anti-immigrant analysis that prevails in U.S. criminal justice system. Zinn’s point was less about Sacco and Vanzetti being the beginning of State harassment and persecution of immigrants and radicals and more about the case being part and parcel of a criminal justice system that acts as a tool to maintain a balance of power.
Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco were two poor Italian immigrants, a fish peddler and a factory worker. They were also Anarchists. In April of 1920 Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested and charged with the robbery and murder of two payroll clerks in Braintree, Massachusetts. When they were interrogated, the police asked the two men if they were communists, anarchists, and citizens. In the trials that followed, the prosecution used Sacco and Vanzetti’s political views and immigrant status to discredit the two defendants. In a time of patriotic fervor around World War I, the government was able to paint the two anarchists as anti-American and unpatriotic.
In a trial that has been wildly discredited (and was even pronounced an injustice by Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in 1977) Sacco and Vanzetti were sentenced to death.
Thousands of people in Boston and the surrounding area were outraged. Many felt the convictions reflected not evidence of a crime but the State’s determination to target Sacco and Vanzetti for their political beliefs and their immigrant status. On the day of their death, a quarter of a million people marched from the funeral home to Forest Hills Cemetery where the bodies of Sacco and Vanzetti were cremated.
Zinn’s lecture was thought provoking, for in so many respects, little has changed. The law still works to protect the rich over the poor and targets people of color and immigrants. The law also targets radicals…but that is where I began to think of things that have changed.
In the time of Sacco and Vanzetti the law and the state feared anarchists and radicals. What is more, anarchists and radicals were not working in communities to organize them, but were part of communities they were working within. To clarify, it was a time when identity was much more closely tied to the community (Italian immigrant, Irish immigrant, factory workers, fisherman, etc.) one came from and lived in. Also, immigrants often brought more of the social struggles from their countries of birth with them to the US. Tactics, like those used in the Sacco and Vanzetti’s case, have been used over the years by the state to slowly degrade the identity of immigrant communities, communities of color and of working class communities
Today there is less and less cohesion among the many communities that make up our cities and towns. Among anarchists it is (in my experience) almost as if to be an anarchist is to make a discovery about government, decide it’s bad and decide that the only solution is to overthrow it and then poof…that’s it, you are an anarchist. Then it is about analysis and processing the oppression around you. But you are never a part of it, affected by it. You are not part of a legitimate community that you can organize in and with to reach your goals. Others are the working class but they are not you. This disconnects anarchy from everyday life and turns it into a theory and lifestyle.
Over the years we have seen a great many fellow radicals taken down by the State. But in these high profile cases, particularly in the past seven years, targeting of radicals has been detached from the State’s assault on immigrants and Muslims. It is not too far-fetched to believe that many of those being rounded up may hold anarchistic beliefs. But that is not necessarily the primary reason the state has targeted them. There things have changed from the time of Sacco and Vanzetti, though the State’s tactics remain the same.
It was good to hear Howard Zinn talk about anarchy in such simple, straightforward words. He spoke of Sacco and Vanzetti as anarchists as one would speak of the color of someone’s hair.
I would encourage everyone to read about Sacco and Vanzetti. It’s an amazing piece of radical history in the US and one that can inform our analysis of today.