Thursday, August 30, 2012

Recommended books: "Conditions of War" and "Skyler Gabriel" by Lierre Keith

Where are the engaging novels about resistance, with lesbian feminists as lead characters? Two such wonders were hiding in the days of the early 90s, right around the time that I was born. Conditions of War and Skyler Gabriel are set within the social climate that radical activists faced in that era, but the tales are refreshingly relevant for today, featuring righteously enraged women taking action against power, loving each other, and growing up.

Many know author Lierre Keith for her phenomenal works of non-fiction, including The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability and Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet. Most do not know, however, that Keith's wisdom comes from a rich personal history of feminist activism, beautifully reflected in her early, self-published novels. While Conditions of War and Skyler Gabriel are certainly youthful, they are also written with the empathy and bravery so common in individuals who know from a young age the depths of the evil in the world and the simple truth that they must change it. This truth has shaped Lierre Keith's life and the the young woman who wrote these lesser-known novels is now, twenty years later, helping to lead a serious resistance movement against the destructive forces of civilization, capitalism, and patriarchy.

While the content in between the covers of both of Lierre's novels share some similar qualitiesthe theme of feminists fighting back, stories and language sure to suck the reader in until the end and leave them yearning for moreeach is unique in its plot and tone.

Book cover Conditions of WarConditions of War is a humbling tale of young, militant, lesbian feminists who organize and take action together, all the while trying navigating interpersonal relationships within their group. The main character, nicknamed the simple X, is known by her comrades as having a low tolerance for too much talk not enough action. She is always on board to spray paint the local court house or destroy pornography at the video store. Meanwhile, she deals with past and current abusive relationships; her own and those of her friends. When another woman is slain in town, the women in X's group see it as yet another advancement of the ward against women. They immediately prepare to confront the situation, but first they must confront each other.  

Andrea Dworkin praised Conditions of War as "large hearted, a terrific story of love and adventure among women who fight for women. It is bittersweet and funny, redolent with the sadness of lost love and not a few broken dreams. Lierre Keith has written a coming-of-age story for radical feminists in a time of serial sadisma graceful political entertainment for the brave, the stubborn, the defiant, and those who want to be." Indeed, in this time of horizontal hostility, disorganization, and a lack of will to fight, this is a novel that young activists today are urgently in need of.

Book cover Skyler GabrielSkyler Gabriel, Keith's second novel, is a perfect feminist mystery. In the book's synopsis, we learn that Skyler Gabriel is a "24-year-old, unemployed, bass guitar player in a lesbian rock 'n' roll band. She also has reason to believe that the death of pro-choice playwright Diana Frasier was something a little more sinister than suicide. And when Diane's young daughter turns up missing, Skyler's the only one who can save her." On this foundation begins a hilarious, yet harrowing, story of a woman who, with great determination and love, stands between abusers and their victims. With the help of her friends, Skyler Gabriel uncovers the twisted plot of some white supremacist men, that one by one is taking the lives of young childrenand she knows what she must do to stop it. This is a story that had me gasping in suspense and left in tears by the end.

What Lierre Keith has done is created stories that can sustain a culture of resistance. Activistsespecially young onesneed stories to teach them how to navigate both their personal journeys of growing up and their dedication to creating revolutionary social change. Conditions of War and Skyler Gabriel beautifully encapsulate both the personal and political aspects of a radical's life and offer a mythology in which our love and rage may be shown a path to lead us to that grand goal of justice.

Monday, August 27, 2012

As Long as it Takes: Strong Ties, Strong Hearts

"There have been others also just as true and devoted to the cause...with such women consecrating their livesfailure is impossible!"Susan B. Anthony

As an activist and organizer, I concern myself with the work of getting people together to change the world. A necessary part of this is striving to see activists bringing all of their respective gifts and forms of commitment to the table. With strong ties between strong hearts, the path to lasting social change is begun and sustained.

My time as an activist has shown me that connecting to and keeping relationship with allies is an invaluable aspect of movement-building. For some years, I have tried to organize in my local community. Here lives a diverse array of strong-hearted activists with gifts that, while amazingly unique, serve to mutually support each others' efforts. There are herbalists, musicians, writers, environmentalists, socialists, feminists, gardeners, and political organizers, all of whom work towards a more sane and just society. The hope I've placed in the power of all of them coming together does pay off, though it is no small task to help guide the momentum into fruition.

A more immediately gratifying example of this has been my experience in working with the international social justice and environmental movement called Deep Green Resistance (DGR). For the year and a half that I've been involved with DGR, I have witnessed discipline, strategy, and character on the part of it's members that is deeply impressive. Further, I'm honored to work on the organization's staff, and as part of this being involved with the interviewing of many potential recruits. It has not been lost on me that, while most who want to join share the same basic goal of liberating the earth from industrial civilization, each brings wildly unique gifts to put to use along the way.

The background of activists within Deep Green Resistance varies as well. As the organization states, "DGR is made up of writers, community organizers, janitors, parents, grocery clerks, musicians, feminists, teachers, farmers, dishwashers, artists, caregivers, laborers, and students." While I often work with members on the basis of organization and projects, I am aware and in awe of the beautiful and dynamic lives each lead, of which their work in the movement is but one part.

Sometimes, I worry about losing connecting with these allies. My knowledge of the incredible possibilities of what we can make happen by working together carries with it also the truth that we could once again be separated and isolated from one another. Indeed, between working jobs to pay rent, raising children, and tending to personal hobbies, it can prove hard for some to find time for involvement in the activities of DGR.

So, I try to hold on tight. I ask, is it our communication tools that need adjusting? Are people being treated well? What should be done to retain them and engage them? Clearly, these questions can be overwhelming for one person to grapple with and rarely do answers emerge simply because they are summoned.

This yearning to keep intact the community is present every single day and enough so that I eventually began formulating a response that is at least partially adequate. I tell myself: Maybe, it's that people come for the fight, but really stay for the culture. The task of organizers then becomes creating a healthy culture of resistance for the fighters to live within.

Those who seek out Deep Green Resistance are usually not lacking in a will to fight, as one might guess by the movement's name. The explicit goal of DGR is to "deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet." This is not the place for those with feeble politics or weak wills. But, while DGR seems to offer a place for the warrior inside us, we must ask also if it is welcoming to loving human beings. Friendship is a cornerstone to any healthy community, and it will take these bonds, these strong ties, to do this intensive work alongside each other.

In the end, I cannot force anyone to stay in the movement, or to use their gifts in a particular way. I wouldn't want to, anyways. They will stay if they want; if the community is healthy and has the potential to really effect change, they likely will. So, I ask you, my comrades, what is it that makes this culture of love and rage, this tightly-knit community that can fight back against the dominant culture and win. How can we encourage this and turn it into reality? Throughout every day of doing this work, I will also ask myself these questions. As long as it takes.