Collective Liberation On My Mind

Book Review of Collective Liberation On My Mind
by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortizthis review is from the Nov.-Dec. 2002 issue of Clamour magazineclick here to visit the Clamour website!

    I’ll come clean right off:  Chris Crass is a friend and collaborator, and I’m not an objective observer of his life and work, both of which I unabashedly admire.  Chris calls me a mentor, but it goes both ways. Furthermore, I wrote a blurb that appears on the back of Collective Liberation on My Mind, the collection of seven essays by Chris, published in pamphlet form by Kersplebedeb.  The blurb reads:

 This collection of essays by a young anarchist probes the issues of white supremacy and sexism as he observes them not only in the society at large but also in our social justice movements and in himself.  Rarely, do we find anyone dealing equally with race and gender from an anti-racist, feminist point of view, least of all a young, white male, but this is precisely what Chris Crass does.  The essay on African-American lesbian feminist Barbara Smith and the interview with Chicana feminist and veteran movement organizer, Elizabeth Martínez, take the interlocking issues beyond the familiar, progressive rhetoric.

 I want to go further in recommending this work as essential for every activist.     Chris Crass, now in his late twenties, has been engaged in anarchist organizing since his high school and junior college days on the border of South Central Los Angeles and infamous (for its rabid white supremacy and reactionary Americanism) Orange County.   Soon Chris joined Food Not Bombs to which he dedicated his considerable energies and intelligence for eight years.  Currently, he works with the Direct Action Network, the Colours of Resistance, and the Challenging White Supremacy Workshop.     Child of parents who had made the post-World War II transition from the white working class to salaried status, he found himself a minority in a heavily African-American and Latino populated locale.  Many white boys in similar situations have been recruited during the past three decades to white supremacists groups from which few escape.  Fortunately for us and for Chris, this was not his fate, or choice.  He early on recognized the reality of racism and the injustice all around him.     Chris’s narrative has made him understand that if this could happen to him, rather by accident, that it could happen to the majority of white youth in the United States by intentional organizing.  A few years ago, already committed to combating sexism and homophobia, Chris came to the conclusion that racism was a key divisive element in the movement and a barrier to forming truly revolutionary social consciousness.  The essays in Collective Liberation on My Mind focus on the past three years since the Battle of Seattle during which Chris has evolved into a skilled antiracist activist, organizer, and trainer.     Each of these concise and jargonless essays is 6-8 pages in length, except the final one, “Looking to the Light of Freedom: Lessons from the Civil rights Movement and Thoughts on Anarchist Organizing,” which is an ambitious 18 page essay that also serves as a summation (lessons) of the period, 1999-2002.     The first essay, “Shutting Down the WTO and opening up a World of Possibilities” is a riveting first-person blow-by-blow account of the exhilarating shut down of the World Trade Organization’s ministers meeting in Seattle, followed by brief commentaries, “On Organizing,” “On Anarchist Involvement,” “On Property and Resistance,” and “The Future.”     The next essay, “Beyond the Whiteness-Global Capitalism and White Supremacy:  Thoughts on Movement Building and Anti-Racist Organizing,” begins with a self-criticism of both the WTO protest and himself in response to Elizabeth “Betita” Martínez’s timely essay, “Where Was the Color in Seattle?”, and is his first in-depth analysis of white supremacy as a system of power, not simply a set of attitudes.  Chris attributes his newly gained knowledge to the Challenging White Supremacy Workshop, the brainchild of the prescient Sixties organizer and activist, Sharon Martinas.     Eight months after Seattle, the same convergence groups that produced the stunning victory against the WTO organized protests against the Republican and Democratic conventions.  Chris’s third essay, “Confronting the Democratic National Convention and Working to Build a People’s Movement for Justice,” tells a story of returning home (Los Angeles) to organize in the same streets where he had participated in so many rallies and marches as a teenager.  Prior to the convention, as part of the organizing, Chris, along with Sharon Martinas, had organized a study group of young activists to figure out how to integrate anti-racism into their work.  In this essay, Chris probes the experiment and its results.  Most importantly, he concludes, the movement must set its own goals and not attempt to fulfill those established by the media or other outside critics, such as the numbers of people at marches.     The following two essays, “Towards Social Justice: Elizabeth “Betita” Martínez and the Institute for MultiRacial Justice” and “Reading Barbara Smith’s The Truth that Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender and Freedom,” are tributes to and movement histories of two of Chris’s greatest role models.  If you haven’t read their writings or aren’t familiar with their movement work, you will want to know much more after reading these two essays.     In the final essay of the brief ones, “White Supremacy on My Mind: Learning to Undermine Racism,” Chris returns to the passionate first person, contrasting his own received consciousness as a southern California white kid with the reality of the history of the state as a part of the Republic of México that was militarily seized and occupied in 1846-48.  He continues with the history and current reality of the whole United States, summarizing and recommending books and authors he have changed and formed his thinking.     Above all, these essays reflect a passionate and determined, yet a genuinely modest and generous young thinker and activist with a great gift for writing.  Chris has taken the slogan, “The Personal is Political,” of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement that was implemented by the Women’s Liberation Movement in the later 1960s, and applied to today’s social, economic, political and cultural realities, and the result is a powerful tract reminiscence of the classic anarchists’ offerings.

K. KersplebedebK. KersplebedebK. Kersplebedeb

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