The Secret Library of Hope
Dreams on the Southern Horizon
Morris provided the name for the present-day News from Nowhere Collective, a group that has edited one of the more rambunctious handbooks for activists in recent times, We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anticapitalism. A visually delicious, horizontally formatted little chunk of a book, it features a lot of photographs, a running timeline of radical victories in our era, and short, punchy essays from people immersed in changing the world all over that world (from Quebec and Nigeria to Bolivia and Poland). Playful, subversive, and far-reaching, the book--even four years after its publication--demonstrates the scope of constructive change and activism around the planet.
There are other such handbooks, including my brother David's Globalize Liberation: How to Uproot the System and Build a Better World, out from City Lights Books a few years ago. It was in the course of editing some of the essays in that book that I discovered the beautiful, hopeful voice of Marina Sitrin, a sociologist, human rights lawyer, and activist who has spent a great deal of time among the utopian social movements of Argentina. Her encounters become ours in her new book Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina.
That country's sudden economic collapse and political turmoil in December of 2001 was largely overlooked here, but the crisis begat an extraordinary grassroots response--about as far from shock and paralysis as you can imagine. Neighborhoods gathered in popular assemblies to protest the political structure, and then stayed together to feed each other during the fiscal crisis; factory workers took over shuttered factories and ran them as cooperatives; the poor organized and mobilized; but more than these concrete actions, Argentinean society itself changed.
People began to talk across old divides and create new words for what mattered now--none more valuable than horizontalidad, which Sitrin translates as "horizontalism," a direct and radically egalitarian participatory democracy, and politica afectiva, the politics of affection, or love. The 2001 crisis was soon transformed into an opportunity to overcome the legacy of the terrifying years of the Argentinean military dictatorship, to step out of the isolation and disengagement that fear had produced, to reclaim power and reinvent social ties. With this, Argentina moved a little further away from hell and a little closer to utopia.
It's not a coincidence that Weisman's Gaviotas is in South America (though it is a surprise that it's in Colombia). After all, the most powerful voice coming from the Spanish-speaking majority of the Americas is that of the Zapatistas, and Our Word Is Our Weapon: Selected Writings of Subcommandante Insurgente Marcos, edited by Juana Ponce de Leon, is still the best English-language introduction to that indigenous movement's non-indigenous spokesman and raconteur Subcommandante Marcos. Via his poetic, playful, subversive, and ferociously hopeful manifestoes, tirades, allegories, and pranks, he has reinvented the language of politics, pushing off the drab shore of bureaucracy and cliche, sailing toward something rich and strange.
Ponce De Leon's book, however, only covers the first several years of Marcos's contributions. City Lights recently brought out his The Speed of Dreams: Selected Writings 2001-2007. On page 102, he advises an indigenous audience: "It is the hour of the word. So then, put the machete away, and continue to hone hope." By page 349, he's quoting a possibly fictional elderly couple in San Miguel Tzinacapan, who say, "The world is the size of our effort to change it."
Not that all resistance, all hope, comes from the south. It can be found everywhere, or at least on many edges, margins, and in many overlooked zones--and one of the most exhilarating histories of it is The Many Headed-Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. Their book traces a plethora of acts of resistance to capitalism, exploitation, authoritarianism and the generally sorry lot meted out to the poor in the eighteenth century. That resistance was exuberant, inventive, and occasionally ferocious, and it found its own utopias. The book begins with a 1609 shipwreck in Bermuda, in which the shipwrecked sailors and passengers begin to form their own convivial utopia that the Virginia Company forcibly disbanded. The Many Headed Hydra covers some of the same ground--and ocean routes--as Hochschild's book, and they make good joint reading.
I wish Linebaugh's The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All was out in time for this list, but look for it in February. (I read it in manuscript for the University of California Press, loved it, and learned a lot from it.) Beginning with Bush's breach not just of the Constitution, but of Magna Carta's grant of habeas corpus, Linebaugh returns to that moment at Runnymede when King John was forced to concede rights to England's citizens. Linking that despot to the one in the White House, he ventures back and forth between the two times to explore the once evolving--and now revolving or maybe even regressing -- territory of rights and liberties.