All posts by hughgoldring

Coming Soon: “Free Inside” by Peter Collins

Pete_pigeonsonshoulderOn August 13, 2015, Peter Collins died in prison. The headline in his hometown newspaper read ‘Police Killer Peter Collins dies in prison‘. It’s remarkable how many lies can fit in a headline.

No one contests that in October, 1983, Pete shot and killed Constable David Utman. But for the headline to say only that Pete was a ‘police killer’ is to tell an unforgivable lie. It might have read ‘Award-winning AIDS activist Peter Collins’ or ‘Fearless champion of animal rights Peter Collins’. A more honest headline could have said ‘survivor of child abuse Peter Collins’, in recognition of a portion of his trauma.

There is another unforgivable lie in that headline. ‘Peter Collins dies in prison’. They use the neutral word, dies, as though there’s nothing else to say about it. But here’s something that needs to be said: the prison system murdered Pete. When he found blood in his urine he asked to see a doctor. It took them months to fulfill his request. Bladder cancer can be treated if you catch it early. But for Pete it was too late.

To tell Pete’s story the headline might well have added another word at the end. That word is ‘alone’. Though his cancer was known to be incurable he was denied compassionate release. He might have spent the last weeks of his life reunited with his family. With his friends. With freedom.

But whether it’s for love of the police or the profitability of sensationalism, no headline is going to tell that story. For that you’ll have to read his book, ‘Free Inside’, published by Ad Astra Comix. Featuring comics, original art and writing by Pete and those who knew him, ‘Free Inside’ is no fit tribute to a man whose indomitable spirit cannot be captured by mere print.

But at least it tells the truth.

 

Preview of Art in “Free Inside”

 

Things you can do to help:

Pre-order copies of “Free Inside” for yourself, your classroom, your church library, or your social justice organization by e-mailing us at adastracomix@gmail.com

Share the following press release about the book:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
'Free Inside' Documents the Life of Prisoner and Activist Peter Collins

Ad Astra Comix is pleased to announce the publication of its latest title, 'Free Inside: The World of Peter Collins'. A mixture of comics, art and writing by Pete Collins and those who knew him, 'Free Inside' is a record of Pete's courage and tenacity.

After a troubled childhood, Pete was imprisoned in 1983, convicted of killing Ottawa Police constable Robert Utman. Left alone with his thoughts in prison, Pete felt a terrible remorse for what he had done that would remain with him for his entire life. He spent the next several decades of his life working to heal himself and help those around him. He died of bladder cancer in 2015 after being denied compassionate release so that he might spend his last moments with his family. Prison confined Pete but could not contain him. He was an advocate for the rights of animals, prisoners and people with HIV / AIDS. In 2008, he was awarded the Canadian Award for Action from the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch. He helped prepare fellow prisoners for parole hearings and fought tirelessly for justice. 

Although the prison authorities repeatedly obstructed his work as an artist, Pete persisted. His acerbic cartoons about prison life speak to the frustrations therein. His political cartoons skewer the hypocrisy of powerful people. His sketches of birds and other wildlife show his sensitivity and patience. 

'Free Inside' is a kind of memorial to Pete - full of his work, his thoughts and the thoughts of those who loved him. It speaks to the failures of the Canadian prison system and the triumph of the human spirit in the face of misery. We are proud to publish this first full length collection of Pete's work and hope that it will encourage people to judge prisoners not in terms of their one mistake, but the whole of their lives and experiences.

 

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7 Ways ‘War in the Neighborhood’ is the Comic Book version of RENT

Anyone who has accidentally gotten their one theatre friend talking has heard of ‘RENT’, the 1993 musical about artists and activists living in Alphabet City, New York. But far fewer people have ever heard of Seth Tobocman’s ‘War in the Neighborhood’, a graphic novel published in 1999 that has more than a few similarities to ‘RENT’. How many? Let’s take a look.

gerrymandered1. Both take place in New York City’s Lower East Side

Sure, Alphabet City is a little bit more specific than ‘Lower East Side’, but it’s the same neighborhood, a stretch of blocks between Avenue 1 and A Street. Now one of the most expensive places to live in North America, the Lower East Side once had a reputation for being a haven to bohemians, radicals, immigrants and anyone else looking for a cheap place to live as they set out to build lives in the capital of the world. The perfect place to write a tragedy in the case of ‘RENT’, or watch one unfold, in the case of ‘War in the Neighborhood’.

 

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2. They’re both set in the Bush years

No, not that Bush. From 1988-1992, George Bush Sr. was president of an America in transition. Eight years of Ronald Reagan had kick-started the “War on Drugs”, broken the back of the labor movement and set the stage for the disappearance of the middle class. Many of the themes the two works have in common: the AIDS crisis, gentrification, conscientious objection to said “War on Drugs,” and heavily politicized art. Romantic as life on the Lower East Side might seem in art, the lived reality was often one of hunger, cold and constant anxiety that today would be eviction day. Both ‘RENT’ and ‘War in the Neighborhood’ show that heady mix of insecurity and adventure.

this is how the system kills us

 

3. Both stories involve the struggle between squatters and gentrifiers

At the root of that anxiety about displacement, of course, was gentrification. After decades of neglect and urban decay, developers in New York City saw an opportunity. Slowly, condos began springing up along with yuppie shops, gyms and coffee bars, pricing residents out of their own communities.

Both the squatters and gentrifiers look at the decaying urban infrastructure and see possibility: but where squatters see the potential for an inclusive, self-reliant community, gentrifiers saw an opportunity to turn a profit regardless of the human cost.

In ‘RENT’, Benny is an affable tech entrepreneur who promises his old bohemian buddies a home in his state-of-the art “cyber studio” – but only if they can stop a protest happening in the neighborhood—against what? Gentrification. Meanwhile, this process of urban transformation is illustrated as a gigantic serpent in ‘War in the Neighborhood’, coiling itself up the old apartment blocks and suffocating the life out of the people who live there. Backed by the power of local politicians, this force seemed unstoppable.

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In both stories it is a group of squatters who form a front-line opposition to this community takeover. They occupy the abandoned buildings before the landlords get a chance to burn them down. While Roger and Mark may be living for free, courtesy of Benny, Mimi and the rest of the squatters seen in ‘RENT’ are very much taking their chances. Squatting is a major theme of ‘War in the Neighbourhood’, where the struggle to build a life that you could lose at any time appears again and again.

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4. Anarchists play a prominent role in each title

Sure enough, wherever there are struggles against gentrification, anarchists probably aren’t far behind. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, anarchists party in Tompkins Square Park, fight the police, denounce Leninists, and insist on democratic process in the governance of the squats. As for ‘RENT’, Although almost the entire cast exudes a cheeky anti-authoritarianism, only former professor Collins is explicitly identified:

‘And Collins will recount his exploits as an anarchist – including the tale of the successful reprogramming of the M.I.T. virtual reality equipment to self-destruct, as it broadcasts the words: “Actual reality – ACT UP – Fight AIDS!”

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5. Both show radical communities dealing with addiction

The Bush years marked a continuation of Ronald Reagan’s so-called “War on Drugs”, an effort that led to moral panic, militarization of police forces, and the criminalization of people living with addiction. In Rent, Roger is recovering from a heroin addiction, while Mimi is actively using. The question of addiction is portrayed sentimentally and feels a little bit borrowed for the sake of deepening tragedy. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, several characters are addicted to heroin, cocaine, or crack, and there is nothing romantic about it. Tobocman portrays drug use as a fact of life under capitalism—the baggage that we sometimes carry with us to deal with our pain. The question of whether or not to let people use drugs in the squat is a major source of conflict: how do we build a new world that is inclusive and supportive when we carry so much baggage from the world we want to leave behind?

when-peeps-gonna-die

6. Both take place at the height of the AIDS crisis

It’s impossible to write about New York City in the Bush Sr. years without addressing the AIDS crisis. Government silence and inaction allowed the disease to become an epidemic, devastating affected communities. In RENT, fully half of the main cast has AIDS, which claims the life of Angel, a drag queen and street performer. In the middle of ‘La Vie Boheme’, the cast leans on the fourth wall by referencing ACT UP, the direct action group organized by people living with AIDS.

ACT UP also appears in ‘War in the Neighborhood, where Scarlett is a squatter living with the virus, struggling to find a safe space in the middle of a virtual war zone. They struggle to find the physical energy, let alone the spirit, to continue the fight for housing. Another character, Tito, is bedridden due to complications but is able to keep watch for nearby squatters and help them stay safe.

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7. Neither has an uncomplicated, happy ending

Anyone walking through the Lower East Side can see that gentrification has won. The bohemian utopia, always half-imaginary, exists only in works like Rent and ‘War in the Neighborhood’. It isn’t easy to tell the story of its life without touching on the death that was all around.

In ‘RENT’, the death of Mimi is the most visible impact of the AIDS epidemic, though people disappear steadily from her AIDS support group. Tension around Angel’s death fragments their circle of friends. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, the squats slowly dissolve in a mix of death, eviction and interpersonal conflict.

But neither one ends as a tragedy. Rent ends with Mimi pulling back from the brink of death, following Roger’s confession of love. ‘War in the Neighborhood’ ends with a thoughtful meditation on how hard we are on each other, and that if we can see the possibilities in what we might be, there’s no telling what we can do.

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Maybe good tragedies need a moral lesson to soften the blow. I think both these stories end with a moral: ‘keep living; there is hope’. And hope, these days, is in short supply. We’ve got to take it where we can find it; to make the most of the time we have.

 We’re publishing a second edition of ‘War in the Neighborhood’! To order your copy, check out our crowdfunder or, head over to our press kit to learn more about the book.

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The Lessons “War in the Neighborhood” Could Have Taught Us at Occupy

000 introductionThe struggles we find ourselves in –for justice, equality, and a democracy worthy of the name– are not new. Yet we’re endlessly forming new groups, writing new charters, experimenting with new tactics as though we were the first people ever to struggle against injustice.

Driving across North America in the past year, we were struck by the profound lack of institutional memory in radical communities wherever we went. People doing work that was important, even essential, could often tell us nothing about what their organization had been like 10 years ago, if it had existed at all.

The left leaves few records and most of these are hagiographies–saintly accounts of the lives of larger-than-life heroic figures that read more like myths than histories. It is a rare book that transcends this shallow style and speaks frankly about the painful difficulties encountered by social movements. That kind of book is full of important lessons for us. ”War in the Neighborhood’ is that kind of book.

I wish I’d had a chance to read it before walking into that Occupy camp, 5 years ago. It would have saved me a lot of headache. Here’s why.

000 too much like everyone else

1: You aren’t the first people to take public space

‘War in the Neighborhood’ is partially about the struggle to protect the public’s right to use Tompkins Square Park. One of those uses, dating to before the struggle, is as the site of a tent city for the homeless. In the course of the struggle to preserve the park as a place to drink and hang out, conflicts with the cops made it an unsafe place to sleep.

000 introduction 2

Confrontations between cops and activists would raise the emotional temperature of the park, but while the activists could go home, many of the people living in the tent city were home – and had nowhere to go when the cops came to work out their frustrations.

000 homeless already lived there

“Reclaiming” urban space is always more complicated than it looks. In North America particularly, that space is always colonized land. In a more immediate sense, the space is often being used by people who don’t want to see it ‘reclaimed’. During the era of the Occupy camps, we dropped into that park without any notion of this. We were bringing media and police attention to a space that homeless people had been living in quietly for years.

000 homelessness is a problem of capitalism

I wish we’d all known a little bit more about past struggles like ours, and known ahead of time that we needed to be mindful of the needs of the folks already living in the park. They are capable of doing their own very powerful organizing if they choose, organizing we could have supported if we had treated them with respect.

 

 

2: The police are not your friends

Alright, there are plenty of people who know this, and I can hear them into the peanut gallery rolling their eyes at the obvious point and congratulating themselves on how on-point their politics are. Good for you.

000 the cops are not your friends

The trouble is, not everyone knows this, and vague denunciations of authority from angry punks do not always persuade the larger group. The police are tricky, and they know how to present a friendly face as well as their real one. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, we see the cops put pressure on squatters by offering them a deal. The squatters, divided by the proposal, eventually accept. Needless to say, they are betrayed by the police.

000 the cops are not your friends 2

Some of the people at Occupy knew better than to waste time talking to the cops, but many did not. The police could make little demands about where we put our tents or how we hung our tarps, and sow division without working very hard– these petty demands caused us to turn against each other. They were going to evict us eventually either way but the conflict over whether or not to comply with these petty demands created real conflict between us.

The police are not all billy clubs and tear gas. They will make little helpful gestures to win your trust. At one Occupy march, I remember them sharing bottled water with us. But by then we were wise – “Ew, cop water,” was how one friend put it. Earlier we had not always been so savvy. The police’s polite request to ‘liaise’ (read: pump us for information) or offers to protect our marches (read: control and contain our protests) convinced some people that they were on our side. When they swept into the camp in the middle of the night, tore down our tents and brutalized one of our friends, they made it perfectly clear whose friends they were.

I wish we had all known well enough to be on the same page, and understood the role of the police in suppressing resistance.

 

000 cop in our head

3: Outside organizations will try to control your politics

The left is full of self-appointed leaders and self-anointed messiahs. Academics, vanguard parties, one-man black blocs and all kinds of people whose analysis is so pure that they get high on the fumes. These people will show up at your movement and tell you where it’s going, what path it’ll take to get there, and what kind of clothes you should wear for your media appearances. What they won’t do, generally, is the dishes – or anything else useful.

000 outside politics

This isn’t so much a problem of ideology as of personality. Some people know how to be humble, pull together as a team and do their share of every kind of work. Some people are so convinced of their special genius that they think they are making the most important possible contributions by telling everyone else what to do and think.

000-other-groups

‘War in the Neighborhood’ shows us both kinds of people. Luna, a member of the RCP, becomes one of the most persistent and dedicated squatters. An angry anarchist denounces her participation and the squat as a whole because they are, presumably, guilty by association. Eventually, Luna herself leaves the party over its homophobic views and controlling nature.

000 luna and rcp

When Occupy enjoyed its brief historical moment, plenty of groups wanted to control it. They showed up with their critiques, their literature, sometimes even with printed t-shirts. They would try to change the way Occupy was governed, or how it framed its messaging. Some were a problem, but others weren’t. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter so much what group they were from. What mattered was how willing they were to set their personal politics aside and work for the collective good of the group, instead of trying to co-opt it to serve their own purposes.

It can be a lot to keep track of, especially for folks who are new to activism. But I wish I’d known then what I know now – people show you how much you can trust them based on how respectful and committed their participation is.

SQUASH 15

 

4: But you never know who your best comrades will turn out to be…

…but you can find out, easily enough! People vote with their time and energy. Look to see who’s putting in the work and who’s standing around talking shit. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, we see a variety of people, including communists, ex-cons, teenage anarchists, people with active addictions and the homeless prove to be the best of comrades.

That is not always intuitive. It is easy to be drawn to the most articulate people, or the ones who seem to have the most support in the group. You can be taken in by people’s charms or by the appearance of experience. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter how articulate someone is, how experienced they are, or how great their analysis is, if they can’t put their own agenda aside and work as part of a team.

SQUASH 14

At Occupy I definitely had a preference for people who shared my politics and cultural values most closely. But I learned in time that I valued the friendships of all kinds of people – liberals, social democrats, other anarchists and even 9/11 truthers (thanfully, those guys came around).

Of course, we were working inside an anarchist framework, with a set of anarchist assumptions. Over time, I watched a lot of those folks evolve into the best anarchists I know. But I think this point holds true no matter what the ideology of your group. If people focus on the work, it doesn’t matter where they’re coming from. You’re headed the same way.

SQUASH 5

 

5: Holding space may be the only thing you agree on

This is a much less universal lesson than some of the others, but I think that you can apply it pretty broadly. Groups form around particular issues, and people may not agree on much else. Holding space was at the centre of the Occupy movement’s politics, and applies equally to the struggles for public space and homes depicted in ‘War in the Neighbourhood’.
000 tea party

Rules are a recurring theme for ‘War in the Neighborhood’. Should this squat be drug free? Should we negotiate with the cops? Are we prepared to tolerate sexism? In different ways these questions are all part of the bigger question: “How will we make this space our own?” and “What is this space for?” But while everyone agrees with ‘making this space our own’, they can’t even agree what that looks like.

000 disputes

At my Occupy camp, and I suspect at many others, the problem was worse, if anything. Should we march? Should we build the camp? Should we make signs? Should we make dinner? Again, holding the park was just about the one thing we all agreed was necessary.

This was a real shock to me. I arrived thinking that people would more or less be there for the same reason I was – tired of the growing power of the rich and ready to hold them to account. The reality was not so simple. I wish I had been able to better anticipate that.

 

6: People whose help you might hope for will sit on the sidelines and criticize

There were some people who were not so ready to accept the riot of ideas and ideology on display at Occupy. I couldn’t believe them. I was putting aside a lot of my own ideas about how the world should work out of some abstracted sense of the common good. Why couldn’t they do the same?

000 sideline criticism

People have agendas. They look at social movements and they ask themselves if these social movements serve those agendas. Then they decide if they are going to participate, criticize, or both. If your revolution doesn’t look like it’s going to serve their purposes, don’t expect to see them frying tofu in the kitchen tent.

“War in the Neighborhood” shows us that people have different reasons for wanting you to fail. Maybe they don’t like some of your members. Perhaps they disagree with your group’s tactics. Maybe they didn’t get their way in your group and so they left.

Sometimes people who should be comrades simply aren’t. It’s easy to take that personally, but you shouldn’t. It happens every time. All you can do is to keep doing your best to be honest, persistent and fair.
000 disputes 2

7: There are no easy answers

Maybe I should have known this one before Occupy started. I thought I knew it, really. I thought I knew that things were so close to hopeless that it would take a change in world conditions to create an opportunity for change. But then in Occupy I saw that opportunity.

In a way, all social struggles have the potential to make us feel like everything has changed. ‘War in the Neighborhood’ shows impossible victories – people taking over abandoned buildings, neighborhood people fighting back against police violence, homeless people winning the right to maintain a tent city in Tompkins Square Park.

But even when all the rules of normal life seem to be inverted, there are no easy answers. You can fight like hell and do everything right only to watch it all fall apart because of some unhappy accident. We are still learning, all of us struggling to build a better world. I don’t think anyone has all the answers. But if we could get better at telling stories about what went right – and what went disastrously wrong – we might not be quite so completely doomed to repeat our history forever.

 

wordless visually stunning

 

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Nine Must-Read Texts About European Squatting Scenes

As we run our most recent crowdfunding project, we have taken a dive into the history of squatting as a practice of anti-capitalist resistance. In many parts of North America, it’s difficult to conceive of squatting as anything other than a romantic ideal – except for the fact that settler societies are squatter societies by nature, albeit of an objectionable variety. Meanwhile in Europe there are vibrant squatters’ movements in the Netherlands, Greece, Germany and many other countries. What’s the secret to their success? You might find a few clues in the books below.

nine-tenths of the law1. Hannah Dobbz – editor of “Nine-Tenths of the Law: Property and Resistance”

From AK Press, the publisher: “How does “property” fit into designs for an equitable society? Nine-Tenths of the Law examines the history of squatting and property struggles in the US, from colonialism to 20th-century urban squatting and the foreclosure crisis of the late 2000s, and how such resistance movements shape the law. Squatting is defined by Dobbz as “occupying an otherwise abandoned structure without exchanging money or engaging in a formal permissive agreement.” Stories from our most hard-hit American cities show that property is truly in crisis.”

Learn more here

2. Squatting Europe Kollective – “The Squatters’ Movement in Europe: Commons and Autonomy as Alternatives to Capitalism”

the squatters movement in europeFrom Pluto Press, the publisher: “The Squatters’ Movement in Europe is the first definitive guide to squatting as an alternative to capitalism. It offers a unique insider’s view on the movement – its ideals, actions and ways of life. At a time of growing crisis in Europe with high unemployment, dwindling social housing and declining living standards, squatting has become an increasingly popular option.

The book is written by an activist-scholar collective, whose members have direct experience of squatting: many are still squatters today. There are contributions from the Netherlands, Spain, the USA, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the UK.”

Learn more here

3. Nazima Kadir – “The Autonomous Life? Paradoxes of Hierarchy and Authority in the Squatters Movement in Amsterdam”

the autonomous lifeFrom Manchester University Press, the publisher: “ ‘The Autonomous Life?’ is an ethnography of the squatters’ movement in Amsterdam written by an anthropologist who lived and worked in a squatters’ community for over three years. During that time she resided as a squatter in four different houses, worked on two successful anti-gentrification campaigns, was evicted from two houses and jailed once. With this unique perspective, Kadir systematically examines the contradiction between what people say and what they practice in a highly ideological radicalleftcommunity. The squatters’ movement defines itself primarily as anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian, and yet is perpetually plagued by the contradiction between this public disavowal and the maintenance of hierarchy and authority within the movement. This study analyses how this contradiction is then reproduced in different micro-social interactions, examining the methods by which people negotiate minute details of their daily lives as squatter activists in the face of a fun house mirror of ideological expectations reflecting values from within the squatter community, that, in turn, often refract mainstream, middle-class norms.”

Learn more here

4. Pierpaolo Mudu and Sutapa Chattopadhyay – “Migration, Squatting, and Radical Autonomy” Edited by P.M. and S.C. on behalf of the Squatting Europe Collective

squatting migration radical autonomy From Routledge, the publisher: “This book offers a unique contribution, exploring how the intersections among migrants and radical squatter’s movements have evolved over past decades. The complexity and importance of squatting practices are analyzed from a bottom-up perspective, to demonstrate how the spaces of squatting can be transformed by migrants. With contributions from scholars, scholar-activists, and activists, this book provides unique insights into how squatting has offered an alternative to dominant anti-immigrant policies, and the implications of squatting on the social acceptance of migrants.”

Learn more here

5. Lynn Owens – “Cracking Under Pressure: Narrating the Decline of the Amsterdam Squatters’ Movement”

cracking under pressure lynn owensFrom Penn State University Press, the publisher: “Social movements excite and energize their participants in their early phases, with expectations high and ambitions yet unchecked by reality. Consequently, the academic study of social movements has focused primarily on the stages of mobilization and growth. But all movements eventually decline, and it is important to understand why they do, when they do, and what the effects of decline are.

Lynn Owens aims to broaden and enrich social movement theory by focusing on this phase of decline. He does so through a close investigation of the fate of the squatters’ movement in Amsterdam, which emerged in the late 1970s as a reaction to the housing shortage of the 1960s, peaked in the early 1980s at some 10,000 participants, and then fell into a period of prolonged decline. As a movement significant for its influence on radical movements elsewhere in Europe and for its contribution to Amsterdam’s reputation as a center of countercultural activity, this case study affords an opportunity to examine not only why movements decline but also how—how activists respond to decline first by downplaying it, then by debating it, and finally by adjusting to it.”

Learn more here

5. Bart van de Steen – “The City is Ours: Squatting and Autonomous Movements in Europe from the 1970s to the Present”

the city is oursFrom PM Press, the publisher: “Squatters and autonomous movements have been in the forefront of radical politics in Europe for nearly a half-century—from struggles against urban renewal and gentrification, to large-scale peace and environmental campaigns, to spearheading the antiausterity protests sweeping the continent.

Through the compilation of the local movement histories of eight different cities—including Amsterdam, Berlin, and other famous centers of autonomous insurgence along with underdocumented cities such as Poznan and Athens—The City Is Ours paints a broad and complex picture of Europe’s squatting and autonomous movements.”

Learn more here

6. Stephen Luis Vilaseca – “Barcelonan Okupas: Squatter Power!”

barcelona okupas“From Rowman and Littlefield, the publisher: Barcelonan Okupas: Squatter Power! is the first book to combine close-readings of the representations of Spanish squatters known as okupas with the study of everyday life, built environment, and city planning in Barcelona. Vilaseca broadens the scope of Spanish cultural studies by integrating into it notions of embodied cognition and affect that respond to the city before and against the fixed relations of capitalism. Social transformation, as demonstrated by the okupas, is possible when city and art interrelate, not through capital or the urbanization of consciousness but through bodily thought. The okupas reconfigure the way thoughts, words, images and bodily responses are linked by evoking and communicating the idea of free exchange and openness through art (poetry, music, performance art, the plastic arts, graffiti, urban art and cinema); and by acting out and rehearsing these ideas in the practice of squatting. The okupas challenge society to differentiate the images and representations instituted by state domination or capitalist exploitation from the subversive potential of imagination. The okupas unify theory and practice, word and body, in pursuit of a positive, social vision that might serve humanity and lead the way out of the current problems caused by capitalism.”
Learn more here

7. Agnes Gagyi – “Hungary: The Constitution of the ‘political’ in Squatting”

From Baltic Worlds, the publisher:

“The idea of political squatting has been codified in the practice and self-reflection of Western European radicalizing movements, which turned, following the downturn of the 1968 movement cycle, to conflictual strategies in urban settings, to voice problems of housing, youth unemployment, and various countercultural values. In defining political squatting, researchers rely on these historical backgrounds to grasp the political dimension that makes squatting more than simple occupation. In doing so, they tend to raise elements of the Western European historical context as evident corollaries of the phenomenon. For example, in a new comparative study on Western European squatters’ movements in 52 large cities, Guzman1 summarizes the literature on political squatting, identifying typical elements of the political context of squatting in phenomena such as support by the New Left and the Greens, squats serving as platforms for the extra-parliamentary left, involving Marxists, autonomists, anarchists, and a left-libertarian subculture, and being part of campaigns for affordable housing or minority rights, or against war, neo-Nazis, unemployment, precariousness, urban speculation and regeneration projects, gentrification, and displacement”

Learn more here

8. Håkan Thörn et al – “Space for Urban Alternatives: Christiana 1971 – 2011”

From the Goteborg University website: “In 1971, a group of young people broke into a closed down military area in Copenhagen. It was located not more than a mile from the Royal Danish Palace and the Danish parliament. Soon, the media published images and reports from the proclamation of the Freetown Christiania, and people travelled from all over Europe to be part of the foundation of a new community. A ‘Christiania Act’ passed by a broad parliamentary majority in 1989 legalised the squat and made it possible to grant Christiania the rigth to collective use of the area. However, this was reversed under the Liberal-Conservative government in 2004 when the parliament decided on changes in the 1989 Christiania law. The Freetown has refused to give up its claims on the property so it remains highly contested. Around 900 people live in Christiania today. It is governed through a decentralised democratic structure, whose autonomy is strongly contingent on the Freetown’s external relations with the Danish government, the Copenhagen Municipality, the Copenhagen Police and to the organised crime in connection with the cannabis trade. This book brings together ten researchers from various disciplines; Sociology, Anthropology, History, Geography, Art, Urban planning, Landscape architecture and Political science to bring thier own reflections on the unique community that is Christiania. In the introductory chapter, the editors provide an overview of the research that has been done on the settlement from the early 1970s to the 2000s.”

Learn more here

Interested in learning about the history of squatting here in North America? Check out our pre-order campaign for Seth Tobocman’s ‘War in the Neighborhood’, a 300 pg account of squatting and the fight against gentrification on New York’s Lower East Side.

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An Interview with Cape and Cowl owner Jay Roy

As part of our crowdfunder for ‘Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back’, Ad Astra Comix agreed to do a workshop in Halifax, Nova Scotia. One of the attendees was Jay Aaron Roy, who runs Cape and Cowl, a comics shop in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia. We visited C&C on our way back to Ontario and were so impressed that we decided we wanted to do an interview featuring Jay’s work there. The results are below.


Q: First off, let’s have the basics: How long has Cape and Cowl been open? Where is it located? What’s the neighbourhood like?

jay aaron roy croppedA: Cape & Cowl has been open since September 28th, 2014, and we are located at 536 Sackville Drive, in beautiful Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, Canada! The neighborhood here is warm and welcoming. I am from this town (well, Fall River, which is about ten minutes away), so many community members here have known me, or who I am, for a long time.


Q: So when we visited, you told us about the role the shop plays as a community space. Could you tell us a little more about that?

A: When I was searching for a location to open, my goal was to specifically open in this rural area to offer the local youth something new to see and do. I have much youth work in my background, and there is hardly anything around here for youth do, so I knew a drop-in center would fit perfectly. I have big ambitions (which I will get to in question #9!), so having a space where I could host game days, movie nights, youth drop-in times, birthday parties, and the like was always an integral part of my business plan.

Q: So you’ve got signs up making it clear that Cape and Cowl is a safe community space. What does that mean in practice? What moved you to do it?
A: Safe spaces are so important, especially for the lgbtqi community. Youth desperately need spaces where they feel comfortable and respected. Making my shop a “safe space”, and then advertising that out there to the world, lets all local youth know, and really everyone else too, that this space is protected. Protected by me. Locally, people tend to know that I am an activist who is quite outspoken about the things that I believe in. So, in practice, I offer volunteering opportunities for youth to help me run parties and events, and in return they know that whatever their gender identity or sexual orientation, they will be respected here. And, not only that, but I will make sure that everyone else in the shop respects them as well, and act as a moderator when a person needs to be gently corrected. I basically like to take the stress off the youth and help validate their identity and worth. I have a no-nonsense, zero tolerance rule about bullying.
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I think it is just a part of who I am, to make a space like this, because I was bullied a lot when I was young, and as I have come out in my adulthood as a transgender man, that bullying hadn’t totally stopped. I don’t know if safe spaces will always be needed, and in some part, I hope we don’t need them forever, but I do know we need them right now.

Q: This is an interesting time for nerd culture, with the ugly underbelly of toxic masculinity being dragged out into the light for all to see. Comic book shops are probably the primary physical gathering spaces for people interested in comics, gaming and this kind of stuff – Cape and Cowl is definitely set up like that. But there’s a tension for store owners who have to be careful not to alienate any part of their clientele, while also being pressed to pick sides in an increasingly polarized battle. How do you negotiate that tension at C&C?
A: That’s a great question, and certainly something I pay very careful attention to. Every single move I make with the shop is super-meticulously thought out. Where I am the 100% sole proprietor, I feel more free to “do what I want” when it comes to political stances. My shop would never have the chance to be any sort of “boys club”, that’s just not how I operate. I get Sailor Moon toys that have “for girls” printed right on the box…I take a black marker and cover that up right away before they go on the shelf. MY Sailor Moon toys are for EVERYONE. I also reflect my feelings for particular creative teams, in my orders. If I don’t like what a writer/comic is saying to my shoppers, I don’t order it, (unless someone orders it by special request). I really like to showcase representation though, so I’ll still order Superman and Iron Man, but I have way healthier stock of Jem and the Holograms, Ms. Marvel and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. In regards to gathering the local nerds, (and I use that term in a loving way), it is all about timing. I have many community events like craft fairs and bbqs, where the larger community comes out to an event, but also gaming days, where my local Magic: The Gathering players can gather and play tournaments in the drop-in, so I can run my business at the same time. I just make it known to the players that I have a business to run, and for the most part they respect that. I’ve only had to tell a few guys to watch their language, haha.

Q: So you used to work at Strange Adventures in Halifax, right? What kind of lessons did you learn there about running a comic shop? Has Callum (the owner of Strange Adventures) been supportive of Cape and Cowl?

A: I did used to work at Strange Adventures, and even a few other comic shops as well before that! I learned so much from my time at Strange Adventures, though, for sure. Calum Johnston runs an amazing business, at all three of his shops. I learned a lot about the comic industry from him and Dave Howlett, the manager of his Halifax location. Cal was an awesome boss, and has been super supportive of Cape & Cowl. I am always lead to quote him when he said many years ago to me, “a rising tide floats all boats”. In other words, more people reading comics is a good thing. Also, I’m way out in the rural area, so I don’t hurt his business too much, I imagine. 😉 I still talk to him all the time about lots of different aspects of the business, he has given me some great advice, and brought me gifts of shelving to the shop.

jay and room

Q: What’s your favourite part of running a comic shop?

A: What a tough one! First of all, I love being the boss! Haha! I am a pretty creative fellow, so being able to concoct my own sales, events, ideas, etc. has pretty much been a dream come true. I love having the freedom to run my own business the exact way I want to. The most rewarding part of my work is seeing people enjoy the shop, and the space. I also just plain LOVE comics! So, it’s always fun being in the comic industry and seeing what is coming out, the day it comes out!


Q: (You can skip this one if you don’t wanna make trouble with your landlord) You mentioned something about the landlord jacking up the rent massively. I think the price you mentioned was comparable to commercial rents in Toronto, and you live in rural Nova Scotia! What the hell are they thinking?

A: I will answer anything! Haha! I have NO IDEA what they are thinking, other than probably “This lake-of-fire front property is too hot, let’s invest in new A/C and charge it to the small business owners in our rural buildings”?, because they are, collectively, Satan. Seriously though, with companies like the one that jacked up my rent, (through loopholes, two months after I moved in, with an increase of $600 a MONTH!), I’m sure all they care about is the bottom line. They are so disconnected from the communities they own in, and they could care less. The community at large, along with myself, emailed, sent letters, called, did everything we could, and the owners still did not care. They stood their ground on the increase, and as a result I have almost gone out of business four times. In fact, they only sent me back one email saying “I’m not sure why we got these emails…”. I offered them some reading lessons. They didn’t answer back, haha. My building has since been bought by another company, who have their heads in the sand just as deep. We need locally owned, reasonably priced business buildings desperately in rural Nova Scotia. Or at least ones not owned by the four horseman of the apocalypse.

For anyone who wants to get in touch with Jay’s landlord about his outrageous rent, he pays $3345.70 a month for 1610 sq. ft. You can reach them at

BANC Group
1 Craigmore Drive, Suite 201
Halifax, NS  B3N 0C6
P (902) 832-8930

Q: What’s the hardest part of running Cape and Cowl?

A: The hardest part of running Cape & Cowl, is doing it all by myself. Although, it makes me quite proud to see all I have done. I certainly couldn’t have done it at all without the incredible amount of help I get from local community members, and volunteers for parties and events, but the daily grind can certainly wear on me from time to time. I am good at practicing self care, though, so I make sure to get the rest I need. When the shop closes up at 6:00, I go home. I don’t let anyone make me feel guilty for not being open past that. If they want to shop comics in the evening, they can do that in the city, or wait a few years until I have a staff to allow me to do so. The only other part that was difficult, was dealing with ALL the companies that call you to set up debit/credit payments with them. Boy, those companies are all headache-inducing, but only were so in my first year of business. I can tell them where to go pretty fast, these days, haha.


Q:Do you have any big plans for the future?

A: I have SO MANY big plans for the future, but I can’t tell anyone about them yet! Isn’t that awful?! haha All I can say is, stay tuned to the website, and you’ll see every big idea as I implement them!

Q: What advice do you have for folks around North America interested in starting their own comic shops?
A:  Oh my gosh, I could write an hour’s worth of material here, but what I’ll say is this: do it. If you want to own a comic shop, go do it. Save as much money as you can, do your research about the comic industry, and how to order from your distributors. Go nuts on social media. Listen to everyone’s “advice”, but only use the advice you want. Comic shops work much better if you involve the community, so create events where the geek community can gather and cross promote with other local small businesses. Find small business meet-ups in your area, and get connected! And most importantly, remember that COMICS ARE FOR EVERYONE.

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Catching up – An Interview with ‘Extraction’ contributor Dawn Paley.

As we’ve mentioned before, a number of the folks involved with
‘Extraction! Comix Reportage’  have gone on to do other important work. One of the most interesting and accomplished of the Extraction contributors (not that they aren’t all just fascinating) is journalist and activist Dawn Paley. We caught up with Dawn via phone call, since she’s currently living and working long term in Puebla, to find out what she’s been up to since the comic came out. Here’s how that went:

Ad Astra: Could you tell us a little bit about your history as an activist?

Dawn :I grew up in the lower mainland of British Columbia, on Coast Salish territory. I grew up in a pretty isolated area, this is pre-internet, so my first entry into activism was through environmentalism, eventually I started working as a journalist, doing media activism and grassroots journalism. Over the years, I’ve written about environmental and land issues ranging from the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement to the impacts of US foreign policy and the expansion of capitalism on communities in Mexico, Central and South America.

borealforest
Worth fighting for.

I’ve been working as a journalist now for a little over 12 years, largely focused on Mexico, Central and South America, but especially Mexico. The piece I did for ‘EXTRACTION!’ [Gold: Taking the Heart of the Land] was the result of one of my first trips to Central America, and over the last decades I’ve continued to cover the ongoing dispossession, violence and colonialism taking place in Mexico, Central and South America. In my work I strive to explore the nature of the violences of capital and states, part of the work is to expose the connections between the global north and the violence that so deeply impacts so many folks in the global south.

 Ad Astra: How did you first get involved in ‘EXTRACTION!’?  How did you settle on the Goldcorp mine in Guatemala as the subject of the comic?

Dawn: I became involved with Extraction! because I had previously collaborated with [editor] Frederic Dubois, and later became friends with [editor] David Widgington of Cumulus Press as well. They asked me to do a chapter. They initially asked me to write about Barrick’s Pascua Lama mine in the high Andes in Chile and Argentina. I countered with a proposal to write about Guatemala/Goldcorp, suggesting that it would be a stronger piece because I’d already done interviews and research in the area. Plus, comics being a more visual thing it made sense to be working on a project about a place I’d seen first hand.

 

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The Marlin Mine

I knew the comic was going to be good as soon as I found out Joe Ollmann was working on the project. I immediately liked Joe’s style and his approach. We didn’t get to see a whole lot with each other – it was a long distance working relationship, but it was a nice experience. Joe has a fabulous sense of humor, and the final experience of seeing my words through Joe’s illustrations was incredible. It’s just totally different than print reporting.

Ad Astra: What was your collaborative process with Joe Ollmann like?

Dawn: It might be a bit passé for someone my age, but I confess, I’m a dyed in the wool print journalist. Obviously all journalism is teamwork, and sometimes I’ll work with a collaborator, like a photographer. Sometimes with print, you’ll write the piece and the photographer will send a cutline or two to go with their images, or your editor will suggest some changes to a piece. But with comics, the artist does so much work. Drawing, inking, and lettering takes so much time and skill. I don’t want to diminish what editors  or photographers do…there’s a lot to it. But with this comic, it felt really different. It was an even longer process. It was interesting to have the surprise of seeing how he drew the things I saw and talked about, how he represented them. Workflow wise, we went back and forth long-distance, I compiled a script that included all kinds of visual clues I would leave out of a regular, reported piece, and went from there.

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Extraction!’ artist Joe Ollmann meeting with Dawn, along with publisher and co-editor David Widgington and co-editor Frédéric Dubois. Photo by co-editor Marc Tessier.”

Ad Astra: Have you stayed in touch with Héctor and other people you met on the trip? What’s going on around the mine more recently?

 

 

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Hmm. They’re pseudonyms in the story, so I needed to think about which person “Héctor” was. Yes, I’m still in touch with him. We G-chat sometimes. I saw him a couple of years ago when a serious earthquake hit the department of San Marcos; he took me around and brought me up to speed about what was happening in the region at that time. Goldcorp’s Marlin mine is in the process of closing, and they are doing a lot of public relations to make it look like they did a great job. I was in Guatemala in April and I saw a full page ad in the national newspaper, showing employees planting a bunch of trees in the area, you know, showing us that everything’s hunky-dory!  But there’s a lot of ongoing health and environmental issues with contamination from the mine, and people are still facing charges for their role in resistance from years ago. I remember maybe five years ago, folks who survived the internal conflict pointed out to me how there were no basically no political prisoners in Guatemala until after the peace accords were signed in 1996. That was because the state didn’t take prisoners, rather it killed dissidents, activists, organizers, and entire Indigenous communities.

But today in Guatemala there is a HUGE amount of criminalization of community organizers. This criminalization specifically targets Indigenous communities and land defenders. People are thrown in jail, accused of huge list of charges, serving months and sometimes years for resisting dams, mines, highways, cement plants, palm oil, and so on. There are a lot of incredibly brave lawyers and activists fighting against the criminalization of land defenders and political prisoners in Guatemala, fighting for their release. I think this is really crucial context today that we need to keep in mind in looking at this comic from almost 10 years ago.

Ad Astra: Would you work on another comics journalism project, given the appropriate resources and journalistic freedom?

Dawn: I’d love to do another comics journalism project, connected to the research I’m doing with families of people who have been disappeared in Mexico. I’m doing a multi-year investigation into this issue as part of a dissertation, and what I hope will be my next book. When I can, I have been walking with family members on weekends, when they convene to look for bodies. It is a very intense experience–people using little more than sticks and shovels to search for missing daughters, sons, brothers, sisters… This is an entrenched reality in Mexico today and yet I think for many it is something that is still difficult to imagine. I think comics could be an important avenue to communicate this experience.

Ad Astra: How have things changed for mining activists since ‘EXTRACTION!’ was first released?

Dawn: Well, Indigenous land defenders across so called Canada have come out strong using a whole range of strategies to fight against destructive extractive industry projects throughout the entire last century and into this one. I think it is important to start by acknowledging the importance and the continuity of those struggles.

Specifically, EXTRACTION! first came out almost 10 years ago, and I think it’s still really relevant. As for differences between 2006 and 2016? There’s a lot more solidarity and visibility for these struggles, actually, including some really amazing organizing in Toronto and Vancouver. And urban activists are not just connecting the actions of Canadian companies in Guatemala or elsewhere with their headquarters in Toronto or Vancouver, but also looking at the activities of mining companies, sometimes even the same mining companies, on stolen Indigenous land in Canada. In my opinion, activism against destructive mining has gotten smarter, more intersectional.

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We’ve seen huge amounts of community organization against mining happening, from the community level to the international level. In 2006-2007, I was reporting on a fairly nascent struggle in Guatemala… Now Goldcorp and gold mining has become a landmark issue in Guatemala. Folks all over the country know about it, they are prepared to fight against it and are pre-emptively declaring their communities free of mining… In general more and more folks and communities in Mexico, Central and South America are weary of Canadian or other mega-mining projects. People are mobilized against the damage that these companies are doing/can do to their water supply, their communities, and increasingly that organization is taking the form of international coalitions, groups that can represent hundreds of struggles. Over the past 10 years, many people resisting mining have been threatened, murdered, and displaced, but there have been huge strides around these issues in terms of awareness and preventative action, and it’s important we take note of the gains.

Ad Astra: What have you been up to since ‘EXTRACTION!’? What are you working on now?

Dawn: Well, I’ve continued to work as a journalist, in 2009 I helped found the Vancouer Media Co-op and was involved in various media projects in Canada for a few years. 2010 was a big year, we helped cover resistance to the Olympics in Vancouver and later to the G8-G20 in Toronto. At the year’s end I left Vancouver and started researching for my first book, Drug War Capitalism, which came out with AK Press in late 2014. Since the book came out I’ve been doing lots of speaking events in the US mostly, and we’re working to try and get a Spanish version of the book out soon. I also started a doctorate at the Autonomous University of Puebla in Central Mexico, where I am based.

At this very moment, I’m working on an investigative piece about families of the disappeared in Mexico, about the folks I mentioned who have started searching every every weekend for clandestine graves that may contain their family members. I’m writing about what it is like to walk alongside them as they search for their loved ones. I think that the movement of searchers is one of the most significant social movements in Mexico today, and one that urgently merits our attention.

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Copyright Dawn Paley, 2016

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“Dude, Watch me Light My Pubes on Fire”: Marines at Work in ‘Terminal Lance’

*** TW – This comic contains references to sexual violence, emotional abuse, physical abuse, and in general is about the US Marine Corp***

Why is Ad Astra Comix reviewing a webcomic about the marines? It’s a fair question. I’m not going to tell you that ‘Terminal Lance’ has good politics – indeed, I think the author and artist, Lance Corporal Maximilian Uriarte (USMC) would be bothered if he thought we agreed on much. ‘Terminal Lance’ is unapologetic in its defense of American militarism, relies often on jokes at the expense of oppressed groups and has a fan base composed largely of active-duty and since-retired soldiers (with nearly 400,000 likes on Facebook, those of us on the Left can but feebly struggle and flail to comprehend TL’s popularity).
On the strength of its politics, I can only really recommend Sun Tzu, who advises that “if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.”

Continue reading “Dude, Watch me Light My Pubes on Fire”: Marines at Work in ‘Terminal Lance’

Blue Collar, Black Ink: NYC’s Strand Bookstore as a Site of Class Struggle

It probably doesn’t need saying that I love comics. I would not have committed myself to a life of reading, writing, researching and reviewing comics if they were not very dear to me, masochistic tendencies aside. But while I adore them, political comics put me in a jam so thick I consider spreading it on my mid-morning toast. Maybe my partner’s thinking has infected me; when she started Ad Astra Comix close to two years ago as a review site, she said it was in part because the quality of political comics was generally so low.

Continue reading Blue Collar, Black Ink: NYC’s Strand Bookstore as a Site of Class Struggle

The Mazinbiige Indigenous Graphic Novel Collection & The Politics of Public Knowledge

sir arthur            Outside of the Library and Archives of Canada, there is a statue of Sir Arthur Doughty, the country’s first National Archivist. In a city of thousands, he is one only of two civil servants who has been honoured with his own statue – the other died a hero while saving a drowning woman. While Sir Arthur never dove into a frozen river, he is a hero of a very different kind to Canada. There is a plaque at the base of his statue inscribed with the following quotation:

“Of all national assets, archives are the most precious: they are the gift of one generation to another, and the extent of our care of them marks the extent of our civilization.”

Our idea of nation and civilization are very different from Sir Arthur’s, and I don’t mind saying better. I grew up taking the idea of a national archives for granted – my mother worked for it, and my father worked in it. The archives is the glacial melt from which so much of the river of history flows. But in recent years it has been under attack.

Who would attack such an apparently non-partisan body? The Conservatives, we are not surprised to discover. But why? Surely nothing could be more stale, more status quo, than the National Archives, one might think. You’d be wrong.
The National Archives are a knife held to the throat of the government. Records held there were instrumental to building the case against the protracted cultural genocide waged by the Canadian state against indigenous peoples. There is information enough in the archives to lay bare proof of crimes past and present. Archives are a vital resource in the fight against colonialism. They are a weapon in many struggles for justice.

camille_callisonAll of which may seem like a strange way to introduce our feature on Camille Callison, the Indigenous Services Librarian at the University of Manitoba. But doing so sets the stage to help understand just how important – and potentially threatening to colonialism – her work at U of M is. Camille has recently coordinated the assembly of Mazinbiige Indigenous Graphic Novel Collection (‘Mazinbiige’ is an Anishinaabe word meaning “beautiful images and writing”), of more than 200 titles written by and about indigenous people.

The collection not only captures the best of the genre but also the worst. It includes the most racist, stereotypical depictions of indigenous people as well as the most authentic ones. The reasoning for doing so is that these racist depictions are often far more visible and it is important to understand how settler culture portrays indigenous people.

It’s one of the very first such collections available at a Canadian university. Callison describes the increasing literary credibility of comics and graphic novels in society as well as the increased recognition of the medium as an educational tool. She sees comics as a way to engage youth with topics that they might find too try if they were presented with conventional writing on the subject.   Based on the buzz around the collection, it looks like she’s right. Not only the university but the student paper and even CTV have taken notice of the launch of the collection. Given the ongoing interest in innovative teaching methods, this is hardly surprising. Callison’s work will create a resource for critical discussion on the depictions of indigenous people, as well as greatly simplifying research for comics scholars interested in the subject. Accessibility is a major consideration for librarians and archivists, and indigenous peoples often find that their efforts to access residential school records at the Library and Archives of Canada was obstructed by bureaucratic obstacles.

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Photos from the launch of the Mazinbiige Indigenous Graphic Novel Collection, November 2013
Photos from the launch of the Mazinbiige Indigenous Graphic Novel Collection, November 2013

Callison notes the role of her son in interesting her in graphic novels as a medium; they were one of the first kinds of reading he became interested in doing. She says that they read them together and had critical discussions of the way women were depicted in the media so that he could enjoy them without absorbing sexist stereotypes. This is very much in line with her emphasis on critical reading as a way of understanding depictions of indigenous people in mainstream comics.

She also acknowledges the importance of working with Blue Corn Comics and discussions with Professor Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, an Assistant Professor in Department of Native Studies who teaches a course on graphic novels. In an article for the Manitoban, Niigaan Sinclair is quoted as describing graphic novels as a vehicle for self-determination.

There are a lot of great discussions going on about how mainstream comics reinforce sexism, racism and other toxic ideologies. Alas, these discussions seldom get beyond the politics of representation in terms of what comics can do. It’s great to see indigenous authors producing comics about indigenous superheroes. But The Mazinbiige Indigenous Graphic Novel Collection includes more than good and bad portrayals of indigenous heroes – it includes diverse narratives of indigenous experience that can help to communicate trauma, share traditional knowledge, and help us decolonize ourselves.