Pleasures of 2019
Seeing as I get so much pleasure out of all the year-end "best of" lists, and one of my greatest joys this year has been reading the work of adrienne maree brown's Pleasure Activism (hence the choice in post title) I wanted to share with folks some of my favorites in books, articles, and podcast episodes as we move beyond 2019 and into the next decade--hopefully one future generations will call "the decade of revolution!"
I couldn't possibly keep up with all the amazing books published in 2019, but of the ones I did steal time to read I've most thoroughly enjoyed:
Published by AK Press.
Thus far every time I've spoken about this book with a fellow comrade who has not had the chance to read it I've had to make clear that this is not a book claiming that the shallow pleasure we derive from eating pizza and taking bubble baths is liberatory. Quite the opposite! No one explains it better than the author herself, "Pleasure activism is not about generating or indulging in excess...Pleasure activism is about learning what it means to be satisfiable, to generate, from within and from between us, an abundance from which we can all have enough." If you need an entry-point into the book before reading, we were fortunate enough to be able to produce this episode of Laborwave with adrienne maree brown speaking on Pleasure Activism.
Published by Verso Books.
You'll notice that Nick Estes makes an appearance in my favorite podcasts of the year as well. How could it be otherwise? Take, for instance, this empowering quote from a recent interview he did highlighting the type of historical perspective you'll gain from reading this excellent book, "Would you rather fight this system as an individual? Or with a thousand ancestors at your back and in front of you? We [Indigenous people] have a solid foundation that even mass genocide couldn’t destroy, so let’s use it." quoted from an interview done with Commune Magazine at https://communemag.com/with-a-thousand-ancestors-front-and-back/
Published by AK Press.
Building upon her essay, The Opposite of Rape Culture Is Nurturance Culture, this is a fantastic book full of essays and dialogues on gendered and racialized violence, and prospects for healing through nurturance amidst it all. One of the key insights that I continue to come back to offered right away in the book is that "violence is nurturance turned backwards." Get deep and personal with the book as soon as you can, and also check out the interview I was lucky enough to have with Nora Samaran earlier this year!
Published by AK Press.
Maybe you've noticed that AK Press reappears on this list often already- well they'll be on here one more time before I finish. They've been crushing it this year! Here's another excellent title they published in 2019, invoking the legacy and spirit of Walter Benjamin these essays by AK Thompson touch on topics of mental health, decolonization, political strategy, and winning the battle over Necropolis- the concretized dead labor that has brought this world into being. Particular favorites of mine in this collection include Avatar and The Thing In Itself and The Battle for Necroplis. We had the happy opportunity to chat with AK Thompson at length on his book earlier this year, check it out!
Published by Verso Books.
A concise summary of the work these three thinkers have been doing over subjects such as social reproduction, I think this is an excellent book for the person new to Marxist Feminist thought, and also those who have accepted "feminism" as necessarily its problematic "lean-in" or liberal variants. No way, feminism is contested terrain and this book offers a pathway beyond narrowed feminist frameworks that are open to capitalism and inattentive to struggles against racism and class oppression. This little book is not without its faults, however, and our guest Marianne Garneau I think does an excellent job in highlighting its limitations concerning political strategy. Doesn't, to me at least, mean the book gets tossed aside but instead issues a challenge for the left to think more seriously about how to wage a strike against reproductive labor. Let's take it up in 2020!
Published by AK Press.
Another title from AK Press, and the one I have found the most deeply painful and cathartic all year. I think the title says it all, and I caution anyone prior to reading this book to emotionally prepare yourself-- especially if you have trauma histories surrounding sexual abuse.
Likely not a surprise, but I listen to podcasts non-stop (while cooking, cleaning, or just lounging on the couch half-awake). There are just a ton of amazing podcasts online, and I'm always looking for podcast recommendations. Here's just a sampling of podcast episodes this year I've enjoyed:
Always excellent reporting on labor news, this particular episode really delivers on providing not just a summary of what the CTU won, but how they did it and what lessons other labor unions should take from CTU's methods. Possibly my favorite conversation of the whole year.
As promised, Nick Estes shows up again in favorite podcasts from this year. I believe this conversation clocks in at two hours of deeply insightful historical (and future) analysis, and is a great primer before reading the book as well as a nice addition to the book's contents.
Doug Henwood interviews Jessie Sage on the prevailing myths surrounding sex work, wrapped up in highly moralistic claims which distort much of the empirical experiences of sex workers and the industry, and follows this with an interview on the new book Birth Strike by Jenny Brown where the author argues that many are waging an unstated strike against giving birth due to lack of access to childcare, paternity leave, and healthcare.
Hosted by Autumn Brown and adrienne maree brown (showing up everywhere this year for me) this is an often really fun podcast getting to explore themes like "raising superheroes," future-making, and preparing for climate apocalypse. This particular episode should not be entered into lightly, it's a raw and deeply emotional episode on processing the pain and implications of learning how influential people in our lives can be capable of both beautiful and monstrous acts.
Get up close and spooky personal with Maximillian Alvarez, host of the excellent podcast Working People, on this fun show that devotes time to exploring "Gothic Marxism," the political ideas behind horror films like Scanners, and episodes likes this one where we gain insights into the personal stories of people who have devoted their energies to changing the world.
This podcast always feels like being invited to a party where it just so happens that everyone is a socialist and wants to talk and joke about politics all night. Fun! And, just to add icing to the cake, you get to learn about a lot of things you likely didn't know in the process. Take this episode, for example, exploring the highly influential role women have played in the labor movement despite often being written out of the "official" record as reported by labor historians and the AFL-CIO.
This Is Hell: To escape the self- Thoughts on the suicidal mind.
One of my early introductions into the world of leftist podcasts, This Is Hell has a close place in my heart and is a show I regularly return to as they feature so many awesome guests and take their time discussing the news of the day- unlike the frenetic sound-bite style pablum of news networks like CNN and MSNBC (and of course Fox, but obviously). Here's another episode from the year that gets real and personal, and I'd also caution folks prior to listening to prepare themselves emotionally. What I appreciate about this discussion is how it pulls off the layers of taboo surrounding discussions of suicide and highlights how common, and therefore human, suicidal thoughts are for many people. Getting past these stigmas helps get to a point where honest conversation and reflections can begin on this subject.
Against the Grain: Environmentalism and Native People
Another early introduction to leftist podcasts, Against the Grain has multiple weekly episodes where they go deep into particular subjects (history, politics, current news, etc) that always leaves the listener more informed and feeling more engaged by the end. This is an interview with Dina Gilio-Whitaker, co-author with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz of the excellent book All The Real Indians Are Dead And 20 Other Myths About Native Americans, that discusses the problematic legacy of mainstream environmentalism practiced in the United States and the uneasy alliances that are cautiously attempted by Indigenous people with the environmental movement.
Remember Maximillian Alvarez from that episode of Horror Vanguard? Well you'd do yourself well to check out his podcast too, Working People, and especially this episode with a staff worker from Portland State University in the Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies department discussing the almost strike staged by SEIU 503 due to typical management conduct such as attempts to cut healthcare, increase costs for shift meals, and all that bullshit Laborwave listeners are likely all too familiar with.
Revolutionary Left Radio: Debating Scientific Socialism (Ft. Srsly Wrong & Alyson Escalante)
I love Rev Left Radio becaues the host, Brett O-Shea, is so consistently willing to engage with guests who have different political views than himself (well, not outside of the broad left spectrum, he's not fucking interviewing fascists thank god) which makes for occasions like this refreshing debate between the anarchist-identified hosts of Srsly Wrong (another stellar podcast) and Brett and Alyson Escalante who endorse the concepts of Scientific Socialism. Personally I lean more anarchist but have a lot of love for the writings of Marx (not as much for many of his self-proclaimed "followers" but that's a different story), so this debate was enjoyable and helped me clarify my own thoughts on the whole idea of whether Marxism can truly be considered a "science." Rare to hear debates that actually engage in constructive critique and attempt to take people's arguments at their strongest rather than playing "gotcha" games where the smallest line of disagreement is treated as some major moral failing and an irredeemable point of difference.
I'll editorialize less in this list because I can better communicate what these articles have to offer by just copy and pasting some key passage. Yay, less work for me and thanks for the writers for all their labor going into producing these articles!
Eleanor Finley: The Stories We need: Pan-African Social Ecology a review on the book by Modibo Kadalie at Roar Magazine
"Political life lends itself to narrative representation as well as to literary elements like protagonists, imagery and pacing, yet stories remain devalued as a serious way to convey political knowledge. Sadly, this is only to the detriment of social movements. How can a popular, broadly democratic ecology movement possibly form when the vast majority of people can neither understand nor enjoy the obtuse way that we talk about politics?"
“Largely because of the challenge posed by the alternative political vision that Sanders advanced and the subsequent struggle over how to interpret the meanings of Trump’s victory, the 2016 election and its aftermath have thrown into relief the extent to which antiracism, and other formulations of politics based on ascriptive identities, are not simply alternatives to a (working) class politics, as Clinton’s cheesy put-down during the campaign implied. What is typically called identity politics reflects the perspective of a different class, the professional and managerial strata who are relatively insulated from the negative impacts of the four decades long regime of regressive redistribution and better positioned to take advantage of the opportunity structures it opens. That perspective suggests a reason many high-profile antiracists have become so vehement in their opposition to a politics centered on downward economic redistribution.”
Keeanga-Yamahtta-Taylor: Housing market racism persists despite ‘fair housing’ laws at the Guardian
"In its time, federal fair housing, which entailed the right to be free of racial discrimination in the housing market, was hailed as the crowning achievement of the “rights revolution” of the 1960s. But the effects of “fair housing” have been imperceptible in large swaths of the country, where poor and working-class African Americans live in racially segregated enclaves. The reluctant celebrations of the Fair Housing Act’s milestone anniversary this past year were rooted in the basic fact that racism continues to pervade the American housing market."
Jarrod Shanahan: Noel Ignatiev, 1940-2019 at Commune Mag
"Pointing to the structural white supremacy baked into the workplace by hundreds of years of US history, Noel and Allen argued that any struggle that did not address white supremacy head-on, lining up behind the demands of the workers on the lowest racialized tier, was bound to reinforce the racial division of labor, to the ruin of any strategic program for actual unity. Drawing from W.E.B. DuBois’s classic Black Reconstruction in America— a book Noel told me “every American radical ought to have their face rubbed in”—the duo formulated the concept of “white-skin privilege” to indicate the perks offered to white workers by the US ruling class, in exchange for which the former foreswear all meaningful solidarity with their non-white coworkers, and bind themselves instead in a self-defeating alliance with the white ruling class. The task of the revolutionary, they argued, is to break this alliance."
Sady Doyle: How Capitalism Turned Women Into Witches a review on Silvia Federici's newest book at In These Times
"Sexuality—once demonized 'to protect the cohesiveness of the Church as a patriarchal, masculine clan'—became subjugated within capitalism: 'Once exorcised, denied its subversive potential through the witch hunt, female sexuality could be recuperated in a matrimonial context and for procreative ends. …In capitalism, sex can exist but only as a productive force at the service of procreation and the regeneration of the waged/male worker and as a means of social appeasement and compensation for the misery of everyday existence.'"
Marianne Garneau: Progressives In The Streets, Union Busters In The Sheets at Organizing Work (also winner of cleverest article title this year)
"A boss is a boss is a boss. Managers want to control wages and workflow, and any pushback against that will unleash a power struggle. But it’s worth digging into the particular form this takes at nonprofits: why workers at these ostensibly progressive institutions feel the need to organize, and why they face so much resistance.
This isn’t just about calling out the hypocrisy of so-called progressives. It’s about preparing nonprofit sector workers, who are often young and idealistic and inexperienced at asserting their rights, for what they might face from these employers, and inoculating them against the bosses’ attempts to convince them they don’t need or deserve a union.
Workers go to work for these organizations thinking they can do good, and assuming they will be treated well by employers committed to social justice. But it turns out that good treatment for workers is not a matter of philosophical commitment to progressive political values, but a matter of how power is distributed in the workplace."
"Leftist abolitionisms have always been both destructive—dismantling racial capitalism—and constructive, building alternatives, from the “abolition democracy” of Reconstruction to today’s projects seeking to divert people’s attachments to prisons and police into alternative practices of community accountability, safety, and transformative justice. Our left abolitionist approach to universities also negotiates these two paths at once: reckoning with universities’ complicity with a carceral, racial-capitalist society while creating an alternative, abolition university. We ask, Are prisons and universities two sides of the same coin? When we raise this question, does it make you anxious? We feel this anxiety, too, and we want to sit with it, to grapple with the impasse such questions open up."
I had the pleasure of interviewing Eli Meyerhoff and Zach Schwartz-Weinstein on this subject earlier in the year, check it out here!
The Red Nation: Four Principles of the Red Deal an Indigenous expansion on The Green New Deal at TheRedNation.org
The principles listed out: 1) What Creates Crisis Cannot Solve It; 2) Change From Below And to The Left; 3) Politicians Can’t Do What Only Mass Movements Do; 4) From Theory to Action
"We will make policy recommendations that can be used at any level of government, from the grassroots to the tribal council to the state. We cannot turn away from the state because the state has its sights set on us at all times. Indigenous people know that every moment of our existence is mediated by the state: it is illegal to give birth in our traditional homes without state permits and we aren’t even allowed to visit our sacred sites that lie within federal lands without proof of identity. The state harasses us wherever we go because we are not supposed to exist; we are supposed to be gone, erased off the lands the US so desperately wants to exploit for profit. Wherever the state and forces of capital set their sights—urban Indigenous youth, women, migrants, Black people, LGBTQAI2+, our sacred mountains and waters–we must agitate and organize. We cannot simply build isolated utopias while the rest of the world burns, nor can we wait for the slow process of reformist reform to kick in. We cannot simply heal our individual trauma, nor can we consume better to save the environment. We cannot vote harder and place all our hope in a few individuals in Congress. Climate change will kill us before any of these strategies liberate the planet from capitalism."
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