Chuck’s Weekly Five – July 15, 2022

One: Fighting digital terror

Upturn is an important voice in tech. Its website says that it advances “equity and justice in the design, governance, and use of technology,” but it is more accurate to say that it challenges the utilization of technologies to subordinate and exploit people of color and working-class people in finance, the criminal justice system, and other terrains. Based in Washington, DC, the nonprofit produces research, supports litigation, and releases an informative weekly newsletter that surveys recent events of pertinence to the intersection of social justice and technology. It breathes fresh air into a tech world dominated by libertarians who think that data and technology are value-free. You can read about their work and subscribe to their newsletter here:

Two: Spaces of law-breaking after Roe v Wade
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, it gave new relevance to old spaces of illegality while drawing our attention to their transformation. I recently read a news article about the opening of an abortion clinic in Tijuana, steps from the Mexican-American border. In addition to describing the clinic, the piece noted criticisms of it made by Crystal Pérez Lira, the founder of Colectiva Bloodys, a local feminist group. Pérez Lira pointed out that the clinic’s prices and location will likely make it inaccessible to locals. Instead of regarding it as a genuine attempt to address reproductive health needs, she indicated that it makes more sense to see it as an extension of Tijuana’s enormous, profit-driven medical tourism industry. The clinic could be a resource for Americans seeking abortions. Tijuana was a crucial node in underground abortion networks before Roe v Wade and American feminist activists routinely directed abortion seekers there. However, Pérez Lira’s comments remind us that class divisions run through these legendary sites of illicit activity and that they operate in a newly globalized context.

Three: Linking Mexican anarchism and state violence
In Bad Mexicans: Race, Empire, and Revolution in the Borderlands (W. W. Norton & Company 2022), abolitionist historian Kelly Lytle Hernández makes a crucial contribution to our understanding of Ricardo Flores Magón and the Magónists, who lay at the center of Mexican anarchism. Her broad survey of the movement unfolds in a truly North American context, organized around a critique of empire and imperialism, which includes an account of the history of the American racial order and policing. This allows her to connect this anti-statist movement to practices of state violence in ways that have been difficult for historians who treat it mainly as a Mexican phenomenon or who fail to acknowledge the importance of racial hierarchies (or both). She discusses her book in this video.

Four: Cities against patriarchy
Societies usually allow some exemptions from prevailing social constraints. These can be deliberate—for example, in border zones, where national sovereignty is ambiguous—and they can be accidental. An instance of the latter existed in the late nineteenth century in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, as April White explains in The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier (Hachette 2022). The state’s lax divorce laws and the city’s accessibility to transportation made it the epicenter of what was known as the “divorce colony,” a place where wealthy white women could unburden themselves of the constraints of marriage after a short period of residency. This geopolitical quirk faded into history, but its legacy highlights a fascinating possibility: could we self-consciously organize entire cities around the goal of undoing patriarchy? If so, what would they be like?

Five: Native American restaurants and anti-colonial eating
The number of Native American restaurants has increased in recent years. In Berkeley, there is Cafe Ohlone, which Louis Trevino and Vincent Medina (both Ohlone) own and operate. In Oakland, there is Wahpepah’s Kitchen. Crystal Wahpepah, the owner and chef, is a member of the Kickapoo Nation, but her restaurant features Native foods from tribes across North America. These restaurants affirm Native survival against settler colonialist violence and also, I think, point toward new culinary opportunities. They necessarily have an anti-colonial referent and, as such, should prompt reflection on the nature of Native American cuisine and on the intersection of food and colonialism generally. This may help us learn how to judge colonialism not just as a political, economic, and cultural force but also as a culinary object. How does it taste? What does anti-colonialism taste like? The rise of questions such as these suggests new forms of culinary and anti-colonial practice.

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Chuck’s Weekly Five – July 8, 2022

One: Internationalism—>national liberation—>anti-nationalism?

Nandita Sharma

In the nineteenth century, most anti-capitalists were internationalists (and sang The Internationale). In the twentieth century, most were nationalists and called for national liberation. Today, things may be shifting again. National liberation’s record is not good: national sovereignty, where achieved, has not ended capitalist exploitation, the nationalist idea that people have an intrinsic tie to discrete plots of land seems implausible in our era of mass migration; and white nationalism’s rise highlights troubling questions about nationalism as such. Nandita Sharma explores some of these issues in her insightful work, Home Rule: National Sovereignty and the Separation of Natives and Migrants (Duke University Press, 2020). Taking aim at nationalism’s foundational distinction between “native” and “migrant,” she advances a radical vision of politics that points beyond the nation. Michael Busch conducted a thoughtful interview with her, which you can watch here. You can also learn about her book on her publisher’s website, which is here.

Two: mass incarceration without prisons
Most Americans agree that it is time to end mass incarceration but there is a risk that we will reproduce elements of the policy as we try to construct alternatives. If we think of mass incarceration as something that specific actors do through specific institutions—like police and prisons—then we might conclude that the absence of these things is also the absence of mass incarceration, which could be a mistake. Mass incarceration is a social relationship between the state and people, and various actors can enact it and they can do so in diverse institutional contexts. In “Meet SmartLINK, the App Tracking Nearly a Quarter Million Immigrants,” Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio shows how a type of digital incarceration operates through phones and apps. No shackles or cells are necessary. You can find her article here.

Three: fighting white supremacy or building an enclave?
Anti-Racist Skinheads Fighting Nazis: The Baldies is an inspiring but frustrating documentary from Twin Cities PBS. It tells the story of The Baldies, a group of Minneapolis-based radical skinheads who stood up to nazi skinheads when they started terrorizing the local punk scene in the 1980s. The Baldies drove them out of the scene by physically fighting them and exposing their noxious views to public scrutiny and they also attempted to build a national network of like-minded anti-fascists. The violence between the two groups mostly took the form of fist fights, but neo-nazis committed occasional murders and, in the documentary, we learn about a Baldie who inadvertently shot a nazi skinhead to death and spent years in prison as a result. The stakes were high, but The Baldies, who were mostly (if not entirely) teenagers, confronted the challenge head-on with a deep sense of social responsibility and idealism. They did this despite ongoing harassment from local authorities, who saw punks as a menace. These things make the documentary inspiring; what is annoying is that it tells the story in a way that minimizes The Baldies’ radicalism. It constructs nazi skinheads as an aberrant subculture, not as an expression of the broader system of white supremacy (which it does not discuss). This suggests, in turn, that The Baldies fought them not as radicals who wanted to transform society but simply because they wanted to rid the punk counter-culture of racism. The documentary devotes a segment to gender dynamics among The Baldies but does not examine their investment in anarchism, which furthers the scene-centered interpretation. Of course, if we understand The Baldies’ as radicals who intended to challenge white supremacy, it makes sense to criticize them for being too counter-cultural and for overemphasizing neo-nazis’ importance. White supremacy is a system that runs throughout society and white supremacist activists are not particularly important to its reproduction. However, setting that aside, I think the evidence indicates that these young people saw fighting white supremacists as a part of a transformative social project, not primarily as a means to resolve problems in their milieu. It is not surprising that PBS would promote liberal fictions—that is basically its job—but it is grating. You can watch the documentary here.

Four: cross-border connections
Non-Spanish speakers who want to follow radical movements and social conflicts in Mexico should consider subscribing to Pie de Página‘s weekly, English-language email newsletter. It typically contains informative, high-quality articles about Mexican politics, particularly land struggles, the feminist movement, and mobilizations on behalf of the “disappeared.” Some of their English-language content (and the type of thing that the newsletter includes) is available here. You can subscribe here. The Taller Ahuehuete newsletter is also a good read. It appears less regularly and tends to focus more on debate than news, but it opens a window onto what anarchist-inspired, anti-capitalist activists in the country are thinking. You can read and subscribe to it here.

Five: space and time in Oakland
Oakland has and has had amazing urbanists. They have helped us situate the city in new historical registers and thus experience its spaces in new ways. For example, in the 1960s, the Black Panther Party located the city in the history of the global battle against colonialism and that changed how many saw its spaces and politics. Andrew Alden, who publishes the Oakland Geology blog, does this in a different way. In article after article, he reads the city’s neighborhoods and iconic sites against the area’s geological past, documenting traces of the latter in the former with text and photos. By showing how the area’s natural and social histories interact, he reveals new dimensions of Oakland’s landscape, You can find his blog here. You can read about his forthcoming book, Deep Oakland, here.

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Chuck’s Weekly Five – July 1, 2022

One: Reproductive freedom is international
Mexican feminists could help Americans resist new restrictions on abortion. In the face of terrifying rates of feminicide and open government hostility, they have built a diverse and influential movement that has forced the legalization of abortion and made misogyny a central issue in public debate. Insights drawn from their experience could help us think through how to navigate our increasingly polarized context. They could also help Americans secure abortions south of the border. For either of these things to occur, there has to be dialogue. Linguistic and other differences can make this difficult, but of course it is worth the effort and, besides, the fight for reproductive freedom has to be international. The following eight-minute video, which is in English and subtitled, documents an anarcha-feminist-led occupation of a government building in Mexico City. It sheds light on one faction of the movement’s motives and priorities. You can watch it here:

Two: The Democrats
It is important to track the Democratic Party’s political evolution, given that it occupies the left(ish) flank of America’s two-party system. Although it has taken a more radical turn in recent years, the conservative “Clinton wing” dominated the party for most of the last three decades or so. With a punitive stance toward the poor and a commitment to mass incarceration and hardening the southern border, Democrats tilted sharply to the right. Why did they become so reactionary? Some claim that this was a pragmatic response to Republican victories in the 1980s and 1990s, not a matter of principle per se. However, in Left Behind: The Democrats’ Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality (PublicAffairs 2022), Lily Geismer challenges this interpretation. She argues that Democrats were positively committed to a conservative outlook organized around curbing poverty through economic growth and doctrines of individual responsibility. She recently discussed her book in a helpful episode of The Dig podcast, which you can listen to here: You can also read about her work on the publisher’s website here:

Three: The politics of ending mass incarceration
People in the movement against mass incarceration are still trying to make sense of the recall of Chesa Boudin, San Francisco’s anti-carceral DA. In his thoughtful “Changing Everything,” Dan Berger contributes a broad survey of what progressive prosecutors can and cannot do to the discussion. He concludes by saying that “progressive prosecutors were never going to be the primary path toward true decarceration . . . [but they are] a critical part of a larger decarceral strategy.” Nonetheless, the main thrust of his essay is to suggest that Boudin was naive to embrace an election-centered tactic that operated primarily within the justice system. The article is here:

Four: Land struggles at sea
We tend to think of gentrification as a land-based conflict but Anchored Out: Evicted at Sea shows that it can take place on water too. This twenty-five-minute documentary from The New Yorker tells the story of a small band of people who live on boats in Richardson Bay, just north of San Francisco. Most of their vessels are barely operational and serve mainly as lodging for people who would probably be homeless without them. We learn that local authorities are trying to expel them from the bay by seizing boats that have been stationary for more than seventy-two hours. The filmmakers illustrate the settlement’s links to radical housing and architectural currents born of the 1960s and show how gentrification’s enforcers often frame their actions in a language of social concern, which are nice touches. This is an aquatic parallel of attempts to drive the poor from the city by fining people for sleeping in their cars. I also think of it as a moment in capitalism’s centuries-long effort to capture and inscribe itself in water. Two thumbs up! You can watch it here:

Five: Food radicalism
When anti-capitalists talk about revolutionizing the food system, they typically mention ending food worker exploitation and equitably distributing the products of their labor, but they rarely say much about food itself. Can a cuisine or a meal or a dish be radical? Can it oppose war like Picasso’s Guernica? Can it challenge white supremacy like Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit? Can it impugn capitalism like The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht? To even consider these questions, we have to develop the capacity to think of food in aesthetic terms—not simply as a vehicle for nutrition—and that is more difficult, theoretically speaking, than one might suppose. Anyone interested in the endeavor should check out Dwight Furrow’s work. His American Foodie: Taste, Art, and the Cultural Revolution (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Beauty and the Yeast: A Philosophy of Wine, Life, and Love (Probe Head, 2020) focus on redeeming food’s aesthetic content. You can read about his books and find some of his writings here:

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Chuck’s Weekly Five – June 24, 2022

This is the first edition of my weekly email newsletter in which I comment on five publications or events that I find noteworthy. If you’d like to subscribe (or unsubscribe), please email me at and let me know. I’ll never share your email address.

Radical fiction:

Time Shelter: A Novel by Georgi Gospodinov (Norton 2022). I haven’t read all of this yet but I am delighted by it thus far and find it strikingly radical. Set mainly in Bulgaria, the protagonist narrates his collaboration with an old friend, Gaustine, who invents a unique method for treating people with Alzheimer’s and other age-related memory disorders: he opens clinics with rooms that are perfect replicas of those that existed at a time that had been happy for them. Some contain the furniture, appliances, and even foods and smells of the 1950s; others reproduce those of the 1960s or 1970s, etc. Gaustine discovers that spending time in these rooms helps patients recover some cognitive capacities and feel comforted in their final days. This leads to an expansion of spaces devoted to the therapeutic use of the past. Era-specific rooms become floors and then building complexes and then cities. Even nations try to console themselves by returning to days gone by (while fighting over which past to recreate). Of course, nostalgia is a familiar topic in literary fiction, but Time Shelter is not so much about nostalgia as the idea that we might be able to force time and space into a complementary symbiosis. To make that happen, how would we construct space and history and how would they interact? It is these questions that make the novel feel radical and somewhat utopian. The book reminds me of WG Sebald’s Austerlitz, which also explores the compensatory use of architecture, although Sebald tends toward anxious resignation, whereas Gospodinov is playful and aggressive, which suggests that he thinks that we might be able to untangle the riddles of being and becoming. Communism plays an important role in the work, a function of the Bulgarian context, which underscores that our views of history are innately political. This brought to mind The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera. Unlike Kundera, whose reflections on memory can seem indulgent and celebratory—”aren’t our problems majestic?” he seems to ask— Gospodinov is punk rock and austere. Hopefully the book’s concluding chapters won’t disappoint.

There are few more important questions in the movement against mass incarceration than this one: to end it, do we mainly need to elect better politicians (so that they can enact better policies) or is it so deeply implicated in our society that we need a social revolution? In his smart essay, “Busting the Myth,” Brad Haywood provides support for the latter position. He argues that the strategy of electing progressive prosecutors has failed to produce the desired results because the justice system, as a system, typically prevents reformist prosecutors from producing better outcomes. It’s here:

Chesa Boudin:
The successful recall of Chesa Boudin, San Francisco’s anti-carceral DA, hit the local left hard. When trying to make sense of this, commentators typically (and correctly) note the moneyed interests mobilized against him and their webs of lies and misinformation. This is true of Sage Mace’s helpful piece, “How San Francisco’s criminal justice reform became undone.” However, we should acknowledge that the recall is not just a defeat for Boudin but also for a strategy of challenging state violence by electing radical DAs. Boudin was unable to mobilize enough public support to beat back the recall and there is little reason to suppose that another person would have had (or will have) more success. Sage Mace’s article is here:

When Mexico’s left-wing president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), leaves office in 2024, his many unfulfilled promises will cast a long shadow over future attempts to push the country in a more egalitarian direction. Whereas most accounts of his failures focus on his public safety and economic records, in “The Mexican Health Care System Under the Administration of AMLO,” Carole H. Browner and Gustavo Leal Fernández unpack his unsuccessful attempt to socialize Mexico’s crumbling health care system. Their analysis is here:

The city:
I love finding traces of older urban systems. For me, reminders that cities operated differently in the past affirms that they could work differently in the future—change is possible. Aaron Goldstein’s tours of water tank towers explore a great instance of this. These towers, which exist throughout Berkeley and Oakland, were constructed to hold water that was drawn from ground wells and later flushed into buildings with gravity. Those that remain have long since been converted to different purposes, but they are difficult to unsee once you start noticing them. You can read about Aaron and his tours here: and here

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