By Tommy Strange
Another personal history must read. AK Press and PM press are just amazing at this. That’s why you will see most of my reviews from those two publishers. This is not a must read for those that have spent twenty years or so immersed in libertarian/social movement history along with actual organizing (with DAN around Seattle, Summit demos, etc) when it comes to his points about collective organizing, spokes councils, mutual aid. But the rest of the book takes us back to Katrina 2006 the first few months.
Though for a year around that I spent hours everyday reading everything from the Times Picayune (who had one reporter write a book after a complete horrible breakdown over the years of great journalism he did—gotta find that and review it), to the great investigative articles by a Nation funded writer that laid this fact down: though of course there were many blacks ‘looting’ and in the first days with guys trying to steal boats etc, the complete blackout of news of the roving white vigilantes has gone down the memory hole, along with the fact that hundreds of black corpses with bullet holes were found for months after. Scott mentions this, and immediate confrontations with them, and footnotes the later Nation article.
The subtitle is Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective so it is a memoir of that short time span. Starting with a first aborted attempt days after to find ex-panther Angola Prison released Robert King, then to his return a week later to meet with Malik Rahim, and Sharon Johnson. They immediately sat in Malik’s Algiers home (on high ground right by levees that held by a river west of city general) after Katrina and formulated a plan and put it into action. With in one month they had hundreds of helpers and were distributing food, and setting up health clinics.
That alone is worth your time. His chapters on his journey to this point and his embrace of anarchism is also interesting. He has already been hassled by the FBI due to activist work. On a side note, he and his friend did the documentary on the Angola 3 who spent the longest time in solitary in history. Thus his friendship with King, who they finally find still on his porch with his dog ten or so days after Katrina. This seems to me to be the only good thing Brandon Darby, FBI snitch and plant, has ever done in his life. Scott describes how Brandon forced a rescue boat to go to King’s address.
For me I wanted more dirt on Darby and outside vanguardist groups who would attack or attempt to take over common ground. We only get a few sentences about that. Though both instances reflect very tense situations obviously. As for the FBI snitch’s story, Scott leaves that as a link to an article from long ago “Kristian Williams: Witness to Betrayal, Scott Crow…” Find that and read it please, double please. As Graeber brings up in Direct Action, and as that article says, it’s women that are the first to raise alarm bells. Men can often discount these alarms on the left. I believe it’s our knee jerk response that ex middle class radical women can be ‘touchy’ about loud and boisterous men. When often we should listen and think, yeah ‘why’ is that guy so suddenly into everything and trying to take command? I don’t have a problem with the latter. Alarm bells have always gone off in my head anytime someone seems just a bit too 24/7 committed and arrogant about it, and just too goddamn responsible. And why the ‘flywheel’ suggestions? This isn’t the 80’s. How much is it just a narcissist personality, and how much does it show a possibility of plant and/or agent provocateur?
Anyway, sorry for my soapbox. The book is a great read by a great and dedicated activist. It is also an ‘organizing tool’. Put this on the shelf next to Graeber’s book in your flat’s library. As well as the Occupy essay book reviewed later. The intro by Kathleen Cleaver (yes ex panther) is also well appreciated. So glad her head is still so clear and full of love for people who resist.
The beginning of his arrival has a scary but to me refreshing, bald truth about how they had to use guns to defend themselves. Scott also pertinently describes the complete uselessness of FEMA, the Red Cross, and the immediate militarization of the area, rather than immediate military to facilitate immediate aid. Most of us remember that. But lets go over it again by reading this book.