Self-Defense for Radicals on The People’s Voice

Self-Defense for Radicals: A to Z Guide for Subversive Struggle

By Chellis Glendinning
The People’s Voice
January 25, 2010

The prospect of setting words to page about Mickey Z.’s Self-Defense for Radicals catalyzed a certain queasiness. It brought up the rosebush reality of…violence.

In an era of drop-of-the-hat planetary destruction, as dirty wars erupt like acne and respect for Gandhi’s ahimsa has re-blossomed like Persephone’s return, as former Weather Underground activist Mark Rudd is crisscrossing the U.S. calling for a pacifist movement and Hugo Chavez is pronouncing that armed struggle is passé—to purvey violence seems patently verboten.

Martial artist Mickey Z. tackles my hesitancy on the first page, laying out a scenario of a strong-arm attack on a friend and asking if I would pray, meditate, and go philosophical-–or if I would stomp my foot, jab the dude’s eyes, kick him in the balls, grab my friend, and bolt. It’s the de rigueur challenge presented to every armed-services draftee applying for Conscientious Objector status, perhaps thorny for he who is seeking community service over combat–but oh so obvious to the rest of us.

Violence has long been a subject requiring re-clarification. Violence against whom/what? Why/how? are the questions. Is it against a child? Or an animal? Is it aimed at a corporate chief’s unoccupied fourth mansion? Or the window at Citibank?

Feminists provided a new layer of clarification in the 1970s, proposing that violence consists of any exertion of force that injures or abuses a person, that it exists on a spectrum from invisible to blatant, psychological to bloody. France’s recent law criminalizing verbal abuse in marriage signals that the lesson may be penetrating in some quarters.

Social activist Z. stands with the feminists, and his business is defense in a violent world. Avoid poorly lit areas, he reminds us. Vary your normal routes and routines. Toss an object at an attacker. When grabbed from behind, nod your head forward, then thrust it back. And scream. Always scream.

But landing a left hook, he makes clear, occurs in a social context in which power-over is not random. Ninety-five percent of domestic assaults, he quotes, are perpetrated on women by men. Twenty-five percent of girls and seventeen percent of boys are sexually assaulted by the time they reach age 18. Each and every day 600 women are raped in the U.S. Ninety-six percent of hate-crimes are assaults on gays and lesbians.

Too, violence is perpetrated against all living beings by transnational corporations and the governments that facilitate their exploits. Thirteen million tons of toxic chemicals are released into the biosphere every day, he points out. Eighty-one tons of mercury are emitted annually by electricity generation plants. Seventy thousand U.S. citizens die each year from aggravations caused by air pollution. Awareness of these violations, and defense against them, are part of Z.’s program as well.

That Self-Defense for Radicals is called a guide for “subversive struggle” suggests that it might be carried into a demo against the World Bank or the G-20. While such a pamphlet would surely be an addition to movement literature, Z. comes on more Zapatista-like in his notion of subversion: it is to be mustered at every moment in all interactions every day. Like a poet he rocks us out of the staid categories that perpetuate separation of the facets of reality, heaving us instead into the organic flow of personal and political, collective and individual–all the while providing practical tools that expand one’s notion of freedom in a violent world.

And more: I sense that “subversive action” refers to the end result of the read. This is a simple little pamphlet, and yet Z. manages to light a street torch to the never-queasy dedication to “fighting back” in the biggest sense.

Self-Defense for Radicals: A to Z Guide for Subversive Struggle (PM Pamphlet) by Mickey Z.


Chellis Glendinning is the author of five books, including Off the Map: An Expedition Deep into Empire and the Global Economy and Chiva: A Village takes on the Global Heroin Trade. She is also a licensed psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery and lives in Chimayó, New Mexico.

Back to Mickey Z.’s Author Page