I think most people do not imagine how things can change. In Detroit, there are community gardens that are only an indication that the country is coming back to the city. And that is something that actually is necessary to stop the real imminent danger of the extermination of our planet. When I came to Detroit, if you threw a stone up in the air it would hit an autoworker on its way down. A few years after that, if you threw a stone in the air it’d hit an abandoned house or a vacant lot on its way down. And most people saw those vacant lots as blight. But meanwhile during World War II, blacks had moved from the South to the North. And they saw these vacant lots as places where you could grow food for the community. And so urban agriculture was born. And that came about not because anyone planned it, but because the vacant lots, produced by abandonment, created the opportunity for bringing the country back into the city, and actually saving the planet in the process.
In Funeral Art (1971), with a bit of dark humor, Paulo Bruscky announced his own funeral as an artist, transporting a coffin with canvases to a gallery. Local newspapers were amused and called the action an exhibition. At the end, spectators were handed prayer cards and candles. It could not have been a more literal interpretation of Roland Barthes’s The Death of the Author, the seminal text that challenged the notion of authorship, and with which Bruscky was familiar. For him, this newfound and freeing perspective on art became a tool against political violence: he realized that the ephemeral art he was making could be both conceptually and politically liberating.
The Unlearning, by Tatiane Schilaro - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
The term “demographic threat” is the language that justifies ethnic cleansing, transfer, ghettoization, siege, exclusion, refugee camps, and displacement and separation. As such, it is the term that distills the logic of Zionism’s approach to non-Jews.
This language has pretty dark connotations in the US, echoing Southern antebellum fears of slave revolts in areas where blacks outnumbered the white agrarian class. In today’s America, if figures as extreme as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck were to say outright that we must stop the Mexicans or Muslims or what have you from staying in the US because they’re having too many babies and we’ll lose the character of white Christian America by 2050, they’d face serious consequences. You can be a bigot in the US, but you can’t come out and openly declare your support for racial nationalism. Only Zionists get to proclaim their fear of a brown planet while simultaneously maintaining a patina of liberal respectability.
- Guernica: How is immigration informing new social movements today? Is it giving people a different perspective on what national borders and national identity mean, as they relate to a new, more global sense of social change?
- Grace Lee Boggs: I think the mass expansion of the Asian-American population, particularly the Chinese population, is having an impact. I would not be surprised if [New York City Mayor Bill] de Blasio was challenged by a Chinese competitor in the next election, because the Chinese population in New York is so huge. New York has become almost a third-world country. When I was growing up it was mostly a Euro-American country. And it wasn’t until LaGuardia was elected in 1933 that Italians were even considered Americans.
- We’re at a great transition point in terms of population, demographics, and what it means to be a human being.
If you’re not free, then mentally and consciously, it’s very hard to write.
Emmett Till was killed in 1955 and the movement as we know it didn’t start until 1961. One of the most interesting things I’ve heard from folks in Freedom Summer, no matter if they were volunteers, SNCC people, or Mississippi people, was that a lot of them were Emmett Till’s age when he was murdered. Five years later, they’re the ones who really started the movement. So let’s look at what the kids who were Trayvon and Renisha’s age do five or six years from now.
- Kiese Laymon: When you look at the nation today, do you see the crumbs of any kind of movement that could rival what happened during Freedom Summer? And is it wrong for us to expect that kind of movement given the way new media runs everything?
- Stanley Nelson: My generation didn’t pass the movement on. Young people today have never seen a movement work. Think about that. They’ve never seen a social justice movement actually work. And we haven’t effectively told them our story. We haven’t shown them how our story is their story. As black people, we want our story to be this constant ascendance from slavery. But it’s not like that. You push and it goes up. Then there’s a backlash, and if folks stop pushing, it goes down. Let’s face it, it’s a lot more complicated today. Part of the problem with Occupy Wall Street was that folks were never really clear on what they were fighting for. If you don’t know what you’re fighting for, how do you know when you’ve got victory? In some ways, new media makes it easier for people to connect. It’s hard, though, because we’re much more seduced by the Internet, by big-screen TVs, by cell phones that can do everything. I read this article this week about how poverty in our country is peculiar because it’s marked by big-screen TVs, cell phones. Makes you wonder if all of it is just another way to seduce people whom we don’t want to rebel.
- Kiese Laymon: Black women in your film are explored with a particular kind of depth I haven’t seen in many other films of any genre. From, of course, Fannie Lou Hamer to folks like Daisy Harris, whom most people have never heard of. How did you find these black women who were so integral to the movement?
- Stanley Nelson: To tell the story truthfully, we had to do it. We wanted to find black women who were central because they really aren’t given their due in many other films about the movement. For example, one of the volunteers said, “The man of the house never got comfortable with white women in his house.” Daisy Harris, one of the women in the film, said, “It was my decision whether these people came in my house or not.” You had these black women, not just organizing, but making a lot of the decisions that actually made the movement possible. But too often they get written out of the history of the decision-making.
"1987’s RoboCop is set in the Detroit of a not-too-distant future, a city where criminals rule the streets and even the militarized police force is underfunded and outgunned. The city government has been privatized by a vast corporation, Omni Consumer Products, which plans to build a gleaming new metropolis—Delta City—on the ruins of “Old Detroit.” Bob Morton, an ambitious OCP executive, develops RoboCop to solve two of the company’s problems: the PR cost of urban crime, and the high price of a human police force. Built out of the destroyed body of Alex Murphy, a policeman tortured to death by local drug kingpin Clarence Boddicker, the cyborg is designed to fight street crime in Old Detroit by any means necessary, and to automate the police force in the process. OCP thus excels in what business ideologues glibly call “creative destruction,” but the grisly opening scene reminds us that somebody else—indeed somebody else’s body—ends up getting destroyed. The film starts out as a familiar sci-fi story in which the cyborg, tormented by residual memories of his human life, sets out to find the man who killed Murphy. He soon learns, however, that the real criminals are in the executive suites."
Austerity Economics Is Like a Kick in the Groin by John Patrick Leary - Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics
Image by Tom of Finland.
Our new issue is out! Featuring nonfiction from Nathan Deuel and John Patrick Leary; interviews between Kiese Laymon & Stanley Nelson and Aditi Sriram & Ayad Akhtar; poetry from Milorad Pejić and Mia Leonin; fiction from Vladimir Kozlov and Josh Weil; and in art, Alex Zafiris writing on the work of Mika Rottenberg.
Read the new issue here.