Sunday, November 28, 2010

Lonely Rebels in Rural America

“Red State Rebels – Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland,” Edited by Joshua Frank and Jeffrey St. Clair, 2008.

What is disappointing about this book is that the examples of rebellion in the ‘red states’ are mostly of individuals or small groups fighting against various environmental, ethnic or political crimes. It not really an optimistic book, though I’m sure it was intended to be one. Only two involve class directly – and one of those is an interview with and article by Joe Bageant, the ‘red-neck’ writer and left commentator. A good part of this book echoes St. Clair’s “Born Under a Bad Sign” about big Green and Democratic Party collaboration with environmental destruction. (Reviewed in the pages below.) The chapter on the racist railroading of the Jena 6 (Jena, Louisiana) involves the largest mass movement – 50,000 descended on that small town to protest the heavy charges and trials of 6 black teenagers accused of getting into a fist fight with some bigots. A rebellion of farmers in North Dakota against Monsanto seed policies involves a large group of farmers who echoed the Non-Partisan League, and beat Monsanto’s police-state approach to seeds. So does the community organizing in New Orleans after Katrina. But other than that, small groups and heroic individuals or pairs tell the tale. This echoes the somewhat anarchist slant of the authors, no doubt. The back of the book makes a point of saying “Marx would be confused” about what is happening in the ‘red states.’ I think not. Rebellion in rural and small-town America is really what this book is about. One story about pro-pot hippie libertarians even comes from Michigan, not traditionally seen as a ‘red state.’

The very phrase ‘red state’ plays into the Fox News narrative about whole states being right-wing…which of course the authors don’t believe.

Nearly all the stories set in the old south involve minorities, and minorities fighting against racism in its various forms, which figures. There are no white people except some peace activists in Alabama and Kentucky. So if you are looking for optimism in the south spreading beyond some black people, you will not find it here.

The best story is a deep history of Butte, Montana, and the vicious extractive economy run by Anaconda Copper for many years, crushing labor and environmentally destroying Butte. It is brutal in its clarity. A chapter on the rape of Western Shoshone lands by various gold mining companies, while the federal government stands by and demands the Native American’s sell their land for pennies an acre – in 2010 – is again shocking. The government refuses to pay the tribes money they were contractually obligated to pay. Nothing has changed as far as broken treaties are concerned, folks. The FBI blood circus at Ruby Ridge is detailed for all to see – the dead are incidental and the FBI killers free to shoot again. A story on a feminist and environmentalist shrimp-boat captain in Texas is surprising in its toughness, and contrasts well with the typical views of bourgeois feminism.

The book ends with a section on secessionist movements, irrespective of political intent. The right-wing Alaska independistas around the Palins, and various conservative or libertarian secessionist southerners (like Republicans in Texas), are lumped in with progressive secessionists like those in Vermont. I have favored the secession of Minnesota from the United States for many years. If Minnesota would see fit to join Canada, I'd be in favor of that. I'd be in favor of a socialist Minnesota, unlikely as that would be. But I would NOT favor secession if it resulted in a MORE reactionary state.

This is again a hard book to read. Too much has gone desperately wrong. Reading this, it is ever more evident that only a link-up of most of these forces in a nationwide, mass oppositional party can have a hope of beating the capitalist steamroller. The authors do detail the efforts of the western Green Party and other independent political formations, which unfortunately have not been successful. Lawsuits, civil disobedience and community organizing are the main tools being used here. The big gun - a progressive party - is still on the shelf.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, 11/28/2010

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