Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Underground / Overground

“Clandestine Occupations – an Imaginary History,” by Diana Block, 2015

Block is a prisoner’s rights activist who helped found SF Women Against Rape and was a member of the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, the ‘above-ground’ support organization for the Weather Underground.  She spent 13 years living underground in support of Puerto Rican and Black liberation groups and has now written a fiction book which draws heavily on those experiences.

Shakur escaped from prison in '79 and fled to Cuba in '84
It is rare that any left political organization is mentioned in present fiction – a union, a socialist or radical group, an illegal group.  Block weaves her experiences into a number of individual stories about 5 different San Francisco & Chicago women who ultimately interconnect, and all know each other in the end.   The book focuses on the 1970s-1980s, a time of radical ferment in the U.S.  The themes of the chapters are similar.  Lesbian women who are somewhat a-political meet more leftist women activists who draw them into the world of prison support work, defense of immigrants and harboring political fugitives.  The left politics of the book are somewhat nebulous, but ‘doing the right thing’ on an ethical personal level seems to have the most weight.

Luba (Yiddish Russian meaning ‘dear.’) is the central hard-core underground activist, probably a stand-in for the author.  She ties the stories together.  One women naively ends up helping an informer arrest a comrade.  Another withdraws from a prison support group for years because of its involvement in illegality, perhaps prison breakouts.  Others pledge to visit political prisoners in California, or help prisoners in hospitals.  One attempts fund-raising with rich liberals, a hard task.  The I-Ching and Tarot cards make frequent appearances oddly enough, helping the women decide what to do next.  

Using violence against the state by small groups in the interest of Puerto Rican or Black liberation is the political issue, but it is not really analyzed thoroughly.  In the end that tactic seems to be a failure, though the topic is somewhat gingerly handled.   

The book ends with the events of Occupy and Ferguson, and one woman’s daughter becoming radicalized herself.  The writing is somewhat moody and interior, which gives the book a lack of definition and perhaps will put some off.  It is a snapshot of a small part of the left of the period, and useful for people who have never been in any organization at all. 

Book review about the Weather Underground, issues of U.S. radical violence or prisons:  "The Way the Wind Blew" "Daydream Sunset," "American Pastoral"  "Are Prisons Obsolete?"  "Son of Saul," "Kolyma Tales," "Andersonville Prison," "Diary of Bergen-Belsen," "The Unseen," (use blog search box, upper left.)

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog
February 28, 2017
Happy Mardi Gras!  Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler!

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