This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first publication of Ursula K. Le Guin’s anti-war novella The Word for World is Forest.
Written during the Vietnam conflict, The Word for World is Forest depicts a distant world invaded by human beings who are desperate for natural resources. It tells the tale of an alien culture that resists the invasion, but is forever changed by the decision.
The Anarres Project for Alternative Futures calls for abstracts for a multidisciplinary virtual symposium that aims to bring together activists, organizers, and scholars to consider the ways in which Le Guin’s tale can help us to diagnose social injustices in the present moment, and to imagine the ways we can catalyze solidarities to achieve more just futures.
Rather than strictly academic discussions or literary critiques, we are looking for presentations that take Le Guin’s novella as a basis for understanding themes such as oppression, patriarchy and toxic masculinity, racial justice, resistance, colonialism/imperialism, nonviolence and armed struggle, environmental justice, intersectional solidarity in the world today. We are especially interested in how the tale might help us develop strategies for mutual aid and community organizing against injustice today.
The symposium will be held on-line over Zoom on Friday, October 14, 2022.
Please send an abstract of no more than 300 words by midnight (Pacific Time) Friday, September 9, 2022 using the submission form below.
The TrekWars@OSU collective (Dr. Randall Milstein, Dr. Joseph Orosco, and Dr. Jason Scully) gathered together again to discuss the best science fictions stories of 2021. We chose to talk about those sci-fi narratives that most impacted us in some way, either by engaging in innovative storytelling or by engaging us in thinking about future possibilities in new ways.
Our choices for best science fiction for 2021 were:
We all agreed that the science fiction product that most underwhelmed us was : Dune 2021.
Along the way, we noticed that the theme of rendering care to young people was a growing theme in a lot of science fiction stories this year. We also discussed whether science fiction in the last thirty years has been hemmed in by a cyber punk aesthetic (blended with a neoliberal capitalist reality) that makes it very difficult to imagine, in Jason Scully’s words, a future of “exuberance”.
Let us know what you think. Did we miss something you think helps us grow a radical imagination (quite frankly–there was a lot)? (You can also watch our Best of Sci-Fi 2020 here.)
It’s been days of listening to pundits and politicians wringing their hands and doling out blame over the “loss” of Afghanistan to the corrupt Afghan elites we don’t like from the corrupt Afghan elites we do like.
George W. Bush lied to the American people in 2003 that the Taliban was defeated and the mission “accomplished”. He then proceeded to broaden the mission and suck our country into the same morass through which the Russians had waded from 1979-89 until defeated by the mujahideen. The Afghan mujahideen became the Taliban. That broadened mission and disastrous policy went on, in a largely bipartisan manner, through multiple US administrations. And, of course, memory being short, Donald Trump ordered withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan by May, something his fascist colleagues now want to erase from history for their own political ends.
I remember the understandably great anger and angst that spread across the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the need to do something, to strike back, to find and kill whomever the enemy was. That mass shock gave Bush enough political space to invade a country without immediate mass resistance at home. However, driven out of Afghanistan by December, 2001, the people who’d orchestrated and authorized the 9/11 attacks were no longer there. We were.
The politics of the moment demanded “we” “do something”. There was the Taliban who had supported and sheltered Al Qaeda. Their excesses against the people of Afghanistan in order to keep their own tiny, elite class of males in power, made great propaganda in the West because it was true. Propaganda works best when it’s based on truth (or, at least, truisms and stereotypes). The Bush Administration connected with the so-called Northern Alliance, armed them, and launched a war against the Taliban. The Northern Alliance already had been resisting the Taliban for some years and controlled part of the country. Made up largely of minority ethnicities and some Pashtuns, oppressed and dominated by the Taliban, who were mainly of the dominant Pashtun ethnicity, the country’s largest group. In fairly short order, the Taliban was out and the Northern Alliance was in.
While repeatedly denying that the US was “nation building” there, the Bush administration proceeded to build a new nation out of the old Afghanistan. The idea, you see, was nothing new: We would simply impose an Afghan-adapted model of Western democracy and soon everyone would be dancing through the poppy fields in liberated ecstasy. We would keep the new regime in place by superior force of arms while training an army composed of newborn Afghan egalitarians. This would solidify the hold on power by a non-Taliban ruling elite who owed some allegiance to US regional interests. That didn’t mean the Taliban went away. It simply meant a long war of attrition was about to begin. This phase of that war of attrition is ending now.
Meanwhile, I’m sitting here thinking of the apparently unlearned lessons of our previous longest war in Viet Nam. For example, we unlearned that an almost certain way of making a people overcome otherwise profound sectarian differences is to INVADE THEIR COUNTRY.
Not only by its ill-advised invasion of Afghanistan but by remaining there after neutralizing the threat from Al Qaeda, the US ceded the propaganda war to the Taliban, allowing them to claim to be “freedom fighters” against invading foreigners and to convince many Afghans that the new leadership were merely corrupt puppets of the United States. That the new Afghan government held power in concert with foreign invaders further solidified the Taliban’s reach among the people just as the mujahideen had done during the Soviet invasion. It doesn’t even matter whether or not the new leaders actually are puppets. This whole scenario has been played out before albeit with a different cast and a different setting.
The late (2013) General Võ Nguyên Giáp, who defeated the French colonists and won the United States’ war against the Vietnamese people (while losing nearly every battle), viewed by many as one of the great military strategists of the 20th century, wrote the script. I read his user’s manual “People’s War, People’s Army” while still in high school and I’m sure it’s been on the reading list for the National War College for decades. The bottom line is that a foreign invader may conquer a country or a people by force of arms but ultimately cannot defeat an insurgent army that is rooted among the people. Between those Afghans who hated the foreign invaders for religious or political reasons and those who were frightened by the consequences for folks cast as “traitors” by the insurgents, the outcome of our inane, wasteful twenty-year war was almost predetermined. The only matter left unresolved was how long it might take.
There are many reasons why armed forces of 300,000 trained by the US for nearly twenty years, armed with modern weaponry and backed by modern air support, laid down their weapons, cringed, crawled, and scurried away before the advance of an insurgent force apparently less than a third of its size. The almost complete lack of resistance by the Afghan army suggests that the Afghan forces were heavily infiltrated and that many Afghan soldiers do not view the Taliban as their enemy but as their liberators. Again, Viet Nam comes to mind. Based on my own experience, I believe it’s more than likely that US military intelligence knew a significant number of Afghan security forces were loyal to the Taliban. Additionally, it’s almost certain that there were and have been underground Taliban sleeper cells in every village of any size and in many neighborhoods of the large cities. Those cells simply went about their usual daily lives as they fed intelligence to the fighters and waited to take over the functions of the local authorities when given the word. Based on reports as the Taliban sweep through the land, that’s exactly the case. It’s likely there has been a shadow government that never left the country networked throughout the provinces of Afghanistan.
Already, the discussion has turned to “who lost Afghanistan”. We can only answer that it’s impossible to lose what one did not have in the first place. The question should be, “What were we doing there to begin with?” It was a good thing that conditions were bettered for women and non-Pashtun minorities, at least in the cities, once the Taliban were overcome. But the Taliban had been in power for years and nary a word was said about those things by the US government or the mainstream press, other than the occasional, obligatory, half-hearted “human rights” statement. No. The invasion was more about US domestic political purposes than it was about the liberation of Afghan women or defeating Sharia Law (which never ceased having effect in occupied Afghanistan). The military contractors and the corporate profiteers will lie to you from their thrones of lucre piled high above the bottom line. The government will invoke 9/11 to trigger predictable responses in the people. The war was never really about Afghanistan at all.
Twenty years is a long time for a war to go on, especially a war that was based on spurious motives in the first place. Twenty years is a long time for an invading force to stay in a foreign land. Mistakes and crimes and excesses are bound to happen, discipline is bound to deteriorate, and when these things inevitably occur, resentment, anger, and resistance are likely to grow among the invaded people notwithstanding their other inclinations. Virtually every “mistake” by invading forces creates new resistance fighters. If the Afghan people have accepted the Taliban with little if any resistance, we have to ask ourselves if our government has had the slightest inkling of what’s been going on during the twenty years we thought we were running the place.
The original invasion of Afghanistan was an ill-conceived policy decision. What made it exponentially worse was maintaining various forms of the same policy over so many years by administrations of both major US political parties. This untenable policy engendered by the ruling elites of the US has jeopardized all of us and has accomplished… Well, current events show what’s been accomplished. It’s long past time to come home. The United States is not “the cops of the world” regardless of how much some interests would like that to be the case.
Besides, we apparently have our own Taliban to deal with right here in the good ol’ USA.
I was listening to the interview with Questlove on NPR the other day. He was talking about the new documentary he produced (Summer of Soul) on the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969 and discussing the performance of the group, The Fifth Dimension. The Fifth Dimension, for me, is always connected with the songs from the musical, Hair, namely “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” so I always associated them with images of the largely white, hippie, Woodstock generation. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who made this association. In the film, lead singer Marilyn McCoo talks about how important it was for them to perform at the festival:
“MARILYN MCCOO: We were constantly being attacked because…
CORNISH: Marilyn McCoo, a member of The 5th Dimension – she teared up while watching footage of their performance.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, “SUMMER OF SOUL”)
MCCOO: Sometimes we were called the Black group with the white sound. We didn’t like that. That was one of the reasons why performing in Harlem was so important to us – because we wanted our people to know what we were about.”
Hearing this made me go back to listen to the songs again and to see if I could find any videos of them from the era. And what popped out at me was that The Fifth Dimension can definitely be thought of Afrofuturist in 1969, and those songs from ‘Hair” as being infused as messages from what Robin D.G. Kelley calls the Black Radical Imagination.
In terms of the Afrofuturist aesthetic, check the the original video for “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In”:
I’ve also been reading Kelley’s “Freedom Dreams” (2002) and came across this important passage:
“Progessive social movements do not simply produce statistics and narratives of oppression; rather, the best ones do what great poetry always does; transport us to another place, compel us to relive horrors and, more importantly, enable us to imagine a new society.”
Kelley thinks music is an important component of social movements because they give life to this poetic/radical imagination:
“When movements have been unable to clear the clouds, it has been the poets–no matter the medium–who have succeeded in imagining the color of the sky, in rendering the kinds of dreams and futures social movements are capable of producing. Knowing the color of the sky is far more important than counting clouds. Or to put it another way, the most radical art is not protest art but works that take us to another place, envision a different way of seeing, perhaps a different way of feeling.”
With all of this in the background, I have started to hear “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” in a new way, as part of the tradition of those freedom dreams from the Black Freedom Movement: spirituals, blues, jazz, and soul. Especially when you look at the lyrics, these songs are definitely in that utopian tradition of imagining a different world in order to provide hope and soothe pain in the struggles of the present.
When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius
Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation
When the moon is in the Seventh House
And Jupiter aligns with Mars
Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars
This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
Age of Aquarius
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in
Let the sunshine, let the sunshine in, the sunshine in
Oh, let it shine, c’mon
Now everybody just sing along
Let the sun shine in
Open up your heart and let it shine on in
When you are lonely, let it shine on
Got to open up your heart and let it shine on in
And when you feel like you’ve been mistreated
And your friends turn away
Just open your heart, and shine it on in
In this episode of our podcast, Conversations on Anarres, we sat down with dancer and filmmaker Shane Scopatz to talk about his new work “Steps and Strikes”. Shane is a recent graduate of the Master’s Program in Environmental Humanities at Oregon State University. His film hopes to address the provocative question: Why did the environmental movement fail to protect us from ecological crisis?
We sat down with Shane to discuss his answer to this question We talk about the way in which global capitalism has dispossessed billions of people and created the conditions for climate catastrophe. But we also talk about the ways in which people resist–using the labor movement to build organized people power against corporate control of the environment. The big issue today is: How do we bridge the labor movement and the environmental movement?
An answer to this involves the way Shane has chosen to resist: that involves dance. Invoking the legacy of a radical dance movement from the 1930s, the Worker’s Dance League, Shane has decided to explore how dance can be a way to expand the radical imagination and get us to think about the ways to build connection between social movements. Art in general, but dance in particular can help to develop emotions like joy and ecstasy and sustain a guiding vision toward a more collective, just, ecologically attuned future.
During the Occpy Wall Street, groups of activists organized a spaced called the people’s library. Thousands of books and magazine were organized to be available for free to whomever wanted to come to the encampment and find literature and radical scholarship that could help them make sense of Occupy or the issues behind the movement. The People’s Liberary inspired dozens of other projects in across the country where local activists tried to make books and other media available as part of collctive liberation efforts When the encampment in Zucotti park was finally demolished by the police, most of those books were confiscated and ended up in the landfill.
We recently sat down to talk to someone who is working in Albuquerque New Mexico to build a project with similar goals and aspirations. Fiadh is an activist who has created the The People’s Library of ABQ. She has been an anarchist organizer in many different spaces for a while now, but within the last year decided to create a lending library of radical books and zines. The People’s Library ABQ describes itself as “a community project of leftist theory anarchist history and radial education. We have books about queer, feminist, antiracist theory, indigenous resistance, transformative justice, philosophy and revolutionary thought”
We sat down with Fiah to discuss her inspirations for the project and to learn how it works, and how she would like it to grow in order to offer works that inspire the radical imagination to a broader audience.
You can watch the full interview at our YouTube channel:
Honoring the passing of justice movement veteran, elder and one of the most important mentors of my life, Elizabeth ‘Betita’ Martinez.
Of two Latina staff members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in the 60s, and founding leader of the Women’s Liberation movement and the Chicano/a Power Movements in the 70s.
Her organizing was rooted in a vision of building multiracial working class power – for example, in the 90s translating Black History educational materials into Spanish and developing Black Freedom movement literacy programs in Latinx communities as both antidote to anti-Black racism, and to forge alliances for racial, economic, and gender justice.
Her mentoring and support for younger generation organizers of color was already legendary – developing leaders, strategists and alliance buildings. I knew I wanted to figure out anti-racist/collective liberation organizing in white communities and I hoped she would mentor me and help me grow as a leader. She took on so much more.
Her vast experience organizing, her movement journalism, her bringing people together to build movement together, all of this was so incredible. And it was also her deep belief in young people and encouragement to experiment and grow.
She would often say – “I will pass on as much as I can about what I know and what I think, but I also want to learn from you and what you and your generation are thinking, what you’re doing, what historical reference points guide you.”
And in the late 90s, as a crew of us were building Catalyst Project and developing new ideas/approaches for anti-racist/collective liberation organizing, ‘Betita’ and her leadership was crucially important
At a time when guilt and shame were prevalent in anti-racist work in white communities, when the end goal often seemed to be getting white people to know how racist they were, and then saying “stop being racist”.
Catalyst started talking about organizing white people from a place of love, that white supremacy as a system dehumanizes white people and turns us into weapons against communities of color to maintain ruling class power, that white anti-racists didn’t just need how to move back and listen, but also move forward and lead (learning the nuance of when to do either).
One long night I was talking with ‘Betita’ about this approach to anti-racist work in white communities, she said, “Look, so much of this work is focused on making white people feel bad about racism, and it’s not working. If you all think you can organize white people in a way that inspires them and helps equip them to be effective anti-racists, and you talk about love and collective liberation, do it, experiment.” And then she said, “What can I do to help this happen?”
I shared with ‘Betita’ that one of the barriers was that the narrative of “white people are racist and therefore problematic” is so strong, that it’s hard to get momentum for a narrative that “white people can be effective and powerful for racial justice and collective liberation, that white supremacy hurts us all, differently, but creates damage nonetheless, and that we need to all get free.”
‘Betita’ said something that energized me and Catalyst and gave us political space to operate. She said, “I believe in what you all are doing. I organize in Brown and Black communities, and I know how important it is to have large numbers of white people support and join that work. If you all think you can get large numbers of white people into this work, and want to try different approaches, I have your back. I will vouch for you, you can use my name regularly and publicly as supporting what you’re doing, I’ll be an advisor, I’ll publicly support what you all are doing – even if I don’t totally understand it, because I’m not trying to organize white communities. I want you all to be successful and i’ll show up as often as I can to help with your work.”
‘Betita’ believing and supporting me and Catalyst was monumental and it all flowed from her lifelong organizing and vision of powerful multiracial movements.
Years later, ‘Betita’ was at a Catalyst event where there were hundreds of white people learning about Black and Brown movement history, where white people were raising money for Black and Brown organizing, and learning how to organize in white communities for racial justice – and she said “This is what I hoped you all would do, and it needs to keep growing, and you just let me know how I can help.”
I love you ‘Betita’ Martinez.
I am so grateful for you, your leadership, your mentoring, your laughter and sense of humor, your encouragement to try and build.
Dear Commissioners Augerot, Malone, and Jaramillo:
This June, you issued a statement in response to the historic protests across the globe reacting to the killing of George Floyd. You recognized that communities were gathering together to “give voice to the centuries of inequality, exploitation and abuse suffered by Black and African American people in our country” and added, “The demands for change cannot go unanswered.” As part of your commitment, you dedicated yourselves to listening to the concerns of disadvantaged communities and to examining the ways in which the County might participate in historic racism. You promise that “All systems that reinforce oppression and racism must be thoroughly examined, changed where needed and rebuilt in coordination with the people that have been historically disenfranchised.”
I suggest that one of the tasks the Board needs to consider is renaming the County.
Benton County is named in honor of US Senator Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri, who served in federal government for some thirty years from 1820 to 1850. He was instrumental in the promotion of settlement of the Oregon Territory. Though he never set foot in Oregon, he is considered someone whose political career was dedicated to the cause of opening the West for Americans.
However, Senator Benton was a notorious white supremacist. His championing of the Oregon Trail was so that white Americans could displace Native American tribes who he considered “savage” and “uncivilized.” He thought that Western expansion was a good idea in order for European and Christian ideals to spread to Asia and transform those cultures. Though he did work to end slavery in the United States, it was not because he considered African Americans equal to white people, but because the issue threatened the stability of the Union.
In 2017, Oregon State University, responding to student concerns and protests, initiated a review of building names on campus, including Benton Hall. I was the co-chair of the committee involved in organizing the review process. A team of professional historians investigated the background of Senator Benton and the naming of the building. While OSU chose to remove Senator Benton’s name from the building for reasons other than his historical legacy, historians found the legacy of Senator Benton to be “controversial and discomforting” because of his support of Native American removal and a white supremacist promotion of Manifest Destiny. This report can be found at:
One way to remedy the harm to Native Americans caused by Senator Benton would be to rename the County after the Kalapuya people who were displaced by the United States from this area in 1855. There is precedent for this in Oregon, since ten of thirty-six counties are named after Native American tribes or use Native American names. The Board should consider consulting tribal historians and officials from Grand Ronde. Nearby Lane County is also involved in a process of reviewing its name for similar reasons.
If the Benton Country Board of Commissioners is truly interested in “dismantling” and “deconstructing” Oregon’s history of systemic oppression, then it should cease to honor one of the politicians who dedicated most of his life’s work to laying the foundations for it.
We want to offer another view. “Dystopia” is a powerful but overused term. It is not a synonym for a terrible time.
The question for us as politicalscientists is not whether things are bad (they are), but how governments act. A government’s poor handling of a crisis, while maddening and sometimes disastrous, does not constitute dystopia.
Dystopia is not a real place; it is a warning, usually about something bad the government is doing or something good it is failing to do. Actual dystopias are fictional, but real-life governments can be “dystopian” – as in, looking a lot like the fiction.
Defining a dystopia starts with establishing the characteristics of good governance. A good government protects its citizens in a noncoercive way. It is the body best positioned to prepare for and guard against natural and human-made horrors.
Good governments use what’s called “legitimate coercion,” legal force to which citizens agree to keep order and provide services like roads, schools and national security. Think of legitimate coercion as your willingness to stop at a red light, knowing it’s better for you and others in the long run.
No government is perfect, but there are ways of judging the imperfection. Good governments (those least imperfect) include a strong core of democratic elements to check the powerful and create accountability. They also include constitutional and judicial measures to check the power of the majority. This setup acknowledges the need for government but evidences healthy skepticism of giving too much power to any one person or body.
Federalism, the division of power between national and subnational governments, is a further check. It has proved useful lately, with state governors and mayors emerging as strong political players during COVID-19.
Three kinds of dystopias
Bad governments lack checks and balances, and rule in the interest of the rulers rather than the people. Citizens can’t participate in their own governance. But dystopian governments are a special kind of bad; they use illegitimate coercion like force, threats and the “disappearing” of dissidents to stay in power.
Our book catalogs three major dystopia types, based on the presence – or absence – of a functioning state and how much power it has.
The great danger of these is, as our country’s Founding Fathers knew quite well, too much power on the part of any one person or group limits the options and autonomy of the masses.
Then there are dystopic states that seem nonauthoritarian but still take away basic human rights through market forces; we call these “capitocracies.” Individual workers and consumers are often exploited by the political-industrial complex, and the environment and other public goods suffer. A great fictional example is Wall-E by Pixar (2008), in which the U.S. president is also CEO of “Buy ‘N Large,” a multinational corporation controlling the economy.
There are not perfect real-life examples of this, but elements are visible in the chaebol – family business – power in South Korea, and in various manifestations of corporate political power in the U.S, including deregulation, corporate personhood status and big-company bailouts.
Lastly there are state-of-nature dystopias, usually resulting from the collapse of a failed government. The resulting territory reverts to a primitive feudalism, ungoverned except for small tribal-held fiefdoms where individual dictators rule with impunity. The Citadel versus Gastown in the stunning 2015 movie “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a good fictional depiction. A real-life example was seen in the once barely governed Somalia, where, for almost 20 years until 2012, as a U.N. official described it, “armed warlords (were) fighting each other on a clan basis.”
Fiction and real life
Indeed, political dystopia is often easier to see using the lens of fiction, which exaggerates behaviors, trends and patterns to make them more visible.
But behind the fiction there is always a real-world correlate. Orwell had Stalin, Franco and Hitler very much in mind when writing “1984.”
Atwood, whom literary critics call the “prophet of dystopia,” recently defined dystopia as when “[W]arlords and demagogues take over, some people forget that all people are people, enemies are created, vilified and dehumanized, minorities are persecuted, and human rights as such are shoved to the wall.”
Some of this may be, as Atwood added, the “cusp of where we are living now.”
But the U.S. is not a dystopia. It still has functioning democratic institutions. Many in the U.S. fight against dehumanization and persecution of minorities. Courts are adjudicating cases. Legislatures are passing bills. Congress has not adjourned, nor has the fundamental right of habeas corpus – the protection against illegal detention by the state – (yet) been suspended.
Crisis as opportunity
And still. One frequent warning is that a major crisis can cover for the rolling back of democracy and curtailing of freedoms. In Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a medical crisis is the pretext for suspending the Constitution.
In real life, too, crises facilitate authoritarian backsliding. In Hungary the pandemic has sped democracy’s unraveling. The legislature gave strongman Prime Minister Viktor Orban the power to rule by sole decree indefinitely, the lower courts are suspended and free speech is restricted.
Similar dangers exist in any number of countries where democratic institutions are frayed or fragile; leaders with authoritarian tendencies may be tempted to leverage the crisis to consolidate power.
In politics, Wisconsin primary voters risked their lives to exercise their right to vote during the height of the pandemic. Citizens and civil society are pushing federal and state governments to ensure election safety and integrity in the remaining primaries and the November election.
Despite the eerie silence in public spaces, despite the preventable deaths that should weigh heavily on the consciences of public officials, even despite the authoritarian tendencies of too many leaders, the U.S. is not a dystopia – yet.
Overuse clouds the word’s meaning. Fictional dystopias warn of preventable futures; those warnings can help avert the actual demise of democracy.