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actions & protests | imperialism & war

Analyzing the Movement-Looking Back at PPRC 8

I get around to critiquing myself in this one.
I have to admit it. I've always had an absurd approach to politics.

For instance, in 1992, after Bill Clinton was elected, I published and edited a 'zine called "Diet Soap." It was what I only now would call a "pro-situ enterprise." A critique of consumer culture and revolutionary political journal, I hoped it would, somehow, bring down the industrial/capitalist/patriarchal/racist/very bad system I was living under.

The first issue featured a photograph of the pristine "magic bullet" from the Kennedy assassination, the bullet that had taken a circuitous route from Oswald's rifle through Connelly and then, ricocheting around the presidential convertible, and finally managed to puncture Kennedy's skull and blow out his brain. The bullet was clean, unmarked, and whole. This is what I wanted "Diet Soap" to be, a magic bullet that would go everywhere, destroy everything, while remaining whole. I wanted a magic propaganda, no a magic truth, that would convince everyone of the need for radical social change, while sacrificing nothing.

Or, how about this:

I worked as the Opinion editor for the PSU Vanguard, and here again I tried for the impossible. I wrote cut-ups, tried to deconstruct the form of an opinion column, bashed corporations and the profit system. I wrote a review of the Disney film Mary Poppins that was really an argument for anarchism. I typed in the lyrics to the Nestle Theme song and went on to write about the brutality of Nestle's project of importing formula into the third world.

I broke rules about form and content, but then submitted my columns for review in a collegiate journalism competition, and even though I knew the columns were to be judged by a collection of reporters and writers from the Oregonian, I was shocked when I didn't place. I got biting comments and venomous criticism when I was seeking praise. And, despite my low opinion of the Oregonian, I had the audacity to act surprised and hurt.

It plays out in a variety of ways.

In 2002 I quit PPRC, but I didn't quit activist work. Instead I co-wrote a petition against the coming war on Iraq. Another writer, an acclaimed short story writer from New Zealand named Tim Jones, worked with me to get signatures. Famous Australian authors, along with well-known Science Fiction and Fantasy writers in the United States, signed against the coming war.

The idea was to create the impression that everyone worth knowing in the world of short genre fiction was coming out against the war. And we succeeded. I knew we'd succeeded when I discovered that a SF writer named Derek James had written against the petition. He felt it was necessary to take a public stance in favor of the war. He was afraid people would assume he opposed the war because he wrote Science Fiction:

"There's a story in the on-line edition of Locus today about Ursula K. Le Guin and the SF peace movement.

Says Le Guin: "This is the only thing you can do. It's what you've got to do. People ask how the Nazis could have happened, how the German people could have let it happen. Well... we just have to look around to see the answer."

Yes, we're just like the Nazis.

She also reiterated Douglas Lain's thought, "Science Fiction writers have a special interest in the future and the US policy on Iraq is putting our future at risk."

Is it possible for a science fiction writer to think exactly the opposite?" Derek wrote.

This is what I wanted. I wanted people in publishing to be forced to take a stance, to get artists and writers to notice that the world was exploding all around them. But, at the same time, I wanted something else.

I wanted people to notice me. I wanted everything, as always. To take the high road, to go against the grain and stir up trouble in a field that I'd only barely established myself in, and to be praised and admired for my courage.

Nothing and no one is really pure.

In December of 2001 President Bush came to Portland. The leadership of PPRC was given a heads up by a local journalist, a reporter working for one of Portland's free newspapers, about two weeks in advance of Bush's landing, and plans for a protest were immediately thrown together.

We put out the word, and other peace and activist groups got involved. People from Salem and Vancouver and Seattle helped plan the protest, and hundreds drove down for the event.

It ended up being the largest protest I ever had a hand in organizing. It was also the most radical, the most risky. The usual squadron of riot police was there, in full regalia, and the march to the Yo Center crossed the police. We marched up to a line of Riot Police with the intent of breaking through. The police wagon was brought out and we were given 20 minutes to clear the streets before the arrests would begin.

This made me nervous, agitated. I wandered the crowd and told people pushing tots in strollers, yuppie mothers who seemed utterly confident about their rights, that they might want to clear out before the cops started a riot.

I approached a kid in a black hoodie and a bandana. He was part of the Infernal Noise Brigade and he was getting his gear ready as the rest of the band lined up behind him.


The kid shot me a wary look, but my unruly hair and moth eaten sweater must have convinced him that I was okay because he stopped what he was doing and turned to talk to me.

"Have you seen the front of the march? " I asked. "There are some scary looking storm troopers up there."


"They've got tanks of some pink chemical in their holsters. They look like robot exterminators."

"Its tear gas," the INB guy said. "I'm not worried."

"You know what you're doing?"

"I've dealt with these guys before," he said.

The Noise Brigade pounded away and marched to the front, but they didn't push past the new police line, and the cops did not spray us nor did they start smashing heads. Instead a message came on the walkie-talkie. Our tactical leader, a woman I'll call K, heard on her headset that Bush was not going to the Yo Center after all. We moved on to Bush's second location, and right after the majority of the protesters left Bush's motorcade drove-up. We were tricked out of a confrontation. When I found out I was almost grateful.

But the storm troopers were waiting for us at the next stop, and I spent most of the day hiding--running. I didn't want to be sprayed. I'd promised my wife that I would not get arrested and would instead come home safe and sound and ready to keep working and providing. After talking to the INB and before we left the Yo Center I stayed toward the back of the crowd and tried to think up ways to defuse the situation. I even tried to talk to a police officer, tried to talk sense to him about the nature of the protest. I pointed out how peaceful everyone was being.

"We smelled marijuana in the crowd. You can't predict what a person might do on a narcotic."

"It wasn't pot, It was sage."

"We're worried about the kids in black," he said.

"Oh. That's just an anarchist marching band. They're not really violent or anything."

Was I crazy? Only anarchists?

Did I want the cop to praise me? To understand that I was an insider? To give me a writing award?

After the protest I ended up at W's house. I ended up at a party. PPRC's leaders were singing Karaoke, singing along with W's machine...

I hate Karaoke. I especially didn't want to sing prefab pop numbers to a synthesized beat after witnessing something like rebellion at the Bush protest. It was a nightmare omen to see my supposed comrades sitting on W's couch, half drunk, singing along with the fucking television set.

But I played along the best I could.

We sang "Rebel Yell," and "My Girl," and "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow." It wasn't what I wanted. I wanted everyone to talk about the protest, make plans, drink beer, and sing revolutionary songs with the television set turned off. I wanted to look into people's eyes. I wanted community, and discussion, and a writing award. I wanted to be a star in the movement. All of us would become Emma Goldman or Jack Reed or Noam Chomsky or Angela Davis or Alexander Berkman or Martin Luther King or Andre Breton or Philip K Dick or Joan Baez or someone else, you name him or her. There was a giant list of important names, with none forgotten, and I wanted to be on that list.

Listen, I got paid at the last protest I organized.

After the war on Iraq started I put together a protest against the Patriot Act. I invited writers I liked and wrote up a list of subversive books to check out of the library. I enlisted Z's help with drawing up a route from the Park Blocks to the library, and got Z to deal with the police and permits.

And when the Patriot Act protest was over, when we'd met up with the larger anti-war rally, Eileen Gunn paid me. With Le Guin standing by her side, Eileen Gunn, the editor of the magazine "Infinite Matrix," handed me a check for $200 for a short story she'd accepted for publication. It was a great moment for me, but it didn't go anywhere. I didn't go anywhere with it. After the protest against the Patriot Act I went home. There was no party; we didn't even sing Karaoke. I didn't get to drink with Le Guin; we didn't make plans. There was no wisdom passed down. She went off with Eileen and I went home.

I've got to admit it. My ambitions and my politics can't be cleanly cleaved apart, but they're in conflict. The striving, the timidity, the unceasing desire for respectability and recognition--these are problems in the movement and these are problems with me. These are my problems.

My politics have always been absurd. There is no list of righteous revolutionary all stars, and there will be precious few grand moments in this struggle, and the few that will happen will most likely be staged.

I can't keep wanting to win the game while attempting to change the rules.

homepage: homepage: http://www.douglaslain.com

courageous piece 27.Feb.2004 18:22


Wow. That takes cojones to write. Thank you Doug, for that very candid and soul searching piece.

I think we all are subject to the gnawing feeling that we have to compete for praise, recognition, survival. It goes with living in this culture and this capitalist system. It's not your fault, but it's good you're aware of it inside yourself.