The Luna Sol Café: The Past, and maybe Future, of LA’s Radical Restaurants

[This piece first appeared in LA Taco on June 28, 2017 ]

The origins of radical food in Los Angeles
When Jonathan Gold named Locol the LA Times “restaurant of the year,” he emphasized its commitment to serving the people of Watts, where it is located. It offers them inexpensive-but-healthy food as well as job opportunities in an environment that is as hip and multicultural as Los Angeles itself. Gold lauded Daniel Patterson and local hero Roy Choi, the two culinary luminaries who started the restaurant, for their sense of social purpose and commitment to changing the landscape.

What Gold did not say is that Los Angeles has a long and fascinating history of socially engaged eateries and that some of them are far more radical than Locol. Consider the Luna Sol Café, which operated near MacArthur Park from 1996 to 2003. It provided low-cost, nutritious fare and had deep roots in the multi-ethnic, underground scene of its time, but, crucially, it was a worker-owned cooperative, in which responsibilities and privileges were shared in a horizontal, egalitarian way. It is the only restaurant of this type that LA has known and one of very few in California’s history.

From Occupation to Full-Blown Restaurant
Luna Sol emerged at a moment when the credibility of the city’s establishment had reached new lows, and many felt that it was necessary to rebuild society from the ground up. Everyone had seen LA’s Black and Brown masses turn the world upside down during the 1992 rebellion, forcing themselves into the discussion, and many had watched with frustration as politicians responded to this with bogus promises, plans, and programs. There was sort of a running battle between the old guard and the newly energized forces of change. For example, the LA Conservation Corps ran a youth-oriented jobs program that treated the kids like cattle; in response, the youth seized the program’s building in 1995 and transformed it into an activist hub known as the Peace and Justice Center. Continue reading

Post-Industrial Dessert in the Age of Instagram at Little Damage in Downtown L.A.

[This piece first appeared in LA Taco on May 2, 2017]

When Little Damage Ice Cream opened in downtown recently, I imagined it as another boutiquey ice cream shop in a city that is already full of them, albeit one that generated more media attention than others thanks to a buzzworthy flavor of soft serve that they sell: charcoal almond. However, after visiting the store, I realized that there is a lot more going on there. It is a very cerebral place that is compelling not only for what it puts into our stomachs but also for what it puts in our minds: its ability to comment on  our evolving relationship to food in these digital, social-media-heavy times.

When customers first enter the brightly lit shop, they face a marquee that presents them with a choice of just four ice cream flavors. These apparently change over time, but of course I arrived knowing that I wanted the charcoal almond, which has made a splash on social media. This dark grey swirl came piled into an equally dark grey cone, also made with charcoal. I requested a white coconut flake topping, which gave the dessert a two-tone aesthetic—goth but with some ska thrown in.

This peculiar flavor actually has a point to make: it criticizes the old industrial attitude to the world that held sway throughout the twentieth century and affirms the new, information-based economy. Consider the ingredients. Charcoal evokes all the grit and grime of heavy industry. To make a food out of it, particularly a dessert, is a way of showing that the remnants of the old industrial landscape can be reimagined and even made into sources of pleasure. We see something similar with other projects that “repurpose” the built environment: food trucks that turn vehicles into restaurants, fancy lofts built out of old factories, and even some fitness regimes (like parkour). All of these things validate our ability to reimagine the physical world and highlight the industrial outlook’s rigidity, which was too narrow minded to grasp its full potential. The presence of almonds is an important counterpoint: if charcoal conjures up twentieth century industrialism, which wanted to remake everything but was inflexible, these little gems, which do not need cooking to be edible, remind us that sometimes we don’t need to do anything to find rewards in the world. The idea is that we need to be creative but also sensitive. These are resonant points in downtown, which is increasingly a hub for high tech firms that make billions in the post-industrial, information-based economy.

As I bit into the ice cream, I first noticed that it was not saturated with sugar like most American brands—it was sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. This made it much more palatable. In fact, I could have had two servings without feeling sick, which is not something that I can say about Ben and Jerry’s or Häagen-Dazs. It was also less granular in texture as a result, even for soft-serve. It reminded me of machine-dispensed frozen yogurt, although it was more dense, which likely reflected the use of high-quality ingredients (and that it wasn’t filled with air). The charcoal was mostly tasteless other than a hint of alkaline; this put the faint, buttery clarity of the almond in relief. This combination definitely worked well. More than just a vehicle for sugar delivery, and more than just strange, it was good, interesting ice cream.

However, something else captured my attention: everyone was snapping photos of their ice cream, of themselves, and of themselves with their ice cream, which they were clearly uploading or would soon upload to Instagram or some other site. This was happening inside and immediately outside of the store. Most were using their phones, except for one woman, who came armed with a huge DSLR camera, which she piloted around the establishment. The shop even had a photo booth of its own, just in case you had come unprepared. I admit that I smirked when I became aware of all of these documentarians, until I realized that I was also photographing my ice cream and thinking about posting the pictures online. I hesitated before snapping a picture of the counter area—I feared that would feel invasive to the woman working there—but she seemed indifferent to it all. Presumably she had accepted that this digital exposure is part of her job like it is, for example, for the women working booths at tech trade shows.

This was so pervasive that it made me wonder about Little Danger itself: is it really an ice cream shop or actually in the business of selling edible props that people use to enhance their social media profiles? And what does this say about the impact of social media on food generally? If we typically ask whether a food is healthy or tastes good, perhaps we will now start taking into account its ability to help us get new Twitter and Instagram followers. Do we need to rebuild the food pyramid with social media in mind? It appears that food is starting to please us and nourish us in new, essentially digital ways.

Pondering these admittedly abstract questions changed my feelings about all the photographing going on. In the context of an increasingly digitalized, post-industrial economy, maybe this was not as indulgent as I first thought. If data and ideas—not things—drive the economy now, then it makes sense that we would frantically generate data for social media companies and try to find clever ways to position ourselves in the digital world. Perhaps we were all working at Little Damage or at least preparing to work. Certainly the ice cream flavor pointed to the new economic context and the shop itself is highly attuned to today’s links between information technology and food.

I admit that I wanted to like-but-not-like Little Damage. I knew that the ice cream would be unusual and I assumed that I would enjoy it, but I expected to leave feeling annoyed by the shop’s boutiquey quality. That would be a comfortable posture for me: sure, I might be a little fatter for the experience, but I wouldn’t feel implicated in its quaint, preciousness, which seems to be spreading all over LA. Instead I felt engaged and drawn into its commentary on industrialism and illustration of our changing approach to food. And that is the genius of this genuinely challenging soft-serve ice cream shop.

~ Chuck Morse

Critique and Renewal: The Institute for Anarchist Studies at Twenty

By Chuck Morse

[This piece first appeared here on November 28, 2016 ]

I played a pivotal role in the early history of the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS). I conceived of it, drafted all the founding documents, selected the initial Board of Directors, led early fundraising campaigns, and anchored it as a whole. Although I have had little to do with the IAS since leaving it in 2005, my years with the organization were an important—and positive—experience for me. I appreciate that Perspectives editors asked me to share my reflections on the occasion of the group’s twentieth anniversary.

When we were first getting started, I often thought about the IAS’s future. I assumed that the years ahead would be riven by crisis but also contain opportunities for radical social change; the challenge was to create an organization that could navigate those fissures while pushing toward substantive revolutionary alternatives. Although it should have been obvious to me, I never realized that one day I would wrestle with the IAS’s past. However, after two decades, those of us linked to the project now have the obligation to make sense of its history.

Anarchists tend to construe anarchist history as a story of victories and defeats in the service of what militants once called “The Idea.”[1] Every year we put out books, pamphlets, and websites celebrating the conquests and agonies of the Haymarket anarchists (1886–1887), the Kronstadt sailors (1921), and the workers’ collectives in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). When I was still with the IAS, I helped build the Latin American Archives Project, an online archive commemorating the legacy of mostly Argentine anarchists; after leaving, I translated Abel Paz’s massive eulogy to Buenaventura Durruti, Spain’s legendary anarchist leader.[2] Celebrating the anarchist past disrupts official historical narratives, which are typically organized around political and religious figures, and gestures toward a new formulation of history built upon rebellion. This is one reason why anarchists have created a global network of archives, publishers, and associations focused mainly on preserving anarchism’s legacy.

It is tempting to mark the IAS’s twentieth year by telling a story of triumphant achievement. This would be the customary thing for a middle-aged organizational founder (myself) to do in these circumstances, and certainly it would flatter everyone involved. However, this approach to anarchist history has significant costs. Simply lauding our militants and organizations reduces them to caricatures—they become too valiant and virtuous—and it is impossible to put successes in context when we avoid failings as a matter of principle. It can also lead to political withdrawal: energies invested in lionizing the feats or lamenting the wounds of yesteryear are not invested in building a revolution today. This is why I pursue a more critical approach here.

I argue that the IAS’s foundational assumptions about academia and anarchism now require revision but affirm the IAS’s deep creativity on the whole. This sharp departure from the congratulatory approach to the anarchist past runs the risk of raising difficult questions, but allows relevant insights into the IAS and a richer appreciation of its accomplishments.

Academia: Trap or Battleground?

The need to build an alternative to academia was a crucial precept for the IAS. We believed that universities tended to make scholars conservative and conformist, and that a radical alternative—what we called a counter-institution—would foster more oppositional, socially committed scholarship.[3] We never considered linking the IAS to a college or university, even though that is common among specialty institutes and might have yielded significant perks (like free office space, for instance). Our autonomy was integral to our mission. Continue reading

Magonismo: An Overview

 

From The New Formulation: An Anti-authoritarian Review of Books (Volume Two, Number Two — Winter Spring 2004)

 

md9821756961El Magonismo: historia de una pasión libertaria, 1900-1922
(Magonism: History of a Libertarian
Passion, 1900-1922)
By Salvador Hernández Padilla
México, D.F.: Ediciones Era, 1984

 

4fenomenoEl fenómeno magonista en México y en Estados Unidos 1905-1908
(The Magonist Phenomenon in Mexico and
the United States, 1905-1908)
By Ricardo Cuauhtémoc Esparza Valdivia
Zacatecas: Centro de Investigaciones Históricas,
Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas, 2000

Review by Chuck Morse

Ricardo Flores Magón is one of the most important anarchists in the history of the Americas. The movement he led and inspired shook the Mexican state in the early 20th century and helped lay the foundations for the Mexican revolution of 1910. He was also a participant in radical movements in the United States and a security concern that reached the highest levels of the U.S. government.

The literature on Magón and the Magonists (as his comrades were known) has expanded considerably in recent decades and it is now possible to develop a fuller appreciation of the movement than at any previous time. One can explore the personal dilemmas of Magón and his co-conspirators through various scholarly biographies, read about the Magonists’ impact on specific regions of the United States and Mexico, or study Magonist contributions to Mexican radicalism generally.(1)

Anarchists should welcome this not only because our predecessors are finally receiving the historical recognition that they deserve but also because we now have the resources necessary to undertake a deep confrontation with the Magonist legacy. It is now possible to develop a very clear idea of how the Magonists tried to create an anarchist revolution, the consequences their activity yielded, as well as determine whether there are aspects of their activity that we should emulate today.

The books reviewed here are particularly useful. El magonismo: historia de una pasión libertaria, 1900-1922 (Magonism: History of a Libertarian Passion, 1900-1922) by Salvador Hernández Padilla studies the entire history of Magonism from its emergence at the turn of the century to its disappearance from the political scene in the 1920s. El fenómeno magonista en México y en Estados Unidos 1905-1908 (The Magonist Phenomenon in Mexico and the United Status, 1905-1908) by Ricardo Cuauhtémoc Esparza Valdivia examines Magonist activity in Mexico and the United States in the years indicated by the title. Continue reading

Review: The Politics of Urbanism: Seeing like a City by Warren Magnusson

This review first appeared in the December 2012 issue of Stir Magazine

* * *

Review of
The Politics of Urbanism: Seeing like a City
By Warren Magnusson
Routledge: London and New York, 2011
190 Pages

Reviewer: Chuck Morse

“Under the pavement, the beach!”—when activists in the Situationist International popularized this slogan during the 1968 uprising in Paris, they articulated an ideal that has deep roots on the left: the notion that the city is a realm of freedom that will reward bold insurgents with unexpected delights. This conviction coursed through the same streets nearly a century earlier, during the Paris Commune of 1871, and quite recently in places such as Zuccotti Park and Tahir Square among others. Intuitively, at the very least, most radicals regard the city as a sphere of democratic immediacy and revolutionary possibility.

But theorizing this has been difficult for the Left. Marxists have directed our political attentions to the state, which they regard as the only institution capable of fully transforming society, and thus our grim but obligatory companion. Whereas anarchists, who object to the state on principle, have struggled to envision an alternative means of organizing political life, despite their many gestures in that direction. The state has always seemed to define the limits of our political horizon, our strong urbanist impulses notwithstanding.

Warren Magnusson argues that this is a big mistake in his new book, The Politics of Urbanism: Seeing like a City. In his short but ambitious work, he urges us to expel the state from the center of our political imagination and to replace it with a political vocabulary derived from the city. In his words, we should stop “seeing like a state” and begin “seeing like a city.” Though limited in certain key respects, this text is a significant and innovative attempt to formulate a truly urban outlook. Continue reading

Eating at The Perennial: Climate Change and Capitalism

This piece first appeared on CounterPunch on March 25, 2016.

– – –

Food critics raved about The Perennial when it opened in San Francisco in January. The SF Eater called it a “palace of modern sustainability;” the Chronicle described it as the “restaurant of the future.” Even Wired Magazine sang its praises. They all celebrated its commitment to reducing its carbon footprint, which sits at the center of its identity and impacts everything that it does, from food prep, to food acquisition, to interior design. Considering that we are facing an epochal climate crisis, and that the city is sinking into the ocean, it makes an important and timely statement.

What statement does it make exactly? Curious to check this out, I had a meal there with a friend last week and discovered that its message is significantly more complicated than food writers suggested. It is both more laudable and more objectionable than they indicated.

First, though, it is in the avant-garde of sustainability. While it composts food waste, recycles linens, and distributes water sparingly, this is just the tip of the (melting) iceberg. For instance, it created a closed-loop permaculture system with its “aquaponic” greenhouse in West Oakland: the restaurant composts food scraps, which it feeds to the sturgeon and carp in the warehouse; the fish help to nourish the vegetables and lettuce growing there; and then the fish and plants become restaurant food and scraps once again. They have also integrated kernza grains into their menu. Developed by the Land Institute in Kansas, this unique grain grows year-round (unlike most of the grains we eat) and its deep-reaching roots can reduce soil-erosion and even take CO2 out of the atmosphere. Finally, they buy their meat from Marin’s Stemple Creek Ranch, which embraces what is known as “carbon farming”—an approach to harvesting livestock that mitigates climate change. These are their most novel interventions, which they detail on their website, but there are others as well.

Eating at The Perennial is remarkable because little on the surface reveals how different it is from any other high-end eatery. Sitting in a cavernous hall in San Francisco’s mid-Market area, its low-lights and vaulted ceilings evoke a loungy chic typical of expensive restaurants worldwide. It was already busy when we arrived at 6:00 PM and most of the clientele looked like extras from America’s Top Model. The host delivered us to the long wooden “chef’s table,” which sits in front of their well-lit kitchen. We watched Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, two of the owner-chefs, do their magic while waiting for our food (it was like being on the set of a cooking show). But there was no literature rack by the door, no posters promoting agricultural collectives in Nicaragua; Blondie not Manu Chao played over the speakers. Although the wait staff discreetly handed us a few postcards describing their environmental methods—one with the menu and another with the bill—that was it. Continue reading

Book Review: The Housing Monster

(This review of The Housing Monster by Prole.info first appeared in Anarchist Studies, Vol. 22, No 1. January 2014)

– – –

Anarchists have been wrestling with the politics of the built environment since the middle of the twentieth century, if not earlier. John F. C. Turner wrote influential books on architecture, Colin Ward put out worthy studies of housing and urbanism, and there is a small shelf of anarchist-inspired works on squats. These are the most conspicuous examples, but there are many others.

The Housing Monster is part of this tradition. Authored by someone (or some people) identified only as ‘prole.info’, this short, pamphlet-like work uses something that we typically take for granted—the house—as a springboard for a critical meditation on capitalist society as a whole. ‘A house is more than four walls and a roof ’, writes prole.info. ‘From its design and production to the way it is sold, used, resold and eventually demolished, it is crisscrossed by conflict. From the construction site to the neighbourhood, impersonal economic forces and very personal conflicts grow out of each other.’(p 4)

The goal of The Housing Monster is to unpack and clarify these conflicts and show how their resolution requires a revolutionary transformation of the social context that produces them. Modeled loosely on Marx’s analysis of the commodity in Capital, it begins with a discussion of the home as a physical fact, which leads to a discussion of the construction industry and construction work, which leads to a consideration of neighbourhoods and urban planning, which leads to an excursus on attempts at housing alternatives, which leads, finally, to a call to abandon reform and abolish capitalism as a whole. For prole.info, serious reflection on housing pushes us to think beyond the present society.

The Housing Monster operates at a high level of generality and abstraction. Filled with dramatic, black-and-white illustrations and cast in an intimate tone, it intends to explore the intersection of housing, capitalism, and the state as such, not these things in specific geographic or historical contexts. This is a weakness to the degree that prole.info has a tendency to skate over important particulars. Surely housing is different in Bombay and Montreal and New Haven and surely it was different in 1914 as compared to today. Some recognition of these differences would have improved the text.

But the book’s sweeping quality is also a strength. Indeed, what makes it unique is not so much its commentary on specific aspects of housing as its ability to portray it as a vast social process in which capital, labour, and politics interact at various registers and in various hues. It is a dialectical, highly relational work that gestures toward a conflicted, complicated totality of social relations and invites activists to place their work in that context. The implication is that doing so will enable them to ‘relate to each other in new ways … discover abilities we didn’t know we had, and … begin to feel our power’. (p 143)

Th is genre-bending book is probably too zine-like for housing scholars and too scholarly for casual readers. Nonetheless, it is inspired and compelling and carries on the tradition of anti-authoritarian interrogation of the built environment. It does so by reminding us of something that Turner, Ward and others have articulated in their own terms over the years: houses are much more than structures, they are also sites of social struggle and potentially arenas for the assertion of revolutionary aspirations.

~ Chuck Morse

Prole.info, The Housing Monster Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2012, 1 47 pp; ISBN-13: 978-1-604865-30-1.

 

 

METROPOLY: The Story of Oakland, California

[This was first published on the Project Oakland on March 21, 2012.]

Introduction: 

Writings about cities are paradoxical: on the one hand, they are part of a worldwide, basically place-less culture of reflection on urban life—known as “urban studies”—and yet, on the other, they interact with the specific city that they study and are a factor in its development. They are simultaneously super global and super local.

Some cities have been more productive of urban self-reflection than others. Residents of London, Paris, and New York have been especially capable of integrating their local experiences into larger debates about urban life as such. For its part, San Francisco has become an important center for urban rumination thanks to writers like Kenneth Rexroth, Rebecca Solnit, and Chris Carlsson. But Oakland has been relatively circumspect in this regard, which is surprising, considering that it has given birth to so many dynamic political and cultural forces.

But the city does have some chronicles and, among them, Warren Hinckle’s “Metropoly: The Story of Oakland” holds an important position. Published in Ramparts Magazine nearly fifty years ago, his article was not the first appraisal of Oakland as a whole, but it was the first to treat it from the perspective of the Left. Though inevitably dated, his depiction of a conflicted, racially stratified city will resonate with contemporary residents, as will his portrayal of anxious, incompetent elites. The essay is part of Oakland’s small but meaningful legacy of urban self-reflection and deserves to be remembered.

~ Chuck Morse

– – –

METROPOLY: The Story of Oakland, California
Ramparts Magazine
February, 1966

AS IF THE CREATION of some perverse master of idle pastimes, Oakland spreads out like a giant game board from the north shore mud flats of San Francisco Bay to the rolling hills of the coastal range. The game is “Metropoly,” and, as it is played in Oakland, it must also be played by anyone living in any American city over 250,000 persons. The object is survival, and the obstacles are chronic unemployment, racial imbalance, cultural deprivation, economic strangulation, educational disparity, housing inadequacy, en trenched power, stultifying bureaucracy, and loss of identity.

Playing rules are simple. If you are among the substandard income families that make up 47 per cent of Oakland’s population, you wait your turn, shake the dice, count your spaces and keep quiet. Go to jail when you are told, only pass Go when you receive permission. Pay your taxes. And above all, don’t rock the board. The rules are more lax if you are one of the elite group which makes 99 per cent of the decisions in Oakland. After all, you know the banker. Since the other players constantly have to land on your property, the rents they pay make it difficult to buy any houses or hotels themselves. Whatever property they do have will be the cheapest on the board, and the odds are that you will end up owning it too.

The analogy is familiar, but it applies with dismaying exactitude to life in Oakland, California, where the game of “Metropoly” is being played on a scale slightly below the epic.

[A GEOGRAPHY LESSON]

OAKLAND MAKES A NICE “Metropoly” game board since it is an “All American City.” Look magazine said it was, in 1955, and a plaque from the Look hangs in Oakland’s marble-walled City Hall to prove it. A red, white and blue billboard reminds motorists of this honor as they speed along Oakland’s perimeter on an elevated freeway that. slices across depressed flatlands of marginal industry and decaying housing. The view from the freeway is a city planner’s version of the seventh layer of hell: an ugly, squalid, depressing hodgepodge of commercial neighborhoods, smoke-deadened greenery and neglected residences of Victorian design and Edwardian vintage. The dominant color is gray. At the turn of the century the flatland area was a well-manicured community of bright gingerbread architecture that provided suburban housing, via ferryboat, for the more vital, if more sinful, city of San Francisco across the bay. But Oakland was doomed by its own geography. Its flatlands provide a natural base for industrial expansion of hilly San Francisco, an expansion that assumed forest-fire proportions as the twentieth century pressed on through the catalytic periods of World War I and then, World War II. Continue reading

The Uhuru House and the Battle for Community Control of Housing in the 1980s: Traces of the Oakland Commune

Rent control has a long history in the United States. Implemented by various municipalities during WWI and the federal government during WWII, it was initially a means of addressing wartime “housing emergencies” and neither a source of great controversy nor strongly linked to social protest.  This changed after the tumult of the 1960s, when a new configuration of “the personal” and “the political” emerged that made our homes into sites of contestation in novel ways. Many began to see rent control not only as a tool for regulating a particular financial transaction but also as a means for asserting community—however loosely defined—against capitalism. In California, this impulse was evident in rent control movements in Santa Monica, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and—last but not least—Oakland.

Oakland’s best known tenants’ movement culminated in 2002, when housing activists persuaded voters to approve the “Just Cause” ordinance (Measure EE). Though it did not provide rent control, it gave renters crucial protections against arbitrary (“no cause”) evictions. Fights over this statute took place in the shadow of San Francisco’s dot.com boom and, as such, provided a window into Oakland’s unique response to the seismic shifts in regional real estate that it had occasioned.

Oakland was also the location of a remarkable and largely forgotten campaign for rent control in the 1980s, when activists associated with the Uhuru House put two measures on the ballot that would have revolutionized the city’s approach to housing if they had been approved: Measure 0 (1984) and Measure H (1986), two virtually identical initiatives whose purpose was to create a form of socialized housing under the control of decentralized, autonomous “Community Control Housing Boards” that were to be spread throughout the city. Although Oaklanders rejected both by a large margin, they helped define a pivotal moment in the city’s history. They facilitated the emergence of what Adolph Reed has called the “Black urban regime” by prompting established Black leaders to clarify their attitude toward the radical Black movements that had helped put them in power and, secondly, they foregrounded the rich, decentralist alternatives to liberalism that had begun to appear with increasing frequency.

Oakland and Lionel Wilson

The Uhuru House in 2012. The faces on the building’s facade are (from left to right): Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X, Huey Newton, and Omali Yeshitela.

The Uhuru House was (and is) headquarters for a constellation of projects led by Omali Yeshitela, a Pan-African, revolutionary socialist who moved from St. Petersburg, Florida to Oakland in 1981. Positioning itself as a liberator of people of African descent worldwide, his group runs an evolving and elaborate network of organizations and businesses. There is the African People’s Socialist Party (its political wing), the African People’s Solidarity Committee (the Party’s White support group), as well as numerous companies that presumably finance the political endeavors (Uhuru FurnitureUhuru Foods, among others). Like many socialist sects born of the 1960s, the group has a propensity for grandiose rhetoric, which, given its negligible influence on current affairs, suggests an exaggerated sense of self-importance and also that it inhabits a highly idealized political space. Its distance from prevailing political discourse in Oakland was especially conspicuous when it lauded Lovelle Mixon as a hero because he murdered four policemen after a traffic stop in 2008. Continue reading

Book Review: Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism and Rebellion in the Garden

This first appeared on the Civil Eats blog on November 2, 2011.

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The notion that politics only takes place in the voting booth or halls of state basically evaporated in the 1960s. We now know that political acts occur in a range of settings: in our neighborhoods, bedrooms, kitchens, and, yes, even in our gardens.

The use of gardens as a means of social engagement and a forum in which to articulate oppositional ideas is the subject of George McKay’s Radical Gardening: Politics, Idealism, and Rebellion in the Garden. In the work, he chronicles the history of politicized gardens and documents some of the various ways that activists have utilized them to express their views. He hopes that his book will provide “a small corrective to the parochial or suburban or landed versions of garden understanding [by tracing] the strands of idealism, rebellion, political action and social criticism in the garden historically and presently.” His book leaves no doubt that radical gardens have, as he puts it, a “rich and challenging tradition, a significance, as well as a trajectory of energy and import that makes them matter for our future.” Continue reading