History is a Weapon

How could it be that I'm only now discovering this site?

History is a Weapon has transcribed and uploaded dozens of original books, flyers and other texts related to the history of radical activism. They have a blog too! Plus, imperialist history maps!

One gem from the site - John Brown's last public speech made to the judge and jury that convicted him:

...Had I interfered in the manner which I admit, and which I admit has been fairly proved (for I admire the truthfulness and candor of the greater portion of the witnesses who have testified in this case), had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends, either father, mother, brother, sister, wife, or children, or any of that class, and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.

Bay Radical recommends:
History Is A Weapon


Sink or Swim and How Did We Get Here?

Two of my favorite Bay Area history books are designed for kids. I always prefer books that are written simply and clearly, and both of these fit that description.

Sink or Swim was written and illustrated by water activists Cleo Woelfle-Erskine and Annie Danger (who, full disclosure, gave me one of my tattoos – but that's for a different post). I emailed Cleo to ask if there were any more copies of Sink or Swim available and he hasn't gotten back to me. I bet he's super-busy right now since he just finished another book that's been getting well-deserved national attention. (There's more on that book at the Greywater Guerrillas site.) I'm not sure if it's possible to find this book anymore, but if you can track one down, your efforts will be worthwhile. Sink or Swim is a short history of Sausal Creek, the creek that runs from the Oakland Hills, through Dimond Park, and underneath Fruitvale. Although Cleo and Annie document a huge loss for the natural and human environment, the tone is compassionate and optimistic. It would be a great resource for an older child to learn about both local history and the international issue of environmental destruction. Here's an excerpt from the introductory material:

Sink or Swim inside.jpg

Another excellent resource for kids and adults is How Did We Get Here by Miriam Walden and the staff of Urban Habitat. This comic tells the history of Bay Area land use with an emphasis on the history of urban renewal and gentrification, and the impact of those phenomenon on communities of color in particular. Illustrator Christine Wong Yap brings the history alive, showing grim, grey freeways snaking through once vibrant communities, but also the human faces of displacement and struggle. The story is narrated by young people, and emphasizes the role of elders, youth, and everyday people in protecting their own communities. You can read another review at tolerance.org.

I'm always interested in suggestions for reading more. If you have a favorite book for kids about history, or a book that deals with a history in a new or different way, I'd love to hear about it.


More endorsements: The Organic City & Deep Oakland

While I deal with moving, starting my fall semester (I'm taking microbiology – wish me luck!), and helping my kids transition into a new school too, I'll be mostly reviewing other people's Bay history resources. Look for research-based posts from me again starting mid-or-late-September (hopefully including info on the farmworkers movement, underground queer scenes, and more on the Panthers). But for now, here are two of my favorite sites dealing with my favorite town:

The Organic City is some kind of awesome hybrid of mapping software and community blog. Or something. Clearly, I don't understand the technicalities, but I can tell you that the heart of the site is an interactive map which you can click on to hear, read, or watch stories based in corresponding Oakland neighborhoods. Part of the charm is the brevity of the stories – each small enough to give you a flavor, an impression. This home movie of bird-chasing at Lake Merritt is one of the best examples. I can almost feel my Oakland childhood in some of those shots. (Although mine was probably much less-hip than the little girl in the clips - her name is Song, and actually, I even knew another kid named Song when I was growing up here!) There are also some fine videos of Oakland history walking tours. William Wong, who has his own great Oakland Chinatown History site is a featured 'tour guide'. Here's a clip.

In a similar vein is Deep Oakland. Also organized by neighborhood (but including a wider range of 'hoods), and with a beautiful interface, Deep Oakland includes stories, photos, and audio clips. There are some real gems – particularly the interviews with long-time Oaklanders. My favorites so far is the snipped of an interview with Lewis Mahlmann, the now-retired master puppeteer at Children's Fairlyland. If you haven't had the chance to take in a show at Fairyland, here's a taste – with Mahlmann voicing the greedy Oswald Bear (warning: intense moralism ahead):

Next up: local history zines!


Endorsements part II: Sparkletack

Sparkletack, Sparkletack, Sparkletack. Sparkletack. Sparkletack is a podcast about San Francisco history. It's also a blog and a website. Richard Miller produces the in-depth, well-researched, stories on an irregular basis (it takes a lot of time to research this stuff) but it is worth the wait for each new episode. For money, he's a designer, and you can tell because Sparkletack has a beautiful and accessible interface. But he's a natural historian, with an audible love for his hometown.

From Sparkletack, I learned who really invented blue jeans. I understood why California stayed out of the Civil War. And I discovered that my father's countryman, Robert Lewis Stevenson, lived in SF's Chinatown, and was a vocal critic of anti-Chinese racism.

When I started this blog a couple months ago I sent out emails to everyone I could think of to promote it, and I sent a cold email to Richard who was a total stranger to me. He wrote back right away and was beyond encouraging. He even added an enthusiastic endorsement for Bay Radical on his links page. If you're into San Francisco, or you're interested in history, listen to Sparkletack. Why is it called Sparkletack? I don't know. Why aren't you listening to it right now? I don't know that either.

Sparkletack. It's awesome.


Hi there Bay Radicals,

The next few weeks promise to be pretty overwhelming for me, so I won't be doing any research or major posts. I do want to use this time to point you to some other great resources about Bay history though. To start with, I'd recommend that you come down to Mama Buzz café for some granola with soymilk and fair trade coffee and most especially, for their current photo exhibit and installation about Chester Street in West Oakland.

Julie Plasencia, a photojournalist and now freelancer has created a very sweet portrait of the people and architecture of a neighborhood. I think you'll like it.


Free the SF 8!

When I started this site, I wanted to find a way to connect historical movements with contemporary struggles. Unfortunately, I now have an opportunity to do that:

Eight men are in jail in San Francisco, charged with a 30 year old murder. All these guys were radicals a long, long time ago. When they were charged this year, some of them were still community activists, a couple were already serving prison time, mostly, they are older men who one would be hard-pressed to see as dangerous. In the words of 64-year old defendant Ray Boudreaux (an electrician who lives in Southern California), "…for the last 25 years I've lived a pretty peaceful and quiet life. My politics are still the same. It's just that I'm not active. People come to me sometimes as a peace-maker."

I'm aware that most of us progressives suffer from a certain overwhelm about the unjustly imprisoned. We marched to Free Mumia until our marches petered out into t-shirts and then occasional arguments and then, nothing. Mumia is still on death row. We've been carrying our "Free Peltier" signs since 1977 but with every rejected parole hearing, we say less about him. It's easy to give up when we feel so hopeless, and for that reason, it's important to find ways to stay connected to the people who are stuck behind bars.

Mostly, when I think about these guys in jail in San Francisco, I think about their families. I imagine my dad having to go to jail at this point in his life – how he'd feel – how I'd feel. You don't even have to know that they're innocent to agree that they should be given a reasonable bail (it was set at 3 million each) so they can go home while they deal with the legal proceedings that are still ahead of them. For me, a prison abolitionist, just knowing that eight former activists who are clearly not a threat to anyone now are in jail is enough to push me to want to do something. If you're better motivated by outrage, then you should know that the evidence that prosecutors say points to these men was obtained through torture.

There are eight men in jail now – there on the strength of a confession obtained under torture. That's ugly and worth fighting against. But its worth also wondering what the point of this is for the state. While I'm not going to suggest a conspiracy, it's pretty obvious what message this is sending to any radical activists now: take your movement beyond the choreographed protest march and you'll spend the rest of your life with the threat of prison hanging over you. It's important that we stick up for each other as activists, even 30 years after the movement is gone. Solidarity isn't a one-time action, it's a lifetime commitment.

All of this is a long introduction to what I want to say here, which is this: Tomorrow, Monday, August 6th, the San Francisco 8 will be having a hearing dealing with the terms of their bail and other matters, and your presence at that hearing would not only make a psychological difference for the guys, but would also help make a point to the court, prosecutors, and media, that we care about these men, and want to see them treated fairly. It doesn't take a lot of work to get down to 850 Bryant. I've made the trip twice, both times with kids (sure, I only made it through 15 minutes of hearings before I had to usher the bored and confused 4 and 5 year olds out of the courtroom, but I did manage to show up). Go down. Show your support. Check out the website. Put up a poster. Wear a button. Blog about them. Do what you can, because you can do something.

When a Grand Jury started calling former Panthers to testify about the murder case a couple years ago, four men were jailed for refusing to testify. At that time, Bay Area activists Andres Alegría, Claude Marks & others at The Freedom Archives made a video about the grand jury resistors called Legacy of Torture. It played at the Roxy and various venues around town. Here's the preview:

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