It’s that time of year again and like all relationships it gets harder every year to surprise you with something. We really don’t want to be the one that gets you the same card and chocolates every year…So likely we’ll just give up before then and claim to “forget” Valentine’s Day. Until then we have gotten you something meaningful…our everlasting love, your-turn-to-hold-the-remote-all-day and your yearly selection of assorted subversion.
Did you ever hear about Lucy Parsons in school? Neither did I, which is interesting because she was one of the most watched women of our grandparent’s generation by the C.I.A. and the F.B.I., who still try to keep information about her from being disseminated. The Chicago Police Department stated she was “more dangerous than a thousand rioters.” For virtually the entirety of the last 40 years of her life, the Chicago police tried to bar her from making any public speeches, and routinely arrested her for the ‘crime’ of handing out revolutionary pamphlets on the street. Famed labor historian Studs Terkel (who we have highlighted in past Love Notes ) even noted how rare of a privilege it was to hear Parsons address a large audience in her later years, owing to the constant police harassment.
It is interesting that in this month of “Black History”, I sit and reflect on whether I have ever seen her highlighted. A woman of colour who merited the complete wiping of her works by the Feds would seem like a good candidate to highlight. But I never have. Even when she is mentioned by so called “left wing” believers it is most often as the “wife of Albert Parsons,” a man who had gained international notoriety after he was executed in 1887 by the state of Illinois for his revolutionary activities.
Unfortunately, this slight extends beyond solely ‘mainstream’ historians, including supposedly left-wing intellectuals as well. For instance, in the 1960s, the feminist editors of Radcliffe College’s three-volume work, Notable American Women, decided to leave Parsons out of their study on the grounds that she was “largely propelled by her husband’s fate” and was a “pathetic figure, living in the past and crying injustice” after her husband’s execution.
Parsons was likely born circa 1853, in Texas, and quite possibly grew up as a slave on a plantation. Documentary evidence suggests that she was of mixed African, Mexican, and Native American heritage. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that she actually denied being of African ancestry, though theories abound as to why she may have claimed this.
In 1873 she moved to Chicago with her husband Albert Parsons as part of the northward migration many African Americans were undergoing at the time to escape poverty and prejudice. While this was a time of great growth for the middle and upper classes in Chicago, the poor were living in squalor with no garbage service, sidewalks or organized policing. Families lived in small one room flats containing on average 8 people. Children played in streets covered in animal litter from the nearby meatpacking plants. Fifty percent of these children never reached the age of five.
It was conditions like these that galvanized her and sparked her interest in the socialist movement. She would continue to lead several socialist parties, but really came to fore with the 1877 railroad strike and her participation in the Union Cause. She would later take this further by joining with the Anarchist group, International Working People’s Association (IWPA) which advocated for action in the form of destruction of property rather than intellectual discourse.
As a prolific writer, she often made response to the newspapers of the time and it was when the papers started printing what amounts to death threats like The Chicago Times, editorializing on a group of sailors fighting for an increase in pay:
“Hand grenades should be thrown among these union sailors, who are striving to obtain higher wages and fewer hours. By such treatment they would be taught a valuable lesson, and other strikers could take warning from their fate.
Or the Chicago Tribune on the topic of the growth in homeless people begging for food in the streets:
“When a tramp asks you for bread, put strychnine or arsenic on it and he will not trouble you any more, and others will keep out of the neighborhood.”
It was in response to such depravity that Lucy Parsons penned one of her most famous articles, entitled, “To Tramps, the Unemployed, the Disinherited, and Miserable,” which was published in the first edition of the newspaper started by her and Albert in Chicago, The Alarm, in 1884, and later reprinted as a pamphlet by the IWPA.
Her contemporaries generally misread her ideals. She was someone who was changeable and would shape her thoughts speeches and writings around the changing times. As she was so very active at the turn of the century it would seeming make sense to reflect and adjust to the changing world in how we address the needs of people. But groups whether anarchist, socialist, liberal, etc. usually find the need to file away someone under an appropriate title. For this reason, she was often seen as someone who needed guidance.
Conversely it seems the state understood the danger (to them) of someone who could understand different systems have different needs and that not every approach works in every situation and it was that ability that made her a target throughout her life.
Lucy Parsons died in 1942, at the age of 89, in a house-fire in Chicago — the city in which she lived most of her life. The ashes had hardly cooled before the Chicago police raided the remains of her home, confiscated all 3,000 volumes of literature and writings on “sex, socialism, and anarchy,” which constituted her personal library, and turned it over to the FBI. Tragically, and despite her comrades’ repeated inquiries, this treasure trove of revolutionary material was never again to see the light of day.
Tony Wilson- A.K.A.: Mr. Manchester
In the 1970’s rock music was changing. Britain had exported its version of easy listening pop and the world was down with the British Invasion. But Brits were thinking in a different direction. Actually most people were. Working Class Americans were changing their music in hometown bars and clubs but in England Tony Wilson, a popular and well like television host, quit his job to help support Manchester’s working class music. What came from the investment made by Tony Wilson is a genre of working man’s music that is at once simple and complex or complex in its simplicity. It tells complex stories, but it is workaday people’s music. It’s highly accessible.
So who are some of these musicians? You have absolutely heard of two; Joy Division and New Order. But there were others like a certain Ration, The Stone Roses, The Duruttti Column, Happy Mondays, Vini Reilly and many more that didn’t get airplay but did get stage play at the club Tony owned in Manchester: The Hacienda; quite possibly the most successful non-money making establishment ever. (Until Subversify)
Born in Lancashire in 1960, after finishing his schooling in 1971, he set about making a name for himself in broadcast journalism. He did a lot of culture spots and eventually ended up hosting the immensely popular So It Goes. He was also incredibly popular in the early late night television scene in the U.K. hosting both The Other Side of Midnight and After Dark. He was also notably the first journalist to offer a television spot to the Sex Pistols on So it Goes.
In addition opening his own record company with a few of his mates- Factory records, Tony was an outspoken advocate of Regionalism, A relatively new idea that regions of England should have a say in their own development and governing. The idea being that different regions had different needs and could be best addressed by those who lived there. This was never adopted in entirety but did set a president for local involvement in development in areas like agriculture, industry and trade.
Tony Wilson died in 2007 from Renal Cancer. It was during his illness that he attacked another failing of the NHS. The fact that in many cases one can get cosmetic surgery on the NHS but not life saving drugs. Stating: “When they said I would have to pay £3,500 for the drugs each month, I thought where am I going to find the money? I’m the one person in this industry who famously has never made any money. I used to say some people make money and some make history, which is very funny until you find you can’t afford to keep yourself alive. I’ve never paid for private healthcare because I’m a socialist. Now I find you can get tummy tucks and cosmetic surgery on the NHS but not the drugs I need to stay alive. It is a scandal.”
Fittingly His black granite headstone, erected in October 2010, was designed by Peter Saville and Ben Kelly of Factory Records and features a quotation, chosen by Wilson’s family, from G Linnaeus Banks’s1876 novel The Manchester Man. The quotation reads: “Mutability is the epitaph of worlds/ Change alone is changeless/ People drop out of the history of a life as of a land though their work or their influence remains.”
Speaking of Manchester Music; Stone Roses’ debut album had a pretty popular upbeat song called, “Bye Bye Badman” which was actually about the Paris riots which this group was heavily involved in.
Situationism is a movement sparked somewhat by Dadaism and Surrealism. Its intent was to use artistic modalities including avante garde constructions and street theatre to create a feeling in a crowd of whatever flavor of feeling one desired. While this most often was revolution and disenfranchisement, it was also occasionally employed to stimulate crowds sexually or make them feel more “human”. Situationists refer to this methodology as psychogeography.
Springing from this artistic mindset came Situationist International; a very close knit, closed door association that cooperatively designed crowd experiences all over Europe in the mid to late 1960’s. They were best known however for their influence and support leading up to and culminating in the 1968 Paris Riots. SI spent a good deal of time showing up at and calling factory workers and getting them to support the students. It is what made the riot so incredibly huge and (to riot organizers at least) successful.
S.I. disbanded by 1972, probably over artistic differences. (Just a hunch) But before doing so they shook up the world and effectively took art and psychology to a whole new level. Unfortunately governments took the lesson along with the rest of us and all of the techniques they used are today employed by psy-ops to control crowds, either whipping up their fervor or mellowing them out. Or, just blasting them with really bad “art”, in order to disperse them.
While they disbursed into the main and alt-streams of art, we do have quite a few things that have been passed down from them. Not the least of which is getting elected to a university club position just so the university will pay for your flyers. But also, French cinema of the time was heavily influenced by the artists of SI who infiltrated the film schools and both made new things and suggested others to their new bohemian friends.
The SI created the commercialism of Marxism, so you’re welcome new found freedom fighters in Che shirts everywhere.
Also they really pushed to the fore, the idea that man/woman should not live by work alone, but also NEEDS leisure and play. We all love our vacations and are dead jealous of Europeans’ vacation packages, but remember, before this time, everyone was more focused on work. It was unheard to suggest that one should overthrow a Capitalist government just to have more leisure time. Also, now, thanks to SI, we have scientists suggesting we can help our planet and environment by laying about more.
So while yes, they did also invent the stupid clothes that still piss us off on hipsters today, we also now know we want to hang out by the ocean more.
P.S. – You really should get to know more and this site claims to have most everything they have ever written and put out into the world.
Buy Shit to Save the Planet…or feed people…or whatever.
This is the campaign Oxfam launched to try to get people to donate more money over the holidays. While I don’t normally think of Oxfam as a “subversive” organization per say. They sure subverted my attention as I planned which person I like to mess with most would be gifted with this. They made it nice and simple $12 buys a shovel load of shit in the form of “manure” for farming. The $12 price tag is perfect because it fits in with most office gift exchanges. BTW the look of confusion on the face of “that one person” in the office who takes gift exchanges seriously is too perfect. You can even spend $24 and buy “Even more shit!”
I was disappointed that they didn’t write the actual word shit at their web store, but I guess I can let it go, given grade schools often fundraise for them. Also in discussing with others, it was a little disappointing that they don’t specify exactly how much, and what quality of shit they are sending and where; which led to the question, “Where on earth is there not enough shit?” I just don’t know the answer.
So at least Oxfam managed to subvert a major part of my day and raised some money for good stuff at the same time.
Meet Shem. His real name is Shemyaza. He is an aptly named cat as he was named after a fallen angel beloved of Him on High who fell for the love of a human. And was summarily punished, turning him angry so he bred a bunch of giants on earth and waged war on Him on High. Because he lost the war he was imprisoned in the sky like General Zod- Or destroyed in some big flood; choose your own adventure.
Shem is a well behaved, loving cat. He never leaves his yard, rarely since leaving kittenhood does he destroy anything and all the other cats like him.
He also kills and eats at least one bird a day and has done so since he was about 3 months old. Shem is now being told he is a menace to the environment and he and others like him are tipping the scale for “scores of bird species worldwide.” The biggest reported impact being in the U.K. and America. –Shem kinda suspects that is because those are the places with the most active “Birders” and “Audubon Societies.”
We are being told everywhere this year that if we want to help the planet and keep species alive, cats like Shem need to be locked up inside houses and break their bird habits. Shem is having none of that because Shem could not give a damn about the continuation of the species. Of any species really. Ours, Birds, even his own. He is a cat damnit! And he provides…and also abides, he’s very good at abiding.
However, cats have been domesticated for centuries. Likely as soon as someone stopped roaming and set up a permanent settlement, domesticated cats came along. They are in every corner of the world and have always been supported by humans. This new idea that by supporting a domestic killer we are wiping out un-retrivable species is laughable. While this hasn’t yet happened, humans have already displayed this behavior annihilating birds, bison, fish of the sea and more from over hunting. Humans have now gotten to the point where they have seriously screwed the planet. We have broken Humpty Dumpty beyond repair and we are looking to point fingers, preferably at things we do not typically eat.
Again, none of this is going to ever stop Shem from Hunting and eating birds. Anyone who has ever had a cat knows you cannot control them. If they want out, they will go to the out place. For this we applaud him and all his cat species because they cannot be controlled by humans and no campaign is going to make them eat your stupid GMO laden kibble in the place of a fresh bird.
Cats are likely the most subversive animal on the planet. And just for your own good, you should remember ALL cats, especially the big ones, don’t care about their impact. They just want sweet murder meat, try to stop them.