News & Politics

The Mix Is the Message IV: Hot Time, Summer in the City and the Lefties are Heating Up Too

Beneath the boiling, police-infested surface of New York City this Fourth of July week were healthy anti-establishment rumblings.
It couldn't get any hotter than the scorcher that was New York City the week of July 4, with temperatures hitting the century mark, and the unfortunate addition of the "Uncomfortable Index" with humidity that made it feel like 108 degrees. Ugh.

And much of the city felt uncomfortable for other reasons too -- blanketed by police, Coast Guard boats and military jets flying overhead in "restricted air space" all providing massive protection so we could watch the fireworks on the East River on the 4th in peace. Presumably, the fear factor made a lot of people uneasy and they stayed home.

Maybe there was some logic in thinking the terrorists were going to strike again in this most urban of police states, against all odds, but fortunately nothing happened. Until the shootout at LAX, the day's biggest story was Julia Roberts getting hitched to that hottie cameraman at her ranch in Taos, New Mexico.

Fortunately, below the police-covered surface there were healthy anti-establishment rumblings in the Big Apple, still the home ground for much of the left's U.S. intelligentsia. One entertaining event was "Subvert the 4th," a day of music and verse at the Bowery Poetry Club (308 Bowery), a very cool, new, music and spoken-word venue, without the "enough already" seediness of CBGBs across the street.

Included in the acts, produced by budding rock impresario-cum-social worker Bryan Swirsky, were TV Smith and Attila the Stockbroker. TV Smith is a Brit charmer, a likable chap who plays what he calls "acoustic punk." Smith, who was apparently a minor New Wave star with the Adverts a couple decades ago, with one big hit: "Looking Through Gary Gilmore's Eyes," brought a healthy anti -establishment energy and playfulness to his lyrics, snagging a nuclear submarine in his fishing net, and lamenting the "Runaway Train" of nuclear waste. Sweet irony that we had this English Leprechaun chatting politics on the day we celebrate our freedom from the Crown.

Smith is bouncing around New York and Hoboken for a few more days and then on to Boston, Philly, and elsewhere (check it out at www.TVSmith.com). The only disappointment of the night was that Thursday night house band Daddy, with lead singer Laurel Barclay, decided to take the night off. The group has a growing reputation as an edgy band that stretches and twists the boundaries of sex, music and politics. Maybe next time.

The week before, a gaggle of New York lefties descended into the crowded subterranean level of Tonic, a hipster Lower East Side music club on Norfolk Street, with a built-in radical bookstore.

The occasion was a party celebrating London-based Verso's publication of, among other books, "Students Against Sweatshops" by Liza Featherstone and United Students Against Sweatshops; and "Cultural Resistance Reader" by NYU prof, Stephen Duncombe. Both books very worthy, with Duncombe offering a particularly striking mix of writers and ideas as he interweaves Bertold Brecht with the Riot Grrrrls and Gramsci and Adorno with Abbie Hoffman and Punk Planet.

Another sign that the left is not dead in the Big Apple is the debut of Radical Society: A Review of Culture & Politics -- the editors quote the Manifesto from The Masses Magazine (published from 1911 to 1917) on the back page of the first issue as their guiding light: "A Revolutionary and not a Reform Magazine; A Magazine with a Sense of Humor and no Respect for the Respectable; Frank, Arrogant, Impertinent, searching for the True Causes; A Magazine directed Against Rigidity and Dogma wherever it is Found."

Hmm, quite a task. The first issue doesn't exactly meet that standard, but there's lots of good stuff. Particularly smart and impertinent is an article by the aforementioned Featherstone, written with her pal, economist Doug Henwood, and SF transplant Christian Parenti titled: "Action Will Be Taken: Left Anti-Intellectualism and its Discontents." In the piece, the writers coin a new term: "Activismists," a snarky but needed putdown of the much acting, but little thinking that too often stands in for today's radical politics.

The authors suggest that in the current political milieu: "strategy has been reduced to mere tactics with horrible effect"; "thoughtless activism confuses the formulation of political aims"; and "activism is contaminated by the cultural forms and political content of the nonprofit sector." (Although the authors want foundation grants too.)

Heady thoughts, hopefully provoking a needed airing of where the left thinks it's going, or if there is a left that thinks; whatever. Radical Society is overcoming the kinks of its launch. It should be in bookstores by the end of July. If you want quick gratification and summer beach reading, try www.tandf.co.uk/journals or email the editors at [email protected] and they'll get you a copy right quick.

Don Hazen is executive editor of AlterNet.org.
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