Rebecca Solnit

A Hopeful Manifesto for the Defeated Activist

The following is an excerpt from the new edition ofHope in the Darkby Rebecca Solnit (Haymarket, 2016): 

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The Climate for 2015: Everything’s Coming Together While Everything Falls Apart

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Men Like Football's Chris Kluwe, Comedians Aziz Ansari and Louis CK Are Feminists - Yay! Now What?

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What to Do When You're Running Out of Time

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Our Best Hope for Fighting Male Rage - Why #YesAll Women Matters

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Feminism Has Just Started - There's No Stopping It Now

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Let's Call Climate Change What It Really Is - Violence

If you're poor, the only way you're likely to injure someone is the old traditional way: artisanal violence, we could call it – by hands, by knife, by club, or maybe modern hands-on violence, by gun or by car.

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The Arc of Justice and the Long Run: Hope, History, and Unpredictability

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America's Best Cities Are Being Lobotomized

Nato Thompson: Gentrification is a topic you have written about quite extensively in regard to that city on the Bay, San Francisco. It’s also a strange word in that it hints at not only a spatial transformation, but a cultural one as well (in terms of race and class). How do you see that mutable thing called culture playing out in cities and what value does it possess?

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Why It's So Difficult to Face the Frightening Climate Change Reality

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Thoughts for the Second Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street

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Can We Pull the Planet from the Brink of Catastrophe?

The following content originally appeared on TomDispatch

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Why I'm Going to March on Chevron this Saturday

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission

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'Dear Edward Snowden, I Am Moved by Your Choice and I Fear for You'

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How to Act Like a Billionaire

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In Praise of Darkness

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Too Soon to Tell: The Case for Hope, Continued

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Hate Crimes: A Rape Every Minute, a Thousand Corpses Every Year

Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16th was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an unconscious teenager by members of the Steubenville High School football team was still unfolding, and gang rapes aren’t that unusual here either. Take your pick: some of the 20 men who gang-raped an 11-year-old in Cleveland, Texas, were sentenced in November, while the instigator of the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Richmond, California, was sentenced in October, and four men who gang-raped a 15-year-old near New Orleans were sentenced in April, though the six men who gang-raped a 14-year-old in Chicago last fall are still at large.  Not that I actually went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually be a pattern.

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The Sky’s the Limit

This article originally appeared on Tom Dispatch.

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Occupy Your Victories: Occupy Wall Street’s First Anniversary

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Why "Mansplaining" Is Still a Problem

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Revolutionary Plots

Originally published in Orion Magazine. 
THE ANTI-WAR POET and soldier Siegfried Sassoon reports that toward the end of World War I, Winston Churchill told him that war is the normal occupation of man. Challenged, Churchill amended this to “war—and gardening.” Are the two opposites? Some agriculture is a form of war, whether it’s clearcutting rainforest, stealing land from the poor, contaminating the vicinity, or exploiting farmworkers, and some of our modern pesticides are descended from chemical warfare breakthroughs for the First World War. But gardening represents a much wider spectrum of human activity than war, and if war is an act of the state, gardening is far, far more ancient than city-states (if not nearly so old as squabbling).
Can it be the antithesis of war, or a cure for social ills, or an act of healing the divisions of the world? When you tend your tomatoes, are you producing more than tomatoes? How much more? Is peace a crop, or justice? The American Friends Service Committee set up a series of garden plots to be tended by people who’d been on opposite sides of the Yugoslavian wars, but a lot of people hope to overcome the wars of our time more indirectly through their own gardening and farming.
We are in an era when gardens are front and center for hopes and dreams of a better world or just a better neighborhood, or the fertile space where the two become one. There are farm advocates and food activists, progressive farmers and gardeners, and maybe most particular to this moment, there’s a lot of urban agriculture. These city projects hope to overcome the alienation of food, of labor, of embodiment, of land, the conflicts between production and consumption, between pleasure and work, the destructiveness of industrial agriculture, the growing problems of global food scarcity, seed loss. The list of ideals being planted and tended and sometimes harvested is endless, but the question is simple. What crops are you tending? What do you hope to grow? Hope? Community? Health? Pleasure? Justice? Gardens represent the idealism of this moment and its principal pitfall, I think. A garden can be, after all, either the ground you stand on to take on the world or how you retreat from it, and the difference is not always obvious.
HOUSING PROJECTS AND CHOKECHERRIES
So many of the projects that end up involving a whole community or school or generating a nonprofit begin with one person with dirty fingernails and big dreams. Antonio Roman-Alcalá, for example, was in his very early twenties when he and a cohort of idealistic young anarchists developed a dream of starting a collective with two bases. One would be urban, the other rural, he told me as we knelt on the slope of Alemany Farm, the three-acre, city-owned plot next to the Alemany housing projects in southern San Francisco, eating ground cherries (which come inside a husk like tomatillos and burst on your tongue like tangy plums). They had decided that the ideal life involved being both urban and rural, not one or the other. The two have often been opposed, their denizens casting each other in hostile stereotypes—the rural hicks and rubes, the corrupt and alienated city people. Of course the country and the city depend on each other like day and night; you might not want to depend on the carbohydrates grown in Manhattan or on the medical technology available in a farm county. And with peregrines and raccoons in major metropolises and the internet in most American farmhouses, if not in migrant farmworker shacks, the distinctions might not be as stark as they once were.
So the anarchist kids had an integrated vision, and then thanks to Antonio, they had a next step. His mother’s house is right on the border of Alemany Farm, so it was an obvious site—at least to him—to experiment. As we moved on to graze on early mulberries, he told me that Alemany Farm had been run by SLUG, the San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, until its leadership got embroiled in a corruption scandal and the whole organization that had done so many good things was shut down. The farm was abandoned and padlocked, though the padlock kept out only people who traveled the official routes. Children never stopped playing on this lush hillside that slopes down to what had once been Islais Creek, flowing east into San Francisco Bay, and is now the branch of Interstate 280 that snakes west from the 101. 
Antonio proposed that he and his cohorts try out some guerrilla gardening—unpermitted work on public or government land—to see how they liked farming and working collectively. Only a few of the group came along with him, and the group’s visions were never realized. But then the farm itself became a project and a vision, and for several years Antonio served as comanager, with Jason Mark, the editor of Earth Island Journal, who showed up several months later.
By this time we were eating the sweet fleshy petals of pineapple guava flowers and admiring the first blooms of pomegranates that, he told me, don’t do very well in foggy San Francisco. Guerrilla gardening would’ve been the easy route, but the farm became official, and what began as an anarchist project has evolved into, among other things, an exercise in cultivating, weeding, and wringing something fruitful out of a bureaucracy designed to protect the city from lawsuits and govern pleasure-ground parks, not to oversee a food-producing landscape run by volunteers. Any vision of a purely autonomous zone involving only Antonio’s companions decayed early on and from that compost grew a project to engage with practically everyone. There is still a fence around Alemany, and a padlock keeps people from actually driving in. It makes the place look closed from the road, but there’s an open gate a few steps away and another gate between the housing project and the farm.
As we desultorily ate some superb strawberries planted here and there on the slope—grids are not one of Alemany Farm’s strong suits—Antonio told me about their complex relationship with the housing project’s denizens, who inhabit a city-run set of bunkerlike buildings. The mission statement of Alemany Farm describes it as “a project of the Alemany Resident Management Corporation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving conditions in the Alemany Community, a 165-unit public housing development beset by high unemployment and recurring violence. The Alemany Resident Management Corporation believes that we can address the root causes of violence by providing youth with meaningful opportunities for advancement.” In practice, this means an informal relationship, but a relationship nonetheless, involving occasional disagreements, open space for kids to play, as well as “You Pick It” free food on Wednesdays for residents who want to show up and glean. Comanager Jason Mark tells me the immigrant Chinese residents have been the most enthusiastic harvesters, and the farm now grows Asian vegetables like long beans as part of the relationship. 
A thin brown-skinned young man with bright eyes and shaggy hair, Antonio looks a little like Pan, the god of picnics and panics, and a little like a mild young Che Guevara. The farm is hardly the kind of preened and styled model garden that sometimes gets produced by, say, the Slow Food Festival in front of San Francisco City Hall, or by the architecture firm Work at PS1 in Queens, New York, gardens that are inspiring works of art but hardly viable economic models. At Alemany, there are some native plants on the slopes, and some mixed grasses, a scattering of willows and mature fruit trees like the mulberry, many more young trees, and ledges of plantings, along with a few beehives, a wetland pond full of cattails, and a windmill that never pumped anything but does say “farm” pretty well.
Down below in the flatlands there are actual rows of vegetables, rows of garlic with a polite sign to please not poach the plants before the garlic is mature, as well as a little amphitheater for the classes that come. They come in droves. More than fifty school field trips and other groups visit annually. Among the crops the farm produces is education in this second densest city in the United States. The schoolchildren get to do what we were doing, eat food right off the vine or stem or branch, to see compost and think about systems from the hyperlocal one producing whatever they’ve just tasted to the big systems producing the food they more routinely see, and sometimes even do a little work. Alemany Farm’s principal crop is connection, though they raise plenty of food too. About five thousand pounds a year, estimates Jason Mark, but that’s an informal estimate. While the farm may be funky, it is productive in a lot of ways that can’t be put on a scale to weigh. 
PRINCIPAL CROPS
The second green revolution is an attempt to undo the destructive aspects of the first one, to make an organic and intimate agriculture that feeds minds and hearts as well as bodies, that measures intangible qualities as well as quantity. By volume, it produces only a small percentage of this country’s food, but of course its logic isn’t merely volume. The first green revolution may have increased yield in many cases, but it also increased alienation and toxicity, and it was efficient only if you ignored its fossil fuel dependency, carbon output, and other environmental impacts. It was an industrial revolution for agriculture, and what might be happening now is distinctly postindustrial, suspicious of the big and the corporate, interested in the old ways and the alternatives. This is more than a production project; it’s a reconnection project, which is why it is also an urban one—if we should all be connected to food production, food production should happen everywhere, urban and rural and every topsoil-laden crevice and traffic island in between. 
Today, major urban agriculture projects are firmly rooted in Burlington, Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and dozens of other American cities. Sales of vegetable seeds have skyrocketed across the country. Backyard chickens have become a new norm, and schoolyard gardens have sprung up across the nation and beyond since Alice Waters began Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard Project almost two decades ago. Organic farms and farmers’ markets have proliferated, and for the first time in many decades the number of farmers is going up instead of down. Though those things can be counted, the transformation of awareness that both produces and is produced by all these things is incalculable.
We think more about food, know more about food, care more about food than we did twenty or thirty years ago. Food has become both an upscale fetish (those menus that overinform you about what farm your heirloom ham or parsnips came from) and a poor people’s radical agenda, a transformation of the most intimate everyday practices that cuts across class—though it has yet to include all of us. In 1969, the Black Panthers ran breakfast programs to feed hungry inner-city children, and those children—or rather the children and grandchildren of those children—are still hungry, and the inner city is still a food desert: a place where access to decent food, or even to food, is not a given. But farming has come to the ’hood. And everywhere else.
When I go to colleges like Lawrence College in Appleton, Wisconsin, which has a food garden project on campus, I sometimes find myself telling the students that baby boomers in their youth famously had sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, but the young now have gardens. Gardens are where they locate their idealism, their hope for a better world, and, more than hope, their realization of it on the small scale of a few dozen rows of corn and tomatoes and kale. Thought of just as means of producing food, the achievements of urban agriculture may be modest, but as means of producing understanding, community, social transformation, and catalytic action, they may be the opposite. When they’re at their best, urban farms and gardens are a way to change the world. Even if they only produced food—it’s food. And even keeping the model and knowledge of agriculture alive may become crucial to our survival at some later point. 
Food is now a means by which a lot of people think about economics, scale, justice, pleasure, embodiment, work, health, the future. Gardens can be the territory for staking out the possibility of a better and different way of living, working, eating, and relating to the world, though by gardens we nowadays mostly mean food-producing gardens, gardens that verge on farms, or small farms that verge on gardens. Projects like Fritz Haeg’s Edible Estates antilawn campaign and Michelle Obama’s breaking ground for an organic vegetable garden on the White House lawn a couple of years ago make it clear a movement is under way. You can tell that it matters, because the Obama organic garden prompted the executive director of the Mid America CropLife Association to write to its members, “The thought of it being organic made Janet Braun, CropLife Ambassador Coordinator and I shudder. As a result, we sent a letter encouraging them to consider using crop protection products.”
The rise of chickens, bees, and other agrarian phenomena in the city means that cities are now trying to craft ordinances to govern all aspects of food production, from backyard chickens and goats to the slaughter of animals raised for food. In Minneapolis plastic hoop houses—greenhouselike incubators for vegetables—have come up for consideration, though some think of them as an eyesore while others consider them useful occupants of vacant lots. Part of what is at stake is redefining the urban environment: do we want to see food produced? There are beautiful gardens; there’s also compost, manure, and other less decorative aspects, including butchery for those who’ve gone for animal husbandry as well as vegetable production.
UP FROM THE SEVENTIES
The back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s generated a lot of scary stories about drugged-out communards eating roadkill and going on food stamps and generally failing at alternatives. But the era produced quieter successes, notably the seeds of the food revolution that is still with us—the rise of organic producers, markets, and consumers and the beginning of a new kind of attention to food. Some of it is still going: San Francisco Zen Center acquired the 115 mostly wild acres of Green Gulch Farm in 1972, and it’s still an exemplary several-acre organic farm seventeen miles from the city. Those rows of lettuces and beets and chard supply a lot of the produce for its three Buddhist centers and the Greens Restaurant (itself the first gourmet vegetarian restaurant of note, a key part of the food revolution, and the place where cookbook author Deborah Madison got her start).  Some of the excess is sold at farmers’ markets. What might have been innovative about Zen Center then is that it established centers in urban, rural, and wilderness settings, seeing the three as complementary rather than contradictory.
Nowadays, though a surprising number of young idealists take on the grueling work of running an organic farm in the country, there is no longer such a strong sense of separation, and urban agriculture is what might be newest about this new green revolution. (Maybe farmers’ markets helped bridge the divide.) Urban means that it stays small, for the most part, and that it engages with what cities have, both good and bad. That means, among other things, hunger, health issues, race, poverty, and alienation, as well as diverse cultures, lively engagements, and cross pollinations. Places like the once and possibly future South Central Farm in Los Angeles, at fourteen acres once the largest of the urban farms, flourish from the skill and energy of immigrants with agrarian backgrounds.
In my region, the San Francisco Bay Area, the new models have proliferated. In 1992 Catherine Sneed and now-retired Sheriff Mike Hennessey started to take prisoners from the San Francisco County Jail outside to work the arable land there. A huge success, both in providing a calm and positive experience for inmates often suffering from trauma and addiction and in training them for jobs outside, the Garden Project continues twenty years later. I have been to the big greenhouses, which are something any university or model farm would be proud of. The superb produce grown by inmate labor goes to senior centers, needy families, and others in the community. And Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard Project, founded in 1995 to give kids a hands-on relationship to raising and eating good food, is still going, and has inspired countless spinoffs and emulations around the globe.
In 2001 a young woman who’d grown up in the Bay Area’s agrarian Sonoma County decided that the abundance of vacant lots and the dearth of decent food sources in impoverished, isolated West Oakland had a clear solution. Willow Rosenthal started City Slicker Farms there, a thriving project that is in some ways the opposite of Alemany Farm. The latter started with land and figured out how to work with people. The former started with people. Though they farm several leftover and abandoned parcels of land in the neighborhood, their most impressive achievement is setting up locals to become backyard gardeners. They provide soil testing and the skills and materials to get started, share labor at the outset, and maintain relationships with the backyard gardeners. In theory the small nonprofit could vanish tomorrow and the food would keep growing.
The public patches of land are where interns and volunteers work, where neighbors come by to chat and check out the chickens or the beets, and some of the land has even been set up to create hangout places. The public sites produced more than 9,000 pounds of food in 2011, but as Executive Director Barbara Finnin pointed out to me, the backyards produced more than 23,000 pounds. It’s not feeding the community—they estimate they’re producing 4 percent of the food—but it’s modeling the ways such a project could scale up to become a major source of food and a transformation of place.
City Slickers staff estimate that it would take seventy-seven acres—3 percent of West Oakland—to grow 40 percent of the fruit and vegetables consumed in West Oakland. They’re nowhere near that now, but maybe you can see there from here. I asked Joseph Davis, City Slicker’s farm manager, how he feels about the big goals and big ideas. He was pulling up fava beans they’d planted as a cover crop in a triangular lot that was also more or less a grand traffic island, and directing an intern on how to plant lettuce seeds. He gestured with a gloved hand and said, “That’s like the sky.” It’s far away, not the terrain he works directly, but omnipresent, he seemed to mean, and he kept on pulling and planting.
Finnin took me onward to see a neighbor’s big chicken paddock and then the corner lot where City Slicker’s own chickens reside. It was once a ground crops farmlet, but the kind neighbor who let them pipe in her water was foreclosed upon, and without a good water source they’ve shifted to a less water-intensive orchard and hen run. Several people, mostly older men, all African-American, were sitting on benches that had been built as part of the farm, and they greeted Barbara and me warmly, and she greeted some of them back by name. These odd fragments, corners of leftover and neglected land, are part of what City Slickers has, but the organization also has big dreams and realistic possibilities.
The food is great, the community relations seem to be thriving, and yet the project faces the same problem so many people in the neighborhood do: money. They have to raise it, there’s never enough, and there’s no self-sufficiency in sight for the staff of seven and the public farms, whose food is sold at farmstands on a sliding scale from free to full price. Since they’re farming community and skills and hope as much as lettuce, there’s no way to put a price on what they produce.
Another notable project in my vicinity is Pie Ranch, which runs a small farm on the peninsula and bakes goods—notably pie—to sell at Mission Pie, a popular café in San Francisco’s Mission District. The nonprofit allows inner-city kids to connect the two places, learn some important skills, eat some pie, and offer some to the rest of us. Some projects have been ephemeral, such as Futurefarmer’s San Francisco Victory Gardens project, which supports “the transition of backyard, front yard, window boxes, rooftops, and unused land into organic food production areas.” But the revival of the memory of World War II’s extensive agrarian achievement alone—Futurefarmer’s website points out that by 1943, 20 million victory gardens were producing 8 million tons of food—matters. Then there are the small and fly-by-night projects, like the San Francisco Guerrilla Grafters, who graft fruit-bearing branches onto the ornamental pears, plums, and cherries on city streets. This is just a sampling of the plethora of community and school gardens and other manifestations of the new urban agriculture in one region.
The achievements of the 1970s food revolution are still present in many ways, including a hugely increased array of produce and such supermarket items as tofu, granola, and organic anything and everything, multiplied by the rise of cage-free eggs and organic milk in the 1990s, and the migration of integrated pest management techniques from organic to other farms. San Francisco destroyed its old downtown produce district (the key site in the great noir movie Thieves’ Highway) to make room for high-rise office and residence towers—but kept its farmers’ market on Alemany Boulevard, a short walk from Alemany Farm. Since the 1980s, farmers’ markets have proliferated here, as elsewhere, and there are now two other large ones in San Francisco and dozens of smaller ones.
You might say that the Bay Area has so many of these things because it’s the Bay Area, and it’s true that the area is exceptionally affluent, good at innovation, and obsessed with food, but that very affluence makes access to land in and near urban areas difficult. Places like Philadelphia and most famously Detroit have the opposite situation: a fairly dire economy but lots of available land to cultivate. In 2006, when I went to look at Detroit’s post-ruin landscape of agriculture and weedy nature, I was amazed that the city even then had forty square miles of abandoned open space—places where the concrete or asphalt were mostly gone along with the buildings. The city had a verdant green hole in it nearly the size of San Francisco (which is only forty-seven square miles or so), and that hole was being filled in a little with community gardens, small farms, and abundant volunteer plants in the empty quarters. The place was in some profound sense posturban. It had the space to do what West Oakland’s farmers dream of: grow a lot of its own food.
Detroit without money and jobs looks like the future that may well eventually arrive for the rest of us, and its experiments in urban agriculture were not the pleasure gardens, elegant laboratories, or educational centers that many urban gardens are now, but attempts to figure out how to survive. Much of the gardening that is now often educational or idealistic may soon come to meet practical needs in the United States, and given the rising levels of hunger in this country, it’s necessary now. In Detroit, a significant number of people get meaningful amounts of their annual diet from gardens. Clearly there is room to increase this informal do-it-yourself food supply. And as our economy continues to produce unemployed young people, nonwage economies and nonwage productivity will become important new arenas for growth.
The victory gardens model suggests how prolific backyard and urban gardeners can be and how, scaled up, they can become major contributors to feeding a country and to food security. A recent study by Sharanbir Grewal and Parwinder Grewal of Ohio State University envisioned what it would look like for Cleveland—another Rust Belt city with lots of potential green space and lots of hungry people—to feed itself. In the most modest scenario, using 80 percent of every vacant lot generated 22 to 48 percent of the city’s fruits and vegetables, along with 25 percent of its poultry and eggs and 100 percent of its honey. The most ambitious proposal also included 62 percent of every commercial and industrial roof and 9 percent of every occupied residential lot: it could provide up to 100 percent of the city’s fresh produce, along with 94 percent of its poultry and eggs (and 100 percent of its honey again). It would keep up to $115 million in food dollars in the city, a huge boon to a depressed region. It would also improve health, both through diet and through exercise.
Clearly what might work in Detroit or Cleveland or Oakland is not so viable in superheated Phoenix or subarctic Anchorage. And then climate change can upset these enterprises as much as it can any agriculture—last year the Intervale Community Farm in Burlington, Vermont, at 120 acres the biggest urban agriculture project in the country, was devastated by torrential rain that washed out soil as well as plants. Spring deluges interfered with planting; Hurricane Irene did in many of the fall crops. The organization’s newsletter emphasizes that the summer season still produced a bounty of tomatoes, melons, and salad greens.
In an increasingly uncertain time, what is certain is that agriculture has invaded cities the way that cities have been invading agriculture for the past many millennia, that the reasons for this are as manifold as the results, and that the peculiar postwar affluence is over for most of us, and everything is going to become a little more precarious and a little less abundant. Given these circumstances, urban agriculture has a big future. Or several big futures, depending on the soil and the needs. Another lesson from the victory gardens is that with seeds and sweat equity, a lot can happen quickly: if the need to grow food arises, as it did during the Second World War, the gardens will come.
ATTACKS AND RETREATS
You can argue that vegetable seeds are the seeds of the new revolution. But the garden is an uneasy entity for our time, a way both to address the biggest questions and to duck them. “Some gardens are described as retreats, when they are really attacks,” famously said the gardener, artist, and provocateur Ian Hamilton Finlay. A garden as a retreat means a refuge, a place to withdraw from the world. A garden as an attack means an intervention in the world, a political statement, a way in which the small space of the garden can participate in the larger space that is society, politics, and ideas. Every garden negotiates its own relationship between retreat and attack and in so doing illuminates—or maybe we should say engages—the political questions of our time.
At its worst, the new agrarianism is a way to duck the obligation to change the world, a failure to engage with what is worst as well as best. In the ambiguously cynical end of Voltaire’s novel Candide, he concludes, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin” (We must cultivate our garden), which suggests that the garden can be a small piece of the world we can manage and put in order after giving up on the larger world. Certainly neoliberalism has been about destroying the public, privatizing the common, and taking care of yourself.
But you can’t have a revolution where everyone just abandons the existing system—it’ll just be left to the opportunists and the uncritical. Tending your own garden does not, for example, confront the problem of Monsanto. The corporation that developed genetically modified organisms as a way to promote its pesticides and is trying to control seed stock worldwide is a scourge. Planting heirloom seeds is great, but someone has to try to stop Monsanto, and that involves political organizing, sticking your neck out, and confrontation. It involves leaving your garden. Which farmers have done—this magazine documented, some years back, how the wheat farmers of North Dakota defeated Monsanto’s plans to introduce GMO wheat worldwide. But they didn’t do it by planting heirloom organic wheat or talking to school kids about what constitutes beautiful bread or by baking. They did it by organizing, by collective power, and by political engagement. The biggest problem of our time requires big cooperative international transformations that cannot be reached one rutabaga patch at a time.
The fact that gardens have become the revolution of the young is good news and bad news. Baby boomers of the sixties revolutionary variety had their hectoring bombastic arrogant self-righteous flaws, but they were fearless about engagement. The young I often meet today have so distanced themselves from the flaws of the baby boomers that they’ve gone too far in the opposite direction of mildness, modesty, disengagement, and nonconfrontation. (At a recent conference on the Occupy movement, two youngish people in the audience suggested that the slogan “We are the 99 percent” might hurt the feelings of the 1 percent; they wanted a polite revolution that wasn’t exactly against anything and offended no one, which is a nice way to be totally ineffectual.) The garden suits them perfectly because it is a realm of quiet idealism—but that too readily slides over into disengagement or the belief that your activism can stop with the demonstration of your own purity and lack of culpability.
Feeding the hungry is noble work, but figuring out the causes of that hunger and confronting them and transforming them directly needs to be done too. And while urban agriculture seems like a flexible, local way to adapt to the hungry, chaotic world climate change is bringing, we all need to address the root causes directly. Maybe there’s something in the fact that the word radical comes from the Latin for “root”; the revolutionary gardener will get at the root causes of our situation, not just cultivate the surface.
Churchill cast gardening and war as opposites because he saw gardening as a retreat into a peaceful private realm. Our age demands engagement. Gardens like Alemany Farm and City Slicker Farms produce it as one of their crops, while other gardens and food fetishism generally can be a retreat into privilege, safety, and pleasure away from the world and its problems. But gardening and all its subsidiary tasks are sturdy metaphors. You can imagine the whole world as a garden, in which case you might want to weed out corporations, compost old divides, and plant hope, subversion, and fierce commitments among the heirloom tomatoes and the chard. The main questions will always be: What are your principal crops? And who do they feed?
Hear a panel of urban farmers discuss the themes in this essay during a recent event hosted by Orion magazine.

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Men Explain Things to Me



I still don't know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at forty-ish, passed as the occasion's young ladies. The house was great -- if you like Ralph Lauren-style chalets -- a rugged luxury cabin at 9,000 feet complete with elk antlers, lots of kilims, and a wood-burning stove. We were preparing to leave, when our host said, "No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you." He was an imposing man who'd made a lot of money.



He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, "So? I hear you've written a couple of books."



I replied, "Several, actually."




He said, in the way you encourage your friend's seven-year-old to describe flute practice, "And what are they about?"



They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.





He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. "And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?"



So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingnue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I'd somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book -- with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.



Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, with a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me, with my infinitely generous younger brother, with splendid friends of whom it could be said -- like the Clerk in The Canterbury Tales I still remember from Mr. Pelen's class on Chaucer -- "gladly would he learn and gladly teach." Still, there are these other men, too. So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, "That's her book." Or tried to interrupt him anyway.




But he just continued on his way. She had to say, "That's her book" three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn't read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless -- for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we've never really stopped.



I like incidents of that sort, when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that's eaten a cow or an elephant turd on the carpet.



When River of Shadows came out, some pedant wrote a snarky letter to the New York Times explaining that, though Muybridge had made improvements in camera technology, he had not made any breakthroughs in photographic chemistry. The guy had no idea what he was talking about. Both Philip Prodger, in his wonderful book on Muybridge, and I had actually researched the subject and made it clear that Muybridge had done something obscure but powerful to the wet-plate technology of the time to speed it up amazingly, but letters to the editor don't get fact-checked. And perhaps because the book was about the virile subjects of cinema and technology, the Men Who Knew came out of the woodwork.




A British academic wrote in to the London Review of Books with all kinds of nitpicking corrections and complaints, all of them from outer space. He carped, for example, that to aggrandize Muybridge's standing I left out technological predecessors like Henry R. Heyl. He'd apparently not read the book all the way to page 202 or checked the index, since Heyl was there (though his contribution was just not very significant). Surely one of these men has died of embarrassment, but not nearly publicly enough.



The Slippery Slope of Silencings




Yes, guys like this pick on other men's books too, and people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they're talking about. Some men.



Every woman knows what I'm talking about. It's the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men's unsupported overconfidence.




I wouldn't be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about al-Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn't tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs, or that the war was not going to be a "cakewalk." (Even male experts couldn't penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)



Arrogance might have had something to do with the war, but this syndrome is a war that nearly every woman faces every day, a war within herself too, a belief in her superfluity, an invitation to silence, one from which a fairly nice career as a writer (with a lot of research and facts correctly deployed) has not entirely freed me. After all, there was a moment there when I was willing to let Mr. Important and his overweening confidence bowl over my more shaky certainty.



Don't forget that I've had a lot more confirmation of my right to think and speak than most women, and I've learned that a certain amount of self-doubt is a good tool for correcting, understanding, listening, and progressing -- though too much is paralyzing and total self-confidence produces arrogant idiots, like the ones who have governed us since 2001. There's a happy medium between these poles to which the genders have been pushed, a warm equatorial belt of give and take where we should all meet.



More extreme versions of our situation exist in, for example, those Middle Eastern countries where women's testimony has no legal standing; so that a woman can't testify that she was raped without a male witness to counter the male rapist. Which there rarely is.



Credibility is a basic survival tool. When I was very young and just beginning to get what feminism was about and why it was necessary, I had a boyfriend whose uncle was a nuclear physicist. One Christmas, he was telling -- as though it were a light and amusing subject -- how a neighbor's wife in his suburban bomb-making community had come running out of her house naked in the middle of the night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. How, I asked, did you know that he wasn't trying to kill her? He explained, patiently, that they were respectable middle-class people. Therefore, her-husband-trying-to-kill-her was simply not a credible explanation for her fleeing the house yelling that her husband was trying to kill her. That she was crazy, on the other hand….



Even getting a restraining order -- a fairly new legal tool -- requires acquiring the credibility to convince the courts that some guy is a menace and then getting the cops to enforce it. Restraining orders often don't work anyway. Violence is one way to silence people, to deny their voice and their credibility, to assert your right to control over their right to exist. About three women a day are murdered by spouses or ex-spouses in this country. It's one of the main causes of death in pregnant women in the U.S. At the heart of the struggle of feminism to give rape, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, and workplace sexual harassment legal standing as crimes has been the necessity of making women credible and audible.




I tend to believe that women acquired the status of human beings when these kinds of acts started to be taken seriously, when the big things that stop us and kill us were addressed legally from the mid-1970s on; well after, that is, my birth. And for anyone about to argue that workplace sexual intimidation isn't a life or death issue, remember that Marine Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach, age 20, was apparently killed by her higher-ranking colleague last winter while she was waiting to testify that he raped her. The burned remains of her pregnant body were found in the fire pit in his backyard in December.



Being told that, categorically, he knows what he's talking about and she doesn't, however minor a part of any given conversation, perpetuates the ugliness of this world and holds back its light. After my book Wanderlust came out in 2000, I found myself better able to resist being bullied out of my own perceptions and interpretations. On two occasions around that time, I objected to the behavior of a man, only to be told that the incidents hadn't happened at all as I said, that I was subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest -- in a nutshell, female.



Most of my life, I would have doubted myself and backed down. Having public standing as a writer of history helped me stand my ground, but few women get that boost, and billions of women must be out there on this six-billion-person planet being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever. This goes way beyond Men Explaining Things, but it's part of the same archipelago of arrogance.



Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don't. Not yet, but according to the actuarial tables, I may have another forty-something years to live, more or less, so it could happen. Though I'm not holding my breath.



Women Fighting on Two Fronts





A few years after the idiot in Aspen, I was in Berlin giving a talk when the Marxist writer Tariq Ali invited me out to a dinner that included a male writer and translator and three women a little younger than me who would remain deferential and mostly silent throughout the dinner. Tariq was great. Perhaps the translator was peeved that I insisted on playing a modest role in the conversation, but when I said something about how Women Strike for Peace, the extraordinary, little-known antinuclear and antiwar group founded in 1961, helped bring down the communist-hunting House Committee on Un-American Activities, HUAC, Mr. Very Important II sneered at me. HUAC, he insisted, didn't exist by the early 1960s and, anyway, no women's group played such a role in HUAC's downfall. His scorn was so withering, his confidence so aggressive, that arguing with him seemed a scary exercise in futility and an invitation to more insult.



I think I was at nine books at that point, including one that drew from primary documents and interviews about Women Strike for Peace. But explaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge. A Freudian would claim to know what they have and I lack, but intelligence is not situated in the crotch -- even if you can write one of Virginia Woolf's long mellifluous musical sentences about the subtle subjugation of women in the snow with your willie. Back in my hotel room, I Googled a bit and found that Eric Bentley in his definitive history of the House Committee on Un-American Activities credits Women Strike for Peace with "striking the crucial blow in the fall of HUAC's Bastille." In the early 1960s.



So I opened an essay for the Nation with this interchange, in part as a shout-out to one of the more unpleasant men who have explained things to me: Dude, if you're reading this, you're a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization. Feel the shame.



The battle with Men Who Explain Things has trampled down many women -- of my generation, of the up-and-coming generation we need so badly, here and in Pakistan and Bolivia and Java, not to speak of the countless women who came before me and were not allowed into the laboratory, or the library, or the conversation, or the revolution, or even the category called human.




After all, Women Strike for Peace was founded by women who were tired of making the coffee and doing the typing and not having any voice or decision-making role in the antinuclear movement of the 1950s. Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. Things have certainly gotten better, but this war won't end in my lifetime. I'm still fighting it, for myself certainly, but also for all those younger women who have something to say, in the hope that they will get to say it.


Copyright 2008 Rebecca Solnit

Books That Will Change the World

Hope is an orientation, a way of scanning the wall for cracks -- or building ladders -- rather than staring at its obdurate expanse. It's a world view, but one informed by experience and the knowledge that people have power; that the power people possess matters; that change has been made by populist movements and dedicated individuals in the past; and that it will be again.

Dissent in this country has become largely a culture of diagnosis rather than prescription, of describing what is wrong with them, rather than what is possible for us. But even in English, a robust minority tradition can be found. There are a handful of books that I think of as "the secret library of hope." None of them deny the awful things going on, but they approach them as if the future is still open to intervention rather than an inevitability. In describing how the world actually gets changed, they give us the tools to change it again.

Here, then, are some of the regulars in my secret political library of hope, along with some new candidates:

The Power from Beneath

When the monks of Burma/Myanmar led an insurrection in September simply by walking through the streets of their cities in their deep-red robes, accompanied by ever more members of civil society, the military junta which had run that country for more than four decades responded with violence. That's one measure of how powerful and threatening the insurrection was. (That totalitarian regimes tend to ban gatherings of more than a few people is the best confirmation of the strength that exists in unarmed numbers of us.)

After the crackdown, after the visually stunning, deeply inspiring walks came to a bloody end, quite a lot of mainstream politicians and pundits pronounced the insurrection dead, violence triumphant -- as though this play had just one act, as though its protagonists were naive and weak-willed. I knew they were wrong, but the argument I rested on wasn't my own: I went back to Jonathan Schell's The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People, by far the most original and ambitious of the many histories of nonviolence to appear in recent years.

When it came out as the current war began in the spring of 2003, the book was mocked for its dismissal of the effectiveness of violence, but Schell's explanation of how superior military power failed abysmally in Vietnam was a prophesy waiting to be fulfilled in Iraq. Schell himself is much taken with the philosopher Hannah Arendt, whom he quotes saying, in 1969:

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What to Say to Those Who Think Nuclear Power Will Save Us

Chances are good, gentle reader, that you are going to have to sit next to someone in the coming year who will assert that nuclear power is the solution to climate change. What will you tell them?

There's so much to say. You could be sitting next to someone who hasn't really considered the evidence yet. Or you could be sitting next to scientist and Gaia theorist James Lovelock, a supporter of Environmentalists for Nuclear Energyâ„¢, which quotes him saying, "We have no time to experiment with visionary energy sources; civilisation is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear -- the one safe, available, energy source -- now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by our outraged planet."

If you sit next to Lovelock, you might start by mentioning that half the farms in this country had windmills before Marie Curie figured out anything about radiation or Lise Meitner surmised that atoms could be split. Wind power is not visionary in the sense of experimental. Neither is solar, which is already widely used. Nor are nukes safe, and they take far too long to build to be considered readily available. Yet Stewart Brand, of Whole Earth Catalog fame, has jumped on the nuclear bandwagon, and so has Greenpeace founding member turned PR flack Patrick Moore. So you must be prepared.

Of course the first problem is that nuclear power is often nothing more than a way to avoid changing anything. A bicycle is a better answer to a Chevrolet Suburban than a Prius is, and so is a train, or your feet, or staying home, or a mix of all those things.

Nuclear power plants, like coal-burning power plants, are about retaining the big infrastructure of centralized power production and, often, the habits of obscene consumption that rely on big power. But this may be too complicated to get into while your proradiation interlocutor suggests that letting a thousand nuclear power plants bloom would solve everything.

Instead, you may be able to derail the conversation by asking whether they'd like to have a nuclear power plant or waste repository in their backyard, which mostly they would rather not, though they'd happily have it in your backyard. This is why the populous regions of the eastern U.S. keep trying to dump their nuclear garbage in the less-populous regions of the West.

My friend Chip Ward (from nuclear-waste-threatened Utah) reports, "To make a difference in global climate change, we would have to immediately build as many nuclear power plants as we already have in the U.S. (about 100) and at least as many as 2,000 worldwide." Chip goes on to say that "Wall Street won't invest in nuclear power because it is too risky. ... The partial meltdown at Three Mile Island taught investment bankers how a two-billion-dollar investment can turn into a billion-dollar clean-up in under two hours." So we, the people, would have to foot the bill.

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The Wal-Mart Biennale

It isn't that, when Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton purchased Asher B. Durand's 1849 painting Kindred Spirits last year, she got the state of Arkansas to pass legislation specifically to save her taxes -- in this case, about $3 million on a purchase price of $35 million. It isn't that the world's second richest woman and ninth richest person (according to a Forbes magazine 2005 estimate) scooped the painting out from under the National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which had banded together to try to keep it in a public collection when the New York Public Library decided to sell it off. It isn't that Walton will eventually stick this talisman of New England cultural life and a lot of other old American paintings in the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Walton family museum she's building in Bentonville, Arkansas, the site of Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters -- after all people in the middle of the country should get to see some good art too.

It might not even be, as Wal-MartWatch.com points out, that the price of the painting equals what the state of Arkansas spends every two years providing for Wal-Mart's 3,971 employees on public assistance; or that the average Wal-Mart cashier makes $7.92 an hour and, since Wal Mart likes to keep people on less than full-time schedules, works only 29 hours a week for an annual income of $11,948--so a Wal-Mart cashier would have to work a little under 3,000 years to earn the price of the painting without taking any salary out for food, housing, or other expenses (and a few hundred more years to pay the taxes, if the state legislature didn't exempt our semi-immortal worker).

The trouble lies in what the painting means and what Alice Walton and her $18 billion mean. Art patronage has always been a kind of money-laundering, a pretty public face for fortunes made in uglier ways. The superb Rockefeller folk art collections in several American museums don't include paintings of the 1914 Ludlow Massacre of miners in Colorado, carried out by Rockefeller goons, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles doesn't say a thing about oil. But something about Wal-Mart and Kindred Spirits is more peculiar than all the robber barons and their chapels, galleries, and collections ever were, perhaps because, more than most works of art, Durand's painting is a touchstone for a set of American ideals that Wal-Mart has been savaging.

It may be true that, in an era when oil companies regularly take out advertisements proclaiming their commitment to environmentalism, halting global warming, promoting petroleum alternatives, and conservation measures, while many of them also fund arguments against climate change's very existence, nothing is too contrary to embrace. But Kindred Spirits is older, more idealistic, and more openly at odds with this age than most hostages to multinational image-making.

Kindred Spirits portrays Durand's friend, the great American landscape painter Thomas Cole, with his friend, the poet and editor William Cullen Bryant. The two stand on a projecting rock above a cataract in the Catskills, bathed like all the trees and air around them in golden light. The painting is about friendship freely given, including a sense of friendship, even passion, for the American landscape itself. In the work of Cole, Durand, and Bryant, as in the writing of Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman, you can see an emerging belief that the love of nature, beauty, truth, and freedom are naturally allied, a romantic vision that still lingers as one of the most idealistic versions of what it might mean to be an American.

Cole was almost the first American painter to see the possibilities in American landscapes, to see that meaning could grow rather than lessen in a place not yet full of ruins and historical associations, and so he became an advocate for wilderness nearly half a century before California rhapsodist and eventual Sierra Club cofounder John Muir took up the calling. Bryant had gained a reputation as a poet before he became editor-in-chief of the New York Evening Post and thereby a pivotal figure in the culture of the day. He defended a group of striking tailors in 1836, long before there was a union movement, and was ever after a champion of freedom and human rights, turning his newspaper into an antislavery mouthpiece and eventually becoming a founder of the Republican Party (back when that was the more progressive and less beholden of the two parties). He was an early supporter of Abraham Lincoln and of the projects that resulted in New York's Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum -- of a democratic urban culture that believed in the uplifting power of nature and of free access. Maybe the mutation of the Republican Party from Bryant's to Walton's time is measure enough of American weirdness; or maybe the details matter, of what the painting is and what Wal-Mart and its heiress are.

Kindred Spirits was commissioned by the wealthy dry-goods merchant Jonathan Sturges as a gift for Bryant in commemoration of his beautiful eulogy for Cole, who died suddenly in 1848. Bryant left it to his daughter Julia, who gave it in 1904 to what became the New York Public Library. It was never a commodity exchanged between strangers until the Library, claiming financial need, put it and other works of art up for sale. So now a portrait of antislavery and wilderness advocates belongs to a woman whose profits came from degrading working conditions in the U.S. and abroad and from ravaging the North American landscape.

Maybe the problem is that the Crystal Bridges museum seems like a false front for Wal-Mart, a made-in-America handicrafted artifact of idealism for a corporation that is none of the above. The museum will, as such institutions do, attempt to associate the Wal-Mart billionaires with high culture, American history, beautifully crafted objects -- a host of ideals and pleasures a long way from what you find inside the blank, slabby box of a Wal-Mart. One of the privileges of wealth is buying yourself out of the situation you help to make, so that the wealthy, who advocate for deregulation, install water purifiers and stock up on cases of Perrier, or advocate for small government and then hire their own security forces and educators.

Walton, it seems safe to assume, lives surrounded by nicer objects, likely made under nicer conditions, than she sells the rest of us. I have always believed that museums love artists the way taxidermists love deer. Perhaps Alice Walton is, in some sense, stuffing and mounting what is best about American culture -- best and fading. Perhaps Crystal Bridges will become one of the places we can go to revisit the long history that precedes industrialization and globalization, when creation and execution were not so savagely sundered, when you might know the maker of your everyday goods, and making was a skilled and meaningful act. One of the pleasures of most visual art is exactly that linkage between mind and hand, lost elsewhere as acts of making are divided among many and broken down into multiple repetitive tasks.

Perhaps she could build us the Museum of When Americans Made Stuff Locally by Hand for People They Knew or perhaps that's what Crystal Bridges, along with the rest of such institutions, will become. Or Walton could just plan to open the Museum of When Americans Made Stuff at some more distant date, though less than half of what's in Wal-Mart, sources inform me, is still actually made here -- for now. The world's richest woman, however, seems more interested in archaic images of America than in the artisanry behind them.

Walton has already scooped up a portrait of George Washington by Charles Wilson Peale and paintings by Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper for her museum. That museum, reports say, will feature many, many nineteenth-century portraits of Native Americans -- but it would be hard to see her as a champion of the indigenous history of the Americas. The Wal-Mart that opened last November in Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, is built so close to the Aztec's Pyramid of the Sun that many consider the site desecrated. The Wal-Mart parking lot actually eradicated the site of a smaller temple. "This is the flag of conquest by global interests, the symbol of the destruction of our culture," said a local schoolteacher. Thanks to free-trade measures like NAFTA, Wal-Mart has become Mexico's biggest retailer and private-sector employer.

Imagine if Walton were more like Sturges, supporting the art of her time. Imagine if she were supporting artists who actually had something to say about Wal-Mart and America (and Mexico, and China). Imagine if, in the mode of the Venice Biennale or the Sao Paolo Biennale, there was a Wal-Mart biennale. After all, Wal-Mart is itself China's seventh-largest trading partner, ahead of Germany and Russia and Italy; if it were a nation, it would be the world's nineteenth biggest economy. If it's on the same scale as those countries, why shouldn't it have its own contemporary art shows? But what would the Wal-Mart nation and its artists look like?

Rather than the open, luminous, intelligent architecture Moshe Safde will probably bestow on Bentonville, Arkansas, imagine a shuttered Wal-Mart big box (of which there are so many, often shut down simply to stop employees from unionizing) turned into a MOCA, a museum of contemporary art, or better yet a MOCWA, a Museum of Contemporary Wal-Mart Art. Or Wal-Art. After all, Los Angeles's MOCA was originally sited in a defunct warehouse. You could set the artists free to make art entirely out of materials available at Wal-Mart, or to make art about the global politics of Wal-Mart in our time -- poverty, consumerism, sprawl, racism, gender discrimination, exploitation of undocumented workers.
Imagine a contemporary artist, maybe with Adobe Photoshop, reworking Kindred Spirits again and again.

Imagine that Cole and Bryant are, this time, standing not on a rocky outcropping but in, say, one of the puzzle and art-supply aisles of a Wal-Mart somewhere in the Catskills, dazed and depressed. Or imagine instead that it's some sweatshop workers, a little hunched and hungry, on that magnificent perch amid the foliage and the golden light, invited at last into some sense of democratic community. Imagine paintings of Edward Hopper's old downtowns, boarded up because all the sad and lonely people are shopping at Wal-Mart and even having their coffee and hot dogs there. Imagine video-portraits of the people who actually make the stuff you can buy at Wal-Mart, or of the African-American truck-drivers suing the corporation for racism or of the women who are lead plaintiffs in the nation's largest class-action suit for discrimination. Against Wal-Mart, naturally.

Imagine if Alice Walton decided to follow the route of Target with architect Michael Graves and commissioned some cutting-edge contemporary art about these issues: videos and DVDs you could buy, prints for your walls, performance art in the aisles, art that maybe even her workers could afford. Imagine if Wal-Mart would acknowledge what Wal-Mart is rather than turning hallowed American art into a fig leaf to paste over naked greed and raw exploitation. But really, it's up to the rest of us to make the Museum of Wal-Mart, one way or another, in our heads, on our websites, or in our reading of everyday life everywhere.

BRAND NEW STORIES
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