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Other Voices: The Connexions Newsletter

December 19, 2015

This issue: Utopias

“A map of the world that does not include Utopia,” said Oscar Wilde, “is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail.”

Utopian visions, be they practical or not, free our imaginations, if only for a little while, from the daily grind of struggle and worry, and allow us to dream about the kind of world we would hope to live in. Such dreams can inspire us and guide us, even if they are not always quite practical.

Friedrich Engels appreciated this quality in the writings of Charles Fourier (1772-1837), the French utopian socialist who imagined a future in which men and women would be free and fully equal, and in which, so he speculated, there would be six moons orbiting the earth and the salt water of the oceans would be replaced with lemonade. Engels, practical-minded revolutionary though he was – and one who preferred beer to lemonade -- wrote that he would much rather read Fourier’s “cheerful fantasies” than the gloomy writings of social critics “where there is no lemonade at all.”

This issue of Other Voices peers into the world of utopian visions, practical or otherwise: our topic of the week is Utopias. You’ll also find a potpourri of other articles, books, resources and songs to stimulate your thinking and your imagination.

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Topic of the Week: Utopias

The Connexions Library features a kaleidoscopic collection of writings on utopian topics, ranging from speculative fantasies to practical attempts at building alternatives communities, and also including hard-headed anti-utopian critiques and grim dystopias. Explore them here.

This Week on Connexions.org

How to Change Everything

Alyssa Battisoni says that Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything is a vital book whose limitations should spark discussion about where we go from here. “There is a lot of work to do. And so everyone on the Left should read This Changes Everything, argue about it, and take seriously its injunction to think through the implications of climate change for our programs and projects. As we plot a new way forward, our aims cannot be nostalgic or timid. Now more than ever the stakes of politics feel as high as they can be.” Read more

Keywords: Climate Change - Ecosocialism

Catch your dreams Utopia is possible!

Amid Spain's general depression, Marinaleda - an Andalucian town sometimes dubbed the 'communist utopia' - is bucking the moribund trend with a mixture of direct action, community-level democracy, cooperation and mutual aid. “While capitalism frames our relationships as a series of self-interested economic transactions, Marinaleda relies on a model of mutual aid, as locals work together to meet shared needs, with far less money circulating. While it can be easy to forget, money is simply a way of facilitating action, which creates an incentive for people to do tasks that they otherwise may not have any interest in doing. Direct action, on the other hand, is rooted in common interests and explores the practicalities of what needs doing, based on who is there to do it.” Read more

Keywords: Economic Alternatives - Mutual Aid

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

Rebecca Solnit writes: “North American cicada nymphs live underground for 17 years before they emerge as adults. Many seeds stay dormant far longer than that before some disturbance makes them germinate. Some trees bear fruit long after the people who have planted them have died, and one Massachusetts pear tree, planted by a Puritan in 1630, is still bearing fruit far sweeter than most of what those fundamentalists brought to this continent. Sometimes cause and effect are centuries apart; sometimes Martin Luther King’s arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice is so long few see its curve; sometimes hope lies not in looking forward but backward to study the line of that arc.” Read more

Keywords: Transformations - Resistance

How Class Kills

A recent study showing rising mortality rates among middle-aged whites in the United States drives home the lethality of class inequality. Case and Deaton's study complements a larger literature demonstrating that health inequality along class lines -- approximated by socio-economic indicators like income and education -- is rising. With the historic rise in economic inequality, there has been an attendant increase in health inequality. Read more

Keywords: Health & Class - Race & Class

Website of the Week: International Dark Sky Association

Working to combat light pollution and protect the night sky. Light pollution - the inappropriate use of artificial light at night - is an environmental pollutant that harms our planet and robs us of the opportunity to experience the wonder of a natural night sky. Visit their website here.

Keywords: Atmosphere - Light pollution

Book of the Week: A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster

By Rebecca Solnit

The most startling thing about disasters, according to Rebecca Solnit, is not merely that so many people rise to the occasion, but that they do so with joy. That joy reveals an ordinarily unmet yearning for community, purposefulness, and meaningful work that disaster often provides.

According to Solnit, “Utopia is in trouble these days. Many no longer believe that a better world, as opposed to a better life, is possible, and the rhetoric of private well-being trumps public good, at least in the English-speaking world.... ‘There is no alternative,’ the conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher liked to say, but there is, and it appears where it is least expected, as well as where it is most diligently cultivated. Changing the world is the other way to imagine salvaging the self – and others, for the utopian impulse is generous even when it’s wrongheaded. And utopias of sorts arise in the present, in Argentina, in Mexico, in countless social, economic, and agricultural experiments in Europe, in India, and in the United States; among, other places. The map of utopias is cluttered nowadays with experiments by other names, and the very idea is expanding. It needs to open up a little more to contain disaster communities. These remarkable societies suggest that, just as many machines reset themselves to their original settings after a power outage, so human beings reset themselves to something altruistic, communitarian, resourceful, and imaginative after a disaster, that we revert to something we already know how to do. The possibility of paradise is already within us as a default setting.” Read more

Keywords: Elite Panic - Mutual Aid

Film of the Week

The Living Seed

Testimonies of farmers, seed savers, agronomists and scientists from across India and abroad form the basis for their compelling investigation of GMOs, organic farming and the future of agriculture. See more

Keywords: GMOs - Seeds


A Strategy for Antiwar Organizing

According to David Grosser, “anyone concerned with re-building the antiwar movement in the United States should make their highest priority developing a realistic strategy to organize those unorganized and inactive millions. The converse is also true. Without an organizing effort that reaches those new people and builds for the long haul, we don't have a prayer of defeating the most massive war machine in history. We desperately need an unsparing evaluation of past efforts and a sober strategy equal to the enormity of the tasks ahead.... It’s time to face the hard facts -- exclusive reliance on mass demos has failed. Please don’t misunderstand: I am not saying that mass mobilizations are never an appropriate tactic. But they are only a tactic, one among many that range from writing letters to the editor to civil disobedience or a general strike. Tactics, mass demos included, are a means to accomplish an end.” Read more

Keywords: Anti-War Movement - Organizing

People's History

The Christmas Truce, 1914

On Christmas Day, 1914, in the first year of World War I, German, British and French soldiers disobeyed their superiors and fraternized with "the enemy" along two-thirds of the Western Front. German troops held Christmas trees up out of the trenches with signs, "Merry Christmas." "You no shoot, we no shoot." Thousands of troops streamed across no-man's land strewn with rotting corpses. They sang Christmas carols, exchanged photographs of loved ones back home, shared rations, played football, even roasted some pigs. Soldiers embraced men they had been trying to kill a few short hours before. They agreed to warn each other if the top brass forced them to fire their weapons, and to aim high. A shudder ran through the high command on either side. Here was disaster in the making: soldiers declaring their brotherhood with each other and refusing to fight. Read more

Keywords: Christmas - Soldiers

The Flint Sit-Down Strike

The Sit-Down Strike at General Motor's Flint, Michigan Fisher Body and Chevrolet plants (which began on December 30, 1936) was a turning point in the history of the American labour movement. The United Automobile Workers (UAW- CIO) had won strikes and union recognition in individual auto plants and from smaller parts and auto manufacturers. The Flint strike, however, won its first national contract with a major producer: General Motors, at the time, the world's largest industrial corporation. The 1937 sitdown strikes were a thunderbolt that shattered labour-management relations. The victory of the Flint auto workers heralded the most profound social changes in the United States since the Civil War. It changed every aspect of social, cultural and political life in America. Read more

Keywords: Factory Occupations - Sit-downs/Sit-ins

From the Archives

SUPAStudent Union for Peace Action

The founding meeting of the Student Union for Peace Action (SUPA) took place in Regina from December 28, 1964 to January 1, 1965. The organization emerged out of the remains of the Combined Universities Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CUCND). SUPA quickly established a nationwide organization operating on university campuses, coordinating community projects, alternative publications and summer youth programs. The group existed from 1964 to 1967 with branches in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and other regions. Many individuals involved with SUPA went on to join other organizations such as the CYC (Company of Young Canadians) the CUS (Canadian Union of Students) and the SDU (Students for a Democratic University) among several others. Comprised mainly of young Canadians, SUPA sought to establish a grass roots initiative focusing on important social and political issues. Check out Connexipedia to learn more about SUPA

Keywords: New Left - Peace Movement

Song of the Week

In Ale Gasn - Revolutionary Yidish Anthem

A Yiddish song about the political struggles of Jewish socialists, communists, and anarchists, in Russia and Poland in the latter part of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It opposes the Russian ruling class and, especially, Russia's police. Performed by the Workmen's Circle chorus. Listen here

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Connexions Calendar

December 20, 2015

International Human Solidarity Day

January 3 – 13, 2016
Witness Against Torture

January 14, 2016
Launching the Socialist Register 2016 – The Politics of the Right

January 24, 2016

Women Transforming Cities Grand Tea Party Cafe

January 27, 2016

International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

The Connexions Calendar is an online calendar that exists to advertise events that support social justice, democracy, human rights, ecology, and other causes. We invite you to use it to promote your events. Adding events to the Connexions Calendar is FREE. We'll give you a username and password which you use to log on. Use the contact form to arrange for a username and password. Read more →

Seeds of Fire

December 21, 1844
The first co-operative store
The Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers opens the first co-operative store, in Rochdale, England. The society formulates the Rochdale Principles, which set out the basic ideals and principles of the co-operative movement, and which continue to form the basis on which co-operatives around the world operate.

December 21, 1919
Red Scare deportations
The U.S. government deports 250 foreign-born radicals and suspected radicals, including Emma Goldman, and sends them to Russia.

December 24, 1906
Reginald Fessenden’s historic radio broadcast
Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden (1866-1932) makes the first-ever audio radio broadcast of music and speech. Up to that point, only Morse code signals had been transmitted via radio waves. Fessenden alerts radio operators on ships near the New England coast to listen for a special transmission on December 24. When they tune in, they hear, instead of the normal dots and dashes of Morse code, music and spoken words. Fessenden begins his historic broadcast by playing a phonograph record of Handel’s Ombra mai fu (Largo), which thereby becomes the first piece of music ever broadcast.

December 26, 1992
Women in Black
In Belgrade, Women in Black begin a campaign against rape during war, The Group for Women Raped in War. Volunteers assist the survivors by providing basic needs, solidarity and sometimes counseling.

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This issue was edited by Ulli Diemer.

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