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An interactive book review: revisiting American war resistance

This Magazine Staff

Journal of Aesthetics and Protest #6: in three sections (2008) Christina Ulke, Robby Herbst, and Marc Herbst, editors.
Part one (or two)
I’ve been lugging around the most recent, brick-heavy publication of the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest put together in LA. It has been worthwhile company for long streetcar rides. This book is divided into three portions, and I think I might offer a three-fold blog entry on the book instead of trying to gulp it all down and comment in one go.
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As I said in my first blog post ever, the Journal is one of my favorite places to come and get thick ideas about activism and then come back and think about them. It offers a creative space for resistance thinking. I originally came upon the journal when I was writing a piece for Geez magazine about Neil Harrison‘s art. They self-describe as a “weirdo thinktank” but come across as a sincere but kind of tortured struggle for creative collaboration and resistance in a country that has been until recently crippled under the weight of fear and empire (a contentious label, i realize) and the frustration of embarrassment from a destructive leader. From the looks of it, this issue was less painful to produce than the first full-length book.
The book is also available online for free, so anyone can read it too and feel free to create a conversation.

Like a kid in front of the cake at their own birthday party, I’d like to take a chunk out of the middle to start: The Antiwar Survey, an attempt by the editors to give a picture of the cultural expressions of anti-war sentiment in California. The editors describe the journal as three books in one, so for fun let’s start with number two.
By way of an introduction, Robby Herbst describes what the Antiwar Survey section aims to do. He says that the anti-war sentiment in the States since 2003 can’t exactly be described as a movement. The anti-war struggle had and has pushed past being an activist thing to being the opinion of the majority of Americans, and certainly much of the rest of the world.
Much like many of the activists I’ve chatted with, Herbst agrees in his introduction to this section that the anti-war movement in the States is not so much a “movement” with leaders but a splintering of committed individuals and individual nodules of effort, spontaneous, creative eruptions against perceived injustice. Herbst concludes that maybe it was/is not so much a movement but a culture.
The Survey
The Antiwar survey simply documents the results of a survey that was sent out to groups in California. Each group answered the where and why of their anti-war action, and included what they learned from it, how they measured success, and what it would take for them to do it again. The actions include everything from pottery, postermaking, and dance to more traditional forms of “direct action.”
What I found striking about the survey is the question that asks “Are you connected to any other organization?” The number of respondants that said no is equally as moving as those who listed a host of other connections. It’s amazing to think of so many groups and lone individual artists needing to express their rejection of the unjust war, even if they did it alone.
Some of the projects included Hillary Mushkin’s “Far from War” video project where the artist interviewed folks about what their neighbourhood might look like if it was at war. The video was initially displayed in a barber shop in Eagle Rock, CA for a month. Other projects included improvised postering campaigns; “holding up” business at a Wells Fargo bank by keeping the lines jammed with volunteers; and a still dance collective that staged resistance theater in public space.
Another artist, Ehren Tool, made “war awareness art,” printing war imagery onto tea cups. Tool has distributed over 7,000 cups and sees it as a way to sneak war awareness literally into people’s hands and homes. It’s a way for the art to linger with them.
Another moving part of the survey is the way that artists and activists (also a contentious term) responded to the questions “What was the outcome of this activity?” and “How did you measure success?” Equally poignant was the answer of those who felt their action had made a significant difference, and those who answered “I don’t know.” Bringing these creative actions together in one volume gives them a place and a context within the broader anti-war culture.

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