We’re deep into a year that isn’t going so well.
There’s tangible effects of climate change. There’s a president who is apparently impervious to any repercussions at all. And then there’s… pretty much everything else clogging up my newsfeed. Us citizens of 2018 could use some inspiration and a whole lot of alternative approaches.
But where can we look?
Lucky for us, a growing number of small presses are putting out books about grassroots groups that have found creative ways to change their world. And unlike academic publishers who also sometimes cover this subject, these small press’ publications are affordable by design; small presses want their books to be accessible, so they keep their prices low.
For instance, Jane: Documents from Chicago’s Clandestine Abortion Service 1968-1973 (60 pages, $4 from Eberhardt Press) looks at the underground network of volunteers who helped women get abortions in Chicago before Roe v. Wade made it legal in 1973. Here in 2018, this book provides a pretty stark warning about why we need to protect the right to abortion—as well as a potential toolkit for action if the right keeps having its way. It’s also an interesting look at how an underground network can successfully function below the radar.
Half Letter Press also provides some inspiration with its reprint of 1975’s Trying to Make the Personal Political: Feminism and Consciousness-Raising (52 pages; print for $7, or PDF for $3). This booklet shows how to start and participate in a feminist consciousness-raising group—a common tactic in the ’70s that saw women gathering to discuss issues (both personal and political) in a group setting that was designed to foster mutual support. Given the hard push against women’s rights that we’re seeing lately, it seems like some people might want to re-examine this tactic. This booklet will also appeal to people like me who want to find ways to discuss ideas with folks outside of their everyday circles—but are losing interest in an increasingly hostile social media world.
As the EPA sheds its regulations and responsibilities, small publications about past environmental actions seem pretty good road maps for helping to preserve what’s left of this planet’s nature. Take the anti-nuke movement, for instance. The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism recently printed a free stand-alone newspaper by Miriam Wasser, called Pilgrims: 50 Years Of Anti-Nuclear Mass.: An Oral History, which detailed community resistance to the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant and provided fascinating details about how the groups succeeded and how they handled challenges. Interference Archive’s small pamphlet about the all-women Greenham Common anti-nuke protest camp in England (“Documents from the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp,” $5 from Justseeds) shares similar insights—and also includes information about how the protestors addressed internal conflict.
Last up and closest to home, Jake Carman’s Nine Years of Anarchist Action (262 pages, $12 from AK Press) tells the story of a now-defunct anarchist group called Boston Anarchists Against Militarism and reprints a number of articles it wrote. BAAM formed shortly after 9/11 as a response to America’s sudden surge towards militarism, but the network later went on to organize around a variety of issues. Its DIY approach should be pretty inspiring for anyone who’s frustrated with what’s going on now but can’t find people to connect with outside of their immediate circles; like many other community groups, BAAM shows that you don’t necessarily need to join an existing group—you can organize your own.
It’s safe to say that none of these stories are being promoted by larger presses, which is what makes small presses so timely—and important. If you’re looking for some inspiration, take a look at what presses like these have to offer.
Where can you find more books like this? Try these online distributors: