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People and Places to Support

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December 22, 2017


I’m often asked by people, “What are the publications and organizations and people you would support?” So, in response, I’ve made up this list, which I’ll add to as time goes on. As you can tell, it’s not in time for Christmas, which is only a few days away. But I wanted to have something on hand that I could forward around whenever people ask me about which people and what orgs are doing good work. Plus, I wanted a way to support the amazing and radical activists and people I know who are also making amazing objects!


As to publications, you know, or should know my first rule: Don’t support places that don’t pay their writers, or whose writers tend to be academics with tenure or writers with cushy lives who think that writing is not labour but a Beautiful Vocation. If in doubt, ask very directly: “Do you pay your writers? On average, how much? How much do your editor and publisher make?” If they tell you that they have some system whereby tenured academics and well-off writers “donate” their rates so that others can get paid until they’re able to pay everyone, remember that this kind of payment scheme will usually mean that most of their writers will be writing for free. Also remember: this sort of system means that a publication can continue this practice for decades, and that it reduces left publishing to a philanthropy project (“Be kind! Throw our writers a buck or two!”)


Think about it: If you’re an editor or publisher who needs to get an issue out, and you’re short on money this quarter — whom will you choose to write for you? A writer who actually demands payment, the horror, or some Very Famous Left Professor with a nice office in a university who farts out a humdrum piece somewhere between laundry and walking the dog on a Saturday? Also, remember, most of the new “left” publications are run by younger wanna-be academics or writers who are too scared to actually edit work turned in by established academics who are “donating” their work (there’s a reason so much of what they publish is ponderous and in need of hacking down). The hierarchies of academic professionalisation have seeped in and saturated the world of left publishing, to its further detriment.  Look back on the 2016 election year, and now try to recall which one of the more well-known left publications even got it right? Do you even, now, remember one single cogent and persuasive essay from that massive pool of sludge that was produced then?

The publications I’m recommending are small in number because I’ve restricted myself to places I write at — so I know they pay well, on time, and are committed to work that isn’t just about discerning the most popular, click-baited position to take.

That being said: If you read mainstream publications like the New York Times or New Yorker regularly, please either subscribe to them or at least give them a donation every now and then. Or, if you can, find a friend with a subscription they can share — it’s how I read the Times, for instance (subscribers are able to add a limited number of friends to their online subscriptions). Please don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’ve “liberated” an article from behind the paywall of a publication  like Harper’s or the Times: if you want quality reporting and writing, understand that it has to be paid for. Investigative journalism in particular  is time-consuming and expensive. The recent uproar over the Times profile of Nazi Tony Hovater — about which I’ll soon have a piece — suggests that a vocal number of readers can’t distinguish between a personal blog and journalism. If you decide it’s not worth paying for that kind of work, don’t whine when newspapers like the Times keep devolving into blog-style style and fashion sites.

The Hovater kerfuffle brings me to another aspect of reading — and paying for — writing, as readers: the relatively new tendency to furiously boycott a publication any time it publishes even one article that makes a reader angry. Again, remember: a newspaper or a magazine is not some in-house blog where you can find opinion after opinion that agrees with your own. If it’s doing its job right, it should piss you off or, at the very least, aggravate you because you’ve found a view or slice of life or politics that is nothing like your own. I’m always both bemused and amused when angry readers decide that one single article warrants cancelling an entire subscription.

I was fortunate to be raised in a household that could afford to pay for subscriptions to several publications, of various political stripes. So, growing up, I read Calcutta’s storied The Statesman, founded in 1875, which was a well-mannered, respectable publication. But I also read The Telegraph, founded in 1982, an upstart in the business, with a more audaciously left leaning style and substance (before you tweet at me about how wrong I am in all my summations: I haven’t kept up with either for nearly two decades now — so simmer down). The same was true of the magazines I read, ranging from India Today to my favourite film mags like Stardust.

The point is not that you should spend all your money on a lot of subscriptions, but that it might be helpful if you made a point of reading a range of political and cultural writing that does not sound exactly the way you sound amongst friends. Here’s an experiment: in the event of any national or international incident, look for “news” articles in at least five publications. You’ll find that all of them are exactly the same, using the same phrases even, replicated endlessly. And, more often than not, editors and writers will use endless streams of tweets as fillers. If readers have given up on the idea that a publication should have a unique, distinctive voice, why the hell should publications bother with little more than reproducing a standard Reuters bit, illustrated with tweets?


So, commit to supporting a publication in some way — do this for at least six months. If you decide at the end that you don’t care for it, move on. But make sure you actually know how to discern the quality of its work or, if you don’t like its political slant, that’s fine too. Whatever you decide, don’t have little hissy fits just because one writer here and there has something to say that you don’t agree with. The question should not be: “Do I agree with everything that’s published here?” but, rather, “Does this publication have integrity and follow the trajectories of thought, analysis, and reporting without constantly checking in with me to see if I agree?”

Support places where you regularly get information and/or analysis (including, ahem, certain writers you might read often) if you know they could do with that support or if that’s the model they use to produce writing. The point is: Support places and people whose work contributes to your own or to your thinking or helps you find out stuff you need to know.

If you think  you can do without writing that’s not free to you, here’s another experiment. Read only the stuff that’s free for two weeks, making notes all the while about what you found especially illuminating, different, useful, enlightening, enlivening, even aggravating. At the end of that time, you’ll discover that simply consuming the free stuff — as in, unpaid work by writers and work that’s made freely available to you — will feel a lot like you’ve been on a diet of nothing but McDonald’s. Sure, you’ll probably have agreed with everything you read, and you’ll probably have a whole new set of nifty little memes to go with all those articles you read, but your brain will sag and heave, much like the stomach of someone consuming nothing but empty calories and grease.


The same is true of books. Good books, including fiction — which are assiduously written, researched, beautifully designed, and fact-checked, with indexes and bibliographies (people are paid, or should be paid well to produce these) take money and time: there is an entire economy of people and their different vocations that depend on books being paid for. Yes, giant publishing houses are exactly that, and their rapid consolidation is something we should all worry about. But none of that gives you an excuse to “liberate” a book and read it for nothing. If you can’t afford a book, it is more likely than not available at your local public library (and maybe consider that it’s time for you to drop your “cool” veneer and actually support your local libraries). Your not reading a book within the first week it’s out will not be the end of the world for you. But if you insist on purloining the books of writers who actually write for a living, you make it that much harder for them to earn money as writers. As with newspapers, don’t complain when all of writing, fiction and non-fiction, becomes predictable and boring — when readers think they are entitled to read for free, the quality of writing is bound to drop.


The only exceptions are academic press books and journals. There are some academic presses that also publish trade books and some journals that pay (all my work in academic journals has been paid for), so make sure you check on the imprint in particular but, otherwise, eh.


I will have more on all this — pieces titled “How to Read” and “How to Write” are forthcoming in early 2018, as well as a piece on the economy of publishing, something which very few people actually understand but on which everyone has an opinion. But for now: below are the publications I recommend you look for and support, as well as a list of organisations worth supporting long-term — I’ve written for most of them. I’ve also included a few people whom I know, love, and trust and who make things that are beautiful or delicious or both.




The Baffler

When I wrote my first big piece for this magazine, on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, it was the first time a lefty publication wholeheartedly supported my integration of a critique of mainstream gay politics with an analysis of politics in general. Trust me when I tell you — and I will tell you more in another piece — that even today, where mainstream media outlets seem willing to at least make the shop-worn critique that gay politics can be “assimilationist,” most editors and publishers are still too either too scared of powerful gay interests to actually allow such work to go through or simply too caught up in their liberal hand-wringing (even if they are ostensibly left publications). The magazine recently updated its format, and is consistently supportive of left writing and writers.


Current Affairs

I’m an editor at large here so, of course, I’m going to tell you to support them. But besides the fact that they’ve published me, often, and that they’ve supported me consistently, even when a faction of the left turned particularly nasty and tried to get my work taken down on Facebook and even, outrageously for leftists, complained the piece should not have been published — even besides all that: the magazine is a thing of beauty and should be celebrated and supported. If you can, get a hard copy subscription — every issue is a gorgeous work of art, and every page bristles with tiny vignettes, quizzes, and even games, alongside the regular articles. It’s a fantastic combination of wit (I’m often laughing out loud) and serious analysis that you won’t find elsewhere.

Electronic Intifada

They pay well and on time, and they’re committed to a workplace that’s free of exploitation, with a small but dedicated staff. And they feature news and analysis you won’t find elsewhere; it’s where I go first when I want a reliable and alternative news outlet on a part of the globe that regularly gets very little nuanced and accurate coverage.


Evergreen Review

This is a storied publication, first published in 1957, and has been home to writers like Albert Camus, Bertolt Brecht,  Marguerite Duras, and Albert Camus. So imagine my surprise and amazement when its editor-in-chief Dale Peck contacted me about writing “A Manifesto.” That project — for which he kindly gave me infinite latitude, and which I’ll write about more soon — was literally life-changing for me. ER is currently published by John Oakes. They’re working on getting all the older issues online and publishing print editions of select works. Read them online (the latest issue is gorgeous) and support them if you can.


South Side Weekly

Independent voice on the south side of Chicago. Even if you don’t live here, it’s a necessary look at why we need excellent local coverage and local papers. Great snapshots of the gentrification battles going on here, and a great way to find out what’s going in the many neighbourhoods in the area.


Organisations and People  I love and Who Should Be Supported


Alex Poeter, Life and Career Coach and Nonprofit Consultant. Alex, along with Melissa S. and Mariame Kaba, was among those who generously came forward to help me and Gender JUST in a time of need, and we couldn’t have asked for a more organised, thorough, and thoughtful consultant. And I know I’m not alone in thinking that he’s among the finest human beings on this planet.


Assatta’s Daughters

Founded and nurtured by people I personally know and love, this is a caring, thoughtful, and necessary organisation that “grew out of a critical gap in Chicago of programming for young women to get trained up in the radical political tradition of Black feminism, and to learn how to organize around the demand of abolition.” Please support them as they grow.


Chicago Freedom School

I’ve written about CFS before, and you can read that piece here. They remain an excellent, excellent place to support, and have a commitment to youth and radical politics that is long-term and eschews easy, sexy solutions. They deserve all the support they can get.


Dakshina: Daniel Phoenix Singh Dance Company

I’ve yet to see a performance by the company, let me admit. But Daniel is the one who commissioned this piece, “Make Art! Change the World! Starve!: The Fallacy of Art as Social Justice – Part I.”  His work in the dance world has earned praise from many quarters and, more importantly to me, he’s a tireless advocate for dancers and often and publicly pushes back against those who see them as expendable bodies.  If you’re in DC or in the area, go see his shows and support him any way you can.




The Nostalgia Trap Podcast, by David Parsons

I was recently featured on this, and was delighted at David’s invitation because I’ve been a fan of this longform podcast for a while. David is doing what few will do, engage in complex, long-ranging conversations instead of soundbites, and he takes as long as he needs to take. You can listen to more in the archives; please support this project if you can — we need more of this kind of work out there.


Project NIA

This is the brainchild of the brilliant prison abolitionist and feminist Mariame Kaba (who is also among the founders of CFS!). Mariame has been a driving force behind many of the radical projects in Chicago, and she has now returned to her beloved hometown of New York — but her energy and influence lasts here. I wrote this piece on her as she got ready to leave Chicago, and I can assure you that she is someone you can and should support. Among other projects (see below!), Mariame is responsible for some of the most well-organised and riveting projects where researches and showcases vital parts of Black history that might otherwise languish out of sight.


Queer Cafeteria, Podcasters and all-round queer radical darlings

I met the lovely people at Queer Cafeteria — all six of them at the time — at my place for a podcast, and they are the most amazing radical queer punks around right now. They’re also behind FED UP! Fest, an annual event. You can read more about them here and follow or support them.


Stuff  (Fabulous) People Make!


Kabags, bags and wallets by Mariame Kaba and sisters

I once asked Mariame how she got so much done and her answer was, “Insomnia.” Besides everything else she’s doing, Mariame has joined with her two sisters to produce this gorgeous line of bags and wallets — they’ll be introducing more items again in January (they had some lovely wallets, which have already sold out). You can be sure it’s all ethically produced, and judging from my feeds, people are delighted with them (I’m a messenger bag girl right now, but plan on getting one or more of these as soon as my life settles down to the point where I can use handbags).


Melissa S., knitwear on Etsy

Melissa is also a long-time Chicago resident now settled on the east coast, and she is, along with Mariame (who has more talents than I can name), one of the well-known knitters in the circles I travel in. She now has her own site, Atlantic Knits, on Etsy and the items are, as you can see, lovely.


Monica Trinidad, radical activist and artist

If you live and circulate in Chicago’s queer/radical circles, you’re bound to have seen Monica’s work. She’s been part of our visual imaginary for years, and is worth keeping an eye on and supporting whenever possible.


Sarah-Ji, photographer

As we know too well, too many movements are too busy doing the work of actual movement-building to document their work for posterity. Luckily for Chicago, we have Sarah-Ji, who shows up at hundreds of protests and actions and takes amazing photos of the work and responses to it. Please, of course, don’t use her images without permission (and pay), but do keep an eye on her work if you’re interested in radical political work in Chicago.


Seth DeMartile, desserts.

If you’re looking for unusual and delicious treats, my friend Seth makes amazing desserts. He generously sent me treats after each of my kitties’ deaths — an unusual Italian fruitcake (nothing like the brick-like horror that seems to be the norm in the States), and an equally unusual lemony cake that had just the right undercurrent of bitterness to it.


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