Reviewed by Mike Mosher
Ann Arbor Michigan, the home of the University of Michigan, has long been blessed by radical newspapers. The university's Labadie Collection houses a hundred and fifty years of radical literature. The Collection's exhibit of IWW graphics was recently discussed by librarian Julie Herrada in the People's Voice for Social Justice, the newsletter of the People's Progressive Network of Washtenaw County. The official student paper The Michigan Daily has been historically left of center. Don't Tip the Waiter, a humor tabloid produced by restaurant workers, could become a political force. In April, 2005 a UM student named Josh Berman launched Chill, purportedly Ann Arbor's first "completely apolitical magazine", covering burritos, recipes, music and sports...which appears to have lasted a single issue.
Back in the Day (insert reviewer's tiresome MC5/Stooges anecdotes here), no self-respecting faculty-brat teenager in "A-squared" would believe news from the straight honky corporate media. Instead, she or he would plunk down a quarter at radical rock-benefit concerts or in headshops for an"underground" hippie paper like Ken Kelley's Ann Arbor Argus, named in honor of Michigan's first newspaper 140 years before. The White Panther Party published the Ann Arbor Sun, featuring rhetorical flourish by their Minister of Information--fancy name for poet--John Sinclair. Sinclair's revolutionary brimstone and textual jazz-skronk fit amidst elegant headlines and layouts by concert poster designer Gary Grimshaw, with each issue of the Sun as sturdy and symmetrically decorated as the gingerbread woodwork on nineteenth century Michigan houses.
Throughout the 1990s, Eric Lormand published a free monthly paper called the Agenda, whose crowded pages mixed leftist (occasionally sectarian) political platforms and demands, movie reviews and long poetic rambles by Arwulf Arwulf, the erudite WEMU-FM jazz DJ. Lormand is credited as an inspsiration to Critical Moment, which also includes a useful Community Calendar, and juxtaposes essays effectively with poems. At this writing, fifteen issues of Critical Moment have been published and distributed free in Washtenaw County. Below are noted some successful characteristics of the last few.
Though in mid-2005 Critical Moment switched from theme issues to more general coverage, issue #11 focused on Religion. An angry mother and daughter discuss the effects of the Archdiocese of Detroit closing eighteen urban Catholic schools, and the administration's imperious attitude towards the parents and students. Rather than mere reporting of abuses, this reviewer always looks for organizing tips in progressive media; a useful piece appeared in the Religion issue on the successful faith-based organizing of conservative organizations like the Promise Keepers. While appropriately distanced from Promise Keepers' faith-based agenda, its writer credits their political savvy. In her analysis, the Reagan presidency and subsequent right-wing political victories happened because their organizers studied grass-roots organizing techniques of progressives in the 1960s and 1970s. Today's leftists and liberals need to take long, cold, dispassionate look at what has worked for the Right to reach, communicate with and motivate America's working folk and suburban middle classes.
A fine Yolanda Lopez artwork of La Virgen de Guadelupe embodied as seamstress Margaret F. Stewartis appeared on the Religion issue's back cover along with a Gustavo Guiterrez quote on liberation theology. The paper attentively credits every graphic they publish, which anti-authoritarians sometimes forget to do.
Issue #12 featured the later repercussions of June 2003 riots in Benton Harbor, where the recall of a City Commissioner led to lawsuits against the black minister who organized it. Teacher Nate Walker mused on teaching Detroit kids a critical literacy inspired by Paolo Friere's liberation pedagogy. There was poetry, friendly pictures from a bike auction and a shopping cart race, disabled people. The inclusive cartoons from mikhaela.net stood in contrast to a necessary campaign against vile racist cartoons in the Dearborn Press and Independent--wait a minute, wasn't that where eighty years ago Henry Ford serialized the Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Pieces on the Palestinian call for divestment and sanctions against Israel are punctuated by images of the massive Separation Wall, with graffiti by Banksy and others. Upon the wall, "Fuck. What to do?" is answered "Resist". Michelle J. Kinnucan writes of the contradictions of people who are pro-Israel but anti war marching with Palestinians who link the issues of Iraq and Israeli occupation.
Issue # 13 at the end of 2005 linked "the long winter ahead" in catastrophically-stricken Detroit and New Orleans, for poverty in Detroit and New Orleans are disturbingly similar, proven in several pieces on the flooded crescent city and a call for well-funded mechanisms of rescue and recovery. The cover shows the burned house of a Deroit woman, where the Detroit Water Department refused to turn off the water following the fire, resulting in surreal ice sculptures everywhere (and a waterless neighbor). There's an interview with politicized sportswriter Dave Zirin, author of What's My Name Fool? Sports and Resistance in the US, as well as pieces on the Divestment resolution, 1960s transgender resistance in San Francisco, the Coke boycott at UM, a disgusting drunken fratboys racial incident against Asian and Pacific Islanders.
The first issue of 2006, #14, sported a distinctly proud blue-collar attitude in articles on the bankruptcy of major Michigan manufacturer Delphi, and those on mobilizing workers and featuring dissident voices from the rank and file. Factory takeovers are debated. David Roediger's book on America's European ethnics Working Towards Whiteness is reviewed, and Transgender Day and soldiers in Iraq are remembered. Stanley "Tookie" Williams is interviewed before his execution, other articles put his struggle and the death penalty in context, and the Prisoners Creative Art project is celebrated.
Issue #15 features M.K. Assante's provocative "We Are the Post Hip-Hop Generation", about Hip-Hop's transition from the style of the streets to that of corporate advertising, reprinted from the San Francisco Chronicle. There are several pieces about Detroit, from community organizers evaluating effects of the Super Bowl, the oldest recreation center and community gardens. Adam Hanieh of York University in Toronto analyzes Hamas' victory. Letters are exchanged by the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice and Jewish Wintesses for Peace and Friends on the merits of vigils JWPF hold (with signs "Reject Zionism" and "Zionism Destroys Judaism") outside Beth Israel Synagogue. One wonders if political rivalries or merely bad PR meant the Community Calendar listed a March 18th antiwar march in Detroit, but not the March 19th one in Ann Arbor.
Critical Moment had an information table at the UM student groups' Winterfest. The publication also participated in the conference United for Peace and Justice (UPJ) organization.
As Ann Arbor's much-loved used and all-remainder bookshops give way to fancy restaurants, there is much debate (including a blog called annarborisoverrated.org) over whether the university town has become just another upper-crust Detroit suburb. The Planet Infoshop, a vendor of lefty and anarchist publications, fair-trade goods, hempwear and "urban art supplies (ha ha ha)"--Krylon spray paint-- even gets slogged on that blog for the contradiction of promoting antiauthoritarianism while running a business that pays the rent. Together Critical Moment and the Planet hosted a talk in January, 2006 by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (CSU East Bay) on the Contra War in Nicaragua and the international movement of indigenous peoples.
So education, radicalism and radical publication marched through Ann Arbor in 2006's discontented winter, hand in hand, mitten in mitten. With the coming of spring, a walk a finds Impeach Bush lawn signs in front of about fifteen percent of the modest $200K two-bedroom homes in one representative neighborhood. As in the days when the original Borders' Bookstore was merely one more interesting independent Ann Arbor bookseller, a trip to verdant "Tree Town" still inevitably results in finding plenty to read, much in free newsprint. Old townies and visitors are pleased that there's journalistic nourishment in Critical Moment, a valuable and gratis contributor to the town's political and intellectual life.
For more information on Critical Moment, or to contribute, write firstname.lastname@example.org .