[News] Ron Jacobs - A Review of Diana Block's "Arm the Spirit"

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Apr 3 11:43:57 EDT 2009


April 3-5, 2009

A Review of Diana Block's "Arm the Spirit"

Artifacts for Survival


In a nation like the United States, where history 
is not only forgotten, but intentionally 
suppressed, it is no surprise that most US 
residents do not understand the Puerto Rico is a 
colony of Washington.  Consequently, it is also 
no surprise that very few people in the US know 
about the movement against Washington's 
colonization and for Puerto Rican 
independence.  Of those who are aware of the 
situation, many are convinced that the movement 
for Puerto Rican independence is composed of 
nothing but a few dozen "terrorists" who deserve 
to spend the rest of their lives in prison.   Of 
those who actually support the independentista 
movement, many would be surprised that its 
members and supporters include folks different nationalities and backgrounds.

Diana Block's recently published book 
A Woman's Journey Underground and Back is the 
personal tale of one such supporter.  A white 
North American women involved in the feminist, 
lesbian and gay rights and new left movements in 
the United States of the 1970s primarily as a 
member of the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee 
(PFOC) , Ms. Block joined forces with other white 
North Americans to support the endeavors of the 
Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN ) in 
its endeavor to free Puerto Rico.  Her support 
resulted in several years underground as the 
result of her partner's entrapment in an FBI 
sting operation.  The tale she tells in these 
pages is the story of those years and the 
decisions and circumstances that brought her to 
them.  It is also the story of her family's lives 
underground.  For those who were involved in or 
at least paid attention to the left in the 1970s 
and 1980s there will be descriptions of moments 
that jog the memory.   For those that didn't, 
this will open their eyes to the reality that 
existed within Ronald Reagan's morning in America.

This is a very political book.  It is also a very 
personal book.  It is about lives determined as 
much by one's political beliefs as they are by 
personal emotions and about the juncture between 
the two.  It is about very political people in an 
apolitical time.  Many of those who had been 
involved in the antiwar and antiracist moments of 
the 1960s and 1970s were moving their lives into 
more conventional arenas that involved making 
money and buying things.  Others, meanwhile, had 
drifted deeper into the life of the street and 
poverty, leaving their political personas behind 
in the daily struggle to survive.   Meanwhile, 
the men and women involved in leftist groups like 
Prairie Fire Organizing Committee were existing 
on the fringes of US society trying to figure out 
how to maintain a political relevance.  It may 
have been that existence on the outside that 
colored the decisions they made: going 
underground when they maybe should have involved 
themselves in a more public type of organizing; 
adopting immovable positions that alienated them 
from other groups with similar agendas, to name a couple such decisions.

Block's memories of that period are consistently 
evocative and occasionally emotionally wrenching, 
compelling the reader to stay glued to the 
text.  Her reflections on the thoughts about how 
the decisions made by her and her partner Claude 
Marks affected the lives of their children and 
families  reveal caring and thoughtful parents 
whose politics are motivated by a love as deep as 
the love they have for those closest to 
them.  They also provide an insight into the 
difficulties involved in living a life of 
resistance inside the belly of the imperial beast 
that is the United States.   To put it 
succinctly, it is safe to say that Arm the Spirit 
is about the multitude of forms love takes: 
familial, romantic, comradely and 
revolutionary.  It is also about the difficulties 
we face trying to meet the ideals these loves 
represent, especially when they come into conflict with one another.

Besides the aforementioned political and 
emotional realities revealed in this book, there 
are the descriptions of daily life on the 
run.  Periods of normalcy when you and your 
family are as normal as the neighbors next door 
interrupted by days and weeks of uncertainty 
tinged with fear after your picture makes the 
FBI's Ten Most Wanted.  Joy and tears as you 
wrestle with how much information you should share with your maturing child.

Genuine friendships made under assumed names that 
must be broken when the presence of the law gets 
too near.  The frustrations felt because your 
political self can not speak out when the Empire 
attacks for fear you will be recognized and taken 
away in chains.  The decision to finally give up 
your underground status and face the courts.  The 
period of adjustment to once again using your 
family name and living as the person you couldn't be while underground.

Politically, Block's experiences as a 
revolutionary and a woman lead her to a 
conclusion perhaps best expressed by the writer 
and revolutionary Margaret Randall: that the 
inability of almost all twentieth-century 
revolutionary movements to develop a feminist 
agenda contributed to their failure to evolve new 
and equitable forms of power sharing that might 
have helped keep them alive.  The period of 
adjustment mentioned in the previous 
paragraph  provokes some other interesting 
observations by Block.  Foremost among them are 
her observations regarding the changes in the 
progressive movement in the 1970s and the 
movement today, especially her remarks that much 
of the work formerly done by organizations with 
no financial portfolio now being done by what she 
calls the nonprofit industrial complex.

The shortcomings of this movement are even more 
apparent today as funding for these nonprofits 
dries up in the wake of the economic shocks 
throughout the capitalist world.  This factor 
doesn't even touch the political timidity of many 
of today's organizations--a timidity certainly 
influenced by their need to gather money from 
beneficiaries of the very system whose excesses 
and wrongs they hope to remedy.

One other insightful observation is that, despite 
the multitude of single issue movements and 
organizations, many of the groups and individuals 
involved have no underlying philosophy to bind 
these issues together and present a systemic 
analysis that would propel the struggle for 
economic and social justice forward.  Although 
Block does not examine this much further, it is 
clear that she sees the need to develop and 
provide that analysis as part of the role of her 
and others involved in the struggles of the 
latter half of the twentieth century.  After all, 
the fundamentals of that analysis are the same as 
those the left has always referred to.  The 
economic crisis of capitalism and the wars of Washington make that clear.

Ron Jacobs is author of 
Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather 
Underground, which is just republished by Verso. 
Jacobs' essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in 
CounterPunch's collection on music, art and sex, 
in the Garden. His first novel, 
Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. 
He can be reached at: <mailto:rjacobs3625 at charter.net>rjacobs3625 at charter.net

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