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Something for that hard-to-buy-for SW reader
Socialist Worker's holiday gift list

December 16, 2005 | Page 13

Socialist Worker columnists and contributors give their book, movie and music choices for gifts this holiday season.

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Camilo Mejía
First soldier to refuse to redeploy to Iraq, who served nine months for his decision

I RECOMMEND the book The Freedom: Shadows and Hallucinations in Occupied Iraq by Christian Parenti (The New Press).

While writing my own memoir about my experience in war, this book brought back demons from my own hell in Iraq and provided a broader perspective about the reality of war-torn Iraq and its people. With each page, the reader accompanies the author in his journey through the struggle of a nation that refuses to be conquered.

It is a must-read for anyone who wants a true account of just how far the U.S. government and military are willing to go to impose imperial domination on the people of Iraq, and of just how courageously those people are fighting off the world's most powerful war machine.

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Sharon Smith
Socialist Worker's "Which Side Are You On?" columnist

OKLAHOMA-BORN Woody Guthrie once declared: "I ain't a Communist necessarily, but I been in the red all my life." His most famous song, "This Land Is Your Land," was written as a radical antidote to Irving Berlin's "God Bless America"--and contained a lyric never recorded but often sung:

"One bright sunny morning/In the shadow of the steeple/By the relief office I saw my people/As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering/If God blessed America for me."

Guthrie's music defined the hardships and struggles of the Great Depression for that generation of workers. Many generations later, his songs still speak to the pain of unemployment, the anger at corporate greed and the joy of class solidarity.

Go to the official Guthrie Web site at to view his lyrics and order original recordings.

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Mike Davis
Author of City of Quartz and The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu

I HAD hoped this holiday to introduce my daughter to the most gorgeous and radical voice of the early '60s folk scene: Hedy West. Herself the daughter of the famed Southern folk poet and Communist labor organizer, Don West, Hedy sang knowingly about "Anger in the Land" and "Cotton Mill Girls." Her version of "I Wish I Was a Single Girl Again" was a feminist anthem before its time.

But, sadly, I discovered that Hedy died of cancer this summer and none of her albums are available on CD. However, her father's poems--extraordinary hymns of grit, passion and struggle--have been recently reissued in a stunning collection: No Lonesome Road (University of Illinois), lovingly edited by Jeff Biggers and George Brosi.

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Anthony Arnove
Co-author with Howard Zinn of Voices of a People's History of the United States

MY FAVORITE book of 2005 was Laurent DuBois's brilliant Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (Harvard University Press).

DuBois does for the Haitian revolution what Alexander Rabinowitch did for the Russian Revolution in his recently republished classic The Bolsheviks Come to Power (Haymarket): Provide a day-to-day, from below, account of the revolutionary process. It's a powerful read, and an essential compliment to C.L.R. James's The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (Vintage).

Martin Scorsese's new DVD, Bob Dylan: No Direction Home, is essential viewing. The film captures the truly radical spirit of Dylan's most creative period, 1961-1966 (the same period covered beautifully in Mike Marqusee's updated book Wicked Messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s, (Seven Stories Press).

The companion double CD, volume 7 in the Bootleg series, also makes a great gift. It includes a remarkable early Dylan rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" and is loaded with previously unreleased material. If you're feeling very generous, throw in the new paperback of his autobiography Chronicles, or the new Live at the Gaslight 1962 CD, a remarkable early Dylan concert.

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Marlene Martin
National director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty

MY HOLIDAY pick is Courtroom 302, written by Chicago journalist Steve Bogira.

Bogira hung out at the Cook County courthouse in Chicago for a year--the result is gripping book that gives a raw look at the workings of the criminal justice system, from arrest to conviction. Using the words of defendants, lawyers, police officers and judges, Bogira uncovers the reality that something other than justice takes place in courtrooms around this country.

He shows how the system is stacked against the poor, with public defenders going before a judge and "processing" over 100 cases in 15 minutes--less than 10 seconds per case. As Bogira points out, this just doesn't happen in the wealthy parts of the Chicago area.

Startling and difficult to put down, this real-life story of our criminal justice system is a wake-up call that we need serious changes in our so-called justice system.

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Lance Selfa
Socialist Worker's "Between the Lines" columnist

IF YOU'VE never seen the Los Angeles-based Ozomatli play live, perhaps the next best thing is their Live at the Fillmore CD, released earlier this year.

Ozomatli is a multiracial and multicultural experience that combines sounds and styles from hip hop and 1970s funk to Mexican banda and Dominican merengue. The track "Believe" features sounds you'd expect to hear in the Middle East. Live at the Fillmore can introduce you to the band's high-energy political music, sung in English and Spanish.

But don't stop there. Check out the Grammy-winning Street Signs (2004) and Embrace the Chaos (2001). And make sure you see them live next time they're in town!

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Jeffrey St. Clair
Co-editor of CounterPunch and author of the soon-to-be-released Grand Theft Pentagon

THANKS TO Ry Cooder and the Buena Vista Social Club phenomenon, most Americans are under the impression that Cuban musicians are older than Havana's cars. Cubans have been listening to and performing rock since the '50s. Sometimes in clubs, sometimes in more underground settings.

A lot of Cuban rock has been critical of the Castro regime; it wouldn't qualify as rock music if it didn't buck authority. In the 1960s, the government tried to suppress the underground music, with about as much success as J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon or Tipper Gore in their various efforts to intimidate U.S. rockers, jazz players and rappers.

Since then, things have been freer and the music, from Latin funk to heavy metal, has thrived. Last spring, Audioslave (the fusion of Rage Against the Machine and Soundgarden's Chris Cornell) breached the U.S. embargo and played an outdoor concert before a frenzied crowd of 60,000 in Havana's Anti-Imperialist Plaza.

The DVD Audioslave-Live in Cuba (DVD/CD), and accompanying CD, captures the whole riotous 2.5-hour concert, which closes with a ruthless version of "Cochise." It'll be a few years before Nike figures out how to co-opt these songs.

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Paul D'Amato
Socialist Worker's "Meaning of Marxism" columnist

MY PICK is John Ford's 1940 classic The Grapes of Wrath, based on John Steinbeck's novel. Its themes--"Oakies" made refugees by poverty and disaster (dust storms and banks) and mistreated by bureaucrats, police and vigilantes--seem so fresh and relevant.

Henry Fonda plays Tom Joad who, just out of prison, finds his family's been tossed off the farm and their house bulldozed ("tractored by the cats," as the Woody Guthrie song has it), and learns, along with Preacher Casey, the meaning of working-class solidarity in the work camps of California.

By the end, getting ready to run for killing a cop who murdered Casey during a pickers' strike, he tells his mother, "Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beating up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad. I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry and they know supper's ready. And when people are eating the stuff they in the houses they build...I'll be there too."

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Phil Gasper
Editor of a newly published edition of the Communist Manifesto from Haymarket Books

I'M WRITING this while the fate of Stan Tookie Williams still hangs in the balance. Whatever happens, everyone should read his autobiography, Blue Rage, Black Redemption, which powerfully describes the racism and poverty that led him to found the Crips and how, against the odds, a gang leader eventually became a peacemaker.

James Loewen's Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism reveals the long history of U.S.-style apartheid outside the Deep South. If you give either of these as gifts, make sure to get an extra copy to read yourself.

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