Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela on Thread Makes Blanket and small press publishing

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Can you tell me a little bit about Thread Makes Blanket? How did the press get started and what did you contribute to the OYO project?

Initially, Thread Makes Blanket (TMB) was started in 2011 as a small-scale chapbook press because (in no particular order), 1) I wrote a zine in high school and my first year of college and missed a lot of things about that production, but I didn’t want to write a zine again, 2) I had a free copy hook up at the time and my 16-yr-old self would’ve been ashamed of me if I didn’t use it, 3) I knew many excellent women of color writers who I hoped to help push their work into the world, and 4) I seem to have a more optimistic than average relationship with time.

Then, as they do, things evolved. Soon TMB was not just publishing poetry chapbooks, but we have maintained a commitment to writers of color and/or books related to social justice. We are most interested in publishing projects that might not otherwise find a home and in working with authors who are interested in working within a fairly non-traditional model as each project is its own collaboration with authors, editors and artists. That said, “we” generally refers to me and Nico Amador, a dear friend who has brought his talents as a poet, editor, and thinker to TMB for the last 2-3 years. TMB is smarter and stronger than ever because of his involvement.

vona_dismantle_cover_final_web_front Actually, this is maybe better answered with TMB’s mission statement:

“Thread Makes Blanket exists to provide a home for excellent writing that may otherwise have trouble finding a home.  We have no hard and fast criteria for who or what we publish, but we operate with a consciousness that too often the most necessary writing— writing by people of color, queer and trans writers, work that is political, work that is “about” something, and work that prioritizes community above the individual artist—  is less likely to be read, published, distributed, and/or legitimized.  We are here because we believe in the voices of those writers, those communities, and the lesser known histories that their works call forth.  We are not about empty, pretty things.”

We see each publication as an opportunity to embark on a collaboration with the artist or artists to give their project the backing it deserves and find the readers it is intended to reach.  We believe that the process of publishing is as important as the final product and we seek to engage with our artists in a way that is supportive to their vision, creative in its means of distribution, and anti-capitalist in its intentions.

My contribution to OYO is two-fold.

First, let’s stay with the press. I was invited to develop a public project for OYO, but was encouraged to think of overlap with what I was already working on. I mulled over some ideas and then seemed to stumble on the obvious: the book that would eventually be named TREASURE | My Black Rupture. My press had already committed to publish Martine’s hard to pin down book about Blackness, where a body begins and ends, and imagination. I’d started to, in an overly simplistic shorthand, refer to it in my mind as a BlackLivesMatter text because some of what the book contains responds to recent events, for example there are photos from Eric Garner’s death in which Martine has removed Garner’s body from the frame. And this maybe led me to the connections that now seems so clear? The connections between art, organizing, imagination, the inevitably incomplete “your”, and questioning of place within family and community that are so much of OYO is getting at.

Second, I was invited to write a poetic piece to share at the opening reading for OYO in Philadelphia. I read two poems that were “linked” by a poetic essay. A version of that essay will be included in the OYO catalogue.

And, because it still makes me smile, arguably one of my most important contributions to OYO was when I got much of the audience in the jam-packed Kelly Writer’s House to sing along to a Boys II Men verse. This was part of one of my poems.

As you know, OYO is rooted in a historical legacy of self-organizing and self-determination, and I’m wondering what of that history you were drawn to as you were developing your contribution. Are there particular aspects that impact your work outside of this contribution or are you coming to these ideas for the first time? This is maybe a clumsy way of asking about your relationship to self-organizing and self-determination.

The “own” in OYO was my starting point. It’s possible I took it a little too personal? What the hell was my own? Who have I organized or should I organize? I’ve been asked “what are you?” my whole life and likely that’s led to a particular relationship with the concept of my “own”– a sense of between-ness. I am far from the circumstances and place that I grew up in, so for me, for so many others, there will be no traditional organizing of my people. And then one’s definition of “own” is subject to change right? The archival materials that provided the foundation for OYO are very much rooted in neighborhoods and change, and in creative responses to systemic oppressions, so I decided to start with an actual corner in the world: the collective corner house in Philadelphia that I’ve mostly called home since 2000.

That said, I wasn’t coming at these ideas for the first time. When I read my piece for OYO, I started with a sort of paraphrase of an idea Robin D.G. Kelley’s Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination, that if we judge movements on whether or not they reach their goals then almost all fail, but if we judge them on what they were able to imagine then we truly have something to build upon. I also included a direct quote from the intro. that emphasized the importance of imagination. Additionally, I made reference to the significant amount of time I spent in Zapatista communities learning about the importance of new tactics in struggles for dignity and self-determination, and to the radical organizing in the U.S. I have witnessed and, at times, been a part of.

Other important references that didn’t make it into my contribution, but were much of what I recalled and revisited as a result of my participation with OYO are: the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association of Oxnard, CA in 1903 (one of the most beautiful examples of cross-race and language organizing I know) and the history of the Revolutionary Union Movements (DRUM and ELRUM) detailed in the brilliant Detroit: I Do Mind Dying.

Shanai Matteson of Works Progress shares her thoughts

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Works Progress with Jayanthi Kyle (album cover art 1 of 2)

In preparation for this weekend’s discussion at The Averill and Bernard Leviton Gallery at Columbia College, we are sharing some thoughts from Shanai Matteson of Works Progress. You can find out more about Works Progress’ project for Organize Your Own by visiting


Off the top of my head, here are some things I’ve been thinking about, and that Jayanthi and I have also talked about, though she can chime in here with other thoughts if she has time. This really represents my own thinking and nothing more.


-We live in Minnesota, and there is a culture here of “Minnesota Nice” that is very paternalistic. I was steeped in this within the rural white community where I grew-up, and I think it stands as an important barrier to overcome in organizing against racism, and that there is a lot of work to be done by white artists and organizers to make this cultural aspect clear, and to find ways to undo it:


-I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that violence organizes our communities and our movements (both the ways we move about the city, and the ways we create social movements) and how this violence is racialized, but also gendered – and experienced in so many everyday ways that impact men and women differently. Here is an article that talks about one local example:


-Finally, I’ve become interested, through this project, in the “Blue Lives Matter” movement, as I think it represents a white supremacist movement that is disguising itself as reactionary to the criticisms of police, but is actually proactively building a white supremacist network, exploiting the dead bodies of both black people and fallen police officers to push fear, hatred, and anti-black sentiment in predominantly white working class communities.


-This has happened, for example, in my community, where a white officer was killed by a white man who was in custody after brutally abusing his wife and attempting suicide. The Blue Lives matter group jumped on this incident immediately to build its network statewide in rural MN, and when the police killing of Jamar Clark happened a few weeks later, these networks (built over the death of an officer) became the go-to “news” source for many in rural MN about Minneapolis. The disinformation and hatred they spread about the 4th Precinct protest was staggering, and I think played no small role in encouraging the shooting of protestors that occurred by white supremacists.


I am interested in these dynamics as well, because I think when it comes to our contemporary moment, they will continue to have an impact, and I struggle with my own response.

James Tracy Interviews Hy Thurman (excerpt)

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 1.46.11 PMJames Tracy and Amy Sonnie, authors of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times, recently joined Jakobi Williams, author of From the Bullet to the Ballot: The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Part and Racial Coalition Politics in Chicago, Hy Thurman, founding member of the Young Patriots Organization, and historian Edward Onaci, for OYO’s panel, Original Rainbow Coalition, at the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia. If you missed the event, full audio of the program can be found on Slought Foundation’s website by clicking here.

We’ve included an excerpt of James Tracy’s interview with Hy Thurman in which the two discuss the Original Rainbow Coalition below. For the full interview click here.51tazl50cmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

James Tracy: Your organizing led to an alliance with the Panthers and Lords, the Original Rainbow Coalition

Hy Thurman: On April 4,1969, which was also the first anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, Bobby Rush and Bobby Lee of the Illinois Black Panther Party invited the Young Patriots to join with them and the Young Lords – a former Puerto Rican street gang to form the original Rainbow Coalition of revolutionary solidarity. The Black Panthers were aware of our commitment to the movement of racial equality due to the Good Fellows and other poor organizations participating in the Eldridge Clever-Peggy Terry Presidential Campaign in 1966.

hillbilly-nationalistsPeggy Terry a poor white woman and organizer living in Uptown was chosen to run as Eldridge Cleaver`s Vice Presidential partner on the Peace and Freedom Campaign ticket running against Alabama`s Governor due to his racist and white supremacist beliefs. The campaign also wanted to show that poor blacks and whites could unite in solidarity. It was agreed by the three groups that neither organization would control the coalition. Each organization would control their community and fight for self-determination. The three would make a statement that in the most segregated city in the United State that it was possible for all races to work together. We would come together in solidarity to support each others programs and challenge the Daley Administration, Unite in demonstrations and stand side by side to defeat racism and fascism. We agreed to serve with their security detail by standing shoulder to shoulder at many functions.

JT: As a consequence of your work in the Original Rainbow Coalition, you were harassed for many years by the government. Why did the ORC scare the powers that be so badly?

HT: I think a lot of the fear was generated by how the federal and local governments view the Black Panthers and us stepping out of our assigned roles in society. The day after we cemented our solidarity of revolutionary brotherhood the FBI and their illegal COINTELPRO began surveillance of the Young Patriots. They were already aware of us because Chicago Police departments Red Squad had been gathering information on the Good Fellows and the Young Patriots for years. They were watching us due in a large part because of Mayor Daley`s fear that the Rainbow Coalition showed real promises to diminishing his power.

FBI documents that had been sealed after the Chicago Police and the FBI clearly states that the Black Panthers were the number one threat to national security to the FBI and that the BPP had recruited other like minded organizations. The memo from the FBI in Chicago to J. Edgar Hoover identifies the two dangerous organizations as The Young Lords and The Young Patriots. Hoover stated in a separate memo the there was a rising messiah in Chicago that had t be eliminated. Everyone in the coalition believed that to be Fred Hampton.

I believe that if the Original Rainbow Coalition Continued that if would have been a major force in Chicago by uniting thousands of poor people who hat usually fought against or avoided each other a model to organize and gain power in Chicago and the rest of the country. Daley and hoover was not about to let that happen. College students protesting were easily obtained. But poor communities uniting, especially poor whites uniting with other racial and minority groups preaching revolutionary change and socialism was a major threat. The coalition either had to be controlled or destroyed. I strongly believe that the Rainbow model can be used today if it is effectively organized.

Opening Night! Kelly Writers House (Philadelphia)

Thank you to everyone who came out on opening night and a big thank you to Paul Gargagliano/Hazel Photo for the great pics.













Organize-Your-Own-Opening-KWH-Paul-Gargagliano-91Back Row (L-R): Thomas Graves, Anthony Romero, Jakobi Williams, Frank Sherlock, Keir Johnston, Matt Neff, Hy Thurman, Daniel Tucker. Middle Row (L-R): Nancy Chen, Salem Collo-Julin, Bettina Escauriza, Mariam Williams, Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela, Amy Sonnie, Jennifer Kidwell, Ernel Martinez. Front Row (L-R): Mart Patten, James Tracy


‘Falling In’ with Dan S. Wang

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Allen Ginsberg and Ai Weiwei, 1988

We are thrilled to be able to share part of Dan S. Wang‘s forthcoming project, ‘Falling In’, here. We hope you can join us in Philadelphia on February  13 at Asian Arts Initiative for the ‘Falling In’ workshop and panel discussion. Details of both events can be found by clicking here and by reading the full project description posted here.

Reading List for FALLING IN: A Course in American Countercultures for Students from China

Build your course of readings with advisement from the instructor. Pick between five and fifteen.

pico1Titles include the sleazy, mystical, topical, personal, historical, sociological, and experimental. There is science fiction, young adult lit, poetry, essays, comics, plays, memoirs, musical biographies, nature writing, political writing, drug writing, slave narrative, immigrant narrative, catalogs, writing about religion, and a few rare titles. The list is a window and idiosyncratic guide to the America outside of football, Hollywood, big business and the military. Most of these titles have earned some renown, but not all. The entries are alphabetized by first name of author for reasons of genre and stature flattening. The majority of titles are from the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies. There are pico2some classics from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and a handful from the 21st. All authors are American, by nationality and/or residence. The 313 entries are for the 313 area code, the Detroit-Ann Arbor axis that produced some of the greatest countercultural energy ever witnessed in America, and the home of two Chinese Americans, Vincent Chin and Grace Lee Boggs, whose respective death and life helped to shape modern Asian America.

  1. A. J. Muste, The Essays of A. J. Muste
  2. Abbie Hoffman, Steal This Book
  3. Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck
  4. Adrienne Rich, The Fact of a Doorframe
  5. Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born
  6. Ai Ogawa, Killing Floor
  7. Alan Watts, The Joyous Cosmology: Adventures in the Chemistry of Consciousness
  8. Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
  9. Alexander Berkman, Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist
  10. Alexander Berkman, Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism
  11. Alice Bag, Violence Girl
  12. Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens
  13. Allen Ginsberg, The Fall of America
  14. Allen Ginsberg, Deliberate Prose
  15. Alison Bechdel, The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For
  16. Allison Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature
  17. Amok Books, Amok Fourth Dispatch
  18. Ana Castillo, Massacre of the Dreamers: Essays on Xicanisma
  19. Andrew Holleran, Dancer from the Dance
  20. Angela Davis, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday
  21. Angela Davis, Women, Race, & Class
  22. Angelo and Temporary Services, Prisoners’ Inventions
  23. Ann Bannon, Odd Girl Out
  24. Anne H. Ehrlich and Paul Ehrlich, The End of Affluence: A Blueprint for Your Future
  25. Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
  26. Anonymous/Beatrice Sparks, Go Ask Alice
  27. Antler, Last Words
  28. Assata Shakur, Assata: An Autobiography
  29. Audre Lorde, Coal
  30. Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
  31. August Wilson, Fences
  32. August Wilson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  33. Barbara Ehrenreich, Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class
  34. Barbara Ransby, Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision
  35. Barbara Smith, ed., Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology
  36. Barrington Moore, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy
  37. Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men
  38. Bayard Rustin, My Life in Letters
  39. Becky Birtha, For Nights Like This One
  40. bell hooks, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood
  41. Bernard Karsh, Diary of a Strike
  42. Berke Breathed, Toons for Our Times
  43. Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Jeff Jones, eds., Sing a Battle Song: The Revolutionary Poetry, Statements, and Communiques of the Weather Underground 1970-1974
  44. Bill Holm, Coming Home Crazy
  45. Bill Hutton, A History of America
  46. Bob Dylan, Chronicles, Vol. I
  47. Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, Our Bodies, Ourselves
  48. C. Wright Mills, The Power Elite
  49. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, All the President’s Men
  50. Carlos Bulosan, America Is in the Heart…..

Full reading list and syllabus can be downloaded by clicking on the link below.


Interview with Billy Keniston

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Over the holiday we had a quick chat with author, historian, and OYO project advisor, Billy Keniston. Keniston’s work over the years has focused primarily on understanding and confronting the destructive dynamics of american racialism. His two books, “A Problem of Memory: Stories to end the racial nightmare,” and “Choosing to be free: A life story of Rick Turner,” both reflect his strong desire for a society rooted in meeting human needs.

OYO: Much of your work seems to deal with American radicalism in way or another. How did you get interested in both the history and practice of radicalism?

BK: I was, in a way, “raised” to be interested in radical politics and the history of radicalism in this country. That is, as my uncle was a member of the Young Patriots, I was exposed from an early age (14 onwards) to his ideas and to his stories of attempting to bring about revolutionary change in the united states. In particular, my uncle encouraged me to focus on the history of the black freedom struggle in america, and consistently encouraged me to find a way, as a white person, to engage with that struggle in a sympathetic way. I have come to see whiteness as one of the biggest barriers to radical social change in this country, and I see myself as engaged in a lifelong process of attempting to undermine the powerful legacy of white skin privilege, which has tended to govern every aspect of our society, for generations.

OYO: You’ve recently been making some comparisons between the work of white activists in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago and white activists in South Africa. Can you share some of what you’ve found?

BK: In 2008, I moved to South Africa in order to earn a Masters degree in history. My work focused on the struggle against apartheid, and in particular the participation of white radicals in that struggle. I found in South Africa a number of important parallels to our own history, here in the united states. At a certain moment in the struggle in South Africa, black radicals began to question the substance of racial “integration,” and broke away from mixed race groupings in order to form their own organizations. This was similar to what was called “Black Power” in this country, but in South Africa, the focus was on Black Consciousness. While both groups sought to uplift black people’s self-confidence and capacity to govern their own lives, the focus on consciousness was significant, as it meant that black South Africans saw themselves as needing to *think differently,* to develop an alternative worldview, not just to seize power. In response to this movement, many white activists were troubled and stuck, or felt personally offended. But a number of white radicals made attempts to take the demands of black consciousness seriously. Most notably, Rick Turner was a white radical thinker that encouraged other white people to understand black consciousness as a form of radicalism, and to engage in their own process of adopting a profoundly different worldview. The emphasis in South Africa was on encouraging white people to renounce their privilege, and to embrace living in a majority black society in which black people have dignity and control of their own destinies. White radicals in america focused a bit more on confronting poverty, and on the idea of developing initiatives in white communities where poor and working class whites could build structures based on their own grievances, and then to make alliances with black people, from there. In a sense, this work was explicitly against confronting people’s values or ideas directly. The idea was to organize, first of all, and then the hope was that the practical work of interracial coalition would shift people’s values.

In hindsight, the initiatives of white radicals in both countries were both short-lived and under-valued. There was a clear limit to what could be accomplished, in attempting to undermine racialism inside of a deeply racist and repressive society. Still, I find these efforts to be profoundly inspiring, regardless of the difficulties involved and regardless of their shortcomings.

Brad Duncan and The R.F. Kampfer Revolutionary Literature Archive

We (OYO) recently had the chance to catch up with archivist Brad Duncan (B.D.), who will be sharing his extensive collection of Pamphlets, newspapers, books, records, and ephemera produced by radical Left movements and liberation struggles from across the globe, with us during a special tour that he will be leading during the run of the exhibition in Philadelphia.

WomensStruggleBradOYO: What most draws you to this project?

B.D.:  The concept of ‘Organize Your Own’ is so closely related to what I collect, it’s a perfect fit. The concept of self-determination for oppressed peoples is one of the main themes that runs through my archive, and the history of communicating solidarity with freedom struggles through visual art and print culture is one that I take very seriously.

OYO: Are there certain aspects of this history that you are excited to draw out with visitors?

YoungLordsBradB.D.: Absolutely. Movements for self-determination in the U.S. during the 60s and 70s were very influenced by anti-colonial movements in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, and I’m eager to help visitors connect the dots and explore those connections. I’m also very interested in how white radicals connected with and related to radical movements led by people of color during the New Left period.

OYO: What pieces are you most excited about sharing?

B.D.: I’ve got a lot of radical community newspapers from the early 70s that are locally focused and specific to a nationality or immigrant neighborhood. For example, radical newspapers from New York’s Puerto Rican community (“Palante”), San Francisco’s Chinatown (“Wei Min She”), or Chican@ newspapers from New Mexico (“El Grito Del Norte”) and Los Angeles (“Revolutionary Cause”). This type of radical printed materials–along with flyers, pamphlets, and ephemera–really paints a picture of how leftist community organizing worked in the 70s, especially when animated by anti-white supremacist politics. I think visitors will appreciate examining materials from working class white New Left groups, like October 4th Organization, White Lighting, and the Partisans Party.