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GAZA, Punishing the Innocent

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Will the violent extinction of the human species be the opening crescendo of the Anthropocene Epoch? We are rapidly and blindly marching towards that fateful climax as Sam Kerson graphically illustrates in this visually stunning plea for sanity and human compassion. Sam's art is a clarion call to our collective humanity to beat swords into plowshares now and for all time if we are to have any hope to survive as a species into the future.

Thomas Powell,author of The Secret Ugly: The Hidden History of US Germ War in Korea

In GAZA, Punishing the Innocent, Sam Kerson pairs his mythic engravings, inspired by incidents that occurred  during the pogrom Israel conducted in Gaza in 2008. with short accounts of the horrors visited on Palestinians in the current pogrom, the 2008 outbreak, and at other points in the bloody history of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. The result is visceral, a painful look at some of the worst that humanity is capable of, that, hopefully, inspires many of us to do our best to make amends for the damage done.

Martin Holsigner,Green Party activist, blogger, and radio show host

A review by Bernardo Olmedo

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The novel thus became an occasion to revise that particular part of history, the extraordinary everyday of the time in the US. That in itself makes it a relevant account, but the novel is good on its own. It’s like juicy slice of experimental theater and communal life, sandwiched by two noir and tragic, unsettlingly bucolic chapters. It’s playful, fun, experimental, dramatic, and it doesn’t shy away from criticism. For me it’s the closest thing I’ve read to a first-hand account of young artists struggling at that time, grappling with the questions of the age: overt political participation of the masses, the anti-war movement, sex, drugs, and the un-Holy Trinity of our stratified society: racism, sexism and imperialism. The novel is so damn sensual, there’s a gushing flow of stimuli all throughout it, a dramatic push towards experimentation, a sensitivity craftily put down in what I can only describe as verbal scene re-enactments done powerfully descriptively by Kerson. I think there resides the strength of the text: it brings forth the sheer willingness of a small group of artists to experience, to engage wholly with the world, revolted by the injustices of their socio-political context, up in revolt themselves, using the tools and talents they have. A new world that struggles to be born, and an old world that is not yet dead, pushing back violently, to paraphrase that famous Italian.
The novel presents a vivid picture of the oozing creativity and inventiveness of the theater company, full of complex and endearing characters, and the challenges they face to make themselves heard, their contradictions, and the challenges of living together in communes. I refuse to believe that it’s just naïve to want to live fully, to be a decisive part of history, to imagine and believe in another world, in other ways of relating to one another, in other ways and purposes for organizing; and Kerson doesn’t seem to believe that, either. I remember I thought while I was reading, “These people really thought it was possible; they even believed they were doing it!” And why not? Why wouldn’t they? We need precisely that! It’s also very refreshing that the novel boldly shows the counter-arguments to guerrilla theater project. A merciless critique of how it was done, a scrutiny of the privileged position of its characters, mainly white, mainly well-schooled, the patriarchal relationships that pervade the relationship of the participants. And the apparent insignificance of engaging in a more or less isolated project with the purpose of disrupting the status quo, of posing to an unknown public the questions that shook them up, via infiltrative theater interventions in a big city. At the risk of sounding arrogant and obviously with hindsight, what infiltrative theater missed in the 60’s and 70’s is that the status quo is the real disruption. The mainstream, what is repeated over and over as normality, is profoundly disturbing, unsettling, destructive, corrosive. Against this background, the experiments of the troupe, their strengths and weaknesses, still talk to us, to my generation. The novel touches upon subjects that are still unresolved, problems that have worsened, and offers no solutions. It is instead a mirror image, as contemporary as ever. I can see myself, our present struggles, in theirs, and in their failure. How important that is, damn it. And in spite of my own defeatist reading, there’s the proverbial ray of hope, a phrase that still resonates in my head after a month of reading it: “a theater to create the images we need.” That’s awesome and true. We’ll keep on doing it.

I approached the novel with the prejudices of a generation saturated with clichés about hippies and, coming from Mexico, only a vague idea of what the 60’s and 70’s where actually like in the US. I also was weary about the subject, what for me has turned into a sign of the cultural hegemony of empire. By the time I finished the novel, though, I was left with a feeling of surprise... and defeat. That was refreshing, that combination.Kerson’s novel is not defeatist, incidentally. On the contrary, it’s a very joyful one, fast, brimming with both powerful and delightful sensorial images and ideas. The defeatist part for me was the context and the historical result of the struggles of the time, the more general analysis made a posteriori apropos the 50th anniversary of May 68, last year. Eurocentric, or empire-centric, as the analysis tends to be, the date did provide an excuse to personally engage with the recent history of Nuestra América, the history of what I consider my land, my people: revolutions in Guatemala, Cuba and Nicaragua, the Chilean and Argentinean experiments in socialism, the social upheaval in Mexico, and the counter-insurgency orchestrated and paid for by the Us government, supported by local elites, the murderous repression and persecution, political assassination and terrorism of the state. I read the novel in that context, and thus the defeatist overtone I had at the end. But I was also surprised at how lively it was, and it helped me lessen the fatalism that pervades my own thinking. A bridge to another place and other people, to enlarge the picture I have of what was going on in those decisive decades.

A review by Jeff Hodges

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If you want a window into the Counter-Culture of the late Sixties, read this book.
Sam Kerson’s comprehensive memoir, The Awakening of Baxter Bagley, tells the story of a ragtag group of college students from Vermont who travel to San Francisco in the wake of the Haight-Ashbury movement and the Manson killings with the intent of bringing agit-prop, infiltrative, guerilla theater to the streets of this celebrated city.
Passionate, imaginative, curious, sensitive and sensual, this cast of characters will open your mind and break your heart.
To paraphrase the blurb on the back of the book, their intent is to expose the international and racist violence unleashed by Nixon, Kissinger and Hoover, the contradictions of the degenerate social order and the destructive processes of capitalism.


And this they do to great affect—staging the theft of books from the City Lights Bookstore (with the blessing of Lawrence Ferlinghetti), bombing the Bank of America with blood, dragging a “slave” into Pier One Imports to dramatize the unfair labor practices behind the bargains and deals found there, telling true stories of rape and abuse during the showing of a movie at a porno theater, and reading the edict of the Japanese Internment to the patrons of the Japanese Cultural Center; to name just a few of their performance pieces.Their theatrical escapades end in Sausalito with the violent arrest of most of the group during a performance of Ubu Roi, Alfred Jarry’s revolutionary social satire that premiered in the late 19th century.But the book is more than a chronicle of the adventures of this innovative street theater ensemble. It is an affectionate and moving look at the lives and loves of these individuals in their late teens and early twenties who immersed themselves in their politics and personal relationships. These fully fleshed characters capture your heart with their complex and engaging experiments, performed on themselves and their compatriots, in the frustrating and frightening turmoil of the waning Sixties.Far ahead of their times, yet disturbingly evocative of the times we find ourselves inhabiting today, the adventures and the characters in The Awaking of Baxter Bagley will live on in your mind long after you have closed the cover on the last page of this remarkable and moving memoir.

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