Mar 12

I <3 Libraries

I just made this quick graphic in support of Toronto Public Library Workers, who are going on strike today.

The font I used didn’t have an ampersand or plus sign, but fortunately there was an ampersand sitting right there in the image! That’s Lincoln Cushing’s Visons of Peace & Justice (2007), which is about Inkworks Press in Berkeley.

For Print:

Letter Size

Ledger Size

I worked for the public library when I was high school, it was my first job ever. Even though I was part of the library union then, I didn’t actually know what that meant, and it never made itself known to me. Too bad, because I think it could have made a big difference for me and other younger workers.

After working in different union and non-union jobs, my idea of what a union is has definitely evolved over time. When I was working at a library again, this time while at university, my definition of union was what my closest co-workers and I were willing to do to support each other – and I actually felt quite supported.

I’m sure we benefited in many ways from having a legally-binding collective agreement and other formal supports in place, but as “casual” (meaning we were forced to re-apply for our jobs each new term) part-time workers who sometimes had supervisors who were part of the union, we were closer to the bottom wrung of the ladder, and working in such close proximity, we were the union, responsible for negotiating the nature of our working conditions every shift.

Jul 11

Upcoming: Milkcrate’s Radical Art Resource Library

“Vote for the Free Library” Referendum Campaign Cards, 1882, Toronto, in Toronto in Print: A Celebration of 200 Years of the Printing Press in Toronto, 1798-1998  

I’ve been playing around with this idea for a while now.

In essence, I’ve become addicted to collecting books on radical art & design, and I want to direct that passion into a collective project: a radical art resource library!


~ Because libraries are based on the radical idea that information should be free

~ To name and carve out some space for radical art & design, because it is neglected

~ To think about new ways to collectivize & collaborate

~ To have fun

~ To stack cool books into milk crates and find places to put them, bring them, and share them! (especially with folks who might not get a hold of them otherwise)

Right now I have 1/3 of an arbitrary starting goal. And only 1 milk crate.

But I’m working on it and I felt like sharing.

P.S. Shout outs to the Dr. Chun Resource Library and Toronto Zine Library


 Hoarding in progress, and some already lent out!


Aug 10


(Left) The people send me to the university, I go to university for the people. Artwork by Yu Dawu; published by People’s Fine Art Publishing House, 1976. 106 x 77 cm.

(Right) Work half-time, study half-time. Artwork by Zhao Zheng, Jin Kequan, published by People’s Fine Art Publishing House, 1965. 54 x 77 cm.

From Chinese Posters: Art from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
by Lincoln Cushing and Ann Tompkins, Chronicle Books, 2007.

Ever since reading Lincoln Cushing’s Agitate! Educate! Organize! American Labor Posters I have been trying to get my hands on all the other books on political posters that he has helped to produce.

His book with Ann Tompkins on Chinese posters is quite good, and I much prefer it to the Prestel edition on Chinese posters, but the state-produced subject matter and style of socialist realism didn’t really connect with me on a political level.

An exception to the rule, the two posters above did resonate with me, perhaps infiltrating through my deep level of disaffection with the education system. The poster entitled The people send me to the university, I go to university for the people touches on my feelings about accountability of the university and its students to the wider community, while the poster Work half-time, study half-time reminds me of the importance of balance and the way that university can be so totalizing, disallowing or disavowing community engagement, and often so inaccessible for working people.

I have encountered similar principles of mutual accountability in articulations of Chicanismo – where Chicanas and Chicanos have committed to holding institutions accountable to the community while also committing to hold themselves accountable by giving back to the community and, in the case of academics, producing work that is actually useful for the community.

After reading this book, I began reading some Mao and came across this passage on “book worship”. Although the intent of the piece is to denounce dogmatism – following orders from above or what is written in a book without question or consideration for context – it is also a critique of a lack of community-engaged practice, or in this case “social investigation”.

“Oppose Book Worship” by Mao Zedong (1930)

To carry out a directive of a higher organ blindly [sic], and seemingly without any disagreement, is not really to carry it out but is the most artful way of opposing or sabotaging it.

The method of studying the social sciences exclusively from the book is likewise extremely dangerous and may even lead one onto the road of counter-revolution. Clear proof of this is provided by the fact that whole batches of Chinese Communists who confined themselves to books in their study of the social sciences have turned into counter-revolutionaries. When we say Marxism is correct, it is certainly not because Marx was a “prophet” but because his theory has been proved correct in our practice and in our struggle. We need Marxism in our struggle. In our acceptance of his theory no such formalisation of mystical notion as that of “prophecy” ever enters our minds. Many who have read Marxist books have become renegades from the revolution, whereas illiterate workers often grasp Marxism very well. Of course we should study Marxist books, but this study must be integrated with our country’s actual conditions. We need books, but we must overcome book worship, which is divorced from the actual situation.

How can we overcome book worship? The only way is to investigate the actual situation.

(Bottom) Modern revolutionary dance play: White Haired Woman. Artist unknown; published by Shanghai People’s Publishing House, 1972. 53 x 77cm.

Jul 10

These Men Make the Wounds

Norman Bethune The Wounds, Alive Press circa 1973


What do these enemies of the human race look like? Do they wear on their forehead a sign so that they may be told, shunned and condemned as criminals? No. On the contrary, they are the respectable ones. They are honored. They call themselves, and are called, gentlemen. What a travesty on the name, Gentlemen! They are the pillars of the state, of the church, of society. They support private and public charity out of the excess of their wealth. They endow institutions. In their private lives they are kind and considerate. They obey the law, their law, the law of property. But there is one sign by which these gentle gunmen can be told. Threaten a reduction on the profit of their money and the beast in them awakes with a snarl. They become ruthless … remorseless as executioners. Such men as these must perish if the human race is to continue. There can be no permanent peace in the world while they live. Such an organization of human society as permits them to exist must be abolished.

… These men make the wounds.

I found this pamphlet on revolutionary doctor Norman Bethune at the huge BMV used/surplus bookstore on Bloor Street. Bethune’s writing touched me, so I feel compelled to share. I made a scan and passed on the hard copy to a friend, a doctor-in-waiting who wants to follow in the tradition of revolutionary physicians like Bethune, Che Guevara and Frantz Fanon.

The Wounds consists of four short pieces: a speech by Bethune in Montreal on the need for socialized medicine (1936), an account of his experiences as a doctor in the Spanish Civil War (1937), an account of his experiences as a battlefield surgeon in China (1939), and a memorial written by Mao Tse-tung (1939). The pamphlet was published in the early 1970s by Guelph’s Alive Press as part of a series called Little Books of Hope, with assistance from Progress Books in Toronto, publisher for the Communist Party of Canada.

In his Montreal speech, Bethune says that the economic crisis, or depression, is “not a temporary illness of the body politic, but a deadly disease requiring systematic treatment”. And that systematic treatment is revolutionary social change. “The best form of providing health protection would be to change the economic system which produces ill-health, and liquidate ignorance, poverty and unemployment.”

From Bethune’s address on public health (“there is no such thing as private health – all health is public”) and the inseparability of health from economic security, we become witnesses – through his first-hand accounts – to the devastating impacts of war on people on the ground. In “The Road From Malaga” Bethune, intending to go to front to provide medical assistance, is met by a river of “refugees” retreating from the fascists. There is no front, just a wall of refugees that fill the entire road, walking for days, barefeet dripping blood, no strength to go on, but afraid to stop.

Bethune and his companion Sise change course. They empty their truck and begin shuttling people to the closest hospital in Almeira. They do this for four days and four nights. Initially filling their truck with only children, it becomes impossible to separate them from their parents. In town, bomber planes circle overhead. They do not focus on ports or infrastructure. They are interested in human prey, having waited for the trek from Malaga to be over, they take vengeance on those who refused to live under fascists and fled.

We read similar stories of senseless suffering in “Wounds”. Stories of men with wounds. Bethune, in North China with the 8th Route Army, operates on Chinese and Japanese combatants and asks why poor, working people go to war with each other? Whose interests are advanced? For the rich to “capture markets by murder; raw materials by rape”. “This is the secret of all wars. Profit. Business. Blood Money.”

… These men make the wounds

Mao’s memorial allows us to consider what we can learn from Bethune. For one thing, his spirit of internationalism and solidarity. Here in Toronto, members of Barrio Nuevo have an initiative called Frente Norman Bethune that seeks to expand “people-to-people solidarity” between activists here and members of social movements in Venezuela.

Jul 10

Harvey Pekar (1939-2010) and Reverberations

Harvey Pekar. Underground comic book legend. I hardly knew him. Read his book on Students for a Democratic Society last year. I was surprised when I heard the news and initially got distracted by his feud with David Letterman. Amazing to see him cut through the veneer of network television by just being himself, insulting Letterman and the practices of network owner General Electric. Later, I dug a little deeper and went back to some scans I made from the SDS book. With G20 still on my mind, these panels spoke to me.

From Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History (2008). Written (mostly) by Harvey Pekar, Art (mostly) by Gary Dumm, Edited by Paul Buhle.

No, I don’t think it’s the “same thing”, but there are definitely connections to be made between what happened during the G20 and what happens everyday in poor, racialized communities in Toronto. Police being instruments of repression and violence is not new. They were doing their jobs. And it’s the same police officers. The same officers on the beat in communities like Jane-Finch, the same officers who are responsible for the death of 18-year-old Junior Manon, who said that Junior was not murdered, who insisted that he suffered a heart attack.

So with that said, much respect goes out to Nomanzland and community groups in Jane-Finch for making the connections. It was at their arts hub opening on June 29 where the Mayor made his first (and only partial) apology for the abuse that people experienced during the G20. This was because he was confronted by the reality of people’s experiences and made to face the truth. More people need to face this truth, not just about what happened during the G20 but about the daily reality and effects of policing.

Jul 10

You’ll Love Work

After picking up my degree last week, continuing to work and job search, this is where I feel like I am at.

From Agitate! Educate! Organize!: American Labor Posters by Lincoln Cushing and Timothy W. Drescher.

Jul 10

Why They Are Rich

This 1923 advertisement for a Swiss department store (PKZ) by Otto Morach reminded me of gangster capitalism and the spectacle of actions like Billionaires for Bush, or more recently Queer Billionaires for the G20 (starting @ 1:39),  so in my quick re-mix I tried to represent power structures, growing inequality, placation and the limitations of “legitimate”, state-sanctioned resistance. Pulled from Alain Weill’s The Poster: a worldwide survey and history.

Jul 10

Graphic Influences

I love going through books on political posters. It’s especially gratifying to make connections between past and present moments and movements. I pulled three examples from Political Posters in Central and Eastern Europe 1945-1995 by James Aulich and Marta Sylvestrova, which I picked up from the UofT Library.

The image above is a Polish May Day poster produced in 1977 by Maciej Ubaniec. The image below, produced by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, integrates the Polish image to represent a housing squat in Toronto. As part of their extraordinary history of organizing against poverty and injustice, OCAP has always produced amazing visuals and thankfully they have put together an archive on their website.

This side-by-side comparison shows the original image, Victor Koretsky’s We need peace! (1950), that influenced this cover designed by Noaman Ali for the 2006 Arts and Science Students’ Union Anti-Calendar, a student-run review of courses. The likenesses of university administrators are substituted for the original figures seated around the table, with a student – or student-worker – replacing the worker in the original.

Finally, I admit it’s not bang-on, but the style and colours in this strip of images by Alexander Vasilovich Vorona, particularly the first two, reminded me of Shepard Fairey and his appropriation of political graphics for his own corporate re-branding exercises.