Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power

July 2, 2011 //

By Pia Infante

James Tracy, TWI community member, has co-authored a new book that offers, among other tenets, a call for uncommon conversations and unlikely allies.

The following are a few thoughts from James about the project:

Can you tell us a bit more about James Tracy?

I was born in Oakland and mostly raised in Vallejo, CA. I was an accidental activist pretty early on. One day, a few friends and I cut school and snuck out to San Francisco for a punk concert that never happened. We stumbled upon a clergy led anti-nuclear demonstration in front of the Federal Building. That night the ABC News ran a story about a “Punk and Priest” protest, prominently featuring all of our mugs. I was suspended from school for a few weeks but spent that time the public library studying protest movements and social change. Upon returning to school, I organized my first group Students and Teachers Against Nuclear Destruction, and then went to the next anti-nuclear demonstration as an officially chartered student group.

What are the inspirations and motivations for your new book? How did the project/collaboration come about?

I first heard about the Young Patriots Organization through one of my mentors, Malik Rahim, a former Black Panther Party member from New Orleans. He recalled seeing a bunch of white guys with Confederate Flags on their hats running armed security for Chicago Panther member Fred Hampton. He said he figured that if they could learn how to move beyond racism, there was hope for the rest of us as well!

I originally just wanted to write an article about the Patriots, but as I dug around, I found out about the other fascinating groups of working-class whites who were organizing alongside radical (activists) of color. It was my goal to interview the rank and file, not the leftist icons. At some point, I envisioned a Studs Terkel-like book of oral histories, but it quickly evolved into political creative non-fiction. It turned out that someone I was acquainted with, Amy Sonnie, was working on a similar project. We decided to team up and create a book together. It’s been a winning combination ever since.

The groups we write about were part of an experiment in the New Left. How to build an inclusive class politics that was not race blind? How to organize a community many wrote off as hopelessly racist and expected to be the shock troops of reaction? With the rise of the Tea Party movement today, these questions are just as important now.

In a media-saturated, message-prolific, often overwhelming marketplace of ideas, why a book?

A book is not the best way to grab someone’s attention anymore. However, if someone reads a book, I believe that the ideas stay with them for much longer than a television show or website. We’re looking forward to figuring out ways to spread the discussion through other medium as well. There’s just no way that a writing team made up of a Librarian and an Adult Education teacher will ever completely abandon books! The renowned filmmaker Ray Santesbian is making a documentary on this subject due out in a few years. Rising Up Angry veteran Mike James is planning a book of photos. In the fall, Amy and I are going to be on the road for weeks on tour, and making a ton of radio appearances.

What’s the golden nugget message in the book?

Political consciousness is shaped by the efforts of those who want to change the world. No one is born reactionary, or progressive
for that matter. If we want to move the dial, we need to take risks by reaching out beyond our comfort zones and build real alliances.