ZNet author Q&A: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz interviews Brian Awehali

  1. So. What is Tipping the Sacred Cow  about? What is it trying to communicate?



The book is an anthology of the best material from LiP: Informed Revolt, the magazine I founded and edited from 1996-2007, and which I started shortly after attending the Z Media Institute in 1995. When I started the magazine, I thought there was a need for a lively, funny, well-edited, and gleeful journal of radical politics, culture, sex and humor. I thought more people would read and resonate with “our” ideas if we paid more attention to aesthetics, to humor, and to the things that make life worth living. I thought a lot of the media I agreed with at the time was kind of leaden in its approach, so I wanted to see if I could do something different.


Topics we take critical aim at in the book include everything from women-first feminism, green capitalism, and queer assimilation and gay marriage as participatory patriarchy, to the uses and abuses of shoplifting, the currently fashionable cult of catastrophism, and the prefabrication of political speech. Between broadsides, stops are made for a lively community flag burning, intentionally comedic genderqueer erotica, and other items of pointed mirth. There are also lots of lively, thought-provoking contributors to this collection, some of which are probably already familiar to Znet readers: Vandana Shiva, Winona LaDuke, Tim Wise, Boots Riley, Eric Drooker, Lisa Jervis…


The essence of the project, and of the “sacred cow” in this book’s title, has been summed up best by LiP’s former managing editor, Erin Wiegand, who described it as having exercised a “a constant questioning and rethinking of what is political, what is worthwhile, what is radical. The best compliments I ever got were always things like ‘it constantly surprises me,’ or ‘there’s no big agenda or master plan,’ or even ‘I can’t figure it out. Are you guys anarchists, or what?’ [...] LiP was all about maintaining a critical view of everything, including those aspects of our lives we’ve come to see as so commonplace as being beyond question or further examination, like ‘Bush bad’ or ‘Zapatistas good.’ It’s about not allowing our politics to become mere catchphrases, and about constantly looking beyond the overtly political to the billion other things that bring meaning to our lives.”


In the introduction, I describe the magazine and book as “a literary fusillade devoted to a marvelous revolt for the overthrow of miserabilism.” I could have also described our chosen target as the crippling mass apparatus of dichotomized, linear, alienating and anthropocentric white supremacist patriarchal capitalist oligarchy, but for me – and for the magazine’s approach – “miserabilism”—a Surrealist trope—is just a less tedious, more sufferable way to effectively describe the same complex of ideas.


Our primary emphasis was on divergence. LiP was meant to be a vehicle for imagining how to get a better world, using a variety of premises, especially unusual or unfamiliar ones (regardless of left/right orientation, though most of ours fell on the left), while avoiding common limiting assumptions. We deliberately avoided any programmatic focus, and instead spent most of our efforts challenging unfounded assumptions, and examining the propositional content, coercive framing, or simple illogic of prevailing (or in some cases emerging) political discourse.



  1. A lot of independent magazines, including LiP, have ceased publication in the past year or two… Do you have any thoughts about that?


Oh sure! I could talk all day about that subject… I won’t, but I could….


Most of the magazines I can think of that have stopped publishing have done so because of money, but it’s important to note that that wasn’t the case with LiP. Money was always tight, of course, but we sold well enough, had enough subscribers, sold enough ads, got enough donated labor and materials, etc., to more or less break even by the end. But we were just finished with what we thought we had to say and say (hopefully) well. The Grossly Unexpected Bugs issue – our last – concluded our run by trying to expand the idea of what’s “political” and appealing to our readers to now come along with their own ideas and do something even better. [The Bugs issue got very little distribution; Znet readers who wish to check it out, free and in its entirety, can check out this PDF: http://looselip.org/LiP_no7_screen.pdf)


In terms of the present “thinning out” of indie publishing and the spate of “failed” indie magazines in the last year or two, I think it’s hard to succeed as an independent, values-driven project in a hostile hypercapitalist periodicals market, especially when even your supporters will moan about a $6 cover price, despite the fact that many of them will pay almost $10 for a movie, or for a meal! The war of attrition being waged on independent critical media in the U.S. is part of a much larger ongoing war on our “democracy,” even though I’m not at all sentimental about magazines or indie print publishing in and of themselves. Magazines and books are just vehicles for ideas, and good ideas can, I believe, adapt to all kinds of mediums and systems of exchange.


It sure seems like the overall trend right now is away from text. Everything changes, so as people interested in making a better world, I think we have to embrace that reality, and roll with it. Either that, or figure out how to fundamentally shift the very basic capitalist logic of print production and distribution in the U.S. Which would, of course, be great!


One potentially positive aspect of this shift that I thought of relates to publishing vs. communication. Take the internet – back when they were still calling it the World Wide Web — lots of people were arguing then (maybe still are) about whether it was a publishing medium or a communications medium. Given that almost everyone I know is unanimous in their aversion to reading large amounts of text on a computer screen, it always made sense to me that it’s best regarded and used as a communications medium.


One potentially positive thing that could happen, if indie print keeps taking a beating, is that lots of writers and activists may necessarily become more multi-disciplinary and fluent and skilled in a variety of mediums. Lots already are, of course – and I don’t mean to say this like it’s some brand new idea. But I have to think that overall, the quality of our ideas and our writing can only benefit from having to translate into different forms! Audio and video storytelling necessarily encourage a “show don’t tell” approach often lacking in a lot of indie journalism and writing. 


It’s also no secret that the reading level of the average U.S. citizen has been declining for a long while, and you can’t really talk about the current beleaguered state of indie print media without taking that into account. People are reading less and understanding less about what they read, across the board. Newspapers are mostly conservative and mostly already dumbed-down in the U.S., but they’re experiencing the same radical drop-off in readership and revenue that has the indie publishing world scrambling. At the same time, all the core costs of print publishing are rising: shipping and postage, because of fuel prices (and greed, of course!), paper costs… it’s hard to see those factors changing or reversing anytime soon.


People are changing and being changed, and I guess when it comes to this issue, what I’m trying to say is that I’m less interested in sentimentality or lament than I am in applying our efforts to using whatever tools and mediums we have at our disposal. I’m not saying indie publishing’s not important, or that we should just all go write for Rupert; I’m just saying we’re clearly going to have to adapt! Maybe a book will also have to be a film, an article also a podcast, or a film also an interactive website in order to effectively reach its audience…


In the context of this exchange for publication on Znet, it may seem pandering, but I think Znet is actually a great positive example of what I’m talking about. Znet began early in the age of the Internet – I can’t remember the year, exactly — and I remember lots of people thinking Michael Albert had gone loopy, spending all of that time on his online bulletin board system when there was a magazine like Z to be done… But Znet’s been quite successful, from all I know, in terms of both readership and economic sustainability. The ideas on Znet are informed by the same understandings that inform Z, but if anything, Znet has amplified Z, and provided a richer, deeper, and more interactive platform than Z ever could have. Good ideas adapt. Znet is a case in point.



(2)      Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?


The interviews, feature articles, and various odds and ends in the book were culled from a decade’s worth of original contributions from over 600 contributors to LiP. We called it a “best of,” but really the selections here are only “the best” in terms of what I felt made for the best book, that would be the most satisfying and eclectic experience to read through, cover-to-cover. It’s not just an archive or memorializing project! Lots of articles I thought were really good didn’t make it in because they were just too time-bound and had thus become dated. In some cases, articles were also revised, updated or expanded from their originally published form.


I’m also really happy to be able to say that AK Press, our publisher, agreed to use only 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper, vegetable inks, and a union print shop to produce the book. Not only does this mean we actually put our production where our politics are, but it also means that, should readers ever need to, they can feasibly burn this book for fuel without fear of inhaling any petroleum byproducts or toxins. They might be able to safely eat the book as well, though I doubt it would taste very good.


AK Press Publisher page for Tipping the Sacred Cow: The Best of LiP: Informed Revolt, 1996-2007 – http://www.akpress.org/2007/items/tippingthesacredcow



Comments about the book:


“Funny, refreshing, intelligent, and outrageous!” —Howard Zinn


“In an era when most political magazines in the U.S. ranged from the tepid to the tedious there was LiP, fearlessly delving into the essential topics of our times and mapping the way to a revolution you’d actually want to join.”  —Patrick Reinsborough, co-founder of smartMeme


“Marvelous! Nothing comes close to it in the culture today.” —Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, historian, professor and author of Red Dirt: Growing Up Okie


“Tough, smart, and takes no prisoners. Read everything in it!” —Andrei Codrescu, poet, author, and editor of the online literary journal Exquisite Corpse


“Creative, with flair and substance.” —Michael Albert, editor of ZNet and co-founder of Z magazine


“A Pandora’s Box in magazine form; every issue came bearing new surprises.” —Elizabeth (Betita) Martinez, activist, author, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee


“Original and ambitious.” —Paula Kamen, author of Her Way: (Young Women Remake the Sexual Revolution




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