What Z Has Meant to Me

It was my first week of high school. I was sitting in my 9th grade global history class. Had the room not been since renovated, I could point to the exact seat where I had been sitting in. Mr. Denton, my high school’s principle, came on the loudspeaker. “Would everyone please listen? I have some very bad news. A short time ago a plane crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Shortly thereafter, a second plane crashed into the other tower. There are also reports that a plane has struck the Pentagon. While it is still too early to tell, it’s being said that the crashes may be part of an ongoing terrorist attack. Please do not panic, we will keep you updated as events unfold.”

My heart sank. I had no idea what was going on. I was confused, disoriented, and scared. As the day would unfold, the severity of the attacks and more would become clear. My confusion would quickly turn to sorrow and anger.

And we all know what happened next… The red alerts. The presidential speeches. The reoccurring images of towers falling and planes crashing. The firefighter funerals. The church services. The community memorials. The anthrax scares. The duct tape and plastic sheeting. The “department of homeland security”. The red, white and blue – and yellow – covering everything. The fear. The hate. The sadness. The terror. The “War on Terror…”

More than anything I needed more information. I was buying newspapers and magazines everyday. I was reading articles on the internet. Though for all my reading, it still didn’t seem to make sense. The gap between what they were telling us and what I saw before me seemed to get wider by the day. The concept that anyone could “hate us for our freedom” sounded utterly preposterous to me.

Then I found an article that did make sense. It’s the only article I remember reading now almost six and a half years after that horrible day. It was titled “September 11 and Its Aftermath”. It was written on September 17 and published sometime in October. I realized only recently, re-reading the article which I had long forgotten about, that it had been written by two people who I now consider friends and personal mentors – Mike Albert and Steve Shalom.

The article started by outlining some context to the situation, the possible actors (Osama bin Laden, al Qaida, the hijackers), and then continued to dissect a myriad of questions that I and many other Americans were asking. “What should be the U.S. response?”, “What should be the implications for people who ‘praised” the attacks?”, “What should the U.S. do to protect ourselves from future attacks?”, and many others. Most significantly, like Z writers do meticulously, they understood what caused and drove emotions and actions, and pushed people to try to sympathize and understand the pain of others. They tried to explain everything from the joy of some people around the world in response to the attacks to the hyper-patriotism and “flag-waving” at home – both elements which sickened some portions of the American population. They urged thoughtful reflection, careful, thorough investigation, and tolerance and restraint. They presented the exact message that I – and many others – needed to hear during that dark period.

After reading that article, though I had read previous ones from Z before, Z Magazine and ZNet would slowly become a huge part of my life.

I generally advocated for peace and human rights before 911 happened. I had been involved in some liberal and direct service groups before, though I never had much political analysis on a grand scale. I had gained much of my progressive roots from amazing teachers the previous few years – veterans, queers, women, and others who had roots in social justice movements.

Much of this gave me a strong hatred for individuals like Saddam Hussein; hatred which, again without Z and other progressive sources, might have led me astray during the invasion of Iraq. While I can’t admit to this day that I am sorry for Saddam’s rule being at an end, I am much more horrified by what has occurred in Iraq under U.S. military occupation.

Around the end of March in 2003, ZNet and Z Magazine published a statement against the attack on Iraq entitled “We Stand for Peace and Justice,” which had been collectively penned by many Z authors from around the world. As soon as I read it I immediately agreed with it and signed the online version of the statement. I think it and much of what Z Communications publishes is a testament to both its accessibility and its relevance. As a liberal I agreed with the statement then. As a radical progressive I still agree with it today. That says quite a lot. The statement still gets to the roots of what my politics are. Here’s what it said:

I stand for peace and justice.

I stand for democracy and autonomy. I don’t think the U.S. or any other country should ignore the popular will and violate and weaken international law, seeking to bully and bribe votes in the Security Council.

I stand for internationalism. I oppose any nation spreading an ever expanding network of military bases around the world and producing an arsenal unparalleled in the world.

I stand for equity. I don’t think the U.S. or any other country should seek empire. I don’t think the U.S. ought to control Middle Eastern oil on behalf of U.S. corporations and as a wedge to gain political control over other countries.

I stand for freedom. I oppose brutal regimes in Iraq and elsewhere but I also oppose the new doctrine of "preventive war," which guarantees permanent and very dangerous conflict, and is the reason why the U.S. is now regarded as the major threat to peace in much of the world. I stand for a democratic foreign policy that supports popular opposition to imperialism, dictatorship, and political fundamentalism in all its forms.

I stand for solidarity. I stand for and with all the poor and the excluded. Despite massive disinformation millions oppose unjust, illegal, immoral war, and I want to add my voice to theirs. I stand with religious and moral leaders all over the world, with world labor, and with the huge majority of the populations of countries throughout the world.

I stand for diversity. I stand for an end to racism directed against immigrants and people of color. I stand for an end to repression at home and abroad.

I stand for peace. I stand against this war and against the conditions, mentalities, and institutions that breed and nurture war and injustice.

I stand for sustainability. I stand against the destruction of forests, soil, water, environmental resources, and biodiversity on which all life depends.

I stand for justice. I stand against economic, political, and cultural institutions that promote a rat race mentality, huge economic and power inequalities, corporate domination even unto sweatshop and slave labor, racism, and gender and sexual hierarchies.

I stand for a policy that redirects the money used for war and military spending to provide healthcare, education, housing, and jobs.

I stand for a world whose political, economic, and social institutions foster solidarity, promote equity, maximize participation, celebrate diversity, and encourage full democracy.

I stand for peace and justice and, more, I pledge to work for peace and justice.

One thing that has always struck me about Z is that it is, as it advocates, participatory. What I mean by this is that, while many other left publications take weeks, or months to respond to an e-mail or phone call (if they ever respond at all), Lydia, Andy, Chris and Michael, or any of the various Z writers, often respond with a day or so – sometimes even within a few hours. They encourage new people to write – often for their first time – publishing articles, event postings, and major calls to action for thousands of grassroots activists, organizers, and citizen journalists every year.

Most recently I attended Z’s June 2007 Z Media Institute (ZMI). ZMI was a tremendously enlightening and powerful experience for me. It is a nine day progressive summer school held in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. At ZMI, we studied, learned, discussed and debated what a better society might look like, explored the rich history of radical social movements, and contemplated what type of strategic goals our movement would need to win a better society.

It was probably the most rigorous (and rewarding) educational experience of my life. While the content was outstanding, the unique component was the pedagogy. Education was combined with long-term friendship building. Utopian vision deconstructed cynicism and skepticism about possibilities for progress. Strategy and political analysis began to highlight what movement trends kept us from moving forward. The entire program was connected to the practice of grassroots organizers and organic intellectuals.

The Institute culminated in an evening session which asked the question: “Why Are We Radical?” The session highlighted what brings people to the Left and why the work we do is so important. The invisible stories about what drives people to action – veteran stories, stories about race, stories about gender and sexuality, stories about political repression and torture, stories about alienation, and mainstream institutions which limit personal development. Our stories of personal survival and struggle are the real stories of our movement, or our organizers, and of Z.

I was born exactly 21 years ago, and while I know I have so much to learn, I am comforted knowing that a growing community exists that not only shines light into the darkness, but believes that a world without darkness is actually achievable.

We can all support the efforts to strengthen and expand the Z Community. Now is the time to ask ourselves how much strong alternative news sources and left networks like Z mean to us.

As we begin a New Year:

Join Z. Write for Z. Donate to Z.

Let us do this that the resistance might not just live on, but rather, that we might finally know victory and that our children and grandchildren might live in an era of peace and justice.


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