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Why Make Believe?


Miguel Guevara: Michael, you are writing a book titled RPS/2044. What kind of weird title is that?

Michael Albert: 2044 refers to the year. RPS stands for Revolution for a Participatory Society which is the name of a political organization. The book is an oral history of the next quarter century, which the subtitle will make clear. If you note that it is first published by you, Miguel, in 2042 and that in your time and place everyone knows RPS as the key institution in society, the title fits.

MG: You have me tasked with asking questions in the book. Why?

With no interviewer, there would be no oral history. You are the interviewer.

And my name? 

Guevara for Che. Miguel because I felt conflicted when I began the project. I wondered, should I include any name other than yours?

The book claims to come from your parallel future. Should I further that formulation by taking no responsibility, or should I acknowledge my being co-author in the sense, at least, of editing and arranging the content for my time and place? At the outset I wasn’t sure. So Miguel was just Michael.

So am I modeled on Che, or on you, for that matter? 

Neither. Your name pays homage to Che, but your words don’t seek to reflect him at all, nor me either. You ask questions any sensible interviewer would ask. You elicit lessons and don’t insert your views. Your interviewees provide the oral history’s substance based on their “alt earth” experiences in the next 25 years.

I live on a different earth, an alt earth? 

Here is the explanation, as I understand it, that will appear in my Foreword to your book.

“In his own United States, in his own 2040, Miguel Guevara began questioning eighteen prominent revolutionaries about their then unfolding Revolution for a Participatory Society (RPS). From the resulting interviews, Guevara pieced together an oral history, RPS/2044, and somehow sent it to us.

“Guevara lives on an ‘alt earth’ whose initial divergence from our earth shuffled people, morphed names, tweaked events, and shifted everything 25 years. Alt earth’s defining institutions in your 2016 were virtually the same as our defining institutions in our 2016, though when we endured our 2016, alt earth enjoyed your 2041.”

But the interviewees’ names, like my name, come from your earth’s history. Goldman, Lennon, King, Noam, Curie, Parks, Dylan, Luxemburg, Bertrand, Cabral, and so on. That can’t be coincidence.

The oral history came to me without names, so I had to put some in. The names I chose to insert pay homage to some people from history or my own acquaintance. Most are political. Some are scientific or artistic.

What determined the interviewees’ backgrounds?

I added their brief bios and chose their trajectories to provide diverse viewing angles. They needed to have experience in community, workplace, and campus organizing, in anti war work and electoral politics, in Hollywood, religious, sports, and legal organizing, in race, gender, and class organizing, and so on, in accord with how they addressed many different facets of the years in question.

I get that if you are doing an oral history you need an interviewer and interviewees. And I get that the latter should provide accounts from many angles. But why do an oral history at all? And why one of the future? 

Well I suppose you wanted and I certainly wanted to present a hopeful, positive scenario that could inspire while conveying lessons. RPS/2044 is about a revolution that hasn’t happened for us, so it had to be in some future. To make the history plausible starting where we now are, it had to be about the immediate future.

While I was working on the book I was also maintaining a left website called ZNet and so while working on RPS/2044, each day I received many Trump tales. Writers wailed about horrible prospects, often fingerpointing in a circle of hostilities. In place of that I tried to post content about positive trends and plans, yet even among programmatic essays the overwhelming focus was combating Trump. Writers sought to salvage sanity and prevent devastation. Writing about winning a fundamentally better future, never in large supply, got largely lost.

So you chose to offer people make believe? Why would you opt for that? 

Why do you consider your world’s history make believe? Regardless, I thought a congenial and positive book might help. I knew I lacked the talent to write a story-type dramatic novel, so I thought what about going halfway by writing from imagination, so it is technically a novel, but presenting it as a non fiction oral history with people telling their stories and views, so their substance would be its focus.

You had me ask the questions, but you had to dream them up, provide answers, and imagine events. That seems like a lot of work. Was it?

It was less than you might think. As far as format and style, I had no experience with anything remotely related, save myself having often been an interviewer or an interviewee. So I decided to just let it flow as its own momentum entailed. I found myself channeling the people as if they and their events were real and, presto, the book wrote itself. If it needed new events or new people to convey some insight or possibility, the people or events would appear and take on a life of their own. When you asked questions, the interviewee answered spontaneously. Of course, I later did some editing and relocating, but less than you might think.

Did I interview each of the eighteen folks in turn, doing each in full and then moving on to the next? 

That’s what would have happened, were it all real, I suppose. You would have made an appointment to get together with Senator Malcolm King, Lydia Luxemburg, Noam Carmichael, Cynthia Parks, Harriet Lennon, and all the others, of course with whatever name they would have had in your time and place, and in a session or two, you would have completed their whole interview and then moved on to another. Only later you would have taken parts from each interview and combined them into topical and issue based chapters, where each chapter would have contributions pulled from various of the interviews.

In contrast, at my end, the book emerged chapter by chapter. Each chapter combined material from at least two and often four or more interviewees whose contributions arrived in parallel, a bit from one, a bit from another, for that chapter, rather than a full interview from each interviewee arriving as source material all at once, in sequence.

In fact, at my end, the full interviews for each participant weren’t assembled as separate complete source essays until a pretty advanced draft of the whole book was in hand. At that point, but not before, I just extracted from each chapter the contribution of each interviewee, and lumped it with the rest from that one interviewee. That yielded 18 full separate interviews. I was actually surprised that each such full interview made sense as a stand alone piece even though they first appeared so piecemeal, just a bit at a time, higgledy piggledly.

I guess having the brief bio of each person in mind, and having each interviewee address his or her own experience each time they contributed, meant that the fragments, when finally woven together held together. Or maybe you really did do this whole project on alt earth, and then you somehow channeled it to me in the order I received it, an order that you chose, rather than in the order you did it. Maybe I really am only a pawn in your game.

What else is unusual about this book, different for you, different perhaps for everyone?

Every book exists unto itself and I guess each has some unusual attributes. I am not sure when this book will actually be published but there is already a website for it at http://rps2044.org, and that is probably a bit unusual. More, we are now publishing the source interviews that the book will extract material from for its chapters, and that too is probably unusual. The site having forums, and inviting comments, even permitting blog posts for people to not only react to but try to transcend the book’s offerings or contribute to their future refinement may be a bit unusual too. Finally, RPS/2044 will have an online version in which each chapter – whether they will appear whole or summary online is still not determined – will include a music video playlist at its start as an accompaniment for the experience of reading the chapter. I don’t know if other books have ever done that.

Interesting. I am guessing you don’t have any music from my past but your future. Can you let us know your inclusions now? 

I guess so…here is the intro to the playlist that appears in the foreword for the book – which, along with the source interviews plus an introduction you wrote and an afterword I wrote also appear on the online site. The foreword also includes the playlist as you will see below. In the chapters, at least online, each entry will appear as a video, and there is also a page for all those in one place (but with over 100 videos please give it some time to load – http://rps2044.org/playlist/. Here is a bit more about it from the foreword:

“As I completed RPS/2044, channeling its similarly-minded future voices, I turned seventy. In the years of journeying from under aged neophyte to over aged veteran, people close and far, events near and distant, books written or read, talks given or heard… and beats, melodies, riffs, and lyrics, paved my path. The people, events, books, and talks all inhabit RPS/2044’s interviewee’s voices. What about the songs?

“Can a playlist of songs to hear one after another usefully accompany an oral history? I think Miguel Guevara would say sure, and only regret not having included his favorites from his future.

“My playlist undoubtedly reveals my age, limited tastes, and time- and place-bound roots but I hope you will agree that each song’s message, sound, spirit, and original context augment the telling of RPS history.

“Still, I know you will question some selections and will have others you would like added. I would love to hear about those. Perhaps we can together update the playlist, and the interviewees’ verbal accounts of events and ideas too, in later renditions of RPS/2044, in print and/or online.

“But, for now, the playlist and RPS/2044 are what they are, an audible and a print work, each in process. Hear, read, enjoy and improve, or not, as you choose.

Chapter One: First Breaths

Billy Holliday: God Bless the Child

Chuck Berry: Roll Over Beethoven

Odetta: Jim Crow Blues

Rolling Stones: Satisfaction

Otis Redding: The Dock of the Bay

Bruce Springsteen: Badlands

Tokens: The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Elvis Presley: Jailhouse Rock

Impressions: People Get Ready

Chapter Two: The 2016 Election

Woody Guthrie: Deportees

Richard and Mimi Farina: Bold Marauder

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bad Moon Rising

Jackson Brown: The Pretender

Iris Dement: Wasteland of the Free

Rhiannon Giddens: Freedom Highway

Buffalo Springfield: For What It’s Worth

Sam Cooke: A Change Is Gonna Come

Chapter Three: Getting Going

Beatles: Here Comes the Sun

Woody Guthrie: I Ain’t Got No Home

Mavis Staples: You Are Not Alone

Tom Morello: Let Freedom Ring

Bruce Springsteen: The Rising

Nina Simone: Mississippi Goddam

Ben E King: Stand By Me

Bob Dylan: It’s All Over Now Baby Blue

Chapter Four: Initial Commitments

Lead Belly: Bourgeois Blues

Alejandro Escovedo: Wave

Chrissie Hynde: Revolution

The Clash: London Calling

Odetta: This Little Light of Mine

Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On

Laura Nyro, Save the Country

Bob Marley: Get Up Stand Up

Leonard Cohen: Democracy

Chapter Five: Organizing

Billie Holiday: Strange Fruit

The Neville Brothers: Sister Rosa

Paul Simon: The Boxer

Bob Dylan: Maggie’s Farm

Bruce Springsteen: Youngstown

Amy Ray: Laramie

Rage Against the Machine: Killing in the Name

Donovan: Catch the Wind

Jimmie Cliff: Sitting Here in Limbo

Chapter Six: Conceptual Foundations

Simon and Garfunkle: Sounds of Silence

Drive By Truckers: Once They Banned Imagine

Indigo Girls: Go Go Go

Jimi Hendrix: The Star Spangled Banner

Beatles: Dear Prudence

Joan Baez: Blowing in the Wind

Donovon: To Try for the Sun

Bob Dylan: It’s Alright Ma

Louis Armstrong: What A Wonderful World

Chapter Seven: Professions React

Creedance Clearwater Revival: Fortunate Son

Neil Young, Rockin’ In The Free World

Public Enemy: Fight the Power

Mavis Staples: You Are Not Alone

Jimmy Cliff: You Can Get It If You Really Want

Gil Scott Heron: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Bob Marley: Redemption Song

Springsteen: 41 Shots

Jimmy Cliff: The Harder They Come

Chapter Eight: Dealing With Differences

Tom Morello: Which Side Are You On

Aretha Franklin: Respect

Indigo Girls: Gay White Women

John Lennon: Working Class Hero

Paul Robeson: No More Auction Block

Rolling Stones: Brown Sugar

Peter Gabriel: Biko

Alynda Segarra: Hooray for the Riffraff

Drive By Truckers: What It Means

Chapter Nine: Tactical Foundations

Prince: Sign O the Times

Ruthie Foster: Working Woman

Los Lobos: Will The Wolf Survive

Tracy Chapman: Talkin’ ‘bout a Revolution

Thunderclapp Newman: Something in the Air

Rolling Stones: Street Fighting Man

Joan Baez: Farewell Angelina

Chapter Ten: Defining Ourselves

Joan Baez: We Shall Overcome

Los Lobos: Revolution

Kendrick Lamar: How Much A Dollar Cost

Sharon Jones: This Land Is Your Land

Bob Dylan: Times They Are A Changin

Bruce Springsteen: Born in the USA

The Clash: Spanish Bombs

Chapter Eleven: RPS Vision

John Lennon: Imagine

David Bowie: All The Young Dudes

Ani Difranco: I Am Not A Pretty Girl

Nina Simone: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free

Lucinda Williams: Born to Be Loved

Lady Ga Ga: Born This Way

Chapter Twelve: Seeds of the Future

Bob Dylan: Chimes of Freedom

Public Enemy: Get Up Stand Up

Johnny Cash: Man in Black

Bob Dylan: Hurricane

Pink Floyd: Another Brick in the Wall

Patti Smith: People Have the Power

Chapter Thirteen: Elections

Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows

Buffy St. Marie: Now That The Buffalo’s Gone

Shannon Labrie: It’s Political

Randy Newman: Political Science

Mavis Staples: Wrote a Song for Everyone

The Clash: The Call Up

Jefferson Airplane: Crown of Creation

Chapter Fourteen: World and Planet

Buffy St. Marie: Universal Soldier

Phil Ochs: Cops of the World

Shannon Labrie: War and Peace

Marianne Faithful: Broken English

Jim Page: I’d Rather Be Dancing

Bob Dylan: Masters of War

Jackson Browne: Lives in the Balance

Lucinda Williams: Soldiers Song

Neil Young: After The Gold Rush

Chapter Fifteen: Ship Ahoy

Phil Ochs: Ringing of Revolution

Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah

Ruthie Foster: Lord Remember Me

Chambers Brothers: Time Has Come Today

The Clash: Revolution Rock

John Lennon: Power to the People

Bob Dylan: When the Ship Comes In

That is a lot of music. I recognize some, but not all. I may make myself a playlist from it! Anything else unusual?

How about this? The book knows it won’t be the actual future, but the book calls itself the future. And it isn’t a lie because it is parallel, or maybe it is a lie, because it isn’t real. More, the book wants to be true and is trying to show that it could be true, at least in broad strokes, but certainly not exactly. That is probably pretty unusual, though far from unique.

But do you really think a true revolution of such a fundamental sort could happen so fast? Won’t many dismiss the book on that account alone, even before reading it?

Yes, I think many will dismiss it for that reason, or even more so, on grounds that over any time span they think such a new society couldn’t exist at all. But they would be wrong, I hope, which is the point of the book, after all.

But as to duration, RPS/2044 covers 25 years, and 25 years always take precisely 300 months, or, if you prefer, 1,300 weeks, or 9,100 days. In the book it takes that long too. It only seems unduly quick because these are the key years of this revolutionary process. The clock did not spin quickly. Events unfolded densely.

Start the oral history 50 years earlier, or 20 years later, and get to the same last 25 years, and they would seem less quick. To your point, do I think a revolution in the U.S., or anywhere, will have a 25 year period that is as fast moving as your interviewees experienced near the time when their revolution was finally nearing the point of constructing its new society, which construction would then of course goes on and on? Yes, I do. Do I think the rough path the book describes is possible? Yes, I do.

Look at the emergence of the Sanders campaign. Impossible. But it happened. For that matter, look at the emergence of Trump and the rise of the alt right. Impossible. But it happened. I don’t want to promote naive notions of instant victory, but I do want to evidence that sustained, visionary, multi faceted processes such as those reported in RPS/2044 could happen on our earth as they did on your alt earth, not precisely the same way, of course, but similarly. Of course, lacking initiative, effort, and mutual aid, events can’t move so fast, or barely at all. But assuming such enlightened involvement can be ignited, I think a reader who approaches this text with an open mind will find each unfolding event and dynamic far from impossible – and indeed, given 25 years to emerge, not even any more unlikely than the Sanders phenomenon or the Trump phenomenon were unlikely to occur far far faster, just months, much less a year or two before they got going.

 Were there any characters you particularly liked?

That question never occurred to me. Now that you ask it, I guess it points up what may be the biggest lack of an oral history approach. The interviewees are not concerned with becoming known to us. You don’t ask them questions to excavate their lives so we can get to know them. They don’t tell us their thoughts and experiences so we can judge, admire, or befriend them. A lot of personal content does appear, but always to make aims, methods, problems, and solutions known to us. The book stars a process, and the whole population advancing the process, not the interviewees.

So I guess the answer is that what I especially liked was the events and the attitudes to those events that your questions unearthed. I certainly think I would be comfortable befriending the interviewees and maybe that’s why some kids invent fictitious playmates. Made up allies are easy to get along with. Was I doing that? Did you provide me that? I doubt that was my or anyone’s intent.

As we do this interview, I know you are still working on the book. Will you have me ask any more questions? What else will you change before the book appears in your time and place? 

I am not sure what else will happen. After all, if you are somehow channeling the results to me, and just being coy about it, I wouldn’t know what will come next. On the other hand, if I am in charge, which is admittedly mostly how I experience it, maybe I will have you ask more questions, but at the moment I think there won’t be much of that. Rather, I hope I will get feedback from people accessing the site and commenting on the full interviews that appear online as articles, and in light of those reactions I will make accommodating improvements in the text. I feel like the source interviews are essentially done, and that only more editing and rearranging them in the topical chapters remains, though, who knows, maybe there will be some more questions and answers too. On the other hand, I could imagine regularly updating future editions, I suppose.

Have you encountered any response yet, positive or negative?

Not much. A prospective publisher told me I ought to find an experienced fiction writer to write a more dramatic non interview-based version. Another prospective publisher told me left fiction doesn’t sell. I don’t think either one read much or perhaps even any of the book. On the other hand, I got some excellent help with the playlist from an old friend. I also had to juggle some names, hopefully to good ends, due to concerns people had. But there has been little else, which has been rather troubling.

I wish peoples’ reaction on hearing about an effort to have its participants describe the next American revolution, would be great curiosity and a desire to provide advice and otherwise help by offering critical reactions. Of course not many have even heard about RPS/2044 as yet, but still, don’t you think that is how most of the folks interviewed in the book would have reacted, hearing that you were trying to do it, even if they weren’t involved directly?

Regrettably, while socially oriented energy for vision, program, and mutual aid pervades RPS/2044, it hasn’t yet taken firm hold all around us, or all around me, at any rate. The lack is pretty strange when you consider it, or at least I find it so. Given current crises and new interest you might expect more attention from the left would go to positively addressing change beyond rejecting or merely bemoaning Trump. Of course, the book isn’t published in our times yet, so it is only known by some people via email communications and the like, and they likely have doubts it will ever see the light of day. Perhaps that causes folks to feel why pay much attention yet, especially when they are also very busy.

Okay, but even with the somewhat slow start among folks you know, what is your hope for the book more widely? I assume you don’t think we have predicted the future. What have we done?

I think the book will be an accessible and even enjoyable read – which is what many fiction works aim to achieve. But of course this is not a book like those and even if it has those virtues, that would be of little consequence unless it accomplished positive gains. Maybe this book, once publicly available, will take off and be widely read and insightfully discussed and improved upon. That would be valuable.

Hell, dreaming a bit, maybe RPS/2044 will spawn a film version with many of Hollywood’s progressive actors pitching in. Maybe Danny Glover will produce it. Maybe Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn, and Kerry Washington will star in it. Perhaps Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Bruce Springsteen will do the soundtrack. Maybe Matt Damon, Arundhati Roy, and Ben Affleck will write the screenplay since, after all, certain themes from Good Will Hunting are key to RPS. If all or even any of that happens, the ideas of your time and place will reach far more widely in my time and place. And that would be very valuable indeed.

In my world, the value of social/political books, essays, events, and movements ultimately resides in what they evoke and engender. I hope in RPS/2044 your interviewees have offered a plausible picture of fundamental change. I hope your interviewees’ accomplishments will help foster the belief that accomplishing more than just preventing Trumpism from triumphing is not just needed, but possible. Optimally, I also hope various of the visionary, strategic, and programmatic insights from your interviewees will prove inspiring and help enlighten our way forward.

Ultimately, I hope that our future will be as bright as your present. That would be a magical result!

1 comment

  1. avatar
    James April 7, 2017 3:13 pm 

    You know it’s kind of sad really when one thinks about all that music above. All those ‘artists’ singing about ‘change’. There’s a revolutionary pretense about it all, like something doesn’t quite add up. They been doin’ it for years, them singer folk.

    But don’t get me wrong, I dig a lot of the above, or at least some of it…

    Dylan the voice of a generation? Or merely a mimic with a flair for the almost-sounds-meaningful, the man who broke the back of the true working class folk music tradition where once there was a direct line? Tom Morello? Tracy Chapman. Joan? Joey Strummer…of course, the old punky bastard!

    But don’t get me wrong, I dig Dylan’s stuff, or at least some of it…

    There is a huge almost unfathomable distance and disconnect between most of the above performers and ordinary folk. Maybe not always by design but nevertheless there. Yes ordinary folk, who know their place and the place of the performer who sometimes comes down to mingle with the bewildered herd, the artiste with insight into the human condition, providing the soundtrack to ordinary folk’s lives, the prompts and cues for tears, as if hardship, life itself, isn’t enough. Truth or manipulation? Who knows, most just don’t notice the same harmonic and melodic prompts being endlessly regurgitated…”it’s not about the money, money, money,” she sang…really?

    But don’t get me wrong, I like those harmonic and melodic cliches, or at least some of them…

    Why be critical of the above…because I have always been, post adolescence. Music of facades and false promises out front of endless behind the scenes squabbles over tidbits and legal fights over property rights. A mass of black blueser theft with no reparations in sight…property rights indeed! (A black man could never be King…see Benny Goodman and Elvis then listen to Living Colour, or Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Archie Shepp, or Ornette) Predominantly white cultivated images and personas supposedly revealed truthfully in future auto-biographies, now available on audio for your listening pleasure at a new low price, read by none other than ‘ yours truly’.

    But don’t get me wrong, I dig reading about these people, or at least some of them…(see The Dirt on the Motley Crue)

    Where’s the free improvisers, the free jazzers, the lyric-less do it your-selfers…the FREE MUSICS…? Yes the FREE MUSICS?

    Where’ s Victor Jara’s Unfinished Song?

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