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reading tiger

Reading Wednesday: Hometown Boy Makes Good Edition

I am about 2/3 of the way through William Upski Wimsatt's Please Don't Bomb the Suburbs. Billy Wimsatt is, among many other things, the founder of the League of Pissed-Off Voters/The League of Young Voters and an influential white hip-hop writer and activist.

It makes an interesting companion piece with Jeff Chang's Who We Be (Chang has a blurb on the back, btw); PDBTS covers a shorter time period and is all about politics-with-a-capital-p, but from a personalized POV.

I need to admit here that I have a huge soft sport for Wimsatt (I am valiantly trying not to refer to him as "Upski" in this write-up) in large part because he was my hometown neighbor in Chicago when he self-published the first edition of Bomb the Suburbs and you could leave fingerprints in the permanent marker ink that he used on the front cover of the edition stocked at 57th Street Books. I was also amused at his "everybody in Hyde Park has an Obama story" section, because it's true.

Billy Wimsatt has a charming self-deprecating manner that helps make his medicine go down extra-easy for me. Witness his discussion of why having written a book called "Bomb the Suburbs" seemed like a radically cool idea in the 1990s, and now, post-9/11, not so much, but here he is, stuck with it on his CV forever nonetheless. I feel a certain solidarity with this sentiment...

As this is basically his personal memoir of becoming a political activist, a big chunk of the book is taken up with electoral politics. Big and small elections both. Billy is trying to convince you, the target reader, that grassroots electoral participation is both important and totally do-able.

I am not the target reader. I am too old, too radical, too non-Millenial, and I started my activism *way* too early. And I have mixed feelings about his project, which I see as essentially a project that co-opts young people into the Democratic Party matrix and derails them from more serious and effective political work. But Billy and I are (ahem) going to agree to disagree on this one* and I am going to let him tell his story and spin his argument nonetheless, because I like him even if I think he's wrong. Because he's not*always* wrong. His discussion of the term "progressive" linked up very nicely with a Facebook discussion I was monitoring just last week. He pointed out how different political activism looks for those of us who started in the 90s (again, I started earlier; I was precocious) and those of us who started in the naughts, and it was a fair point. Billy Wimsatt may be wrong, but he's always interesting. And I do find the League of Young/Pissed-Off Voters work to be valuable, so I will continue to cut him some slack. I'm enjoying the book.

Fun fact: through this book, I found out that Billy and I were neighbors twice; he lived down on Valencia for a while just a block or two away from the 14th Street house where Black Sheets was held. He was inspired to to the League in large part by seeing the front page of the SF Bay Guardian done as a tear-off voter guide, noting that no other alt-weekly he knew of at the time did this. "Well, of course," I thought to myself. "California ballots are fucking complicated and then some. In Chicago, we never *needed* this kind of voting guide..."

* Everyone who is laughing at my use of this phrase b/c they know how much I hate it, this footnote is for you.


I read Bomb the Suburbs, but hadn't even heard of this. I'll have to check it out.