The Army of the RepublicSubmitted by Michael Nystrom on Mon, 12/08/2008 - 12:12
Good fiction has the power to illuminate reality and inform one's perspective like nothing else. It gives the reader the opportunity to see reality from a different point of view. Good fiction can also serve as the warning for a potential reality that we want to avoid. Stuart Archer Cohen's The Army of the Republic is an excellent example of this kind of fiction.
Set in a not too distant future United States of America, things have progressed from bad to worse. The gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown into a yawning chasm; elections are routinely hijacked; organized citizens' groups who see the corruption of the current Regime fight to restore the rule of law - both violently and non-violently - while their protests are painted as "domestic terrorism" by the pro-Administration, big media network Channel America. Corporations work hand in glove with the Administration to privatize public highways and utilities, the latest and most brazen instance being the entire Pacific Northwest's water supply, the Columbia River. Citizen's groups are powerless to stop the fascist onslaught as the line between military, police, and private corporate security is blurred. The private contract security firm Whitehall, funded with billions of dollars in corporate money becomes law unto itself, ultimately engaging in domestic kidnapping and assassinations of activists (or terrorists, depending on who you believe).
Get the picture? The fictional world Cohen has created isn't all that different from the world we live in today. Extrapolate out a few years from today and if things don't change, we'll soon be living in Cohen's world.
Already here in Massachusetts, they're talking about privatizing the Mass Turnpike, while the corporate press spins it as "a public-private partnership that will make the Mass Pike more efficient." In Chicago, they've rammed through a law to lease the city's parking meters to a private corporation. Forget about free parking on Sundays and holidays, but the corporate press spins it as a way for the city to raise much needed cash. And at the Federal level, we all know that the US Treasury, headed by the former chief of the nation's largest investment bank, is engaged in a massive, blatant transfer of wealth from the US taxpayers to largest financial firms. Yet nary a peep of protest do we hear from the majority of citizens.
Like most people in our current slumbering nation, most in Cohen's story are clueless to the changes as well. The story thus revolves around the vocal minority of activists, democracy groups, affinity groups and guerillas who are wide awake and fighting the Regime in every way possible. This is the power of the book. It allows us to imagine and see the consequences of the different paths the future might take and how we can respond, and what the potential costs and consequences might be.
The story is unique in that it is narrated from a variety of perspectives. The first chapter is told from the POV of Lando, the young activist-cum-urban guerilla in Seattle who is a member of the loose affiliation of direct action groups collectively known as the "Army of the Republic." We also hear from James Sands, the billionaire D.C. insider and businessman who is out to privatize and profit from the entire Columbia River. The third perspective is that of Emily Cortright, a non-violent political organizer, head of Seattle-based Democracy Northwest Network and coordinator of a nation-wide network of civil action groups. Throughout the book, the perspective shifts from character to character, giving us a 360-degree view of the action, including different takes on the same situation. Lando represents the violent militant faction, which believes that the time for non-violent change has long since passed. Emily represents the myriad non-violent civil action groups from across the political spectrum that oppose the regime. Taken together, the entire movement is de-centralized and messy. Lando quotes from the Book of Judges to describe it: "At that time, there was no King in Israel, and each mad did as he saw fit in his own eyes." What unites them, and allows them to work together is their opposition to the Regime.
Although the book describes violence, which many abhor, it is fiction. And it takes place in a world in which, like at the founding of this nation, non-violent options seem to have been exhausted. As Cohen wrote in an email to me, "I'm not endorsing violence. On the contrary, the book makes clear the enormous personal and social costs when people take the path of violent resistance. At the same time, it makes apparent the costs when elites succeed in getting everything they want."
Indeed, as in life, there are no easy answers. But the book gives tremendous perspective for anyone involved in the R3volution over the past two years. You'll recognize much of what we've been through, aside from the violence (though anyone at the 2008 RNC knows that it was implicit throughout the entire city and event).
I enjoyed this book tremendously, partly because I was born and raised in Seattle, where most of the book is set. It brought back memories of being at the 1999 WTO protests, and it was exciting to read of an alternate future of the city and country under siege.
To the r3volution community, I give my highest recommendation for The Army of the Republic. In an age when I seem to be simultaneously reading ten books at once, and never finishing any of them, this was one that I could barely put down, and found myself reading it at every spare moment. It has been a long time since I've been that excited about a book. Not only is it educational & thought provoking, it is a fast paced thriller.
But don't take my word for it. The New York "Judith Miller" Times really slammed it in a review for its elite readers. All things considered, I take the fact that they want to silence this book as high praise.
Buy your copy at Amazon. You won't be disappointed.