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1999 In Review
In the decade Ive been writing about music and popular culture in the pages of Z, I cant recall a year when the pop music mainstream seemed more empty of soul and critical thought than in 1999. Commercially speaking, this was a year dominated by a steady flow of cheap thrill rock and pop acts such as the Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Christina Aguil- ara, Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit, and Jennifer Lopez. The comeback of Carlos Santana, with the hugely successful Supernatural, offered some relief from boy/girl pap and male meathead bluster, but ultimately this trendy demographic-driven concept album doesnt compare to any of Santanas great work of the last three decades.
Still, for those searching for music to subvert the personal and cultural sensibility of the status quo, there were sounds resonating meaning and emotions beyond the marketplace. Although here and there, some of this music dented the airwaves and sales charts, most of the years more challenging albums found only niche or semi-popular appeal with audiences of distinctly outsider tastes. But for a believer (like me) in the power of music to change the world, all these less accessible trends seem a source of hope.
Throughout the 20th century various strains of American popular music have been able to soothe and entertain in ways that reinforce dominant social relations. But because most of the nations popular music has been derived from the most disenfranchised sectors of society, it has also mirrored glaring social and economic contradictions in ways that raised questions about the rightness and wrongness of the American social order.
The music of the centurys greatest artists (Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Curtis Mayfield, Bill Monroe, Aretha Franklin, Patsy Cline, Sam Cooke, Mahalia Jackson, Stevie Wonder) upsets the easy everyday consensus by demanding more of life than the system is willing to give. It puts us in touch with feelings and perceptions that provoke a reinterpretation of the world around us. On occasion, it is music of explicitly stated protest and critique.
Because virtually all of the centurys music has been absorbed and translated to suit the needs of a market driven culture, it is not easy to hear any expression of the countrys popular music heritage as a threat to society. Blues, jazz, country, folk, cajun, rock, and hip-hop, however, were all born in cultures of the working class and poor and all were greeted with some combination of derision and fear by elite and middle class society.
In the first half of the century, of course, all forms of black popular music seemed lewd, vulgar, and inferior to white America. But respectable mainstream musical tastes also maintained contempt for the ignorant folk and country traditions of poor white southerners. While the early music industry was willing to exploit these expressions to race and hillbilly markets, color and class realities set the music apart from wholesome and generic sounds acknowledging no social divisions.
With the growth of the mass media, most of Americas roots music has gradually been welcomed into the big-time music market. Certainly in the second half of the 20th century, traditional musical forms have provided the vitality and edge to the nations most important pop music. Reflecting as it does the voice of ordinary misfits and underdogs, this music has given us hidden truths of how we think and feel and live. Unconstrained by requirements of education, income, or social approval, outsiders from Bessie Smith and Robert Johnson to Woody Guthrie, John Lennon, Kurt Cobain, Tupac, Sleater- Kinney, and Rage Against The Machine have registered peoples history reflecting a multiplicity of race, class, gender, and age realities that mainstream media ignored or minimized.
Today a voracious and all pervasive corporate culture has the power to absorb and defang almost any outsider voice in an instant. Nonetheless, music industry bosses, for all their control over marketing, production, and distribution, cannot invent musical creativity or audience response. Though they may maximize trends and hits and deny visibility to all sounds deemed uncommercial, corporate executives have a miserable record (roughly 90 percent of their products realize no profit) of forecasting next-big-thing success. While throwing money at all kinds of acts that might possibly turn a hit (but dont), industry giants usually wind up chasing after styles and performers that sound like some already existing chart topper. So it is that strange and innovative music often lives outside the margins of mainstream pop.
Breakthroughs, surprises, and radical shifts of taste do periodically open the door of mainstream pop to new and challenging sounds. But in the dismal year of 1999, with a few exceptions, the door remained closed. With that in mind, heres my list of some the years good ones. Comments are mostly reserved for albums not previously reviewed.
The Best Of 1999 Rock/Pop/Hip-Hop
Rage Against The Machine,
The Battle Of Los Angeles (Epic)
Tom Waits, Mule Variations
Meshell Ndegeocello, Bitter
On her first two albums, Ndegeocello used a tough blend of funk and R & B to support spleen- venting tales describing race and sex pathologies. The current gem is an acoustic-based slow-burn purge of the hurt and anger surrounding romantic breakdown.
Sleater-Kinney, The Hot Rock
(Kill Rock Stars)
Moby, Play (V2)
Beck, Midnite Vultures (DGC)
Two great party records to bring in the new century. Wedding satire and
goofiness to a dense and spectacular soul-funk soundtrack, Beck pokes smarty
pants fun at a load of decadent U.S. fixations. Moby is more serious, using
his electronica expertise to fuse a centurys worth of popular music to
questions of faith and meaning.
Los Lobos, This Time
Latin Playboys, Dose (Atlantic)
Beth Orton, Central Reservation (Arista)
Ani Difranco, Up, Up, Up, Up, Up (Righteous Babe)
To the Teeth (Righteous Babe)
Ani Difranco and Utah Phillips,
Fellow Workers (Righteous Babe)
Three strong releases from the folksinger who could. While Difrancos solo
albums continue to mix personal confessions with rants against power and
prejudice, her music keeps stretching toward jazz and funk. With Utah Phillips
she is mastering an appeal that links class struggle across generations.
The Roots, Things Fall Apart (MCA)
Mos Def, Black On Both Sides (Rawkus)
Two albums that maintain hardcore hip-hop creed without playing up the
glories of gangstaism. The Roots get close to live show power by balancing
angry street rhyme, funk and sweet soul (played on real instruments). Mos
Def (of the Brooklyn duo known as Black Star) holds to a low-keyed jazzy
flow while making cultural/political connections designed to wake-up struggle.
Ibrahim Ferrer, Buena Vista Social Club Presents Ibrahim Ferrer (World Circuit/Nonsuch)
Mary J. Blige, Mary (MCA)
Randy Newman, Bad Love (Dreamworks)
Mary J. Blige reigns in the world of hip-hop soul ballads. Like Aretha,
she reports the pains and lies of love without relinquishing strength and
resilience. Randy Newman made his rep delivering sly and bitter truths
that unraveled Americana myth. Bad Love is more of the same and his best
work in years. Ruminations from a grumpy old white male evoking foolishness,
despair, and compassion.
Steve Earle And The Del McCoury Band, The Mountain (E-Squared)
Tom Russell, The Man From God Knows Where (Hightone)
Ive Got A Right To Cry (Sire)
John Prine, In Spite Of Ourselves (Oh Boy)
Through a series of casual duets with some of countrys finest female voices
(Melba Montgomery, Patty Loveless, Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, and
Iris Dement), John Prine sings a slew of Nashville hits rendering the miseries
of working class romance. Funny, sad, absurd, and true.
Dolly Parton, The Grass Is Green (Sugarhill)
Parton returns to her roots, recruits a band of great players, and turns in one of the best bluegrass albums of the year.
Hank Williams III, Risin Outlaw (Curb)
Like his granddad, Hank III is reckless and blue. Time will tell.
Hankdogs, Bareback (Hannibal/Rykodisc)
English folk music in the vein of Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson,
and Nick Drake. One of the best debuts of the year.
Dave Moore, Breaking Down To 3 (Red House)
Guy Clark, Cold Dog Soup (Sugarhill
Quiet, contemplative albums wrestling with lifes meaning, losses, and
Various Artists, Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza (Acoustic Disc)
A double CD set displaying riches of the legacy of bluegrass mandolin.
Kelly Jo Phelps, Shine Eyed Mister Zen (Rykodisc)
With dark, smoky vocals and amazing finger and slide work on guitar, Phelps
has managed to create a singular and haunting sound steeped in the most
ancient forms of folk and blues. This one talks to the ghosts of Dock Boggs
and Leadbelly while searching out love and purpose in the here and now.
Albert King with Stevie Ray Vaughan, In Session (Stax)
A loose and inspired jam joining a great blues elder and a young up and
comer. For lovers of blues guitar, this one is a must.
Joe Louis Walker, Silvertone Blues (Verve)
Aside from being one of the finest singer-guitarists in contemporary blues, Joe Louis Walker is surely the most versatile. Here, after covering a host of urban styles, he digs into a collection of Delta rooted material with his usual combination of grit and taste.
Various Artists, Tacoma Slide
Thirteen wonderful examples of traditional and modern slide guitar mastery including Robert Pete Williams, Son House, Bukka White, Mike Bloomfield, Leo Kottke, John Fahey, and Mike Auldridge.
Robert Cray, Take Your Shoes Off (Rykodisc)
John Lewis, Evolution (Atlantic)
Playing originals and standards Lewiss piano genius illustrates brilliant
economic elegance and a century of jazz tradition.
Patricia Barber, Companion (Blue Note/Premonition)
With hip contemporary lyrics and unconventional material (The Beat Goes
On and Black Magic Woman), pianist/singer/writer Patricia Barber is shaking
up the crustier side of the jazz world. But those with no interest in policing
the jazz border should find this live recording an enticing introduction
to a fresh and exciting talent.
Sam Rivers, Inspiration (RCA)
A thrilling big band work-out aptly named.
Abbey Lincoln, Wholly Earth (Verve)
The great writer/singer lays down another dazzling performance fueling
compassionate and hopeful humanity.
Chico OFarrell, Heart Of A Legend (Milestone)
Not quite as stirring as 1995s Pure Emotion, but OFarrells latest Afro-Cuban
big band jazz is still loaded with awesome solo and ensemble play by masters
such as Cachao, Patato, Chocolate, and Paquito D Rivera. Another reminder
that Cuban music doesnt begin or end with the Buena Vista Social Club.
Taj Mahal And Toumani Diabate, Kulanjan (Hannibal/Carthage)
Mali kora player Toumani Diabate and Afro-American singer/guitarist Taj
Mahal convened this session to celebrate the linkages between West African
music and the blues. The results are extraordinary.
Don Byron, Romance With The
Unseen (EMD/Blue Note)
Jazz clarinetist Don Byron is one of the most adventurous players in all of modern jazz. Collaborating with equally free spirited players like guitarist Bill Frissell, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and bassist Drew Grass, he pulls out all the stops.
Various Artists, Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz In Los Angeles (1921-1956) (Rhino)
Blues, jazz, and R&B poured from the clubs and jukeboxes of LAs Central Avenue during the years documented on this 4-CD box set. And what an amazing mix of styles and musicians: T-Bone Walker, Charles Brown, Hadda Brooks, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Big Jay McNeely, and Johnny Otis, to mention a few. Central Avenue Sounds gives this rich, long underappreciated legacy of black LA its due.
Various Artists, From Spirituals To Swing (Vanguard)
A marvelous repackaging of the legendary John Hammond produced concerts
that introduced 1930s white America to the blues, folk, jazz, and gospel
music of black America.
Woody Guthrie, Woody Guthrie: The Asch Recordings, Vol. 1-4 (Smithsonian/Folkways)
Each disc of this 4-CD set can be bought separately and thats probably
the way to go for less than die-hard Guthrie fans. But seriously devoted
listeners should find that the essays, pictures, and almost five hours
of music make this package essential.
Various Artists, The Last Soul Company (Malaco)
The classic soul sounds of legendary labels such as Chess, Stax, and Motown began to fade in the late 1960s, but the Jackson, Mississippi-based Malaco Records is still carrying the torch for old school soul. This 6-CD collection of Malaco hits by Bobby Bland, Denise La Salle, Shirley Brown, Little Milton, and a host of other lesser knowns shows how and why. Z
Sandy Carter is a regular contributor to Z Magazine.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
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LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
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Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.