Sunday, January 13, 2019

Books: Looking At America Through "Revolutionary Threads"

Revolutionary Threads: Rastafari, Social Justice, and Cooperative Economics
By Bobby Sullivan
Akashic Books, Brooklyn, NY; trade paperback, 228 pages; $15.95

Bobby Sullivan grew up in the Washington, DC, punk scene, fueled by Rasta rockers Bad Brains and the foundational Minor Threat. His most notable band continues to be Soulside (of which he is the singer), which had multiple releases on Dischord Records.

As he made his journey, Sullivan became an activist, working with Food Not Bombs, the Anarchist Black Cross political prisoner support network, and a Rasta prison ministry. He currently manages a retail grocery co-op and sits on the board of the National Co+op Grocers. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina with his family.

Sullivan's new book, Revolutionary Threads offers an American Rasta’s retelling of episodes in American history with an anti-colonial thrust, accented by Bobby Sullivan’s own personal experiences. 

The book ties together various subjects while returning each time to the culture of Rastafari, social justice movements, and cooperative economics. From how we perceive history in general, America’s precolonial past, and global capitalism’s early development and the resistance to it, to political prisoners and a celebration of religious tolerance, the book approaches North America with an African-centric perspective. Sullivan aims to dispel the oversimplification of our perceptions of Rastafari, as well as other cultures, in the age of the Internet, where the loudest voices are often the most extreme and divisive.

Bobby Sullivan.

"The movement of Rastafari is complex and largely misunderstood," writes Sullivan. "There is tension with those trying to understand it, as well as within the movement itself, even regarding the teachings of its figurehead. Haile Selassie I - the emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 until a political coup in 1974. To further confound outsiders, the cultural context of Jamaica birthed this movement with a black nationalist perspective, yet the teachings of the emperor and some Rasta elders exhibit a more universal/humanist perspective. Because of this, the Rastafari movement is both inclusive and exclusive, and as history has played out, many diverse themes have predominated.
"Although this book touches upon many themes, Rastafari is the glue that holds the work together. With that being said, I do not attempt to define Rastafari, as my perspective is derived chiefly from the movement's globalization rather than its Jamaican elders. Of course, the Rastafari movement in the US has a different flavor than its Jamaican root; it is my belief that American Rastas should not try to emulate Jamaican culture, but instead take inspiration from the movement, especially from Haile Selassie I, and properly apply the sacred practices and teachings to one's own cultural context. In this book, I wish to give credit where credit is due. I want to honor the culture that ignited my journey."

Revolutionary Threads hopes to serve as a unifying agent for our all-too-connected global village, and for the resistance to the consolidation of global capital and all its excesses.

Sullivan on why he wrote this book: "I was still in high school when I first started gathering information about Rastafari. In the mideighties, all that could be found was an obscure book here, a rare pamphlet there, and stray references in various works of Caribbean commentary and prose. The way to truly learn about Rastafari was to sit and reason with a knowledgeable adherent, many of whom were more than willing to share.
"Growing up in Washington, DC, not only gave me an innate sense of political skepticism, it gave me an African American slant on the world. Most of my teachers, classmates, mentors, and authority figures were part of DC's black majority. Afrocentricity was easy to stumble upon, and I cherished any opportunity to interact with the many black scholars in my midst. The most engaging of these either sold books on the street or operated out of one of DC's many Pan-African cultural enclaves.
"I felt taken in by an extended family of revolutionaries wise and kind, paternal and creative. These were people from all over the globe, some of whom were part of the same social and spiritual thrust that produced Bob Marley. Others found their way through the Nation of Islam, the African Hebrew Israelites, or one of the many appendages of the Black Power movement.
"Theirs felt like a new way of looking at the world, and Rastafari people embodied what I felt to be a truly holistic approach to wrestling with all the big ideas that life presents. I needed to write this book, because I have come to see how the movement is largely misrepresented and oversimplified. Revolutionary Threads - my testimony - comes from an American perspective, although its roots are in all people."

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