Bloody Wednesday

Ahhh, Independence Day. A holiday intended to honor and celebrate America’s brave beginnings and illustrious history. A holiday of opposing emotions. And much like Thanksgiving, for many of us it may be filled with food, family, and fun. But also like Thanksgiving, it acts as a strange facade for a history that is far more complex and sometimes entirely and deliberately buried and forgotten. Michael Munk’s book The Portland Red Guide offers a slice of this complex history. Specifically, Portland was a quintessentially patriotic American city in the truest sense of patriotism, and its citizens exercised their right to free speech often and loudly. While “Keep Portland Weird” is one of the notions associated with the city nowadays, Portland was actually quite weird and wild far before the current stereotype came into, and fell out of, fashion. It was fertile grounds for various social movements and political change, and the Portland Red Guide honors the real history of what was once a blue-collar town:

The main purpose of the Red Guide is to offer a respectful rendering of the mostly forgotten people, organizations, and events that challenged the dominant powers of their day in the name of justice and equality—of which the victory of the 1934 strikers is a remarkable exception to a long list of defeats. An informal guide to Portland’s radical past, the Red Guide links notable radicals, their organizations, and their activities to physical sites associated with them. It honors those that the mainstream histories of Portland largely ignore. (Michael Munk, Portland Red Guide)

On July 11, 1934, one of the most pivotal events in Portland history took place in what is now Pier Park. The hundreds of laborers from Portland’s riverfronts, who spent long days for little pay unloading and loading the ships coming in and out of Portland’s busy docks, had been on strike for nearly a month. They won a victory in what was ultimately a class war between wealthy businessmen and blue-collar workers. It led to the formation of today’s International Longshore and Warehouse Union, which has among its members such organizations as Portland Locals 8 (Longshore), 40 (Checkers), 90 (Walking Bosses), 5 (Powell’s Books) 28 (Kaiser Permanente Security), 50 (Astoria), 12 (North Bend), and the Columbia River Pensioners Association.

Thinking of the striking laborers at Pier Park that summer eighty-two years ago (where for a long time you could still find bullets embedded in the douglas firs around the park), their bravery and courage for fair hours and wages and the right to create a union speaks more to me of celebrating our country’s freedom than the stories of rich landowners in the thirteen colonies trying to gain freedom from the British monarchy. The protesters on Bloody Wednesday exercised their right to speak out against social injustice and create communities for change and equality. I’ll light a sparkler to that.

Conversation with Ooligan Alum Cooper Lee Bombardier

I met Cooper Lee Bombardier in a nonfiction writing seminar at PSU, in the fall of 2011. At the time, Cooper was about halfway through the publishing program, I’d just begun the MFA in nonfiction writing, and I liked him right away for his honest and adventurous work, and for what I took to be a worldview—and an outlook on writing and publishing—not unlike my own. It was through Cooper I learned of Ooligan Press, and I pillaged him for answers when I began looking into the program for myself. (Cooper and I would each tackle both an MFA in nonfiction and an MS in publishing, but in orders opposite each other.) Now a graduate of both programs, Cooper remains busily immersed in education, writing, and other exciting book-related projects. In January, we took advantage of a rare sunny day to walk the beach at Kelley Point Park, catch up, and compare notes on the Ooligan/MFA experience.

Cooper Lee Bombardier: I started the publishing program in fall 2010. I was applying to graduate programs, and a friend of mine had done the Ooligan program and really loved it and told me to get in touch with Dennis Stovall. So I started emailing Dennis and asking him questions, and he had a lot of great things to say. I remember him saying there were all kinds of people in the program: people who wanted to be editors, people who wanted to be farmers … people who had done all kinds of different things in their careers. Artists and writers and—

—and you were both of those things.

Yeah. I did my undergrad work in illustration, and I guess I was always pretty in love with books and art, and image and text together. I wanted to go to graduate school and write, so at first the publishing program was a way to get into a bunch of writing classes and do all these other hands-on things, which I love. I was pretty much a self-taught writer, and I thought I wanted to do an MFA in fiction. It was Tom Bissell’s Forms of Nonfiction class that made me realize how weird and cool nonfiction could be—so I applied to the MFA in nonfiction writing.

And did you find that the two degrees complemented each other?

Oh, yeah. I worked on writing throughout, and in publishing I developed a couple proposals for book projects. I think it was really valuable in terms of my main goal of wanting to be a writer. MFA programs tend to focus on the artistic side of things, and with the sort of tangible concerns of publishing, it’s more like learning a trade. I feel like the publishing program gave me an advantage, in a way. It helped me understand the whole process: how writing goes from slush pile to selection to publication.

I’m always curious about which books former Oolies worked on. How about you?

I did marketing work on Portland Red Guide and Rethinking Paper & Ink. And what I realized was that I know how to do this stuff. I’ve put on shows, I’ve put on events, I know how to write a press release. You know, the DIY skills that I learned over the years—doing Sister Spit stuff, putting together tours, putting on art shows—those skills were totally applicable, which was a delight. Knowing that to some extent I already had those skills from being sort of a punk artist … when I went into the publishing program, I wouldn’t have thought that marketing was my jam, but I totally loved it. I’m really good at talking up projects I believe in.

I’ve always known you to be busy, juggling a million projects and jobs. What’s keeping you occupied these days?

Since I graduated, I’ve been teaching as an adjunct professor at PSU. And I love it—I love teaching at PSU. I love the student body, the diversity of experience and age and ethnicity and nationality. It’s really an invigorating environment. I’m also teaching writing as an adjunct at the University of Portland—

Right! Do you ever see Father Pat [Hannon, a graduate of the PSU MFA program and a teacher at the University of Portland]?

Yeah, I see Pat all the time!

Say hi for me?

I will. I love that guy. He’s just a beautiful human being.

Indeed. So you teach at the University of Portland and Portland State. What else?

I have a residency with Writers in the Schools. I’m supposed to get a late spring placement—they’re trying to work around my schedule, because my winter term is so intense—so hopefully it’ll work out. I’m really excited about that. I’m also getting stuff published here and there. I have a friend, a Los Angeles photographer named Leon Mostovoy, who is doing a project called Transfigure, where he’s photographed all these nude portraits of different trans folks. The pictures are divided into thirds, and then the different thirds, the different bodies are placed together.

And is it being turned into a book, or a zine, or … ?

Yeah—there’s a book being made about the show, with photographs and whatnot, and I was invited to write something for that. Me and Jack Halberstam and a couple other people.

That’s so great, Cooper! And what are you contributing?

I wrote a fragmentary piece—

—which is fitting, given the forum.

That’s what I was hoping. I was reading this essay about Kathy Acker, about how she would edit each one of her pieces for eight things. One edit for voice, one for how it looks—how it looks to a mirror—and so forth. And I had the idea of doing this piece about trans bodies without using any words about gender. It’s kind of a cut-up between Kathy Acker’s eight ways [of revision] and the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhist thought. I don’t know if it was successful, but it was an interesting and weird and hard piece to write.

Can you talk more about how the publishing program informed your work as a writer?

Taking editing classes really transformed the state of the work I send out. I feel like my work is just a lot cleaner now. And having now seen the whole process, I always teach at least a crash course lecture on publishing, and encourage my writing students to give publishing a shot. Again, for me that also comes from that sort of punk and DIY sensibility of not waiting for somebody to tap you on the shoulder and anoint you. It’s more like, you put your work out in the world and shape it as you go. Instead of like, ‘this is just something that I do, and I’m going to save it in a shoebox under my bed until I die,’ I encourage them to see it as entering a literary conversation, starting to identify who their work makes sense next to and who their work is talking to, taking that risk and putting it out there—just getting it out into the world.

A Handy Guide to Portland’s Past and Present

If there is one Ooligan book I see around town more than any others, it’s The Portland Red Guide. The second edition of Michael Munk’s historical timeline, mapped out on our present-day city grid, seems to be a staple on book-store end caps, as well as Ikea shelves in homes and workspaces. One glance through the tri-color guide and it’s easy to see why. The book has everything a reader and traveler could hope for: color coding, maps within maps, historical photos, chronological order, and walking tours.

I can’t imagine the time it took Ooligan alums Alan Dubinsky and Tristen Knight to figure out ways of organizing this disparate material. The results are both aesthetically pleasing and useful. The events are broken down into six chapters, representing six periods of radical social dissent:

  1. 1804–1899 Utopians & Marxists
  2. 1900–1930 Wobblies & Socialists
  3. 1930s: Unions & Commies
  4. WWII–1960- McCarthyism & Cold War
  5. 1960–1973 Peaceniks & Civil Rights
  6. 1974–Present Identities & Protests

At the end of each chapter, there is a series of simple street maps of the Portland we know today. Numbered red boxes correspond to the events described and pinpoint exactly where they took place. This format takes the reader beyond the common history book, and allows Munk to tell forgotten stories and link them to physical sites within the city. People and organizations that fought for equality and justice against the abusive powers of their day are given new life for the Oregonians standing up for what they believe in today. (And if there’s a city that stands up for its beliefs, it’s Portland.) The Portland Red Guide is both a guidebook and an informal history that will expand your perspective on the city and its past.

The man behind the book has an equally interesting past. Michael Munk was born in Prague in 1934 and came to Portland after escaping the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939. A true local, he graduated from Hillside School, Lincoln High School, Reed College, and the University of Oregon, where his received an MA in political science. He also earned his PhD in politics from New York University. His political activity began in the 1950s, when he became a vocal opponent of nuclear testing, and continued into 1954, when he took over as vice president of the Young Democrats of Oregon. The government drafted Munk in 1959, sending him to South Korea. After his military service, he became a journalist for the leftist New York weekly National Guardian. He taught political science for over twenty-five years at Stony Brook University, Roosevelt University in Chicago, and Rutgers University in New Jersey, before retiring to Portland.

Since his return, Munk’s publications have focused on local radical history, making him the perfect author for this guide. His work has been published in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, the Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Science & Society, and The Oregonian. His column, “Our Radical Past” was a monthly feature in the Portland Alliance for several years before he began work on the first edition the The Portland Red Guide. Photos and additional information about the book can be found on his website.