A Rebel Comes of Age by Stuart Bramhall

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I was really touched by this review, by a teen blogger, of my young adult novel. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling that “teenage-related problems” made the book seem more real for her. Her revelation that she has never read a book like this also grabbed me. I guess it’s pretty rare to encounter books on protest and political change in modern bookstores and libraries.

The Role of Youth in Making Revolution

soweto

(Sharing more of my research for my new novel A Rebel Comes of Age)

Much has been made of the role of youth in sparking the “Arab Spring” revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa. The willingness of Arab citizens to rebel against some of the world’s most oppressive regimes is a new and significant phenomenon. It highlights the distinction between political and psychological oppression. Psychological repression is a state of wholesale resignation, when a population believes any resistance will be totally crushed.

The Role of Youth in Sparking Revolution

Youth are nearly always the engine behind any movement to throw off psychological oppression. Older people have an overwhelming drive for “business as usual.” Austrian-born child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim credits this drive for the failure of European Jews to resist the Nazi campaign to enslave and exterminate them. Teenagers, in contrast, possess an illusion an illusion of immortality. They often find it difficult to grasp the finality of death.

Lessons from History: Soweto and the Intifada

Both the 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa and the first Palestinian Intifada (1987) were initiated by teenagers. Both South Africa and Palestine were riding the crest of a baby boom and faced high youth unemployment. In addition, both the South African townships and occupied Palestine faced a general breakdown in parental authority. In both settings, parents traveled long distances (to Johannesburg or Israel). A whole generation of children, were left on their own to raise themselves. The link between the breakdown of parental authority and youth rebellion is a major theme of my first novel The Battle for Tomorrow.

The Anti-Apartheid Movement

The 1976 Soweto uprising is widely credited as the start of mass popular resistance to apartheid. The students who started it came from a generation that essentially raised themselves. Strict pass laws implemented in the 1950s forced many black residents to give up to their homes in South African cities and move to black-only townships or Bantustans, where there was no work. The only work open to black men was in remote work camps at the gold and diamond mines. While Sowetan women worked as domestics and nannies for white families in Johannesburg and only returned to their own children on weekends.

In 1976 Soweto teenagers had a lot in common with homeless teens, third world street children and “young carers” (children who care for parents with physical or mental disabilities or drug and alcohol problems). Forced to look after themselves from an early age, it’s typical for these teenagers to exhibit  precocious maturity.

Conditions that Politicized the Bantu Schools

The event the triggered the 1976 uprising was a decree requiring that all Bantu schools teach their subjects in Afrikaans (the language of the original Dutch settlers of South Africa), rather than English. Owing to atrocious conditions in the Bantu schools, students were already highly politicized. While education in white schools was free, black parents were charged 51 rand a year (a half month’s salary) The Bantu schools were also incredibly overcrowded, with sixty or more students per class and teachers who often had no education qualifications.

The prelude to the June 16 uprising was a classroom boycott in early June of seventh and eight graders at Orlando West Primary School. Students from seven other Soweto schools immediately joined in. On Sunday June 13th, 400 students met in Orlando (hard to imagine without cellphones Facebook  or Twitter) to call for a mass boycott and demonstration for June 16th. They also made a pact not to inform their parents, who they believed would try to stop them.

On June 16, fifteen to twenty thousand students age 10-20 in school uniform met at Orlando West Secondary school to march to the stadium. When the students refused to disperse, the police opened fire, killing several. The others went wild, throwing rocks and bottles at the police and setting fire to all symbols of apartheid – government buildings, liquor stores, beer halls and trucks, buses and cars belonging to white businesses.

Where Deadly Police Force Fails

The next morning rioting spread to other townships, as well as to Pretoria, Durban and Capetown with “colored” (mixed race) and Indian students also joining the rebellion. The police were totally unable to quell the rioters, even with force, owing to the students’ greater numbers and their total disregard for their own safety. It would take sixteen months for peace to be restored in the townships.

(To be continued, with a discussion of the role of teenagers in the Palestinian  Intifada.)

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Rebel cover

In A Rebel Comes of Age, seventeen-year-old Angela Jones and four other homeless teenagers occupy a vacant commercial building owned by Bank of America. The adventure turns deadly serious when the bank obtains a court order evicting them. Ange faces the most serious crisis of her life when the other residents decide to use firearms against the police SWAT team.

$3.99 ebook available (in all formats) from Smashwords:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/361351

The Rally

Rebel cover

A Rebel Comes of Age – release date Dec 21, 2013

Another Excerpt from my young adult novel (from Chap 22)

When Clemente finally took the microphone, the stretch of McDonough between Patchen and Malcolm X was wall-to-wall people. The hip-hop activist, an attractive, thirty-something Latino woman with short, curly black hair and enormous gold ear loops, wore a dark blue hoodie in honor of Trayvon Martin.

“Brothers and sisters, look at us,” she proclaimed. “When hip hop fights back, watch out.” At this, the crowd broke into ecstatic applause, accompanied by whistling and cheering. When the uproar died down, she called up all eighteen Freedom House residents and their sixteen Mandela House counterparts and lined them up on either side of her. “This isn’t a building we’re fighting for today. We’re here to support this phenomenal group of young people. They are our soul and conscience. Like Van Jones says, it’s time to change from fighting against something to fighting for something. No matter what we believe, what we all want, nothing advances or happens without organizing. Lots of it.”

Reverend McLeod came to the stage in a dark gray ski jacket rather than his usual suit and overcoat. Ange assumed that this was to distinguish between his activist and ministerial role. He began by complaining how sick he was of Wall Street’s longstanding pattern of theft from the African American community.

“Yah suh,” a woman in the front row came back, as if they were in church.

“First, it was our supermarkets, then our schools and now our homes. Surely the time has come to say enough.”

“Um-hmn,” the woman agreed.

“The time has surely come,” another woman echoed.

“Marches and rallies aren’t enough to check this power. The time has come, brothers and sisters, to put our bodies on the line. As Reverend Martin Luther King did. People of conscience are called on to break unjust laws, just like our brothers and sisters in Occupy Brooklyn who secured a home for brother Carasquillo and his family.”

He paused dramatically for this to sink in. “Where will you be, brothers and sisters, when the sheriff comes to put these young people out in the street? Will you all be comfortably at home watching American Idol or whatever nonsense they are showing now? Or will you be here with them?” His voice soared. “I tell you where I will be, brothers and sisters. I will be here in front of this building. No matter if the sheriff’s officers come at dinner time or midnight or three in the morning, they will have to walk through me.” He paused again. “Who will join me?”

The reaction from the crowd was stunned silence, followed by quiet murmuring. When Ange turned to look around, she saw the ten live-in protestors and six Occupy activists tentatively raise their hands. “Um-hmn-um,” McLeod vocalized reprovingly. “Looks to me like a long, lonely night.”

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A Rebel Comes of Age can be pre-ordered from the following links:

Cover photo credit: sand_and_sky via photopin cc

A Rebel Comes of Age

Rebel coverRelease date: Dec 21, 2013

Prologue (excerpt)

Ange’s skin crawled as Phillip placed the M16 in her arms. The gun was cold and unnaturally smooth. It smelled like burnt rubber. Then he left her alone with PJ, a tall, thin, forty-something with wavy, shoulder length black hair and a long, unkempt beard. The small unheated barn, with its dirt floor, was virtually empty except for a large utility table covered in scratches and stains. PJ had a laptop plugged into a socket that hung from the ceiling on a cord. He played her a video of a young woman disassembling an M16A2. The woman, who was white, had dark brown hair and wore a plain white tee shirt. Two men in uniform shirts stood on either side timing her. She looked up at them triumphantly as she set the last part on the table.

PJ was dressed in faded overalls fastened over a bulky gray cardigan and two sweatshirts. Ange could see them at the collar line—one gray and one dark blue.

“You see that?” He dragged out his vowels with a singsong intonation. Lacey said he was from Appalachia. “Two minutes ten seconds.”

He clicked replay and they watched the video again. Then he closed the laptop, shoved it aside, and replaced it with a glossy black and white poster depicting the M16 parts in the order they were to be removed.

“Okay. You do it now.”

Copying the woman in the video, Ange turned the weapon over to find the safety. Then removing the magazine to check the chamber, she removed the bolt carrier group. Laying the receiver and charging handle on the table, she broke the BCG down by removing the bolt retaining cotter pin, bolt and firing pin.

“Well done. Now reassemble it.”

She repeated the entire process three times. Then Phillip returned with a pair of ear protectors and safety glasses and took her to the firing area. A mixed race Haitian, he was slightly taller than PJ. He wore his hair in long dreadlocks, and Ange guessed he was somewhere in his early forties. Phillip’s face was long and narrow with deeply set eyes, a large hooked nose, thin lips, a sparse, untrimmed beard, and permanent creases on his forehead and around his eyes. Like many of Ange’s activist friends, he dressed in an assortment of free and secondhand clothes. Today he was wearing dark blue track pants, a mangy leather jacket that looked like it had been through the washing machine, and a woolen maroon cap that covered his forehead and ears.

Ange had hoped that PJ would take her for target practice. She didn’t like or trust Phillip. He didn’t seem to like teenagers very much. His desire to work with them puzzled her. She strongly sensed he had some ulterior agenda that had nothing to do with empowering the homeless youth of Bedford-Stuyvesant. She was also convinced it was his idea—not Fabio’s—that they use weapons to defend themselves against the impending eviction.

Occupy Homes, like Occupy Wall Street and other left-leaning movements, had always opted for nonviolent methods in confronting the police. Although Bank of America had yet to acknowledge the teenagers had taken over the abandoned Credit Union building, everyone knew it was only a matter of time before the bank obtained an eviction order.

Recruiting and training teenagers to shoot automatic weapons wasn’t normal, no matter how radical you were. Lacey said that military-style assault rifles were illegal in New York State, that PJ most likely belonged to some right wing militia. She gave no clue—and Ange didn’t ask—how she knew these things. Ange assumed the ex-boyfriend who taught Lacey to shoot was the source of information.

Lacey and Geneva were already outside in the firing area. They lay side by side aiming at multicolored concentric circles attached to straw bales. Phillip directed Ange to lie down next to them. Gritting her teeth, Ange did as she was told, determined to block out the churning nausea in her gut with sheer force of will. The sooner she learned to do this, the sooner she could end the firearms lessons and this whole sordid chapter of her life.

A Rebel Comes of Age can be pre-ordered from the following links:

  • Kindle edition available after Dec 15

Cover photo credit: sand_and_sky via photopin cc

An Occupy Wall Street Novel

Rebel cover

My new novel, A Rebel Comes of Age, is scheduled for release (as a $3.99 ebook) on December 21, 2013.

It’s a sequel to my first young adult novel, The Battle for Tomorrow. In the first book, sixteen-year-old Angela Jones is arrested and sent to juvenile hall for participating in a blockade and occupation of the US Capitol. The sequel takes place a year later, when she and four homeless teenagers occupy an empty commercial building owned by Bank of America. Their goal: to transform it into a teen homeless shelter.

Over the next five months, they work through all the typical problems of inner city teenagers – including raging hormones, the temptation of drugs and alcohol, racial tensions, and pregnancy – as they struggle to win community acceptance. When Bank of America obtains a court order evicting them, the adventure turns deadly serious as they realize lives are on the line. When the other residents decide to use automatic weapons to keep the police SWAT team out, Ange experiences a major personal crisis and is forced to re-examine her attitudes towards guns and violence.

The Lost Generation – Life After Work

A Rebel Comes of Age explores the question of life after work. In the five years since the 2008 economic meltdown, 25-40% of 18-30 year olds still find themselves permanently excluded from the workforce. What we are looking at, in essence, is an entire generation sidelined to the fringes of society. Despite all the government and media hype, the capitalist economic system is incapable of creating jobs for them.

We are all conditioned to believe that life without full time work is unlivable. I seriously question the validity of this viewpoint. As a species, human beings occupied the planet quite happily for 250,000 years without selling their labor to a wealthy elite. Two centuries ago, the concept of waged work was virtually unknown, and most of the world’s current seven billion inhabitants are officially classified as “unemployed.”

With more equitable distribution of economic resources, freeing people from the drudgery of work opens up infinite possibilities for more creative and socially productive activities. Some analysts attribute the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to unemployed youth taking up social and political activism as an alternative to work.

A Rebel Comes of Age provides a brief snapshot of a group of homeless, unemployed teenagers who find themselves building a movement, without quite realizing this is what they are doing.

My next post will feature an excerpt from Chapter 1.

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A Rebel Comes of Age can be pre-ordered from the following links:

  • Kindle edition available after Dec 15

 

Cover photo credit: sand_and_sky via photopin cc