Mathematically defined, the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor is the most improbable set of life-lines connecting any two deep-rooted points of resistance. Its proliferation is achieved by agile steps to the side of the neoliberal status quo. From the air, the whole thing is totally invisible. On the ground, it’s indicated by exit-signs from the Petroleum Time-Space Continuum. In actual fact, the MRCC is best viewed eye-to-eye. These were the perfect conditions that members of the Compass Group found at the Nonstop Institute in Yellow Springs.
You know you are in the right place when the door to a low-slung industrial warehouse opens up to a warm and slightly wild color-scheme, with tables and chairs and a stage, a big screen and a linux-driven multimedia system, light-wells diffusing a soft natural glow and an entire Dewey-decimaled library tucked into hand-built wooden shelves. Various folks who are soon to be your friends, along with a few who already are, will greet you and explain that the food is coming. The conversation is immediately a million stories of hope and struggle, most having to do the ways that Antioch College disappeared and was reborn here as Nonstop, amid protests, disappointments, inventions, solidarities and an April Fool’s Ball along the yellowbrook rocky road. At first it seems very intimate, like, is the event really gonna be just us and the organizers? Then the people come streaming in, introducing themselves and putting serving dishes down on the table. By 7:00 the place was full and soon after Chris Hill was giving us a warm and detailed and insightful introduction. To begin, we quoted from Grace Lee Boggs:
“We are at a pivotal time in our country’s history. The power structure is obviously unable to resolve the triple crisis of global wars, global economic turmoil, and global warming. Millions are losing their jobs and their homes…. What we urgently need are impassioned discussions everywhere, in groups small and large, where people from all walks of life are not only talking but also listening to one another.”
Exactly such an impassioned discussion unfolded over the next couple hours. Claire and I had entitled our lecture “Double Movement.” It was basically the story of how the ideas of Continental Drift had emerged, why it then morphed into an exploration of the MRCC, and how the “lure of the local” was leading us on to the pampas of Argentina. Of course we also had some time for our ideas concerning capitalism and cosmology, not to mention contributions from our old friend Karl Polanyi. Perhaps we will find time to write that all up some day. Anyway, at the end Ryan and Sara and Rozalinda came up to join us and great conversations ensued, as people asked questions about the Midwest Drift and Mess Hall and the project in Argentina, and came up with their own ideas about what the limits of capitalism currently are and how to overcome them. Hopefully they will put all this up on the web very soon, so you can see if you want to.
The Nonstop Institute is an exceptional place, because it conjoins the hearts and talents and minds of a number of former Antioch College teachers with other inhabitants of the village of Yellow Springs, whether salt-of-the-earth farmers who are also lawyers and rocket scientists, or artists and playwrights who are also warm and wonderful human beings. For the first year Nonstop actually replaced the famous College, which had been closed after what seems a lot like like mismanagement by the Antioch University corporation, the dodgy neoliberal spinoff that finally devoured its robust radical parent. After that year, when the space was built and the faculty-in-exile managed to complete the education of the last Antioch students, the College was then relaunched with money from some loyal alums and the constitution of a new board. However betrayal once again ensued, with none of the old staff being rehired, none of the Nonstop inventions being taken on board and a tenuous future ahead for the not-yet-revived College. The Extreme Makeover of radical and humanistic education began right here, to be continued at a university near you. It’s not finished yet we all know, but much is to be learned from the survivors and thrivers in Yellow Springs
On the next night, we saw the art work of the Cuban-born exile Juan-si Gonzalez who connected the dots between exotic Midwestern locales with names like London, Damascus or Lebanon, offering glimpses into his own migrating destiny along the way. This set the stage for a presentation of Nonstop by a few of the protagonists, with much additional commentary from the “audience” who, on this night, were all full-fledged participants in the adventure. This was no mere celebration of glorious achievements, but instead a gentle and sober look at the pragmatic difficulties of sustaining past accomplishments, along with some questioning about the paths to be taken in the near future. The most interesting discussions for us seemed to turn around the subleties of mixing art, education, media and the politics of public space. Nonstop is really a laboratory for live experimentation in the realms beyond the old liberal humanities education. Their research program last year had turned around the current university crisis, with a series of skype interviews that can be seen right here. Our conversation together echoed with the larger analysis, but tended to go straight to the point of what those in the room thought they had already achieved, along with plans and speculations and questions about what to do in the future.
Yellow Springs is located next to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base which has an immense military museum featuring all the fighter jets and bombers and missiles you could wish had never been built, much less used, but they were and have been and still are. This is a heavily militarized area and full of reminders of what the United States is becoming in the twenty-first century. However, anything can happen and over a long breakfast on Sunday we discussed it all, including how to subvert the Air Force, how their research guys feel uncomfortable “inside the fence” and whether it might be possible to fly to the blue sky outside it. We also evoked the need for some kind of “pre-enactment” touching partially on the Extreme Makeovers that seem to be planned for all walks of life, and also on the possibilities of resisting and creating entirely different destinies. Some ideas were mooted for a great Midwestern convergence to put the radical back in the corridor. This is likely to happen in one form and/or another. So stay tuned and keep it eye-to-eye!
Some Nonstop Links
Nonstop Institute of Yellow Springs:
“Antioch Confidential”: the video by Brian Springer, introducing the campus crisis and the trove of “Antioch Papers” that served as a kind of Wikileaks for the controversial closing:
“Towards an Autonomous Antioch College: The Story of the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute,” by Jean Gregorek:
“Antioch’s Choice,” by Cary Nelson: