This text was originally published in the Journal of Radical Shimming, vol. 4
early notes on the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor
I am not the only cultural worker feeling this strong sense of regional identity, though others may have arrived at it through a different path. There are many of us, and the conversations have begun. We understand the countercultures of the upper midwest as live, deep, dispersed, and varied. They capture our imaginations, and send us into dreams of what these places where we live and have lived might yet be. But articulating this belonging through some kind of regional practice remains challenging and only partially modeled, especially when compared to the easy and accelerating flow of city-to-city cultural work. The task involves resisting the many structures (business, educational, political) heavily invested in keeping cities connected to each other, and which through equal parts antagonism and neglect maintain separations between city and suburb, town and country. An effect of city-to-city cultural production is one of flattening, of reducing variation and effacing particular, site-bound histories. This we must also reject.
On the positive side, we conceptualize our belonging by projecting back and forward, and learn to see ourselves in relation to others. Projecting backward, we ponder the continuities and ruptures between ourselves and those who came before us in this region, beating their own paths to a world different from that which they were offered. Hundreds of projects, groups, movements, businesses, neighborhoods, farms, bands, publications, radio shows, artists, explorers, naturalists, campaigns, authors, events, and spaces inspire us, from Aldo Leopold to the Detroit newspaper strike of ’95, from Gwendolyn Brooks to the Bolt Weevils, from P-9 to New Harmony, from Antler to Jane. They gave to us work we seek to remember and comprehend, and, most importantly, which we continue, sometimes in radically different clothing. But here in this place, the place we share, the upper midwest. Considering these histories, rich with paradox, shortcoming, humor, militancy, creativity, and love, and ultimately liberatory, the question then becomes, how could we not be who we are, doing the kinds of work we do?
Projecting forward from this moment, we see the end of cheap energy, and the increasing costs of transportation, food production, health care, and fresh water. All trends point toward the exhaustion of resources, and toward the wisdom of regionally sustainable lifeways. And, as the critical source of hope, toward a world populated by people hungry for a different way. In the face of powerful forces invested in the current arrangements, oblivious or neglectful of the catastrophic probabilities, cultural workers must help lay the ground work for an emergent society based on a different grade of wisdom, a different set of ethical priorities. There exists a window of opportunity in the exploration and re-imagining of regional connections in this moment of global urban dominance, one we must seize by making the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor visible to itself.