Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The White Rose, Zines, and Freedom of Speech

Members of the White Rose, L to R:  Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl, and Christoph Probst
I had never heard of the White Rose until yesterday, when something ran across my facebook page.  The White Rose (Der weissen Rose) was a German resistance group during World War II, composed primarily of students at the University of Munich.  Kids.  They were just kids.  But they were wise enough and brave enough to see the evil being wrought in their name, to the world and to their own people.  They covertly printed and distributed a series of leaflets urging their nation to rise up, by passive resistance, to wake up and attempt to collapse the Third Reich from the inside.  Most Germans were afraid, some were not, some were overtly complicit, or full of misguided loyalty.  But these young people still did whatever they could to try to stoke whatever embers of resistance might still have been smoldering.

Reading their leaflets and hearing their story was, for me, a stark reminder of the pricelessness of a free and independent press.  Being a former zine publisher and current blogger (who writes about things mostly inconsequential, occasionally less so), I know this first hand.  I have always felt that music was one of the most free forms of expression allowed in what has become a fairly homogenous, if not controlled, media.  This is one of the reasons I originally began publishing a zine.  Another was that our college radio station (where I had hosted the local show for years) had become co-opted by "commercial alternative".  A key voice in my community had been silenced.   I was PISSED!  (like a 25-year-old Patton Oswalt; jump to 0:45)

Others from the world I had joined were more interested, better really, at using the zine format as a voice of political protest (MYLXINE, Smell of Dead Fish, Trailer Trash, Cometbus).  But I still felt a part of this community.  I saw the need to contribute in my own small way.  Hell, if I had been in a position to keep zine'ing in the early 2000s, I would have dove headlong, keyboard blazing, into the Bush regime!  Lord knows I was obsessed with chads, Florida election law, and the misinformation presented in the lead up to the Iraq War.  But others did so in my stead, and that's the point (unfortunately not enough in the mainstream media... another story).  Someone should always be there to pick up the torch.  That's what keeps us free and, in some cases, even alive.  But if we're silent, no matter how many outlets for speech we may have at our disposal, there is still no free speech.

The White Rose had no internet.  No cell phones.  They had neither blogs, nor Instagram, nor Facebook.  They had one clunky, hand-cranked printing press.  It had to be hidden for fear of their lives, as did any handwritten drafts they were working on.  They were publishing, basically, a high-stakes zine.  The highest of stakes.  And yet they still exercised their human right to free speech... in the end, at the cost of their very lives.  Kinda puts midnight trips to Kinko's into perspective.

Today, I'm encouraged by internet blogs, sites, and posts which (believe it or not!) ARE actually sometimes used for the expression of coherent thoughts and debate.  I'm encouraged by events like Zine Machine, recently held locally here in Durham, NC, and what I see as a resurgence in young people's desire to have their voices be heard.  I'm encouraged by protests around the nation over killings of unarmed suspects by police. I'm encouraged by the Moral Monday protests here in Raleigh.  Hell, I'm even encouraged by Tea Party and Pro-Life protests!  Although I may be on the opposite ends of the political spectrum from those last two, it's still encouraging.  You see, as long as ALL sides are allowed to (and do) voice their opinions -- protest, write, blog, yell, whatever -- then we should never get to the dark place from which the White Rose had to try to shine their light.  

PLEASE read the leaflets at the link.  As you read their words, the courageousness of these young people becomes almost tangible.  Simply astonishing.

P.S.:  Also read the introduction to the leaflets, by whomever has transcribed them (apparently for a presentation on the White Rose).  It gives some context to what are somewhat jarring statements about atheists and Jewish people.  As for atheism, they seem to conflate it with the Third Reich.  As for the Jews in Europe, they are speaking to their audience -- the German public -- in an attempt to get them to pull back from what had probably (insanely) become and actual point of legitimate debate in wartime Germany.

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