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Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
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Racism, Injustice, and Conflict Transformation
Walkin' the Dog, Walter Mosley, New York: Little,
Brown and Co., 1999, 260 pp. $24.95.
"All he thought was that he had to stand up without killing." This insight, emerging from Socrates Fortlow's dialogue with himself, accurately conveys the dilemma of every person seeking peace with justice in a nuclear age. The fact that a 60-year-old African American ex-prisoner, "with rock-breaking arms," arrived at this wisdom after a life of fury and pain, gives it special power. Few works of fiction that I have read, in fact, have rendered the struggle for personal and social integrity in the face of violence so acutely.
Socrates Fortlow, nine years out of jail, still lives in a lean-to in a Watts alley, between two sign boards. In a series of linked stories, Walkin' the Dog follows Socrates' adventures in anger, friendship, and survival, subsequent to his experience in Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned (1998).
In the previous book, Fortlow had intervened to "save" a young black man, Daryl, from being destroyed by the anarchy of a Watts' world of poverty and racism that had undermined his own noble instincts. In Walkin' the Dog, through Fortlow's attentiveness and mentoring, Daryl begins to put his own life together, and to attend to the hard lessons that Fortlow has to teach, as well as to the wisdom at the heart of his instruction.
In the meantime, there are the various episodes of Fortlow's victimization by the local police--as a former black prisoner he's the usual suspect for any crime in the vicinity--and a confrontation with a rogue officer who has terrorized the neighborhood for years. Willing to sacrifice his life for others and, thereby, risk ending his life in prison, he launches a one-man public protest at the precinct station, standing in his camouflage army surplus overalls with a hand-lettered sandwich board detailing "the crimes of Matthew G. Cardwell, Jr., POLICE OFFICER AND KILLER."
Through personal struggle and various friendships, including two strong women drawn to him by his integrity and capacity for genuine affection, Fortlow gathers a small community around him. The conversations emerging from these meetings are a particularly important dimension of the novel. Slowly, the participants identify and eventually channel their feelings of isolation in a way that alters their relationships to one another and the wider community.
Across the years, Fortlow keeps remembering the stories of his tall, severe Aunt Bellandra, "about the black race in a white world under a blue god who barely noticed man." But he also remembers her hope in the unexpected appearance of an angel singing. "And when a black man hear that honied voice all the terrible loss an' pain fall away an' the man look up an' see that he always knew the right road but he never made a move."
The power of Mosley's prose arises from an amazing combination of hard-core realism, even naturalism, with a lyricism that conveys the full range of Fortlow's character--his day-to-day care of Daryl and a two-legged mongrel, his loyalty to a dying friend, and his love-life.
Author of eight previous works of fiction, including the Easy Rawlins mysteries, Mosley is admired by his peers, his work having been published in numerous periodicals and translated into twenty languages. Not since Bernard Malamud's The Tenant, have I read a novel that conveys so authentically the complex, elemental struggles of people under the weight of racism and injustice. And that's about the highest compliment I can pay a writer of fiction.