Tote bags and independent magazines

I finally unpacked from last weekend's NCMR, and unloaded the special NCMR tote bag. I've learned from the past couple conferences I've attended that tote bags are apparently a necessary part of every conference. Am I being an ungracious a**hole when I say I find this ridiculous? Sure, tote bags are helpful in organizing all the conference materials and other items handed out at workshops, but don't people bring their own bags? And yes of course they're helpful in encouraging folks to not use paper/plastic grocery bags, but something tells me there's already enough tote bags in existence that maybe we should be passing those around. Plus, most importantly, where are these tote bags being made, and by whom? It's not like there's a lot of solid labor practices in the world of textile production. It just seems like unnecessary participation in useless commodity production. 

Anyway, on a brighter note, I do want to point out that inside the tote bag were a handful of independent progressive (I'm distinguishing here from radical) magazines that, while I might have specific criticisms of, overall I'm glad to see they're still being published. Check 'em out if you're not familiar...  

Yes: Building a just and sustainable world.  I remember the first time I met some folks from Yes. I was in a particularly crabby mood (it was at the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis, which I blogged about here), and just stood there thinking, "Wow, they're so positive! How do they do it?"  Anyway, this vibe of positivity definitely runs through their work, and I, for one, appreciate this aproach (tho I confess that I have to make sure I'm in the right frame of mind before I dig into an issue...). 

Utne Reader: The best of the alternative press.  Utne will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first foray into the world of "alternative" magazines. It was probably 17 years ago at this point, and I remember my excitement at learning about so many alternative/underground publications I otherwise would've likely never known about.  On a practical level, I thought Utne was cool 'cause it was smaller in size, and there were no "jumps" (meaning that articles end on the same page they start. Way cool for those of us who find jumping around to other parts of the magazine to finish a little frustrating). They also used to (and maybe still do?) offer the Utne Awards for the best publications in the alternative press (Bitch was nominated a number of times, but we never won). Chris Dodge, one of the most knowledgeable and kind zinesterfolk I've met, used to be their librarian, and helped create an impressive collection of magazines, zines, and books that remains at their offices today. Anyway, a number of years ago, I watched in horror as the magazine seemed to be veering towards this obnoxious new-age-y feel, offering what felt like endless articles on "green capitalism" (ugh). I stopped reading it. In recent years, I've been thrilled to see that they're returning to their roots, focusing more on grassroots activism, community-building, and veering away from all that new-age um... garbage (just to be clear, I'm referring to the new age garbage that encourages total naval-gazing and individual improvement without a thought to the world around oneself). One of the highlights of last weekend's conference was spending time with current editor David Schimke and the rest of the Utne staff, the folks responsible for steering Utne back to its original intentions.

Adbusters. Adbusters is pretty amazing. Over the years, they've created an effective network of artists, activists, organizers, pranksters, students, and others committed to social change. Despite the fact that in recent years, I often have trouble deciphering the point of some of their content (it sometimes seems to be some sort of masturbatory fest for graphic designers, you know?), they simply kick ass. They're one of few explicitly anti-consumerist magazines around, and they're actively trying to dismantly existing power structures. Plus, they're based in Canada. Cool...

In These Times. The main point I want to make about In These Times is that they're one of very few magazines that specifically focus on union/labor organizing, and in today's climate of ever-weakening labor laws and corporate malfeasance, this is critical. Worker rights and worker struggles should receive much more attention than they do in radical/progressive circles. 

The American Prospect and The Nation:  What can I say about these two age-old publications that, to me, have always seemed targetted to middle-aged straight "white," Liberal (yes, with a capital L)?  Well sometimes they do surprise me with their analysis, and despite my misgivings, I'm glad they're still around.

Ms. Magazine. I assume this inclusion was conference organizers' attempt at making sure there was a "feminist" voice in the tote. Ms. chaps my hide much of the time (I'll keep this short and simply point to the fact that they do a Ms. cruise), but again, at the end of the day, at least for now, I'm glad they're around. 


by Debbie Rasmussen
View profile »

Get Bitch Media's top 9 reads of the week delivered to your inbox every Saturday morning! Sign up for the Weekly Reader:

2 Comments Have Been Posted

'On The Issues' has resurfaced online

I couldn't agree more with the magazine choices (I am also a longtime <b>Utne Reader</b> reader). I indeed understand your criticisms in your other posts about the NCMR. But I think the overall idea of the conference was to let a more general audience know that there is a serious problem with the "mainstream" media and that it is up to the concerned (Who are absolutely, positively fed up with the Bill O'Reilly's, Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys and Glenn Becks dominating the "mainstream" airwaves with their spinning, xenophobic spewings) to at least start doing something about them. In due time the concerned will dig deeper and discover that there is so much more to independent media than the "big names" that were featured in the conference.

Anyway, I want to add that I just discovered that <b>On The Issues</b> which was in print from 1983-1999, has resurfaced in an online format. It reads more like <b>Ms.</b> (Which I, too, find necessary, but do not agree with everything that is written in it.) But I am hopeful that it will be more inclusive, facilitating the serious discussions that are so very needed among feminists of ALL strifes and persuasions (I have SO HAD ENOUGH of the divides that the "mainstream" media has glossed over so obsessively in recent months!) Check out <b>On The Issues</b> at

on tote bags

My WAM! totebag ripped the first time I tried to use it after the conference. It's still usable, but it was pretty flimsy to begin with. That said, I love conference tote bags - if they are a conference I want to flaunt, like WAM! haha! But yes, I have boxes of tote bags that are rarely used. Maybe we need to make WAM! a BYOB conference next year? Huh?

Veronica I. Arreola
Also at:

Add new comment