Monday, January 31, 2011

RIP John Ross

Although this is old news by blogging standards, I thought it worth mentioning that Beat Era poet and freelance journalist John Ross passed away earlier this month. I have a long-standing interest in all things Beat Era, and Ross' poetic work is, not surprisingly, right up my alley. But what really cemented his place in America's alternative historical narratives was his coverage of the Zapatistas starting in the early 1990s. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I recall John Ross to be the first American journalist to break the story of the Zapatistas' only weeks before their first uprising at the dawn of 1994. Ross would go on to document the Zapatistas and their struggle for the remainder of his life. I read many of his dispatches that appeared regularly at CounterPunch, as well as the books he authored chronicling the Zapatistas from the mid-1990s onward. Although there are other writers these days who are working that particular beat, I'd like to believe that John Ross' early work opened a space in the predominantly English-speaking US in which reporting and analysis of the Zapatistas became acceptable in a way that would not have been possible otherwise.

His work was witty, irreverent, iconoclastic, and deeply personal. In other words, Ross was one hell of a gonzo journalist in an era when such writers are a dying breed. He was an advocate against neoliberalism at a time when we were bombarded with propaganda about the inevitability of neoliberalism's conformist corporate sheen, when we were supposed to be living in the much-ballyhooed "end of history." In his words, there were constant reminders of the struggles required for the rest of us to get some semblance of justice, and of the other worlds that were possible to the extent we were willing to put ourselves on the line. His voice will be missed.

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