The various Z Projects began with Z Magazine which grew out of the prior book publishing operation, South End Press, which was itself Z in spirit if not in name. The aim of the magazine was to continue the editorial focus South End Press had initiated for books, but to now apply it to articles. Z sought to prioritize economic, political, gender, cultural, ecological, and international relations, none to the exclusion of or more dominantly than the rest, and each always with an emphasis on their combined, intersecting, and mutually reproducing effects. Z sought to address vision as a basis for strategy, and strategy as a basis for activism. It’s staff intended Z to be anti-authoritarian and pro-anarchist, anti-sexist and pro-feminist, anti-racist and pro-intercommunalist, anti-capitalist and pro-participatory economic.
In these respects, I felt and I still feel that Z’s agenda was both worthy and essential. But why do a magazine? Why didn’t we just stick with books? We birthed the magazine out of a desire to have a more continuous connection and sense of community with a stable and growing audience.
Despite those high hopes, Z Magazine emerged from South End Press in a rather shaky fashion. We had some funds, but not remotely enough to properly initiate and sustain a monthly magazine. Further, to fund raise from wealthy sources was virtually impossible due to Z’s encompassing editorial and militant focus. Z was simply too radical. So we bootstrapped. That is, we used our limited initial funds to do a mass mailing to enlist first subscribers. The new payments we received from that mailing were meant to pay for first subscribers’ first year of issues, but we promptly risked their payments to finance a second mailing. Then we did the same with the results of the second mailing, to pay for a third. We became adept at stifling fear of failure. There may have been a fourth too, I don’t remember. The results of the third or fourth mailing were finally used to finance the operations that the subscribers had paid for. If the first, second, or third mailing had horribly failed, the magazine would have died on the vine. It was a scary path. We ventured. We feared. We gained. That approach wasn’t new. Z lived.
From there on we suffered through numerous periods when a fund raising campaign had to succeed if Z were to continue. That claim is often made by alternative media (not to mention political candidates) but I suspect it is not always true, especially for online operations, though it was repeatedly true for Z Magazine. Each time we begged for help for the first few years, it was life or death. Once we had achieved some stability, we sent requests for funds that indicated how we hoped to use ensuing support to grow, not that we were desperate to survive.
Each edition of the magazine included 64 pages of one to three thousand word commentaries with a few three to five thousand word and sometimes longer features, plus graphics, photo essays, debates, and interviews. We had a who’s who of left writers, a number of whom submitted a piece every issue. A good many of the writers were first discovered by Z, while Z propelled many others into greater visibility.
After a time, the internet became a factor and we immediately diversified by taking up the cyber challenge that massive connectivity posed. This had many stages and ultimately yielded ZNet, an online operation that built off the magazine’s community but added many additional dimensions. Along the way we conducted the Z Media Institute, ZMI, which over the years provided onsite skills training and consciousness raising to roughly eight hundred attendees. With still more years racing past, the magazine came to an end, unable to sustain itself against the challenge of free online content. ZNet, however, which was itself a free website, persisted. It developed through the largess of Z sustainers, and it navigated still more experiences, year by year, until we arrive at today and the birth of the new ZNetwork.
To everything, there is a season, turn turn turn…and now it is my season to move on from Z. The new ZNetwork starts with a staff of seven. It starts with upwards of 50,000 articles and many thousand other materials online. It starts with many Friends of whom I have become one, who will together provide the project advice, ideas, and content. But most important the new ZNetwork starts with the new backgrounds, insights, and energies that its new staff brings to providing analysis, vision, and strategy to audiences still committed to addressing race, gender, class, power, ecology, and international relations in all their entwinements. And to do so still with an eye partly on what we all reject, but mostly on what we seek and how we might best contribute to winning it. ZNetwork, continuing the legacy of Lydia Sargent, is still being born, and certainly not dying. It combines optimistic intellect with realistic will to seek real utopia.
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