BLU Magazine, a grassroots publication based in Rifton, New York, debuted in early 1999 as not much more than a small sheaf of newsprint bound by a sewing machine. In just one year, the operation has grown into a worldwide multimedia assault on social and cultural apathy, complete with the print magazine, an interactive web site (Blumag.com) with all the left links, custom-tailored CD soundtracks, and event sponsorships.
The magazine’s publisher, the Revolution Center, describes BLU as a “music-oriented bimonthly about spirituality and politics.” Translation: a magazine that promotes old-school ideals on the new-school tip.
BLU was founded by a handful of disillusioned early twentysomethings, most of whom grew up together in the Bruderhof Christian communes of upstate New York. Known for wearing plaid tunics and espousing staunch pacifist views, the Bruderhof faithful might seem an odd source for a magazine that deals in urban hardcore grit. Once playfully dubbed the Bruderhof Liberation Underground, BLU offers a miscellany of leftist polemic, educating the masses about everything from police brutality and women’s struggles to the tensions in Vieques—a spicy brew of reporting, poetry, and music that serves as a sort of Chicken Soup for the Revolutionary.
It’s all part of an attempt to snare today’s youth and get them involved in something.
“BLU is not now and never will be a mainstream magazine,” editor in chief Rubén Ayala writes in an open letter to readers. “At times I wish BLU were more mainstream . . . so that it could start to pay for itself someday!”
What it lacks in funding, the paper makes up for with the BLU Network, recruited through the Web site. Members of this “staff at large,” many of whom are not affiliated with the Bruderhof community, are the global eyes and ears of the operation, handling everything from finding and writing articles to promotion and marketing. The network has enabled BLU to circulate in countries as far-flung as Lithuania and land a worldwide distribution deal through Tower Records. Currently, the magazine’s global readership hovers around 12,000.
In a recent issue, only a single page was explicitly devoted to the Bruderhof community. Understandably, casual readers could be wary that the religious ties indicate a hidden agenda.
BLU‘s editors brush it off. “The Bruderhof is never going to tell anyone how to do their work, and we will never allow someone else to tell us how to do ours,” Ayala writes to readers. “The important thing is that everybody does something, even if it is small or low-profile.”
But why would a bunch of suburban white kids pursue minority street culture with such zeal?
According to senior editor Priscilla Arnold, as young members of the primarily older-generation Bruderhof community, the BLU staff lamented being fed a one-sided, relatively conservative outlook. “All of us were pretty clueless,” says Arnold. “You know, ‘cops are good’—until we met victims on the other side.”
The friends found their calling to street-level activism through their own life experiences. Features editor Marianne Mommsen, a Vassar dropout, discovered prison injustices during an internship and adopted the cause after leaving college. Arnold, a 23-year-old graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, found inspiration in the struggle to block the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal and in the plight of Puerto Rican political prisoners.
Though Bruderhof members don’t necessarily condone the views expressed in BLU, they agreed to support the project out of respect for those who seek justice. The Revolution Center, a publishing enterprise of the Bruderhof, gave BLU financing and political clout.
The magazine’s content, most of which is obtained through the BLU Network, speaks for itself: the conscious music of Dead Prez, the teachings of “reluctant warrior” Assata Shakur, and inspirational stories of struggle. Shout-outs from hip-hop mainstays like Mos Def and musical contributions from artists like Ricanstruction leave little to question.
Though BLU‘s mix of spirituality and political revolution may leave a funky taste in the mouth, it is edutaining nonetheless. So just how does BLU define revolution?
“Activism that won’t take compromise,” says managing editor Pete Mommsen. “We are not interested in people who complain about sweatshops today and are corporate capitalists tomorrow.”