rebel friends cover

Rebel Friendships

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Rebel Friendships
November 22, 2015 5:00 PM
November 22, 2015 8:00 PM
Suggested donation of $5 to benefit the Bureau. No one turned away for lack of funds.
212 620 7310 ext. 300
November 2, 2015
Bureau of General Services—Queer Division @ The Center
212 620 7310 ext. 300
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208 West 13th Street, Room 210, New York, NY, 10011, United States
rebel friends cover


Author Ben Shepard writes:

     Rebel Friendships: “Outsider” Networks and Social Movements is a book inspired by the world of organizing we have all created, along with the lovely and messy ways organizers go about creating change through our own invisible committees, affinity groups, and networks of comrades. Some of the chapters I’ve been drafting for years now. The work covers my experiences with the first person I know to die of AIDS, my godfather Fred, who worked at Keller’s bar on the West Side of Manhattan, my recollections of towel snapping and high school football, identify blurring AIDS activism in San Francisco, drag marches in New York, anarchist bikers, Occupiers, and universal stories of friends still taking care of each other and their friends coping with premature losses, overdose, and struggles over what we hope our world can be.
     Rebel Friendships considers the interplay between individuals and their friendships with social movements. The intersections between individual and community, the ways we experiment with social change, explore, create, and reduce the harms of modern living are the work of social movements. Yet, the process is rarely simple. Through auto-ethnographic reflections of experiences with the Beats, ACT-UP, Occupy Wall Street, anti-consumer, queer rights, and non-polluting transportation movements Shepard explores the way friendship infuses social movements with the social capital necessary to move bodies of ideas forward. Such innovation is rarely seen in more institutionalized social arrangements. Rebel Friendships offers a new take on the ties between friends who are connected through affinity and efforts aimed at social change.

Two ACT UP/NY veterans, Jay Blotcher and Andrew Velez, will join Shepard to discuss our experience of the magic of activist friendships and esprit de corps.


Suggested donation of $5 to benefit the Bureau. No one turned away for lack of funds.


Praise for Rebel Friendships:

“A daring and innovative approach to social movements – Shepard’s book is a treasure and tool. Taking on the importance of affect, friendship, care and trust in movements he at once teaches the reader and entertains simultaneously. This trailblazing book addresses an area of social movements studies woefully under researched and does a stupendous job of capturing theory, history and feeling – all the while using a narrative form that makes the reader not want to put down the book.”

Marina Sitrin, author of Everyday Revolutions: Horizontalism and Autonomy in Argentina and co-author of – They Can’t Represent Us!: Reinventing Democracy from Greece to Occupy.


Rebel Friendships delves deep into a phenomenon that every activist, and student of activism, is aware of, but not enough of us acknowledge: at the core of every collective and at the center of every social movement are individual friendships – radical friendships. Kudos to Benjamin Heim Shepard for writing this perceptive and moving book!”

Stephen Duncombe, Professor of Media and Culture, NYU, and Co-Director, Center of Artistic Activism
“In Rebel Friendships Benjamin Shepard continues and extends the project that has engaged him during the eighteen years of our friendship. That project is an ongoing social activism and a growing body of writing, a politics and an esthetics. It believes deeply in people as the ultimate repository of worth, a community but also a collection of frail, flawed, uniquely amazing individuals. Both Ben and his writing are good.”

Jim Eigo
“Benjamin Shepard book Rebel Friendships is a masterpiece, weaving together the lived experiences of activists critical to important movements for social justice. In lucid prose, Shepard vividly details the dialectical interplay among key individuals engaged in activism through friendships – the magical elixir of sustainable movement making. This compelling analysis is a must read!”

Ron Hayduk, Professor of Political Science, Queens College/CUNY and rebel friend among activists from global justice to immigrant rights, Occupy to the Lower East Side Collective


“Friendship is a central social and psychological force in people’s lives. Yet it also has political dimensions, as Ben Shepard so vividly demonstrates. Through his own personal stories, and interviews and biographies of friends, Shepard gives meaning to the oft-quoted feminist phrase that ‘the personal is political.’ In Rebel Friendships, we experience the many profound ways friends create community activism, develop families of choice, mentor each other, and perform rituals. This is indeed the book that illustrates the transformative political and personal power of friendships.”

Peter M. Nardi, PhD, author of Gay Men’s Friendships: Invincible Communities


Rebel Friendships is a necessary contribution to contemporary radical social movements and the literatures that discuss them. Part memoir, part scholarly analysis, and part political assessment, in this book Ben Shepard reminds us, earnestly, that productive struggles from below require the engines of trust, love, and mutual aid that define “friendship.” Throughout the case studies and reflections here, Shepard offers powerful examples of the ways that friendship has played a decisive role in radical social struggles throughout recent history, and how friendship will be the foundation of our efforts toward building a better future.”

Craig Hughes, Team Colors Collective
“Shepard’s big-hearted book is a galvanizing reminder that the search for and maintenance of human connections lie at the center of any valid fight for change. Through well-researched historical analysis and engaging personal anecdotes, Shepard reimagines community organizing by simply reminding us who we have been, who we are, and who we can become. This book makes me want to befriend everyone.”

Rev. Micah Bucey
Associate Minister, Judson Memorial Church
“A impressively researched and starkly confessional examination of interpersonal bonding at the so-called edges of society — and how the power of friendship can incrementally reframe notions of normality. Ben Shepard delivers exactly the kind of cross-disciplinary study more social science scholars should be engaged with in order to understand the essentially activist components of our evolving human nature.”

Rob Magnuson Smith, author or The Gravedigger and The Scorper, teaches English and Creative Writing at Exeter’s Penryn campus in Cornwall.
By day, Benjamin Shepard, PhD, LMSW, works as an Associate Professor of Human Services at City Tech/CUNY. By night, battles to keep New York from becoming a giant shopping mall. To this end, he has done organizing work with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), SexPanic!, Reclaim the Streets, Times UP, the Clandestine Rebel Clown Army, Absurd Response, CitiWide Harm Reduction, Housing Works, More Gardens Coalition, Times UP!, Right of Way, and Occupy Wall Street.

He is also the author/editor of several books: White Nights and Ascending Shadows: An Oral History of the San Francisco AIDS Epidemic (1997), From ACT UP to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization (2002), Queer Political Performance and Protest (Routledge, 2009) The Beach beneath the Streets: Contesting New York’s Public Spaces (with Greg Smithsimon, SUNY Press) and Play, Creativity, and Social Movements: If I Can’t Dance, Its Not My Revolution (Routledge, 2011), and Community Projects as Social Activism: From Direct Action to Direct Services (Sage).

In 2010, he was named to the Playboy Honor Role as one of twenty professors “who are reinventing the classroom.”

A social worker, he has worked in AIDS services / activism for two decades, joining ACT UP Golden Gate in the early 1990’s, opening two congregate facilities for people living with HIV/AIDS, serving as deputy director for a syringe exchange program, all while remaining active in efforts to bridge the gap between direct action and direct services. Today, he remains involved in organizing efforts around transportation, HIV/AIDS, labor, public spaces and environmental policy.