Sascha Altman DuBrul

Berkeley resident Sascha Altman DuBrul has accomplished much as a community organizer and punk rocker, inspiring many who subscribe to the philosophies of Noam Chomsky or punk-rock ethics.

And he’s done so despite struggles with bipolar disorder.

In his book Maps to the Other Side, he offers a journey through his writings over the years, covering subjects such as train-hopping, political activism, community gardens and his struggles with mental illness. “The stories in this book are the personal maps through my jagged lands of brilliance and madness,” he writes in the introduction.

DuBrul starts by talking about his childhood. He was raised in a chaotic home by two parents who consistently fought while he was being raised by the television. He talks about the Live Aid concert in 1985, saying he was disappointed by the much-anticipated concert, and calling it as a gathering of coked-out rock stars who got together to sing “We Are the World.”

As DuBrul grew older, he became more influenced by punk rock and set out to change the world, inspired by Noam Chomsky and the punk-rock style of activism. Oh, yeah, and he listened to Chumbawamba during their early punk-rock days before we all heard “Tubthumping” on repeat.

He traveled the country via train-hopping, listening to the stories of migrant workers and hoboes; he eventually fell into the world of community gardens and took part in protests against NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. He spent a lot of time in Northern and Southern California working in community gardens and organizing punk rockers to take up political causes. He even set up California’s first seed-exchange and seed-preservation network, known as BASIL. Author Ruth Ozeki was inspired by him and based a character on him in one of her novels.

While DuBrul was an inspiring figure who worked tirelessly for his causes, people around him were beginning to notice he was coming apart. He describes various episodes while off medication, such as scaring his friends with his rants and making scenes in public, including an interesting encounter with the Los Angeles Police Department. “For brevity’s sake, I’ll spare the details, but let me just say that I’m lucky I didn’t end up with an LAPD bullet in my chest,” he writes.

His struggles with taking his daily regimen of prescription drugs while trying to stay productive are at times heartbreaking, but inspiring when he manages to pull himself together and keep moving on. By founding the Icarus Project, he became an alternative-information source on the subject of bipolar disorder, while giving people the ability to express themselves through the arts and collaborate as a collective on the subject of mental illness.

Despite being derailed at times by bipolar disorder, DuBrul offers a unique perspective on what it’s like to lose one’s mind, yet still manage to make a difference. Maps to the Other Side also offers a unique look into the world of collective-based activism that was going on long before Occupy Wall Street came along—as told by someone who has dedicated his life to social justice.

Maps to the Other Side

By Sascha Altman DuBrul

Microcosm

192 pages, $15.95/sliding scale at microcosmpublishing.com

Brian Blueskye

A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Brian Blueskye moved to the Coachella Valley in 2005. He was the assistant editor and staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent from 2013 to 2019. He is currently the...