A Q&A with Michelle Oberman: Americans have spent the past forty-five years fighting over whether abortion should be legal. I spent the past ten years trying to figure out how it matters. I had a couple of reasons for wanting to know why. First, because I’m a law professor and I study women’s health issues, the abortion war has been raging throughout my career. We fight over abortion’s legality like it matters, with both sides investing millions of dollars in lawyers and lawsuits every year. Many Americans now cast votes to elect our public officials based on their abortion stance. But what difference would it make if abortion was illegal? I wanted to know what was really at stake.
By Kay Whitlock: I called my father and asked him to meet in me in a hometown park in southern Colorado. He still lived in the small stucco house I’d grown up in, a space that I felt still defined me as a child. My mother was deceased. My only purpose in meeting with my father that day was to hear myself breaking the silence in which our own family fiction evolved. The fiction that we were in all respects, apart from a minor blip or two, a happy family. In reality, we were a complicated and unpredictable mix of good intentions and terrible hurts, at once inflicted, received, and kept hidden from the outside world, sometimes even from ourselves.
By Kay Whitlock: Throughout my life, my most painful and wrenching experiences have become unexpected portals into new ways of seeing more deeply into the nature of old dilemmas—or at least, my old dilemmas. My initial feeling is almost always, “Oh, shit, no.” Followed by: “I won’t! I can’t! Fuck this! You can’t ask this of me! No!” And yet. And yet. One such portal appeared when, as a result of breaking my personal silence on child sexual abuse and trying to imagine what justice could possibly mean for me (and also, yes, for “the perpetrator”), I ran smack into the punishing prison archetype constellated in my own psyche. Unsettled, I began to question, then openly reject, public rituals of shaming, revenge, and retribution.
By William Ayers, Crystal Laura, and Rick Ayers: The journalist Fareed Zakaria notes, “Half of America’s teachers graduated in the bottom third of their college class,” in sharp contrast to countries that have more successful schools, such as Finland, South Korea, and Singapore, places that consistently draw 100 percent of their teachers from the top third of graduates.1 Finnish students are dependably at or near the top in international examinations, which makes sense since their teacher corps is drawn from the best and the brightest.
“It is our common tragedy that we have lost [Martin Luther King, Jr.’s] prophetic voice but it would compound the tragedy if the lessons he did articulate are now ignored.” So wrote Coretta Scott King in the forward of Dr. King’s final book Where Do We Go from Here, his analysis of American race relations and the state of the movement after a decade of civil rights efforts. Each year, we honor his life and his legacy on his birthday. 2018 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of his death—a time for us to take account of our troubled times and truly pay attention to the message of his lessons.
By Brian Clements, Alexandra Teague, and Dean Rader: All three of us are poets and professors. We all also write prose. Our jobs rely on and live in words. And yet, there are no real words to describe our complicated emotions about this anthology. On the one hand, we are grateful that it exists. On the other, we are mortified that it exists. We are pleased these amazing poems and responses are out there in the world; we are horrified there are increased reasons for them to be in this book.
2017 has been ragged and turbulent, charged with a fraught political climate spawned by a divisive presidential election. 2017 witnessed assaults on progress in racial justice, backlashes against environmental protections, and more. When we needed perspective and lucid social critique on the latest attacks on our civil liberties, our authors were there. We couldn’t be more thankful for them. They make the Broadside, which reached its tenth anniversary this year, the treasure trove of thought-provoking commentary we can turn to in our troubling and uncertain times. As our director Helene Atwan wrote in our first ever blog post, “It’s our hope that Beacon Broadside will be entertaining, challenging, provocative, unexpected, and—maybe above all—a good appetizer.” We certainly hope that’s the case for the year to come. Before 2017 comes to a close, we would like to share a collection of some of the highlights of the Broadside. Happy New Year!
By Martin Luther King, Jr.: This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and goodwill toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have goodwill toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power.
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker: By now it’s obvious that Donald Trump is acting out a twisted vendetta to erase every trace of Barack Obama’s eight-year legacy. The creation of the Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monuments are part of that legacy, which were efforts to protect vast swaths of relatively pristine and undeveloped land in southern Utah in one of his last acts as president. That’s one frame for understanding Trump’s recent reversal of the monument designation for most of that land—approximately fifty percent for Staircase Escalante, and eighty-five percent in the case of Bear’s Ears. Altogether, the national monument designation protected roughly 3.5 million acres of public lands.
The combined House and Senate GOP tax bill is going to hurt more than just our economy. In our fraught political climate, anxieties and concerns are running high with regard to the impacts we should brace ourselves for in various sectors of American society. We reached out to a few of our authors to ask what’s at stake now that the House and Senate have struck a deal on the bill and are preparing a final version to deliver to Trump before Christmas.
By Jeanne Theoharis: The air was hot and sticky. Surrounded by clergy, Rev. William Barber lambasted the voter suppression that had compromised the 2016 presidential election. “Long before Russia hacked our election, our government was hacked by racism.” Since Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and the Supreme Court’s 2013 stripping of the Voting Rights Act, Barber explained, twenty-two states had passed new laws making it harder for people, particularly people of color, to vote.
By Linda Quaig and Neil Brooks: Barely a month after Barack Obama had been sworn in as the forty-fourth US president, riding a wave of immense popular support with his “Yes, we can” rallying cry echoing around the country and the world, a voice seemed to appear from nowhere saying, “No, actually you can’t.” Ostensibly, it came first from Rick Santelli, a relatively obscure investment manager-turned-commentator on CNBC, who denounced Obama’s plans to help struggling American homeowners as “promoting bad behavior.” In a wide-ranging rant from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on February 19, 2009, Santelli said, “We’re thinking of having a Chicago Tea Party in July. All you capitalists that want to show up to Lake Michigan, I’m gonna start organizing.” Within hours, a protest movement had swung into action on the Internet, talk radio, and cable TV, and rallies were scheduled across the country for the following week.
By Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen: “The system is rigged!” is now an angry, bipartisan cry, intensifying as Trump bows to big-donor interests and deepens distrust of government. But here’s the worst part. Not only has big-donor influence blocked life-saving public actions, from worker safety to climate change, but in recent decades political donors have gotten savvier. They’ve been able not only to bend policy for their own benefit, but, increasingly, to remake the rules of democracy itself to serve their interests. Here’s a taste of what we mean.
By Colum McCann: “If you speak, you die. If you keep quiet, you die. So, speak and die.” Shortly after the Algerian poet and journalist Tahar Djaout wrote these words in the summer of 1993 he was gunned down in the streets of Algiers. Djaout spoke in favor of progress, secularism, decency, a broader world where intellectual and moral narrowness would be defeated. But the bullets did their work: after a week in a coma, Djaout died. His killers, a fundamentalist group, later admitted that they feared him because he wielded the mighty weapon of language.
By Linda K. Wertheimer: Public school teachers, particularly those in elementary classrooms, face the same challenge every December. Do they pay homage to Christmas and maybe Hanukkah in a class party or activity? Or do they ignore the holidays altogether? Public school educators often look at the “December dilemma” as a question about how to recognize the holidays the majority of families in their communities celebrate. They miss a more important question. How can schools teach students of all ages about different world religions, reduce religious ignorance and ideally, make a dent in religious bigotry, too?
With the anticipation of a mouth-watering feast and time away from the office to lounge with family and friends, Americans come together for Thanksgiving. It’s the holiday where conversations about our national origins abound. But much of the US’s widely accepted origin story is skewed by the lens of settler colonialism and has silenced the voices of Native Americans. With Native American Heritage Month, observed every November since 1990, we can reflect on the history and contributions of Indigenous peoples. “Writing US History from Indigenous peoples’ perspective requires rethinking the consensual narrative,” historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz tells us in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. “That narrative is wrong—not in facts, dates and details—but rather in essence.”
A Q&A with Bill Fletcher, Jr.: Joe Ricketts views unionizing as unreasonable because it stands in the way of his absolute, totalitarian domination of the workplace. The union is the only voice that workers can possess. The union makes demands based on the needs and desires of their members. The employer is expected to negotiate in good faith. There is no assumption that the negotiations will necessarily result in an agreement but that they will be taken seriously. Most of the employer class wants nothing that results in the diminishing of their absolute power over the workplace, regardless of the consequences.
By Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page: In June 2015 a surprising number of Americans stopped to gawk at a thirty-seven-year-old “African American” woman named Rachel Dolezal who, after an almost decade-long act, was outed by her parents as a white woman who chose to pass as black. The national response, culminating in a Today show appearance, was extreme. Some were outraged by her deception, while others drew parallels between her right to live her “truth” the same way Caitlyn Jenner embodies hers. Rachel—or “#BlackRachel” as she trended online—never once “broke character.”
By Molly Velazquez-Brown: Fall has always been my favorite season. I love the feeling of a cozy sweater and a cup of warmed mulled cider mixed with ghost stories and the crunch of changing leaves. I am comfortable living my truth of autumn everything. But here’s what I don’t love about the season. The offensive Halloween costumes that come disguised as “spooky” fun. I’m not talking gory bloody “it’s-hard-for-me-to-look-at-how-grotesque-your-costume-is” offensive. I mean the mocking of a culture. The belittling of a race—or more often, several. The reduction of peoples to single stereotypes. Growing up Mexican-American, this is a problem I have encountered my entire life.
By Ben Mattlin: In mid-October, disability-rights activists were justifiably outraged and dismayed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ latest action. According to the Washington Post, the Trump appointee had rescinded seventy-two policy documents related to the rights of students with disabilities. So heated were the reactions on social media and elsewhere that, a few days later, the Education Department tried to allay fears by explaining that the intent was merely to eliminate redundancies and outdated language. The changes, a department spokesperson said, would have zero effect on students with disabilities. But if they had zero effect, why bother?