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.”
By Abbey Clements and Brian Clements: It’s now November, and we’re approaching the five-year mark of the tragedy that befell Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Connecticut. We know what it’s like to walk through the residual effects of a horrific shooting, wandering through the days at the grocery store, at school, head down, not knowing what to say, trying to move forward, trying to make sense of it, trying to reclaim normalcy for your children, for all the town’s children.
Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” speech to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia. In it, he lays out three important steps to follow in order for the students to reach their full potential, no matter their status life, and calls on them to actively commit to the struggle for freedom and justice. King’s words are inspirational for students of any age, of any era. Especially now during our troubled times. In honor of the speech’s anniversary, we’re looking at the ways the empowering message of his speech resonates and guides us still today.
In light of the latest issues concerning gun control, sexual assault, and healthcare in America, we’re offering a list of resources for you to look through. The Las Vegas shooting that killed fifty-nine people and injured more than five hundred has us talking about gun control again. Even though, just a couple of weeks later, the media seem to have moved on to other topics, we need to keep the conversation going.
A Q&A with Jonathan Rosenblum: I was tremendously heartened in the first days of the Trump administration in January to see thousands of people come out to airports around the US to protest the president’s travel ban. People mobilized because of what was at stake. It was not just the status of foreign travellers, but our core values as a society. In the echoing halls of airport terminals from coast to coast, a spirit of resistance and humanity came alive.
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker: Since the days of the #NoDapl encampment, now nine months in the past, dozens of films have been released documenting the event. One of the latest is an offering from award-winning documentarian Brian Malone, titled Beyond Standing Rock. Malone has been touring the film and I recently had the chance to view it in Los Angeles, at the Autry Museum of the American West. What follows is my review of the film.
A Q&A with Jonathan Rosenblum: In my experience bargaining union contracts and negotiating with politicians, I’ve found that it’s easy to overestimate the importance of what happens at the bargaining table. When I’ve led union negotiations, I’ve emphasized to bargaining team members that what we win in the end depends ninety percent on what we do outside of bargaining, and only ten percent on what takes place inside the room.
By Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen: Celebrate democracy. Invite local musicians to a public park or library event room to share and teach songs related to freedom and democracy. And if you have the clout of an organization behind you, goad them to go for the spectacular. Imagine tens of thousands in a big-city stadium celebrating democracy. Wouldn’t Bruce Springsteen be up for that? We love the idea of audiences honoring Leonard Cohen by chanting and swaying to his powerful “Democracy,” with its refrain “Democracy is coming to the USA.” Concerts with a message have an impressive history.
A Q&A with Deborah Meier and Emily Gasoi: One reason why early advocates pushed to establish a universal, compulsory education system was because, in a democracy, the presumption is that we are all part of the “deciding class,” and therefore need to be educated in order to make informed decisions. And public institutions and spaces, including public schools, are essential in a democracy, because their very existence conveys that we are a society in which we meet together and share common resources. So it’s not just public schools that we argue are essential, but public institutions writ large. Throughout the book, we deliberately use the word commonweal, which means the “welfare of the public.” It’s a word that few people use in conversation, but we make a modest effort to bring it into our communal conscious.
By Carole Joffe: In addition to all the other devastating blows Houston-area residents weathered from Hurricane Harvey, those women who had previously scheduled an abortion or who suddenly realized they had an unwanted pregnancy were in particularly difficult straits. Area clinics were closed immediately after the storm, and in any cases, many potential patients had no way of reaching a facility even if one was open. Fortunately, due to a quite extraordinary mobilization effort on the part of abortion providers in Houston and elsewhere, the situation for those needing abortions improved considerably and far quicker than one would have had reason to believe.
By Joseph Rosenbloom: As a graduate student at Crozer Theological Seminary in Upland, Pennsylvania, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about the social ill of poverty and vowed to do something about it. He put the resolve on hold. For his first decade as a civil rights leader, he dedicated himself to ending racial segregation and discrimination against African Americans, not poverty. By the mid-1960s, however, the idea to grapple with the issue of poverty had seized him with a fierce urgency. “What does it profit a man,” he often quipped, “to be able to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t earn enough money to buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”
By José Orduña: When I was ten my dad gave me my first wallet—it was green, with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the outside. Then he handed me my identification card, my first green card, which was actually pink. He said we’d gotten it when we’d gone to Juárez but that he didn’t think I was ready to carry it then. I remembered we’d gone very suddenly and that I missed my thirdgrade class trip to an amusement park, that a man I’d never seen showed up at our door in Chicago, and that my dad let him into our house. The next day we were on a Greyhound bus that took three days to get to El Paso, Texas, and then we immediately took a cab across a bridge into Juárez.
By Margaret Regan: On her first day in an Arpaio jail, in the short-term holding pen at Fourth Avenue Jail, Mariana was locked up with twenty other women, most of them older than she was and a lot tougher. None of them had been convicted: they were being held for trial, innocent until proven guilty, but no one would guess that by the treatment they got. Mariana was in the packed cell from ten in the morning until eleven that night, and the only food she and the others got all day was a small bag of peanut butter—an Arpaio specialty—and bread and juice, delivered at 6:00 p.m. There was a single toilet, in a bathroom that had no door.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia are a frightening and disheartening reminder of how hate and intolerance in the US resurface when bigots feel empowered to act on their prejudice. Cornel West described the rally that took place on August 12 as “the biggest gathering of a hate-driven right wing in the history of this country in the last thirty to thirty-five years.” Watching the violence unfold left us feeling sorrowful and horrified.
By Martin Luther King, Jr. This is no time for romantic illusions and empty philosophical debates about freedom. This is a time for action. What is needed is a strategy for change, a tactical program that will bring the Negro into the mainstream of American life as quickly as possible. So far, this has only been offered by the nonviolent movement. Without recognizing this we will end up with solutions that don’t solve, answers that don’t answer, and explanations that don’t explain.
By Caroline Light Against the moral absolutism of police violence and DIY-security citizenship, the Black Lives Matter and #SayHerName movements have emerged to call out the deadly consequences of racist, classist, and (hetero) sexist violence. Beyond critiquing police violence, these movements challenge the larger structures that serve white supremacist, patriarchal power. Black Lives Matter, a network founded by three queer-identified women of color, “affirms the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, Black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all Black lives along the gender spectrum.” This “intersectional” approach to systemic violence considers the simultaneity of identity threat for vulnerable populations, and it is profoundly threatening to the DIY-security citizenship ideal. Black Lives Matter and #SayHerName challenge the epistemic roots of inequality, as well as its maliciously antidemocratic effects.
By Steve EarlyThe Chevron fire became a wake-up call for citizen action to make California refineries safer for their own workers and less harmful to air quality, community health, and the environment in general. Since August 2012, labor and community organizers have used lobbying, litigation, regulatory intervention, electoral politics, and strike activity to pursue these goals. There has been some safety enforcement progress, modest financial concessions by Big Oil, and related promises to behave better in the future. Yet, thanks to Big Oil’s legal and political clout in our nation’s second largest oil refining state, the wheels of environmental justice turn much too slowly.
This month, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? turns fifty. King’s acute analysis of American race relations couldn’t be more prophetic. Written in 1967, in isolation in a rented house in Jamaica, King’s final book lays out his plans and dreams for America’s future: the need for better jobs; higher wages; decent housing; quality education; and above all, the end to global suffering. King’s dreams are very much our own today.
By Adam EichenFor the last nine months, we have assessed the state of our democracy. In our search, we confirmed the now seemingly intuitive notion that Americans across the country are upset, for they feel increasingly powerless, that their voice does not matter, and that the political system does not represent them. But we also found something underreported—that people are eagerly yearning and demonstrating for solutions to make our democracy better represent all voices and work more efficiently. In fact, there is nothing less than a Democracy Movement emerging in our country.
After twelve years of leading the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II has announced that he is stepping down as state chapter president. He’ll be joining activists and faith leaders across the nation to lead them in a new Poor People’s Campaign, envisioned to advocate economic justice for all across the racial spectrum.