By Gayatri Patnaik: I had the very good fortune to meet Dr. Mary Frances Berry (MFB) when I was twenty-one years old and working at the University of Pennsylvania. Having recently graduated from college with one major and an excessive number of minors (three!), I was undecided about what to pursue in graduate school. I ended up in Philly, working in Penn’s history department, where, in addition to supporting the professors administratively, I was allowed to sit in on classes and lectures.
By Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen: In 1999, Dee Hock, founder of Visa, quipped, “It’s far too late and things are far too bad for pessimism.” But eighteen years later, pessimism can feel like the new realism. After all, just three Americans control more wealth than the bottom half of us. In last year’s election, less than one percent of Americans provided most of the $6.4 billion in campaign spending, worsening an imbalance in political influence that’s long been with us. Even in the 1980s and 90s average Americans, according to a data-deep study, exerted “near zero” influence in Washington.
By Caroline Light: First passed in 2005 in Florida, “Stand Your Ground” laws provide criminal and civil immunity to people who use lethal violence to defend themselves when they are reasonably afraid for their own or another’s safety. Since their passage in over half the states, the laws have been shown to exacerbate our nation’s already unjust practices of adjudicating self-defense. The laws amplify the impact of existing racial and gender biases, by making it easier, for example, for white (or white-appearing) people to kill non-whites without legal repercussions. In spite of proponents’ arguments that SYG laws protect women from “abusers,” they rarely provide immunity for women who defend themselves from their greatest statistical threat, their own intimate partners and exes.
Last year on Inauguration Day, our authors voiced to Donald Trump what they wanted him to know, understand, and beware of as commander-in-chief. Since then, the myriad doubts, concerns, and fears about what he and his administration would do during his term have persisted and/or increased. Some of our authors have returned with follow-up responses for him in the wake of his State of the Union address. We share them with you below.
By 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 traveled to Chile and El Salvador to see what happens when abortion is banned. I learned that, even when abortion is illegal, it remains commonplace and the law against it is rarely enforced. My journey also helped me understand how misguided our battle over abortion has become.
By Paul Ortiz: Racial capitalism is an economic system first theorized by Cedric Robinson building upon the work of the radical sociologist Oliver Cromwell Cox. As historian Robin D. G. Kelley noted, Robinson argued that capitalism in its earliest and subsequent iterations was dependent upon and entwined with “slavery, violence, imperialism, and genocide.” Through the twenty-first century, capital continues to generate “racial differences” between sectors of the working class in order to better exploit workers.
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.
“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 Michelle Oberman: We visited Christina at her grandmother’s home in El Transito, a village two hours outside San Salvador. She began her story at the point when she was seventeen and expecting her second child. Several months into her pregnancy, she and her three-year-old son left El Transito and moved to San Salvador, living in the second bedroom of her mother and stepfather’s apartment so that Christina would be close to the public hospital when her baby came.
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.
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 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 Frances Moore Lappé and Adam Eichen: In today’s fraught and frightened America, the word “democracy” could well evoke the rolling of eyes, a blank stare, or wide-eyed incredulity. Certainly not the pitter-patter of hearts. But what if Americans were convinced that all we care most about—from our kids’ future to the immediate need for a decent job or safe drinking water—depended on falling in love with democracy? Might more of us at least be open to the possibility of taking the leap? Something like that happened for us.
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.”
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.