Just before becoming the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, Reverend Dr. William J. Barber developed ankylosing spondylitis, an extreme and very painful form of arthritis. In this excerpt from The Third Reconstruction, he recounts the three months he spent in the hospital, when, having reached the depths of despair, he received an inspiring visit from an “amputee angel,” and eventually learned firsthand the incredible power of people standing together.
I learned a great deal in Martinsville about moral leadership—more than I realized at the time. But I did not know what was next for me when our family moved back to North Carolina in 1991. Preaching had helped me find a voice of moral dissent, but my father had shown me long before that you don’t have to pastor a church to preach. I was at the core of my being a preacher, but I knew that preaching did not have to be my job. In fact, I had begun to think I might be more effective if it weren’t. The pastoral work of managing a tight-knit community was not without its challenges and frustrations, which inevitably took time and energy away from public justice work. One of my aunts kept telling me I needed to stop trying to be a lawyer. I wasn’t sure what I was trying to become, but I knew I wasn’t in a hurry to find another church.
Flint River Bridge, Flint, MI. Photo credit: Andrew Jameson
In the tragedy of Flint, Michigan’s lead poisoning crisis, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha is one of the heroes. Last September, Hanna-Attisha, director of pediatric residency at Flint’s Hurley Children’s Hospital, stood up at a press conference and presented research suggesting that the city’s water supply was poisoning its children. The number of kids with elevated blood lead levels—five micrograms per deciliter or more—had doubled, she said, and in some neighborhoods, it had tripled.
What are U.S. workers to do about the problems presented by the gig economy?
The past year saw a number of prominent liberals offer policy ideas to mitigate the worst elements of precarious employment. Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich proposed that companies pay into a common benefit fund for the gig workers they employ. Left-leaning think-tank executives, academics and even a few union leaders signed on to a manifesto declaring that portable benefits were the solution to easing the lives of precarious workers.
They’re off the mark. A lasting solution can’t simply address the obvious lack of benefits—it must tackle the real problem: the power differential between gig economy workers and the big businesses that control their labor.
My phone buzzes one more time. I look over at the glowing screen to see that I have been tagged once more in the Ron Clark dance video from his school in Atlanta. I nod, give a half smile at the screen, and continue on my school visits. Today, I’m in the Bronx, and am working with a group of students who are researching cell division so they can add a layer of complexity to their rap song on mitosis and meiosis. The three young men I am sitting with are concerned because the simple rhyme scheme they have developed thus far isn’t going to cut it. This realization hits after they overhear a pair of young ladies perform their rap on the reproductive system that cites recent research in biology and comes replete with choreographed dance moves to match the verse. My phone buzzes again. I am tagged in the Ron Clark video again. My response this time is two fold. My first is: Damn, this white boy got some rhythm. The second is: I feel sorry for anyone who thinks they’re just gon’ “Hit the Quan” to academic success. The fact is, if you ain’t got Clarks rhythm, and the structures are not in place to support and validate such a transgressive approach to teaching, you will fail miserably. In fact, you may end up doing much more of a disservice to the students than a traditional school would. Ron Clark works at a school that is named after him with a certain funding structure, certain rules of conduct, and very particular philosophies. If you do not have any of these structures in place, or any strategies for circumventing the ones you are bound by, I feel bad for you son...You’ve got ninety-nine problems and Hittin’ the Quan in school is one.
Click here to sign the petition demanding better working conditions for the Boston Globe delivery workers.
If you live anywhere near the Boston area, you’ve probably heard or read something about the Boston Globe’s recent delivery debacle. Since the newspaper contracted with a new delivery company starting December 28, the entire delivery system collapsed, and subscribers have been puzzled and furious that their daily newspaper has vanished with little explanation and little hope for restoration any time soon.
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber speaking at a Moral Monday rally. Photo credit: Flickr user twbuckner
The Third Reconstruction, written by the Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, is out today. In his memoir, Reverend Barber tells the stirring story of how he helped start a state-by-state movement—uniting black, white, and brown; rich and poor; employed and unemployed; gay and straight; documented and undocumented; religious and secular—to bridge America’s racial divide. Only through such a diverse fusion movement, he argues, can we make progress toward ending racial and economic injustice. The Third Reconstruction is as much a blueprint for community activism as it is an inspiring call to action from one our most compelling grassroots organizers. At the end of the book, Reverend Barber provides fourteen steps for building a social justice movement.
Headquarters for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Cacophony
Two polarized positions mark the ongoing debate in the United States over gun violence, mass killings, and armed citizen militias, such as the militias that seized federal land in Oregon on January 2. These positions rest on the text and interpretation of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The gun lobby and its constituency argue that the Second Amendment guarantees the right for every citizen to bear arms, while gun control advocates maintain that the Second Amendment is about states having a militia, emphasizing the language of “well regulated,” and that this is manifest in the existing National Guard.
MU students protest inside Jesse Hall after report of racism, October 6, 2015. Photo credit: Flickr user KOMUnews
“There are – there are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to, to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a less – a slower-track school where they do well.
“One of – one of the briefs pointed out that – that most of the – most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas. They come from lesser schools where they do not feel that they’re – that they’re being pushed ahead in – in classes that are too, too fast for them.”
Justice Antonin Scalia’s words during the Supreme Court’s revising of the Fisher v. University of Texas case of affirmative action have been rattling around the insides of many who work and study on college campuses. His words caused outrage, but in fact, they are representative of the widespread and erroneous belief that campuses are apolitical locations of merit and ability. His words are racist because they absolve and therefore further the bedrock of institutionalized racism on college campuses. And these words are echoed in the limited ways that higher education currently has responded to students’ accounts of racism.
COP21 in Paris, 30 November 2015: From left to right: Mary Robinson, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Climate Change Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, UK Gregory Hunt, Minister for the Environment, Australia President Joko Widodo, Indonesia President Ali Bongo Ondimba, Gabon President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón, Colombia Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Canada Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Norway Tine Sundtoft, Minister of Climate and the Environment, Norway Gabriel Vallejo López, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Colombia. Photo credit: Flickr user Statsministerens kontor
As the applause rang out in Paris, the French foreign minister and climate conference chair, Laurent Fabius, declared the deal he had just gavelled through was a “historical turning point.” From Al Gore in the front row to the back of the hall, everyone seemed to agree. Even normally cautious climate scientists were beaming.
So what has the world signed up to in the Paris Agreement? Will it choke off wild weather and usher in a world of climatic calm? Or is this a false dawn as we burn our way to a hotter, more violent world? I was there throughout, but I am still wondering if we have all been sold a false vision of the future.
There he goes again. Last week Justice Antonin Scalia spoke plainly on his misgivings about affirmative action. Afterwards, his commentary was a constant subject at holiday cocktail parties in Washington, DC where I live. Abigail Fisher’s case challenging the University of Texas’ use of affirmative action was back before the Supreme Court for the second time in three years. At the oral argument, to audible gasps, Scalia clumsily engaged in “mismatch theory,” speculating that African-American collegians would be better off attending “less-advanced,” “slower-track” schools where they might achieve more because classes are not “too fast for them.”
Since then several commentators have cited extensive social science research discrediting this theory. The evidence points to the exact opposite of Scalia’s intuitions. For students of all backgrounds, graduation rates and long-term success improve with the selectivity of the college they attend. More importantly, as I argued in Place, Not Race, affirmative action candidates, with their lower standardized tests scores, have been found to come closest to meeting universities’ professed mission statements about cultivating leaders who use their educations to give back to society.
In some ways, the profile of Robert Lewis Dear, the man who was arrested for a shooting rampage at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs on Friday, is similar to that of the other six individuals who have been charged with abortion-related murders in the past two decades. But unlike them, Dear does not appear to have a history of public involvement with the organized anti-choice movement. Though several sources, including an ex-wife, told the New York Times that he was staunchly against abortion, another former partner said that “It was never really a topic of discussion.”
Three people were dead and nine others treated for gunshot wounds. Even as Robert Lewis Dear, the white man who, on November 27 2015, allegedly laid armed siege to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs was taken into custody, social media posts—from progressive advocates, pundits, and some politicians—immediately characterized his actions as “domestic terrorism.”
What does it mean for liberals and progressives to embrace a “terrorism" frame,” that has traditionally been used by the Right—and is so fraught and over-determined in our post-9/11 political climate? What are the intended and unintended consequences of demanding that the government respond to violence against women’s health care providers with the same zeal it employs in its so-called “War on Terrorism”?
“China farms tigers? Why didn’t I know that?” This is the most common comment I hear when I talk about China’s industrial tiger farms and my book Blood of the Tiger, which was rereleased today in paperback.
“Yes,” I reply, “they farm them ‘just like cows and pigs.’ That’s how a Chinese government official described it to me during my first visit to China back in 1991.”
Tirmizi Family with Linda K. Wertheimer. From left to right: Hadia, mother; Wertheimer; Rahim, youngest son; Zain, eldest son; Ali, father. Photo source: Linda K. Wertheimer
#Notinmyname. Hadia Tirmizi, the mother of a student profiled in my bookFaith Ed., posted that Twitter hashtag on her Facebook page last week in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris. She is Muslim, lives in Wellesley, a Boston suburb, and knows the backlash that can follow when terrorists are identified as Muslims.
The same week she posted her statement against the terrorists, she also posted photos of her family celebrating her youngest son’s tenth birthday and photos of her and her husband, both physicians, on a vacation to Paris in a past year.
Retaking the Keystone XL Pathway. Photo credit: Tar Sands Blockade
Wen Stephenson was invited by the Reverend Kyle Childress, longtime pastor of Austin Heights Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas and one of the key voices in What We’re Fighting For Now Is Each Other, to speak to the congregation. The church's congregation plays a crucial role in the resistance to the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. They supported the Tar Sands Blockade and welcomed young blockaders into their homes.
Stephenson tells us: “By uncanny coincidence, I was in Houston, doing an event with the grassroots group TEJAS (Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services)—whose founders Juan and Bryan Parras, and organizer Yudith Nieto, figure prominently in the book—when the news broke that President Obama had rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, or the northern leg of it. And the very next day I went up to Nacogdoches. Too many people, especially in our national media, have forgotten that the southern leg of the pipeline was built with Obama’s blessing, and that it began pumping tar-sands crude to refineries in Port Arthur and Houston in January 2014.”
He adds: “I realize now that this book project wasn't truly finished until I went back to Nacogdoches and spoke to the people of that church community. It really closed the circle for me, in a profound way.”
Photo credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters
Rampant wildfires across the West, venomous sea snakes on California beaches—sound familiar? Rarely does a day pass without a headline focused on climate-related news. Every time I read one of these stories, my mind goes to the people living amidst it: exhausted hotshot crews in Twisp, WA, barefoot beachcombers in Oxnard, CA. Though national in distribution, every story begins in its own neighborhood.
About a year ago, the National Park Service invited me to write an essay for a web-based literary anthology focused on climate-triggered ecological changes in my own backyard: Denali National Park. Denali's sub-Arctic location means that taiga (the boreal forest) and tundra (a treeless region often with permafrost present) overlap, making it an ideal place to track changes. The Park Service supports critical scientific research in Denali all year round, noting and recording everything from sound pollution to glacier profiles. But the NPS also knows that one of the best ways to invest visitors in climate research is not through power points and charts, but through narrative. Hence, the call for essays by writers from the region. Here's how Denali introduces the anthology project on its website:
It is mysterious and beautiful, literally a creature from a different world. Its body is ebony above and golden below, a serpent with aposematic paint. The edges of the opposing colors undulate down its side until the yellow becomes drips on the black, dorsally flattened tail. The exotic animal is a yellow bellied sea snake, Pelamis platura, which is normally found in warm, tropical waters. But due to a recent climatic vagary, the snake has found its way onto an Oxnard beach, miles up the coast from Los Angeles, hundreds of miles from the edge of its normal range. It is stunning, amazing, but how is the event chronicled?
What has been your relationship with environmental issues?
My mother took me to my first protest when I was six, against the Seabrook nuclear plant in New Hampshire in 1976. She also took me for walks in the local woods and taught me about trees. So I had a good grounding both in caring about nature and citizen activism, which has stayed with me throughout my life. At this point in history, the number one issue is climate change. If we don't address that, everything else will be beside the point.
What do you look for in books dealing with these issues?
Obviously, I hope the books I look for on environmental issues will move people to action. The way to bring people in is through stories. Having something new to add to the conversation is important as well, but I look for writing that can teach about the issues by engaging readers with good writing and compelling storytelling. Whether the book is about solar power, orcas, or farming, the information is grounded in stories of people, places, struggles, hope.
And sometimes, as in literary nature writing as opposed to issue-driven books, the writing is enough—creating something beautiful in the service of nature speaks to our human connection with the “natural” world and with each other.
Lamentations and cries that the Republicans were at it again trying to suppress the black vote arose when the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency announced on September 30th that because of budget cuts it would close thirty-one part-time-county-owned satellite drivers’ license offices. Eight of these were in counties where seventy-five percent of the registered voters are black. Many are in rural communities with high poverty rates and little or no public transportation. In addition to protesting, active and determined organizing to obtain the required voter identification for the unregistered might be a useful strategy in countering Alabama Republicans’ move.