By Zach Norris | From among all the things that actually harm us, a mere sliver is addressed by our criminal legal system—a term I prefer over “criminal justice system,” because calling it a “justice system” inaccurately links it to justice, as well as fairness, healing, and safety. Generally speaking, the criminal legal system works great at protecting you and keeping you safe if you are a rich white man. It protects your power, prestige, and property, while debunking, debasing, and diminishing those who would question your right to those privileges. If you’re anyone else, it’s a lot less likely to result in justice, let alone healing.
Hats off to all students graduating this season! Because whew! This is no easy time to finish up school. The ideal graduation ceremony would be outdoors, filled with the company and applause of loved ones. Most will be held online, some outside within the parameters of social distancing. It won’t be the same, and frankly, nothing has been since March last year. But isn’t that what graduating is all about? Growing into the next new phase, whatever that phase happens to be? Before we get all misty-eyed and sob into our masks, here’s a list of recommended reads for the occasion.
By Andreas Karelas | Based on the latest findings of positive psychology research, I suggest that, in order to address climate change, we need to cultivate different values—values that place a greater emphasis on community and less on consumption—and that living according to these values will have the benefits of reducing our impact on the planet and increasing our personal well-being. To do this I’ll describe what I believe to be an effective three-step approach: (1) cultivate gratitude, (2) choose simplicity, and (3) focus on serving others. If we can learn to be more grateful for what we have, simplify our lives, and put more effort into serving others, I think we’ll be well on our way to a happier, more sustainable world.
By Aviva Chomsky | Joe Biden entered the White House with some inspiring yet contradictory positions on immigration and Central America. He promised to reverse Donald Trump’s draconian anti-immigrant policies while, through his “Plan to Build Security and Prosperity in Partnership with the People of Central America,” restoring “US leadership in the region” that he claimed Trump had abandoned. For Central Americans, though, such “leadership” has an ominous ring.
A Q&A with Sharon daVanport | AWN finds our history deeply rooted in the need to find community and shared-lived experiences. At the time AWN entered the autism community, the narrative centered mostly around young white boys and men. In those early days, we discovered quickly that AWN was an initiative that was desperately needed.
Where would we be without the leadership of extraordinary women who chose to challenge the societal status quo? This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was Choose to Challenge. As Women’s History Month draws to a close, we’re highlighting books from our catalog to celebrate the inspiring women who saw the need for change, and took action for equality!
A Q&A with Robin Broad and John Cavanagh | This book is about two of the most unlikely and inspiring victories that we’ve ever witnessed or had the privilege to be part of. That these wins take place in a poorer country, one that the United States and global corporations have exploited for decades, makes the wins even more remarkable. As we celebrated the victories, we realized that by sharing the story of these wins in a narrative nonfiction book, we could also share this sense of hope with readers, including readers who may have given up hope in these challenging times.
By Jeanne Theoharis and Brandy Colbert | What you learned about Rosa Parks in school was a myth. Much of what is known and taught about her is incomplete, distorted, and just plain wrong. Because Rosa Parks was active for sixty years, in the North as well as the South, her story provides a broader and more accurate view of the Black freedom struggle across the twentieth century. Jeanne Theoharis and Brandy Colbert show young people how the national fable of Parks and the civil rights movement—celebrated in schools during Black History Month—has warped what we know about Parks and stripped away the power and substance of the movement.
By Julian Bond | The next songs are traditional songs from the standard hymnal and church repertoire that have been altered to become Freedom Songs, this one from the height of the Birmingham movement in 1963. It is based on the parable of the lost sheep. The singers are Carleton Reese and the Alabama Christian Movement Choir, and the song is a traditional gospel song with new words. As you listen, you’ll hear the leader, Carleton Reese, open with the call, “Oh Lord, I’m running,” and the choir will respond, “Lord I’m running, trying to make a hundred.”
By Julian Bond | We are going to listen today to several Freedom Songs, all of them taken from a three-record set “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs 1960–1966”—all of them should blow your mind. The set was compiled by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Director of the Smithsonian’s Program in Black American Culture. You will hear her voice on some of these songs and will remember her from the movement in Albany, Georgia. She is best known as the Founder and Director of the singing group Sweet Honey in the Rock. In the liner notes, she says the “music culture of the civil rights movement was shaped by its central participants: black, Southern, and steeped in oral tradition.”
By Jonathan Rosenblum | Last year’s dreadful miasma of Covid, recession, police violence, and coup attempt obscured some remarkable advances by local and national left-wing movements. Florida voters, while rejecting the Biden/Harris ticket, overwhelmingly approved a $15 minimum wage. Arizona and Oregon approved tax increases on the wealthy to fund public education. Colorado passed paid family leave. Portland, Me., voters approved rent control. All six representatives in historically swing districts who supported Medicare for All won reelection. Ninety-two of the 93 House Democrats—including all four in swing districts—who ran in November as Green New Deal sponsors won reelection. At least 20 candidates endorsed by Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) won office.
By Jonathan Rosenblum | It seems eons ago, the youth-led climate strike of September 20, 2019 that brought four million people onto the streets worldwide. I was on the sidewalk outside Seattle City Hall, watching thousands of school-skippers march by. And then behind the teens came waves of exuberant people, no more than a decade or two older, their homemade signs held aloft: tech workers, including hundreds of Amazon workers who had stepped out of their comfortable cubicles and palatial glass towers to join the global walkout.
By Eileen Truax | “Good afternoon, Senator Sanders. My name is Odilia Romero, Indigenous Bene Xhon.” Standing onstage at the Casa del Mexicano in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in east Los Angeles, Odilia holds a microphone in one hand and in the other her speech for Bernie Sanders, then a candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. It was May 4, 2016, and in the auditorium beneath the fifty-foot-high domed ceiling, four hundred people had gathered, a mix of pro-immigrant organizations, young activists, and members of the Latina community.
Two things come to mind this Native American Heritage Month. Compared to whites, Native Americans have been hit hard with a higher percentage of COVID cases, not to mention severe COVID outcomes. On the flip side, voters of Indigenous descent in states like Arizona helped swing the vote in favor of President elect Joe Biden and Vice President elect Kamala Harris. (You’re fired, despotic Cheeto!) Their perseverance and commitment to a democracy that frequently forgets them attest to this year’s theme.
A Discussion with Frances Moore Lappé, Adam Eichen, and David Daley | I know that Biden has said that democracy reform is important, and I wish he had highlighted it more. And who knows? It may take another march or several more marches. But I feel like we are in a different world today. President Trump is such an alert. Most people understand that this was a presidency that was not a fluke, but rather a direct product of a highly broken, warped system not in favor of the people. That’s clear now, and that’s a big gain for us. People are more awake.
A Discussion with Andreas Karelas, Katharine Hayhoe, and Bill McKibben | Bill, I was recently flipping through your book Falter, and one of the things you write that speaks to a big portion of Climate Courage is that we have two technologies that, if employed, could be decisive to the era: the solar panel and the nonviolent movement. RE-volv, the nonprofit that I founded, finances solar-energy projects for nonprofits that otherwise couldn’t go solar. Those nonprofits can then reduce their electricity costs, benefit the people they serve even more so, and demonstrate to the community the benefits of solar energy.
This summer, the uprisings for racial justice and the marches for Black lives have been heartening. And believe me, we need something to root for during our pandemic timeline. This wake-up call to reckon with systemic racism and to dismantle it—and there have been many before—is ringing loud and clear. Now we need that same momentum to carry into the classrooms—all virtual please!—with the same gusto. Because schools are part of the system, too.
A Q&A with Mark Warren by Stephen Abbott | The school-to-prison pipeline refers to a systemic problem that disproportionately affects students in low-income communities and communities of color. It often begins with zero-tolerance discipline, where children, and particularly Black and brown children, are suspended and often expelled for minor behavioral infractions. Once they’re expelled, they’re not in school learning, and they’re often out on the streets where they get caught up in the juvenile criminal-justice system—that’s the pipeline.
This year, the Americans with Disabilities Act has a thirtieth candle to blow out on its birthday cake. The ADA is the widest-ranging and most comprehensive piece of civil rights legislation ever passed in the United States, and it has become the model for disability-based laws around the world. We reached out to some of our authors to reflect on the impact of this landmark in disability history and on the ongoing fight for disability rights. We share their statements with you below.
There is no other way to put it. The start of this year’s Pride Month was painful. We can’t stop thinking of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and of too many before and after them. Witnessing modern-day lynch mobs during a pandemic is soul-crushing. Do not be tempted to say the upheaval happening now is “unique” or “unprecedented.” Because it is not. The US has centuries of history inflicting violence and death on Black bodies. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his “The Other America” speech, “the riot is the language of the unheard.” And the US has not listened since the days of slavery and settler colonialism. So the protests and riots rage on.