Living Liberally Blog

Living Liberally Blog

Walking, Literally, In Dr. King's Footsteps: A Photo Itinerary.

Traveling Liberally Passport To Change
by Josh Bolotsky, Living Liberally

A quick note - in the post below, I talk about my first time visiting Birmingham, Montgomery, Atlanta and other crucial locations in the civil rights struggles of the 1950's and 1960's - all of them places which resonate on today's anniversary. I know other Open Lefters have visited, worked and lived in these locations, and I would love your reflections below.

My family is not rich, but I'd be willing to wager that I received the greatest graduation present of any college graduate in the United States last year, hands down.

A months-long trek through Europe? A garage full of foreign cars? Long-stowed-away wine collections?

Nah, considerably less decadent, but way cooler. My immediate family (mom, pop, middle brother Jeremy, youngest sister Ilana) haven't been on vacation together in a very long time - schedules clashed, schoolyears interfered and it somehow just wasn't meant to be. We'd had blocked away the second half of December to do something - something that hadn't yet been determined. My graduation present? Determine that something within a certain set of time/budget parameters, parameters likely to make it a roadtrip of roughly a week in length, likely in the eastern two-thirds of the continental United States.

For me, the decision was simple - as a good liberal American history buff, I wanted to go on a civil rights history roadtrip, with a focus on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I wanted to walk the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, a block away from the city's Civil Rights Institute. I wanted to see the bus station in Montgomery where the freedom riders were surrounded. I wanted to walk the halls of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood of Atlanta. I wanted to find a supermarket that still sells Mr. Pibb, which is virtually nonexistent in my home base of NYC. On the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, I want to share a little bit about this trip, which brought us through Birmingham, New Orleans, Montgomery, and, finally, Atlanta.

I hate to have to include this disclaimer, but I feel it necessary: I'm aware of the pitfalls here. I'm aware of the stereotype red-alert: a privileged college graduate beset by white liberal guilt goes on a 'civil rights history vacation,' implying not only that 'civil rights history' is finished, that there are no civil rights battles left to be fought so we can just classify the whole topic under 'history,' but also that we can visit the streets of Birmingham where children were firehosed and attacked by dogs the same way we can visit the beaches of Cancun with a pina colada in hand - or, worse still, to approach it as something to mark off a checklist. Yes, I am well-aware of the the risk of dishonoring sacred places by the camera hanging around the neck of your Hawaiian t-shirt, the ease of forgetting that in the schools of Jena and neighborhoods of St. Bernard's Parish and in countless border towns and so many other places there are still daily injustices, etc. etc. etc. I am setting myself up as quite the easy target.

Two thoughts.

1. I did my best over the course of this trip to do good. To make it clear that the civil rights battles we were discussing are not closed cases, to volunteer in New Orleans and to see the poor neighborhoods of Montgomery not far from Ralph Abernathy's 1st Baptist Church. To provide educational materials beyond the standard "MLK talked about having a dream while visiting DC, and then did nothing much else for the five years before his death" spiel. To listen to Taylor Branch's America In The King Years series on audiotape in the car and watch "4 Little Girls" and "When The Levees Broke" in the various hotel rooms along the long trip from Central New Jersey to central Alabama.

2. There is a point at which the fear of looking bad while examining the past means that one never, in fact, looks at the past. "If I go on a trip to the Birmingham City Jail, I might look like a rich liberal white kid." So you don't go to Birmingham. And you never get the chance to visit that jail. And an experience that might have made you a better ally in the fight to take America forward never happens, all because you were afraid of looking like a bad ally. Of being tacky. I can't tear the CD player from my parent's minivan when we drive by poor neighborhoods. And if I had to, family members who might have an enlightening experience in these areas wouldn't have gone on the trip in the first place.

(Before I delve into the itinerary, huge credit is due to my sister, Ilana, who took most of the below photos, as well as to A Traveler's Guide to the Civil Rights Movement, which was an indispensable resource.)

Birmingham.

The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (which, tragically, does not allow pictures to be taken inside its exhibit hall) is literally across the street from Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth's Sixteenth Street Baptist Church of Birmingham, the site of the infamous September 1963 bombing which claimed the lives of four little girls.

This is the view from the steps of the church - the statue you see in the front of the BCRI is a sculpture of Shuttlesworth.

New Orleans/St. Bernard's Parish.

I wish I were sharp enough to initially realize, as I did later, that New Orleans was the intended destination of the Freedom Rides - however, no choice to visit New Orleans was quite that eloquent. Instead, I knew that if we went to some of the most famous locations in American civil rights history, without contributing something back in the area which most obviously indicates that those fights are still ongoing, that we'd be making an egregious mistake. As such, we made a two-day stop to volunteer in St. Bernard's Parish, next to New Orleans - one of the areas hit hardest by the negligence surrounding Katrina.

There are some great new organizations doing work in the gulf coast generally and New Orleans specifically, with Hands On New Orleans being a particular stand-out, but we decided to go ahead with Habitat For Humanity New Orleans, which assigned us to a storm-hit elementary school that was slowly, in a multi-year project, being repaired and brought back to a usable state.

A room assigned to a group of volunteers to paint.

It's impossible to communicate just how nauseating the state of the area was that late December, a full 26 months after Katrina first made landfall - I can only do my best.

The car windows were fogged by our pressed-up faces, part of us knowing that we looked like schoolkids passing by a horrendous pile-up by the side of the road, knowing just how voyeuristic we were being, and yet, being unable to help ourselves - the horror of the moment outweighing our more reserved instincts.

But there's a peril to emphasizing this horror, which is the fear that you'll discourage tourism to New Orleans - which is why I'll note that the tourism-friendly parts of New Orleans, e.g. the French Quarter, look much the same. (There's something really sad about this balancing act - that one must try to accurately report the horrors while also requiring a tacky mention of tourism potential - but in a world where the aid isn't coming from our federal government, there ain't much other choice.)

Montgomery.

The entrance to the Southern Poverty Law Center's Civil Rights Memorial Center, whose centerpiece sculpture is portrayed at the top of the post.

The ethereal view from below of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where King served as the chief pastor from 1954 to 1960.

I include this picture because it epitomizes a phenomenon I found myself silently remarking upon throughout the entire trip. On the left side of this picture, in the background, you see the Albama State Capitol, a site of so much history - the first capitol of the confederacy, the end-point of the march from Selma, the building from which George Wallace reigned as Governor - and, literally down the street, is the church whose basement served as the incubator for the Montgomery bus boycotts, the formation of the SCLC (though it started in the Montgomery Improvement Association), and so much more. All within a 1000-foot radius. One has a similar feeling in Birmingham (where the Baptist Church is just a few blocks away from crucial sites in the children's crusade) and in...

Atlanta.

...where the Ebenezer Baptist Church seems like a sort of nucleus around a map of vital history.

Across the street from the Baptist church were King's father pastored, until King took over those duties in 1960, is the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, which includes MLK Center for Nonviolent Social Change, King's childhood home, and his final resting place.

Postscript.
It didn't strike me until a few weeks after the trip's end that we had sort of looped around the intended path of the Freedom Riders - stopping in Birmingham, circling the entire path to New Orleans, coming closer again in Montgomery, and finishing out int Atlanta.

There is, of course, so much we didn't get to see, but perhaps the site I missed the most was one nowhere near the intended freedom ride path - Memphis, TN, which today, and for the rest of the weekend is hosting The Dream Reborn conference on a green economy; it's good enough to know that not everyone has forgotten that the dream didn't end in 1968.

The Power of Fame To Change the World

Eating Liberally Food For Thought
by Kerry Trueman

America suffers from a collective case of do-gooder deafness: we have a hard time hearing a message when it's delivered by a dorky academic or an unattractive activist. We're all ears, though, when celebrities speak out about their pet causes, or their pets, or whatever. So, in acknowledgement of the fact that I, as a mere blogger, can only hope to influence so many people, I'd like to enlist the aid of some of our most ogled and Googled celebrities to help America combat climate change and overconsumption:1. Britney Spears: Britney's evidently on the road to recovery after some much needed r 'n' r. Here are three more "r's" I'd love to see Britney promote: reduce, reuse and recycle. Our landfills are overflowing with post-consumer crap and the oceans are clogged up with plastic; what better time for Britney to redefine white trash! Recommended reading/viewing: Garbage Land by Elizabeth Royte; The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard.

2. Paris Hilton: A rolling stone gathers no moss, but a globe-trotting Paris Hilton gathers dross. You're just fossil-fueling yourself, sweetie; stop running around the world making geographical gaffes and hyping your hybrid SUV. Take a page out of No Impact Man's playbook and see if you can stay a little closer to home for a year. Borrow a bike from Ed Begley Jr., and pedal your way to penitence. Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping will bless you.

3. Lindsay Lohan: Lindsay confided to Elle magazine last fall that she feels bad about the fact that media coverage of her shenanigans "is distracting from the other things that are important, like global warming and that kind of stuff." So, Lindsay, why not use that media glare to highlight the hazards of climate change? You'll get a glow, and it won't be from global warming. Go on David Gershon's Low Carbon Diet, school yourself with the hot eco-doc Everything's Cool, and you'll be cool, too.

4. David Beckham: The soccer superstar and style icon's receding hairline has the blogosphere all abuzz. Stressing about your thinning tresses, Becks? Imagine how folks in West Virginia feel about the bald spots the coal-mining industry's leaving on their beloved Appalachian mountains. The tragedy of male pattern baldness pales besides the heartbreak of mountaintop coal removal. Once you've covered your semi-nude noggin with pricey plugs, why not get out and stump on behalf of your adopted home's oldest mountain range before they blast the last tree to smithereens? Recommended reading/viewing: Coal River by Michael Shnayerson, Burning the Future: Coal In America.

5. Madonna: America's most famous ex-pat has set down roots as deep as her brown hair in Britain, so she's the perfect candidate to publicize the plight of Britain's endangered red squirrels, whose very future is imperiled by an invasion of deadly pox-carrying gray American squirrels. How about an animated PSA to the tune of "Who's That Squirrel?" in which she helps Squirrel Nutkin knock Rocky J. Squirrel's block right off the island? At the very least, the pop princess could follow Prince Charles' royal lead and become a patron of Save Our Squirrels.

6. Donald Trump: The Lowbrow Baron of the High-Rise isn't getting very far with his bullying and bulldozing these days. From his proposed golf course development in Scotland to his Long Island "Trump on the Ocean" project, The Donald's grandiose plans keep running aground in the face of stiff opposition from locals. Is his stature diminishing? Here's a new mantra for the author of Think BIG and Kick Ass in Business and Life: Think small and DO GOOD. Recommended reading/viewing: Deep Economy by Bill McKibben; Garbage Warrior, coming to a theater near you on April 2nd!

7. Rush Limbaugh: Yes, Limbaugh's a noxious gasbag, but scientists are making great strides these days converting methane gases from manure into energy. Limbaugh is the nadir of climate change naysayers, and it's a safe bet that he'll continue to pooh-pooh the notion that global warming's a threat to the planet, so why not harness the harmful nonsense he spews and turn it into a useful source of energy? Recommended viewing: Biogas, The Movie:

8. Amy Winehouse: Winehouse is, alas, goin' back to rehab, so she presumably won't be available to do any kind of pr for awhile. But once she's bounced back from her latest crack-up, I'd love to see Amy put her beehive'd head to work on raising awareness of colony collapse disorder, the mystery disease that's killing bees all over the U.S. and Europe. Come to think of it, she'd be a great spokesperson to raise awareness of white nose syndrome, too--that's the deadly illness that's decimating the northeast's bat population. Recommended viewing: Every Third Bite, coming soon!

9. Chuck Norris: Now that Mike Huckabee's presidential bid is over, Norris presumably has some free time, so I'd like to suggest that the legendary martial arts megastar turn his attention from black belts to green belts and use his status as America's number one action star to slay the developer dragons and strip-mall monsters. Who better than a diehard conservative to champion conservation? Recommended reading/viewing: The Long Emergency by James Howard Kuntler; The Unforeseen.
10. Richie Sambora: Sambora was arrested last Tuesday in Laguna Beach after his black Hummer was spotted weaving in and out of traffic. The Bon Jovi guitarist went to rehab twice last year; will a third time be the charm? Drinking and driving is never a good idea (especially when your 10 year-old daughter's in the backseat) but alcohol can be a tough demon to shake. Maybe Sambora would have more luck if he swore off driving instead? Ditch the Hummer, Ritchie, get off the Lost Highway, and become an advocate for Transportation Alternatives.

Originally posted on TakePart.com.

Reading Liberally Page Turner

by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

I went to sit in on a class at a Public Policy program that I might attend next year, and decided to do the assigned reading, as I find few things to be duller than sitting in on a class when I have no idea what is going on (also I wanted to procrastinate doing my calculus homework). The book for the class was Understanding Affirmative Action by J. Edward Kellough, which is not only a clear guide to legal cases that have dealt with affirmative action, but also an excellent size to whap people with should they persist in not agreeing with your affirmative action views, whatever those may be.As an extremely small child my brother must have been exposed to a conservative news program between bouts of playing with Thomas the Tank Engine, as he would wander around the house complaining that white men were being oppressed. "How will I get into college?" he asked us angrily waving Thomas around. "How will I get a job?"

"How would you your sister to get paid seventy five cents for every dollar that you get paid? Does that seem fair?" I demanded.

I wish Understanding Affirmative Action had existed then in order to read it to my brother until he fled, and so that my pro-affirmative action arguments would have been more nuanced then "You're just WRONG!" I'm glad that I've read it as now I'll be able to argue more effectively because I understand the legal history of affirmative action, why some states decided to get rid of affirmative action, and various arguments on both sides of the issue. The next time I get into a discussion about it I'll be able to recite court cases until my face is as blue as Thomas the Tank engine — and I'm looking forward to it.

Obama's "Over The Top" Pastor, a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, Anderson Cooper's Grammatical Cop Out

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Katie Halper

Last week, because the batteries in my remote were dead and I was too tired to get up, I was treated to an hour of Anderson Cooper, replayed 12 times. This meant that I had the pleasure of watching the special feature on Cooper. Technically, it was more like 7 minutes of Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, over and over and over, learning something new each time. The first thing that struck me was Anderson Cooper's introduction to the feature:

We begin with a new controversy on the campaign trail. That's right, a new one. At issue, Barack Obama's pastor -- this man -- and the fiery remarks he has made. A tape of one of his sermons -- you see it there -- on Hillary Clinton is all over the Web, and tonight you will hear it for yourself. Is what he says over the top? Should it even matter in this presidential race? What you're about to hear is inflammatory to some. To others, harsh as it sounds, it's the truth. That's for you to decide, along with whether you think it has any place at all in this campaign for either candidate.

Now, I like Anderson Cooper more than most media stars, not just because he went to my school (which explains why we both "go forth unafraid/strong with love and strong with learning.") The first time I heard his introduction, I was appreciative of his nuanced and brave questions -- is there any story here, does it even matter? The second or third time, I heard it, I started to methink he doth protest too much perhaps -- about the story not mattering. The fifth or sixth time, what came through was the way Cooper explained why the story does, in fact, matter: "We're running it because, like it or not, legitimate or not, it has become an issue."

The seventh time, I noticed something disturbing on a grammatical and syntactical level. Style and grammar advisers, from Orwell to MLA warn us against the passive voice and other impersonal constructions. And I know that by the seventh grade at the school we had both attended, our teachers had shaken the passive/impersonal construction habit out of us. But it wasn't just the dis to Dalton teachers that got to me, of course. The impersonal construction was misleading; saying something "has become an issue" is a convenient cop-out. There is no agency, no responsibility, no guilt, no intervention. Nobody turns it into an issue; the issue issues itself, in an almost natural and inevitable process. The impersonal construction allows Anderson to side step the very personal and active role of the media in turning Reverend Wright into an issue. Thanks to his hedging device Cooper doesn't have to say, "We're running the feature because, like it or not, legitimate or not, we in the media have made it an issue." So, in a self-fulfilling prophecy, the media determines what becomes an issue by claiming it has become an issue. Cooper is hardly the worst issue-creating wolf in issue-reporting sheep's clothing. In fact, Anderson's disclaimers suggest his discomfort with the issuelessness of the issue. We sense that Anderson knows that the media is blowing this out of proportion, creating a story where there isn't one, and an issue where there wasn't one. Anderson seems to fear that we, the audience, might be onto him, which is why he inflates the story's significance with a dramatic introduction, explaining to us that, like it or not, legitimate or not, this really is a story, you are not being manipulated, we are not creating a conflict, we are merely reporting on it. Like the sales clerks who can't accept your exchange because "We don't make the rules, we just work here", the pundits can say, "We don't make the issues, we just follow them."

Of course the warning about the over-the-top pastor backfires as we brace ourselves for a racist madman, who calls on his flock to sacrifice Hillary Clinton at an altar to Fred Hampton Jr. and slay white women, children and babies. Instead, what we see is an angry black man who has some beef with America. What on earth for? (Or, to be more accurate, an angry black man quoting an angry white man who has some beef with America.)

During the post-mortem Cooper and his fellow experts decide -- I mean observe -- that "look, obviously, his remarks are incendiary. It comes at a particularly bad time... Obviously, it is [fair game] because, again, you have someone who is closely aligned with the senator in terms of being his pastor." Cooper's conscience flickers once more: "Well, it's also frustrating just from a news standpoint, because, on the one hand, I mean, people are talking about it. It's clearly an issue that is bubbling up on the campaign trail, so we end up covering it. But, at same time, it does feel just completely off track."

But, of course, the issue is still being talked about and thus the powerless media is forced to talk about it.

This reminds me of when, like it or not, legitimate or not, the controversial comments made by McCain allies became an issue. Of course, we all know that I'm referring to the HUGE media response to McCain's relationship with John Hagee, founder and senior pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, who said that "Hurricane Katrina was, in fact, the judgment of God against the city of New Orleans" for planning "a homosexual parade there on the Monday that the?? Katrina came." Who can forget how the press crucified McCain for his alliance with Hagee? And we all remember when the media demanded that McCain break all ties with his "spiritual guide" Rod Parsley, senior pastor of World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio, who said "The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion [Islam] destroyed, and I believe September 11, 2001 was a generational call to arms that we can no longer ignore."

If you're having trouble remembering the media frenzy that followed McCain's advisors' outrageous and inflammatory statements, that may be because there was no media frenzy. If you want to hear about Jeremiah Wright, just turn on your television. If you want to learn about Hagee or Parsley, you'll have to go to Media Matters or Mother Jones. More offensive than the words Wright has uttered are what the media hasn't said about the homophobia, intolerance, and xenophobia coming out of McCain's camp. But in all fairness to the media, a black "angry" pastor who talks about history and politics is a racist. But white civilized men who preach hatred and promote ignorance and pseudo science just aren't that scary. They're kind of adorable.

Sunday Morning Segregation: Peggy Noonan & The Wright Stuff

by Kerry Trueman, Eating Liberally

The "Reverend Wright is Wrong" refrain has been repeated endlessly this past week as pundits on both sides weigh in on the racial and religious controversy that's rocked the Obama campaign. Martin Luther King, Jr. touched on this not-so-divine divide 45 years ago:

"We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation."

Sunday morning in our household is, by contrast, the one time during the week when we suspend our secular segregation and tune in to the hot air from beltway blowhards on both sides of the partisan divide. On rare occasions, we even agree with an aside from George Will or a point made by Pat Buchanan.

But Wall Street Journal pundit Peggy Noonan literally gave us pause on Meet the Press yesterday when she responded to a question from Tim Russert about Obama's seminal speech so reasonably that we had to grab the remote, rewind, and relisten:

Tim Russert: Is Obama uniquely situated to talk bluntly to both the white community and the black community?

Peggy Noonan: Maybe he's situated to speak with a certain sensitivity. He's a black man. He also is white. He is both. That means he has experience of both communities, if that isn't too clunky a word to use. Let me take--say, Tim, I thought one of the most important things that he did in his speech was talk about racism even though he started with slavery, and that was a long time ago. He talked about racism as a generational problem, as a problem that had changed over the years. He said Reverend Wright came from the Jim Crow days, he came from another America, and he was shaped and misshapen by that dreadful cultural arrangement of Jim Crow.

Younger black people and younger white people do not have the same experiences. They have to understand each other, they have to mark their progress, they have to, on both sides, stop using the past as an excuse not to get along or, or not to change and improve. So I haven't heard anybody say that in, in politics in some time in America. I thought it was a real insight, really smart and the beginning of a wonderful start-off point for, for more talk.

Let me say something else, though. It seems to me, every time I look at a YouTube of Reverend Wright talking and doing his thing and saying his strange things, I notice two things. One is that the people behind him look bored. Another is that frequently, not always, but when they pan to the crowd, his audience looks almost passive, like we are receiving this, we're hearing this, we know what's going on. It seemed to me that in his statements, Wright was not just extreme, radical--we all know the words to say, because they are true--but that he was a throwback. He was old-fashioned. He himself was the voice of yesterday.

And I was wondering about the extent to which that audience and people like Barack and Michelle Obama know he is yesterday, and yet he has some wonderful things within him as a human being. I just throw that open as a possibility.

Upon hearing this, my husband Matt and I looked at each other in absolute amazement. To hear Noonan, a former Reagan speechwriter, give the kind of response that you'd expect from, say, Donna Brazile, was a minor Easter miracle, a resurrection of rationality after a week of crucifixion from conservatives.


Originally posted on TakePart.com.

Laughing Liberally to Keep from Crying on the Iraq War's 5th Anniversary

We typically subtitle these types of posts, "Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying," a bit tongue-in-cheek. Tonight, we provide a slightly more literal look.

Laughing Liberally found itself in an interesting position this past Wednesday: making dedicated progressives laugh on the 5th anniversary of the Iraq War, not once, but twice, with both an afternoon show at the Take Back America conference, and an evening show at our biweekly Laughing Liberally Labs in New York City. No further commentary - we'll let you decide how we did with a few videos with which to begin your weekend.

At TBA, in addition to an awesome Tuesday performance by Lee Camp, we were lucky enough to have James Adomian with us, doing his best...well, you'll see.

That evening in NYC, we heard the inimitable Harry Terjanian, as introduced by Elon James White.

Thoughts? Opinions on mixing the political tragic with the comedic? Consider this an open thread.

Busting the Myth of the Welfare Queen

Reading Liberally Page Turner
by Amanda Milstein, Living Liberally

When I was a small child, my father, who often votes for Republicans, was explaining to me the difference between Democrats and Republicans. "Republicans want you to keep the money you worked for, and Democrats will take it from you and give it to people who never worked a day in their lives and make you live on the side of the road in a cardboard box. Mommy votes for Democrats — why don't you ask her why she wants you to live in a cardboard box?"

Thankfully I developed a slightly more nuanced view of the American political system. For those who still believe my father, Myth of the Welfare Queen, by David Zucchino, the story of two welfare mothers who are doing anything but living the high life, comes to the rescue by providing a detailed look at the lives of welfare mothers during the Clinton administration.The book follows Odessa Williams and Cheri Honkala, two welfare mothers in North Philadelphia who know that welfare reform might snatch the benefits they depend on at any moment. Odessa's children are all adults, but she is saddled taking care of a plethora of grandchildren, many of whom have serious health problems. Cheri runs an organization that seeks to bring attention to the plight of Philadephia's poor and works tirelessly but sometimes inefficiently to gain attention for her cause. We find out later in the book that she and her son are able to eat because of her late-night gigs as a topless dancer — that is the only way she can think of to support herself while being a full-time activist.

Odessa is the heroine of the book — we follow her as she visits her son in prison, sells people rides in her car, goes fishing to stretch her food budget, and picks through trash bags in order to cloth her many grandchildren. Odessa's children aren't always on the ball — one son is imprisoned, one daughter is a prostitute whose children live with Odessa, and one of her granddaughters keeps on having children while refusing to further her education or find a job. Not everyone in North Philadeplia is eligible for sainthood — but Odessa is doing everything she can to straighten out the lives of her family members while Cheri works to make people aware of the plight of urban poor people.

The story takes place in the Clinton years under the shadow of impending welfare reform—the women know that they system they rely on is going to end, and they cannot quite imagine their worlds without it. They are anything but lazy, but Odessa, who is ill, cannot possibly work and care for all of her grandchildren and children simultaneously, and Cheri knows how important welfare is to the many families involved with her advocacy group. The Myth of the Welfare Queen does an excellent job of creating empathy for the extremely hard working women who require welfare to allow them to support themselves and their families in an economy that won't give them many feasible alternatives besides starving in a cardboard box.

Dear 5-Year Anniversary Of Iraq War: America's "Just Not That Into You"

Laughing Liberally To Keep From Crying
by Katie Halper

I don't know what IAVA's Paul Rieckhoff is getting his military briefs all up in a bunch about. So, the media isn't going OCD about the 5-year anniversary of our liberation of Iraq. Whatevs. The American people have a lot more serious things to worry about and think about. If you want to put your finger on the American pulse, go to Google's Hot Trends, where you can see what Americans are really searching the internet, if not their souls and consciences, for. On the 5-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the 5 most important issues to Americas are:

1. kristin davis sex pics
2. audrina patridge
3. tampa tony
4. boss button
5. terrelle pryor

In fact, out of the top 100 Hot Trends, not one has anything to do with the Iraq War! Mr. Rieckhoff, with all due respect, I think we can all agree that headlines like Kristin Davis Goes from Deck the Halls to Licking Balls? or Audrina Patridge of 'The Hills' went topless, and stories on rapper Tampa Tony's prison sentence, a "boss mouse" which lets you watch March Madness without getting busted by your boss, and Terrelle Pryor's decision to play for the Buckeyes over Michigan, are a lot more important than some war that has cost three trillion dollars, wounded tens of thousands and killed nearly 4,000 Americans. Oh, and, in terms of the affect on Iraqis (which is even more boring than the stats I listed above because the Iraqis don't even live in America, or talk American or look American), the war has killed up to one million people, displaced 2.5 million Iraqis, and forced more than two million to flee into neighboring countries. (I know, Americans: boring!)

So, I hope I haven't taken away too much of your time because I know there are a lot of really important issues out there, which deserve our undivided attention. I mean, Iraq may literally be in up in flames, but, according to Hot Trends, Terrelle Pryor is "On Fire." And Kristin Davis sex pix are "Volcanic," which means, technically and objectively, naked photos of Charlotte from Sex and the City are hotter than the war in Iraq. So if you'll excuse me, I have to read about the urgent "child uses lunchbox as toilet" story.

Liberal Jews, Liberal Drinks: Purim and Social Justice

hamantaschen.jpg
Drinking Liberally Shot of Truth
by Amanda Milstein

Living Liberally is all about making cultural events places to become energized and educated about politics. Unfortunately I'm often too busy to attend Living Liberally events, sometimes because I'm running around New York with the liberal Jewish groups that I am part of, going to events that, oh yeah, are often places for people to become energized or educated about politics, either officially or unofficially. When I leave New York I have more than the nationwide network of Drinking Liberallys to rely upon for interesting political conversation, because all across the East Coast young progressive Jews are hanging out and praying — and then going and doing things that are pretty useful.

One of my good friend Julie Aronowitz's favorite books is Bowling Alone, and she seems determined to single-handedly reverse trends of Americans spending less and less time in community. When I spent a recent weekend at her place in Boston she invited 60 people to attend Jewish religious services and a potluck in her apartment and the apartment of her upstairs neighbors as a joint program with the Moishe/Kavod House. After the services her roommate gave a brief speech about organic produce, and how one of her friends volunteered in a community where many people were dying of cancer presumably because of exposure to the pesticides that they sprayed on the crops they were growing. She then distributed information about buying a share in a co-op, and encouraged people to split shares with those seated around them

Joelle Novey is one of the people who helps run an independent minyan called Tikkun Leil Shabbat in D.C. Every time they meet someone from a social justice organizations speaks, and provides participants with ways of getting involved with the cause that they are working for.

"We've heard [talks about how we could repair the world] about security guards organizing, efforts to clean up the Anacostia River, the local fight for marriage equality, activism to stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, and…more… There are 150-200 folks at each of our gatherings, and almost 500 on our email list…We're placing ongoing social justice work at the center of our Jewish community life in a way that feels unprecedented and important," she said.Ben Dreyfus, one of the founders of Kol Zimrah, an independent minyan in New York City, said he'd participated in several calling parties before the '04 and '06 elections with people he'd mainly met through the Kol Zimrah community, and become involved with Democracy in the Park and several local campaigns through people from the progressive Jewish community as well.And, of course, one of my Kol Zimrah friends proofread my cover letter for Living Liberally, thus enabling me to spend my days trying to get people to go to progressive networking events.

Thursday is Purim, when Jews are commanded to drink and give to charity—not necessarily in that order. Although I won't be able to make it to Drinking Liberally this week, I hope that the liberals that I do end up drinking with lead me to interesting progressive opportunities.

Hightower: High Tide For People Power

swim.jpgThe secret to Jim Hightower’s success lies in a style of political commentary best described as “pleasantly apoplectic;” he’s mad as hell, but in an ultra-affable way. Who else could stoke a fire in the belly with so many belly laughs?

In our climate change crisis, Hightower’s a natural source of alternative energy. He’s got his own brand of windpower, fueled by blowhards and gasbags, of which the right seems to have an endless supply.

And then there’s the wave power he’s helping to generate with his new book, Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow. Swim Against the Current, co-authored by Susan DeMarco, provides heartening proof that citizen activists are turning the tide against the Powers That Be who’ve dragged our democracy through the muck.

If you subscribe to the “Yes-Things-Are-Awful-But-What-Can-I- Do-I’m-Just-One-Person” school of thought, I’m giving you an “F” for fatalism. I’ll change it to an “A” for attitude adjustment after you read this book and get off your apathetic ass and join the ranks of the grassroots greenies and grannies who are the heroes of Hightower’s book.

Hightower profiles people from every region in our country who are working to better our communities and our country. There are success stories about cooperatives formed by everyone from organic dairy farmers to cabbies and strippers, and benign bankers (yes, you read that right) willing to give low-income folks a leg up. Whether urban or rural, religious or secular, these people all share a devout faith in the power of democracy.

The book also highlights the rise of eco-conscious Christians, who’ve helped grow grassroots groups like the Coal River Mountain Watch, a coalition of Appalachian residents who took on the coal mining industry. The industry’s embrace of a practice called mountaintop removal has flattened their mountains, poisoned their water, and flooded their “hollers” with toxic coal slurry, an environmental catastrophe one coal industry official characterized as an “act of God.”

Hightower calls the devastating practice of mountaintop coal removal by its rightful name, “ecocide: the total annihilation of a priceless ecosystem that is older than the Himalayas.” These rural communities are being ravaged while most of us flip on a switch and never think about where that power’s coming from. You can witness the courage of these “average” folks in the face of brutal indifference from the coal industry in the film Burning the Future: Coal in America.

Another movement Hightower gives a shout-out to is the growing revolt against revolting food. We call it the “real food revival,” or the “good food movement,” but Hightower gives it a locution worthy of the Lonestar State: “the upchuck rebellion.” Hightower’s been hurling tomatoes at Agribiz for decades; his first book, Hard Tomatoes, Hard Times, written with DeMarcos in 1972, was an exposé of how industrial agriculture hijacked tax payer-financed agricultural research for its own gain, at the expense of our food chain. As Agriculture Commissioner of Texas from 1982 to 1991, Hightower fought hard to promote organic farming and regulate pesticides, and he sums up succinctly the way that Agribiz has perverted “agriculture production from the high art and science of cooperating with nature into a high-cost, high-tech process of overwhelming nature.”

Our school cafeterias are, as Hightower notes, “that last refuge of awful “mystery meats” and pre-packaged fat bombs,” but that’s changing, too, thanks to the farm-to-cafeteria movement and the efforts of good school food luminaries like Alice Waters and Chef Ann Cooper, along with ordinary folks who are fed up with the stuff they’re serving our kids:

Just as good food springs from well-tended ground, so has this grassroots movement. No one in a position of power—political or economic—made any of these improvements happen. In a remarkably short time, ordinary Americans informed themselves, organized, and acted to assert their own values over those of the corporate structure. Family by family, business by business, they have changed not only the market, but the culture. By taking charge of what goes on their plates, people are beginning to take charge of their lives.

Advocating more mindful consumption, Hightower sounds like an apostle of the Reverend Billy or a fan of No Impact Man as he calls on us to reject rampant consumerism and get a real life:

Consumerism is not a “life,” it’s a substitute for life. To elevate it to the level of a predominant social goal demeans the human spirit, restricts our potential, distorts our society, and endangers our world…

…the basic question is this:

Will we let greedheaded profiteers determine the boundaries of our lives? Or will we take charge, blazing new paths for ourselves and our country?

Beyond a series of uplifting anecdotes of folks who are doing just that, Swim Against the Current offers pages of resources to connect you to all kinds of organizations that are revitalizing our communities and reclaiming our democracy. Dive into this book and start paddling, because while you’re moping around on the sidelines, you’re really sinking. Why sink when you can swim with Jim?

Originally posted on TakePart.com.