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No, the Confederate Flag Doesn’t Belong in a Museum Either

[ 139 ] June 29, 2015 |

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A central piece of the rhetoric about taking the Confederate flag down from state property and official state symbols is that “it belongs in a museum.” Actually it doesn’t belong in a museum either unless it is properly contextualized and interpreted, unless you don’t want any people of color to come to the museum. Aleia Brown has a good piece explaining this:

What might such an exhibit look like? It would need to tell the history behind the flag. It is a symbol of white supremacy, and museums should acknowledge it as such. The designer for the second national flag of the Confederacy described it as a representation of the fight to “maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.” The exhibit should also acknowledge the role the flag played in South Carolina’s past. The flag that’s captured national attention this week came to Columbia in 1962, as a reaction to black people fighting for and winning rights during the civil rights era.

Effective museum interpretation would not stop there. It would address the reoccurring questions surrounding this symbol. Why do people find the flag offensive? Why are other people so attached to the flag? Why do some people who embrace the fullness of Southern pride, including the Confederate flag, not see themselves as racists?

Furthermore, a complete interpretation of the Confederate flag would need to make clear that black people have always resisted white supremacy and fought for the demise of institutional racism. The late historian Vincent Harding put forth this idea, characterizing black people as committed to their freedom and unwilling to accept oppression. There has always been a cadre of black people willing to die for their freedom in America, and this too is germane to museum interpretation of the Confederate flag. In addition to being a sacred space, the AME church in Charleston was also home to the storied congregation to which the revolutionary Denmark Vesey had belonged. His church was burned after Vesey was accused of plotting an uprising in which enslaved people would revolt against slave masters.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have controversial pieces in museums. I’ve seen KKK material in several museums, including fully uniformed figures in the Colorado and Ohio state history museums. But those are contextualized, or in the case of Ohio was part of an exhibit that was specifically about the most controversial pieces they had in their collection.

But this often is not the case. As Brown discusses, lot of history museums do not deal with race well at all. Most people on history museum governing boards are conservatives. There’s a lot of downward pressure against anything “controversial” which inevitably means “would make white conservative patrons uncomfortable.” Does anyone believe that the South Carolina state history museum would tell the story of the Confederate flag in an appropriate way? I surely don’t.

So let’s either keep the Confederate flag out of museums or, hopefully, pressure museums to tell stories of white supremacy carefully to emphasize what those objects actually represented.

The Trajectory of the Gay Rights Movement

[ 150 ] June 29, 2015 |

Supreme Court Gay Marriage

The rise of the gay rights movement to popular acceptance is probably the most amazing political event of my lifetime, perhaps outside of this nation electing an African-American president. Social movements in American history are for the most part SLOW in advancing, with often decades between any positive institutional change. Then there can often be a big push forward thanks to specific historical circumstances that leads to a certain amount of institutional change, followed by another period of stalling, even as activists continue to fight for change. As I always tell my students, the African-American freedom struggle did not start in 1954 and end in 1968. It started in 1619 and continues today, and if we consider slave resistance broadly, as an identifiable movement for the vast majority of that time. But there have only ever been two periods in American history when enough white people wanted to push forward those rights that the movement could achieve major victories, 1863-70 (or so) and 1954 (or so)-65. Otherwise, too many white people have simply not cared or have been openly hostile for institutional change to create more equal conditions for African-Americans. It’s the same for other movements. Organized labor hasn’t won a nationwide comprehensive pro-worker bill since the Fair Labor Standards Act 77 years ago. The environmental movement can still win big victories in executive action but major environmental bills can win in Congress no longer, and as today’s EPA decision shows, hostile courts can undo them. Lilly Ledbetter was a rare legislative victory for the women’s rights movement in the last few decades.

This story is not entirely untrue in the gay rights movement. After all, there was a tremendous amount of suffering and oppression until fairly recently (and especially in the transgender community, continues today). Gays were routinely murdered on the streets of almost every American city. Clearly the murder of Matthew Shephard was a transitional moment here, akin to the murder of Emmitt Till, that finally started to move heterosexuals toward greater tolerance. Why this particular murder? As with much of history, it’s really impossible to say. After all, my basic theory of change in American history is that you just never know what will capture the attention of the general public, but activists have to fight like everything will in order to be ready to take advantage of that attention. And the gay rights movement does have identifiable antecedents back into the 1950s through the Mattachine Society and other pioneering groups.

But the gay rights movement has advanced at a shockingly fast rate. Even 10 years ago, national gay marriage seemed impossible. I grew up in Springfield, Oregon. In 1992, the Oregon Citizens Alliance passed a city ordinance allowing gays “no special rights,” which was really the right to be recognized as humans. My high school friends were on the streets holding up signs advocating the oppression of gays. That fall and the next couple of election cycles, statewide laws based around that Springfield law nearly passed. In Oregon. Not Texas or Mississippi. Oregon. And one did pass in Colorado. How did we go in 23 years from widespread hatred and revulsion of gays to clear majorities supporting for gay marriage and the Supreme Court granting them that right? That’s a question historians will be debating for a long time.

I also am of the fairly strong belief that the gay rights movement is not going to enter into that long period of stagnation that plagues other movements, although there is some sort of end point toward gay acceptance and legal victories. There’s obvious a lot of fights that still need to be won. First, given Hobby Lobby, it’s entirely possible that the Supreme Court is going allow religious exceptions to corporations for recognizing these gay marriages. Right now, the South is basically going full George Wallace/Orval Faubus against this ruling. We already know that the LGBT community suffers from significant discrimination in housing and employment and in many states there is nothing they can do. And transgender community still suffers the routine murders that killed gay men for years. There’s a long ways to go.

Continued victories are hardly inevitable. It once seemed that the Equal Rights Amendment was a sure thing and support for the women’s movement not only stalled out, but in fact that movement went into decline, taking a defensive posture against declining reproductive rights, fighting against pay inequity that remains stubborn, and dealing with continued misogyny throughout society. Scott pointed this out the other day, cautioning that the only things standing between LGBT people and renewed marriage oppression are the life of Anthony Kennedy and the 2016 presidential election. In a strictly legal sense, this is true. Yet the public support of gay marriage has risen so quickly and really shows little sign of abating. Again, this was also true of abortion in the 60s and 70s.

Here’s what I think the gay rights movement is different. First, lots of gay people are wealthy white men. This is a different kind of underclass than African-Americans and women. These are people who are the overclass except that they are gay. That these are people with access to real power matters. Second, the political campaign to get people to come out to their families and friends has obviously been overwhelmingly successful, even at a sometimes high personal cost to the brave people doing this. The reality is that almost all of us today know people who are openly gay. It’s a lot easier for white people to not know any black people than to not know any gay people. Obviously, we all know women, but as several commenters noted in yesterday’s thread, abortion just cuts differently because of the ability to frame the fetus as a baby. There’s nothing equivalent to this in the rest of American society. That helps explain the stagnation of abortion support versus the still growing support for gay marriage–a support that most importantly skews very heavily to younger voters, suggesting an almost near universal acceptance for people under the age of 30.

Abortion is hardly the whole of the women’s movement and that gets at the potential challenges of the LGBT movement in achieving future victories. As many others have noted, the gay marriage movement was a successful campaign because it was fundamentally conservative. It tapped into the most basic rights in American society, even if marriage politics have always been hotly contested. The African-American freedom struggle also succeeded when asking for the most fundamental of rights: voting rights and the end to the daily routine humiliation of Jim Crow. It’s when you start getting into challenging economic power and personal choice that it gets much harder for social movements to win in the United States. Housing discrimination can be a tough victory. Equality at the job even harder. African-Americans still face routine discrimination in job interviews over something as simple as their name. The women’s movement fight for pay equity has been a decades-long struggle and still has not achieved parity.

So again, you never know what is going to happen. But all trends point toward increasing support for gay rights and the acceptance of gay people into the fabric of American society.

Book Review: Alex Gourevitch: From Slavery to the Cooperative Commonwealth: Labor and Republican Liberty in the Nineteenth Century

[ 22 ] June 29, 2015 |

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I don’t read much, or really any, political theory at this point in my life. It’s an important field but I have little background in it and the start-up cost of time and energy to read difficult texts is high. But political theorists can often add a great deal of context to the ideological framework of political movements. And so I was quite interested in reading Alex Gourevitch’s From Slavery to Cooperative Commonwealth, which is an exploration of how the Knights of Labor and other workers’ movements of the 19th century reframed ideas of republicanism in order to demand Independence from exploitative captialism.

Because of my lack of a background in political theory, I am writing this review in the context of how the book is useful for the U.S. historian. Framing his story with the biracial organizing of the Knights of Labor in Louisiana, which led to the Thibodaux Massacre, Gourevitch argues that the Knights created a rhetoric of freedom that could appeal to African-Americans because it was about not having masters of any kind. This brought together African-Americans’ lived experiences and memories of slavery with working people of all races who had new demands for emancipation from their employers. Ideally, the Knights hoped workers could create cooperative institutions that would allow them to be truly independent and avoid the tyranny of capital altogether.

This master-slave language was a significant transition in the history of republican thought. The two key points for Gourevitch is a) republicanism had largely been an elite language in the past and b) slavery was a real live thing in the United States and when it was gone, workers could then use that language to serve their own purposes. On the first, 19th century workers appropriated this elite language around independence and virtue to describe the world of labor relations. Slavery and elite republicanism had been tied together from the Greeks and Romans to the Founding Fathers in Virginia. Life in the United States challenged this in a number of ways, creating not only working class definitions of it, but most prominently, abolitionists who tried to disconnect the need for chattel slavery from American republican thought. Abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison completely rejected workers’ claims to be slaves, often in vociferous terms, because workers were not unfree like slaves and therefore the comparison were not apt. Economic dependence was not unfreedom.

But the defeat of slavery then solved the abolitionist objection to worker use of this language, or at least made that appropriation less of a threat to their political project. With one form of slavery undone, workers sought to use republicanism to undo what was becoming a new and increasingly powerful form of unfreedom: the employer-employee relationship of the Gilded Age. The issue of independence was at the core of labor’s critique of this new system. The changes in American work developing before the Civil War began to create widespread changes to workers’ independence and freedom. If they labored for 12 hours but only made enough money to buy goods that took 4 hours to produce, that was 8 hours a day being stolen from them by their employer. And even if contracts were enforced fairly, the conditions of control had become so bad after the Civil War that workers were still oppressed. They didn’t make enough money to withhold their labor from employers, so the system was already unequal. Then the contract ceded total control of the workplace to the employer. Ultimately, only cooperative workers organizations could allow workers to escape this system of capitalism and regain their independence. A cooperative republic would challenge the dominant system of production and give workers control over their lives again.

This book gets at another key issue in American history, which is how a Republican Party that ended slavery and sought rights for free blacks during Reconstruction could then turn around and not only crush workers movements, but talk about unions in apocalyptic terms. But these two things were not contradictory in the mindset of Republicans. Garrison himself could celebrate black freedom in terms of “independent laborers by voluntary contract.” But what did “voluntary” mean? For mainstream Republicans, it was the conditions an employee agreed to when he (most likely) agreed to take a job. This construction of freedom did not have any room for other forms of compulsion like the need to eat or put a roof over your head. Freedom did not have to extend any farther than compulsory labor at the point of a lash. The Supreme Court itself roundly rejected the idea of alternative forms of tyranny in the Slaughterhouse Cases of 1873 when white New Orleans butchers said a new law forcing them to work at a single private institution violated the 14th Amendment by violating their economic independence and placing them in servitude. From there through Lochner, Gourevitch takes readers through how the courts routinely found that freedom of contract was true freedom, ignoring the increasingly unequal realities of Gilded Age society that led to the rise of the Knights in the 1870s and 1880s as a response.

Gourevitch also helps us understand the Knights’ unfortunate position toward immigrants, especially the Chinese and eastern Europeans. Labor republicans held themselves and other workers to very high standards because they believed the cooperative republic would have to rest on the morality of its members. These standards could easily not be fulfilled. They would them blame workers for their own failings. Given the racial milieu of the late 19th century, blaming workers for their own problems could easily morph into racial characterization. However, Gourevitch doesn’t really get into how the Knights managed to include African-Americans into this system when the Chinese and eastern Europeans could not be. That’s a weakness of the book, but you can read Joseph Gerteis’ Class and the Color Line for an understanding of that. Unfortunately, that book is not cited in Gourevitch’s bibliography, even though it was published in 2007. Interestingly, the two books use the same image for their cover.

Gourevitch does not shy away from the modern implications of his study in the New Gilded Age, noting that “who is subject to whose will” is a key question today. (177) Like in the 19th century, employers are using unnecessary power against workers to hurt their lives, such as cracking down on bathroom breaks to use Gourevitch’s example. He suggests the positives of using labor republicanism rhetoric and moving toward cooperative enterprises today. Personally, I’m really skeptical that cooperative enterprises can succeed on any large scale. But as I have argued before, one of the similarities between the two Gilded Ages is that in both cases, working people were smacked in the face by a radically transforming capitalism that left them figuring out just what the heck happened to their lives searching for any alternative to that system. So any alternative should be on the table today.

Ultimately, Gourevitch wrote a book that goes a long way to explaining some of the trickier and most often misunderstood intellectual trends in American history.

LePage

[ 72 ] June 29, 2015 |

Maine Governor

Paul LePage is a very special person. I have to wonder whether in the entire annals of American politics, an executive has been such an asshole to have united both political parties against him to the point of the legislature unanimously overriding vetoes. If so, I certainly don’t know about it. And yet this man managed to be elected by the voters of Maine not once, but twice!

Of course, we can certainly blame Eliot Cutler, the pointless third party vanity candidate for this to a certain extent. Nader ’16: Third parties in American politics never lead to horrible outcomes!

Scorsese

[ 56 ] June 28, 2015 |

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National treasure Martin Scorsese on The Third Man

About four months ago, I screened a beautiful 35mm print of the picture for my daughter and her friends. “Why do we keep watching this?” I suppose it’s [Joseph] Cotten and [Alida] Valli – that’s the emotional core of the picture. For instance, the scene where Holly Martins (Cotten) finally goes to her apartment. He’s a little drunk, and he tells her he loves her and he knows he doesn’t have a chance. That’s when she says, “The cat only liked Harry.” So that leads right into the great revelation of Harry Lime in the doorway with the cat – which is iconic. But it’s more than that – it’s one of the great epiphanies in movies: the cat turning the corner and nestling itself on those wing-tip shoes, and then Harry Lime being revealed when the light is turned on in the doorway and it shines in his face.

Remember Walker Percy’s great novel The Moviegoer? He refers to that moment in such a beautiful, special way. It became a moment internationally, a shared experience for a vast audience seeing that film. It’s not just a dramatic revelation – there’s something about Orson Welles’ smile at that point that shifts everything to another level, and it sustains no matter how many times you see it. Welles comes into the picture about halfway through. That’s the first time you actually see him, after you’ve spent so much time picturing him in your mind because everyone has been talking about him and thinking about him. So that might be the best revelation – or the best reveal, as they say – in all of cinema.

The Third Man is of course amazing, but I’ll leave discussing it to Scorsese. What makes Scorsese so great is two things. First of course are his films. It would be nice if he stopped making pointless projects to the late era Stones because when he sets his mind to a story, he still almost always makes a good film. But at this point can do what he wants. Second is his effusion about film, a joy that is truly contagious. Part of this is his natural manic energy but much of it is his pure love for film that has influenced his whole career, yet not turned him into Brian DePalma, ripping off scenes from his favorite movies and sticking them into his own. That might be fine once such as with the famous Battleship Potemkin into The Untouchables baby carriage, but this has turned into a schtick. Anyway, Scorsese isn’t going to be around forever and when he’s gone, there is no possible replacement.

The Single Stupidest Conservative Talking Point

[ 43 ] June 28, 2015 |

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With a blog post title like this, I confess that there are lots of stupid conservative talking points. But the winner is “derp, modern Democrats are the real racists because Jefferson Davis and Robert Byrd were racists, derp.” This is in fact the single stupidest conservative talking point. Of course the National Review, noted magazine of segregationists and apartheid supporters, is happy to float that argument out in reference to the Confederate flag. Nikki Haley of course is the real civil rights hero.

I also appreciate how such arguments completely leave out the active support of Republican presidential candidates for the flag. When you are this hackish, might as well go all the way.

July 2015: Probably a Very Bad Month for Abortion Rights

[ 92 ] June 28, 2015 |

Been feeling good about the nation in the last few days? Well, that’s fine and all. It’s the weekend. Now get back to fighting to preserve basic reproductive rights for women that are under severe attack from your Confederate-flag waving, gay marriage hating states.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t step in by the end of June, almost every abortion clinic in Texas will stop providing terminations, leaving only eight clinics in six cities to offer services to the 27 million people in its borders. That scenario is devastating. It also might not be the worst thing we see happening as July unfolds. July 1 is also the implementation date of a number of laws that were passed this legislative session, and depending on certain judicial decisions the state of abortion access may be dramatically changing starting in just a few more days.

A last-minute temporary injunction of Kansas’s new ban on D&E abortions will keep that state from losing the ability to offer abortion services past the first trimester, a situation that would have occurred otherwise as of July 1. District Court Judge Larry Hendricks announced on Thursday that the ban will be put on hold for now while litigation surrounding the law continues. Without the injunction, abortion clinics must either induce labor to end a pregnancy that has proceeded past 14 weeks gestation, or simply tell the patient to carry her pregnancy to term.

Meanwhile, July 1 is also the start date of a new 48-hour, face-to-face waiting period the Tennessee legislature passed earlier this spring. That waiting period, as well as a law requiring all abortion clinics meet much more stringent, medically unnecessary “ambulatory surgical center” regulations, was signed by the Governor in May and also will be enforced at the first of the month. A request for an injunction was filed late on June 25, and it is unclear yet if a judge will block it.

One never knows what Anthony Kennedy will actually do so maybe the Court does step in here. I remain skeptical. The gay rights movement has had a lot more victories in recent years than the women’s movement and one can argue that gay men now have more rights than women of any sexual orientation. The fight for freedom must include the right to accessible abortion. That’s in real trouble for large swaths of the nation.

Book Review: Jacob Darwin Hamblin, Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of Catastrophic Environmentalism

[ 15 ] June 28, 2015 |

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When teaching about postwar America, I always tell my students that just about anything that happened in this nation during the Cold War has its roots in Cold War politics or fed back into Cold War issues. Jacob Hamblin’s 2013 book Arming Mother Nature demonstrates how this is true for what he calls “catastrophic environmentalism,” or the idea that human activities will transform the world in shocking and horrible ways. Hamblin shows how this thinking comes straight out of the military-industrial complex that was researching how total war of the quite possible World War III would also be an environmental war. By using biological weapons and detonating hydrogen bombs, the death of millions of people could bring a nation to its knees. But in planning for these future wars, the military also needed to understand just how turning the environment into a catastrophe would affect humans. Thus the same scientists that were developing these weapons were also providing early ecological understanding of how humans impacted the planet. The apocalyptic language of people like Paul Ehrlich and Rachel Carson makes a great deal of sense in this context, when much of our early environmentalism used Cold War language as a response to the threat of technological development to the planet. After all, those researching and promulgating Cold War doctrine used the exact same language to describe their own plans.

American scientists expected to arm nature in war against the USSR. World War II scientists had already explored this sort of warfare and the Japanese had gone forward with it. To briefly quote Hamblin “scientists in the decades after World War II worked on radiological contamination, biological weapons, weather control and several other projects that united scientific knowledge of the natural environment with the strategic goal of killing large numbers of people”(4). This could be everything from experiments with bull semen and seed storage to help Americans survive such an attack to destroying regional food supplies to starve nations into submission or launching disease bombs to spread deadly illness. In all of these plans, scientists wanted to deploy nature itself as a weapon.

But wouldn’t such warfare kill millions of Americans as well? Sure, but these scientists held two strong beliefs that made them optimistic about long-term recovery. First, they largely did not believe humans could really control nature in the long term. Thus, they might make short-term alternations that could win a war but in the long term nature held all the cards and the old natural balance would eventually be restored. Second, they believed Americans had a better capacity to rebuild their society than the Soviets because they felt the American free market economy would recover more quickly than socialist state planning. Pure ideology at play here.

The Soviets, North Koreans, and eastern Europeans did accuse the Americans of actually deploying these plans, such as the Czechs blaming the expansion of the Colorado potato bug across their nation on American biological warfare. But mercifully, actual deployment remained largely theoretical, even if Al Gore Sr. suggested dumping all of our nuclear waste on the border between North Korea and South Korea to stop any further communist incursions. But far too much of this program did become active in Vietnam where the U.S. engaged in significant environmental warfare through the use of napalm and other herbicides. Students at Penn discovered in 1966 that one of its chemistry professors was researching a government project to create diseases in rice that could be used in Vietnam. This not only led to campus protests in the country but a rethinking of ethical relationships between scientists and the government, leading to pressure for academic scientists to break ties with its military sponsors working on biological warfare.

Interestingly, the overwhelming public and international reaction to American environmental warfare led Richard Nixon to harness the growing popular movement of environmentalism to his own international agenda. Nixon decided to sacrifice the most far-fetched parts of the American environmental warfare program such as weather control and biological weapons through international treaties in order to save what mattered to him–the nuclear program. He tapped into not only the rhetoric of ecocide coming out of the anti-Vietnam movement but broader environmentalism to make him seem like a strong leader on the issue, but always within a Cold War context. First, he forced NATO to create a committee on environmental issues for collective security around the issue. Then he tried to make the U.S. the international leader on the environment, leading to the Stockholm conference of 1972 and the UN Environment Programme. Nixon had shed the U.S. of programs that now seemed more trouble than they were worth, made himself look like a global environmental leader, and ensured that the core mission of U.S. military research remain untouched. Smart politics if typically cynical.

My one critique of the book is that when discussing the rise of environmentalism, Hamblin does not really engage with how it was a truly a popular movement and how such catastrophic ideas affected the grassroots either before or after people like Barry Commoner, Carson, and Ehrlich wrote their famous books. Particularly frustrating is how he defines Nixon in this environmentalism, noting “many of the key pro-environment national developments came during his presidency, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.” (190) I have said many times on this blog, this says almost nothing about Nixon and much about the overwhelming congressional majorities responding to popular pressure that passed these bills. In the bigger picture of the book, this is pretty minor and I realize that Hamblin is not a bottom-up historian of the environmental movement, but I don’t see how reinforcing myths about Nixon the environmentalist is useful.

Finally, the question of whether catastrophic environmentalism is effective in dealing climate change remains a bit unclear. Hamblin does not come down strongly on this issue, but he’s a bit skeptical. He notes that the major problem with such claims is that they are fairly easily debunked and notes how Bjorn Lomberg has taken up that mantle on climate change. Yet it’s unclear to what extent Lomborg has really made much difference in these debates and I think far more effective is what Hamblin notes earlier–the embrace of free-market economics and use of patriotism to attack environmentalism as well as the belief that humans can’t really truly control the natural world that finds its way into right-wing talking points around the earth naturally warming or extinction or other parts of the “debate.” The end of the Cold War ended the threat of catastrophic warfare but not the language or culture that rose up around it, attitudes that still influence both environmentalism and those who oppose the environmental movement.

In truth, this complex and fascinating book has a lot more going on than I can say here. You should read it.

Happy Hour

[ 90 ] June 27, 2015 |

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This debate over whether happy hours should be banned, as they currently are in Illinois, has a clear answer: no. I have lived in states with happy hour. I currently live in a state that does not have them. I don’t see a discernible difference in people’s behavior after work. What happens here is food-based happy hours or evenings like $1 oysters that effectively do the same thing to get people in the door. The real issue here is with driving after going to happy hour. And that’s an important problem. But it’s also a manageable issue. First, a lot of people going to happy hour are going to be responsible citizens. Second, a lot of those people in a city like Chicago are already taking public transportation because driving into the heart of the city to go to work is unpleasant. Third, bartenders can be strict about how much they serve. Fourth, we know from a lot of experience that prohibitionist policies don’t work. We’ve all seen plenty of people at bars who are completely irresponsible no matter what the prices of drinks are. Offering a slightly lower drink price for a couple of hours is not going to radically change the number of people who are doing so.

I suppose in an ideal world, either nobody would need to drink at all or we would not have cars and free public transportation should shuttle us rapidly from place to place so that drunk driving would never be an issue. Neither of these things will ever happen. So given that, the question is how to manage it. Ultimately, if people want to get loaded, they are going to do so no matter what the state says about it. Promoting responsible drinking, training servers and bartenders to watch out for customers who are drinking too much, encouraging taxis and public transportation, and offering low-priced food to go along with the drinks are all policies that will encourage a positive result while also offering bars and restaurants a new line of business. I thought the opinion that suggested happy hours would help bars offset the likelihood of higher minimum wages was sensible and reinforces how we can create a policy that helps everyone here.

Again, none of this is dismissing the severe problem of drunk driving. But not allowing Illinois residents to go to a happy hour is not going to solve that problem.

Big Win in the Fight for $15

[ 1 ] June 27, 2015 |

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Big victory for home health care workers in Massachusetts. The workers and their union, SEIU, came to an agreement with the state government to raise their minimum wage to $15 by July 2018. That’s still pretty far off given that they already make at least $13.30. But it’s also the first statewide agreement in SEIU’s Fight for $15 campaigns and that’s well worth noting and celebrating.

The Role of a Single Activist

[ 85 ] June 27, 2015 |

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Most of you already know about the awesome event of this morning, when an activist by the name of Bree Newsome climbed up the flagpole outside the South Carolina capitol building and took down the Confederate flag hanging there. This fantastic episode of direct action ramps up the pressure on South Carolina to get rid of the flag and continues placing the anti-flag movement in the public eye where it has been since the attack on the Charleston church last week. Newsome and her companion James Dyson were arrested for–wait for it–defacing a public monument. That’s the best possible charge she could face since it then invites discussion over whether the American swastika is really a public monument that should have legal defense. Not to mention whether simply taking down the flag is actually defacing anything.

What’s also interesting about this to me is the outsized role single activists can sometimes have in moving conversations forward, setting off new movements, and exposing the power structure that oppresses people. Most of us are simply not going to climb that flag pole. But we probably should. In Out of Sight, I discuss a woman named Liz Parker, who took it upon herself to go to a store of the British department chain Matalan with a signboard shaped like a coffin that read “Matalan Pay Up! Long Overdue for Rana Plaza Victims.” Local newspapers reported her protest, providing a bit on insight for readers on the horrors of global production.

Again, any of us can do this kind of thing. Sure we might be escorted off the property at our nearest Walmart, but it will take at least a few minutes before the police arrive. We might even be charged with trespassing, which is why it certainly helps to have a group of supporters rather than be a lone wolf. In other words, it’s more useful to be Rosa Parks and have an organized movement behind you than be James Meredith and just start a new action like the March Against Fear. But even Meredith, in no small part of course because of the role he played in desegregating the University of Mississippi and because he was subsequently shot, could force a movement to move in a particular direction through his actions.

The point is that we do have it in all of us to take an action that creates a positive change in society. The psychology in not doing those things is perhaps less interesting than in those who actually do them since that is so much rare. We are social animals, fearful, worried about how it will affect us in the future, lazy, whatever. I’m no better at this than the average person. But what Bree Newsome did today was once again show that the individual can do fantastic things to make the world a better place.

Friday Night Advice

[ 46 ] June 27, 2015 |

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Don’t climb on beaver dams.

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