Beyond “Point-of-Production” Organizing: The Radical Potential of Building the Solidarity Economy

Participatory budgeting (PB) and workers cooperatives--two pillars of the solidarity economy--offer some of the best tools for building egalitarian, democratic political structures and a new kind of economy that works for everyone. PB humbly started in Porto Alegre in 1989 and has since inspired political movements across the globe, revolutionizing conceptions of the role of the citizenry in affecting everyday life. PB first arrived in America at Chicago’s 49th Ward and thereafter spread to New York City, Vallejo, California, and many other cities.[1] Though PB adapts slightly different procedural forms depending upon who administers it and where it is administered, it can generally be … [Read more...]

What Modern Monetary Theory Can Teach Us about Criminal Justice

I delivered the talk published below as part of a panel at Yale’s annual Rebellious Lawyering Conference, on February 17th, 2017. The panel, entitled “Financing Criminal Justice”, co-hosted by The Modern Money Network, focused on the connections between fiscal austerity and the horrors of the U.S. criminal legal system. I was joined on the panel by Thomas Harvey, Co-Founder and Executive Director of ArchCityDefenders, Judge Jaribu Hill, Director of the Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights, and Mitali Nagrecha, Director of Harvard Law School’s National Criminal Justice Debt Initiative. Together, we discussed how financially-strapped local government entities, charged with public … [Read more...]

Ben Parten on America’s Other Founding Father: Nat Turner

In the 2014 film Top Five, Chris Rock's character has set out to make a film called Uprize, about the Haitian Revolution.  He sees it as his way of changing his image and being a more serious artist, rather than merely the star of a series of ludicrous comedies about a bear who becomes a cop.  Little does he realize that much of America has little appetite for a movie that's basically about black people killing a bunch of white people.  It doesn't "play in Peoria." Ironically, two years later brought The Birth of a Nation, director Nate Parker's ambitious attempt to tell the story of another slave uprising: the 1831 revolt led by Nat Turner in Virginia. The movie met with a relatively … [Read more...]

Katherine Dunham: The Artist as Activist During World War II

Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) was a world-renowned choreographer who broke many barriers of race and gender, most notably as an African American woman whose dance company toured the United States, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Australia for several decades. In Katherine Dunham: Dance and the African Diaspora (Oxford, 2017), author Joanna Dee Das argues Dunham was more than a dancer; she was an intellectual and activist committed to using dance to fight for racial justice. At the same time, Dunham struggled to balance these social justice goals with her artistic career, financial needs, and personal desires. The following excerpt is the introduction to Chapter Four, which explores how … [Read more...]

Is Marine Le Pen a Jacobin? Globalization, Revolution, and the French Election

The 2017 French presidential election is a referendum on globalization. Immigration and international trade have emerged as central themes, eclipsing the issues and parties that dominated French politics for decades. Previous elections typically pitted an incumbent against a familiar face from the opposition, a candidate from the Socialist Party against a candidate from the post-Gaullist right. This model of alternating between two main political families, however, has long been quietly dying and is now thoroughly dead. In 2002, the Socialist candidate Lionel Jospin failed to make it past the first round of voting (which narrows the field to two presidential candidates), leaving the … [Read more...]

How the Labor Movement Shot Itself in the Foot: Rock Edition

“Ambition makes you look pretty ugly,” Thom Yorke sneered on Radiohead’s seminal 1997 album OK Computer. He did not mean aesthetic ambition, of course—the band had that in spades—but the crass materialism of a yuppie careerist, the proverbial “kicking, screaming Gucci little piggy.” The next year, rapper Amil made a very different declaration on a classic Jay-Z track: “Ambition makes me so horny… My hoochie remains in a Gucci name.”  Their two perspectives on material aspiration could not be more different—the art-rocker disdains the trappings of consumerism, while Amil is totally frank about the fact that she wanted her art to succeed commercially, to bring the comforts that upward mobility … [Read more...]

An Inauguration Day Greeting from Tropics of Meta

Many years ago, I was teaching high school in Gastonia, North Carolina. The senseless, world-destroying catastrophe of the Iraq War was just breaking over the horizon at the time, and students asked me what I thought about it.  As a novice teacher, I didn't know what my proper response should be.  Personally, I was despondent.  Whether or not Saddam Hussein had "weapons of mass destruction"--we'd given them to him, after all--it seemed transparently obvious that Iraq posed no immediate threat to the United States, and the ideologues and used car salesmen in Washington were driving us into a pointless war of choice. It was a dark time, and arguably much of the horror of the twenty-first … [Read more...]

Bacon’s Rebellion, Donald Trump, and American Populism

Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 took place long before Donald Trump’s ascension to the White House, but if we allow for a wide-angle view of history we might trace out some general similarities between these two events. In fact, I am inclined to argue that the American populist tradition has its roots in Bacon’s Rebellion. Following such an argument, Donald Trump can be explained as the latest incarnation of Nathanael Bacon, though contextualized to the early twenty-first century. The key word here is: populism. Populism, Defined or Not First of all, what is populism? The easy answer is: who knows, you decide. “Scholars debate whether it [populism] is a creed, a style, a political strategy, a … [Read more...]

Stiff Upper Lip, Friends

At ToM, we have always loved Max Weber's essay "Politics as a Vocation" -- especially, and always, in times of political despair. The wise old sociologist was speaking amid revolutionary tumult in Germany in 1919, in the wake of the First World War. (And yes, he was speaking, despite the fact that the lecture is extraordinarily long and dense.) Somehow, Weber knew that dark times were ahead -- perhaps even intuiting the rise of Nazism, as you can see in the quotation below.  But he urged his countrymen and comrades to steel themselves for the hard vicissitudes of politics, whatever may come their way. Eric Foner reminded us of this in the darkest days of George W. Bush and the Iraq War, … [Read more...]

SACRPH 2015: The Politics (and Non-Politics) of the Unplanned City in the US, UK, and Germany

Panels at conferences often feel like a hastily assembled mishmash of different things, like a fruit salad made by Mr. Magoo. Scholars who do not know each other and know less about each other’s research work together over email to try to slap together panel proposals that seem just plausible enough to pass muster with weary conference organizers, who have papers to grade, toddlers with runny noses, and annoying emails from students to answer. (In my best John Oliver voice: If the reading is listed next to the class date on the syllabus, you read it BEFORE CLASS on that day Jeremy!) But occasionally you get to see a panel where all the papers interlock in meaningful and intellectually … [Read more...]