The Last Adults Left in the Room

At Georgetown University, Jeff Sessions accused American universities of having ties to Russia. At William and Mary, Black Lives Matter protestors labeled the ACLU a white supremacist organization. And in Indianapolis, Vice President Mike Pence staged a walk out of an NFL game rather than witness black athletes kneeling during the national anthem. Trigger warning: irony can no longer contain our politics. We are beyond an Age of Fracture, a Politics of the Absurd. The most recent dust-up over campus free speech happened at William & Mary College in Virginia, where ACLU lawyer Claire Gastañaga was scheduled to give a talk. Given that the ACLU helped white supremacists get a permit to … [Read more...]

Can We Imagine Something More? Reckoning with Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough

In his lecture “The Robbery of the Soil,” Rabindranath Tagore imagines the moon to have been once hospitable to life. This, he tells us, was the case until an intelligent species found life on it. This species soon busied itself with devouring and devastating this once thriving member of the solar system. Its acquisitiveness did not, obviously, lend it contentment and, instead, led to nature being stripped of its finite resources for this species’ infinite wants. To corner whatever resources remained, war among various sects of this species became unavoidable, and they ended up emptying their home of water and vegetation and reduced it to a desert. Life on the moon, ultimately, became … [Read more...]

Got Revolution? Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, the Summer of Love, and Hippie Commercialism

Don’t underestimate the Airplane, even if it’s easy to do. Sure, none of their other music exceeds the concise psychedelia of their best-known songs. Yes, they morphed into progressively lame versions of themselves throughout the seventies and eighties. And yes, their final iteration, Starship, inflicted the world with “We Built This City”, which might objectively be one of the worst songs of all time. Added together, these parts might as well make Jefferson Airplane just another relic. Yet their sum is so much more. Forget the Airplane, and you not only miss out on some fine music, but you also commit a minor act of historical amnesia. If you want to know how sixties music morphed from a … [Read more...]

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...]