Archive | September, 2012

New York Book Tour…

27 Sep

I’ll be giving two talks in New York City in October about my new book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame.    On Tuesday, October 16, I’ll be speaking at the New School (Wollman Hall, Eugene Lang Building, 65 West 11th Street, 5th floor). The event starts at 6 pm.  On Thursday, October 18, I’ll be speaking at the think tank Demos with Bill Moyers. It will start at 7 pm at Demos’ offices (220 Fifth Avenue, 2nd floor).  I’ll have more details in my next message, including news about another possible speaking gig.  I’ll also be speaking at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff on Monday, October 8th at 6 p.m. in the Cline Library, Assembly Hall.

Who you calling “dependent,” Romney?

19 Sep

Speaking to a group of like-minded conservatives, Mitt Romney disses the 47% of Americans who, he claims, “are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”

Raise your hand if you:

  • went to a public college or university
  • work for government (i.e., cops, teachers, firefighters, military, social workers, librarians, school janitors, judges, court reporters, bus drivers, etc),
  • borrow books from a public library,
  • work for or own stock in a defense contractor,
  • get your electricity or water from a government-owned utility,
  • went to, or send your kids to, public school,
  • ride on government-run buses, subways or light-rail,
  • use or work for the post office,
  • went to college on the GI Bill, Pell Grant, state financial aid program,
  • are retired and get Social Security payments,
  • ever used food stamps,
  •  lived in public housing or had a Section 8 voucher,
  • used a wheelchair ramp mandated by the Americans for Disability Act,
  • get your health care from the Veterans Administration hospital,
  • go boating or fishing in a government-run lake,
  • have a job whose workplace is safer because of OSHA rules
  • work for a company or nonprofit organization that has a contract with the local, county, state or federal government
  • have a family member who depends on a government-subsidized home health care aide,
  • pay for your medicine and medical care with Medicaid,
  • got a tax subsidy for your mortgage interest and/or property taxes,
  • recycle your garbage through your city’s sanitation department,
  • took a vacation in a national or state park,
  • own a family- or corporate-owned farm that is irrigated by a government-owned dam,
  • played baseball or soccer or used the see-saw or swings in a public park or playground,
  • got your polio and other vaccination shots at your public school,
  • traveled with a government-issued passport,
  • used an elevator inspected for safety by the local building department,
  • eat food inspected for safety by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,
  • went to a restaurant inspected by the local Health Department,
  • were helped by a police officer, park ranger or firefighter,
  • have a savings account in a bank regulated by the Federal Deposit insurance Corporation
  •  flew on an airplane inspected by the Federal Aviation Administration

We (should) Take Care of Our Own

19 Sep

At the end of his Charlotte speech Thursday night, President Obama told several moving stories about Americans who give him hope. And when he ended his address, the hall filled with the sound of Bruce Springsteen’s song, “We Take Care of Our Own.”

One can’t imagine Romney or Ryan embracing those words. That idea — “We Take Care of Our Own” — is what distinguishes the Democrats’ view of the world from the Republicans’ philosophy: “You’re On Your Own.”

“At the very essence of our democracy,” Obama said, is “the idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another, and to future generations.”

We believe that when a CEO pays his autoworkers enough to buy the cars that they build, the whole company does better.
We believe that when a family can no longer be tricked into signing a mortgage they can’t afford, that family is protected, but so is the value of other people’s homes, and so is the entire economy.

We believe the little girl who’s offered an escape from poverty by a great teacher or a grant for college could become the next Steve Jobs, or the scientist who cures cancer, or the President of the United States, and it’s in our power to give her that chance.


In his speech in Tampa last week, Paul Ryan told a story about how, after his father’s death, his mother “got on a bus every weekday for years, and rode 40 miles each morning to Madison. She earned a new degree and learned new skills to start her small business.It wasn’t just a new livelihood. It was a new life. And it transformed my Mom from a widow in grief to a small businesswoman whose happiness wasn’t just in the past. Her work gave her hope. It made our family proud. And to this day, my Mom is my role model.”

Ryan meant this as a celebration of his mother’s lift-herself-by-her-own-bootstraps spirit.

But shouldn’t someone remind Ryan that the bus was a public service, that the road was built and maintained by government, and that the University of Wisconsin in Madison is a public institution?


Want a hero?

16 Sep

To everything, there is a season, according to Pete Seeger’s song, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” drawn from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

This is the season for New Yorkers and all Americans to honor Seeger.

Now 93, the Manhattan-born troubadour has devoted his life to educating Americans and the world about peace, social justice, the environment and our country’s musical tradition.

Why not at least name a city public school after the man?

His legacy begins, of course, with music. The hundreds of songs Seeger has written orpopularized as a member of The Weavers and as a solo artist have sent powerful messages of tolerance and hope.

Seeger turned “We Shall Overcome” into a civil rights standard and a global anthem for human rights. He popularized his friend Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” now our unofficial national anthem.

His anti-war tunes “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” and “If I Had a Hammer,” helped inspire the 1950s battle against nuclear weapons and the 1960s movement against the Vietnam War. He also introduced millions of Americans to songs from other cultures, like “Wimoweh” and “Guantanamera.”

But Seeger’s activism extends far beyond the guitar and concert hall. In addition to being a World War II veteran, Seeger has been on the front lines of every major social justice crusade during his lifetime: labor unions and migrant workers in the 1930s and 1940s, the banning of nuclear weapons and opposition to the Cold War in the 1950s, civil rights and the anti-war movement in the 1960s, opposition to South African apartheid in the 1970s and, always, human rights throughout the world.

He’s seen his share of controversy. In the 1950s and early 1960s, Seeger was blacklisted for his left-wing views. Commercial television and radio networks banned Seeger and his songs.

But in response to being blacklisted, Seeger parlayed his talents into doing good. He taught guitar and banjo, played for schools and at summer camps and recorded albums for children.

During those years, Seeger planted many seeds. The youngsters who heard him became political activists and spread the gospel of folk and protest music. That’s how, more than anyone else, Seeger catalyzed the folk music revival that inspired the careers of performers like Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, Phil Ochs and Joan Baez — and later Bruce Springsteen and Tom Morello.

Seeger has always had a special relationship with New York. Born in Manhattan in 1919, he lived in the city from the late 1930s to the early 1950s. He then moved to Beacon, an hour up the Hudson River, where he built his own log cabin house, where he’s lived ever since.

And that’s where another major strand of his legacy has taken root: environmental stewardship. In 1966, Seeger launched the nonprofit Clearwater project, dedicated to cleaning up the Hudson River. The effort, at first written off as simplistic and naive, helped inspire the environmental movement. The Hudson, once filled with oil pollution, sewage and toxic chemicals is now swimmable.

Through unrelenting optimism, Seeger endured and overcame the controversies triggered by his activism. Yes, he has gotten honors — a Kennedy Center Award from former President Bill Clinton — and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

But the city of his birth, the state that has been his home for nearly a century, has yet to honor him in a manner befitting his tremendous influence.

Before Pete Seeger’s fingers can strum no longer, let’s pay respect to his life and legacy. Begin by naming a public school after him. In fact, a committee of civic leaders should nominate Seeger for the Nobel Peace Prize, recognizing his role in bringing the world closer together.

Read more here.

Jonathan Kozol speaks at Oxy

12 Sep

Author, education reformer, and social critic Jonathan Kozol spoke at Occidental College yesterday about his new book, Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America.

“Charity will never suit as a substitute for social justice.” –Kozol


10 Sep

Amie Williams, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, will be at Occidental College to screen her new film, “WE ARE WISCONSIN!” 


WHEN & WHERE: September 18th, 7pm in Swam Dumke West





“WE ARE WISCONSIN!” is a feature length documentary film that follows the day-to-day unfolding of public outcry against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s controversial budget-repair bill, focusing on the human story behind a remarkable popular uprising forged on the floor of the Madison Capitol.  The film asks the question “Why should we care about what’s going on in Wisconsin?,” on multiple levels, through an in-depth profile of six leading individuals central to the story: a UW- Madison student leader, a county social worker, a nurse, a high school teacher, a police officer and a union electrician who come out to protest what they see as a direct attack on their livelihood. They all meet inside the capitol over the course of what became an historic eighteen days, February-March, 2011.

The film amplifies why Wisconsin has become ground zero for so many disparate groups, awakening a sleeping giant of collective voices, alarmed and angry at the new hyper-conservative wave of local government sweeping the Midwest. At a time when mass demonstrations have become increasingly rare in America, this film will explore what it takes to spark a social movement. Some are calling what happened in Wisconsin an Egypt-like uprising in American politics, where collective public outrage transforms a nation.



Amie Williams is a remarkable artist.  She founded her own film/video production company, BAL MAIDEN FILMS (Gaelic for women who worked in the mines), in 1991, at the dawn of the digital revolution, when the entire landscape of filmmaking was shifting. Taking advantage of these new technologies, Amie has built an innovative, integrated company that strives to tell stories about people and places that are part of this shift in consciousness. From labor unions to African womens micro-finance collectives, AIDS orphans to environmental truckers, BAL MAIDEN FILMS and the new non-profit group she co-founded, GLOBAL GIRL MEDIA,  Amie specializes in activist/consciousness-raising videos for non-profits and grassroots groups.  Bal Maiden Films client list includes SEIU, UNITEHERE, ILWU, Rotary International, Discovery Channel, PBS, BBC, Canadian TV, Current TV, Al Jazeera English and Kenya Television Nation.

Never content to stay put when there is a rally, protest, election, or uprising to follow, Amie has been excavating stories from Siberia to Soweto, Tokyo to Nairobi, crossing borders, building bridges and pushing boundaries, as well as her art to activate dialogue and debate. Her films include UNCOMMON GROUND and FALLON, NV: DEADLY OASIS, and NO SWEAT (about American Apparel and SweatX two t-shirt manufacturers in downtown Los Angeles).

Amie’s films have won numerous awards, such as the International Documentary Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Media Grant, the SONY/Streisand Award for emerging female filmmakers, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Peace Grant, the A.F.I. Independent Film and Videomakers Award, and a National Arts Council grant to tour Japan to show her work.

My Interview with Tavis Smiley

10 Sep

You can hear Tavis Smiley’s 15-minute radio interview with me this week about my new book.  I’ll also be on Tavis’ TV show some time in October.