Category Archives: American Politics

Book review: Hope in the Dark

By Danielle Prostrollo

hope in the dark

Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit

Solnit is perhaps most famous for her book Men Explain Things to Me which birthed the phrase “mansplaining” to describe a man that speaks condescendingly to someone (usually a woman) about a topic he does not necessarily know a great deal about (see: Merriam-Webster’s history of mansplaining). And because of this, I have come to know Solnit as an activist, feminist, and essayists.

Hope in the Dark was written in 2003 shortly after the start of the Iraq war, when the 9/11 attacks were still very fresh and tender in the mind of America, but covers several events from the (relatively) recent past: Zapatistas in Mexico, the Central Park protests for nuclear disarmament, the Berlin Wall. The thread that binds all of these events and essays together is an underlying reason to believe in the human spirit which makes this a great read for anyone fatigued by the news each night and finds themselves in a place of unease.

Our copy is a 2016 edition with a new forward written by Solnit and even just within the first few pages there is fuel for a realistic hope dotted throughout:

“It’s important to say what hope is not: it is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings” (p. xi-xii).

“Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender, a power you don’t have to throw away. And though hope can be an act of defiance, defiance isn’t enough reason to hope. But there are good reasons” (p. ix).

“Hope is an ax you break down doors with in an emergency; because hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal…” (p. 4).

To reserve Hope in the Dark and to explore our stock of social action and American history books of an array of topics, visit us in the Memorial Library!

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All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance

By Danielle Prostrollo

mlkToday marks another Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: a welcomed day off for many, a few mattress and car sales, and another cursory glance at the I Have a Dream speech.

But King was more than his iconic speech. He was a normal person who believed poor and working people should have equal opportunity to live with dignity and decency – a conversation we are still having today.

In a sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, King made it clear that “the ‘no D’ is as significant as the PhD and the man who has been to ‘No House’ is as significant as the man who has been to Morehouse” (King, p. 246).  In a recent Ted talk, Ken Robinson similarly chided the reality that certain jobs have been put on a pedestal and others disparaged.

To illustrate this point, Robinson recounts the story of a young firefighter:
“When I got to the senior year of school, my teachers didn’t take it seriously. This one teacher didn’t take it seriously. He said I was throwing my life away if that’s all I chose to do with it; that I should go to college, I should become a professional person, that I had great potential and I was wasting my talent to do that.” He said, “It was humiliating. It was in front of the whole class and I felt dreadful. But it’s what I wanted, and as soon as I left school, I applied to the fire service and I was accepted. You know, I was thinking about that guy recently, just a few minutes ago when you were speaking, about [the] teacher, because six months ago, I saved his life.”

The young firefighter pulled his former teacher and wife out of the wreckage of a car crash.

The world needs firefighters, garbage collectors, cleaners.  Every person deserves dignity and the chance to earn a decent wage.  Businessmen, lawyers, and the wealthy do not hold the monopoly on living value.  News stories about the minimum wage economy (e.g. Walmart wages and food stamps) put King’s belief in a current societal context.

We know the “I Have a Dream” speech but today we need to look beyond the myth at the imperfect man who battled the crushing pressures of fighting for what he believed in and can perhaps consider what we believe in and how we, too, might stand up for it.

A couple of books that help dispel the mythology of MLK, Jr.:
  • The Radical King, by Martin Luther King, Jr. edited by Cornel West
    This book is a collection of King’s speeches organized and introduced by West to highlight the progression of King’s values over time
  • Death of a King, by Tavis Smiley
    Smiley takes interviews of King’s widow, close friends, and scholars and puts together a realistic look at the last year of King’s life
A link to Ken Robinson’s whole Ted talk (video and transcript)

 

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Short thoughts on America during a recent visit to Seething Airfield

By Danielle Prostrollo

This past week Don and I had the chance to visit the very chilly, overcast WWII-era USAAF airfield at Seething.  Our tour guide Pat, well-versed in all areas of the base from the inner workings of the B24 to childhood games of dare played around the base, took us around the control tower filled with reminders of the Greatest Generation.  In an election season that has not brought out the best of my country, it is more than relieving to hear reminiscent stories of positivity and fondness toward the American people.  When Seething was a bustling airfield things were, in a way, simpler.  The goal was well-defined and, overwhelmingly, we worked together.

While the news pulls us in every direction, my hope for America on this Election Day is that whilst standing in line at your polling location you give up a chair to a weary laborer, let the harried mother-of-three ahead of you, or simply smile at the polling volunteers who carry a very important task on their shoulders.  None of us have all of the answers but we are all American.

In the forthcoming days, pictures and details of our trip to Seething will be published in a joint post by Don and myself. 

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Filed under American Culture, American Politics, Current Events, World War 2

Who is Iwan Morgan?

On Wednesday Nov. 12, 2014 Professor Iwan Morgan from University College London will be kicking off our second instalment of the Autumn Lecture Series. So, who is Iwan Morgan?

Morgan is Professor of US Studies and Commonwealth Fund Professor of American History in UCL’s Institute of the Americas. With a PhD in International History from the London School of Economics, Morgan has published widely in various fields of modern US political history and in political economy. Much of his work has a presidential focus. He is currently working on a biography of Ronald Reagan that covers his life in Hollywood and political office.

Iwan Morgan teaches postgraduate courses on: The Rise of the Sunbelt since 1945; US Economic Policy from the New Deal to Obama; and US Presidents and the Presidency. He also teaches an undergraduate course on Richard Nixon and Watergate.

His Wednesday Nov. 12th lecture, ‘Before the Red Scare: Hollywood’s Nazi-Hunting Movies, 1945-47′ reviews Hollywood’s post-war Nazi-hunting movies, their representation of Nazis and Nazism, and their linkage to the film noir genre.

We hope to see you there! 6:30pm, Vernon Castle Room, book your space!

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