Category Archives: American Politics

Book Review: Thanks Obama, My Hopey Changey White House Years

By Danielle Prostrollo

The last few weeks in the library have been a veritable book lover’s Christmas. A ton of new stock has come in, and picking one to highlight was difficult. I picked this one because the subject of the autobiography. The author is a speechwriter and ‘people behind the people’ stories fascinate me.

Thanks Obama: my hopey changey White House Years, by David Litt

thanks obama

To head this review off, I thought the book was great. The story centers around a White House speech writer, David Litt, and his journey from newbie underling to member of Obama’s trusted team. It would be easy to dismiss this book as an Obama love letter, but this is not about the former president. It’s not even actually about the administration. It is rare to get a glimpse into life on The Hill from someone who does not stand directly in the public light.  
 
Equally important and refreshing, is the writing style. The book reads without difficulty, like a buddy is filling you in on his day. I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise, Litt is a speechwriter, after all. There is an unexpected amount of humor and relatability in the book. He talks about feeling invincible, about moments of awkward embarrassment, and the relatable moments of utter boredom. But, interspersed between these normal-person feelings are trips on Air Force One, nights out at Lincoln Center, and conversations with the President.
 
You don’t need to be a policy wonk to enjoy this book. Anyone interested in a little glimpse into the political life, enjoyed The West Wing, or reads every book that comes about The Hill, will enjoy this read.

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Book review: Hope in the Dark

By Danielle Prostrollo

hope in the dark

Rebecca 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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Filed under American Culture, American History, American Politics, Books, Current Events

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