American Movements

Source: Dissent, Vol. 62 no. 3, Summer 2015

Articles include:
Introducing Our Summer Issue: American Movements
Michael Kazin

….The articles in this special section examine the visions and complaints, the accomplishments and the limits of several of the largest and most important of the current movements on the left. Two of them—the drive for black freedom and that for decent pay and conditions on the job—have been around since the early days of the republic. But their advocates are taking fresh approaches to battle both new and old injustices. As our authors show, union teachers are negotiating both with and for the parents of their students, and African-American women are leading the new civil rights movement while making clear that men are not the sole victims of police brutality. The movement against fracking—like the grander effort to stop climate change—began only in this century. Yet it is already a major presence in the United States and at least half a dozen other countries. Our nation could also use a large and vigorous antiwar movement. But, for the time being, most Americans on the left are more concerned with protesting and attempting to change how they are governed at home than about the ends and means of the military forces deployed in their name and outside their borders….

Why Labor Moved Left
Nelson Lichtenstein

Hard times sometimes have a silver lining. As American unions have come under unrelenting assault, the left is “enjoying” a historic victory, but one most labor partisans would rather do without. If one considers the political landscape in the United States over the last half century, then American unions have moved—or been moved—to the left margin of mainstream thinking and action. They have gotten there primarily because of the shifting political and economic landscape on which they stand; for the most part, their leftism represents no conscious insurgency. Organized labor has become, instead, the domain of reluctant radicals…..

The Next Civil Rights Movement?
Fredrick C. Harris

….Though the 1960s movement addressed the civil and political rights that were denied to black people—access and use of public accommodations, the right to vote, and ensuring fair employment and housing opportunities—it did not directly confront the racialized degradation black people endured, and many continue to endure, at the hands of the police. What the Black Lives Matter protests have done, however, is not only put police reform on the policy agenda but demanded that American society reconsider how it values black lives…..

Women and Black Lives Matter: An Interview with Marcia Chatelain
Marcia Chatelain and Kaavya Asoka

…..A growing number of Black Lives Matter activists—including the women behind the original hashtag—have been refocusing attention on how police brutality impacts black women and others on the margins of today’s national conversation about race, such as poor, elderly, gay, and trans people. They are not only highlighting the impact of police violence on these communities, but articulating why a movement for racial justice must necessarily be inclusive. Say Her Name, for example, an initiative launched in May, documents and analyzes black women’s experiences of police violence and explains what we lose when we ignore them. We not only miss half the facts, we fundamentally fail to grasp how the laws, policies, and the culture that underpin gender inequalities are reinforced by America’s racial divide.How are black women affected by police brutality? And how are they shaping the concerns, strategies, and future of Black Lives Matter? Marcia Chatelain, professor of history at Georgetown University, creator of the #FergusonSyllabus, and author of South Side Girls: Growing Up in the Great Migration, shares her insights on the role of black women in today’s vibrant and necessary movement for racial justice….

Black Lives Matter in South Carolina
Robert Greene

Editors’ note: This article is part of a special section on American Movements from our forthcoming summer issue, which went to press before last week’s murder of nine black congregants at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

When intellectuals and pundits talk about race in America, the South takes on a dual role. At times, the South functions as an exceptional part of the nation, a region where white supremacy is the default mindset. It escapes redemption, and it cannot be reformed. This, at least, is the depressing view often espoused on liberal and left blogs, or coursing through the pages of otherwise “forward-thinking” magazines. However, at other moments, the South becomes a beacon of hope—Moral Mondays in North Carolina and the Fight for $15 campaign have inspired activists both within and beyond the South. If we can win here, liberals believe, we can win anywhere in the United States…..

Teacher-Community Unionism: A Lesson from St. Paul
Mary Cathryn Ricker

….In St. Paul, we knew we were doing wonderful things both inside and outside the schools. We applied for grants to teach middle school science to students alongside environmental and historical community activists while rebuilding the historic watershed on St. Paul’s East Side, a largely working-class neighborhood. We held public sessions where students read their essays and stories. We designed geography and history lessons about the immigration patterns of our city and our students. We lobbied our school board to maintain funding for peer mediation programs. We were thrilled to wake up every morning and share our love of these subjects with our students.

We also knew the value—and the potential—of our union. We were committed to achieving a high-quality, universal public school experience for every child. The members of the SPFT could be on the frontlines advocating that goal, and our contract could be the document that helped make it happen.

But first, we had to parry negative images about us. Administrators and politicians treated students and their families as the “consumers” of an educational system, whereas we saw them as partners in building better schools. That consumerist mentality framed us as nameless and faceless workers, instead of people who were forging relationships with children and their families. It’s no wonder that the notion of teachers as greedy and lazy had taken hold…..