—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration and literature.
“The Battle for Chattanooga: Southern Masculinity and the Anti-Union Campaign at Volkswagen,” by Mike Elk. In These Times, March 13, 2014.
When a majority of workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee factory voted against joining the United Auto Workers last month, many labor analysts were quick to blame a distinctly Southern anti-union bias—as if “Southernness” itself were simply antithetical to the ethos of collective bargaining. Mike Elk very elegantly complicates that story, identifying other contributing factors: the severe culture of managerial control that prevailed at the Chattanooga plant, low-level supervisors who organized to preserve their positions of relative dominance and a strain of work-place machismo (“Real men don’t complain about their work!”), which, while not limited to the South, is exacerbated by deeply held Southern, working-class ideas about masculinity and whiteness.
While the anti-union campaign may have mobilized a version of Southern history equating collective organizing with the poisonous influence of liberal Northerners—while glorifying the individualist, white Southern worker who resists the invasion of yet another “union” army—Elk proposes an alternative archetype: “The Anne Braden Southerner.” Coined by Michael Gilliland, head of Chattanooga for Workers, the term recalls the white, anti-racist crusader from Kentucky (Braden) who fought for racial equality beginning in the 1950s. History provides no single definition of Southerness—“Is the Confederacy really ‘more Southern’ than the civil rights movement?” asks Gilliland—but those who seek to preserve the present order of things would like us to forget that.
—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.
“Lo que hay detrás de las guarimbas [PDF],” by Laura Weffer Cifuentes. Últimas Noticias, March 16, 2014.
"The median age of the youth in the plaza of Altamira is between 19-22 years old, they wear hoods and swear that their fight is for Venezuela. The median age of the National Guard officers is between 19-22 years old, they wear uniforms and swear that their fight is for Venezuela." Thus begins the article that has sparked a mini-controversy in the Venezuelan publishing world. After the piece was scrapped last minute, reporters from the private media group Cadena Capriles staged a protest at their desks and chief investigative editor Tamoa Calzadilla quit. Laura Weffer's portrait of a group of protesters calls into question claims that opposition leaders are paying the protesters, and paints a far more complicated picture than either side is willing to concede. "I think they're right, but sometimes they go overboard," says one young National Guard member, adjusting his bulletproof vest for another day on the job. Powerful stuff.
—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.
“How Co-ops Helped Produce Foot Soldiers for Civil Rights,” by Carla Murphy. Colorlines, March 10, 2014.
This is an interview with Jessica Gordon Nembhard, author of a forthcoming book called Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. It's an interesting reminder of the fact that experiments in collective ownership and operation of small enterprises have been an important and sometimes politically productive part of the country's economic history: despite the fact that, as Nembhard notes, "in the U.S. co-ops are often linked with hippies" in the popular imagination, Nembhard shows that they haven't just been a separatist or a utopian project nor just a strategy employed by radicals in long-ago and foreign political climates. She points out some of the concrete political movements they contributed to—and the ways that the McCarthy-era suppression of other options for political organizing made that necessary.
—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.
“Build a School in the Cloud,” by Sugata Mitra. TED, February 2013.
What happens when an education researcher in India places a computer programmed with English language lessons on DNA replication in a remote slum and, with confidence, walks away for a couple months? The children had never seen a computer and had no iota of English. When the researcher, Sugata Mitra, returned, the children bemoaned that, while they looked at it every single day, they hadn't understood anything: "Apart from the fact that improper replication of the DNA molecule causes disease, we haven’t understood anything else.” Mitra was blown away. Driven by curiosity, the children had taught themselves the basics of both English and genetics and had inspired in Mitra the ambition to design the future of learning: School in the Cloud. Listen to Mitra's TED talk to learn more.
—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.
“NH Towns Favor Getting Money Out of Politics,” by Melinda Tuhus. Public News Service, March 13, 2014.
In the past week, fifty-nine New Hampshire towns voted on local resolutions calling for a federal constitutional amendment to strip corporations of personhood and repeal Citizens United. At their respective annual meetings, forty-seven towns voted in favor and twelve against—and more votes are scheduled for May. Though these resolutions wield no legal authority, the grassroots process by which they were passed suggests a staying power. I’ll stay tuned to New Hampshire’s corporate skepticism and the progress of legally binding law there.
—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups' relationship with technology and development.
“Is All of Twitter Fair Game for Journalists?” by Amanda Hess. Slate, March 19, 2014.
The sudden flood of #HasJustineLandedYet tweets in December was disconcerting for me—my name's uncommon enough that whenever people use it, it feels like they're talking about me and not, as it turned out, someone named Justine Sacco. Even my very indirect identification with a person whose tweet I found repulsive brought home for me some of the ethical questions about journalism and tweeting that Hess raises in her article. Particularly interesting to me is Hess's quote from Oliver Burkeman at The Guardian: “I think there’s a distinction to be made between what’s public, what’s private, and what’s ethical.... The implicit definition of ‘public’ that’s being bandied around seems to be anything that’s technically possible to access without breaking a law."
—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.
“A tale of two soldiers - Mali’s past leaders called to account.” IRIN, March 18, 2014.
"Long considered the most stable democracy in West Africa," went the popular opening refrain in article after article about the May 2012 coup in Mali, demonstrating that the media's prior perceptions of the state were owed in part to a lack of depth in reporting and coverage. Unsurprising in an era in which the effect of shrinking foreign bureaus is particularly evident in sub-Saharan Africa. This piece from IRIN, which takes a look at two key figures from the coup, deposed president Amadou Toumani Touré and coup leader General Haya Sanogo, illustrates some of the internal cleavages that belied the "stable democracy" of Western imagination. With neither figure universally reviled nor revered, this story shows the need for the kind of nuanced reporting hard to come by with strained resources.
—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.
“Why Black Women Die of Cancer,” by Harold Freeman. The New York Times, March 14, 2014.
Black women with breast cancer are 40 percent more likely to die than white women with breast cancer (even though white women are more likely to get it). Although the reasons for this egregious discrepancy aren't particularly shocking—historically limited access to screening, limited access to comprehensive information, even bias by doctors who diagnose and treat black women—the continued racial, social and economic inequities that have broken our health system are newsworthy.
This article caught my eye because several weeks ago I read a Jacobin piece arguing that we live in a "new age of biological determinism," in which disparate health outcomes are increasingly explained through pure scientific reasoning, not inequality—you're not sick because you're poor, you're sick because you have a bad gene. I wholeheartedly disagree. This New York Times piece, and a wealth of other recent articles—including, for example, this and this on The Pump Handle—show a trend towards better understanding of, and anger about, determinants of health (the exceptionally well-researched 2009 book The Spirit Level makes this case best). And policies are changing as a result. As Freeman says, the Affordable Care Act is making some small strides towards ensuring coverage for everyone, but single-payer—tirelessly championed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, most recently just last week in a Senate committee hearing that barely garnered any media attention—would do more to level inequality and boost health outcomes.
—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.
“Can we all ‘have it all’?” by Anne-Marie Slaughter. TED, June 2013.
In February 2011, Anne-Marie Slaughter gave up a high-ranking position in the State Department to spend more time at home nurturing her two teenage boys. She wrote about the complicated tradeoff in an essay for The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” In this follow-up at TED she elaborates on what it means to be a feminist in the twenty-first century. “Real equality, full equality,” she says, “does not just mean valuing women on male terms. It means creating a much wider range of equally respected choices for women and men.” She says that while many of us now pay lip service to the notion that caregiving is as worthwhile and socially useful as breadwinning (and that gender is no criterion for deciding who is to perform which function and to what degree), our workplaces, public policies and lived culture haven’t caught up with our avowed principles. The talk is a near-perfect articulation of the work-life balance dilemma that so many women, men and families grapple with. And her call to reshape society—by, say, instituting workplace flexibility and universal childcare, and making caregiving as acceptable for men as working outside the home is for women—is as practical as it is moral.
—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.
“Do We Need to Force People to Live in the Homes They Own?” by Kyle Chayka. Pacific Standard, March 19, 2014.
In this thoughtful piece from Pacific Standard, Kyle Chayka brings together two frequently lamented trends threatening the landscape of major cities: gentrification and rampant real estate speculation. Chayka points out that instead of thinking of gentrification as one culture displacing another, many cities today are facing the evaporation of culture, with apartments unoccupied or turned into hotels through AirBnB. Although the provocative policy prescriptions of the headline fail to materialize in the article (and are perhaps impossible), the article complicates widely held beliefs about urban development.
Read Next: Students write an open letter to Harvard President Drew Faust making the case for fossil-fuel divestment.