Welcome to Politics for the People blog and Book Club for independents.
In 2002, I created a free educational series for independents in New York City. I'm delighted to be able to expand with a bi-monthly Book Club that will allow Politics for the People to reach independents all over the country.
Politics for the People is designed to take you behind the scenes for a look at politics and history from an independent’s point of view.
Our Book Club will read and discuss books of interest to independents. We're now 40% of Americans.
I've been an activist in independent politics since 1984. And I'm an avid reader. In addition, I'm a photographer and will be sharing some of my work here as well.
Ellen Feldman’s “Terrible Virtue” Brings Margaret Sanger To Life
March 10, 2016 on NPR’s To The Best of Our Knowledge
Ellen Feldman appeared on “To The Best of Our Knowledge” shortly after Terrible Virtue was released. I think you will enjoy listening to the show in anticipation of our conference call with Ellen on Sunday, January 22nd.
In the interview, Ellen talks about what drew her to writing a novel about Margaret Sanger,
Ever since I was a kid, I geuss, I thought she was the most amazing woman who wrought an amazing revolution….
…I think the history of what this country was like before she started her work. Contraception was illegal in this country. It could only be prescribed by doctors and only to men and only to prevent disease. And [Margaret] fought long and hard and went to jail repeatedly to make birth control legal and to improve women’s lives and children’s lives….She really changed the landscape of our country, the sexual landscape, the political landscape and the social landscape certainly.”
The interview runs about 11 minutes and is a far ranging conversation about Margaret’s controversiality, her relationship to the African American community, her history with eugenics, and her radical political roots in socialism and anarchism.
Journalist and author Hedrick Smith recently delivered a President’s lecture at the University of Montana about the widespread political disaffection in America. Smith won the Pulitzer prize for international reporting while covering Russia and Eastern Europe for the New York Times. After his newspaper career, he went on to win Emmys for his work on the award-winning PBS Frontline series.
Smith talked with Sally Mauk at MTPR studios to give his take on this historic campaign season.
Copyright 2016 KUFM-FM. To see more, visit KUFM-FM.
On November 9th, 2015, WBUR’s Radio Boston host Meghna Chakrabarti interviewed Lisa McGirr on The War On Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State. I think you will really enjoy listening to the show.
Here are some of my favorite moments in their conversation.
Meghna asked Lisa to share how she came to write the book. Here is part of her response:
I love doing history from the bottom up and this was an effort to get to the experiences, for example, of working class immigrant ethnic men and women, different groups, African Americans in the cities and in the countryside, to understand the wide implications of Prohibition for all Americans across the board. And the differential implications by race, by class and by gender.”
They discussed how the FBI expanded its activities during Prohibition.
This is the first time there is a massive expansion of the Federal government in crime control, in 1919 through the 18th Amendment. And it’s the first time that crime is really identified as a national problem and that has all sorts of ramifications for the expansion of the state toward policing and serveillance through Prohibition and throu the war on alcohol and its collateral effects of course. Prohibition generated a national obsession over crime and criminality….This was a moment when the prison system was expanded, was reorganized….”
Meghna Chakrabarti asked whether we had learned the lessons from Prohibition that we needed to. Lisa responded:
…neglecting and not understanding the history of Prohibition accurately–the ways in which it contributed to Penal state building–we have failed to see the way that we are continuing essentially along those same paths and the flaws that are inherent in any crusade against these recreational substances. I mean, addiction is a huge problem…however the solution is not these kind of prohibitionary measures. That was proved in the 1920’s, by 1933 there’s a wide consensus. Hopefully now we’re getting to a place where there’s a little bit of opening to break the consensus that has developed on the war on drugs, because the implications have been, I think, even far more devastating on a domestic and global scale.”
Police from Boston’s Division 9 with casks seized during Prohibition, circa 1930. (Boston Public Library/flickr)
Frazier’s grandmother grew up in Braddock in the 1930s and ’40s, when “it was prosperous and a melting pot,” Frazier says. Here is what Frazier shared with NPR host Ari Shapiro about making this photograph:
It was just one of those powerful, stoic, transcending moments. My grandmother Ruby was a woman of very few words, was very serious, didn’t like to talk about the past. … So I’m leaning over her, she’s in her recliner. She really didn’t like me to make photographs, she only cooperated on maybe five or six, and this was one of them. And so it’s a Saturday afternoon where I’m leaning over her with my 35 mm camera and we just pause and she actually looks into the lens, but she’s really looking, gazing through the lens directly at me, almost like she’s transferring some type of history without speaking a word. And as she looks at me intensely with that pensive stare, I clicked the shutter.
The selection of photos below from The Notion of Family were those chosen for viewing on the NPR website alongside the interview.
LaToya Ruby Frazier has been taking pictures of her hometown and family for two decades. Pictured here: Huxtables, Mom and Me, 2008.
Grandma Ruby And Me, 2005.
Aunt Midgie And Grandma Ruby, 2007.
Gramps On His Bed, 2003.
Grandma Ruby’s Installation, 2002.
Mom Relaxing My Hair, 2005.
Mom’s Friend Mr. Yerby, 2005.
Momme (Shadow), 2008.
Mr. Jim Kidd, 2011.
Rally To Protest UPMC East, July 2, 2012.
United States Steel Mon Valley Works Edgar Thomson Plant, 2013.
I recently saw an announcement that New York City will publicly acknowledge for the first time that it sanctioned a huge slave market on Wall Street from 1711 to 1762, and that a memorial marker will be erected on the site. This made me curious so I decided to do a little research on the Internet. While I knew that slavery had once flourished in New York (at one time 40% of residents owned slaves) I quickly learned that the city did not just tolerate the buying and selling of slaves, it actually organized the market! The City received tax revenue from every slave sold and itself used slave labor for infrastructure work for many years, including, it is said, the building of City Hall. I also read that thousands of Africans who passed through the Wall Street slave market contributed to the prosperity of companies like Aetna, New York Life and JPMorgan Chase, to name a few (WNYC FM Radio, 4/14/15). So it is no wonder that the Underground Railroad needed to keep moving escaping slaves north, out of New York City where even freed slaves were not safe. I probably would have paid less attention to the timely acknowledgement of NYC’s slave market had I not been immersed in the wonderful stories of courage told in Eric Foner’s Gateway to Freedom. I’m so glad this wonderful book is available now.
You can listen to Jim O’Grady’s report for WYNC radio, “City to Acknowledge It Operated a Slave Market for More Than 50 Years.”
On how he decided to add to the crowded field of books about Lincoln Well, I was having lunch with a critic, Brenda Wineapple, and she made a very startling statement. She said, “The two greatest poets of the 19th century were Emily Dickinson and Abraham Lincoln,” and that confounded me. So I went and started reading Lincoln, and when I read about his depression, that made me feel that I could enter into his world, because yes, there’s been so much written about him, but never in his voice. Only a crazy man would write a novel in Lincoln’s voice.
Jerome Charyn, Photo: Nina Subin
On the constraints of history in fictionalizing Lincoln’s life Well, the history’s a kind of frame and a straightjacket at the same time. You know, you have to deal with the Civil War, you have to deal with … the love for Mary, and the Emancipation Proclamation, which for me was the most important American document ever written. So you have to stretch that straightjacket and push the fiction inside it. Then you have a kind of explosion, and that’s what I wanted to do.
On what brought Abe and Mary Lincoln together Sex! Very few historians have been willing to see them as sexual creatures, and that’s one of the things that was important to me, to really try to explore what was the attraction between this very tall man and this very short woman. Well, you know, she was a kind of a foxy lady. She was quite attractive, and she fell in love with him, and he jilted her, and she waited, and she waited, and she waited, and he came back. That’s a great love story.
On the sadness of Mary Lincoln We have to remember the limits that were imposed on women in the 19th century. She was an educated woman, and what could she do? She could be a school teacher, she could be a housewife, she could be a nurse, or an old maid. And women at that time really were treated like educated cows. They didn’t really have a persona of their own, so to my mind, she was a very brave woman.
On Lincoln’s ambivalence about slavery and abolitionists He was frightened of the abolitionists because they caused riots and a great deal of clamor. On the other hand, he wanted to send the slaves to Liberia, but when he realized that this was not possible, great change was with the Emancipation Proclamation. Once he conceived that, and he conceives that alone, without his cabinet — his cabinet didn’t want him to present this document — but once he conceives the Emancipation Proclamation, he really is the great artisan of the Civil War, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not really necessarily fought on the battlefield, it’s fought in Lincoln’s mind.
On why we’ll never again have a successful politician with depression …It would come out, there would be some kind of great drama that he’s seeing a psychiatrist or whatever it is, but I think this man of eternal sadness could view the world in a way that most of us can’t, and I think that allowed him to write what he did and to behave the way he did towards other people. I mean, he was human in a way that most other people aren’t … We will not see the likes of Lincoln again.
This Sunday, we will have the opportunity to talk with Alex Myers from 7-8 pm EST on our next Politics for the People Book Club conference call. I know that many of us have questions we are eager to ask Alex. The call in number for the conference call is 805 399-1200 and the access code is 767775#.
Anthony Brooks from Radio Boston did a great interview with Alex in January, a nice prelude to our conversation. Hope you will put Revolutionary down for a moment and give a listen:
America’s First Female Soldier
January 31, 2014
“Alex Myers‘ new novel, Revolutionary, tells the story of 22 year-old weaver who yearns for something more. She feels trapped in 18th Century Massachusetts, and tells her closest friend, “There is a world out there, beyond weaving, beyond housework.” So she cuts her hair, disguises herself as a man, and fights heroically in the Continental Army. The gripping novel is based on the true story of Deborah Sampson – recognized as a true hero in America’s war for independence. In 1983, the Massachusetts legislature named her the official state heroine and declared May 23rd Deborah Sampson Day. That her story inspired author Alex Myers is understandable. Myers is a female-to-male transgender person, was the first openly transgender student at Harvard, and over the years, has campaigned for transgender rights. His unique perspective reminds us that conversations around gender identity are hardly modern….”
Tomorrow afternoon, Thursday, I will be interviewed on the national radio show, Fairness Radiowith Chuck and Patrick at 2:15pm ET. Co-hosts Chuck Morse and Patrick O’Heffernan will be talking with me about our new Independent book club and trends in writing about, for and by independents. In addition, tune in at 1:15 pm ET, when Chuck and Patrick will be talking with IndependentVoting.org President, Jackie Salit. Jackie is a monthly guest on Fairness radio and has a book that will be out in early August, Independents Rising. A book I can’t wait for us to read here at Politics for the People.
You can tune in online at http://www.cyberstationlive.com – click on “Listen Live”. You can call in at 617-328-8700. You can also email questions live to be read on the air, or post a comment on the program’s Facebook Page or Twitter feed.