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The Nation - December 18, 2017

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Our Revolution is gearing
up for the long haul
in the Lone Star State.
The Nation.
What Killed thty?
Democratic Par
New from University
of Toronto Press
A new report offer
s a brac
of the 2016 election— ing autopsy
out a plan for revit and lays
NEW! Read
your subscriptio
n on an iPad
Can You Do the Con-Con?
Growing a Sustainable City?
The Question of Urban Agriculture
by Christina D. Rosan and Hamil Pearsall
Growing a Sustainable City? analyzes
the development of urban agriculture
policies and their role in making
post-industrial cities more sustainable.
Christina Rosan and Hamil Pearsall
tell the story of change and growing
pains as a city attempts to reinvent
itself and reveal how growing food
in the city has become a symbol
of urban economic revitalization,
sustainability, and gentrification.
Richard Kreitner’s call for a new
constitutional convention [“Conventional Wisdom,” Nov. 20/27]
is not only a great idea for today,
but also one that’s long overdue.
Unfortunately, for decades, most
Americans have revered the US
Constitution as if it were a sacred
religious text. We even force our
government officials to swear an
oath in public to uphold it; in some
instances, they must place their
hands on a Bible as they do so.
The Constitution is not only obsolete today; it has been so for decades.
The oligarchy that adopted it in 1789
evolved into a plutocracy during the
Gilded Age of the robber barons.
That plutocracy is stronger than ever
in today’s neo–Gilded Age, in which
billionaires buy public offices and
politicians secure their power through
legislative gerrymandering.
As the world’s oldest document
guaranteeing elected representative
government, the US Constitution
has failed to adapt to the needs of this
country’s growing, diverse, and dynamic population. Its tattered language has
much in common with the Bible—it’s
archaic and vague. Its obsolescence is
most obvious in the Second Amendment. Now 226 years old, the arms
amendment (minus its first clause) is
considered by many to be the Constitution’s most sacred sentence of all.
A new constitutional convention should do far more than amend
the existing Constitution. It should
start from scratch, and perhaps look
beyond our borders to successful representative governments elsewhere
for new ideas. Although the Constitution contains no mention of political parties, whatever might replace
it should encourage multiple parties
that embrace separate but humane
principles. Any system is broken that
allows a minority of voters to elect a
or iPhone FREE!
Visit TheNation.
wealthy, psychopathic narcissist to its
highest executive office. Any new system would be better than the current
entrenched duopoly that has long
served the wealthy before all others.
Ken LeSure
east stroudsburg, pa.
Richard Kreitner’s “Conventional
Wisdom” convinced me that we need
to invoke Article V of the Constitution and have a new constitutional
convention. Earlier this year, I listened to an NPR debate on the topic
and was not convinced either way.
Kreitner clinched it for me with the
argument that the antidemocratic
features of our existing Constitution
are the reason for our government’s
inability to get anything done.
What I’d like to know is how we
can spur this idea along. A starting
point might be to forward the article.
Lois C. Braun
st. paul, minn.
In general, I applaud Kreitner’s
call for an Article V constitutional
convention. And yes, without the
Electoral College, 2016 would
have worked out better for Hillary Clinton and for all of us. But
would direct popular election of the
president really be such an improvement? Adlai Stevenson’s comment
would still be true: “In America,
anybody can be president. That’s
one of the risks you take.”
In a parliamentary system, there is
much less risk of a demagogue with
no competence in governmental administration reaching the pinnacle of
power. Let’s consider that if we intend
to revise the Constitution.
Victor Urbanowicz
st. paul, minn.
RIP, Democratic Party
Re William Greider’s “What Killed
the Democratic Party?” in The
(continued on page 26)
The Nation.
since 1865
4 By the Numbers:
Marine Life in the
Plasticene; 6 Poetry:
Alissa Quart; 10 USPS:
Amazonian Problems
3 Fighting for
Net Neutrality
John Nichols
Fighting for Net Neutrality
he future of the Internet will be at stake on December
14, when Ajit Pai, the former Verizon attorney chosen
by President Trump to chair the Federal Communications Commission, will force a vote on ending net neutrality. But that’s just the start of it. Because our lives are now so digital,
the fight over net neutrality is really a fight over the
whole of our future.
other cities. They’ll target the offices of corporaIf Pai and the Trump-aligned majority on the tions that have opposed net neutrality—including
FCC eliminate what has come to be known as Verizon, Pai’s former employer, whose interests
“the First Amendment of the Internet,” it will give he continues to serve. They’ll target the offices of
telecommunications conglomerates a blank check members of Congress. They’ll march on the FCC.
to create “fast lanes” for paid content from cor“This is the free speech fight of our generaporations and billionaire-funded politicians, while tion, and Internet users are pissed off and paying
relegating the essential information-sharing of civil attention,” says Evan Greer, campaign director for
society to “slow lanes” on the periphery of the the group Fight for the Future. “Ajit Pai may be
information superhighway.
owned by Verizon, but he has to answer
Pai is proposing much more than a
to Congress, and lawmakers have to anCOMMENT
regulatory shift; this would be a sociswer to us, their constituents. The corrupt
etal change. If the FCC allows profiteerbureaucrats trying to kill net neutrality
ing and inequality to define the Internet,
[were] hoping to avoid public backlash by
it will affect personal communications,
burying the news over the [Thanksgiveducation, commerce, economic arrangeing] Holiday weekend. We’re taking our
ments, electioneering, and democracy itprotest from the Internet to the streets to
self. And the changes will be for the worse.
make sure that doesn’t happen.”
How much worse? “There can be no
Activist groups will make it easy for
truly open Internet without net neutralcitizens to communicate their support
ity,” explains former FCC commissioner Michael for net neutrality, which past debates over the issue
Copps. “The FCC under Pai is handing over the have confirmed is overwhelming. It is frustrating to
Internet to a few humongous gatekeepers who see have to fight this battle again; even some of the most
the rest of us as products to be delivered to adver- passionate supporters of a free and open Internet will
tisers, not as citizens needing communications that wonder if they can win this time, given Pai’s deterserve democracy’s needs. By empowering ISPs to mination and the GOP’s control of Washington. In
create fast lanes for the few and squelch alternative fact, they can. When coalitions of urban and rural,
points of view, the Trump FCC fecklessly casts liberal and conservative, have demanded media that
aside years of popular consensus that the public serve democracy, the FCC has done the right thing:
needs net neutrality.”
That’s how we won net-neutrality protections in the
As the FCC’s vote approaches, Americans need first place. And when the FCC hasn’t done the right
to communicate that understanding to the com- thing, legal challenges have succeeded—because
missioners, to members of Congress, and to all of judges have refused to allow federal agencies that are
our fellow citizens who will be voting in 2018. Free supposed to serve the public to neglect public input.
Press, Common Cause, Color of Change, Demand
Of the scheming to end net neutrality, former
Progress, and other media and democracy groups FCC commissioner Copps says: “This naked corhave been organizing for years on behalf of net poratism is Washington at its worst.” Americans
neutrality. They are ready for this fight, with plans can and must upend Ajit Pai’s plan with activism at
for street protests in Boston, Denver, Phoenix, and its best.
4 Sex and Solidarity
Sarah Leonard
5 The Score
Bryce Covert
6 Subject to Debate
Addicted While
Katha Pollitt
10 Beneath the Radar
How to Interview
a Nazi
Gary Younge
11 Deadline Poet
Personnel Changes
Calvin Trillin
12 Building a Blue Texas
John Nichols
Our Revolution, a national
group aiming to transform
the Democratic Party, is
setting its sights on the
Lone Star State.
16 When Protesting
Police Violence Puts
You in the Crosshairs
Collier Meyerson
For African Americans,
the trauma of racism is
being compounded by the
increasing militarization of
our police forces.
22 Righting the Scales
Rebecca Clarren
One Native American
tribal court is showing how
restorative methods of justice
can succeed where punitive
measures have failed.
Books &
the Arts
27 The Lights
in the Distance
Ursula Lindsey
32 What Revolution?
J. Hoberman
34 Out Here Struggling
Bijan Stephen
December 18/25, 2017
The digital version of this issue is
available to all subscribers November 30
The Nation.
Average number
of plastic bags
used each year
by a person living in California
before the state
voted in 2016
to ban singleuse bags
Tons of plastic
that enter the
ocean each year;
60 to 80 percent
of all marine
litter is plastic
Year when
there will be
more plastic
than fish in the
Earth’s oceans,
if current trends
Amount by
which plasticbag use has
decreased in
England after
it required all
stores to levy a
5-pence-perbag charge
starting in 2015
—Glyn Peterson
a bow,
voters. It’s
San Jose’s
Mercury News,
on the one-year
of California’s
plastic-bag ban
in the White House is hanging over this,” the activist and
author Jaclyn Friedman told the Times. “People feel like
they can’t do anything about that right now, but at least
they can do something about this.” The New Yorker’s story
Women need collective action to beat the creeps.
about Weinstein, published almost simultaneously, focused
onald Trump’s election represented the mainly on actresses who had since become successful and
violation of many norms of a decent wealthy, and who were largely white and glamorous. The
society—I’ll spare you the litany of out- #MeToo moment at first ignored the outsize role of black
rages, which The Nation and others have women in creating both the legal (think Anita Hill) and
reviewed exhaustively over the past year, the activist framework for dealing with sexual harassment:
but his treatment of women certainly ranks high among Tarana Burke, a black organizer and youth-camp director,
them. Before the election, some of us had fooled our- turned the phrase into a rallying cry years ago. But those
selves into thinking that our humanity and worth was early 2017 marches laid the groundwork for a broader
something we could take for granted. But Trump’s vic- critique of women’s oppression in the workplace. Soon,
tory, enabled in part by 53 percent of the white women female farmworkers were expressing their solidarity with
who went to the polls, told us: “Nope, you’ve got it actresses (and implicitly asking for theirs in return), and
wrong—we see the pussy-grabbing, the beauty-pageant- new investigations had begun to expose harassment and
leering, the creepy borderline daughter-groping, and the assault in the restaurant industry, in home care, and in
multiple allegations of sexual assault, and we care not at other workplaces across the country. The Nation has always
all.” Not only was Trump creepy, but he had casually said reported from the forefront of working-class movements,
that women should be punished for getting abortions. It and in the year ahead, we plan to focus our sexual-assault
felt like we had entered a new dark age.
reporting on the abuses that plague those
Then came the wave of feminist protests
Twitter won’t doing low-wage and unglamorous work.
that has carried us to our present moment
We know that in these less glitzy indusbe enough to
of resistance to sexual harassment and astries, naming and shaming will not be enough.
get your boss
sault. The day after Trump’s inauguration, the
Where the bosses—and, more importantly,
Women’s March would become one of the
fired if you’re the workers—aren’t famous, Twitter is only
largest demonstrations in American history.
of limited use. Labor Notes has documented
not famous.
The politics of the march were amorphous
the abuses in myriad working-class industries,
and sometimes contentious. Its name was
as well as some solutions. Hotel workers in
changed early on from the “Million Women March,” after Chicago with Unite Here Local 1, for example, have
activists noted the appropriation of the name of a huge pioneered a “Hands Off, Pants On” campaign to combat
1997 march by black women in Philadelphia. Nonethe- rampant sexual harassment and assault by hotel guests;
less, the march drew together hundreds of thousands of their demands include access to panic buttons for anyone
women from across the country, along with the men who working alone. Members of the worker organization
supported them, to protest gender oppression. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United have mounted
Many of these women returned home from the a campaign called “One Fair Wage” to eliminate the
march and got involved in organizing for the first low minimum wage for tipped workers, which forces
time in their lives.
waitresses to overlook harassment from patrons and
Less than two months later, on March 8, Ameri- managers in order to ensure that they’ll be paid decently.
can women celebrated International Women’s Day The Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida has
with a one-day strike in solidarity with women built language against sexual harassment and assault into
across the world, notably the Ni Una Menos (“Not its hard-won contracts and has actually managed to get
One Less”) movement against gender violence in Argen- abusive managers fired. These are struggles that we can
tina and Poland’s massive grassroots movement against learn from, and they must be expanded.
the elimination of abortion rights. In one Virginia school
One way for them to grow: by channeling the largely
district, so many teachers called in sick that the public unfocused female solidarity demonstrated at the marches
schools shut down. These protests were smaller than the earlier this year into concrete collective action. If those
Women’s March but more politically focused. Organizers who showed up at the Women’s March with signs like
highlighted how the vast majority of women struggle to “Pussy Grabs Back” meant what they said, they should
get by. As inequality has grown and the social safety net has now create more collective power by supporting or parshrunk, women have been forced to work longer hours for ticipating in unionization efforts, or by working to make
stagnant or declining wages, while simultaneously taking labor organizations much more feminist than they curon a larger burden of care for their families. (Disclosure: I rently are. High-profile women should get behind the
was involved in organizing the Women’s Strike.) Members campaigns of those less famous, to make #OneFairWage
of the New York State Nurses Association were at the head the next phase of #MeToo. And journalists should dig
of the march in the Big Apple, emphasizing the role of into the pervasive problem of sexual abuse, which working
labor in protecting women’s well-being.
women have fought for decades without acknowledgment.
When The New York Times exposed Harvey Weinstein’s The biggest blow we can strike against our predator in
predations, it felt cathartic for women across the country. chief would be to turn the outrage he has engendered into
“There is no doubt that having an accused sexual predator a true mass movement for equality.
Sex and Solidarity
December 18/25, 2017
December 18/25, 2017
The Nation.
Deductive Reasoning
he news, at first, seemed welcome: In their quest to reduce
the myriad deductions that
Americans can use to lower
what they owe at tax time,
House Republicans proposed capping the
mortgage-interest deduction at $500,000 and
getting rid of it entirely for second homes.
The deduction has long been sacrosanct,
surviving decades of reform attempts thanks
to powerful lobbying groups. But given that
the deduction helps those who need assistance the least, it’s ripe for change.
Of the $190 billion that the government
spent on housing in 2015, about 60 percent went to households earning more than
$100,000. A household earning $200,000
or more received, on average, four times
the amount of assistance as one making
$20,000 or below. That’s mainly because the
mortgage-interest deduction, which allows
homeowners to write off some of their loan
sistance actually gets it. Yet it would take
just $22.5 billion a year to end homelessness
by extending assistance to every needy
and vulnerable family in the country.
The deduction wouldn’t even have to be
eliminated completely to offer meaningful help
to low-income families. The Tax Foundation
estimates that capping it so that it applies only
to the first $500,000 of existing and future
mortgages would raise $319 billion over a decade, mostly by taking away benefits from the
richest fifth. Converting it to a credit, which
would open up the benefit to lower-income
families (who don’t typically itemize their deductions), would raise another $105 billion.
So reforming the deduction would be a
more-than-welcome change in tax policy. And,
at first, it looked like Republicans had finally
gotten on board with the idea. But they’re
already botching it. When Senate Republicans
unveiled their tax plan, the deduction was left
as is. The same was true in President Trump’s
own proposal, despite
early indications that he
would cap it. Perhaps
Staunch opposition—in both parties—
it’s not so shocking that
to reforming the mortgage-interest
many Republicans have
now balked at touchdeduction may have finally cracked.
ing the deduction; when
the House unveiled its
payments, overwhelmingly benefits the rich.
own bill, the powerful National AssociaIt will cost us $68.1 billion this year, representtion of Home Builders quickly blasted it.
ing one of the largest expenditures in our
But even if Republicans were to stick to their
tax code. But more than 72 percent of that
guns and reform the deduction, they aren’t
benefit is captured by the richest fifth of the
proposing to use the recouped tax revenue to
country, while the bottom two-fifths see less
assist poor families. Instead, the savings would
than 2 percent. And, of course, the deduction
be used to keep down the overall cost of the
offers no benefit at all to those who can’t afGOP’s tax plan, which is mostly a giveaway
ford to buy a home and must rent instead.
to those who are already wealthy. By 2027,
Yet it’s the latter group that is in the most dire the wealthiest 0.1 percent of the country will
need of assistance. Rents are rising faster than
get a quarter of the benefits, which translates
inflation, so incomes can’t keep up. Just about
into an extra $278,370 in their pockets. Meanhalf of rental households spend more than 30
while, the poorest fifth gets just 0.3 percent,
percent of their income on rent, above what’s
or a mere $10 extra. Other analyses have
considered affordable; about a quarter are
found that many low- to moderate-income
spending at least half of their income on rent.
families would wind up with a tax increase.
It wouldn’t cost a whole lot to change
There’s a glimmer of hope to be found
this picture. Only one out of every four lowin the fact that years of staunch opposiincome families who qualify for rental astion—in both parties—to reforming the
mortgage-interest deduction may have finally cracked. But while this regressive tax
benefit desperately needs to be changed, it
only makes sense if the federal assistance
offered to rich families is funneled toward
those struggling to make rent. Instead, many
Republicans want to get rid of it to hand yet
more money to the rich. That would utterly
squander a chance at meaningful reform.
Who Deserves
Housing Help?
The mortgage-interest deduction
mainly benefits the rich...
$68.1 billion
The cost this year of the
mortgage-interest deduction
of the
go to the
of the
go to the
...while the people most in need of
housing assistance don’t get it.
Only 1 in 4
families who qualify for rental
assistance actually receive it
Money saved from
reforming the
deduction could
help millions
of poor families
get housing.
$22.5 billion per year
would be the cost of ending
homelessness, according to the
Center for American Progress
Sources: Tax Policy Center; Center for American Progress; Center on Budget
and Policy Priorities
2017 Infographic: Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz
December 18/25, 2017
The Nation.
n “The Harasser’s Apology,”
Alissa Quart reconfigures
the recent public statements of men who have sexually
harassed, assaulted, or raped
women (or, in one case, other
men) into free-form poetry.
I always felt I was pursuing
shared feelings.
I am suffering
the same treatment
A wake
up call
Wish I had
reacted to their
admiration of me
conquer my demons
I wielded that power
I came of age
when all the rules
different script
I was mistaken
I’ve brought anguish
and hardship to
the people
a good example to them
as a man
This story has
encouraged me
to address
other things.
I so respect all
Wake up
I believe tampering
has occurred.
I am sorry for the feelings
he describes having carried
I moved on
her like
a bitch.
—Alissa Quart
Katha Pollitt
Addicted While Pregnant
This is a public-health crisis, not a law-enforcement one.
t’s often noted that the victims of the opiate epidemic receive a degree of compassion not usually extended to drug users, but
apparently that approach doesn’t extend
to pregnant women. Consider the case of
Kasey Dischman of Butler County, Pennsylvania.
Dischman has been in prison since June, when
she overdosed on heroin seven months into her
pregnancy, delivered prematurely, and was charged
with felony aggravated assault of an unborn child.
Dischman went straight from the hospital to jail.
Her bail was set at an astronomical $500,000.
(Remember, bail is supposed to make
sure you show up in court, not keep
you locked up until trial because you’re
poor.) Dischman was charged under a
Pennsylvania law that makes harming
a fetus a crime separate from causing
injury to a pregnant woman—one of
a wave of such laws passed in recent
decades whose ostensible purpose is
to protect pregnant women from violence. But the Pennsylvania law specifically exempts pregnant women, who cannot be
charged with harming their fetuses. Dischman’s
lawyer, assistant public defender Joseph Smith, filed
a writ of habeas corpus and won.
End of story? “Ordinarily, winning a habeas petition is a get-out-of-jail card,” Tara Murtha of the
Women’s Law Project points out. But Kasey Dischman is still in prison. Laura Pitchford, assistant
district attorney for Butler County, is appealing the
ruling, and has added misdemeanor charges to keep
Dischman in prison, even though the charges don’t
justify anything like her current high bail. So if you
thought that Pennsylvania’s law could not be used
to police pregnant women’s behavior just because
it explicitly exempts pregnant women, think again.
Dischman may not be the world’s most sympathetic defendant: According to a local news report, her baby will suffer “lasting injuries” from
the circumstances of her birth. But Dischman’s
prosecution, while doubtless emotionally satisfying
to many in rural, conservative Butler County, has
major implications that should concern us all. In the
first four months of 2017, Butler County had more
deaths from overdoses than from all other causes
combined. In Pennsylvania overall, the number of
pregnant women hospitalized for substance abuse
has more than doubled from 2000 to 2015; in 2015,
4,600 pregnant women were hospitalized because
of a drug problem. According to a news report, the
prosecutor seems to believe that punishing pregnant women like Dischman is necessary in light
of the state’s opiate epidemic. (Pitchford did not
return my several phone calls.) But if the prospect
of prison—or losing custody of your kids or contracting HIV or dying—doesn’t consistently deter
drug addicts in general, why would it work for pregnant ones? This is a public-health crisis, not a lawenforcement one. The last thing anyone should want
to do is deter pregnant women from seeking medical
care or drug treatment. But criminalizing their drug
use will cause addicted women to stay
away from the very people who can
help them, lest they end up under arrest. That doesn’t help anyone.
Dischman’s prosecution matters to
abortion rights as well. If pregnant
women who abuse drugs can be criminally charged for endangering a fetus,
what about those who take drugs to
terminate a pregnancy without a doctor’s supervision? Plenty of women
buy abortion pills off the Internet, and as abortion
clinics close and restrictions make access more
cumbersome and expensive, that number is likely
to grow. Seven states already have statutes criminalizing self-induced abortions, and another 18 have
laws on the books that can be used to prosecute
women who terminate
their own pregnancies.
When prosecutors go If the prospect
after women who abuse
of prison doesn’t
drugs, they open the
door to using the same deter drug addicts
laws against women in general, why
who self-manage their
abortions. And abortion would it work for
aside, there is no end to pregnant ones?
the things a woman can
do that could harm her
fetus, from living with a batterer to smoking cigarettes to changing the kitty litter. A woman could be
criminally charged for having a miscarriage, as has
happened in countries where abortion is forbidden,
or for delivering a baby with health problems.
These are not arcane concerns. The group National Advocates for Pregnant Women has documented hundreds of cases in which women have
been charged with crimes in connection with their
pregnancy. Most of these are low-income women
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The Nation.
who abused drugs or alcohol. But at least one woman, Bei Bei Shuai
of Indiana, was charged with a crime when her newborn died from
the poison she had taken in a suicide attempt; another was charged
with second-degree manslaughter after she caused a car crash that
resulted in the premature birth and death of her child. In a letter to
the Butler County district attorney’s office, NAPW rightly calls the
arrest of pregnant women and new mothers “dangerous and counterproductive”: “As every leading medical organization to address this
issue has concluded, including the American Medical Association, the
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American
College of Nurse-Midwives, the American Academy of Pediatrics,
and the March of Dimes, issues related to alcohol and drug use during pregnancy are health issues best addressed through education and
community-based treatment, not through the criminal justice system.
“Drug dependency is a medical condition—not a crime. Pregnant women do not experience drug dependencies because they
December 18/25, 2017
want to harm their fetuses or because they don’t care about their
children.” NAPW adds that “There is also a general lack of available
substance use disorder treatment in Pennsylvania, especially in Butler
County and especially for pregnant women.” (In fact, according to
the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, there
are no drug-treatment programs specifically for pregnant women or
women with children in Butler County.) NAPW’s letter is co-signed
by 10 experts and includes supporting statements from a long roster
of professional associations concerned with maternal health, children’s health, and addiction.
“We all get it, the facts in this case are horrible,” Joseph Smith, the
assistant public defender, told me by phone. “It’s tragic all around—
for the baby, for Kasey, and for her older child. Drug use during pregnancy should not happen. But there is a limit to the criminal law, and
the law says the commonwealth cannot prosecute pregnant women for
their conduct during pregnancy. That’s what immunity means.” Q
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The Nation.
Gary Younge
Package Deal
How to Interview a Nazi
White supremacists should be challenged—not indulged.
ony and Maria Hovater registered
for their wedding at Target. During
an interview at Applebee’s, she wore
a sleeveless jean jacket and ordered
the boneless wings. He likes Seinfeld
and King of the Hill, and described his time playing
with a metal band over a turkey sandwich at Panera
Bread. Oh, and they’re both Nazis. He thinks Hitler was “chill” about Slavs and gays, and considers
the claim that 6 million Jews were slaughtered
during World War II “overblown.” She’s “pretty
lined up” politically with him. The political party
he helped establish sells swastikas online.
We know this because The New
York Times told us. In an article running more than 2,000 words, the paper
of record profiled Mr. Hovater, detailing the banalities of a young man that
reporter Richard Fausset characterizes
as the “polite and low-key” “Nazi sympathizer next door.”
Interviewing Nazis is a tricky business, as I can attest from personal experience. In late July, just a few weeks
before Charlottesville, I spoke with alt-right leader
Richard Spencer at a white-supremacist conference
for a documentary I was making for British television about white anxiety in the age of Trump. In
the clip of our conversation—in which Spencer appears visibly shocked that I turned out to be a black
man—he argued that African Americans benefited
from slavery and white supremacy and insisted that
I could not be both British and black. After about
half an hour, I called time on the interview, pointing
out that he was ignorant and had nothing to say.
I was conflicted about whether I should have
talked to him at all, but given his connections to
Breitbart News and Steve Bannon and the racially
divisive and explosive mood created by Trump, I
felt, on balance, it made sense.
That balance is important. Nazis should not be
ignored. They are dangerous. We need to understand where they’re coming from, what motivates
them, and what their strategies are. Ignoring
bigotry doesn’t make it go away. The basic principles of journalism still apply: They should not
be misrepresented, lampooned, or caricatured.
But neither should they be indulged. We should
not inflate their importance, ignore their brutality, or enable their self-aggrandizement. They are
not regular politicians. Violence is central to their
method; exclusion is central to their meaning.
Instead, they should be confronted, challenged,
and exposed. How we engage them—and why—is
an issue of political morality. This is an imperative
that sits uneasily with flaccid notions of journalistic objectivity, in which those views that make it
through the filter are considered equal, regardless
of their factual or moral integrity. “On the one
hand, on the other hand” doesn’t work here: You
can’t weigh genocide against relatively stable democracy as though any reasonable person might
disagree on the outcome.
In these moments—and with the rise of the far
right across the Western world, there
are many of them—the claim that
journalists sit above society, as though
in a hermetically sealed chamber, responsible only to their editors and “the
story,” becomes increasingly thin. We
have responsibilities, both professional
and human, to resist the allure of spectacle. There is too much at stake.
The Times article failed on most
of these counts. Indeed, thanks to its
obsession with the trivial details of the Hovaters’
daily lives, its effect was not to expose the obscenity of their views, but
rather to underscore
the normality of their
The idea that
existence. It offered
this as a revelation, as Nazis go
though Hannah Ar- shopping and
endt had never covered Adolf Eichmann’s watch television
trial. The idea that shouldn’t surprise
Nazis go shopping,
watch television, and us: They generally
eat at chain restaurants live “next door”
shouldn’t surprise us:
They generally live to someone.
“next door” to someone. Fascism, as the British poet Michael Rosen
pointed out, doesn’t arrive in fancy dress. Fascists
do not appear with horns and a trident, any more
than the proud advocates of segregation 50 years
ago were anything other than ordinary Americans.
As Wednesday Addams explains in the Addams Family movie, as she heads off to a Halloween party in the same clothes she wears every
day: “I’m a homicidal maniac. They look just like
everyone else.”
o fulfill its orders quickly
and cheaply, the online
retail giant Amazon
relies on hundreds of thousands
of warehouse workers who sort
and cart packages, often on very
tight schedules. This holiday
season, workers in Germany and
Italy staged a strike on Black
Friday, decrying dangerous
conditions as well as Amazon’s
refusal to give them bonus pay.
But the company’s rapid
growth has also put pressure on
employees of the US Postal Service. Hoping to offset its declining
revenue, the USPS agreed in 2013
to deliver Amazon’s packages
(and only Amazon’s packages)
on Sundays. Packages now account for 25 percent of USPS
delivery revenue, up from around
10 percent in 2007. But because
of the Postal Service’s outdated
funding structure, high-volume
shippers like Amazon can mail
their packages for less than cost.
According to one analysis, Amazon effectively receives a $1.46
subsidy on every item mailed.
As a result, many workers in
the Postal Service’s local depots
have faced increased physical
strain, especially around Christmas. And due to fiscal constraints,
the USPS has not met these demands with additional staffing capacity or infrastructure. Amazon’s
warehouse workers, meanwhile,
have enriched the company without guarantees of fair pay or safe
labor conditions. As cities around
the United States attempt to lure
Amazon’s new second headquarters with massive tax breaks,
it’s worth asking the company’s
underpaid, overworked laborers
whether Amazon’s aggressive
expansion is an unqualified good.
—Jake Bittle
December 18/25, 2017
December 18/25, 2017
This is essentially the same mistake that the British
press makes every time it profiles a jihadi terrorist. The
reporters marvel that the killer in question once supported
Manchester United, ate fish-and-chips, drank in pubs, and
had girlfriends. In short, having first set him up as an aberration beyond societal norms, they then salivate over how
familiar a person who has made hate his mission can be.
It is a function of white privilege that white terrorists get
this treatment even as they freely voice their commitment
to terror. If The New York Times ran a profile on Saturday
of a Muslim associated with the kind of violence that Tony
Hovater embraces (after Charlottesville, he wrote that he
was proud of the comrades who’d joined him there: “We
made history. Hail victory”), he’d be in prison by Sunday.
I make no great claims for my interview with Spencer.
Television is a different beast, both less nuanced and
more powerful. But I don’t think, by the time that se-
S N A P S H O T / M A N I S H S WA R U P
On November 15, hundreds of students marched in
New Delhi to protest the city’s toxic air. With thick
smog blanketing India’s capital, one measure of
airborne particulates spiked to 75 times the level
considered safe by the World Health Organization.
The Nation.
quence concludes, that anyone could be in doubt as to the
vehemence of his racist views. I also believe that Spencer’s
pomposity, ignorance, and inability to make a case for
those views will leave anyone who watches it feeling less
likely to identify with him rather than more.
The same cannot be said for the Times article. The Hovaters come off as exemplars of those “very fine people”
that Trump referred to in Charlottesville—the ones who
marched with (but were supposedly different from) the
torch-bearing bigots chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”
“We need to have more families,” said Matthew
Heimbach, the leader of the Traditionalist Worker
Party, which Hovater helped found. The two were
speaking on a Radio Aryan podcast. “We need to be able
to just be normal,” Heimbach continued. The Times
effectively assisted in that effort. It made Nazis look
normal. And that’s not a good look.
It is a function
of white privilege
that white
terrorists get
this treatment
even as they
freely voice their
to terror.
John Kelly may be easing Jared Kushner out of the
White House.
—News reports
We only hope that Kelly waits at least
’Til Jared straightens out the Middle East.
If Kelly does from personnel erase him,
One wonders who could possibly replace him.
The Nation.
Our Revolution is gearing
up for the long haul
in the Lone Star State.
December 18/25, 2017
The Nation.
hen jim hightower, nina turner, and the our revolution road show rolled into Tyler, Texas, Ed Moore liked what
he heard. “This is basically what we’ve all been needing,”
explained the retired factory worker and union leader, who
lives in a town where factories and unions have taken a lot of
hits in recent years. Moore, a city councilman who represents
working-class neighborhoods shaken by deindustrialization,
nodded in agreement as Hightower channeled old-school Texas populism
into a warning: “The powers that be…are knocking down the middle class.
They are holding down the poor” and attacking “the essential ethic that holds
America together—and that is the notion that we are all in this together.”
Our Revolution is the national group created by backers of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run with the goal of transforming the Democratic
Party. When Turner, a former Ohio state senator who now leads the organization, finished her address by declaring, “We can change the world—one
community at a time, one state
at a time.… Tyler, Texas, can we
do this?,” Moore joined the enthusiastic multiracial, multiethnic
crowd, which was packed into an
activity center on the local college
campus, in answering: “Yes!”
It was an optimistic response
to a tough question. Texas Democrats haven’t won a single statewide race since 1994, and they’ve
had a harder and harder time winning congressional, legislative,
and local races in places like Tyler, an East Texas city of 105,000
where the party once called most
of the political shots but in recent years has struggled to Crashing the gates:
pull together slates of candidates. Even Hightower, who Our Revolution Texas
has long preached that a populist coalition could rejuve- has attracted a new
generation of Lone
nate the state Democratic Party—and who is well aware Star populists.
of the argument that demographic shifts are helping
parts of Texas get out of their right-wing rut—says it’ll
take time, and a lot of organizing, to tip the state.
But he has faith. Hightower argues, with the experience of a Texan who knows what has been lost and what
might be found, that Our Revolution can renew the
kind of progressive-populist politics that once elected
“I think
Democrats like him to statewide office. “There’s an energy—you can feel it,” says the author and activist, who people
has argued for years that the party must unshackle itself know that
from big money and reconnect with working people in
if we break
places like Tyler. “You felt it in the Sanders campaign.
So many people came into politics, in Texas and across through
the country: young people, working people, people who in Texas,
had given up on the Democratic Party but who started
to think that maybe we could make this a party that ap- anything is
peals to people everywhere.” And Hightower really does possible.”
mean everywhere—“not just in the blue areas, but in the
— Nina Turner,
Our Revolution
reddest areas of the reddest states. Now that the presidential election is over, the Bernie people are coming
from the outside and crashing the gates of state parties
and saying, ‘You have to get better at this.’”
Of the many resistance and rebuilding groups that are
working on the ground to renew Democratic fortunes in
the states, Our Revolution has made a notable decision:
It’s betting big on Texas. As soon as the Sanders campaign
gave way to the organization—with its slogan “Campaigns
End, Revolutions Endure” and its promise to “transform
American politics”—Hightower and a new generation of
Lone Star populists vowed that they would make Texas
Our Revolution’s most engaged, active, and, they hope,
politically successful state branch. And after a shaky start,
Our Revolution is developing into a muscular grassroots
organization with nearly 500 chapters in 49 states and a
burgeoning capacity to organize on behalf of issues and
to help win elections. This is about the recognition of a
need: Political movements that evolve out of presidential
campaigns often have a hard time defining themselves
as more than a reflection of a particular candidate and a
particular moment in history. To get to that broader definition, groups that seek to fundamentally change parties
and politics must deliver successful
examples of how the politics of an
insurgent presidential campaign
can elect candidates in other races.
That’s no easy endeavor. There
are still plenty of Democrats who
aren’t ready to change, at least not
as much as they need to. But in
an era when everything seems up
for grabs, when frustration with
Donald Trump’s fill-the-swamp
presidency is rising, and when the
Democratic Party is looking for the
pitch-perfect response that might
undo not just Trump but the politics that produced his presidency,
there’s an openness to new approaches. This means that
models can be tested and proved—especially in a state as
big, politically vital, and rapidly diversifying as Texas.
Texas progressives say there’s no time to waste. As
the results from this fall’s elections indicate—not just in
Virginia and New Jersey, but in states like Georgia and
Oklahoma as well—the 2018 off-year election cycle could
be the best since 2006 for red-state Democrats. They say
it’s time to rethink dismissals of the Lone Star State as
uncompetitive, noting that Hillary Clinton ran as well in
Texas last year as she did in Ohio. They point out that Republicans hold three congressional districts that were won
by Clinton. They note that one of the state’s most dynamic Democrats, Congressman Beto O’Rourke, is mounting
an audacious “no PAC money” challenge to Republican
Senator Ted Cruz. They point to a memo from Dave Carney, a political adviser to GOP Governor Greg Abbott,
in which Carney explained after the 2017 midterms, “It
would be easy for us to say Texas is not Virginia. It would
be easy for us to say the Democrats in Texas aren’t that
well organized. That would be a huge mistake.… The enthusiasm gap that we face is real.” Informed of the Carney
memo, Texas Democratic Party official Manny Garcia
told the Houston Chronicle: “We agree.”
There’s hope for Texas Democrats. But there has been
hope before—as recently as 2014, when Wendy Davis’s gubernatorial run started strong but ended in a 59–39 defeat.
Progressive populists now say hope must be coupled with
persistent grassroots organizing, and they argue that the
promise of a $15-an-hour minimum wage may do more to
The Nation.
December 18/25, 2017
increase turnout than a $15 million TV ad campaign that repeats failed talking
points. So Our Revolution Texas is moving fast, racing to create the next politics
for a state, and a nation, that desperately needs it. “I think people know that if we
break through in Texas, anything is possible,” says Turner, a Sanders surrogate
in 2016 whose dynamic speaking style and unapologetic advocacy for emboldening the Democratic Party have made her a hero among millennial activists. “We
have to do the work here if we are going to renew the Democratic Party.”
the state: nonvoters. This emphasis on expanding the
voter roll and the candidate list intrigues Texans who
have grown cynical after years of hearing that the demographics of this minority-majority state will soon make
Democrats dominant.
It’s true that Texas is rapidly diversifying, with substantial Latino, African-American, and Asian-American
communities. But voter suppression and gerrymandering
esignated by our revolution’s national board as the by the GOP—and lethargy on the part of establishment
organization’s first state affiliate, the Lone Star group has hired staff; Democrats—still give Republicans the upper hand. Acused Sanders-campaign lists to connect with grassroots activists; and tivists argue that the TV ads and tepid talking points
begun organizing chapters at the local, county, and regional levels. favored by too many Democratic strategists won’t undo
It has spelled out a progressive agenda—a $15 minimum wage, the GOP’s advantage anytime soon. Pushing instead
Medicare for All, worker rights, support for immigrants, policies to address for intense organizing and messaging, Our Revolution
climate change, and a commitment to get big money out of politics—and it is leaders and organizers have taken to the old-fashioned
encouraging political newcomers who came of age in the Sanders campaign, populist circuit, driving county highways before dawn
as well as the worker-rights, immigrant-rights, and Black
and after dark to get to towns that haven’t experienced
Lives Matter movements, to start running in Democratic
much political excitement in recent years. The meetings
primaries and nonpartisan local elections.
fuse activist energy with practical politics, pulling in laSome of these newcomers have already won. Activ- “The
bor, civil-rights, and immigrant-rights groups, as well as
ist La’Shadion Shemwell, 30, was elected in June to the
young people who have never identified as Democrats.
McKinney City Council in conservative Collin County, Democrats
“There are people who haven’t trusted the Democratic
north of Dallas. “If I can do it,” Shemwell says, “having have been
Party, but they trust Our Revolution,” says Julie Ann
been arrested, being a minority, having tattoos and dreadNitsch, who won a seat on the Austin Community Colbypassing
locks, being a poor person with all the odds against me—if
lege district board of trustees last December with strong
I can do it, then anybody can do it.” In San Antonio, his- East Texas
support from the group. There are also plenty of Demotory teacher John Courage surprised nearly everyone by for so
crats who have stuck with the party through thick and
winning his uphill run for a City Council seat. “We can’t
thin but have grown tired of waiting for something new.
long that I
overstate how huge an upset this is,” said Our Revolution,
“This really is exciting,” said Ed Moore, as the “Revwhich backed him. “Education activist John Courage has wondered if
olutionize Texas” rally concluded on a Sunday night alwon his race in San Antonio’s most conservative district!”
most a year after Trump swept East Texas and obliterated
they knew
The group plans to endorse candidates in 2018 for
Hillary Clinton in Tyler’s Smith County by a 70–26 perposts like state commissioner of agriculture—where Kim we were still cent margin. “The Democrats,” Moore confided, “have
Olson, a retired Air Force colonel and rancher who has here.”
been bypassing East Texas for so long that I wondered if
— Ed Moore, they knew we were still here.” It wasn’t just that Highbecome a dynamic advocate for sustainable food producTyler City Councilman tower, Turner, and the Our Revolution crew showed up.
tion, seeks the Democratic nod—as well as in hundreds
of down-ballot contests that have often been neglected in
It was what they preached: the sort of red-hot populist,
recent years. And it’s exploring the possibility of endorsing
strong-for-workers, tough-on-billionaires gospel that
for governor and US Senate. There will be some primary
Democrats used to embrace in these parts. “Hightower
fights, but in many parts of Texas, Our Revolution activtalks about yellow-dog Democrats,” Moore said of the
ists are working with local Democrats and stepping up as Spreading the word:
old-time loyalists who backed the party’s ticket no matter
candidates supported not just by Sanders backers but by Nina Turner (rear
who was nominated. “That got me wondering if, maybe,
2016 Clinton backers. “They’re bringing energy and a center) and Jim
some of the yellow rubbed off on the Democrats.”
Hightower (in hat)
lot of young people into the party,” says Lorraine Broll, join Our Revolution
That’s “yellow” as in “scared of their own shadow.” In
president of the Circle-C Area Democrats club in Cen- Texas on a five-city
conversations with Democrats and Democratic-leaning
tral Texas. She isn’t a member of Our Revolution, but she’s tour across the state.
independents from towns across Texas this fall, I was
pleased the group is organizing
struck by just how profoundly
in places like Hays County, an
frustrated the base is with a
area between Austin and San
national party that couldn’t
Antonio where Trump narbeat Trump and a state party
rowly won in 2016 but where
that has been on a losing
Democrats hope to make drastreak longer than any in the
matic progress in 2018.
country. There’s a sense that
Part of the Our Revoluthe party has, in the words of
tion Texas strategy is to run in
veteran Texas labor organizer
places where Democrats aren’t
Paula Littles, “lost its way” by
supposed to have a chance. To
advancing a campaign-donorthat end, it’s organizing not just
defined agenda that appeals to
frustrated Democrats but also
elites in Dallas and New York
independents and members of
rather than an economicthe largest political group in
populist agenda that speaks to
December 18/25, 2017
folks on Tyler’s Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Objections that Democratic strategists, donors, and
candidates have narrowed the party’s appeal with “Third
Way” platforms and policies that fail to excite much of
America aren’t new. Sanders carried that complaint
into the 2016 presidential race with considerable success, emerging as the most popular politician in America, according to recent Harvard-Harris polls. Even
Hillary Clinton now admits that her campaign “lacked
the sense of urgency and passion that I remember” from
her husband’s successful presidential run in 1992.
ost texas democrats i spoke with on
my 1,000-mile trip around the state recognized that their party’s problems in Texas—
and the nation—run deeper than personalities and last year’s election results. The
party has become uncompetitive in much of America.
In 2016, it won just 487 of the more than 3,100 counties nationwide (and just 27 of the 254 counties in
Texas). The big, bold, contentious, and yet strikingly
competitive party that controlled Congress for most of
the 60-year period from Franklin Roosevelt’s election in
1932 to Bill Clinton’s in 1992, and that dominated statehouses for much of that time, now struggles to compete
in vast stretches of the country. According to Hamline
University professor David Schultz, “Democrats are in
the worst shape they’ve been in since the 1920s.”
Nowhere has the decline been so dramatic as in Texas,
a state once so solidly Democratic that the great political
battles played out in the primaries, because Republicans
weren’t competitive enough to make November contests
matter. Into the early ’90s, Democrats were so dominant
that the state’s political stars—people like Hightower,
once the Texas agriculture commissioner, and thenGovernor Ann Richards—became leading progressive
voices on the national stage. Hightower was defeated in
1990, the victim of a slimy campaign engineered by Karl
Rove. Richards lost four years later to Rove’s gubernatorial candidate, George W. Bush. The party lost the Texas
Senate in 1996 and the Texas House in 2002, and as the
years passed, it lost courthouse posts at such a steady rate
that in recent years, contests for local, county, legislative,
and even statewide offices have often been conceded to
the Republicans without much of a fight.
The change has occurred in the lifetime of many
of the Texans who have joined Our Revolution. Before
the “Revolutionize Texas” rally in Tyler, Hightower and
I drove around the surrounding region. “I used to win
this county, Smith County,” Hightower recalled. He
finished his 1982 race for agriculture commissioner with
more than 60 percent of the vote statewide, running on
a Democratic ticket that swept every state office, and
he finished equally strong in 1986. In those days, says
Littles, the union organizer who grew up south of Tyler
in Groveton and now directs the Texas efforts of National Nurses United, “I loved working elections in East
Texas. Everyone understood what it was about. You had
steelworkers, rubber workers, oil and chemical workers,
all these unions, all these union families. We elected a lot
of populists and progressives. We had a saying: ‘We elect
Putting up a fight:
Jim Hightower
protesting legislation to restrict
reproductive rights,
Austin, July 2013.
the Democratic Party
in many
areas of the
state, says
local activist
people and then we collect from them.’ Everyone knew
what that meant—it meant that elected officials didn’t just
respond to the big money and the bosses; they listened to
us, they responded to the needs of working people.”
Then things started to fall apart. First came the layoffs, then the factory closings. The sprawling Goodyear
plant that once employed more than 1,000 tire workers
on Tyler’s west side closed a decade ago; a Carrier Corporation plant closure cost another 400 jobs four years
ago—long before Trump made a show of trying to save
the company’s facility in Indiana. Union locals dwindled
and disappeared—not just in Tyler but in much of East
Texas. Democrats started looking elsewhere for support: to
wealthy donors and campaign consultants who argued that
the best way to win elections was by pouring money into
TV ads rather than local parties and grassroots organizing.
“The party turned into a club,” says Littles. “People didn’t
feel so connected to it. They stopped showing up for meetings, stopped answering calls to knock on doors.”
Now they’re showing up. On a Monday night in early October, I drove out of Austin to a candidates’ forum
sponsored by the Circle-C Area Democrats club, which
works part of the sprawling, and absurdly gerrymandered,
district of retiring Republican Congressman Lamar Smith.
When I arrived, I couldn’t find a parking spot. The club has
moved its meetings to larger and larger halls as the crowds
have grown in recent months. Trump’s election shook a lot
of folks into action. They’re not all Our Revolution members, but many are, including club vice president Hatem
Natsheh, who says Our Revolution Texas has “reactivated”
the party in many parts of the state. That certainly seemed
to be the case as the congressional candidates spoke; as
Natsheh notes, “A lot of them were sounding the Bernie
Sanders themes: Medicare for All, $15 an hour.”
One of the leading contenders at the Circle-C
forum, former congressional aide Derrick Crowe, told
the crowd that Texas Democrats must spell out an agenda
that excites not just the party faithful but also the great
mass of nonvoters who must become engaged in order to
tip Texas. Crowe wasn’t just talking the talk. A few days
before the forum, when the group organized a rally for
universal health care, Crowe showed up, held his “Medicare for All” sign aloft, and tweeted that he was “Proud to
stand with @OurRevolutionTX & @OurRevolution for
#Medicare4all in San Antonio!”
The Black Lives
December 18/25, 2017
Matter movement
has inspired
massive uprisings
against police
violence. But
protesters face
the very thing
they’re fighting:
police brutality,
unjustified arrests,
jail time—and
lasting trauma.
Collier Meyerson
is a contributing
writer at The
Nation and a
Knobler Fellow
at the Nation
n october, lisa batiste visited her old
home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for the first
time since moving out last year—a month and a
half after 37-year-old Alton Sterling was killed
by police. “I have a pretty decent handle on the
English language, but ‘Wow’ is about what I have
right now,” she said, welling up with tears, as we stood
outside the house together. (Crying is something that
Batiste didn’t do much of before last year.) The hedges
on either side of the walkway leading up to the house
had grown since she’d lived there. In front, Lisa had
flown an American flag; now there are two out back. But
one is different: Displaying black, white, and blue stripes
instead of red and white ones, it’s a so-called “Blue Lives
Matter” flag, popularized in 2014 to show solidarity with
the police. When Batiste first saw it, waving behind the
American flag, she laughed wryly: “How ironic.” But the
porch was the same as ever—big and inviting, set back
from the boulevard.
On July 10, 2016, Batiste was sitting on this porch with
her 27-year-old daughter when a march called to protest
Sterling’s death neared her home. The father of five had
been shot and killed by police in the parking lot of the
Triple S Food Mart, where he sold CDs, five days earlier.
Videos of the incident show two police officers wrestling
Sterling forcefully to the ground. While he was pinned
down, one of the cops yelled, “He’s got a gun!” and fired
his weapon six times, hitting Sterling in the chest and
back. Yet the owner of the Triple S—who recorded one of
the videos—said that Sterling hadn’t been causing trouble
outside his store, and also that he considered the sidewalk
salesman his friend.
The July 10 protest reached Batiste’s corner, where
police in riot gear had formed a line in front of the pro-
No escape: Over
100 protesters
came onto Lisa
Batiste’s lawn
in Baton Rouge,
trying in vain to
avoid confrontation
with police.
testers. Armored vehicles were stationed in adjacent
streets. There was only one place for the protesters to go:
onto Batiste’s lawn. She counted between 100 and 150
people and, fearful that the police would start arresting
the protesters, made a split-second decision. “My anxiety level starts to go up,” Batiste recalled, “and I was just
like, ‘You guys come on.’” The protesters took refuge on
her lawn. But within a few minutes, the police advanced,
despite her objections. “That’s private property,” she recalled telling them. “You can’t [enter].” The cops didn’t
listen. Video shows around 100 officers, some in riot gear,
storming her lawn, throwing protesters to the ground and
arresting them. In an effort to get away from the cops,
the protesters backed from Batiste’s lawn onto her porch.
One young woman “was like, ‘Oh my God, please let me
in,’” Batiste said. “I was like, ‘I’m not gonna risk my family, no.’” The mother of two remembers putting up her
arms and blocking her front door. In hindsight, she feels
embarrassed about trying to keep the protesters out.
Batiste, who is 51, had been living in Baton Rouge for
eight years. She had lived in the city once before, from
1998 to 2006; the second time around, she came for work
and stayed for love, marrying an officer on the Baton
Rouge police force. After the marriage went south, Batiste
and her daughter moved into the house in Beauregard
Town—“a transition neighborhood,” as Batiste calls it,
with middle-class and poorer residents living side by side.
She’d been living in the rental a little over a year when the
police charged onto her property without asking.
For most of her life, Batiste prided herself on understanding “both sides” of every situation. “Your uniform,
your title, your whatever, it [didn’t] matter,” she said of
the way she used to see things. She had “never been an
— Brachell Brown emotional person.” When she was diagnosed with thy-
“I carry [jail]
with me like
a backpack.
Pretty much
whenever I
see a police,
I [wonder]:
Am I about to
get in trouble
for something
that never
roid cancer in 2011, she told me, she didn’t even cry. And
she’d always been able to rationalize the police killings of
black men like Eric Garner in New York City and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. To Batiste, those killings, while rooted in racism, were spurred by a “fear that
you cannot extinguish.” She recognized the realities of
racism—that cops discriminate against black drivers, that
they shoot black men in situations where they wouldn’t
shoot a white man—but she didn’t let those realities hinder her everyday life. On the contrary: Living in Baton
Rouge “was extremely comfortable,” she said. “If I felt
like I needed to go to the grocery store at 3 o’clock in the
morning, I would go. I wasn’t looking over my shoulder.”
But after one of the officers who came onto Batiste’s
property shoved her with his shield; after she was separated from her daughter, who, Batiste says, the cops then
threw from her porch; after she witnessed Baton Rouge’s
finest closing in on her home and leaving no place for the
protesters to go, she snapped. Batiste no longer felt like
she could go to the grocery store late at night. The sight
of a cop set her heart racing. “It triggered some fundamental insecurity,” she said. “No—it created some fundamental insecurities.” She now feels constantly provoked
and threatened—anywhere from Facebook to passersby
on the street. The events of that July day have “kind of
raped me of my ability to find balance,” she said. When
she was at home, memories from that day kept flooding
back. So about a month and a half later, she moved out
of the rental home—and away from Baton Rouge. “I’ve
always loved being black, but it was never in opposition
to anything,” she told me. It is now.
hen lisa batiste’s home was rushed by
dozens of protesters
and police, she experienced a trauma that
altered her sense of
safety and well-being, even a year
and a half later. And she isn’t
alone. I spoke with four others, all
of them black, who were involved
in the protests in Baton Rouge last
year. Each of them now reports
having similar reactions to police.
On the evening of July 9, 2016,
Christopher Brown, then 22, and
his sister Brachell, then 21, were
at their home on a sleepy street
(named after a Confederate general) in a suburban section of
Baton Rouge, when they began
to see calls for protests against
Sterling’s death pop up on their
Instagram and Facebook feeds.
Neither of the siblings had ever
participated in a protest before.
But Sterling’s death struck a chord
with them: “He was the ‘CD
Man’—everybody in the community knew him. He didn’t bother
nobody,” Christopher said. “It
The Nation.
In Ferguson,
one study
found that a
of black
cutoffs for
PTSD and
Losing a safe haven:
Lisa Batiste sits
on her porch in the
hours after police
stormed her lawn
and began arresting
December 18/25, 2017
could have been me,” Brachell remembered thinking. “It
could have been anyone that I’m close to.”
They grabbed some signs that Brachell had made (hers
read: “Dear police, we are not target practice”) and drove
down to join the crowd at a thoroughfare called Airline
Highway, near the Baton Rouge Police Department headquarters. “It felt very empowering,” Brachell said. “I know
I was doing the right thing. I was making sure my voice was
really loud—my poster was held up.”
The two had been protesting for about an hour, Brachell said, when the police showed up in riot gear and began
to arrest people at random. Brachell was one of the unlucky ones. “I seen a policeman point toward me—then,
before you know it, a few of them just came running at
me,” she recalled. Christopher wrapped his arms around
his sister to protect her. Police officers threw them both to
the ground and tased Christopher, the siblings say. Both of
them were arrested.
Christopher and Brachell were placed on a bus and taken to police headquarters. “When I get really, really angry,
I begin to shake,” Brachell said. “I was shaking nonstop.”
The arrest had happened so quickly, and none of it made
sense to her: Why had she been aggressively pursued by
police for exercising her First Amendment rights? The siblings were then put in separate vans and driven to the East
Baton Rouge Parish Prison, a 25-minute drive from where
they were arrested. The driver of Brachell’s bus “had the
heat on high” with the windows rolled up, Brachell said,
exacerbating the extreme heat of Baton Rouge in July. The
siblings would be separated for an excruciating night.
While Christopher was in a holding cell, the police
pepper-sprayed him and others. The 36 hours he spent
there “felt like two weeks. The food was horrible,” he remembered. “I didn’t eat the entire
time…. I was tired, restless, hungry. I will never forget it.” (The
Baton Rouge Police Department
didn’t respond to The Nation’s request for comment on the pepperspraying incident, or on Brachell’s
claim about the excessive heat in
the bus.) A report issued by the
Promise of Justice Initiative described the jail housing the protesters as full of overcrowded cells
“caked with grime and blood.”
“The way [corrections officers] talk
to you in there—it’s like, you don’t
even talk to an animal like that,”
Christopher added.
Brachell spent her own 36
hours in jail cold and hungry,
talked down to and yelled at by
guards. She was too ashamed to
use a restroom with no doors. “I
carry [jail] with me like a backpack,” she says now. “Pretty much
whenever I see a police, I always
question their motivation: Am I
about to get in trouble for something that never even happened?”
Awards and Fellowships
Shane McCrae
Literary Award
for Poetry
Rickey Laurentiis
Mai Der Vang
Natalie Scenters-Zapico
Literary Fellowship
for Poetry
Literary Fellowship
for Poetry
Literary Fellowship
for Poetry
Awards and Fellowships
Totaling: $700,000
Roy Scranton
Javier Zamora
Literary Fellowship
for Fiction
Literary Fellowship
for Poetry
Nancy MacLean
Cultural Freedom Award
for an Especially Notable Book
Democracy in Chains:
The Deep History of the Radical
Right’s Stealth Plan for America
(Viking, 2017)
to cultural freedom, diversity, and creativity
through projects that support exceptional
artists, writers, and inspired Native American,
social justice, and environmental activists. The
Foundation recognizes the profound and often
unquantifiable value of the creative process
and is willing to take risks and make substantial
investments in ambitious and experimental
thinking. Understanding that globalization
threatens all cultures and ecosystems, the
Foundation is particularly interested in projects
that encourage freedom of inquiry, imagination,
and expression.
Photos: Shane McCrae © Shane McCrae; Rickey Laurentiis © Rickey
Laurentiis; Mai Der Vang © Ze Moua; Natalie Scenters-Zapico © José
Ángel Maldonado; Roy Scranton © Hannah Dunphy; Javier Zamora
© Ana Ruth Zamora; Nancy MacLean © Bruce Orenstein
Brachell tries to avoid the street where she was
arrested. When she does have to pass by it, she
finds herself becoming “angry all over again.”
Being tased, arrested, and treated poorly
in jail has fundamentally altered Christopher’s
view of policing as a profession. Brachell
agrees: “I feel like even when I turn 40, I’m
still going to relive this moment. I’m still going
to try to get people who I’m connected to to
pretty much avoid police in any way possible.”
ver the course of the past
three years, the emergence of the Black
Lives Matter movement has inspired
protests across the country against
police violence. Some, like those in
Ferguson, Baton Rouge, and Baltimore, were
sustained over several weeks and drew a massive, militarized response from law-enforcement agencies. In each city, SWAT teams equipped with tear gas,
armored vehicles, and rifles patrolled the streets, and protesters were subject to mass arrests and police brutality.
In Ferguson, 10 days of protesting led to 150 arrests—80
percent of them for “failure to disperse.” Nearly 200
protesters were arrested in Baton Rouge. In Baltimore, a
group of aggrieved residents sued the city: One man had
his arm broken by police and was never even charged;
two others, who weren’t taking part in the protests, were
beaten by cops with batons anyway. Reporters and TV
cameras descended on these communities, capturing
the violence meted out to the overwhelmingly black
residents. After the protests died out, the media packed
up and went away. But the emotional trauma from those
incidents remains.
Eddie Hughes and his then 16-year-old daughter,
Godavari, were both arrested and sent to jail for protesting in Baton Rouge last summer. Like Batiste and the
Browns, neither had a particularly negative perception of
the police before that protest—but they do now. Seeing
a cop, “I wonder if he’s having a bad day today,” Eddie
said. “It’s mainly because of the experience I had, [where]
I wasn’t doing anything wrong.” His daughter added, “I
just [thought that police] arrest people for bad stuff, but
now it’s like, ‘Oh, do they really do that? Do they really
have a job?’” She spent the weekend in juvenile detention
for “simple obstruction of a highway.”
Having been subjected to the very
police violence that they’d taken to the
streets to protest, the Hugheses and
the Brown siblings, like Lisa Batiste,
all now report feelings of wariness and
distrust of law enforcement. Batiste
says she suffers from a heightened general sense of anxiety. Though there’s a
dearth of research on how experiences
with militarized police affect community members, a report released last year
by mental-health researchers found a
link between the amount of exposure to
violence during the Ferguson protests
and the psychological-trauma symp-
The Nation.
December 18/25, 2017
toms seen among the protesters. That study reported that, out of the 565 Ferguson residents
and local law-enforcement officers interviewed,
members of the black community “exceeded
clinical cutoffs for PTSD and depression significantly more than white community members.” Previous studies have found that having
been in close proximity to a traumatic event was
a “strong and consistent predictor of negative
mental health outcomes.” Of the people that
the researchers surveyed in Ferguson, those
more impacted by the protests were more likely
to have suffered a negative psychological effect.
The psychological impact of violent police
interactions doesn’t only hit while the protests
are under way. It’s ever-present, says Anton
Hart, a psychoanalyst at the William Alanson
White Institute. “Absolutely, police profiling
Freedom of speech?
and violence has an effect on the people who are memBrachell and
bers of targeted groups,” he told me. “I’ve worked with
Christopher Brown
people who were hurt by the police, stopped, frisked. Just
spent the night in jail
last week, a client was running to get to a session with
after protesting.
me. And because he’s of color and running, police stopped
him.” Incidents like this take a toll, Hart says. Some of the
people he treats complain of nightmares and flashbacks
after witnessing or being involved in incidents with police.
“I [thought
Over the past two decades, the militarization of police
that police] forces has given black Americans more to fear. In 1997,
the Department of Defense began to supply surplus miliarrest
tary equipment to police departments across the country.
people for
After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, money
for military-grade resources ramped up considerably.
bad stuff,
grants from the Department of Homeland Security
but now it’s With
totaling $34 billion, police departments bought drones
like… do
and armored vehicles. Police now receive military training and use military tactics to manage protesters.
they really
But the police militarization isn’t having a disproporhave a job?” tionate
impact on communities of color only during pro—Godavari Hughes
tests. “Militarization makes every problem—even a car
of teenagers driving away from a party—look like a nail
that should be hit with an AR-15 hammer,” The Washington Post concluded in an analysis of whether military
Paying the price:
equipment made police forces more violent. A 2014 reEddie Hughes and his
port by the ACLU found that 42 percent of those visited
daughter, Godavari,
were both arrested.
by SWAT teams to execute a search warrant were black,
and another 12 percent were Latino.
In other words, more than half were
people of color.
When it comes to the psychological impacts of militarized policing on
black Americans, “we’re a little bit
behind on really understanding these
things at a psychological level,” says
Monnica Williams, a professor of
psychology at the University of Connecticut who studies the effects of racism on African Americans. “Especially
when it comes to people of color,
the research is way behind where it
needs to be.” But there is research on
the disparities in health, both mental
December 18/25, 2017
The Nation.
and physical, suffered by black communities. According to a 2009
study, 9.1 percent of black Americans experienced post-traumaticstress disorder, compared with 6.8 percent of white Americans. The
American Heart Association has found that nearly 43 percent of
black American adults have high blood pressure, compared with
just over 33 percent of white non-Hispanic American adults. And
according to the National Stroke Association, black Americans are
more likely to suffer strokes than any other race. The stress of living in the United States, Williams argues, makes African Americans
much less healthy than their white counterparts. “There’s a lot of
evidence that it’s the social milieu that is causing [these diseases],”
she says. “You take those same people out of the United States and
put them in other countries, and those conditions disappear.”
While specific traumatic encounters with police can provoke
mental-health problems, so can the mere awareness that the cops
aren’t necessarily on your side. That awareness can manifest in
the form of anxiety, depression, or fear—of law enforcement, authority figures, or what might happen to the members of your
family, Williams says. Those conditions can lead to substance
abuse and binge eating. Sometimes black Americans develop
paranoia and psychosis from trauma. “There’s a cultural mistrust
of white society in communities that are alienated and marginalized,” adds Shawn O. Utsey, a professor of psychology at Virginia
Commonwealth University. “It can impact work, school, and
family life. And it can limit opportunities, because folks begin
to become nervous to venture outside their own communities.”
It is difficult to determine precisely how many black Americans living in heavily policed communities experience PTSD. “A
lot of these symptoms aren’t captured by standard mental-health
[evaluations] because, when people are looking at what counts as
a traumatic event, we’re often looking at an event that happened
one time—so we’re not considering the cultural trauma” of living
in a community targeted by police, Williams points out. And that
means episodes of police harassment are omitted as indicators
when researchers look into the rates of psychopathology.
Poor treatment by law-enforcement officers has been a reality
of African-American life since before the United States existed.
Even after the many successes of the civil-rights movement, police
brutality and discrimination in the criminal-justice system didn’t
end; they just became less transparent and more insidious. Today,
black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white
men, and black women more than twice as likely as white women.
Black men are three times more likely than white men to die at the
hands of law enforcement. And when black communities like Baton Rouge have objected to living under these conditions through
protests and demonstrations, the response from law enforcement
has been more aggression, more brutality, and more jail time.
he psychology professors i spoke with suggested
that the psychological impacts on black protesters
confronted by militarized police forces can’t be truly
addressed until discriminatory policing practices are
eradicated. Until that happens, Williams notes, a less
dramatic change is for police forces to shift their approach from
a “warrior” mentality to a “guardian” one, as suggested in an
Obama-era report issued by the President’s Task Force on 21st
Century Policing. But with a new administration focused on
undoing Obama’s efforts to reform law-enforcement tactics,
there is little incentive for police forces to change.
Improved mental-health services for communities of color can
also be helpful, Utsey suggests. Black psychologists are training
their peers to conduct “emotional emancipation circles,” which are
designed to help black communities process trauma. These workshops “really took off after the publicized murders [by police],” says
Cheryl Grills, former president of the Association of Black Psychologists. “And we were on the ground in all those places—in New
York, Ferguson, Baltimore. At the height of the community stress,
we were on the ground providing safe-space meetings.”
Lisa Batiste, the Hugheses, and the Browns have all brought
related lawsuits against the city of Baton Rouge, its police department, and the Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association. “We hope to expose
the decades-long oppression of black people by Baton Rouge–area
law enforcement, and to hold them accountable for their unconstitutional treatment of black people and those who stood in solidarity
with them in July 2016,” said James Craig, the co-director of the
MacArthur Justice Center, which is representing the plaintiffs. The
lawsuits accuse the defendants of violating the protesters’ rights to
free speech and free assembly; they also assert that demonstrators
were arrested on trumped-up charges of traffic obstruction, and that
black protesters were targeted based on their race. (Both cases await
responses from the defendants.)
For Batiste, the trauma hasn’t only erased her confidence around
police; her lifelong sense of patriotism is gone, too. For years, she flew
an American flag outside her home. “Not only did I have one—when
the anchor of it broke, I called my landlord” to come fix it, she told
me. Her favorite thing about being an American? “Freedom—the
ability to do any damn thing that I want.” But Batiste doesn’t fly a flag
outside her new home in Houston, Texas. “It’s not representative of
me—nor is it representative of the things that I was sold about what it
is to be an American.” The deep pain from that realization is one that
she’ll carry for the rest of her life.
n a gloomy day in september, lisa hayden
rushed through the circular door of the
Yurok Tribal Court in Klamath, California,
with her 1-year-old son on her hip. Hayden,
31, worried that the day wouldn’t turn out
any different from all the others she’d spent
in court trying to protect herself from her ex-husband. For 12
years, starting when she was pregnant with their first child,
Hayden alleges, her ex-husband had held guns to her head,
punched her, and called her terrible names.
The abuse that Hayden says she suffered is shockingly common: According to a Justice Department study in 2016, four out of
five Native Americans have experienced violence from an intimate
partner. In 97 percent of those cases, Native women were victim-
ized by non-Natives. To make matters worse, indigenous
people are less likely to receive fair treatment when interacting with police and judges, according to a recent analysis
of data from the Centers for Disease Control and a report
from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
This has been Hayden’s experience. Last year, anticipating her ex-husband’s release from prison, Hayden
went to county court to request a restraining order,
showing the judge threatening letters her ex had sent
from jail. After spending less than five minutes listening to Hayden, the judge dismissed her fears as something “she had to work through” and denied her request.
Within six months of his release, according to Hayden,
her ex-husband—high on heroin, wearing a bulletproof
The criminal-justice system often fails Native Americans. Judge Abby Abinanti wants to change it.
December 18/25, 2017
The Nation.
vest, and armed with three guns—kicked in the front door of her apartment,
yelling that he wanted to kill her, as she and her three children huddled on
the floor. Though her ex was sent back to prison, Hayden remained afraid.
This was why Hayden brought her request for a restraining order to Judge
Abby Abinanti of the Yurok Tribal Court, a respected figure with a distinctive approach to jurisprudence. Abinanti doesn’t wear a robe, opting instead for
jeans and cowboy boots. She sits not on a dais, but behind a wooden desk in a
small room. Immediately upon entering Abinanti’s courtroom on that September day, Hayden said, she felt “more like a person” than she had in county court.
Abinanti listened at length, squinting as if trying to solve a puzzle.
Ultimately, Abinanti issued the restraining order. But she also made an offer to Hayden’s ex-husband, to send letters to his children and receive photos
through a caseworker; an earlier offer still stands for him to attend a program
designed by Abinanti’s court to rehabilitate batterers, and to remove his gang
tattoos on the tribe’s dime. The goal was to protect Hayden while giving her exhusband a chance to end his cycle into and out of prison. (So far, he’s refused all
services.) “No one ever came up with that in the county system,” Hayden said
after Abinanti’s ruling, smiling as her kids played nearby. “No one ever tried to
get at the root of it. ‘Relieved’ is the big word for today.”
Abinanti is one of a growing number of tribal judges
nationwide incorporating traditional culture into their
courtrooms, with the dual aim of rehabilitating individuals and providing justice to people often failed by the regular criminal-justice system. Abinanti, whose court was
recently described in a federal assessment as “extremely
“My purpose
fair and balanced in its rulings,” is more likely to ask defendants to devise their own ways to atone for a crime is to help
or settle a dispute than to slap them with fines or incar- you think up
ceration. As Abinanti explains, “I’m looking at: How did
we resolve things before our cultural interruption, when how to make
invasion occurred? We were village people, and we sat it right if
around and had discussions. My purpose is to help you you made a
think up how to make it right if you made a mistake.…
mistake. For
For me, jail is banishment. It’s the last resort.”
Traditional models of dispute resolution, which are me, jail is
characterized by the involvement of everyone affected by
an offense and emphasize repairing harm instead of inflicting punishment—an approach often called “restorative It’s the last
justice”—are gaining attention outside Native communi- resort.”
ties. It’s a significant shift, as historically both Congress — Judge Abby Abinanti
and the Supreme Court have diminished the legitimacy
of tribal courts and peacemaking forums. (In almost all
circumstances, tribal courts cannot hear criminal cases involving non-Native people, even for crimes committed on
Native land.) Now five Western states as well as Michigan
are using tribal models to develop courts that seek to create
a consensus between the plaintiff and the defendant. Casey
Family Programs, one of the nation’s largest child-welfare
foundations, is promoting partnerships between state and
tribal courts in which judges, social workers, and attorneys convene to adjudicate cases. In the past several years,
courses in Native American peacemaking have been taught
at the Columbia, Lewis and Clark, and University of New Rebecca Clarren is
Mexico law schools. Prestigious law-review journals, in- an award-winning
cluding the American Bar Association’s, have published journalist with
InvestigateWest, a
articles on the importance of therapeutic tribal courts and
nonprofit journalism
peacemaking. As a sign of this increasing respect, Senators studio in the Pacific
Al Franken (D-MN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) recently Northwest. This
introduced legislation that would grant tribal judges ex- story was reported
panded ability to prosecute non-Native assailants.
in partnership
The new attention is partly due to the growing rec- with that outlet.
ognition that the country’s punitive approach to criminal
justice has failed: The United States has 5 percent of the
world’s population but 25 percent of its population of
prisoners, a disproportionate number of them people of
color. “The American justice system is in crisis, and we
have to think about what else could work,” said Cheryl
Fairbanks, a board member at the National American
Indian Court Judges Association. Could the old practices
revived by Abinanti be part of this future?
very other week, abinanti packs her
hatchback with groceries, books, and blankets and drives six and a half hours from her
apartment in San Francisco, through the
tawny hills of Northern California, and up
into the foggy redwood forests of the Yurok Reservation.
Abinanti, 70, has been making this drive her entire life.
As a child, Abinanti was shuttled from her drugaddicted mother’s house near the reservation to the home
of her paternal grandmother, who lived in San Francisco’s
Noe Valley neighborhood, blocks away from Abinanti’s
current apartment. Like many Native children, Abinanti
was misdiagnosed by her school and placed in a class for
developmentally delayed students; not until high school
did a teacher realize she was bright. Abinanti was angry
a lot. (“I’m better now, even though I’m still half-mean,”
she offered with a dry smile.) Relatives often said she reminded them of her grandfather, Marion Rube, a bank
robber who once escaped from San Quentin prison. Her
childhood isn’t something that she typically shares from
the bench, but it informs her empathic orientation.
“You don’t start out to be a meth-head—it’s not, like,
a career objective,” Abinanti said on a recent drive north.
When not talking, she hummed along with Hank Williams on the radio. “You don’t know what breaks a person, and if you’re strong enough to come back, you can’t
judge someone who isn’t.”
Abinanti speaks often about intergenerational trauma,
the idea that the events of colonization in the past—rape,
murder, and the dissolution of indigenous languages and
cultures—create ongoing problems in the present: Native American communities now experience physical and
sexual assault at three times the national average. For
the Yurok, that traumatic history is recent. Throughout
Abinanti’s childhood and until 1970, the federal government, eager to assimilate indigenous people, terminated
more than 100 nations, including the Yurok. The government stripped those citizens of their land and made
it illegal to dance ceremonially or practice Native religions. By 1974, when Abinanti became the first Native
American woman to pass the bar in California, there was
no tribe for her to work for, so she joined California Indian Legal Services, a nonprofit law firm for the state’s
tribes and tribal members. In some courtrooms, she was
the first Native American lawyer ever to enter there.
Abinanti was the first Native woman in California to become a state judge; she also taught law at the University of
California, Berkeley, and served as a judge or attorney for
seven other tribes. In 2007, after the Yurok Tribe reclaimed
its legal status and reestablished its government, Abinanti
became chief justice. At the time, the court was open only
once a month, mostly to adjudicate fishing violations. Under Abinanti, it’s grown
into an enterprise with about 20 employees and hears an average of 670 cases per
year, ranging from illegal trash dumping to domestic-abuse cases.
December 18/25, 2017
The Nation.
nnovation and flexibility are what distinguish abinanti’s
court. For instance, if both parents agree to the terms, she permits
nonmonetary child-support payments such as manual labor or
salmon. Abinanti and her staff have created a handful of programs
intended to provide alternatives to incarceration. A wellness program
sanctioned by the state allows the Yurok Tribe to pull members accused of
drug crimes out of the court system and bring them home for addiction
treatment; the program includes cultural rituals like sweat lodges and prayer.
Another program is designed to rehabilitate people who have beaten their
partners or children. It’s the first in the state of California, and possibly in
the country, certified to include non-Native people. That’s imperative on the
Yurok’s checkerboard reservation, where tribal members and non-Natives
are often neighbors and partners. Participants in the yearlong program
consult with elders and learn to
identify personal triggers and
to use anger-management tools.
Since the program began two
years ago, none of its participants have returned to jail for
domestic violence.
The tribe has yet to analyze
its recidivism rates overall, but
a handful of studies indicate that
other tribal courts are achieving
better success for their members than are state courts. The
Kake Tribe in Alaska found that
members enrolled in a peacemaking project fulfilled their Sweat lodges and
court-ordered amends 97.5 percent of the time, compared other ceremonies are
with a 22 percent success rate in the Alaskan state-court part of a wellnesscourt program run by
system. Participants in the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe the Leech Lake Band
Wellness Court, which allows people arrested for driving of Ojibwe and Cass
while intoxicated to receive culturally specific treatment on County, Minnesota.
the reservation, had 60 percent fewer rearrests one year
after entering the program than the DUI offenders, both
Native and non-, who attended a county rehab program.
Timothy Connors, who’s been a state judge in Michigan for more than 25 years and has served by invitation in
the past five on the court of the Little Traverse Bay Bands Once
of Odawa Indians, is leading an effort to create county
attacked as
courts that use a tribally inspired peacemaking approach
in cases where the parties involved will have an ongoing illegitimate
relationship after they leave court. In the first four years of forums,
these peacemaking courts, 94 percent of the cases resulted
in an agreement between both parties and avoided litiga- tribal
tion. Unlike mediation, the goal of these courts isn’t sim- courts are
ply the resolution of a given issue, but rather a deepened beginning
understanding between the affected parties. “It’s the idea
of cleansing and healing versus judging,” Connors said. to be seen
“They are designed not to get even, but to get well.”
as partners
Under current law, states aren’t required to recognize with
most tribal-court rulings. Yet there are now at least 15
Tribal-State Court Forums—coalitions of federal, state, innovative
and tribal judges, which meet regularly to facilitate ef- approaches.
ficient cross-jurisdictional enforcement of court orders,
civil proceedings, and compliance in child-welfare cases.
“Tribal courts have been continuously attacked as ille-
gitimate forums since contact,” said Jerry Gardner, executive director of the Tribal Law and Policy Institute.
“But with the rise of restorative justice, tribal courts are
being seen not just as legitimate institutions but as partners, which have wise and innovative approaches and resources to probe the root causes of crimes.”
ne recent evening, abinanti sat on her
couch watching baseball with a few colleagues and discussing the people who’d
ended up in jail over the weekend. For the
judge—who spends much of her spare time
studying economic development, searching for a way to
help her tribe overcome its 73 percent unemployment
rate—knowing these families is an asset, as it deepens her
understanding of the impact of a particular crime.
In non-tribal courts, by contrast, judges must recuse
themselves if they know a defendant. That’s just one of a
number of barriers to applying tribal models to America’s
criminal-justice system more broadly. The scale of the
state-court system alone makes it nearly impossible for
judges to take the time required for Abinanti’s approach:
There were nearly 7 million cases filed in California state
court in 2015. Mandatory-sentencing laws would also have
to be overhauled. As Savala Trepczynski, executive director
of the Thelton E. Henderson Center for Social Justice at
the UC Berkeley School of Law, noted by e-mail: “If we
were serious about mirroring Judge Abby’s style, we’d have
to create and sustain a society with minimal incarceration.
We’d have to reimagine the purpose of the criminal-justice
system and destroy the economic incentives to incarcerate.”
Developing such courts can be a challenge even for
tribes. There’s no reliable data on how many of the 567
federally recognized tribes have set up courts that reflect
their traditions. But at least 19 have written tribal codes,
and many more are revitalizing their courts with cultural
concepts. However, many face significant budget challenges. (Abinanti likens herself to a street hustler for all
the time she spends applying for grants.) The Bureau of
Indian Affairs is funding most tribal courts at just 6 percent of what is needed, according to a 2015 BIA report to
Congress. Certain states, including California and Alaska,
receive no allocated federal funds for tribal courts. A pilot project to determine funding needs in those states was
created during the Obama administration, but it would
be eliminated under President Trump’s proposed budget.
There is also the question of whether a restorativejustice model is appropriate for every crime, particularly
those involving sexual predators. There is a real potential for further harm if the victims of sexual violence are
expected to communicate with the perpetrators, said
Sarah Deer, co-director of the Indian Law program at
the Mitchell Hamline School of Law and a national expert on violence against Native women. “I get nervous
about putting victims in that system,” Deer continued,
“because it sets up a lot of victim-blaming.”
Still, Abinanti believes that for perpetrators truly
committed to making amends, rehabilitation is possible,
even though it may take years. “This isn’t as simple as
saying you’re sorry and moving on,” she said. “Some
things aren’t fixable, but… you at least have to try.” Q
The Nation.
December 18/25, 2017
The Nation.
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tion’s November 20/27 issue:
Even back in 2008, after
massive grassroots participation in an inspiring, youthful,
promising campaign, the party
failed to ask its constituents
for anything except donations.
We have hearts, souls, stories,
experiences, and ideas—all
of which the left desperately
needs. As Tip O’Neill discovered (and as Greider reminds
us), people like to be asked—
but for more than just money,
because, after decades of
neglect, we have little enough
of that.
It’s hard to give to a party
that accepts corporate donations
and drones on about the (shrinking) middle class while failing
to address the structures that
consistently reproduce poverty,
or while failing to meaningfully
address the concerns of the
working class. In my district,
this can be a problem even at
the local level, where at times
I’ve been unable to locate a
left-sounding platform from
the Democratic candidates—or
any platform at all.
It’s bad enough that the
party panders to moderate
Republicans rather than its
constituents, particularly when
its real power has always been
the working-class vote. The
Democratic Party may get a
progressive’s vote by default,
but it should not count on my
Martha Otis
Are you kidding me? In terms
of values, Democrats are rock
solid. The party has always
been for workers, equality,
minimum-wage adjustments,
unions, women’s rights, education, and respect for people
of any color, sex, religion,
or ethnicity. Sure, mistakes
were made in 2016. Along
with Russian interference, the
Comey letter, WikiLeaks, mi-
sogyny from men and women,
the quashing of voting rights,
and media bias for Trump’s
sensationalist stupidity, the
Democrats were indeed responsible for some errors. For
instance, it was condescending
to count on the Rust Belt states
and an even bigger error—a
huge one—to minimize them.
Still, Democrats are the only
ones fighting for a higher minimum wage, unions, women and
children, and respect and rights
for immigrants. When it comes
to values, Democrats and independents easily win over Republicans and their party.
Mary Ann Hannon
west yarmouth, mass.
In Sasha Abramsky’s article
“When Violence Comes” [Oct.
23], a photo caption erroneously stated that the picture
showed Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. at the 1965 march on
Selma. The photo was actually taken during King’s 1968
march with black sanitation
workers in Memphis.
In “Hiding in Plain Sight”
[Nov. 6], David Yaffe writes
that an unpublished poem by
Elizabeth Bishop was inspired
by Lota de Macedo Soares.
In fact, while the poem is undated, it was found in a notebook that predates Bishop’s
relationship with Soares.
In “Frequent Gunfire” [Nov.
13], John Banville refers to A
Farewell to Arms and Death in
the Afternoon as “two novels”;
in fact, the latter is a work of
The Dec. 4/11 cover, headlined “Pillaging America’s
Parks,” features an illustration of a Trump-headed
monster stomping through a
lake. The location pictured
is actually Maligne Lake in
Alberta, Canada.
Books & the Arts.
The peregrinations of Raja Shehadeh
ll my life I have lived in
houses that overlook the
Ramallah hills,” writes
the Palestinian author
Raja Shehadeh. This simple
statement speaks volumes. It suggests
the difficult achievement, for any Palestinian, of finding a fixed and livable
position within the occupied territories.
The verb “overlook” also encapsulates
Ursula Lindsey writes about culture and
politics in North Africa and the Middle East.
She hosts the BULAQ podcast.
Shehadeh’s own role as witness and
guardian. He is determined to keep
his eyes wide open, trained on the
horizon, looking for future openings
and alternatives.
Shehadeh’s effort to find an opening
with his Israeli neighbors is the subject
of his latest book, Where the Line Is
Drawn. As a pioneering human-rights
lawyer, a writer, and an avid walker,
Shehadeh has dedicated his life to exploring and exposing the landscape of
the Israeli occupation. He has struggled
to stay put, but also to be free—free
Where the Line Is Drawn
A Tale of Crossings, Friendships, and Fifty
Years of Occupation in Israel-Palestine
By Raja Shehadeh
New Press. 230 pp. $25.95
of bitterness and delusion, of family
expectations and the burdens of history, of hopelessness in the face of the
settlements that today ring Ramallah
like a “noose.” All of Shehadeh’s writing concerns how to find one’s footing
on this splintered terrain, how to make
one’s home in a world of loss.
hehadeh’s family hails from Ramallah, but they had relocated to the
more sophisticated seaside town of
Jaffa, where his father, Aziz, worked
as a lawyer and his mother’s family
owned a hotel. In 1948, the Shehadehs,
fearing the violence that would follow the
UN-mandated partition of Palestine, closed
up their apartment and returned to Ramallah. They expected to be there for only a
few weeks, but they wound up joining the
30,000 refugees who were stranded in the
city in the wake of the 1948 war. Raja Shehadeh was born there in 1951. For decades,
his family remained focused on the life they
had left behind. At night, Shehadeh recalled
in his 2002 memoir, Strangers in the House,
“the glittering lights of Jaffa sparkled in the
short but unreachable distance.”
After the 1967 war, Israel annexed the
West Bank, and Palestinians were allowed
to visit the towns they had fled 20 years
before. In an act of great literary conjuring—and one of the most memorable passages in Strangers in the House—Shehadeh
reconstructs his father’s return to Jaffa. In
a car with an Israeli friend, Aziz traveled
down to the coastal plain: “As it opened up
my father felt his heart open with it.” Aziz
recognized the turns in the road, the views,
the eucalyptus trees planted by the British,
the citrus orchards surrounding the city.
But once in Jaffa, he discovered how much
the city had changed. The courthouse had
been demolished and the cinema closed;
the Ottoman clock in the center of the
square had stopped running. “His house,
his office, his favourite haunts, the shop
where he had sandwiches for lunch, the
newspaper stand, the little public garden…
were all lost to memory,” Shehadeh writes.
The landmarks that survived—the old
barbershop and bakery that Aziz’s father
had owned, his mother-in-law’s house, the
church where he got married—made it all
the worse: “Why had something of the
living past remained? Would it not have
been easier if it had all gone, better still all
crumbled and buried in the ground? Why
this half reality, neither fully there nor fully
gone?” But what Aziz was most shaken by
was a different discovery: When his Israeli
friend pointed out the bustling city of Tel
Aviv nearby, “my father must have realized
that the glittering lights to which his eyes
had been riveted for all these years were
not the lights of Jaffa but those of Tel Aviv.”
This realization led to another: Aziz was
now determined to make a break with the
past, to focus only on what could be accomplished in the present. He refused the
December 18/25, 2017
The Nation.
“shadow life, a life of dreams and anticipation and memory,” led by many Palestinian
refugees and exiles.
His father’s refusal to accept this shadow life became essential to Shehadeh’s own
moral and political outlook. Unlike other
boys who came of age after the 1967 war
and became fedayeen, he never felt the
appeal of armed resistance. After earning a law degree in the United Kingdom,
Shehadeh returned to the West Bank in
1976—the first Western-educated lawyer
to return to practice there, he says, since
1948. He would find his own ways to
support the national cause, focusing
doggedly on what could be accomplished
in the present.
In 1977, Shehadeh accompanied his father to a hotel in Tel Aviv, where they
watched Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s
televised speech to the Knesset offering
peace with Israel. At the hotel, he met a
young Jewish Canadian immigrant to Israel named Henry Abramovitch; the long
friendship between the two is at the
heart of Where the Line Is Drawn.
Shehadeh felt an immediate rapport with Abramovitch, a jaunty free spirit
with bright eyes and a
huge, straggly beard.
The two shared an
interest in literature
and self-analysis.
They visited each
other, explored the
country together,
and talked endlessly.
Abramovitch was a
pacifist, critical of Zionism
and interested in the spiritual
dimension of Judaism. He was adventurous and fearless, and he expected the
best from people.
When they met, both men thought of
themselves as “not political,” although this
is one of the book’s central questions: Is it
possible for an Israeli and a Palestinian to
be friends, outside of—or despite—politics?
Shehadeh’s answer to this is unsentimental:
He is honest about the resentment that
nearly undermines their relationship and
the compromises that salvage it. When he
first met Abramovitch, he was still attempting “to relate to Israel and Israelis as if there
was no occupation.” He and Abramovitch
believed that the conflict would eventually be resolved and that the Palestinians
would emerge with a state of their own.
In fact, Shehadeh was even intrigued by
the “active, adventurous and confident”
citizens of Israel, envious of how they were
building a new national identity and of the
personal freedom of young Israelis. But
his and Abramovitch’s youthful optimism
and eventual four-decade-long friendship
would be severely tested by the unfairness
and brutality of the occupation. It is very
difficult to keep a relationship free from a
politics that colonizes the space around and
between you. It is nearly impossible not to
pick a side, or have a side pick you.
n the early 1980s, the Israeli government
drew up a master plan that called for
settling 80,000 Jews in the hills of the
West Bank by 1986. Palestinian towns
were forbidden from expanding in any
direction. “We are going to leave an entirely
different map of the country that it will be
impossible to ignore,” declared Ariel Sharon, then the Israeli defense minister.
A few years earlier, Shehadeh, along
with a few other idealistic young lawyers,
launched Al-Haq, a human-rights organization that offered legal aid to Palestinians to fight land expropriations.
In Israeli military courts, he
witnessed his clients being
dispossessed through
dubious legal stratagems and, when all
else failed, by fiat.
The Israeli military authorities in
control of the West
Bank after 1967
eventually adopted
the view that all nonregistered land there was
public land. Homes that
Palestinians didn’t reside in
and land that they failed to cultivate were now deemed abandoned. Nearly
all of this property reverted to the Israel
Land Authority and could then be leased or
sold—but only to Jews. Often, it was used
for settlements.
Even land to which Palestinians had a
valid legal claim could be taken away from
them. The office of the Custodian of Absentees’ Property and the Israeli military
courts transferred lands from supposedly
“absentee” owners to future settlements
even when Shehadeh and his colleagues
were able to prove the claims of the Palestinians who owned them.
Despite such defeats, Al-Haq grew, offering legal aid to thousands of people and documenting human-rights violations across
the occupied territories. Its lawyers also
raised awareness of torture in Israeli prisons
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and defended clients in cases where the
evidence itself was kept secret from them.
Shehadeh is both proud of this work and
rueful about his and his colleagues’ belief
that by using the law, they could successfully
challenge Israel’s illegal land-acquisition and
settlement policies. “The building of settlements in the Occupied Territories was a state
project,” he wrote in his 2007 book,
Palestinian Walks. “The government knew the decision
it wanted out of these
land courts. Higher national objectives overrode legal niceties.”
are an estimated
380,000 settlers in
the West Bank. The
settlements are fortified gated communities, surrounded by
walls and security cameras. They dominate the hilltops and are connected to Israel
by a growing network of highways and
bypass roads that are open only to Israelis.
In his methodical way, Shehadeh hammers
away at one overarching point: that the
settlements are the source of the violence in
Israel and Palestine, the key to understanding the conflict. “For an occupier to take
through legal chicanery the lands of the
occupied,” he writes, “and in stark violation
of international law settle its own people in
the midst of the towns and villages of the
hostile occupied population can only lead
to violence and bloodshed.”
For Shehadeh, the settlements are also
why he himself can’t help being part of the
hostile occupied population and seeing his
Israeli friend Henry Abramovitch as one of
the intended settlers. “As the settlements
advanced and more land was taken using
means we were helpless to stop through
legal action, I became more certain that
the policy of the Israeli government was to
throw us out altogether,” Shehadeh writes.
“All this was to make room for Jews from
the West, like Henry.”
n 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, where
the Palestine Liberation Organization
was based. Shehadeh quotes from a letter that he wrote Abramovitch at the
time: “Inasmuch as you have made your
choice to come to Israel and settle, by your
silence you are acquiescing and participating in its evil.… The absence of your voice
against what is taking place in Lebanon
with the Israeli army has cut me deeply.”
December 18/25, 2017
The Nation.
Abramovitch responded by accepting his
friend’s criticisms: “as Enoch the Jew, I do
feel that I am murdering your people here
daily with frightening efficiency, and will
I, can I, live up to those expectations of
which you write so beautifully? For I think
you are right. I have failed you—my demonstrations, proclamations, against the occupation don’t help you or your
people a damn.” He then
ended the letter by inviting Shehadeh to his
wedding; Shehadeh
The meetings
between the two
men became more
sporadic after the
first intifada broke
out and the occupied territories were
sealed off from Israel. Yet each time they
saw each other, Shehadeh
found his resentment melting
away in the presence of his old friend:
“I still cared for him, as one child cares
for another, without thinking why.” But
after their meetings, on the long and difficult trip back to his home, Shehadeh’s
anger returned, and he found himself holding indignant imaginary arguments with
Abramovitch. “What did he mean when he
said I did not want to see him because I was
too angry?” Shehadeh thought to himself.
“It was his way of explaining it all away as
a flaw of my character. He had failed to
take into consideration what had caused
every Palestinian to be justifiably angry.”
Abramovitch was a conscientious objector
and joined anti-occupation groups, but
over time his protestations of solidarity left
Shehadeh “cold.” The truth, he admitted,
was that “I couldn’t forgive Henry for coming to Israel.”
Abramovitch was free to choose whether to live there or not and welcome to
come and go as he pleased. Despite his
criticism, his presence seemed like an endorsement of the country and its policies,
and those policies were designed to drive
Palestinians out. Most Palestinians, meanwhile, were faced with choices that didn’t
deserve that name. Most did not have the
freedom to go home or, if they were sick
of the occupation, to leave it. Their main
form of agency and heroism, Shehadeh
argued, was a “determination to stay put,”
or sumud—“steadfastness.”
To bear up and hold on to one’s dignity
and balance is a daily struggle in the face
of settler violence, army incursions, and
the petty and exhausting harassment and
humiliation. This is a heroism that often
goes unrecognized. When Shehadeh visits
an Israeli artist living in an old Arab house
in Jaffa, the artist asks him: “What is this
holding onto the past? It’s despicable. Why
don’t you get on with your life? It’s pathetic.
Look at us, how well we’ve managed.” Shehadeh doesn’t argue back, only noting later
that “I was shocked to hear what she had to
say and how she failed to appreciate that for
us Palestinians it was not only a question of
material losses, but the denial of our very
existence as a nation.”
Shehadeh’s tone is, as usual, remarkably
measured here. Indeed, throughout his
many books, he exercises just such a painful
mastery and control. Elsewhere in Where
the Line Is Drawn, he describes his fear of
confrontation with the Israeli authorities,
saying that he is less afraid of what they will
do to him than of losing his self-control.
n Strangers in the House, Shehadeh describes himself as a “weak and vulnerable” child, often ill and shut up in his
home. Yet he can also be strong-willed,
turning his frailty into a weapon of sorts.
His writing is sharpened and powered by
what it leaves unsaid. It is also stretched
taut by a movement in two opposing directions: the desire to cling to Palestine, to dig
in and not budge an inch, and the desire to
escape. Shehadeh can find life in the West
Bank stifling; his lifelong habit of walking
is a means to be alone, to roam physically
and mentally. More than once, he describes
his elation at traveling abroad, arriving in a
vibrant foreign country, escaping the pressures of a conservative and intrusive Palestinian family and society, and especially the
burden of being his father’s son.
To his sensitive offspring, Aziz Shehadeh
has always loomed larger than life. He was
freethinking and decisive, capable of starting from scratch after enormous personal
setbacks, and willing to challenge political
orthodoxy and the authorities. He was also
distant and critical, “an enigma” that his son
spent his life trying to impress, to emulate,
and to rebel against.
From his father, Shehadeh also inherited
a sense of himself as an outsider. Bright
and awkward, the young man often felt
estranged from his classmates—he writes,
touchingly, that “I wanted so much to belong but interpreted my failure to do so to be
evidence of my uniqueness and superiority.”
Members of an Anglican minority within
the Palestinian Christian minority, the She-
December 18/25, 2017
hadehs were skeptical of Arab leaders who
inveighed against Israel but offered little
real assistance to the Palestinians when war
broke out in 1948 and again in 1967. They
also took a dim view of the local political
leadership. “The prevailing local Palestinian
politics were of the crudest kind,” Shehadeh
writes in his memoir. “In essence they involved control—at any cost.”
After 1967, Aziz Shehadeh was one of
the first and only Palestinians to call for
recognition of Israel and the immediate implementation of a two-state solution. The
day after the war ended, he drafted a memo
listing 40 prominent Palestinians and outlining a provisional Palestinian government
that would sign a peace treaty with Israel.
The Israeli authorities never responded.
Meanwhile, on “The Voice of the Lightning
Bolt,” a Damascus radio station broadcasting communiqués in support of Palestinian
revolutionary groups, Shehadeh’s father was
denounced as “a traitor, a despicable collaborator. You want to surrender and sell
our birthright. We know how to deal with
the likes of you.” But Aziz wasn’t intimidated, and he never stopped insisting that
only a negotiated settlement would provide
the Palestinians with a homeland—and that
1967 had been a missed opportunity for
brokering such a deal.
In 1985, an unknown assailant slit Aziz
Shehadeh’s throat as he parked his car in
front of the family home. The Shehadehs
offered a $10,000 reward for information,
hired a private investigator, and held press
conferences, but the murder was never
solved. The family came to believe that
Israeli investigators weren’t pursuing all
the available leads, probably because the
murderer was an Israeli informant. For
Shehadeh, the world was emptied and flattened by his father’s death: “he was the
fire, the energy, the anger, the conflict, the
explosion, the troublemaker, the instigator,
the energizer. It would all be meaningless
without him.”
Yet Shehadeh still cared enough to be
devastated, a few years later, by the Oslo Accords. He held the unpopular view that Oslo
was a fool’s bargain, “a mere repackaging of
the occupation,” because it did not require
an end to settlement construction. Political
expediency and arrogance, he believed, had
led Yasir Arafat and the PLO leadership,
which was eager to return from exile and
govern, to dismiss the warnings and experiences of Palestinians like himself, who had
lived under the occupation.
Coupled with his father’s death, the accords turned out to be the low point in
The Nation.
Shehadeh’s life. “Oslo buried my truth,”
he writes in Palestinian Walks. Labeled a
“rejectionist,” he watched impotently as
settlement construction accelerated after
the accords and the second intifada inevitably broke out. Just as his father had in 1967,
Shehadeh found himself lamenting a missed
opportunity for the Palestinian cause.
After this double loss, Shehadeh dedicated himself to writing. It became his refuge,
a way to manage his despair and reckon with
the dead end that his life’s work seemed to
have reached. If it was hopeless to fight the
settlements through legal activism, at least
he could ensure that the relentless theft of
Palestinian land under the occupation wasn’t
camouflaged by untruths. Since 2002, Shehadeh has published seven works of memoir
and journalism.
These books not only document the
spoliations and violence of the occupation;
they chart its insidious nature. In Palestinian
Walks (subtitled Forays Into a Vanishing Landscape), Shehadeh recounts a late-afternoon
hike to the small village of A’yn Qenya.
On his walk, he observes the terraced hills
and orchards, the deserted stone houses
and enormous oaks and pines; suddenly, he
decides to race the setting sun to the top of
a hill. “I got there just in time,” he writes.
“The air was dry and fresh. Lower hills
spread below me like a crumpled sheet of
blue velvet with the hamlets huddled in its
folds. There was Janiya, Deir Ammar and
on the highest hill the attractive village of
Ras Karkar, all spread below me.… I tried
to hold my breath until the last sliver of the
orange sun disappeared and all that was left
was the pink light reflected by the clouds
that scattered in the big sky all around me.
At this moment the wind began to pick up as
it always does after the sun has set.” This was
the last time that he would take in this view.
“Shortly afterward the Israeli authorities
expropriated the land and used it to build
the settlement of Dolev.”
The book contains many such vivid accounts of the landscape that Shehadeh has
traversed, admired, and gradually lost over
the course of four decades. His descriptions,
as detailed as photographs, lay claim to the
terrain he knows so well, even as it becomes
the land of others. When he returns to a
hilltop near A’yn Qenya in Where the Line Is
Drawn, he discovers that the hill is now covered in the remnants of an illegal outpost,
Yad Yair, that had been dismantled because
the army would not protect it. Reaching
down to pick up an abandoned sign, Shehadeh has a panic attack. Shaking and trying
to breathe, he is overcome with a feeling
of defeat: “I realized that I could no longer
walk on this land without feeling that I was
crossing into forbidden territory.”
riting has allowed Shehadeh to
continue crossing into these territories, even as they become increasingly off-limits to him. His
books are maps, painstakingly
pieced together, of regions lost to senseless
division, to bad choices, and to lies. The
process of assembling them lets him know
where he stands. It also allows him to continue to practice sumud. Through them, he
can fill in the gaps in his own family history
and make whole the open landscapes of his
youth. He can revisit friendships damaged
by the occupation and affirm the connection
and proximity between Palestinians and
Israelis—as well as the need to approach
one another again with curiosity, patience,
and honesty.
His honesty toward himself is also unflinching. Shehadeh is 66 now, and in Where
the Line Is Drawn he is primarily taking stock
of his losses. Looking at himself in the mirror, he sees the impish face of a “rebel son”
replaced by that of an older man, lined by
tension and disappointment. Most of us
worry in middle age that we have wasted our
efforts, that our life’s work hasn’t amounted
to enough. But Shehadeh’s loss is particular
and staggering. “I am doomed to feeling
the need to justify my existence through
writing and speaking,” he admits, “while
assuming the burden of and responsibility
for the failure of all I see around me as if it
were my own.”
When it comes to his friend Henry,
Shehadeh is much more generous than he is
to himself. The two eventually reconnect,
and find a new forbearance born not of any
improvement in the political situation, but
of the passage of time and an awareness of
their own mortality. Shehadeh doesn’t want
to add their friendship to everything he’s
already lost. “Henry and I will continue to
disagree,” he writes. “I know there will be
more times when I feel disappointed with
him and he with me, and perhaps there
will be some anger. I was tempted to ask
him when we last met, ‘Now that you have
seen what Israel has become, do you ever
regret coming to live here?’ But this would
have been the wrong question to ask.…
[H]ow could someone who has built his entire life here feel that it was all a mistake?...
We cannot unpick our life or the history
of our nation.” After all, he adds, if Henry
Abramovitch hadn’t come to live in Israel,
the two would never have met.
December 18/25, 2017
The Nation.
Things were hardly rosier in the West, as
the presidency of Bill Clinton effectively
pushed American liberalism to the right of
Richard Nixon and Tony Blair brought the
Labour Party to the verge of Thatcherism.
As Traverso observes, “market and competition—the cornerstones of the neoliberal
lexicon—became the ‘natural’ foundations
of post-totalitarian societies.”
Whatever else it may have been, communism—as the French philosopher Jacques
Derrida pointed out—was an unprecedented worldwide social philosophy as well as
a political movement, and its failure left a
monumental void. Simultaneously, much
of the culture that emerged around communism and socialism evaporated. With
“the downfall of State Socialism,” Traverso
writes, “the entire history of communism
was reduced to its totalitarian dimension.”
The hegemony of global capitalism that
filled the vacuum may no longer seem as
eternal as it did even two years ago, but the
communist dream of a classless society feels
more distant than ever.
Enzo Traverso’s new book offers us a guide to the left that the 20th century left behind
an a symptom explain itself? Enzo
Traverso’s Left-Wing Melancholia is
both an example and an explication
of a particular condition, namely the
post-1989 red blues. An Italian-born
historian whose previous work has focused
on Europe’s bloody violence in the first half
of the 20th century, Traverso sets out in his
new book to diagnose the mourning that
he claims was produced by the collapse of
what was known by its defenders as “really
existing socialism.”
Like many other historians and scholars,
Traverso identifies 1989—the year that the
Berlin Wall fell—as the unexpected and
disruptive end of a particular historical
epoch. “After 1989,” Traverso writes, “we
became ‘spiritually rootless.’” All that was
solid melted into air. The East German
writer Christa Wolf had the uncanny sensation of being exiled from a country that no
J. Hoberman has written, co-written, or edited 14
books, including The Red Atlantis: Communist
Culture in the Absence of Communism and
Film After Film (Or, What Became of 21st
Century Cinema?).
Left-Wing Melancholia
Marxism, History, and Memory
By Enzo Traverso
Columbia University Press. 289 pp. $35
longer existed. More drastically, an entire
culture of communist dissidence—which
took much of its shape from what it opposed—was now stripped of its meaning.
Artifacts like Milan Kundera’s early novels,
Komar and Melamid’s parodies of Socialist
Realist paintings, and scores of movies had
become footnotes written in hieroglyphics.
The collapse of communism did also occasion a brief period of euphoria: The left
would now be released from the excesses of
its past. Some expected a new form of democratic socialism to arise. Others took solace
in declarations that the “end of history” was
at hand and that liberal democracy might
now prove universal. But by the mid-1990s,
almost all of these hopes proved to be illusory. Nationalist regimes came to power
in newly liberated Eastern Europe; civil war
ravaged the former Yugoslavia; the promise of even limited political democracy in
China was liquidated in Tiananmen Square.
f the short 20th century that Eric
Hobsbawm once called the “age of extremes” was bracketed by the messy
birth and inglorious death of the Soviet
project, the 21st century that began in
the early 1990s may be characterized by
a general pessimism regarding things to
come. The demise of communism in the
East more or less coincided with the decline
of a socioeconomic system in the West that
had empowered workers and led to a relative compression of income inequality. The
failure of really existing socialism tainted
the objectives of noncommunist socialism;
capitalist democracies lost their utopian
promise of shared prosperity on their own.
For Traverso, the Soviet implosion represented “the shipwreck of the hopes of a
century of emancipatory struggles.” But it
did not obliterate history’s dialectic. Even as
utopian imagination was buried beneath the
rubble of the Berlin Wall, a hidden leftist tradition was revealed: “a melancholic vision of
history as remembrance of the vanquished.”
Traverso is hardly the first writer to
address this malaise. The dust had barely
settled in Berlin before Derrida eulogized
the passing of communism in his 1993
Specters of Marx. A cottage industry of academic books soon followed, notably Susan
Buck-Morss’s Dreamworld and Catastrophe
(2000) and Charity Scribner’s Requiem for
Communism (2003). But though he closely
identifies with the mourning occasioned by
the left’s defeats, Traverso also finds in it a
December 18/25, 2017
kind of redemptive power.
Left-Wing Melancholia takes its title from
a 1931 essay by Walter Benjamin, in which
he excoriated a fashionable group of Weimar writers for a left-liberalism that he
believed was pitifully devoid of any corresponding action. Traverso, however, essentially stands Benjamin’s critique on its
head. Rather than attacking what Benjamin
called “the decayed bourgeoisie’s mimicry
of the proletariat,” he seeks to commemorate and dignify the vanquished. Traverso’s
left-wing melancholics (Benjamin among
them) are akin to Leonard Cohen’s “beautiful losers.” For them, the tragedies of the
past—the crushing of the Paris Commune,
the Kronstadt uprising, the Stalinist terror,
the civil war within the Spanish Civil War,
the liquidation of the Prague Spring—are “a
burden and a debt.”
These melancholics do not suffer from
the identity crisis that one West German
sociologist characterized in 1990 as “leftist mourning.” Nor are they dazed and
confused in the manner described by the
blunt, not altogether sarcastic title of Richard Foreman’s 2001 production, Now That
Communism Is Dead My Life Feels Empty! For
Traverso, their unhappy condition carries
the seeds of hope. Identifying melancholia
with an awareness of human limitation, he
cites Slavoj Žižek’s observation that the
melancholic is not mourning a loss so much
as recognizing a lack. It is not communism
as it was realized that is being mourned by
so many left-wing melancholics, but rather
communism as it was imagined and as it
never existed.
elancholia is Traverso’s heritage.
He was born in 1957 in Gavi,
the son of the north-Italian town’s
communist mayor. Traverso came
of age just as the New Left expired,
and matured during a decade that brought
the exhaustion of postwar anti-imperialism,
the horror of the Khmer Rouge killing
fields, the Iranian Revolution, the rise of
Thatcherism, and the presidency of Ronald
Reagan. All in all, it wasn’t a great time to
be on the left.
It was during the Big Chill of the 1980s,
Traverso argues, that utopian aspiration
began to fade. Historical victims supplanted
historical victories. The memory of the
October Revolution was eclipsed by that of
the gulag; World War II was defined less by
the defeat of fascism than by the Holocaust;
and centuries of anticolonial struggle were
overshadowed by the recollection of slavery.
The radiant future was overwhelmed not
The Nation.
only by the dismal present but by the ruinous past. It was, Traverso writes, as if the
commemoration of victims, isolated in their
victimhood, could not “coexist with the recollection of their hopes, of their struggles,
of their conquests and their defeats.”
In an interview with Alain Finkielkraut,
conducted in the early 1980s, former communist true believer Kundera characterized Marxism as an ideology that, having
failed “to explain the world in terms of
total rationality,” had become a form of
poetry: “It picked up a lyre and descended
into the irrational.” While Traverso may
not view Marxism exclusively in aesthetic
terms, Left-Wing Melancholia is nevertheless dedicated to resurrecting those theories, memoirs, yearnings, and epigrammatic
“thought-images” that help elaborate Marxism as a culture—or even a mythology—of
left-wing defeat.
For guidance in this allegorical terrain,
Traverso turns to the giants of 20th-century
critical thinking. His Virgils include German Jewish exiles like Siegfried Kracauer,
for whom melancholia was a form of posttraumatic healing, and Benjamin, who asserted that revolutionary movements were
“nourished by the image of enslaved ancestors rather than that of liberated grandchildren.” He also cites Sigmund Freud,
whose essay “Mourning and Melancholia”
surfaces several times in the book, and the
contemporary German historian Reinhart
Koselleck, who argued that, while history
may be written (at least in the short run) by
the victors, “historical gains in knowledge
stem in the long run from the vanquished.”
Beginning with a chapter on “Melancholy Images,” Traverso spends a considerable portion of his book on what might be
called the cinema of left-wing defeat. His
key example is the Italian director Luchino
Visconti’s 1948 La Terra Trema (The Earth
Trembles). A nearly three-hour epic, the
film—inspired in part by Visconti’s reading
of Gramsci—methodically chronicles the
failure of a Sicilian fisherman to establish a
cooperative in his impoverished village. Albeit made by a communist, La Terra Trema
is the opposite of a Soviet drama. The hero
does not inspire revolt; rather, as Traverso
notes, he loses everything.
Essentially digressive in structure—more
a set of linked essays than a straightforward
argument—Left-Wing Melancholia does not
lack for fascinating asides. The chapter “Bohemia: Between Melancholy and Revolution,” for example, seems to be the précis for
a book treating the artistic counterculture as
a political laboratory. Traverso here would
seem to revisit Benjamin’s essay “Paris: Capital of the 19th Century” to examine the
French metropolis as the meeting ground of
art and politics—reactionary as well as revolutionary—before going on to discuss the
relationship between déclassé intellectuals
like Marx, Trotsky, and Victor Serge and the
marginal milieus through which they passed.
A bit of counterfactual speculation appears at the end of another chapter, “Marxism and the West.” Traverso puts the German refugee Theodor Adorno and the
Trinidadian Trotskyist C.L.R. James in conversation, imagining these two close readers
of Marx and Hegel meeting for lunch in
New York sometime in the 1940s, under
the auspices of their mutual friend, Herbert
Marcuse. Given that Adorno failed to grasp
the significance of European colonialism,
Traverso acknowledges the likelihood that
he and James may have gotten together
“only to acknowledge their mutual dislike
and incomprehension.”
Traverso has his reasons for seizing upon
this missed opportunity. As in the Soviet bloc,
if in a totally different fashion, the Marxism
that remained prominent in the West during
the last quarter of the 20th century was less
a political form than a cultural one. For Traverso, “Western Marxism and Postcolonial
studies merged under the sign of defeat,” and
“their common field became the academy,
where critical thought found a haven, far
from the sound and the fury of the past century.” By reintroducing Adorno’s and James’s
ideas in tandem, Traverso suggests the possibility of a vital, newly relevant synthesis.
Traverso’s efforts to recuperate left-wing
losses are not entirely successful, yet he
does offer us another way to look through
the lens of melancholy: Bluntly put, the
struggle is its own reward. Traverso twice
invokes Gramsci’s assertion that continued
struggle is the left’s only surety—and he
believes that this more pragmatic approach
to the left means retaining much of our
memory of the past.
hese days, Traverso’s gloomy assertion of liberalism’s triumph—“never,
since the Reformation, had a single
ideology established such a persuasive, global hegemony”—might seem
a bit dated. There are signs of a newly invigorated socialist left emerging—though it is
perhaps also worth pointing out that Jeremy
Corbyn, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and Bernie
Sanders are themselves beautiful losers—
but the most potent current alternatives to
post–Cold War consensus, at least for now,
appear to be populist xenophobia, authori-
On Revelations, Shamir trades the glitz and brashness of
his early work for a more ruminative and uncertain sound
xistential angst gets anthems; generational anxieties get an entirely new
sound. In American music, there’s a
long, rich history of both: from the
scratchy Paramount 78s reinventing
American recorded music to capture the
bluesy gestalt and underlying racial tensions of the late 1910s, to the wild, druggy
peace-rock of the Vietnam War era, which
provided the soundtrack to a massive youth
uprising. The late 1980s and early 1990s
got Kurt Cobain for its angst, but it had to
return to rap to describe its political discontents. The era would eventually become
a golden age for political hip-hop, when
acts like Public Enemy, KRS-One, A Tribe
Called Quest, and N.W.A were on the rise.
As the Chuck D quote goes, rap is black
America’s CNN, and what its creators saw
on the streets moved them enough to want
to report on it in their work.
As the platforms for music proliferated and fractured in the 2000s, with more
Bijan Stephen writes for The New Yorker, the New
Republic, and Esquire, among other publications.
Father/Daughter Records. 31:00. $12
ways to get noticed yet less attention to go
around, it’s been harder to keep up with exactly how today’s culture is working out its
issues. But in an increasingly unequal world,
more and more musicians appear to be
responding to the pressures that economic
injustice creates. From St. Vincent to Vince
Staples, we see a common generational anxiety: We are all coming undone in a society
that makes it hard to make ends meet. After
all, an era’s musicians are representatives of
its id, capturing the uncertainties roiling
just beneath the surface.
Shamir Bailey is a striking example: He
sprang, fully formed, from the shimmering
desert-heat mirage of Las Vegas, with that
beautiful, improbable countertenor, singing
his vulnerability. As the story goes, Bailey
graduated high school, then went mononymous and sent a demo to Godmode records
in Brooklyn. Nick Sylvester, the label’s
head, signed him immediately. Their first
tarian kleptocracy, illiberal democracy, and
varying degrees of theocratic fanaticism.
Traverso further notes that the absence
of communism facilitated the rise of another
kind of nostalgia, namely that of the ethnonationalist right. “The past,” he laments,
“is revisited almost exclusively through the
prism of nationalism.” This nationalism—
here, there, and everywhere—is not simply
the rejection of Soviet communism; it is also
the near antithesis of the post–Cold War era’s
liberal cosmopolitanism. In a remarkable reversal of the future-oriented traditions that
dominated much of the 20th century, the 21st
century seems to be marching forward into a
utopian past: Rather than project themselves
into a neoliberal paradise to come, the liberated nations of Central and Eastern Europe
are obsessed with their purloined history—
museums that enshrine their suffering at the
hands of their red and Russian oppressors
have sprouted throughout the former Soviet bloc—and visions of a glorious national
heritage are central to right-wing politics in
Western Europe as well as the United States.
Traverso has no concrete answers, but
Left-Wing Melancholia does offer solace,
even some sites of possibility. A melancholic film like La Terra Trema may have
appeared at more or less the moment when
the Cold War effectively stymied the aspirations of the anti-fascist Italian Communist Party—and though today it’s regarded
as arguably the greatest of the neorealist
films made in this period, it was initially
greeted at the 1948 Venice Film Festival
with boos, catcalls, and other expressions
of disapproval. Nevertheless, it embodied
radical utopian hope. Visconti’s nonprofessional cast more or less played versions of
themselves, speaking in their own dialect,
and were thus empowered to experience
themselves collectively as historical actors.
Thanks to Visconti’s mise-en-scène, these
impoverished villagers appear as almost
mythological heroes—as figures who might
transcend the constraints of their moment,
despite being left with nothing, save the
struggle, at the movie’s end.
To dramatize or even conceive such a
scenario is, in some way, to live it. La Terra
Trema used a catastrophic setback as a way
to demonstrate the possibility of change.
Likewise, Traverso invokes the mourning
of the previous century as a way for us to
illuminate our own path. Just because communism failed in the 20th century, Traverso
argues, doesn’t mean that it—or some other
form of egalitarian society—cannot be accomplished in the 21st. The yearning for
utopian hope springs eternal.
December 18/25, 2017
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collaboration resulted in 2014’s Northtown
EP, named for the neighborhood where
Shamir grew up, and critics were cautiously
optimistic—and after Ratchet, his first fulllength album, came out on XL Records the
following year, they were convinced. Ratchet
was a dancy, R&B-inflected romp through
glitter-spattered soul-baring. “I’m holding
on desperately / But you know they always
will / Go in for the kill,” Shamir sang on
“In for the Kill.” And yet two years and two
albums later, critics seem to have cooled
on the young star in the making with the
impossible voice. So what gives?
The short answer is that Shamir left
Godmode and Sylvester’s production, and
then was dropped from XL’s roster, and
somewhere in the process changed his
sound entirely: Hope, his second full-length,
which was released directly to SoundCloud
last year, was a lo-fi bedroom-rock experiment that, in Pitchfork’s words, represented
“the fear of the sophomore album realized
as music.” The longer answer might be
that Shamir decided to plot another course
entirely, finding a sound that was wholly
his own: After he was dropped by XL, he
struggled with mental-health issues and
considered quitting music entirely. Hope
came about as an effort to cope.
Which is why his latest effort, Revelations, feels so revelatory. It delivers on Hope’s
promise: The album is lo-fi, yes, but more
sylphlike and tender than his previous work.
It is also more assured. There’s a clumsiness
to the production that’s endearing, which
makes it feel like being inside Shamir’s head:
Everything is stripped down and pared
back, and his voice does the heavy lifting,
carrying the catchy melodies that are his
Yet what’s most revealing in Revelations is
not its sound but its words. Its lyrics reflect
the ambitious task that Shamir has set for
himself: to be a conduit for his generation’s
December 18/25, 2017
The Nation.
desires, its hopes and dreams and secret
fears. “90’s Kids,” one of the album’s standout tracks, begins like this:
We talk with vocal fry
We watch our futures die
(90’s kids, 90’s kids)
In debt before we slave
But mom just thinks we rave
(90’s kids, 90’s kids)
And Shamir continues in this vein. Appearances seem to clash with material reality, although there’s really no contradiction:
It’s possible to both talk with vocal fry and
fear for your future, just as it’s possible to attend raves while sinking further and further
into debt. Not acknowledging that struggle
and joy can coexist, however, is frustrating.
So put a drink in the air
For the college girls and boys
Paralyzing anxiety
Is just a chore...
Well our parents say we’re dramatic
But they always ask for more
Than we do
So fuck you
We out here strugglin’.
Can someone tell me why
I always seem to let these
Straight boys ruin my life?
I guess I’m just too nice
Clearly, there’s a message that Shamir is
trying to send. It’s the same one that many of
his peers have been trying to convey to their
elders: Mom, Dad, the kids ain’t alright. While
every case is different, the math is basically
the same: When young people come of economic and political age, they are faced with
the twin revelations that they will a) work
until they die and b) have to do more for
less, and more with less. The frankly insane
levels of economic inequality in this country
ensure that its young can’t imagine a future
that perpetuates the present state of affairs.
It’s what’s responsible for the upsurge of
interest in socialism among young people
across America and the world, and it’s at the
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heart of many of the protest movements that
have emerged since the financial disaster of
2008—because what is the left if not a set
of politics that imagines a better future? In
Revelations, Shamir has added himself to the
growing chorus of millennial Cassandras.
Although the personal is political, emotions aren’t necessarily so. On this latest
album, Shamir also tackles the problem of
being young today, which means working
through the trickle-down anxiety that follows from our generation’s economic situation. It often warps relationships. Our hyperquantified digital lives—which are as real as
our IRL ones, because there’s no way to separate them and still participate in society—
mean that regular relationship anxieties (“Do
they like me, too?”) are also seen through the
prism of “Can I get by?” If your crush doesn’t
like your latest selfie, what does that say about
how others might feel? On “Straight Boy,”
Revelations’ final song, Shamir captures these
anxieties as well, singing:
“Straight Boy” offers the emotional corollary to “90’s Kids”: One does the work
of playing out our angst through a rock
anthem; the other captures our times by
helping to innovate a new sound. That’s
no coincidence, because our economic uncertainties play into our emotional ones. In
“Cloudy,” we find Shamir musing on confidence, and in “Blooming,” on strength.
Loving yourself in an age of anxiety can be
a radical act; finding joy there can be, too.
On Revelations, we glimpse a slightly
older Shamir, one who’s ready to shuck off
the glitz and brashness of pop. He’s leaving
behind the sounds of his early music and
stepping into a new future—the one that
our generation will make together.
ACROSS 1 anag. 9 CHA[t] + GRIN
12 S + UPERIOR (our ripe anag.)
14 anag. 16 final letters 17 ALI + AS
(&lit.) 18 L(YRIC)ISTS (I cry anag.)
25 CUL(PRI)T 26 AN + TH[r]ILL
27 anag.
DOWN 1 SU(C + C)ES + S 2 “praise”
3 letter bank 4 rev. 5 OUT NUMBERS
6 anag. 7 “Jew, Belize” 8 REGRE[e]T
13 T + W + ELVES + TEP (rev.)
15 I + NITIALS (is Latin anag.) 16 anag.
17 A(F + FE)CT 19 SC(HOL[d])AR
21 rev. 23 A MISS 24 2 defs.
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The Nation.
December 18/25, 2017
Puzzle No. 3450
has asked its staff and online community to help
it choose a Place of the Year. Past winners have been
as varied as our lost ninth planet, Pluto, and the host
of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, South Africa. This year,
each of the four places on the short list was important
for its own reason, but one stood out among them.
Complete the crossword puzzle and unscramble the
letters in the shaded boxes to spell out the chosen
2017 Oxford Place of the Year.
ne Across answer in each row must be altered
to fit in the grid, forming an unclued entry
in one of two related categories. When the grid is
filled, the circled letters, read left to right, will say
where these new diagram entries appear, ultimately.
Enumerations for the Across entries are withheld;
Down entries are normal. Good luck!
1 Cushion stuffed with long-processed grain
1 Contest mediocre grade in algebra, e.g. (5)
5 Sensual messenger, perhaps, in Berkeley
2 Quantity obtained from a horse (6)
10 Greek letter on back of napkin—it might be double
3 Meat is 29, lacking limits (4)
11 Resting places with a turkey? Nonsense
4 Thanks poet for archaic garment (6)
12 Bird went into the water
5 Spells “scorch” and “manuscript” (6)
13 Young animal is oddly chubby
6 Assistant’s crazy idea (4)
14 Chief of police to agent: “A passport could be
settled in advance”
7 Marine beginning to nudge molten rock uphill (5)
16 Digital storage in retrograde medium, or…
8 Game is ruined when some people are discriminated
against (6)
18 …alternatively, Michael’s electronic holdings
9 Aristocrat is mostly amusing in retreat (4)
20 Carefully examine sexy man at gym
15 Chemical element (copper) I stored in alcohol (6)
21 Small beer transaction
17 Consumed with school in England, we hear (5)
23 For each sound made by a cat, loudly…
19 Boo-boos are found covering sailor’s back (6)
27 …suspicious stare is something shocking
20 Poles in boxes (5)
29 Inside of café, anger is burning
22 Caterpillar? Varmint, somewhat! (5)
30 Saucy dog, for example, swallows part of rug
24 Author and university elevated knight (4)
31 Die in peace, drained of energy
25 Kill animal specialist at rear of zoo (4)
32 Opening an old five-and-ten, surprisingly
26 Above a river dividing many countries… (4)
33 Muscleman returned no strong tennis stroke,
lacking height
28 …a way to get power from water without a dam (4)
34 Press down headgear softly
The solution to last week’s puzzle is on page 36.
Журналы и газеты
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The Nation, journal
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