Friday, September 02, 2011 5:04 PM
“The main thing would be films: riveting, fascinating, beautiful, controversial. For one afternoon a week, we would watch great movies, then talk about them. I’m hypnotized by movies, utterly rapt, even when they are bad. I would allow myself to project this far, to imagine that at least some of the students are like me, happy to escape for a few hours from their current situation.”
So goes Ann Snitow’s terrific essay in Dissent (Summer 2011), about her opportunity to teach 14 films to medium-security prisoners—men who have committed armed robbery or murder, but who were carefully selected by the college selection board from the penitentiary’s 900-some inmates as the most cooperative and promising:
The room is much too bright to show films. (“Can I darken the room?” “Of course not!” “Can I cluster the chairs close together around the monitor?” “Of course not!”)[…]
The twelve men filter in. As far as I can tell, the class is eleven African Americans and one Hispanic, ranging in age from thirty to fifty. They are friendly, a few elaborately polite and happy to help sort out the mess, set up chairs. They are used to this level of chaos, both patient and gracious.
Snitow, a longtime feminist activist, tailors the course around the themes of childhood, manhood, and womanhood. Crooklyn, The Hurt Locker, and Thelma & Louise make it into the final cut, along with other provocative films addressing everything from immigration and abortion to nostalgia and joy. The students ask and explore compelling questions: Is it OK to break the law to do the right thing? Is part of the dream of heroism making your own rules? Is violence human nature? Does heroism look different when women do it?
Snitow reveals the major missteps she makes—like when she calls out a student publicly for having plagiarized and then realizes she may be jeopardizing his upcoming parole—as well as her true victories. A Harvey Milk documentary leads to a heated discussion of the word faggot, after which one of the students—“the dignified and usually silent David”—stops by privately to comment on Snitow showing the film: “I’m gay and you can see what hell it is in here. Thank you.”
Ultimately, Snitow hopes that the films will chip away at the hard-edged visions her students have formed of what it is to be a man:
I know that all this [class discussion] is unlikely to make a dent in the essentialist views of manhood and womanhood that often seem to prevail in the room. But these are belief systems with big cracks in them. Elijah, Harry, David, and Phillip have been working on themselves for a long time, self-consciously cultivating inner calm and wisdom. A different idea about manhood might be a lifeline. Who knows? Since they are near the end of their terms, the question of how to be a free adult outside (and how to avoid returning here) is in the air every minute. In a long teaching life, I have rarely encountered students with such intense motivation.
Image by daniellekellogg,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 05, 2011 4:14 PM
Anyone who has ever had the yearning to vote for an alternative, independent, and progressive third party candidate only to cave in the voting booth and vote Democrat—haunted by voices saying, “You’d be throwing your vote away”—must surely be asking these days, “What if?” After seeing what just a few elected officials can do to the whole political process, each and every one of them has to be saying, “If only we’d voted with our hearts.” After all, as Kevin Drum points out at Mother Jones, “So who was driving the absolutist view in Congress over the past few months? If it was the no-compromise wing of the tea party, that's less than 10% of the country.”
Less than ten percent. No doubt, at some point in the last few decades all those people wishing they could break out of the tired two-party system and vote for a truly progressive-minded candidate could have reached a number in Congress that could rival the number of Tea Partiers taking the country hostage now. What then? What would this country look like had we known that so few could do so much? We’ll never know.
Still, if we must try and find a silver lining in this nobody-wins model of government, maybe it’s this: It turns out we might not being throwing our vote away if we vote more progressively than we previously thought possible. Or, at the very least, form a political base with some teeth, able to make Democrats believe they may be ousted for a more progressive candidate if they continue to woo the Almighty Independent Vote in lieu of actual liberal ideals. This is the conclusion behind recent articles in Dissent and Change-Links.
In “Stopping Obama’s Next Betrayal” Mark Engler has little time for debating whether or not Obama is a true liberal or a centrist. Such discussions don’t “lead very far in terms of suggesting a political response,” Engler writes. Obama is what he is and, no matter what else you say about his administration, it will listen to opposing sides. The problem, according to Engler, is that progressive movements aren’t doing their part in making the president or Congress work for them.
Obama is willing to compromise and cave because progressive movements are not strong enough to enforce discipline among politicians. Nor are they strong enough to consistently outweigh corporate influences within the Democratic Party….
Until a vocal, dedicated, progressive grassroots, taking a page from the Tea Party, can show that it’s far more effective to reposition the center of the debate than it is to forever triangulate in hopes of appealing to “independents,“ Democratic politicians will continue to do the latter.
Similarly Shamus Cooke, in “The Rich are Destroying the Economy,” calls for a strong, organized movement to make politicians respond to progressive ideals, though he is suspect of Democrats being willing or able to rise to the task:
Organized labor needs to bring masses of people in the street all over the country in order to get attention and pressure the government to respond to these demands. And it can succeed, especially if it organizes a serious, protracted campaign and especially if this campaign does not get funneled into supporting Democratic candidates, the surest way to kill campaign momentum.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently spoke in favor of a strong, independent labor movement. This is the direction it must take, rather than relying on the Democrats. The labor movement must get its act together, unite to put up a fight and demand specific policies that can concretely address the crisis faced by millions of working people.
So, the silver lining is that maybe we aren’t really stuck with a two-party system. Maybe we wouldn’t be throwing our votes away if we voted the way we actually wanted to vote. At the very least, we’re (oddly) reminded by the Tea Party of what Margaret Mead said about a small group of committed citizens changing the world. (Though she did also use the word “thoughtful.”) That said, if there’s gridlock now in DC, can you imagine what it would be like if the left side of the aisle was actually full of progressive politicians bent on staying true to their ideals instead of caving for the “betterment” of the country?
Source: Dissent, Change-Link, Mother Jones
Image by Image Editor, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, May 03, 2011 1:52 PM
Our library contains 1,300 publications—a feast of magazines, journals, alt-weeklies, newsletters, and zines—and every year, we honor the stars in our Utne Independent Press Awards. We’ll announce this year’s winners on Wednesday, May 18, at the
MPA’s Independent Magazine Group conference
in San Francisco. From now until then, we’ll post the nominees in all of the categories on our blogs. Below you’ll find the nominees for the best political coverage, with a short introduction to each. These magazines are literally what Utne Reader is made of. Though we celebrate the alternative press every day and with each issue, once a year we praise those who have done an exceptional job.
The American Conservative
was founded in 2002 as a counterweight to the neocon fervor of the George W. Bush presidency, espousing what it calls “traditional conservatism.” Opening it is like a trip to a parallel universe where right-leaning thinkers can be against war, imperialism, and civil liberties abuses, even while espousing many tenets of social and fiscal conservatism.
The American Prospect
reports on the day’s most essential issues, from immigration to workers’ rights, privacy to prison reform. By combining thorough reportage with deep analysis, it provides progressives with the intellectual and inspirational tools to engage in transformative politics and policy.
A dark horse among its peers, Dissentsubverts politics-as-usual with a cogent blend of rigorous intellectualism and snarky radicalism. Eschewing partisan ideologies, this insightful quarterly never fails to “dissent from the bleak atmosphere of conformism that pervades the political and intellectual life in the United States.”
Bureaucratic crooks and market-wrangling fat cats, beware. You’re under surveillance by the unblinking (and unsympathetic) eye of In These Times. A tireless champion of the oppressed, forgotten, and ignored, the progressive magazine combines meticulous reporting, fierce cultural criticism, rock star writers, and staunch independence.
Since 1976, the folks behind the investigative nonprofit Mother Jones have relentlessly and reliably delivered “smart, fearless journalism,” transcending political spin to unearth stories on everything from global climate change to torturous foreign policy decisions on both sides of the aisle.
A vital progressive voice for nearly 150 years, The Nationweighs in weekly on politics, arts, and culture via vivid features, incisive reviews, and convention-busting commentary. By bucking the trend toward the slick and the glossy, The Nation helps to keep politics real.
The influential, debate-fueling biweekly The New Republic chooses tough critical thinking over easy dogma, encouraging its writers (and readers) to be critical not just of their right-wing foes but also of their fellow liberals. In a political landscape full of bluster, TNR’s cool rigor holds sway.
is more than 100 years old, but this bastion of the liberal press is full of fresh energy and up-to-the-minute currency. Publishing analysis and reporting from leading thinkers, it never loses sight of the people behind the issues it covers.
our complete list of 2011 nominees
Tuesday, April 14, 2009 5:18 PM
Social entrepreneurs around the world have begun promoting a new kind of philanthropy, Alix Rule writes for Dissent. Social good has become the buzzword of today’s philanthropists, based on advanced “metrics” and “sophisticated techniques” designed for maximum “efficacy and effectiveness.” Philanthropy, according to Rule, is philosophically intertwining with business, and good is being reduced to a kind of currency.
This trend is troubling if not dishonest, writes Rule. There is a near total disregard in this money-as-good philosophy for collectivity and public discourse. It focuses instead on individuals and what they can return for the investors. The recent trend toward corporations accepting responsibility for their actions is undoubtedly a good thing, and the new philanthropists have produced some impressive results, but mixing the goals of philanthropists with the profit-seeking motives of business is not a good long-term strategy for creating a more just world.
For more on rethinking charity in today’s economic crisis, read Giving When It Hurts from the March-April issue of Utne Reader.
Source: Dissent (Subscription required)
Thursday, October 18, 2007 12:00 AM
In honor of Doris Lessing’s Nobel Prize in Literature, Dissent pulled a 2004 essay by Jo-Ann Mort from their archives about Lessing’s 1962 landmark novel, The Golden Notebook. Mort argues for the book's political and feminist relevance nearly a half-century after it was first published.As gallons of fresh ink are spilled about Lessing, it's perhaps more illuminating to read an essay about her work untouched by her new Nobel status.—Eric Kelsey
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