Tag Archives: activism

‘We Have to Resist’: A Conversation with Rebecca Solnit

Cody Delistraty | Longreads | December 2016 | 10 minutes (2,632 words)


It is difficult to define Rebecca Solnit. Is she an historian, a cultural theorist, a journalist, an activist? She cites reserved intellectuals like John Berger and Lawrence Weschler as influences, and she is also on the front lines of protest: she was an outspoken proponent of Occupy Wall Street; she was in Standing Rock, at the Dakota Access Pipeline, where protestors recently gained an unexpected victory; and she co-founded the Stop Trump project, which ideologically resists the U.S. President-Elect while uncovering the potential malfeasance that led to his election in the first place.

Born in Connecticut and educated at San Francisco State University and U.C. Berkeley, the 55-year-old has been an independent writer living in northern California since 1988. She’s authored seventeen books, ranging in topic from art to politics to geography to community to feminism. She won the Lannan Literary Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and she’s currently a contributing editor at Harper’s, where she writes the bimonthly Easy Chair column.

Her essay “Hope in the Dark,” which she gave away as a free ebook after Trump was elected, was written twelve years ago as an instructive piece on what went wrong with the Iraq War protests. Its relevance resurged after Trump was elected.

I spoke with Solnit about reclaiming the notion that political protest works, understanding the role of hope, the lessons of Hilary Clinton’s defeat, not ceding resistance, and whether Trump was even elected president at all.

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‘A Taste of Power’: The Woman Who Led the Black Panther Party

Elaine Brown | A Taste of Power, Pantheon | 1992 | 30 minutes (7,440 words)


Elaine Brown is an American prison activist, writer, lecturer and singer. In 1968, she joined the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party as a rank-and-file member. Six years later, Huey Newton appointed her to lead the Party when he went into exile in Cuba. She was the first and only woman to lead the male-dominated Party.  She is author of A Taste of Power (Pantheon, 1992) and The Condemnation of Little B (Beacon Press, 2002)She is also the Executive Director of the Michael Lewis Legal Defense Committee and CEO of the newly-formed non-profit organization Oakland & the World Enterprises, Inc.

Her 1992 autobiography A Taste of Power is a story of what it means to be a black woman in America, tracing her life from a lonely girlhood in the ghettos of North Philadelphia to the highest levels of the Black Panther Party’s hierarchy. The Los Angeles Times described the book as “a profound, funny and…heartbreaking American story,” and the New York Times called it “chilling, well written and profoundly entertaining.” Our thanks to Brown for allowing us to reprint this excerpt here. Read more…

How Mardi Gras Helped Make Mahalia Jackson a Political Activist

Gospel music legend and pioneer Mahalia Jackson is often associated with Chicago, where she moved as a teenager and rose to prominence, but her roots are in New Orleans. It’s there that the “Queen of Gospel” was born, and raised in a “shotgun shack of a New Orleans house,” a three-room dwelling that housed thirteen people and a dog. Her Crescent City childhood also helped shape Jackson’s political consciousness. Below is a short excerpt from “On Conjuring Mahalia: Mahalia Jackson, New Orleans, and the Sanctified Swing,” an article by Johari Jabir that appeared in American Quarterly in September 2009 (registration required):

Mahalia Jackson’s political activism during the civil rights movement was directly informed by her observance of the racism of the pleasure industry associated with New Orleans:

I never did like the world-famous Mardi Gras that went on in New Orleans. It was a beautiful sight, but to me it was horrible. I have seen so many people hurt on that particular day . . . The white people would celebrate their Mardi Gras with big and expensive floats that went down the main part of Canal Street, which were very beautiful and high class . . . But for my people, for them it would be such a tragedy. If one of the tribes demanded that another “take low,” you know, bow to them, they’d kill each other and nobody was punished! The State, the law never did anything about the killings.

Note: the indented section above is from Jules Schwerin’s book Got to Tell It, as quoted by Jabir in his essay.

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Wild Country: Remembering Edward Abbey

The author and environmental activist Edward Abbey, who passed away in 1989, would have been 88 today. Abbey—who Larry McMurtry dubbed “the Thoreau of the American West”—was known for his searing love of wilderness, particularly the deserts of the Southwest, and his progressive views. An excerpt from Desert Solitaire, his most famous non-fiction work, can be found here.

According to the historian Douglas Brinkley, “Abbey’s motto came from Walt Whitman—’resist much, obey little’–and he was delighted that everyone from the FBI to the Sierra Club derided him as a ‘Desert Anarchist.'” Below is an excerpt from a 2004 Outside magazine piece titled “Chasing Abbey,” written by Abbey’s close friend and fellow author and outdoorsman Doug Peacock:

By the time Ed died at age 62, he was renowned, the author of 20 books, including Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang, whose protagonist, George Washington Hayduke, was a former Green Beret medic who greatly resembled myself. Published in 1975, The Monkey Wrench Gang sold half a million copies, and the character of Hayduke became famous in a lowbrow sort of way. This was hardly an endorsement of excellence, nor was it flattery of any kind; Hayduke was a one-dimensional dolt. To the extent that I was seduced by the hype, it placed enormous strain on my friendship with Ed, which from the start carried the imbalance of paternalism.

I met Ed in the winter of 1969 at the home of a mutual friend, the writer William Eastlake; we talked about mountain lions. He was very funny, yet there was a stubborn finality to his judgments, which tended to be misanthropic toward adults and gentle toward children. Like myself, Ed had little use for religion of any variety, but he nevertheless believed there were observable guidelines for living, an accessible wisdom that resided in the land. He called the Taoist philosopher Chuang-tzu — who viewed government as deadly not only to mankind but all of creation — the first anarchist.

It was the love of wild country, and the need to protect it, that brought us together and kept us together through the two bumpy decades of our friendship. Ed, who was 15 years older, became a guide in my life, introducing me to some of America’s greatest desert spots, and I tried to return the favor. After I began to closely study the biology and sociology of grizzly bears in the midseventies, Ed and I made many trips to Glacier National Park in the hope that he would spot a bear. He traveled to Alaska and the Arctic but was fated never to lay eyes on one. To the end, Ed called the silver-tipped bear “the alleged grizzly.”

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‘Quebrado’: The Life and Death of a Young Activist

Jeff Sharlet | Sweet Heaven When I Die, W. W. Norton & Company | Aug 2011 | 37 minutes (9,133 words)


Our latest Longreads Member Pick is “Quebrado,” by Jeff Sharlet, a professor at Dartmouth, contributing editor for Rolling Stone and bestselling author. The story was first published in Rolling Stone in 2008 and is featured in Sharlet’s book Sweet Heaven When I Die. Thanks to Sharlet for sharing it with the Longreads community. Read more…