Books for the Inauguration

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase a half dozen of our political science titles in honor of the inauguration.

We recommend Good Reasons to Run, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele, about women and political candidacy, because Kamala Harris became the first female vice president.

The editors and contributors to Good Reasons to Run, a mix of scholars and practitioners, examine the reasons why women run—and do not run—for political office. They focus on the opportunities, policies, and structures that promote women’s candidacies. How do nonprofits help recruit and finance women as candidates? And what role does money play in women’s campaigns?

We recommend The Great Migration and the Democratic Party, by Keneshia Grant, because it shows the political impact of Black migration on politics. (Grant focuses on three northern cities from 1915 to 1965)

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party frames the Great Migration as an important economic and social event that also had serious political consequences. Keneshia Grant created one of the first listings of Black elected officials that classifies them based on their status as participants in the Great Migration. She also describes some of the policy/political concerns of the migrants. Grant lays the groundwork for ways of thinking about the contemporary impact of Black migration on American politics.

We recommend We Decide! by Michael Menser for its investigation of and insights regarding participatory democracy.

We Decide! draws on liberal, feminist, anarchist, and environmental justice philosophies as well as in-depth case studies of Spanish factory workers, Japanese housewives, and Brazilian socialists to show that participatory democracy actually works. Menser concludes his study by presenting a reconstructed version of the state that is shaped not by corporations but by inclusive communities driven by municipal workers, elected officials, and ordinary citizens working together. In this era of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, the participatory democracy proposed in We Decide! is more significant than ever.

We recommend Democratic Theorizing from the Margins, by Marla Brettschneider, for its clear account of the lessons and theories of democratic culture

Democratic Theorizing from the Margins lays out the basic parameters of diversity-based politics as a still emerging form of democratic theory. Students, activists, and scholars engage in diversity politics on the ground, but generally remain unable to conceptualize a broad understanding of how “politics from the margins”—that is, political thinking and action that comes from groups often left on the outside of mainstream organizing and action—operate effectively in different contexts and environments. Brettschneider offers concrete lessons from many movements to see what they tell us about a new sort of democratic politics. She also addresses traditional democratic theories and draws on the myriad discerning practices employed by marginalized groups in their political activism to enhance the critical capacities of potential movements committed both to social change and democratic action.

We recommend Rude Democracy, by Susan Herbst, about how civility and incivility are strategic weapons on the state of American democracy, given how polarized our country has become.

Democracy is, by its very nature, often rude. But there are limits to how uncivil we should be. In the 2010 edition of Rude Democracy, Susan Herbst explored the ways we discuss public policy, how we treat each other as we do, and how we can create a more civil national culture. She used the examples of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama to illustrate her case. She also examined how young people come to form their own attitudes about civility and political argument. In a new preface for this 2020 paperback edition, the author connects her book to our current highly contentious politics and what it means for the future of democratic argument.

And we encourage readers to look for our forthcoming (in March) title, Furthering Fair Housing, edited by Justin P. Steil, Nicholas F. Kelly, Lawrence J. Vale, and Maia S. Woluchem. This book analyzes federal policy to advance racial equity in housing and neighborhoods.

Furthering Fair Housing analyzes multiple dimensions of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule, which was the most significant federal effort to increase equality of access to place-based resources and opportunities, such as high-performing schools or access to jobs, since the 1968 Fair Housing Act. The editors and contributors to this volume identify failures of past efforts to increase housing choice, explore how the AFFH Rule was crafted, measure the initial effects of the rule before its rescission, and examine its interaction with other contemporary housing issues, such as affordability, gentrification, anti-displacement, and zoning policies.

Books that honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

This week, in North Philly Notes, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, we focus our attention on our books, new and old, that speak to a dedication to civil rights and human struggles.


Philadelphia Freedoms: Black American Trauma, Memory, and Culture after King, by Michael Awkward captures the disputes over the meanings of racial politics and black identity during the post-King era in the City of Brotherly Love. Looking closely at four cultural moments, he shows how racial trauma and his native city’s history have been entwined. Awkward introduces each of these moments with poignant personal memories of the decade in focus, chronicling the representation of African American freedom and oppression from the 1960s to the 1990s.

Jesus, Jobs, and Justice: African American Women and Religion by Bettye Collier-Thomas, is a groundbreaking book that provides a remarkable account of the religious faith, social and political activism, and the extraordinary resilience of Black women during the centuries of American growth and change. As co-creators of churches, women were a central factor in their development and as Collier-Thomas skillfully shows, Black church women created national organizations to fight for civil rights and combat discrimination.


God Is Change: Religious Practices and Ideologies in the Works of Octavia Butler, edited by Aparajita Nanda and Shelby L. Crosby (forthcoming in June) examines Octavia Butler’s religious imagination and its potential for healing and liberation. In her work, Butler explored, critiqued, and created religious ideology. But religion, for Butler, need not be a restricting force. The editors of and contributors to God Is Change heighten our appreciation for the range and depth of Butler’s thinking about spirituality and religion, as well as how Butler’s work—especially her Parable and Xenogenesis series—offers resources for healing and community building.

The African American Jeremiad: Appeals for Justice in America, by David Howard-Pitney, shows that Black leaders have employed the jeremiad, a verbal tradition of protest and social prophecy, in a way that is specifically African American. David Howard-Pitney examines the jeremiads of Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. DuBois, Mary McLeod Bethune, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, as well as more contemporary figures such as Jesse Jackson and Alan Keyes. This revised and expanded edition demonstrates that the African American jeremiad is still vibrant, serving as a barometer of faith in America’s perfectibility and hope for social justice.

Healing Our Divided Society: Investing in America Fifty Years after the Kerner Report, edited by Fred Harris and Alan Curtis examines inequality in America. The 1968 Kerner Commission concluded that America was heading toward “two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” In Healing Our Divided Society, Fred Harris, the last surviving member of the Kerner Commission, along with Eisenhower Foundation CEO Alan Curtis, re-examine fifty years later the work still necessary towards the goals set forth in The Kerner Report. Reflecting on America’s urban climate today, this new report sets forth evidence-based policies concerning employment, education, housing, neighborhood development, and criminal justice based on what has been proven to work—and not work.

Who Will Speak for America? edited by Stephanie Feldman and Nathaniel Popkin, collects passionate and justifiably angry voices providing a literary response to today’s political crisis. Inspired by and drawing from the work of writers who participated in nationwide Writers Resist events in January 2017, this volume provides a collection of poems, stories, essays, and cartoons that wrestle with the meaning of America and American identity. Who Will Speak for America? inspires readers by emphasizing the power of patience, organizing, resilience and community. These moving works advance the conversation the American colonists began, and that generations of activists, in their efforts to perfect our union, have elevated and amplified.

Behind the scenes with Chia Youyee Vang and Pao Yang

This week in North Philly Notes, we post a Q&A, conducted in December 2020, between author Chia Youyee Vang and Pao Yang, the subject of her book Prisoner of Wars, which chronicles the Hmong Fighter Pilot’s experiences during the Secret War in Laos.

Chia: Many people have asked me how I came to work with you on this book. I usually tell them that as a historian who relies on oral history to tell stories of ordinary people, I found your life experiences to be unique and that what you and your family went through contributes to the larger history of the Vietnam War and the Secret War of Laos. Why did you decide to share your story after all these years?

Pao: Well, I should first say thank you for the seven years that you spent on it. If I had not been on this journey with you, I never would have understood how much work goes into making something like this happen. I’m really pleased that you didn’t give up, and I’m most pleased that I’m still here to have this conversation with you. I’m getting older so there have been a few times since we first met in 2013 that I wasn’t sure I’d live to see this book.

To answer your question, some people in the Hmong community and other Americans have heard about my POW experience. As a matter of fact, students and a few American writers have wanted to write my story but they didn’t follow through. When you came to interview me, and then returned a few more times to listen to what I had to say, I felt that you were different. You asked me a lot of questions and you listened to what I had to say. In trying to answer your questions, I started to reflect more about what happened to me. For so long, I felt that war is not good because nobody really wins. I survived, so I just need to keep living. You helped me to better understand not just what happened, but why some things turned out the way they did. That’s what motivated me to share my life experiences.

Chia: I have interviewed many veterans and I have certainly heard a lot of compelling stories. One of the reasons why I found your story so important to share is that you are the only Hmong pilot veteran from the Vietnam War era who was shot down, survived, and spent time in a prison camp. What was the hardest part for you?

Pao: I have to say that even today there are times when I still have dreams about the time that I was imprisoned: the torture, hunger, and seeing fellow prisoners die from disease or from trying to escape. I would wake up from the dreams sweating, or my heart would be pounding so fast. There have been times when it felt as though I was still in that place. Family, friends, and strangers have asked me about what it was like in the prison camp. I usually just tell them basic information without details. That is because I have tried to forget. So the hardest part for me during our work together is that I had to remember. I can’t describe it but it’s like I’m reliving those moments when I’m telling them to you.

Chia: I remember quite a few times during the first interview when I could tell it was difficult for you. We had to stop the first interview when we got to the part where you held the hand of a fellow prisoner as he slowly died.

Pao: Yes. The next day when we continued the interview, I was able to discuss it without choking up.

Chia: Can you discuss what the last seven years have been like for you? And, what does having this book mean to you?

Pao: Like I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t sure it would happen. I felt like I told you so many things about my entire life. I’m really proud of the fact that you helped to make my life story coherent. It was, and is, to some extent, still a little chaotic. I don’t have a magical answer for how to overcome difficult experiences. My life and that of my loved ones are not perfect. We still have issues to resolve. To answer your question, the last seven years have actually been hopeful for me. Working with you and knowing that someone believes my lived experiences are worth remembering gives me hope, that it is OK that I don’t have all the answers. I feel honored that during wartime I was forgotten, but with this book, my story will be known to others today and future generations.

Chia: Well, I’ve certainly learned a lot collaborating with you. Thank you for trusting me to help tell your story, which I know is reflective of the lasting impact of the war on Hmong lives. Through your story, I’ve tried to reveal the scars that never heal and the experiences that are difficult for people who did not go through similar experiences to understand. It’s a story about war and survival and the struggle to make sense of life.

Pao: Indeed, the struggle continues but being able to hold this book in my hand has brought great joy to me. Thanks again for believing that my ordinary story is worth documenting.

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