Happy Pride!

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Pride Month by showcasing a handful of our recent LGBTQ+ titles. You can check out all of our Sexuality Studies series titles here and all of our Sexuality Studies/Sexual Identity titles here.

Disruptive Situations: Fractal Orientalism and Queer Strategies in Beirut, by Ghassan Moussawi, provides the first comprehensive study to employ the lens of queer lives in the Arab World to understand everyday life disruptions, conflicts, and violence.

Disruptive Situations challenges representations of contemporary Beirut as an exceptional space for LGBTQ people by highlighting everyday life in a city where violence is the norm. Moussawi’s intrepid ethnography features the voices of women, gay men, and genderqueer persons in Beirut to examine how queer individuals negotiate life in this uncertain region. He argues that the daily survival strategies in Beirut are queer—and not only enacted by LGBTQ people—since Beirutis are living amidst an already queer situation of ongoing precarity.

Action = Vie: A History of AIDS Activism and Gay Politics in France, by Christophe Broqua, chronicles the history and accomplishments of Act Up-Paris.

Act Up–Paris became one of the most notable protest groups in France in the mid-1990s. Founded in 1989, and following the New York model, it became a confrontational voice representing the interests of those affected by HIV through openly political activism. Action = Vie, the English-language translation of Christophe Broqua’s study of the grassroots activist branch, explains the reasons for the French group’s success and sheds light on Act Up’s defining features—such as its unique articulation between AIDS and gay activism. Featuring numerous accounts by witnesses and participants, Broqua traces the history of Act Up–Paris and shows how thousands of gay men and women confronted the AIDS epidemic by mobilizing with public actions.

Disabled Futures: A Framework for Radical Inclusion, by Milo W. Obourn, offers a new avenue for understanding race, gender, and disability as mutually constitutive through an analysis of literature and films.

Disabled Futures makes an important intervention in disability studies by taking an intersectional approach to race, gender, and disability. Milo Obourn reads disability studies, gender and sexuality studies, and critical race studies to develop a framework for addressing inequity. They theorize the concept of “racialized disgender”—to describe the ways in which racialization and gendering are social processes with disabling effects—thereby offering a new avenue for understanding race, gender, and disability as mutually constitutive.

Public City/Public Sex: Homosexuality and Prostitution, and Urban Culture in Nineteenth-Century Paris, by Andrew Israel Ross, shows how female prostitutes and men who sought sex with other men shaped the history and emergence of modern Paris in the nineteenth century.

Andrew Israel Ross’s illuminating study, Public City/Public Sex, chronicles the tension between the embourgeoisement and democratization of urban culture in nineteenth-century Paris and the commercialization and commodification of a public sexual culture, the emergence of new sex districts, as well as the development of gay and lesbian subcultures. Public City/Public Sex examines how the notion that male sexual desire required suitable outlets shaped urban policing and development. Ross traces the struggle to control sex in public and argues that it was the very effort to police the city that created new opportunities for women who sold sex and men who sought sex with other men. Placing public sex at the center of urban history, Ross shows how those who used public spaces played a central role in defining the way the city was understood.

And Coming Out this month

Q & A: Voices from Queer Asian North America, edited by Martin F. Manalansan IV, Alice Y. Hom, and Kale Bantigue Fajardo, a vibrant array of scholarly and personal essays, poetry, and visual art that broaden ideas and experiences about contemporary LGBTQ Asian North America.

This new edition of Q & A is neither a sequel nor an update, but an entirely new work borne out of the progressive political and cultural advances of the queer experiences of Asian North American communities. The artists, activists, community organizers, creative writers, poets, scholars, and visual artists that contribute to this exciting new volume make visible the complicated intertwining of sexuality with race, class, gender, and ethnicity. Sections address activism, radicalism, and social justice; transformations in the meaning of Asian-ness and queerness in various mass media issues of queerness in relation to settler colonialism and diaspora; and issues of bodies, health, disability, gender transitions, death, healing, and resilience.

The visual art, autobiographical writings, poetry, scholarly essays, meditations, and analyses of histories and popular culture in the new Q & A gesture to enduring everyday racial-gender-sexual experiences of mis-recognition, micro-aggressions, loss, and trauma when racialized Asian bodies are questioned, pathologized, marginalized, or violated. This anthology seeks to expand the idea of Asian and American in LGBTQ studies.

The News of New York City’s Death is Greatly Exaggerated

This week in North Philly Notes, Francois Pierre-Louis Jr. and Michael Alan Krasner, two of the coauthors of Immigrant Crossroads, write about immigrant groups in Queens, New York.

Since the advent of COVID-19 and the exodus of affluent New Yorkers to the suburbs, some people have predicted that New York will no longer be the city that never sleeps. Our book Immigrant Crossroads has shown the contrary, documenting and analyzing the many fascinating dynamics of community and political activism in this unique borough.

For immigrant families that had endured the four years of the Trump administration living away from their loved ones, the Biden presidency brings new hope and renewed optimism that what Queens was already showing to America will continue. That the vibrant growth exemplified by the borough of Queens and temporarily impeded will flourish again.

Since the 1990s Queens has become the urban epicenter for contemporary immigration—a place that boasts immigrants from 140 countries. While Manhattan drew millions of tourists and mega-rich condo buyers, the city’s four other Boroughs saw the influx of working- and middle-class newcomers from every continent. Places that used to be unattractive to developers and commercial interests suddenly became prime real estate and desired places for immigrants and the middle class to live. Queens led the way in this transformation from being an enclave dominated by the white working class to being perhaps the most diverse aggregation of human beings on the planet. Queens has become an epicenter of  immigrant striving, and activism, presenting an alternative to the nativist vision pursued by Trump’s  propagandists and enforcers.

Hollowed out by white flight, in the 1980s and 90s, New York City’s outer Boroughs have been revitalized with the influx of new immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Caribbean and Africa. Neighborhoods such as Flushing, Bayside, and Laurelton have emerged as the epicenter of New York City’s Asian American community. Within a decade, Flushing has become one of the city’s major commercial and banking center for the Asian community. Corona and Jackson Heights became destinations for those from Latin America, and Astoria became the home for Russians and Eastern Europeans and those from the Middle East. All across the borough of Queens, immigrants remade blighted neighborhoods into thriving communities.

As major economic developments took place, new forms of immigrant activism emerged in Queens’ other neighborhoods, a process that is remaking the social, cultural, economic, and political fabric of the city. Take the case of Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Flushing where seventy-five percent of the residents are people of color. When the City announced in 2012, that it would give away portions of Flushing Meadows Park to private developers as a way to revitalize the local economy, a coalition of community-based groups and faith-based organizations created the Fairness Coalition of Queens to fight the Bloomberg administration’s economic development agenda. Forcing the cancellation of a sterile soccer stadium and other mega projects, the Fairness Coalition asserted its own power and priorities to call attention to the need for affordable housing and the checking of rampant  gentrification.

A similar pattern has developed in national immigration politics. Drawing on a heavily foreign-born population (One-in-two residents in Queens are foreign-born, ranking it second in the nation for percentage of foreign-born residents), activist Dreamer organizations have lobbied successfully for state legislation and led the fight for similar action from the federal government. Among the first set of actions by the Biden Administration are a rash of executive orders and a far-reaching legislative proposal to not only undo Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant policies but to usher in human pathways to immigrant inclusion.

Pioneering efforts on health care accessibility, an issue made salient by the Covid crisis also began in Queens where two city-wide immigrant advocacy organizations successfully organized to pass the Language Access in Pharmacies Act in 2009 and in 2012 mandating pharmacies provide comprehensive translation and interpretation services to patients with limited English proficiency.

As these examples suggest, the true impact of the recent surge of new immigrant groups is complex, contradicting partisan stereotypes and xenophobic pandering. Serious scholarship from varied disciplines reveals the richly textured contributions that resurgent nativism has sought to obliterate. Our volume demonstrates that being an Immigrant Crossroads has led New York City to flourish and suggests a path that the entire country would do well to consider following to revive the national motto, “Out of many, one.”

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.

Protesting Inequalities across America

This week in North Philly Notes, Heather McKee Hurwitz, author of Are We the 99%?, reveals her findings about the Occupy movement and lessons for contemporary activists:

The nearly constant activism of the 2010’s is one indication that more Americans recognize how profoundly inequalities shape our society. Their protests demonstrate frustration about inequalities and demand social change.

The #MeToo movement exposed the hushed experiences of women in the entertainment and media industries and a range of other contexts. Women tweeted en masse to reveal the harassment they endured, which harmed them and stunted their career advancement.

The Black Lives Matter movement has made undeniable Black persons’ disproportionate experiences of hardship and violence. In neighborhoods across the country, groups are marching against police brutality. They are confronting the racism interwoven in their organizations in order to pursue racial justice.

The Occupy movement, which started in 2011, kicked off widespread conversation about class inequality when people left their houses and camped overnight in their town squares—some for months—to demonstrate for economic change. They revealed how the 1% thrived while the majority of families were suffering from the Great Recession. The movement argued that anyone who was not the 1% had a reason to come together. They advocated stricter banking regulations. They argued for taxing the 1%. They protested for relief from student debt. They popularized universal health care. Striving to create changes toward greater economic justice, they called themselves, “We are the 99%.”

Looking back on the last ten years of activism, and nearing the 10-year anniversary of the Occupy movement in 2021, Are We the 99%? examines the diversity of experiences in the movement by analyzing the stories of especially brave women and genderqueer persons from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. By studying dozens of protests and meetings, and reviewing movement newspapers, flyers, blogs, and other archival materials, Are We the 99%? synthesizes lessons from which anyone concerned about inequalities can learn.

While “the 99%” sought to be an innovative inclusive frame to unify a wide range of people, Are We the 99%? reveals the infighting about this 99% identity. By lumping everyone into one big class, some participants argued that the 99% framing erased the particular experiences of women of color, indigenous persons, and other groups with a history of enduring many kinds of inequality (not just based on class) and who had long been advocating for social change.

When the movement’s message focused on a gender-blind and color-blind definition of class inequality, individuals left the main movement organizations. They formed separate subcommittees to address a more holistic view of class as grounded in and inseparable from other forms of inequality – especially sexism and racism. Groups like Women Occupying Wall Street, Decolonize, Safer Spaces, and Occupy the Hood put forward ways of understanding economic inequality as intrinsically intertwined with racism and sexism. Detailed in the book, they created unique protests and brought Occupy to new communities. These and other groups that emerged from within the movement—and supported Occupy—but also critiqued and opposed aspects of the movement – advocated feminist and racial justice-oriented changes to the main movement and society broadly.

Even in Occupy, a progressive social movement, activists themselves recreated some of the gender, race, and class disparities that they were seeking to change. Yet, especially feminists acted quickly and used a new (at the time) tool—Facebook and Twitter—to address the disparities.

Although years before #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, some Occupy activists called for an excavation of racism and sexism from within the Occupy movement itself.

As seemingly more Americans than ever before evaluate how inequalities profoundly shape our society, Are We the 99%? and its free companion instructor’s guide and student study guide open up conversations about activism against disparities, when that activism falls short of addressing complex and intersectional forms of inequality, and suggests ways to improve inclusivity and diversity in activist and other organizations.

Activism by Parents of Children with Disabilities and the 30th Anniversary of the ADA

This week in North Philly Notes, Allison Carey and Pamela Block, two of the coauthors of Allies and Obstacles, write about the accomplishments of parents in the disability rights movement as well as how disability activists are coping with COVID and Black Lives Matter. 

July 26th 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). One of the nation’s most important and innovative civil rights acts, the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability across many spheres of public life, including in education, work, transportation, telecommunication, and the provision of public services. In doing so, it also mandates the provision of accessibility and accommodations to enable full participation in society by people with disabilities. Upon signing the ADA into law, President George H. W. Bush declared, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

Allies and Obstacles_smThe anniversary of the ADA calls for reflection on where we were and where we are now. In our book, Allies and Obstacles: Disability Activism and Parents of Children with Disabilities, we detail the struggles of many disabled children and their families prior to the ADA, times when disabled people were systematically excluded from access to transportation, communication, education, and employment. We also document the ways that parent activists worked together with disability activists to bring the ADA into being. Thanks to these efforts, parents raising children in a post-ADA world experience a different landscape—one with far greater attention to access and that is more likely to recognize people with disabilities as full citizens worthy of inclusion.

Despite the incredible efforts of activists, however, we have a long way to go to actually achieve equity and inclusion. Parents are both allies and obstacles along this path. For example, in Olmstead v. L. C. (1999), the Supreme Court drew on the ADA in its finding that people with disabilities have a right to live and receive services in the community and to avoid unnecessary institutionalization. Many parents have fought for deinstitutionalization and to build community services, and they praised this decision. Other parents, though, fought to preserve institutions. Indeed, the language of Olmstead prohibiting “unnecessary” institutionalizations bows to the pressure placed by parents and professionals to leave intact the idea of necessary institutionalization as determined by professionals and parents/guardians with almost no avenues for disabled people to challenge their confinement. Data from 2011 indicated more than 89,000 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and more than 178,000 people with psychiatric diagnoses still reside in large-scale, congregate settings (National Association of State Mental Health Directors, 2017; Scott, Lakin, and Larson, 2008).

New challenges also continue to arise, built on long-standing inequalities. The spread of the Coronavirus hit the disability community especially hard, exposing stark and persistent inequities. People with disabilities were infected with and died from COVID-19 at higher rates than the general population (Kennedy, Frieden, Dick-Mosher, & Curtis, 2020; Turk, Landes, Formica, & Goss 2020). In New York City, residents of group homes were more than five times more likely than the general population to develop COVID-19 and almost five times more likely to die from it (Hakim, 2020). Despite the high risk for disabled people, medical ethicists created guidelines for medical triage and technology access that restricted access to lifesaving measures to some categories of disabled people. Disability rights groups had to sue, drawing on the ADA, to defend themselves against medical discrimination. Throughout the pandemic, parents have fought for additional funding and clearer guidelines to ensure the delivery of support services in the community, including adequate testing and protective equipment to protect their loved ones and the support staff. But parents-led organizations are also among those that continue to run congregate care facilities and failed to protect people from the risks of congregate care including the rapid spread of disease.

Attention to police violence by Black Lives Matter activism put a spotlight on the fact that disabled black, indigenous and people of color are especially vulnerable to being hurt and killed by the police. Those who should be protecting  the rights of disabled citizens, instead use “unexpected” and “noncompliant” behavior to justify violence and pre-existing conditions to excuse fatality that occurs in the course of that violence. Here too we find parents on the front lines of these struggles.  Activist and blogger Kerima Çevik, for example, recognized years ago the dangers her son, a mixed race, autistic and nonverbal teenager, might face if he encountered the police. She works with a range of organizations to build community capacity to protect him and others. The work of minority activists, however, for too long was overlooked and de-prioritized by national parent-led disability organizations, which have majority white leadership and membership. These organization tended to sideline issues of concern to minority communities, such as police violence and the disproportionate labeling of minority youth in special education, and instead focus on an agenda seen as most politically palatable.

These examples highlight that, although the ADA opened many doors and created many protections, there is still much more to do both legislatively and in regards to resisting and changing societal prejudices and structural inequalities. Parents play a complex role in this struggle. They often ally with disabled activists to fight for inclusion and empowerment. However, continued support for congregate care and dismissing the intersectionality of race and disability contribute to some of the most pressing problems we face today.

Allison Carey, Pamela Block, and Richard Scotch are having a virtual panel to celebrate the ADA’s 30th anniversary on Aug 6th at  7pm. Visit: https://mi-ada.org/ for more information

What the American Irish faced in the nineteenth century

This week in North Philly Notes, Howard Lune, author of Transnational Nationalism and Collective Identity among the American Irish, writes about Irish immigrants in America.

Before I got too far into my early research on Irish nationalism, and before I had recognized the nature of transnational organizing efforts in supporting the long campaign for Irish independence, I was curious about the surprising success of the American Irish in public service fields such as police and firefighting squads. The answer to that puzzle turned out to center on fairly straightforward jobs-for-votes deals with the Democratic Party. But looking into widespread anti-Irish, anti-Catholic activism in the United States in the nineteenth century I was stuck by two patterns. The first was that the language and tactics of “othering” the Irish strongly resembled the tactics used to deny African Americans freedoms and citizenship rights at the same time. The second was that the same ideas have been resurrected with only slightly different language to attack other immigrant groups and African Americans under the present American regime. The continuing existence of discrimination is not surprising. I guess I just expected that we would develop more sophisticated forms of it.

The essential starting point for all of these organized acts of hostility is to present an unquestionable assumption that whenever we say “we” in America we all know that “we” are white, Christian men. Of course, in the 1800s, Christian meant Protestant while Catholic was part of the other, but they still preferred the term Christian. Few nativists ever argued that America was supposed to be white. They simply argued that the non-whites were “invading,” “taking over,” and “replacing” us. They never had to say “our kind” is supposed to dominate in all social, economic, and political institutions. They only had to say that “those people” would be infiltrating all of our spaces if we didn’t stop them. This business of the unexamined “we” sounded like a call to community, solidarity, and fellow-feeling while actually building walls, mobilizing violent mobs, and, especially, preventing others from voting.

Transitional Nationalism_smOther familiar patterns followed. “We” destroyed their schools and claimed that we couldn’t help them when they were so ignorant. We denied them jobs and claimed that we didn’t want such poor people bringing down the quality of life in our cities. We held up the example of the most successful of the whole (in this case, the wealthy Irish Protestants) in order to claim that the rest could obviously succeed too if they weren’t so lazy, or criminal, or whatever frightened us at the moment. We relegated them to slums and then said that no one who lived like that should be trusted with civic responsibility. We passed new laws about labor, vagrancy, and debt to target them, and then declared that they were mostly criminals and scofflaws. Our people raise families. Their people “breed.” And, in the more extreme publications that were commonly read but rarely acknowledged, we lamented the threat to the sexual purity of our white women if those people were allowed to run free.

In the 1800s we depicted the undesirable other as drunks. Today we describe them as probably using drugs.

These patterns, and so many others, demonstrate that the white, Protestant, male center of American life hasn’t really got any tangible complaint with any particular other group. If it did, then we would focus on different supposed attributes of each group pertinent to any given time period. Rather, it seems that the privileged core of the nation desperately fears having to share with others. This fear seems to be just as strong among those who have too much and those who have too little. Either way, the smallest excuse, the least supportable claim, and the most minor differences are enough for members of the culturally dominant group to band together to collectively degrade anyone and anything that could threaten the idea of their dominance. We are willing to allow anyone into college now, as long as they don’t get to be our bosses. We feign shock at each and every obvious example of racist violence but we hate it when people try to address “systemic” inequalities. We admit that the justice system isn’t always just, but we built it up that way in order to keep other people in their place, and we’re not planning to change that. We don’t hang signs that say “no Irish need apply” anymore, but try getting a corporate job interview without a white-sounding name. The Irish are accepted as white now, which almost implies that we have improved as a culture. Yet, with increasing globalization, we have no shortage of “other” people to casually disregard or openly hate. As a people, we are remarkably similar to our forebears, in the worst sense of the comparison.

An interview with author Ryan Pettengill about Communists and Community

This week in North Philly Notes, we interview author Ryan Pettengill about his new book, Communists and Community, which enhances our understanding of the central role Communists played in the advancement of social democracy throughout the mid-twentieth century.

You trace community activism in Detroit during the years 1941-1956, which is during the downslide of the American Community Party [CPUSA]. What accounts for this time frame for your book?
Quiet honestly, the CPUSA had always had a knack for community activism. There have been other scholars that have written about this topic, but much of their attention is concentrated on the period from 1935 to 1939. This era, known as the Popular Front period in which communists made important alliances with liberals and progressives in the struggle against international fascism, was thought to have ended by 1940, largely a casualty of the alliance between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. While the CPUSA did, in fact, enter into a new period in its history, the activism it pursued – especially at the local level in centers like Detroit – largely remained the same. The alliances that communists made with religious and civic organizations that were dedicated to social and political equality remained intact. Moreover, the nature of their activism, in which they would flood City Hall with letters, march in demonstrations throughout neighborhoods, boycott bowling alleys that insisted on Jim Crow policies, or establish “labor schools” for the training of the next generation of activists remained the preferred mode of activism long after World War II ended. Taking this community activism into account helps us understand the CP in a different light. It also helps demonstrate that leftists were central in keeping militant activism alive in the postwar period before it would become much more visible in the early 1960s with the coming of the civil rights movement.

Can you discuss why you focused on post-war Detroit? Sure, it was motor city with a huge industry in America at that time, but what made this city a valuable crucible
Detroit is just…fascinating. I developed an interest in the city as a graduate student and it never really stopped. But to the point of this question, Detroit is outside of the local context in which American communism is typically examined – New York City.  Examining communists and the activism that they sponsored demonstrates that at the local level in places like Detroit there was a level of autonomy in which activists were afforded a chance address local challenges in the way they saw fit despite what the “party line” may have dictated.

Communists and Community_smYou write about how the CPUSA helped underrepresented groups, working toward socioeconomic betterment, creating multiracial workforces, and protecting the foreign-born. Can you discuss this little-known history of Communists playing a central role in the advancement of social democracy and civil rights?
I think communists, with their insistence on analyzing the role that class played in American life, were able to see the unmistakable connections to race. Other scholars have noted that the CP was the only predominantly white institution that took up the matter of systemic racism during the 1930s, ’40s, or ’50s. To that end, it attracted civil rights activists like Reverend Charles Hill and Coleman Young, the first African American to be elected mayor of Detroit. As Young put it, the communists and Reverend Hill (an African American Baptist minister) were the only ones even talking about racism in the 1940s.  Young never apologized for running around with radicals so long as it meant the socioeconomic betterment of the black community.

There are interesting stories about housing projects, racism and racial segregation, police brutality, as well as issues involving wages and unionism, etc. What challenges, setbacks, and successes did the CP and its members have?
This may sound obvious but it was the Second Red Scare that accounted for the biggest challenges and setbacks for the CPUSA in Detroit and elsewhere. As I point out throughout the book, the Red Scare and McCarthyism compromised the alliances built between the labor-liberal-leftist coalition that had flourished in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Anticommunists like Joseph McCarthy had built careers on red baiting and liberals who had once been allies of leftists were forced to demonstrate their patriotism by ridding them from unions and civic organizations. That said, I think that what the communists achieved – especially throughout the 1950s – was keeping the concept of militant activism alive in the minds of Detroiters. The 1950s is so often portrayed as a politically tame period and it is no coincidence that McCarthyism was raging throughout the country at the time. The activism that communists sponsored in the postwar period helped lay the foundation for future activism in the 1960s and beyond.

 What observations do you have about the white ethnic backlash and rise of conservatism in the face of the CPUSA’s efforts? (Sounds kind of timely….)
In a perfect world, I would like my book to be read in conjunction with studies that chronicle the postwar economy, the rise of conservatism, and the long descent of the New Deal order. If you read Communists and Community in conjunction with, say, Daniel Clark’s Disruption in Detroit, for example, you can clearly see that the postwar economy was anything but stable and for the bulk of Detroit’s industrial workforce, simply having steady work took absolute precedent over the communist brand of activism that addressed the integration of Detroit’s neighborhoods or reforming policing practices throughout the city. If there is one thing writing this book has taught me is that the working class existed in the abstract and workers did not always want the same things. So, along comes someone like George Wallace who can speak the language of the working class in locales like Detroit and is able to portray himself as the “law and order” candidate and, thus, fracture the working-class coalition that the UAW, leftist activists, and other progressives worked so hard to establish throughout the war years.

How did the radicalism and politicization that gained momentum during that time continue in the decades after? You write that the decline of community activism within organized labor [is] a casualty of the Cold War; that anticommunism played a key role.
I generally think of Carl Winter, Helen Alison-Winter, Nat Ganley, and Billy Allan as placeholders for the future leftists who would come to mainstream protest and dissent in the 1960s and early 70s.  It wasn’t always easy to defend their radicalism but these individuals did so anyway.  When the Michigan Council for Peace led a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C. to petition the federal government to peacefully coexist with the Soviet Union, they opened themselves up to all sorts of criticism from the right.  But Reverend Hill led the pilgrimage anyway.  By the 1960s, with the fading of McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare, radicalism was once again a permissible form of political expression.  The activists comprising what might loosely be called the “old left” essentially preserved the institution of community activism.

 

Time to Remember French AIDS Activism

This week in North Philly Notes, Christophe Broqua, author of Action = Vie, writes about Act Up-Paris.

Since the end of 2018, large-scale mobilizations in France by activist groups have challenged the authorities and demanded more social justice. The “Yellow Vest” movement holds demonstrations every Saturday in Paris. Among the streets that they have regularly occupied—sometimes without providing advance notice to the Prefecture (as prescribed by French law)—is the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées, which stretches from Place de la Concorde to Place de l’Étoile, where the Arc de Triomphe is located, an area largely inaccessible for street demonstrations.

Action=Vie_SMTwenty-five years earlier, on December 1, 1993, the AIDS organization Act Up-Paris braved the difficulty of demonstrating in this same area by placing a giant condom on the Obélisque de la Concorde. They also blocked the top of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées on December 1, 1994, an action illustrated by the photo on the cover of Action = Vie: A History of AIDS Activism and Gay Politics in France. At the time, Act Up-Paris was considered one of the major social movements in France. The organization met with considerable success in terms of mobilization as well as media coverage and political impact—contrary to the predictions of failure that it had initially inspired.

Indeed, when Act Up-Paris was formed in 1989, the vast majority of local commentators thought the organization, based on the American model, could not succeed. They reproached it for being a lame copy, unsuited to the French context. That it was linked to the gay and lesbian community undoubtedly added to mistrust and discrediting of the organization. The success of Act-Up-Paris, however, continues the long French protest tradition—it reached its peak in the mid 1990s. The criticism was indicative of the tense relationship between the French and the United States, rather than of the relevance (or not) of political activism in the face of the epidemic in France. Indeed, France is dominated by an ideology that claims to reject “communitarianism” in favor of “republican universalism,” but which, in reality, fears political organization of oppressed or stigmatized minorities more than anything.

Nevertheless, the success of Act Up-Paris had some limitations, particularly when new treatments led to a drop in HIV/AIDS-related mortality, at least in the Global North. Little by little, without ever disappearing, the organization got smaller, while the other dominant AIDS organization in France, AIDES—inspired by the Gay MHC (New York) and the Terrence Higgins Trust (London)—succeeded due to their commitment to helping individuals. In contrast, Act Up defined its actions as strictly political. In the 1990s, Act Up-Paris had become a major player in the AIDS fight and gay rights movements, but lost its media visibility in the following decade and was virtually unknown to new generations.

MV5BZWM2NTcxM2QtOTYxMC00OTllLWJhN2MtODBjNjA2Y2FjYmU1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQzNzQxNzI@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_This progressive erasure and oblivion slowed in 2017 with the release of the film, BPM (Beats Per Minute). Directed and co-written by Robin Campillo a former member of Act Up-Paris, the film retraced the first years of the organization in a fictional but very realistic way. It also included a tragic love story between two activists, Nathan (Arnaud Valois) and Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). Debuting at the Cannes Film Festival, the film won the prestigious Jury Grand Prize. From the outset, critics were ecstatic in their support of the film and the emotions it stirred. When it was released in cinemas, it was a huge success; in just a few months more than 800,000 tickets were sold. This tremendous response to a past that was largely forgotten, especially among the new generation, was impressive. For younger viewers, it was the discovery of a heroic past that many people did not know about; for older viewers, the film stirred memories of difficult times or the feeling of having missed out on history.

Overall, the film enabled society to indulge in a kind of collective redemption in the face of what it had not wanted to see—i.e., an epidemic affecting stigmatized minorities who used forms of political action to survive. Far from being an isolated phenomenon, the movie success was part of a larger remembrance process affecting both the history of the fight against AIDS as well as the mobilization of sexual and gender minorities in various European and North American countries.

Alas, this rediscovery of Act Up-Paris was focused mainly in France, as the film BPM did not enjoy the same commercial success in the United States, though it fared well critically.

French history is strongly connected to American history: the founder and several important activists of Act Up-Paris went through Act Up New York, which also represented an important model for the French group. Later, Act Up-Paris became the largest Act Up group in the world.

Now that time has passed, will its history finally be discovered beyond the French borders?

Discovering How Student Activism Matters

This week in North Philly Notes, Matthew Williams, author of Strategizing against Sweatshopswrites about what he learned by studying college students engaged in strategically innovative activism to help sweatshop workers across the world.

When I began working on the research for my new book, Strategizing against Sweatshops, if you had asked me, I’m sure that I would have said student activism is important. But I suspect I would have been somewhat vague about the specifics of why and how it is important. In interviewing members of United Students Against Sweatshops, a college student group that is one of three oStrategizing against Sweatshops_smrganizations that I focus on, I gained a much better understanding of how and why student activism matters. Student activists’ position on college campuses puts them in a place where they are more opportunities for success as a social movement than many other movements have. And this gives student activists a chance to break new ground in changing social norms and structures in the wider society, using college campuses as beachheads of progressive change.

If you’ve ever engaged in social justice activism, you know that it is often thankless work. It’s not simply that people outside the social justice community often look at the value of what you do with some degree of skepticism, but that you must be in it for the long haul to see the results of your actions—and those results are often unclear. When political and business leaders make reforms that movements have sought, they rarely give credit to movements for influencing them. The chain of cause and effect is not always clear. Certainly, it’s rare that any particular action your group takes, no matter how dramatic, can be clearly connected with causing some particular policy change.

Student activists face some of these same frustrations. But things do change somewhat when working on the scale of a college campus. The somewhat enclosed, clearly defined boundaries and small scale of a college campus create opportunities that don’t exist elsewhere. Compared to officials in positions of government and large businesses, college administrators are relatively accessible to students. Student activists can reasonably expect to get meetings with top-level campus officials. Even if a college president has an antagonistic view of what student activists are doing, the norms of college life are such that they are expected to tolerate such activism and give the students doing it some hearing. This is particularly striking given that colleges are much less democratic than government bodies. Even for faculty, principles of shared governance have significantly eroded and college administrations have increasingly limited accountability to faculty. There are generally no democratic mechanisms on college campuses for students to keep administrators in check. And yet the small scale and norms of the college campus make it possible for student activists to directly engage with high level administrators.

Student activists have other advantages as well. Doing the sort of movement-building necessary to successfully pressure administrators to change policy (and not simply meet with students) is relatively easy within the contained arena of a college campus. Though economic pressures mean this is less true than it once was, students still have a larger amount of biographical availability—free time to engage in activism—than older people who must hold down full time jobs and may have family obligations. The existence of student newspapers and the ease of organizing an educational event such as hosting a speaker or panel makes getting out the word about one’s cause relatively easy. The density of social networks on campus—in dorms, in student groups, among informal friendship circles, etc.—makes it relatively easy to recruit people.

Finally, the small scale of the college campus makes it relatively easy to exercise leverage over those in power and see concrete results from one’s action. A number of USAS members I interviewed told me stories of sit-ins, hunger strikes, or simply a series of escalating protest actions resulting in administrators making major concessions to them.

None of this is to say that successful student activism is easy—it still requires a lot of dedication and hard work. It is simply an easier arena in which to engage in social activism that many other contexts social justice activists find themselves in.

USAS was able to use these circumstances to help sweatshop workers on the other side of the world unionize and otherwise improve their conditions. They were able to do this because so many colleges and universities have licensing agreements with major apparel firms like Nike and Champion, where the companies are allowed to produce clothing with the school’s name and logo on it and the school gets a cut of the resulting profits. Apparel companies value these deals because it gives them access to a captive audience for marketing and they believe they can use this to build lifetime brand loyalty. This gave student activists potential leverage over these companies. USAS pushed administrators to put in place pro-labor rights code of conduct for their licensees and to require the companies to allow inspections by the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent monitoring organization, to verify compliance—and they have pushed colleges to threaten to suspend or cancel their licensing agreements when licensees are found to be violating the codes of conduct.. This has forced companies like Nike and Champion to address problems when they are caught red-handed using sweatshop labor.

USAS is not unique in being able to use the small scale of the college campus to exert wider influence. Our society’s slowly changing attitudes towards sexual harassment, assault and what qualifies as consent have been significantly influenced by activism on college campuses, whose small scale allowed student activists to more easily challenge sexist norms there. And those changes in norms have slowly radiated outward from college campuses. During the 1980s, students were at the forefront of the movement to impose sanctions on apartheid South Africa by pushing college administrators to divest from companies doing business in South Africa. A parallel movement is now pushing colleges to divest from the fossil fuel industry, an industry that must be dismantled to protect our planet’s fragile ecosystem and climate.

Student activism matters both because it is easier to engage in successful activism on college campuses and because victories on college campuses can have important effects on the wider world.

A sneak peek at the new issue of KALFOU

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase the new issue of KALFOU, and the symposium on race and science, a highlight of Volume 5 issue 1.

Volume 5 Issue 1 of KALFOU features a symposium on race and science in which distinguished scholars from across the disciplines address the ways in which current developments in genomic research pose new challenges for analyses of the social construction of race. Advances in genetic research have provoked a revival of the claim that race has a genetic basis, a claim that has now been embraced by pharmaceutical companies seeking to make profits by marketing drugs that profess to address illnesses endemic to specific racial groups and by social scientists eager to explain racially skewed life outcomes as the product of the genetic defects of aggrieved groups rather than the result of racist practices, processes, and structures.  The symposium features astute and insightful articles by anthropologists Michael Montoya and John Hartigan, historians Terence Keel and Gabriela Laveaga-Soto, sociologists Ruha Benjamin and James Doucet Battle, and physician and public health scholar Claudia Chaufan.  Although these authors deploy a diverse range of scholarly methods and perspectives, their arguments cohere around an insistence that genetic research itself actually shows that race is a political rather than a biological category and that the “new” arguments about sciences and race are simply reiterations of very old forms of scientific racism.

George Lipsitz

Kalfou_generic-cover_102015Kalfou Vol. 5 Issue 1. Table of Contents:

SYMPOSIUM ON RACE AND SCIENCE • edited by Terence D. Keel and George Lipsitz

Race on Both Sides of the Razor • Terence D. Keel
Facing Up to Neanderthals • John Hartigan Jr.
What Can the Slim Initiative in Genomic Medicine for the Americas (SIGMA)
Contribute to Preventing, Treating, or Decreasing the Impact of Diabetes
among Mexicans and Latin Americans? • Claudia Chaufan
Race, Genetics, and Health: Transforming Inequities or Reproducing
a Fallacy? • Michael J. Montoya
Prophets and Profits of Racial Science • Ruha Benjamin
Race and the Epigenetics of Memory • Gabriela Soto Laveaga
Ennobling the Neanderthal: Racialized Texts and Genomic Admixture • James Doucet-Battle
Concluding Remarks: Social Justice Requires Biocritical Inquiry • Terence D. Keel

FEATURE ARTICLE
Feminist Mobilization in MEChA: A Southern California Case Study • Gustavo Licón

IDEAS, ART, AND ACTIVISM
TALKATIVE ANCESTORS
Cedric Robinson: “For a People to Survive in Struggle”

LA MESA POPULAR
The Septuagenarians’ Sankofa Dialogue • Kalamu ya Salaam and Jerry W. Ward Jr.

ART AND SOCIAL ACTION
The Play’s the Thing: An Interview with Rosten Woo • J.V. Decemvirale

MOBILIZED 4 MOVEMENT
“It Is Time for Artists to Be Heard”: Artists and Writers for Freedom, 1963–1964 • Judith E. Smith

TEACHING AND TRUTH
A UK–US “Black Lexicon of Liberation”: A Bibliography of African American
and Black British Artists, Artworks, and Art-Making Traditions • Celeste-Marie Bernier

IN MEMORIAM
James Oliver Horton, 1943–2017 • Melani McAlister

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