Election books

This week in North Philly Notes, in anticipation of the upcoming election, we showcase titles on political campaigns and voting.

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century, by Keneshia N. Grant
Examines the political impact of Black migration on politics in three northern cities, 1914-1965

Rude Democracy: Civility and Incivility in American Politics, by Susan Herbst
How American politics can become more civil and amenable to public policy situations, while still allowing for effective argument

Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele
How and why women run for office

Gender Differences in Public Opinion: Values and Political Consequences, by Mary-Kate Lizotte
Explores the gender gap in public opinion through a values lens

Philadelphia Battlefields: Disruptive Campaigns and Upset Elections in a Changing City, by John Kromer
How upstart political candidates achieved spectacular successes over Philadelphia’s entrenched political establishment

Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategies in Political Campaigns, by Kelly Dittmar
Explores how candidates and campaign professionals navigate the gendered terrain of political campaigns

Race Appeal: How Candidates Invoke Race in U.S. Political Campaigns, by Charlton D, Mcllwain, and Stephen M. Caliendo
Why, when, and how often candidates use race appeals, and how the electorate responds

On the Stump: Campaign Oratory and Democracy in the United States, Britain, and Australia, by Sean Scalmer
The story of how the “stump speech” was created, diffused, and helped to shape the modern democracies of the Anglo-American world

Latino Mayors: Political Change in the Postindustrial City, edited by Marion Orr and Domingo Morel
The first book to examine the rise of Latino mayors in the United States

Campaign Advertising and American Democracy, by Michael M Franz, Paul Freedman, Ken Goldstein, and Travis N Ridout
Surprising findings about the positive effects of political advertising

Choices and Changes: Interest Groups in the Electoral Process, by Michael M. Franz
The most comprehensive book about interest groups in recent American politics

Why Veterans Run: Military Service in American Presidential Elections, 1789-2016, by Jeremy M. Teigen
Why more than half of American presidential candidates have been military veterans—and why it matters

Celebrating National Coming Out Week

This week in North Philly Notes, we proudly present ten of our LGBTQ+ titles!

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

Civic Intimacies: Black Queer Improvisations on Citizenship, by Niels van Doorn
Mapping the political and personal stakes of Black queer lives in Baltimore

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

In a Queer Voice: Journeys of Resilience from Adolescence to Adulthood, by Michael Sadowski
In-depth interviews over six years show us how LGBTQ youth survive adolescence, thrive as adults, and find a voice that is uniquely their own

Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America, by Colin R. Johnson
Uncovering the history of gender and sexual nonconformity in rural America, with a focus on the Midwest during the first half of the twentieth century

Officially Gay: The Political Construction of Sexuality by the U.S. Military, by Gary L. Lehring
How the military defined homosexuality and the ways that shaped the gay and lesbian identity and movements

Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America, by Miriam Frank
A groundbreaking history of queer activists who advanced the causes of labor organizing and LGBT rights

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

Sticky Rice: A Politics of Intraracial Desire, by Cynthia Wu
Creating a queer genealogy of Asian American literary criticism

Vulnerable Constitutions: Queerness, Disability, and the Remaking of American Manhood, by Cynthia Barounis
Presents an alternative queer-crip genealogy of American masculinity in the twentieth century

Overcoming Isolation in the Great Depression

This week in North Philly Notes, Abigail Trollinger, author of Becoming Entitled, writes about how workers in the 1930’s shed the stigma of unemployment and gained a sense of entitlement, and what we can learn in the age of COVID.

Unemployment is often hugely isolating, even when it happens en masse. It was for workers in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. And considering recent debates over unemployment insurance, it seems that COVID-related unemployment has left many jobless workers facing economic insecurity alone.

Becoming Entitled: Relief, Unemployment, and Reform During the Great Depression tells the story of jobless workers and the urban reformers who worked to redeem them. It was an uphill climb: in the 1930’s, workers faced an American culture that was slow to defend the jobless and a federal government that was unwilling to fund the relief they needed, situations that only seemed to reinforce a jobless worker’s feeling of personal failure. As one worker described in Chicago of that year, “I was out of work two years last month. I have never gone for charity. I was ashamed to go.”

In 1932 Chicago reformers rightly sensed, then, that an unemployed worker’s first step toward survival might be the small step of seeing others like them and shedding their sense of shame. Which is why, in Chicago, the newly founded Workers’ Committee on Unemployment (WCOU) hosted seven hearings across the city that allowed workers to tell their stories, and to hear the stories of their neighbors, their landlords, their grocers, and their kids’ teachers. Once workers saw themselves as part of a group, rather than part of the problem, they were able to craft solutions to the economic crisis facing them. As members of the WCOU, workers offered collective action to solve both immediate and long-term problems.

Was a jobless worker’s electricity shut off suddenly, leaving their family in the dark? A formerly employed electrical worker could come turn it back on! Was a family unable to pay rent and thrown on the street? A WCOU member with a truck could help them move! Was a caseworker routinely cutting clients relief funds? The WCOU was there—protesting at the relief site! And were the state and federal governments failing to provide relief where it was highly deserved and much needed? The WCOU was ready to protest—like the 1932 silent march through Chicago.

What emerged from the hearings, the mutual assistance, and the protests was a sense of worker entitlement, or the belief that jobless workers had the right to ask for protection from the state—that when the economy fails, the state is responsible for preserving the dignity and livelihood of those most impacted. As a WCOU pamphlet on declining relief budgets said, “You are entitled to live.… We can not beg all the time. We must ask and demand.”

Unemployment and isolation. These are not unfamiliar concepts for many Americans right now, as the nation has faced unemployment rates between 8-14% since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jobless workers in the U.S. have had support in the form of the CARES Act and some stopgap emergency funds, and yet they, too, face questions about how much relief they really need. Debates in Congress over stimulus plans (the Heroes Act and the Heals Act), in which legislation has stalled over how much weekly income the unemployed should receive (ranging between $200 and $600 a week), suggest that either jobless workers have a miraculous economy of thrift or that they earn more than they say. And on October 5 the Wall Street Journal reported that some states are requesting that workers who were inadvertently paid more than they were allotted should return as much as $8,000 to the state.

Workers in 1932 did not have a pandemic to reckon with, but their story is a reminder of the fact that entitlement is not a given, even in the midst of national crisis. As we approach the 2020 election, let us call for a generous entitlement that offers both relief and dignity to the many thousands of Americans who currently feel isolated in their economic insecurity.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month by showcasing our Latino/a Studies and Latin American/Caribbean Studies titles as well as books in our Studies in Latin American and Caribbean Music series. (And EVERY Temple University Press book is 40% off until October 31. Use the code FALL4TUP at checkout.

Accessible Citizenships How disability provides a new perspective on our understanding of the nation and the citizen

Afro-Caribbean Religions A comprehensive introduction to the Caribbean’s African-based religions

Arsenio Rodríguez and the Transnational Flows of Latin Popular Music The life and times of one of Cuba’s most important musicians

The Brazilian Sound An encyclopedia survey of Brazilian popular music—now updated and expanded

Caribbean Currents The classic introduction to the Caribbean’s popular music brought up to date

Chilean New Song An examination of the Chilean New Song movement as an organic part of the struggles for progressive social change, deeper democracy, and social justice in Chile in the 1960s and early 1970s

The Coolie Speaks A remarkable examination of bondage in Cuba that probes questions of slavery, freedom, and race

Daily Labors Examining the vulnerabilities, discrimination, and exploitation—as well as the sense of belonging and community—that day laborers experience on an NYC street corner

Democratizing Urban Development Examining how community organizations fight to prevent displacement and secure affordable housing across cities in the U.S. and Brazil

Dominican Baseball From the author of Sugarball, a look at the important and contested relationship between Major League Baseball and Dominican player development

Fernando Ortiz on Music Selections from the influential Fernando Ortiz’s publications on Afro-diasporic music and dance—now available in English

From Puerto Rico to Philadelphia A history of Puerto Rican immigration to Philadelphia

Globalizing the Caribbean Now in Paperback—how global capitalism finds new ways to mutate and grow in the Caribbean

How Did You Get to Be Mexican? A readable account of a life spent in the borderlands between racial identity

The International Monetary Fund and Latin America Chronicling the sometimes questionable relationship between the International Monetary Fund and Latin America from 1944 to the present

Latino Mayors The first book to examine the rise of Latino mayors in the United States

Latinos and the U.S. Political System An analysis of American politics from the vantage point of the Latino political condition

Latinx Environmentalisms Putting the environmental humanities into dialogue with Latinx literary and cultural studies Read a blog entry by the editors

Liberation Theology How does the church function in Latin America on an everyday, practical, and political level?

Merengue A fascinating examination of the social history of merengue dance music and its importance as a social and cultural symbol

Música Norteña The first history of the music that binds together Mexican immigrant communities

New Immigrants, Old Unions A case study of a successful effort to unionize undocumented immigrant workers

The New York Young Lords and the Struggle for Liberation A landmark history of the New York Young Lords, and what their activism tells us about contemporary Latino/a politics

Not from Here, Not from There/No Soy de Aquí ni de Allá A lively autobiography by a community activist, judge, and public advocate who blazed a trail for Latinos in Philadelphia

Revolution Around the Corner The first book-length story of the radical social movement, the Puerto Rican Socialist Party

Selecting Women, Electing Women Offers an analytic framework to show how the process of candidate selection often limits the participation of women in various Latin American countries.

The Sorcery of Color An examination of how racial and gender hierarchies are intertwined in Brazil

Sounding Salsa Inside New York City’s vibrant salsa scene

Terrorizing Latina/o Immigrants A comprehensive analysis of changes in immigration policy, politics, and enforcement since 9/11

Teachers’ unions strike back

This week in North Philly Notes, Lesley Lavery, author of A Collective Pursuit, writes about teachers’ unions’ response to COVID, arguing that despite decades of legal and political effort, teachers’ collective efforts will save lives.

Teachers in Detroit just authorized the first potential “safety strike.” Three week ago, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers’ union, told members that the union’s leadership would support “safety strikes” if health precautions are not met amid calls for schools to reopen as coronavirus cases surge. This declaration of support is striking, not least because it pushes longstanding legal boundaries.

Under current federal statutes, teachers must still report to work even if they believe that local officials have not sufficiently prioritized their health and safety, along with that of their students. The degradation of a teacher’s right to demand such basic and fundamental working conditions is the result of a decades-long effort by education reformers to isolate teachers from their unions—a movement that has praised the individual actions of educators while disparaging their collective calls for higher pay and better working conditions.

An assault on public sector unions began in earnest in 1979 with a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in Abood v. Detroit Federation of Teachers. Attempting to strike a delicate balance between government and individual interests, in Abood the court established a nearly 40 year precedent in teachers’ unions’ ability to collectively bargain by noting a distinction between the unions’ economic and political work.

Following the Abood ruling, teachers and other public employees could not be compelled to join unions so long as they paid the documented costs of contract administration and negotiation. Post-Abood, unions could capture a “fair-share” fee from all potential members but must refrain from spending agency fees on political activities. While in theory this appeased both individuals whose political interests ran counter to their unions’ and unions who might otherwise face a “collective action problem of nightmarish proportions,” in practice, the line between bargaining interests and political interests was difficult to discern, enforce or object to.

Collective_PursuitIn April 2013, after nearly four decades of relative labor peace, ten public school teachers in California, backed by the right-leaning Center for Individual Rights, took a straight shot at the Abood precedent. In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, Rebecca Freidrichs and nine California colleagues argued that attempts to separate bargaining from unions’ political actions were moot because bargaining covered so many fundamentally political topics. Like Abood, Freidrichs eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. There, in 2016, the attack on unions stalled following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. But the reprieve was temporary. On June 27, 2018, a final, decisive blow arrived via Janus vs. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.  

By February 2018, eulogies for many local teachers’ unions had already been written. But mere months before Janus transformed all states to right-to-work states and those eulogies could be delivered, West Virginia teachers from every one of the state’s fifty-five counties walked out of their classrooms to demand higher wages and showcase their concern regarding a bill to lower teacher-certification standards. West Virginia educators’ activism inspired similar actions in Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Colorado. School bus drivers then walked off the job in Georgia.

By the end of the year, the AFSCME, Janus’ direct adversary, reported seven new dues-paying-members for each additional non-paying free-rider (a total increase of 22,000 newly organized workers). The AFT added 88,500 members. And though they expected dire defection rates, the National Education Association gained 13,935 members.

The Janus ruling meant to cut unions off at the knees, but as we watch the reopening debate play out right now, it is clear that “reformers’” wins weren’t enough to mollify teachers’ desire to be heard or sever the relationships they’ve been building with their communities. By declaring it too difficult to determine the line between teachers’ economic and political interests, the courts have inadvertently emboldened a generation of educators to take a stand in the debate of their life (pun intended).

Over the summer, as part of an ongoing 12-state 100+ district study on teachers’ unions’ response to COVID-19, my colleague Sara Dahill-Brown (Wake Forest University) and I have interviewed nearly 30 teachers’ union representatives from urban, rural and suburban districts about their involvement in COVID decision-making and planning. Though comfort with plans to “reopen” schools appears to vary based on population density, demographics, decision-making processes (or lack thereof), and the status of school infrastructure, across the country the teachers we’ve interviewed are increasingly desperate for local, state and federal officials to heed their calls to reopen safely.

I spoke with a union leader from a right-to-work district a few weeks ago. After years of struggling to recruit new union members, she and others we spoke with described rapid increases in unsolicited membership. Teachers are asking if they can go on strike. In many locales, they can’t. But they can protest. They can picket. They can stand outside six feet apart with a sign and a red t-shirt on. And they’ve been working diligently for the past several years to ensure that their communities understand teachers’ and students’ shared interests.

Now, with their lives on the line and individual social media posts, letters to administrators and elected officials, and op-eds in local newspapers unanswered, we’ve left teachers with little recourse. Despite decades of legal and political effort, COVID shows that “reformers” have failed to separate teachers from their unions. The union is the only voice that can aggregate and elevate educators’ anxieties and fears and force all of us to take stock of our duties and obligation to children and public education. We must get behind the nation’s teachers and face “COVID-19, a sagging economy and calls for social justice” head on, together.

 

Crossing the bridge with John Lewis

This week in North Philly Notes, José E. Velázquez, coeditor of the forthcoming Revolution around the Cornerremembers the late John Lewis. 

On July 17, 2020, we mourned one of America’s greatest heroes, “the conscience of the nation,” civil rights leader and Congressman, John Lewis. His well-deserved six-day memorial services included being the first African-American to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. The entire country relived that fateful Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965 where civil rights marchers gathered to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to the state capital in Montgomery, in a campaign for the right to vote.

It has been 55 years since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and some may have forgotten how under the mantle of “states rights,” local governments repressed the right to vote of African-American men granted by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution (1870), and to African American women by the 19th amendment (1920). After the “Compromise of 1877,” southern Confederates who lost the Civil War ended “Black Reconstruction,” “took back the South,” and regained political power. Under the U.S. federal system, the administration of elections is a power reserved by state governments, who subsequently instituted a system of American apartheid and Jim Crow laws aimed at limiting African American voting rights. These included outlandish literacy tests to register to vote, poll taxes, and outright physical repression. In what became known as “grandfather clauses,” poor and uneducated whites were exempted if their descendants voted before 1867.

This was the reality during what became one of the most important non-violent civil disobedience battles of the civil rights movement: the Selma to Montgomery march. The strategy of massive, non-violent civil disobedience sought to rally forces against a superior power, by awakening the conscience of the nation, and forcing the Federal Government to intervene against the repressive forces of state governments. It

also aimed at overcoming real fears in the African American communities, produced by decades of subjugation, to confront the system head on. This is exactly what happened on that Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965 when Alabama State Police blocked marchers from crossing the Pettus Bridge, attacking them with horses, tear gas, and billy clubs as the protestors knelt in prayer. John Lewis, at the time a leader of the Student Non- Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), at the front of the march had his skull fractured and his life almost extinguished. Despite being severely injured, he returned to lead the other attempts to march.

With the advent of television, the entire world saw this vicious attack on marchers who were only asking for the right to vote, shaking the conscience of the nation. In the process, after a second attempted march on March 9th, halted by a temporary court injunction, a white minister, James Reeb, was killed that night by a Ku Klux Klan mob, adding to the country’s indignation. On March 21, 1965, under pressure President Lyndon B. Johnson federalized the Alabama National Guard to protect the marchers in their third attempt. Hundreds of people came from throughout the nation to join the march, this time with National Guard protection. The close to 8,000 marchers crossed the bridge and arrived at the Alabama State Capital on March 25th, their numbers swelling to over 25,000.

Revolution Around the Corner_smOn August 6, 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed, allowing for federal intervention to protect the constitutional right to vote, and beginning the dismantling of Jim Crow laws, literacy tests, poll taxes, and other regulations which made registering and voting nearly impossible for African-Americans. Just as the 1964 Civil Rights Act began the end of de jure segregation and expanded the rights of women, and other people of color, including Puerto Ricans, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did the same throughout the country. For decades, Puerto Ricans and other Latinos, confronted English literacy tests and physical confrontations aimed at limiting their right to vote. The 1965 act was subsequently amended to include protections for non-English speaking voters. In 1970, in Newark, NJ when the Black and Puerto Rican Convention aimed to elect the city’s first African-American mayor, they were met with armed white resistance, necessitating the intervention of federal observers mandated by the Voting Rights Act.

For me the spirit of John Lewis was personal. After the assassination of Malcolm X in February 21, 1965, my first political experience at 13 years old was as a member of the SNCC Black Youth Congress, organized in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem). A

group of young African-Americans and Puerto Ricans met at the East River Projects, in a study group led by SNCC leaders, Fred Meely and Phil Hutchinson. SNCC was considered to be the radical wing of the civil rights movement, and one its leaders, Stokely Carmichael became the voice of a new “Black Power” movement. I must confess that at the time, maybe not being from the South, or because of youth and legitimate anger, our group did not look favorably at the strategy of non-violence. But historical time has demonstrated the power of massive non-violent civil disobedience to bring down even the most powerful governments or empires. I am proud, like Sammy Davis, Jr., Roberto Clemente, José Ferrer Canales, Gilberto Gerena Valentín, and many other Puerto Ricans, to have walked hand-in-hand with this movement.

What is the legacy of John Lewis as the nation today honors those who were considered radicals in the past? John Lewis, the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, who was constantly arrested and beaten as he led protest movements, talked about starting “good trouble” and exercising the right to vote until his last days. Yet today many do not exercise this simple effort, preferring not to vote, while allowing a wealthy minority to run the country.

Today, the Voting Rights Act is endangered, as certain provisions require reauthorization, and some state governments have renewed their attempt to repress voting rights. In Puerto Rico, the process to register to vote is still much more difficult than in many other jurisdictions. Those who took the streets in the summer of 2019 in Puerto Rico, may find their activism betrayed if they don’t register to vote, and vote for real change. The same holds true to those who have joined the massive Black Lives Matter protests in the streets of the United States. In November 2020, we face one of the most important and decisive elections in our lifetime. What would John Lewis say? Make “good trouble,” and vote out those who reject his legacy.

If at first you don’t succeed…

This week in North Philly Notes, Ann O’M. Bowman, author of Reinventing the Austin City Councilwrites about the persistence of Austinites to change an electoral system.

You know how sometimes you try to change something and it doesn’t succeed. And then later, you try again maybe once or twice more. At that point, you might be tempted to throw in the towel, taking some solace in the fact that at least you tried more than once. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be, you tell yourself. Well, in the case of the efforts to change the way city council members were elected in Austin, Texas, it was the seventh attempt before the efforts were successful. Six previous times, ballot propositions that would have replaced the old electoral system with a new one were defeated by voters. Then came lucky number seven.

But it wasn’t luck that changed the outcome. Instead it was perseverance and commitment. And a plan. And sure, maybe a little bit of luck.

Reinventing the Austin City Council_smReinventing the Austin City Council tells the story of how Austin replaced its election system and what the change has brought about. At its heart is the issue of representation. In at-large elections, which Austin used for more than a century, candidates competed citywide and voters could vote for as many candidates as there were seats. A large number of local governments continue to elect their governing boards in at-large elections. In district elections, which Austin approved in 2012 and implemented in 2014, candidates compete in geographically-defined districts and voters who live in that district cast a ballot only for a candidate running for that district seat. This creates a more direct representational connection between the city council member and the constituent. Because of this, district elections are increasing in popularity in localities across the United States. Why does this matter?  Because the electoral system affects who gets elected to the city council. And who gets elected affects the policies that the city council adopts.

In Austin, a grassroots organization, Austinites for Geographic Representation (AGR), was the engine that propelled the district election issue to victory in 2012. AGR was an amalgam of individuals and groups, some of which had been on opposite sides of political issues in the past. But they shared a belief that a district system could be beneficial to their interests in rapidly growing Austin. AGR worked tirelessly to develop a bottom-up campaign, keeping the district question in front of local residents. Organizers hammered away at the issue of fairness, showing that for many years under the at-large system, most council members came from the same part of the city. Many parts of Austin, especially those in which African Americans and Latinx lived, had never elected a city council member from their area. AGR made the argument that this was unfair, and that the concerns of residents of those areas were often unheard and seldom prioritized by the council. Some opposition to AGR’s district proposition emerged, but it was unsuccessful in defeating the ballot question. On November 6, 2012, after rejecting a district electoral system on six previous occasions, 60.2% of Austin voters approved the district plan supported by AGR. In 2014, for the first time since the early 20th century, the city held district elections for the council.

The proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” seems especially apt.

Women and Political Candidacy

This week in North Philly Notes, the editors of Good Reasons to Run describe their new book, a collection of essays about women with political ambition.

2018 saw a record number of women run for public office in the U.S.  If current trends continue, 2020 may break those records.  The numbers of women’s political candidacies are soaring — at least, on the Democratic side of the aisle.  And in this moment of crisis, women leaders have emerged as heroes in many countries.

Yet women historically and even in the recent past few decades have been reluctant to declare themselves political candidates.  Even when more qualified, women lag way behind similarly-situated men in “political ambition,” the desire to run for or hold office.

How do scholars make sense of the long-term trend of men showing more political ambition, but also account for the recent spikes in women running?  Why have the gains been so one-sided in terms of party, with Republican women falling further and further behind?  How might answers to these questions differ if we look at racial subgroups or at women outside the U.S.?

Good Reasons to Run_smThis timely collection of research essays explores these and other questions through a five-part structure, with top scholars in the women and politics field presenting original research.  For those interested, there is an extensive methodological appendix online, with entries for many of the chapters.  But the editors and contributors to this volume wanted it to be useful to the public as well as to scholars, and they present the research findings in an accessible, narrative style. (For a sample from the editors’ Introduction, click here.)

Ultimately this book speaks to the power of context, motivation, recruitment, and assistance (especially financial) in helping women become candidates. Political ambition, it concludes, is not something with which most candidates are simply born; it is often created (or not), nurtured (or not), and brought to fruition (or not) by specific factors in the campaign environment.  Each of the 18 substantive chapters illuminate certain of these factors through new research, according to five main themes (“Who Runs?,” “Why Run?,” “Why Not Run?”, “How Nonprofits Help Women Run for Office,” and “The Special Role of Money”).  Together these investigations help us understand how and why people become candidates, with a special focus on gender and with some attention also to race-gender intersectionality, the role of party, and the question of how we might encourage a more diverse crop of candidates in both parties in the future.

Social Distancing with Shakespeare

This week in North Philly Notes, Jeffrey Wilson, author of Shakespeare and Trump, writes about why people are cycling experiences with coronavirus through Shakespeare.

First came the meme to wash hands for the duration of Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damned spot” speech.

Soon society was shutting down. “I’m worried about Covid-19 causing theatres to go dark,” tweeted theater-maker @MediocreDave on March 9, 2020. “Not because I’ll lose income, but because we’ll inevitably be subjected to opportunistic Shakespeare scholars making smug but superficial analogies to the playhouse closures of the late Elizabethan plague years.” That’ll be the end of that, I thought.

The next day, Slate ran a piece from Ben Cohen, “The Infectious Pestilence Did Reign: How the Plague Ravaged William Shakespeare’s World and Inspired his Work, from Romeo and Juliet to Macbeth.” Two days later, Shakespeare scholar Emma Smith was historicizing appropriations of Lady Macbeth’s hand-washing scene for Penguin Books. Another two days, and The Atlantic ran Daniel Pollack-Pelzner’s “Shakespeare Wrote His Best Works During a Plague.”

The content of these essays—Shakespeare born in plague, shuttered theaters prompting his poetry, Romeo and Juliet derailed by quarantine, playwrights sustained by wealthy patrons, disease threatening rival acting troupes, great art created in isolation—is not as fascinating as the questions raised by their method. Why are people cycling experiences with coronavirus through Shakespeare? What do we gain from comparisons between social distancing in Shakespeare’s time and in ours? How might our experiences with social distancing help us better understand Shakespeare’s? How can these examples help us think about academic work in 2020?

On March 14, @rosannecash caused a collective groan by tweeting, “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote King Lear.”

Twitter did its thing. “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he wrote Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” wrote @sydneeisanelf. “Just a reminder that when Shakespeare was quarantined because of the plague, he masturbated incessantly,” said @emilynussbaum.

With doors shuttered, some theaters offered plays and programming online, free to the public, including Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theater, the Public Theater, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Then came pop-up performances like Patrick Stewart’s #ASonnetADay and The Two Gentleman of Verona on Zoom. What is the value of art in times of social distancing? How is social distancing changing the way art is done? Based on the analogy to Shakespeare, what might the art that comes out of coronavirus look like?

Academics followed suit. On March 23, Andy Kesson, Callan Davies, and Emma Whipday launched A Bit Lit, featuring open-access, of-the-moment interviews with early-modern literary scholars. What is the role of humanistic thought and conversation in times of social distancing? What is the importance—if any—of studying Shakespeare when society is in such turmoil?

Social distancing with Shakespeare soon became A Thing. Kathryn Harkup in The Telegraph on March 15; Andrew Dickson in The Guardian on March 22; James Shapiro on CNN on March 30. The genre was common enough to call for satire. On April 1, Daniel Pollack-Pelzner wrote “What Shakespeare Actually Did During the Plague” for The New Yorker: “Day 25: Definitely too dark. Keep the mood light! No one wants to see a tragedy after a plague.”

Emma Smith tackled that tension with a straight face in the New York Times, arguing that “[Shakespeare’s] fictions reimagine the macro-narrative of epidemic as the micro-narrative of tragedy.” Is our experience with coronavirus tragic? What makes something tragic?

Elsewhere in the New York Times, Ian Wheeler cited Shakespeare to argue that, in America, “We need a better patronage system for artists.” In The New Yorker, James Shapiro lobbed Coriolanus-shaped bombs at the Trump administration: “The casual insults, the condescension, and the refusal to accept responsibility will be familiar to anyone who has lately tuned in to the daily White House briefings on the coronavirus pandemic.”

Shakespeare and Trump_smThese various ShakesTakes sift into terms developed in Shakespeare and Trump, my recent book about the surprising—and bizarre—relationship between the provincial English playwright and the billionaire President of the United States. There are the ShakesMemes. There are the Politicitations. And there is the Shaxtivism.

Above all, the Shakespearean gloss on social distancing shows the power—and pitfalls—of Public Shakespeare, where scholars eschew peer-reviewed academic writing in favor of public engagement.

I come not to bury Public Shakespeare, nor to praise it. I want to ask what it is, where it comes from, how it works, and why it elicits simultaneous enthusiasm and nausea. What is behind the push in some scholars to filter current events through Shakespeare? What is behind the tendency in others to get annoyed when they do?

Why are Shakespeareans suddenly authorities on everything—from presidential politics to social distancing? At a time when Donald Trump nonchalantly disclaims, “I’m not a doctor,” then proceeds to use his power and platform to promote hydroxychloroquine, why are Shakespeare scholars going widely outside their areas of expertise surrounding a 400-year-old English playwright to comment on current events?

Four points:

  1. As an early-modern playwright who often represented medieval and ancient history, Shakespeare built into his texts the practice of engaging the present with the distant past.
  2. As artworks that often have scholarly sources, yet are performed for a broad audience of mixed social backgrounds, Shakespeare’s plays have public engagement built into them.
  3. The long tradition of modern-dress Shakespearean performance and adaptation provides a model for scholars looking to bring ideas that are old and artistic into conversation with current events.
  4. At a time when the humanities are said to be in crisis, Public Shakespeare gives scholars a platform to illustrate the practicality and utility of our field.

There is tremendous energy right now behind public-facing ShakesWork with an ethical if not activist edge. There is also legitimate skepticism of that endeavor. As @ClearShakes wrote on April 12, “Guys, sometimes there just isn’t a Shakespeare play that’s relevant to our situation.”

But recognizing Public Shakespeare as more closely related to Shakespearean performance than Shakespearean scholarship helps us understand why, like any show that takes creative risks, some cheer and some hiss.

 

Don’t Take Your Local Newspaper for Granted

This week in North Philly Notes, Mary Lou Nemanic, author of Metro Dailies in the Age of Multimedia Journalismwrites about the importance of the daily newspaper. 

I’m endlessly troubled by the politicization of the news media and their demonization as the public enemy rather than as the providers of information that is vital to our democracy. Whenever I hear the news media trashed, the 1787 words of Thomas Jefferson come to mind:

“The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs thro’ the channel of the public papers, & to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people. The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Metro_DailiesI couldn’t agree more. Newspapers today are comprised of individuals who provide us with a critical public service. They should be appreciated for this, not denigrated because the exposure of the facts conflicts with a political agenda.  I wrote Metro Dailies in the Age of Multimedia Journalism to emphasize this point and to make people aware of what profiteering corporations are doing to local newspapers across the country. We need to appreciate the public service our news media provide in speaking truth to power and in illuminating the issues and concerns that are significant in our lives.

The COVID-19 (corona virus) pandemic is a good example of this. While I often go to the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s website for breaking news and I regularly get email summaries of major stories, the newspaper is where I go for in-depth information on international, national, regional, and local levels. There are infographics that show the spread of the pandemic, information on school and business closings and information on the Mayo Clinic fast-tracking a vaccine. There are resources for people who have questions and there are stories with experts who debunk popular social media myths about the disease.

Studies show people prefer long reads utilizing print rather than online platforms, and that newspapers—not online sources—provide readers with most of the original reporting available. And that includes investigations of political corruption and of major community issues, such as COVID-19. Yet, a rather alarming statistic unearthed by the Pew Research Center in 2018 indicates that more than 70% of Americans believe their local news outlets are faring well financially.

However, that means few are aware of what I witnessed in the six years of my study—that major metro newspaper staffs have shrunk from more than 100 to as few as 30 under the ownership of profiteering corporations. Of the five case studies in my book, three newsrooms were stripped to the bare bones. My hometown paper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, suffered this fate at the hands of Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that made double digit profits as the staff was laid off or offered buyouts until it was reduced to approximately 45 people. This tiny staff is responsible for both a newspaper and a website covering a city of more than 300,000 people.

Dave Orrick, a union representative and state government and politics reporter at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, is even trying to broker a deal to get local investors to buy the newspaper from Alden. Alden typically buys distressed companies, harvests them for substantial profits, and then sells off the remains. No individual or group has stepped up yet to buy the St. Paul paper, but Orrick hasn’t given up hope. His dedication to his newspaper and to journalism in these troubled times is truly impressive.

My appreciation for the free press dates back to my days at the University of Minnesota where I majored in journalism. The Journalism School there instilled in me a great respect for the free flow of information. As an undergrad, I had a chance to work for the student newspaper, The Minnesota Daily, the fourth largest daily newspaper in the state and a champion of the free press. In a lot of ways, Metro Dailies, is a book in defense of the free press at a time when its credibility is constantly under assault. I urge people to protect their local newspapers from profiteering ownership and to realize that is in our best interest for newspapers to survive and continue to be watchdogs over government and disseminators of essential information so vital to our democracy.

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