Beyond the Ballot Box: Review at the London Review of Books

Tim Barker, comrade from the Dissent days and elsewhere, writes a lovely review of Necessary Trouble at the London Review of Books. I couldn’t ask for a better reviewer.

Jaffe is committed to the basic job of reporting, in ‘meeting activists where they lived and worked and organised’. Her prolonged engagement (she spent, for example, four years covering union efforts at Walmart) gives her rare authority in describing the ethos of the movement. It has also yielded dozens of revealing interviews with a wide range of participants, whose explanations of their own activism provide a different perspective on the new protests than the familiar analysis of the chattering classes. We hear two kinds of story again and again. The first describes the moment when previously apolitical people take action in response to some insupportable element of everyday life – a vicious boss, a foreclosure, the sight of police officers pointing guns at neighbours. In the second, established activists, dedicated but accustomed to frustration, realise that this time it’s not just ‘another Madison protest’ or ‘just another young man in St Louis being gunned down’. Movements, Jaffe suggests, require both unpredictable and experienced organisers. (She reinforces this point by showing how important leftist cadres have been historically, and how devastating anti-communism has been to social movements in general.)

The rest is (paywalled, unfortunately) at the LRB.


“Necessary Trouble”—Why Grassroots Protest Movements Are Reshaping America: Interview at The Influence

My former AlterNet coworker Tana Ganeva helped launch The Influence this year, and she and I sat down last week to talk Necessary Trouble and why some people take action and others fall into despair.

I wanted to talk about the Deaton-Case study that found lower-middle-class and poor white people are basically dying from alcohol, drugs and suicide. Earlier you mentioned that the media is shocked that people are still angry. And it seems like there are parallels. When this study came out, it seemed like everyone was shocked that people are basically killing themselves, slowly or literally. It seems like the same factors that drive some people to organize movements drive others to despair. 

It’s absolutely true. When you’re struggling, you have a couple of options. For example, I talked to mostly older women near retirement age facing foreclosure. They talked very movingly to me about the shame that they felt, and about the despair and the fear and how hard it was for them to ask for help.

But these are the people who did ask for help. They really got motivated and took action and they were lucky enough to find somebody that was doing this work in their neighborhood in Atlanta. But if you live in Ripley, Mississippi and you’re facing foreclosure, and there is no Occupy Our Homes to come help you, can you feel like you’re not alone with your problems? Can you feel like your problems aren’t personal failings?

Read the rest at The Influence


Red Scares and Radical Imagination: Excerpt at Moyers & Company

The wonderful folks at Moyers & Company have excerpted my chapter on one of my greatest obsessions, the Red Scare.

To Sawant, the victory showed that her message, and its appeal to the working class of a wealthy city, had resonance. “People don’t need some kind of detailed graduate-level economics lesson; they understand that the market is not working for them. The market is making them homeless. The market is making them cityless. And they’re fed up, and they’re angry.” Angry enough, it seemed, to take a leap of faith and support a candidate whose ideas had only recently been presumed to be unthinkable.

Read the rest at Moyers & Company


Why More Americans are Becoming Activists

I wrote an op-ed for Time that sums up the argument of Necessary Trouble.


The movements that have shaken the country in recent years are often assumed to be discrete, separate phenomena, driven by unique events, rising and falling on their own. But in fact they have fed one another, overlapped and intersected, as activists search for radical solutions—radical, meaning getting to the root of the problem, requiring fundamental change. “You can’t go back to normal,” the Reverend David Gerth of St. Louis, Missouri told me during the Ferguson protests in 2015.

Read the rest at Time.


“Necessary Trouble” and a Long, Hard Struggle: Talking Movements With Sarah Jaffe at Truthout

Truthout has been running my stories for quite a few years, supporting my coverage of the Chicago Teachers Union, my trips to the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy, my long-form reports on what happened after Occupy, and much more. Necessary Trouble is a Progressive Pick at Truthout, meaning that you can order the book through them and donate to progressive reporting (including my own). Joe Macaré interviewed me about the book, the writing process, the value of electoral politics, and more.

You also show how white people’s reluctance to acknowledge racism as an issue has caused setbacks, from labor’s Operation Dixie to Oath Keeper groups that split over whether or not to show solidarity with Black protesters in Ferguson. What have been the hallmarks of movements and campaigns where solidarity across racial lines has been possible?

My favorite example is in Robin D.G. Kelley’s Hammer and Hoe, a book everyone should read about the Communist Party in Alabama during the Depression years. The Communist Party had a lot of problems in the US, but what it did in the South, particularly, was take the struggles of Black workers and Black sharecroppers as key to the class struggle it wanted to wage in the US. So the Communist Party in Alabama was made up of those workers, and they fought against lynching and police violence and false arrests alongside labor struggles for fair wages and equal treatment and inclusion for Black workers in unions. That wasn’t a sideline struggle, it was the struggle.

I was saying that we tend to personalize racism. We think of racism as people who say racist things or join racist groups or show up at a Trump rally with a sign saying “Build the Wall.” We don’t think of racism as where houses are built, what kind of a mortgage you get and what kind of air you breathe. We spend a lot of time trying to cleanse ourselves from the original sin of racism rather than trying to come up with ways to fight to change the systems that maintain it.

Read the rest at Truthout.


The Revolution is Not in Bernie’s Hands: Review/Interview at The New Republic

I can’t say enough good things about David Dayen–he’s generous with his time, knows more than any human should about the inner workings and scams of finance capital, he wrote an incredible book (buy it now, seriously, you will not regret it) and now he’s written a lovely piece on my book at TNR, connecting it to the launch of Bernie Sanders’s “Our Revolution” and the question of where the energy goes next. We had a great phone chat about it all last week and some of those thoughts make it in here, too.

The point that Jaffe’s book underscores, ultimately, is that “politics” as practiced in America has never been confined to Election Day or a single vote in Congress. Turnout cratered in the 2014 midterms, Jaffe notes, at the same time protest movements expanded nationwide. The activists Jaffe profiles are not bound by the realities of counting votes on Capitol Hill or maximizing donations. They see their goal as envisioning the world they want, and making those in power uncomfortable until they get it. The vehicle for that will not be “Our Revolution” delivered in 30-second ad bites, but a sustained movement, 24 hours a day.

Read the rest at The New Republic.


One Nation, Under Stress: Review at the New York Times(!!!!)

Well, wow! Vann Newkirk II reviewed my book for the New York Times, alongside Zachary Roth’s The Great Suppression. It’s an honor.

Necessary Trouble depicts the country as a pot set above the flames of economic discontent, ready to boil over. Jaffe, a journalist and a fellow at the Nation Institute, posits that what agitates these groups is economic injustice, and the book does well to set up the financial collapse of 2008 as the beginning of the great conflagration that set them all in motion. … Necessary Troubleshines in its assessment of why these fault lines exist in the first place. Capitalism, Jaffe argues, promotes instability and class divisions… and her book finds the thread of economic injustice in every tapestry it weaves.


Are We Still Suffering the Fallout of the “New Deal”? Excerpt at Dame

The wonderful people at Dame magazine (including Lisa Butterworth, who I go back to Bust days with) have run an excerpt from Necessary Trouble and I’m really pleased in particular that this chunk of the book made it online–it was a bunch of points that needed making, dots that needed connecting and I was happy with the way I did it. Check it out

The nuclear family that has been the focus of so much handwringing and moralizing in recent years was not a product of human nature but rather of a particular period in U.S capitalism. The family wage, designed to allow a male breadwinner to support a wife and children, was bargained for by the labor movement and accepted, though uneasily, by business leaders during the New Deal period. It allowed many working-class women, as well as their wealthier sisters, to stay home with their children; it built the middle class. The family wage—that is, material conditions—shaped our ideas of the male and female role in the workplace and in the home, in public and in private.

Read the rest at Dame!


The Sweetest Debut: Sarah Jaffe on Social Justice Movements, David Bowie and Hating Hemingway

The folks at Flavorwire have a column for debut authors and it’s a little different from what you might expect from me. For example, you get to learn about how I hate Hemingway (seriously–I like to think that I too would have covered the Spanish civil war but there the similarities most definitely end) and what music I listen to when writing.

Excerpt, read the whole thing at Flavorwire:

What’s your approach: writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

Something in between. Teaching myself to write something imperfect and edit it later has been hard, especially since most of my career has been writing for the web with minimal editing. But as I go along I have built relationships with a few great magazine editors and a wonderful book editor whom I trust to really read closely and help me make something better. So I’ve learned to get something on the page and then clean it up, but it still makes me twitch to write something that I don’t love.


Why Walmart Matters to 21st Century Working-Class Struggle: Excerpt at Truthout

Another excerpt at another of my favorite outlets to write for: the folks at Truthout pulled from my chapter on OUR Walmart and chose yet another section about the intersectional working class. A theme, perhaps? Necessary Trouble is also a Progressive Pick there this week, meaning you can buy the book and make a donation to Truthout to support independent journalism (including my own) in the future.

The image conjured by the term “working class” in the United States has been one of mostly white men toiling in a factory, wearing hard hats and those oft-evoked blue collars. Our labor policy was shaped around those men and the assumption that workers get health insurance from their jobs, have a pension on which to retire, and make a “family wage” that allows them to support a wife, who stays home to take care of the kids and the cooking and cleaning.

Read the rest at Truthout!