Tag Archives: civil rights movement

The Bridge, by David Remnick

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

The White House has been home to many colorful characters in the more than two centuries since it was first occupied in 1800–think of the polymath Thomas Jefferson, the swashbuckling Andrew Jackson, and the big game hunter and peacemaker Teddy Roosevelt–but Barack Obama is at least their equal. With a life story no Hollywood screenwriter would dare concoct, President Obama is the avatar of multicultural America. In David Remnick’s formulation, he is “the bridge” between white and black, the elite and the street, and–equally important–between the generation of African-Americans who followed Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lewis in the civil rights movement, and those who were born too late to have experienced its pains and joys directly.

This is familiar territory to anyone who has dipped even briefly into the flood of writing about Barack Obama, much of it essentially biographical, and Remnick brings few new insights to the story. However, what he brings is the fruit of hundreds of interviews with Obama himself, his closest aides and advisers, as well as others in the media and academia who can help cast light on the workings of the President’s mind.

The special emphasis in this book is race. Remnick follows the threads of Obama’s own journey of self-discovery and his sometimes-troubled interaction with others, especially older leaders, in Chicago’s African-American populous diaspora, and he puts Obama’s rise to the presidency in historical perspective as an expression of the black community’s centuries-long struggle for equality in America. To Remnick, Dr. King and his colleagues represented the “Moses generation,” destined to approach the walls of Jericho but never to enter the promised land beyond. Obama embodies the “Joshua generation” that stands on the shoulders of its parents and now seeks to claim the fruits of this historic struggle.

David Remnick is best known now as editor of The New Yorker for the past dozen years, but in his relatively short life–he’s just a few years older than his subject in The Bridge–he distinguished himself as a reporter, first for the Washington Post and later for the New York Times. He won a Pulitzer for Lenin’s Tomb, the 1993 book based on his years as Moscow correspondent for the Post.

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Filed under Current Events, Nonfiction

Creative Community Organizing, by Si Kahn

A review of Creative Community Organizing: A Guide for Rabble-Rousers, Activists, & Quiet Lovers of Justice, by Si Kahn

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

There’s a little something for just about everybody in Si Kahn’s delightful little memoir, Creative Community Organizing. In the space of a couple of hours of reading, you can gain a front-row seat on history from the vantage-point of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the most militant elements in the civil rights struggle) to the UMWA (the Mineworkers Union) to the recent nationwide campaign to end immigrant family detention. You’ll learn about music and art and their central role in what Kahn calls “creative community organizing,” with folksong lyrics prefacing every chapter. You’ll learn about Si’s remarkable rabbi father and radical mother. You’ll even learn the meaning of the puzzling word “hod,” as in “hod carrier.”

Si is a 45-year veteran of organizing in the civil rights movement, the labor movement, and through the scrappy little nonprofit organization he founded 30 years ago to work for social and economic justice in the South and Southwest, Grassroots Leadership. He is also a writer and singer of folksongs, most of them on radical themes tied to his organizing work. Oh, and by the way: he’s a really nice guy.

This book, subtitled A Guide for Activists, Rabble-Rousers, and Quiet Lovers of Justice, can also be read as a primer on creative community organizing. The material is organized into chapters that correspond to the guiding principles of Si’s craft. And I can testify to the wisdom of those principles, having worked as a community organizer myself for several years in the 1970s — operating more from the seat of my pants rather than the solid experience Si has gained through a lifetime of organizing.

Note well: Si hasn’t just organized and run campaigns. He has helped win a number of notable victories over the years. He knows whereof he writes. And our country is much the stronger for Si’s tireless efforts on behalf of justice, equality, and freedom.


Filed under Nonfiction, Poverty