Movements, Not Presidents: The Nationwide Fight Against Neoliberalism: Review at Common Dreams

Jake Johnson at Common Dreams reviews Necessary Trouble and picks up on some really great threads, like the below:

While examining this space, Jaffe recalls, she met an emergency medical technician, there generously offering her services to the protesters.

“So far we’ve given out lots of Band-Aids,” she told Jaffe, “because everyone has blisters, lots of cough drops because nobody has a voice.”

Perhaps inadvertently, in her description of the nagging physical ailments that accompany tireless protest, this unnamed EMT nicely underlined the political reality that drove thousands to join the burgeoning movement in the first place.

The public has long been without a voice—at least, without a voice powerful enough to justify America’s official classification as a representative democracy. While democratic forms remain, any lingering residue of the popular will has long since been driven out of the political process. The results, while devastating, have not been entirely surprising.

Read the whole thing at Common Dreams. One of my favorite reviews thus far.


The Fight Against Austerity Started Here: Excerpt at The Nation

The excellent folks at The Nation (who published my first-ever piece of labor journalism) have an excerpt from Necessary Trouble up, as the book continues to roll on.

The [Teaching Assistants’ Association] had already planned a rally for Valentine’s Day, in a preemptive strike against likely cuts to the university, and Hanna was deluged with emails asking her to come home. She was observing the popular revolution that had begun in Egypt in the winter of 2011, part of what came to be known as the Arab Spring. But the attacks on the union and the university were serious enough that she returned just in time for the February 14 action. The TAA led a crowd of marchers up State Street from the university campus to deliver a thousand valentines protesting Act 10 to Walker at the Capitol. It was an impressive showing, but marches were common enough in Madison that few expected this one to be different. Jenni Dye, a lawyer based in Madison, was downtown eating brunch and saw the protesters. “I thought, ‘Oh look, another Madison protest.’”

Read the rest at The Nation.


Necessary Trouble: A Necessary Read: Review at Jobs With Justice

One of the fun experiences of writing this book has been people who are normally on the receiving end of my interviews and coverage in turn covering the book. The folks at Jobs With Justice posted a lovely review of Necessary Trouble, by Kyle Friend:

Jaffe delves deeply into the nuances of American capitalism throughout the book, providing the reader a roadmap to understanding the rebirth of American activism. She saunters through a short history of Walmart, the retail giant which has effectively been able to set substandard labor practices by very virtue of its size, and the efforts to organize its employees. She also explains and shows how credit has been used as a crutch to stave off stagnating wages since the 1970s; and she rightfully connects disastrous austerity policies in the European Union to the policies pursued by conservative statehouses across the United States.

Read the rest at Jobs With Justice.


How do we make America great? ‘Necessary Trouble’ and ‘Against Democracy’ take contrasting views: Review at the Los Angeles Times

That lovely warm feeling when reviewers get what you were trying to do, times 100 with this review from Molly Sauter at the Los Angeles Times:

Yet with the election looming, Jaffe’s “Necessary Trouble” reminds us that even now the political stage is much wider and richer than pulling a lever every couple of years, choosing between candidates whose differences increasingly have more to do with labels than politics. We have more options than what’s on offer.

Contrasted with “Against Democracy,” which works out far better than I would have expected. Read the whole thing here.


9 Books for Back-to-School That Times Editors Think You Should Read: More love from the NYT!

So pleased that Necessary Trouble made the New York Times Book Review editors’ list of nine books for back-to-school reading! Excellent company, too.

NECESSARY TROUBLE: Americans in Revolt,by Sarah Jaffe. (Nation Books, $26.99.) Jaffe examines the rebirth and re-envisioning of activism over the past decade by groups on both right and left. There’s a reason for all the tumult.



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.