Disruptive, adaptive, and fun: Interview at ThinkProgress

I talked with Jason Linkins at ThinkProgress about protests and how they happen, the March For Our Lives, how I wish I had a formula but I don’t and how the best advice I can give is to adults, to not be the person who tells young people that they can’t change the world.

[L]ast week, when they had the school walk-out, if you look at the schools that had the walk-outs, they’re all over the country. They’re in affluent suburban districts but they’re also in the city — they’re in Baltimore and Miami and New York and Chicago. People from radically different backgrounds are connecting to what’s going on here — they’re saying, “I should not have to worry about this shit as a teenager.” And “this shit” can be a lot of things: they’re protesting a lack of gun control, but in doing that, they’re protesting a non-functional democracy where the adults in the room — big old air quotes around “adults in the room” — are not doing what they should do. They’re not doing much of anything. They’re sitting on their asses or they’re trying to arm teachers. They’re either doing nothing or they’re doing things that are actively horrifying and harmful.

Those are the options: the way things are now, or actively horrifying. And you see masses of teenagers saying, “No, these two options are terrible and we refuse them both.”

Read the rest at ThinkProgress.


End of an Era: Books for the Obama years

Emmett Rensin included Necessary Trouble in his round-up of books to read to understand the Obama era, at Bookforum.

Necessary Trouble is a book that’s virtue lies primarily in the willingness of author Sarah Jaffe to perform the actual work of a journalist and go investigate these movements in person.. She explores all kinds: the reactionary, the revolutionary, the mundane, and shows that residents of fly-over states clad in red trucker hats are not the only demographic that has escaped the notice of Washington. The hidden chaos of the Obama era has also produced viable movements for revolutionary change, including movements that are perhaps more threatening than their reactionary counterparts to the power of liberal technocracy because these left-wing movements cannot be fought in the open without betraying the conservative instincts of many notionally liberal progressives and Democrats.

Read more.


HuffPost Favorite Political Books of 2016

Necessary Trouble was one of HuffPost Politics/So That Happened‘s favorite political books of the year.

There were many excellent books about American politics this year, but Sarah Jaffe wrote a great book about American democracy. It is a rare political book that eschews detailed accounts of legislative battles and interest groups in favor of a sweaty, rude and deeply humane look at the people rebelling (peacefully) against their overlords.


A Diary of Protest for the Days to Come: Review at The Indypendent

Michael Hirsch at the Indypendent had the first post-Trump-election review of Necessary Trouble and concludes that trouble is, yes, even more necessary:

Perhaps, but we knew a Clinton administration would be no springtime in paradise. Neoliberalism is an uninspiring alternative to Trumpism, and the neoliberal order is cracking up, even if it is doing so in a manner few imagined possible. A finely written book such as Jaffe’s is not just a palliative of hope: The stories she reports of people building power through struggle offer a healthy direction forward.

Read the rest at the Indypendent.


The Revolution Will Be Intersectional: Labor Journalist Sarah Jaffe Writes of a New Radicalism

The excellent Katie Klabusich reviewed Necessary Trouble at Rewire. This came out before the election, but remains relevant:

As someone who got involved, in part, because I could see that I wasn’t the only who was frustrated and wanted better, Jaffe’s thesis that this is a “new time” resonates with me.

If she’s right—and I think that she is—we’re at a precipice, which the outcome of next week’s election will only amplify.

“Anger continues to simmer just under the surface, and occasionally, when enough people are angry enough to overcome their reasons for holding back, it explodes,” writes Jaffe.

Read the rest at Rewire.


25 Nonfiction Books for Anger and Action

Literary Hub posted a list of 25 nonfiction books for the Trump age. If there’s one thing that’s been making me feel better in these last few days (aside from the sight of high-school students organizing walkouts around the country, in Phoenix and Omaha as well as Berkeley and New York) it’s that I seem to have written something that people find useful in this moment.

There’s other great stuff on here (my labelmate Ari Berman on voting rights and Angela Davis; The New Jim Crow and Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind and probably the only time I’ll make a literary list alongside James Baldwin) and a few that I’d quibble with. So I also made my own list on my Goodreads page.


Necessary Trouble: Five questions with Sarah Jaffe

Laura Clawson at Daily Kos interviewed me about Necessary Trouble. An excerpt:

You trace a history where unions were vulnerable to red-baiting, were—with the exception of some public sector unions—”disaffected with the [1960s] social movements,” didn’t organize the South because they couldn’t or wouldn’t tackle racial divisions effectively. But in the recent movements you study, unions are largely supportive and in some cases are key backers. How did unions (and the institutional left more generally) come around? Where do you see gaps in that support for new movements, and on the flip side, what do they bring to the table?

I am a labor journalist and a once and (maybe) future union member; the way that workers wield power in and around the workplace and the economy is the subject nearest to my heart. I am fascinated by the history of the labor movement and the tension within it between making fundamental changes to society or eking out the best deal for its members. For a long time, the largest swath of the labor movement thought it had reached a sort of detente with capital, that the boss was content to share some of the proceeds in exchange for a committed workforce that didn’t oppose bosses’ gains. It took a while for labor to realize that the boss never stopped trying to wipe it out, but I think it’s impossible now to pretend that there’s a future for unions that isn’t fought for tooth and nail. Entire books have been written by people with much more experience than I have on how labor came around, but for me the thing that’s interesting is watching the labor movement embrace social movements again sometimes cynically, sometimes with real honesty that they have a lot to learn. This book covers the Wisconsin uprising, the Chicago teachers strike, OUR Walmart and the Fight for $15, all of which are in some ways outside of the box for the labor movement, as well as movements like Occupy Wall Street or the movement for black lives where labor realized that it had to get involved.


From Black Lives Matter to the Fight for $15: Why Americans Are in Revolt: Interview at The Nation

Astra Taylor gave me an excellent piece of book-writing advice early on in the process and at the end, she’s here to interview me for The Nation.

AT: So do activists need to give people in power paths to be heroes, not just villains?

SJ: I think it’s important to tell the story the right way. Seattle’s socialist City Council member, Kshama Sawant, has this great line in the book where she says, to paraphrase: “If you tell people this fairy tale that the benevolent leaders sat down and granted the workers of Seattle a $15 minimum wage, not only is it a profoundly disempowering narrative, it’s actually wrong. You miss the fact that there’s a fundamental conflict between the rich bosses and the workers who work for them, and there’s actual organizing that went on to win it.”

Read the whole thing at The Nation (or in your print magazine!)


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.