World Wide Work: Books, Films, and Music You May Have Missed

March 10, 2021

Three OystercatchersThree OystercatchersOregon-California border

Here’s the latest World Wide Work update on films, books, and music you may have missed.

BOOKS

Union Made by Eric Lotke (Hard Ball). This novel makes an important contribution by skillfully bringing alive what actually happens when low-wage workers decide they need a union, how big corporations fight back, and how unions must find creative points of leverage to win. The book’s strengths overcome some annoying quirks as it centers the experience of white organizers in the Justice for Janitors movement.

Unseen City by Amy Shearan (Red Hen). As Brooklyn rapidly gentrifies, the characters in this edifying novel discover that the ghosts of its racist history are still present.

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans (Riverhead). These short stories and a novella, told mostly from the point of view of Black women, combine entertaining writing with inventive commentary.

Buy Me Love by Martha Cooley (Red Hen). A New York woman discovers that she has won the $100 million state lottery and has 30 days to collect. Her life gradually becomes entwined with other characters with urgent needs as she agonizes over whether her life will be better or worse if she redeems the winning ticket.

Predict and Surveil by Sarah Brayne (Oxford). The author got access to observe the Los Angeles Police Department in operation and to see how “predictive policing” that relies on large-scale data collection and analysis actually works in practice. She reports that it opens the door to profiling individuals and neighborhoods, building detailed files on people who are not suspected of a crime, avoiding accountability through the use of outside contractors, increasing bias in sentencing, searching without a warrant, and other backward steps.

You Can Keep That to Yourself by Adam Smyer (Akashic). A Black writer provides a thought-provoking guide to words and phrases he’s tired of hearing from well-intentioned white people.

One Life by Megan Rapinoe (Penguin). The soccer star’s autobiography traces her growth from a Trump-supporting family and community in Redding, CA, to becoming a national spokesperson for racial and gender equity.

Silicon Values by Jillian C. York (Verso). A handful of giant corporations headed by billionaires are deciding what content is allowed on social media around the world based on their own profits and cozy relationships with authoritarian governments.

Black Wall Street 100 by Hannibal B. Johnson (Eakin). May 31 and June 1 mark the 100th anniversary of an armed assault on the Black community in Tulsa after a Black teenager accidentally stepped on the foot of a white girl in an elevator. This book reviews the history and tells what has happened since then in that neighborhood.

Culture Strike by Laura Raicovich (Verso). A former museum director in New York argues that museums in the U.S. have traditionally served to maintain the status quo rather than being vehicles for much needed social change. She addresses such issues as how they are funded, what they display, how they define their audience, how they choose their boards of directors, how they pay employees, and more.

Vanguard by Martha S. Jones (Basic). For this history of political organizing led by black women in the U.S., the author started by tracing her own roots back to an ancestor born into slavery in 1808.

Diversifying Power by Jennie C. Stephens (Island). The climate and energy movement needs antiracist, feminist leadership focused on the intersection of those issues with worker justice, housing, health, food, and transportation.

FILMS

Radium Girls. In the 1920s, young women were employed to paint wristwatches with radium so the dial would glow in the dark. Companies knew the substance was causing deaths and serious diseases but told workers it was safe. In this feature film, one of those women begins challenging management after her sister becomes fatally ill.

Little Pink House. This feature film tells the true story of a paramedic in a small Connecticut town who was told that her home and others in her neighborhood were being condemned through the city’s power of eminent domain so the drug giant Pfizer Corp. could build a new facility. She took a lawsuit against this all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against her 5-4, fueling opposition across the country to the use of eminent domain to benefit private corporations.

Retablo. A 14-year-old boy in a remote region of Peru is happily learning from his father how to make folk art to sell to tourists. But when he observes his father in a sex act with another man, his family’s world is changed forever. 

Nomadland. Frances McDormand stars as a woman who lives in a van after the mining town where she lived in Nevada shut down. As she travels, she supports herself by working at an Amazon warehouse and other jobs with low pay and little security. In the course of the film, we meet other houseless seniors trying to survive in today’s America. In keeping with director Chloé Zhao’s normal practice, most of the characters are “real people” playing themselves, giving the film an unusual degree of authenticity.

All Out. Rafael Padilla, given the stage name Chocolat, became famous in France in the early 1900s as the first Black circus clown but faced barriers of racism at every step.

Residue. A young African American screenwriter now trying to make it in Hollywood returns to his old neighborhood in Washington DC, hoping to write a screenplay that will give voice to the people he grew up with. But his old friends are not so sure they trust him as the community gentrifies.

I Dream in Another Language. An indigenous language in a small Mexican community will die out completely unless a visiting linguist is able to record the two old men who still speak it. He discovers, however, that the two have refused to speak to each other for 50 years. The mystery of why that’s the case slowly unfolds.

9 to 5: The Story of a Movement. In the 1970s, women who worked as secretaries organized for higher pay, promotional opportunities, childcare benefits, and protection from sexual harassment. This documentary shows how far we’ve come for some women, even as many of the underlying problems remain.

MUSIC

Un Canto por Mexico. Natalia Lafourcade sings traditional Mexican folk and love songs as well as the anthem, “Un Derecho de Nacimiento” (Birthright).

13 Women. Vocalist Susan Anders performs original songs about groundbreaking women from U.S. history who have inspired her, including a school teacher, tattoo artist, sculptor, astronomer, architect, factory worker, and more.

If you find this bulletin helpful, please share this edition of World Wide Work with others.

The photograph above, “Three Oystercatchers,” was taken on the coast near the Oregon-California border. More photos may be seen at MattWittPhotography.com, where all proceeds from sales go directly to the Rogue Action Center, an independent nonprofit hub for community organizing.


New Start

December 15, 2020

New Start Along Bear Creek After FireNew Start Along Bear Creek After FireTalent, Oregon

This photo and text were published by New Verse News on Dec. 16, 2020:

NEW START

By Matt Witt

It used to be

that if you walked along Bear Creek

that runs next to town

you could see the stream

only in a few moments

because the view was blocked

by brambles of highly flammable blackberries

and tangles of branches.

 

Then this summer’s inferno

burned everything to ash,

clearing out the old understory

and leaving only a sprinkling of

charred tree trunks,

like ghosts from the past.

 

Now you can walk freely

across cleared black ground

and see how the stream community works,

the side creeks feeding it,

the ducks and coots and geese

finding food and

shelter from predators.

 

It used to be

that if you walked through town

you could see the money stream

only in a few moments

because the view was blocked

by fairy tales about

rugged individuals and

the generosity of the rich

without ever asking

who all that wealth was

taken from.

 

Then the fire burned everything to ash,

leaving those who could least afford it

to scramble for survival

while developers and bankers met

to discuss how they might profit

by grabbing up the close-in valuable land

and moving “their” workers,

many with brown skin,

to the valley’s outskirts,

all in the name of charity.

 

Now you can see

how money and power flow

from bottom to top

filling giant pools for a few

with not much left to trickle down.

 

Along Bear Creek,

just weeks after the fire,

small sprouts of green

bring the possibility of

a new community

better than the old

with each plant and bird and animal

doing its part.

 

In town,

new sprouts of community

are taking root too

as people work together

to make sure everyone has

food and shelter and hope

and to ask what we can do

so what grows back

will be better for all of us,

now that we can see.


Powerful Poetry on RadarPoetry.com

October 27, 2020

Horsetail at DawnHorsetail at DawnRogue River, Oregon

Powerful poetry by eight women is contained in the latest edition of Radar, an online poetry journal that publishes a photograph or other image with each poem.

I'm lucky enough to have six of my photographs published along side poems by Amy Miller.

If you haven't seen RadarPoetry.com before, check it out.

 


The Executioner's Face

September 17, 2020

WelcomeWelcomeTalent, Oregon

The following was published Sept. 16, 2020 by New Verse News.

The Executioner's Face

By Matt Witt

We load the car --

two sets of clothes and

a lifetime of memories --

as skyscraper flames are destroying

hundreds of homes of

friends and neighbors

a mile away.

Did they get out in time?

And then what?

 

We hit the back roads,

searching for safety,

with Bob Dylan howling through car speakers:

"The soles of my feet,

I swear they're burning."

 

Decades of reports said

this was coming

without climate action.

"Hotter temperatures."

"Disappearing snowpack."

"More frequent and more intense fires."

"Urgent transition needed to solar."

"Rapid investment in energy efficiency."

 

We can already picture

the photos the media will feed us

of some scraggly guy with stringy hair

who may have dropped a match --

with headlines: “What caused the fire?”

 

There will be no photos of

corporate lobbyists

whose puppets for years said

let's double down on what got us here

or who gave us half measures

and asked for applause.

 

We drive through the smoke,

community destroyed,

and now Dylan’s voice is sounding more desperate:

"The executioner's face,” he wails,

“is always well hidden."


Beartooth Beauty

September 28, 2019

The following article appeared in the Billings (MT) Gazette on Sept. 28, 2019.

Sandhill Crane at SunsetSandhill Crane at SunsetAbsaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, Wyoming

By Matt Witt

It was 8:30 p.m. on a late July evening in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness when an hour-long barrage of one-inch hailstones finally stopped pounding my tent above Native Lake.

The lightning, which had been so close I couldn’t finish saying “one, one thousand” before thunder boomed, had finally moved about five miles away.

Hearing only a slight drizzle, I grabbed my camera and crawled out of the tent. The light was low, but pink sunset clouds were still reflecting in nearby tarns that were surrounded by the newly fallen hail.

In the other direction, dense clouds and the lake itself were glowing with the most vibrant purple I’d ever seen.

This scene was just one of the highlights of nine days I spent as an Artist in Residence for the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation (ABWF) this past summer.

In partnership with the U.S. Forest Service, ABWF sponsors several Artists in Residence each summer to spend seven to ten days in the wilderness, drawing inspiration from the beauty and solitude for their painting, writing, musical compositions, or other work.

For me, the artist residency in an ecosystem very different than where I live in rural Oregon gave me unusual opportunities to apply my “Closer to Nature” approach to photography, focusing in on simple details and uncluttered images in an attempt to see nature’s beauty with fresh eyes.

I photographed a sandhill crane silhouetted against a dramatic yellow sunset.

An intensely yellow-orange lily flower was reflected in a lake.

A rainbow appeared above trees colored with red sunset light.

Textures caught my eye on big boulders that I later learned were fossilized coral.

I had a relatively rare encounter with a pika and photographed a lone whitebark pine – both species in jeopardy as climate change threatens the cold environments they require.

As a follow-up to this artist residency, I’m now sharing these and many other images with ABWF to use in its educational work promoting and maintaining wilderness, as well as posting them for the public at MattWittPhotography.com.

With the high-altitude weather sometimes turning harsh, and no one else around for much of the time, I had plenty of time to think about the people who survived in this wilderness for thousands of years without having a car at a trailhead or housing to go back to with electricity and heat. Given how much time most of us spend sheltered by those comforts, it seems more important than ever to protect wilderness and all the living things that depend on it.

This summer, two other artists took part in ABWF’s program. One was Stephanie Rose (StephanieRoseArtist.com), a painter who used a Forest Service cabin as a her base of operations.

“I painted a collection of field studies, each of which seared into my memory my impressions of a particular place,” Rose said. “I will use these field studies to grow paintings in the studio, where I am able to further distill the motif I want to communicate to other people.”

The other was Marc Beaudin (CrowVoice.com), a poet and theater artist who worked from a remote Forest Service cabin up the Boulder River south of Big Timber.

“I finished a manuscript of poetry called Life List, where each poem honors a different bird species that has made an impact on my life and writing,” Beaudin said. “Having several days and nights without electricity, and all the disruptive technologies that come with it, meant there was nothing to take me away from my work, and having the power and beauty of the mountains, forest and river around me meant constant inspiration to keep at it.”

This was the sixth year the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation has operated its Artist in Residence Program, according to David Kallenbach, ABWF’s executive director. 

“I’ve been astounded by how many people have found out about the opportunity and by the diverse qualities of the artists who have participated in the program – from a videographer to a paper-making artist to a composer, as well as painters, writers, and poets,” Kallenbach said.

To learn more about the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Foundation and how to get involved in its many volunteer opportunities, see ABWilderness.org.

 

Archive
January February March April May June July August September (2) October November December
January February (1) March April May June July (1) August September (1) October November December
January February March April May June July August September (1) October (1) November December (1)
January February March (1) April May June July August September October November December