World Wide Work -- Books, Films, Music You May Have Missed

September 15, 2022

The Patience of a HeronThe Patience of a HeronNetarts, Oregon

Here’s the latest World Wide Work update.

BOOKS

True Biz by Sara Novic (Random House). Joys, challenges, and injustices faced by Deaf teenagers are at the heart of this edifying novel about three Deaf high school students who are coming of age and experiencing a political awakening.

Summer of Smoke by Josh Gross (Outsider). A satirical novel shows what life feels like these days to young people in an Oregon tourist town (Ashland) who face an uncertain future filled with climate-fueled fires and smoke.

The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter (Harper). Written in response to the Great Recession of 2008, this creative and often humorous novel captures the condition of many men who aren’t sure how to maintain family relationships and self-esteem as corporate greed drives down living standards.

Indian No More by Charlene Willing McManis (Thorndike). A member of the Umpqua tribe who was born on the Grand Ronde reservation in Oregon in 1953 wrote this novel for both children and adults, drawing on her experience after the U.S. government “terminated” her tribe and relocated her family to Los Angeles.

Wilderness by Anthony Schmitz. A master of irony and humor spins this entertaining yarn about white settlers on the Midwestern frontier and a scam artist who takes advantage of their greed. This and other novels by the same author are now available free here.

Where River Turns to Sky by Gregg Kleiner (Avon). Old people In a small Oregon town escape their grim lives in a nursing home to form a somewhat shaky commune in an old house.

Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (Ballantine). The challenges faced by Chinese immigrants to Jamaica and by Jamaican immigrants to Great Britain form the backdrop of this fable about a woman who goes to great lengths to be free and to pass on a better life to her children.

Grey Bees by Andrey Kurkov (Deep Vellum). Most residents of a small community in eastern Ukraine have fled the interminable fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian loyalists, but the main character of this slow-moving novel has stayed in the “grey zone” between the two sides to tend to his bees. Eventually, he decides to take his bees to Crimea for the summer, where he knows a Muslim beekeeping family facing persecution from the Russian occupiers.

The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee (One World). White people in America have often been told that equity for people of color will come at their expense. The chair of the board of Color of Change shows that those with the most wealth and power have used this divide-and-conquer story to impose policies that hurt all working people. She uses examples from communities across the U.S. to show that all working people benefit from multiracial organizing for liberty and justice for all. The author also discusses this in this webinar.

To Raise a Boy by Emma Brown (One Signal). Preventing sexual assault and harassment is only the first step. The reporter who brought to light Christine Blasey Ford’s account of sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh interviewed researchers, teachers, coaches, parents, men, and boys to explore the question: how can boys be raised to be fully human, healthy, respectful, and happy adults?

Coal, Cages, Crisis by Judah Schept (NYU). More than 350 new prisons were built in rural areas as mass incarceration ramped up. Appalachia was targeted for more than its share as the coal industry was declining and union jobs were disappearing. One community in eastern Kentucky successfully opposed a planned new federal prison and proposed better alternatives for community development.

Care-Centered Politics by Robert Gottlieb (MIT). A wide-ranging survey shows that an economic and political system based on profit is not able to address inequality, climate change, systemic racism, or global pandemics, and that new policies, institutions, and practices based on caring for each other and for the environment are needed instead. 

Gentrification Is Inevitable, and Other Lies by Leslie Kern (Verso). Wealthy developers, land speculators, corporate landlords, and their political allies tell us that gentrification is like the weather – there is nothing anyone can do about it. This intersectional analysis looks at gentrification through lenses of class, gender, and race to show how it actually works in today’s economy and to suggest ways to resist.

Fight Like Hell by Kim Kelly (One Signal). An activist journalist who has covered many of the growing number of union organizing campaigns around the country recounts inspiring stories from the history of American labor that are not taught in school. She tells about workers – many of them women and people of color – who organized in factories, service work, airlines, laundries, fields, mines, and many other industries, both in the past and in the current era.

How Birds Live Together by Marianne Taylor (Princeton). Spectacular photographs are accompanied by information about the types of homes and communities in which birds live.

Pollinator Anthology by Pollinator Project Rogue Valley. A 300-page anthology of photographs, paintings, poems, and factual information celebrates and educates about pollinators and native plants at a time when they are threatened by climate change, development, pesticides, and habitat loss. (I contributed 16 photographs from the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.)

FILMS

Elemental. This documentary about wildfires in the West features firefighters and scientists who say that a policy of fighting every fire can’t work given the impact of climate change. Some of the approaches advocated instead include letting fires burn when they don’t threaten homes, preserving old-growth forests that are more fire resilient, making sure structures are built or retrofitted to protect against burning embers, and learning from the ways indigenous peoples used fire. The otherwise thoughtful film begins with an exceedingly dramatic segment on the horrors of the fire that wiped out the town of Paradise, CA, that may be hard for some fire survivors to watch.

Sand Storm. In this intense feature film, women in a patriarchal Bedouin village try to take steps toward greater freedom.

Minamata. Based on a true story, this feature film follows famed photographer W. Eugene Smith as he goes to a small community in Japan to document the devastating impact of mercury poisoning caused by a large chemical company. The company stops at nothing to try to keep his photographs from being seen.

Fear. While walking in the woods, a widowed schoolteacher in a small Bulgarian village encounters a wandering African refugee. Like others in her community, she is afraid of him – until they get to know each other.  

Buffaloed. A young woman from a poor family will do anything to get out of her hometown of Buffalo and pursue the American dream. After brushes with the law, she becomes a debt collector and learns to use unethical practices to hound people like herself. More trouble ensues.

Sagebrush to Sea. A couple hiked nearly 200 miles through the mountains from Interstate 5 near the Oregon-California border to Crescent City on the coast. This 47-minute documentary shares their ecological knowledge as well as beautiful scenery.

MUSIC

Live Forever. Some of Billy Joe Shaver’s best-known songs are performed by Amanda Shires, Miranda Lambert, Margo Price, Edie Brickell, Willie Nelson, Ryan Bingham, Steve Earle, and more.

Until Now by Carrie Newcomer. The Midwestern singer tries to make sense of what’s happening to our world and also enjoys some humor:

I'm doing the best I can
At least that's what I plan
I'm trying to be the person that
my dog thinks I am


Building Strong Communities Should Be a Team Sport

September 15, 2022

My syndicated newspaper column talks about the human impact in my town and others as working people and farmers essentially have given heirs to the Walmart fortune and the chair of Starbucks a $4.6 billion "grant" to buy the Denver Broncos football team. What can we do about the fact that a few people have more wealth than they could ever use at the expense of so many people who are struggling without affordable housing, health care, education, child care or other basics?


They Say the War Is Over

July 15, 2022

"They Say the War Is Over" by Matt Witt is a nonfiction short story published in the literary and arts journal Cirque, Edition #24, Summer 2022. This "timely and dramatic personal account about race, class, and war" can be read free in PDF form at this link, or on pages 46-50 free in Cirque online.


World Wide Work -- Books, Films, Music You May Have Missed

May 06, 2022

 

Black Mountains HoodooBlack Mountains HoodooDeath Valley National Park, California

Here’s the latest World Wide Work update.

Writers on the Range syndicates thought-provoking columns that are then published by dozens of newspapers in the western states, including this one I contributed about an unusual coalition from across the political spectrum that defeated a giant corporation’s fracked gas pipeline proposal as part of a broader fight for a clean energy future.

New Verse News publishes poems that react to topical issues or current events, including this one that I contributed recently.

Ashland.news is an alternative online news source started recently after a wealthy media mogul from the east coast bought the two newspapers in Oregon’s Rogue Valley, shutting down one and orienting the other even closer to the local economic and political establishment. I contributed this article explaining a plan by the small town of Talent after a devastating wildfire to stimulate affordable housing, bring back small businesses, and help prevent future disasters.

BOOKS

The Memoirs of Stockholm Sven by Nathaniel Ian Miller (Little Brown). In this contemplative and often touching novel full of nature lore, an unhappy Swedish man in the early 1900s goes to live in the Arctic, where he suffers a disfiguring mining accident that leads him to a life of solitude in a harsh and remote fjord. He eventually bonds, despite himself, with an itinerant trapper, a Scottish geologist, and his own niece who also could not fit into Swedish society.

Bird Brother by Rodney Stotts and Kate Pipkin (Island). Stotts grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington DC and was dealing drugs to survive when by chance he was hired by an environmental group to help clean up the Anacostia River to make it hospitable not only for humans but for bald eagles that once lived there. Today, he is a master falconer and uses exposure to nature to help kids as poor as he once was.

The Northern Lights by Lucy Jago (Knopf). Cultures around the world had a variety of traditional explanations for the aurora borealis, but it was not until the early 1900s that a Norwegian scientist demonstrated the actual cause. This intriguing biography shows the hoops he had to jump through and the scientific, corporate, and political forces he had to deal with, as well as the effect of his work on his personal life.

Deadheading by Beth Gilstrap (Red Hen). These 22 short stories tell about people in the South who live on the margins and ache for connection and ways to do right by the people around them.

I’d Like to Say Sorry But There’s No One to Say Sorry To by Mikolaj Grynberg (New Press). A Polish psychologist produced these 31 first-person fictional monologues, each just several pages long, by a variety of characters, some Jewish, some talking to or about Jews. It adds up to a poignant picture of how the trauma caused by persecution of Polish Jews during and after WWII and up to the present day lives on from one generation to the next. As might be expected in such a work, the deadly serious is mixed with irony and humor.

Generation Priced Out by Randy Shaw (University of California). Housing has become unaffordable for many in today’s younger generations. Looking at attempts in a dozen cities to do something about that, a longtime housing organizer identifies concrete steps that those who do have affordable housing can support, including building more affordable housing units, requiring that new developments include some affordable units, using public land for affordable housing, helping nonprofits purchase small affordable sites, increasing state and local funding, enacting strong tenant protections, ending exclusionary zoning, and more.

Our Veterans by Suzanne Gordon, Steve Early, and Jasper Craven (Duke University). Many U.S. counties have highway signs when you cross into them that say, “We Honor Veterans.” But in practice the U.S. mostly does not live up to that slogan as it prioritizes military profiteering and endless wars over policies to achieve peace and as it mistreats many military personnel both during and after active duty. Without support to transition from active duty to civilian life, many military personnel are now finding their way to local law enforcement and/or to right-wing white supremacist groups, often with disastrous consequences. Meanwhile, politicians, corporations, and traditional veteran organizations often advocate policies that serve their own interests instead of the veterans they claim to support.

Black Walden by Elise Lemire (University of Pennsylvania). Most history books describe Concord, Massachusetts, as a place where the American Revolution was launched by hard-working white farmers and where famous authors like Thoreau, Emerson, and Alcott generated iconic literature. This account reveals that enslaved Black people there provided a lot of the farm labor for wealthy farmers, and that when some of them became free they formed a small community in the Walden woods, years before Thoreau lived there.

The People Are Dancing Again by Charles Wilkinson (University of Washington). This instructive history was produced with the cooperation of indigenous peoples of southern and western Oregon and moves from their lives before the European-American invasion to the broken treaties and trails of tears to their reservation years and finally to their cultural revival.

Devils Hole Pupfish by Kevin C. Brown (University of Nebraska). For more than a hundred years, scientists and public agencies have tried to preserve a tiny and unique population of fish that live only in one underground body of water near Death Valley. The history of those efforts, often over the objections of wealthy developers, shows how clumsy humans can be when trying to “steward” already impacted ecosystems.

Twenty-Two Cents An Hour by Doug Crandell (ILR Press). Too many workers with disabilities are exploited for subminimum wages as low as 22 cents an hour while corporate executives, Wall Street speculators, and huge “nonprofits” grow wealthier and receive taxpayer subsidies, all the while claiming to be providing a public service by supposedly giving these workers “opportunities.” An exceptionally thoughtful and informative explanation of this exploitation gives specific examples, discusses the boycott of Goodwill Industries, cites efforts to make progress in Oregon and other states, and calls for nationwide reforms.

Toward Antarctica by Elizabeth Bradfield (Boreal). A woman who served as a naturalist on several tourist ships to Antarctica uses photographs, poems, and snippets of diary-like prose to share her thoughts and feelings that the experience provoked.

Forget the Alamo by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford (Penguin). Despite the title, the authors want Americans to “Remember the Alamo,” but as a good example of the need to reexamine our history through a lens of fact, not legend. The actual dispute between the Mexican government and those like Davy Crockett who were defending the fort was over whether “settlers” from southern states were going to be allowed to import slavery into Texas, which was then part of Mexico.

Humane by Samuel Moyn (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). By focusing on the legalistic fine points of what kind of torture or drone attacks constitute “war crimes,” both major political parties have successfully shifted national discussion away from preventing wars and finding alternatives.

Managing with Labor’s Values by Ken Margolies (ILR). Activists in unions or social justice organizations sometimes find themselves in a position of supervising the work of others – a role they may not have expected. Often, they have internalized ineffective or even abusive management styles from other institutions. This guide, which can be downloaded for free, suggests ways to lead that are consistent with progressive values.

FILMS

Soumaya. In this feature film based on a true story, a Muslim woman who is a manager at an airport transportation company in Paris is fired out of the blue as part of an “anti-terrorist” campaign, even though she has done nothing wrong.

Arab Blues. A psychoanalyst who has been living in Paris comes back to her hometown in Tunisia and sets up her practice there, with a specific focus on serving working class people. Everyone tells her that no one will be interested in seeing her, but the opposite turns out to be true.

The County. In the Icelandic countryside, a cooperative formed decades ago to free farmers from exploitation by outside corporations has now become corrupt itself. After her husband dies, a very determined dairy farmer tries to organize her neighbors to fight back, despite threats and intimidation.

The Sense of Wonder. A French widow with two children is trying, without much success, to save the family farm. Driving home one day, her car hits a stranger, giving him bruises that need to be tended to. It turns out that he has a form of autism and is both socially unusual and mentally gifted. In this feel-good feature film that often requires a willing suspension of disbelief, the two of them find that each can help the other.

Perro Bomba. A young Haitian man immigrates to Chile for a better life in this realistic feature film. He works hard and stays out of trouble, but, little by little, racism and classism in his adopted homeland keep narrowing his options.

MUSIC

Native Sons by Los Lobos. The virtuoso band from East L.A. displays its versatility as it covers songs from a wide range of L.A. musicians, including Lalo Guerrero, Jackson Browne, Buffalo Springfield, Percy Mayfield, The Beach Boys, The Midniters, Dave Alvin, and more.

Quietly Blowing It by Hiss Golden Messenger. Easy listening songs about love and loneliness and about working class life today, as in “Mighty Dollar”: “It never fixed a broken heart. It never made a dumb man smarter. Hey, but I made it try. It’s hard to see with the sun in your eyes.”

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

The photograph above, “Black Mountains Hoodoo,” was taken this spring at Death Valley National Park. 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.


Going on a Lion Hunt

February 07, 2022

 

Pinyon, Late AfternoonPinyon, Late AfternoonRed Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness, Arizona

This article appeared in the third edition of Trouble magazine:

Going On a Lion Hunt

By Matt Witt

“Going on a lion hunt! But I’m not afraid! Cause I got my guns! And my bullets at my side!” – Scoutorama.com

“Going on a Lion Hunt” is a children’s activity used by Scout troops, summer camps, and others. I remember it from when I was a kid. Children get in a circle. The adult leader starts a call-and-response chant about going to hunt a lion. The kids call out that they are not afraid since they are bringing their guns on the hunt, and then they act out overcoming obstacles like muddy terrain, a river, a cave, and more.

“For those who long for rugged beauty unspoiled and untamed by man, Sycamore Canyon Wilderness is one of the few places in the Southwest that can lay claim to such a lack of man's accomplishments. This area is home to black bear and mountain lion as well as a number of less celebrated but just as notable creatures.” – U.S. Forest Service

One morning in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness south of Flagstaff, Arizona, my brother, his son, and I encountered an older man in hunting clothes talking to someone by two-way radio.

Soon, we realized that the side of the hill ahead of us was crawling with hound dogs – running, sniffing, and baying.

At first, I was hesitant to approach the man. I live in Oregon, where armed men not long ago took over a national wildlife refuge for more than a month, trashed it, and threatened its employees, yet the leaders walked away scot free. The rural part of the state where I reside is increasingly plagued by armed groups that espouse a mixture of white male supremacy and hostility to public lands. Asking even innocent questions of strangers with guns could be a mistake.

But then again, the old man could be like a former neighbor of mine in rural Virginia. That neighbor hunted because he didn’t have a lot of extra money and counted on five deer per year as part of his household’s food supply. Although we didn’t hunt ourselves, we were willing to let that neighbor cross onto our land when he needed to fill his freezer.

So after a few minutes my brother and I asked this man what he was doing.  

“Nothing gets the blood pumping more than coming up on hounds that have bayed or treed a mountain lion!” Arizona Guided Hunts Outfitters

He said he was serving as the base for a group of men who were following ten hounds he had provided to them.

When he didn’t reveal more, I asked, “Are they tracking a mountain lion?”

“Correct,” he said.

When I asked how he knew the cougar was in the area, he said he had found a deer it had killed and eaten, and the dogs had followed the big cat’s scent from there.

We saw that he was closely monitoring a GPS device that received signals from transmitters attached to each dog so he could tell the men the hounds’ locations.

“Is the idea that the hounds will tree the cougar?” I asked.

“Correct,” he said.

If the hounds got close enough to the lion, ancient instinct would kick in from the time, long ago, when cougars had to fear packs of wolves. The terrified lion would climb a tree, knowing the hounds couldn’t do the same. Eventually, the men would arrive where the baying hounds were gathered and shoot the motionless cat at close range.

“I don’t know if we’ll get this one,” he said. “It’s a runner.”

“5 day Guided Mountain Lion Hunts are $5,000.00 per person. Weapon types can be archery, muzzleloader, centerfire rifle or centerfire handguns. Weapon choice is not as critical as other big game hunts.” – Arizona Guided Hunts Outfitters

“5 Days Any Legal Lion $5000. These hunts are conducted on side-by-side's or 4wheelers.” – Killer Lion Hunts Guides

It seemed the man wasn’t eager to share much more information, so we didn’t ask about the financial arrangement between him and the men who were following his dogs. But when I got home I searched online for the going rate. At $5,000 per person, this apparently is not a hobby for the Walmart worker who makes $11 an hour, or for teachers or health care workers or Uber drivers or anyone else who lives on a budget.

“Mountain lion hunting is meeting the Department’s management objective of… providing recreational opportunities for 6,000 hunters per year.” – Arizona Game and Fish Department

“As long as the mountain lion hunters are walking into the wilderness and are not using any mechanized form of transportation and no motorized equipment, they are legal under the Wilderness Act.” – U.S. Forest Service

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, “About 850 livestock operators presently graze 56,000 cattle on public lands in Arizona.” But protecting ranchers’ profits isn’t a significant reason for killing mountain lions. Only an average of 27 of the big cats are killed in Arizona each year because a rancher claimed a case of “cattle depredation” – less than one-thirteenth of the average annual “harvest” of lions in that state by “hunters” seeking “recreational opportunities.”

“Trophy hunters have killed approximately 29,000 lions in the U.S. in the last decade.” Humane Society Report, “Cecil 2,” 2016

“Since 1890, there have been 29 fatal attacks by mountain lions on humans in North America.” – Arizona Game and Fish Department

My brother, his son, and I left the old man and continued hiking. We could still hear the hounds’ baying and see their movements. I wondered if this might be my long-awaited chance to see a mountain lion. A few years ago, I came across fresh prints in newly fallen snow not far from my Oregon home. And my son and daughter-in-law saw one calmly walking through the woods only a couple hundred yards from our house. But I never have had that good fortune.

I found myself imagining the big cat racing across this Arizona trail in front of us, and wondered if we would try to use our hiking poles to fend off the dogs long enough for the cougar to escape, and what sort of confrontation that might create with the gunmen. That didn’t happen, of course, as the lion seemed to be getting away without our help.

During our time in the area, we climbed to the top of massive red rock formations caused by powerful natural forces over millions of years.

We walked on an iced-over stream that reflected reds and yellows coming from steep and narrow canyon walls.

We trekked for miles through clumps of giant old trees – pinyon, alligator bark juniper, oak, sycamore, and more – and wondered what will happen to them and other living things there as the climate continues to get hotter and drier.

“The southwestern United States is expected to become more prone to droughts with climate change. The resulting loss of vegetation will not only impact herbivores like mule deer; their main predator, mountain lions, might take an even larger hit.” – NASA

In our visit to red-rock wilderness we had gone on our own kind of hunt. But contrary to the old kids’ game, we were afraid – not of the lion, but for our common future.

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