Here’s the latest World Wide Work update.
The Postcard by Anne Berest (Europa Editions). A thoroughly researched novel tells the powerful story of the author’s family members who, as Jews, were forced to leave a long series of countries in the early 1900s until four of them were killed in a German concentration camp. Berest brings alive the terror Jews faced during that period, and explores her feelings about being Jewish and anti-Semitism today.
Tolerance Is a Wasteland by Saree Makdisi (University of California). In 1948, the great majority of Palestinian communities in what would become Israel were destroyed, driving an estimated 800,000 people from their homes and farms – a process that continues to this day. Yet, Israel denies that history and portrays itself as an outpost of liberal values, racial tolerance, and environmental sustainability. For anyone who is heartsick at the escalation of violence in the Middle East and is interested in understanding a different perspective, this recent book is one of many places to start.
Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter (Simon and Schuster). Drawing on his direct experience as an international negotiator, the former president wrote in 2006 that negotiated solutions had been acceptable to Hamas and other Palestinian groups on multiple occasions but that “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement.” Illegal Israeli actions are condoned by “a submissive White House and U.S. Congress,” “voices from Jerusalem dominate in our media,” and “most American citizens are unaware of circumstances in the occupied territories,” he wrote.
Rust Belt Union Blues by Lainey Newman and Theda Skocpol (Columbia University). Most people vote based not only on policy issues but on their identity and the social networks they belong to. As corporations succeeded in destroying union jobs in states like Pennsylvania, many working people turned away from national Democratic leaders who didn’t stand up for them and didn’t seem to respect them. Union halls that once functioned as community centers with ties to local churches, ethnic organizations, sports leagues, and social clubs largely disappeared. In their place, gun clubs, mega churches, and company-sponsored social activities filled many people’s need for connection and community identity. Efforts by national unions to phone bank and canvas at election time cannot replace the need to rebuild a sense of community and solidarity at the local level.
Excluded by Richard D. Kahlenberg (Public Affairs). “Highly educated liberals who are admirably concerned with inequality by race, gender, and sexual orientation” often support zoning and other housing policies that “segregate their communities by income.” Kahlenberg reports that unions, community organizations, and climate activists have joined forces in some states and cities to win policy changes that promote economic integration with an eye toward making housing more affordable. He also addresses objections to those reforms commonly raised by conservatives and liberals.
The Lies of the Land by Steven Conn (University of Chicago). Rural America is often talked about as a place full of family farmers and wholesome values. But in reality, cheaper land, lower wages, and the general absence of unions in rural areas have long been exploited by big corporations and developers that extract profits and leave poverty in their wake, and by the U.S. military that uses rural youth as cannon fodder.
The Fantasy Economy by Neil Kraus (Temple University). Politicians, corporate profiteers, and the media tell us that if working people are experiencing a drop in living standards and economic security it’s because they don’t have enough education, and that there is a shortage of professionals with science and technology training. Neither of these assertions is supported by the facts. Instead, those who benefit from wealth inequality use these “blame the victim” myths to stave off reforms that would address inequality directly, like raising the minimum wage, stopping companies from falsely claiming their workers are “contractors,” or making it easier to form unions.
Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask by Anton Treuer (Levine Querido). This plain spoken and unromanticized guide by a professor of Ojibwe from Minnesota admirably lives up to its title, answering common questions about Native peoples’ history, culture, politics, and contemporary activism.
Corporate Bullsh*t by Nick Hanauer, Joan Walsh, and Donald Cohen (New Press). Throughout U.S. history, big corporations and their political allies have opposed progressive policies using six messages: 1) There is no problem, 2) The free market will solve it, 3) You are at fault, not us, 4) Any reform will kill jobs, 5) You’ll just make it worse, and 6) What you propose is socialism! The authors have collected hundreds of such statements that were used to justify slavery, child labor, toxic pollution, tobacco profiteering, and many other practices that are now outlawed or regulated.
A Fabulous Failure by Nelson Lichtenstein and Judith Stein (Princeton). Liberals who wonder why fewer working class people support the Democratic Party can learn a lot by studying the history of Bill Clinton’s presidency, in which he removed public interest regulations on Wall Street and set the stage for the Great Recession of 2008, lowered labor standards and cut jobs through “free trade” agreements, took away welfare benefits from many households while increasing policing in poor neighborhoods, and designed a failed health care reform proposal that generated enthusiastic support from virtually no constituency.
Israelism. The young woman and young man featured in this film both grew up in unequivocally pro-Israel Jewish families, schools, and communities. Neither of them learned anything about the Palestinians whose homes had been appropriated. The young man enthusiastically volunteered for the Israeli army after high school. But when he was sent on patrol in the West Bank, he saw the conditions that Palestinians were subjected to. The young woman -- the great-granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor -- went to meetings at UC Berkeley armed with pro-Israel talking points, but when she heard Palestinian students speak she became curious and eventually spent extensive time in both Israel and Palestine to learn more. Both of these young American Jews, as well as Palestinians and Israeli Jews who are interviewed in the film, have come to the conclusion that there can be no military solution and that there will never be an end to the hostilities in that region as long as there isn’t liberty and justice for all.
And Then There Was Israel. This documentary recounts the history of the establishment of Israel. In the early 1900s, Britain, France, and the U.S. did not want Jewish refugees who were fleeing persecution in Russia, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. In 1917, the British government announced that it would “favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” and that it would use its “best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.” Many Jews around the world opposed this proposal to take over Palestinians’ territory, saying that the major western nations should do more to end discrimination against Jews in the countries they already called home.
War Pony. Two residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation co-wrote the script for this touching film that uses local actors. The story is centered on a 23-year-old man and 12-year-old boy who are trying to survive despite the obstacles colonization has left behind.
Past Lives. A young girl moves from Korea to New York with her family and eventually settles down with a Jewish man. Two decades later, a boy she knew in Seoul reappears in her life, sparking questions about her identity and the life path she has followed.
Cassandro. Gael Garcia Bernal stars in this true story of a gay man who breaks barriers in the Mexican wrestling art form known as Lucha Libre.
C’mon, C’mon. A nine-year-old boy has been raised by his mother to be able to express his feelings. The same is not so true of his uncle, who is working on a radio project interviewing kids in various cities about how they see the future. The two are thrown together by circumstance, and each learns from the other.
Dos Estaciones. A 50-year-old woman who inherited her family’s tequila factory in Jalisco tries to keep it going despite competition from foreign-funded competitors, all the while dealing with her own identity as a non-conforming woman attracted to other women.
Can’t Eat Clout by La Doña. In concert, the young performer from the Bay Area mixed musical styles and languages but always had the multi-generational audience moving to the beat.
Carion Wind Quintet. A Danish-Latvian quintet makes classical music entertaining even for the uninitiated.
This poem and bobcat photo were published April 3, 2023 by Piker Press.
By Matt Witt
of yourself or others
is the kind of cat
that shows up when it’s ready
and not when you call it.
If you feed it
and give it a
warm place to sleep
it will mostly stick around.
But now and then
it will disappear for a while,
and only come back
when and if it feels like it.
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" 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.
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.