Here’s the latest World Wide Work update on films, books, and music you may have missed.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
This photo and text were published by New Verse News on Dec. 16, 2020:
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
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.
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 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
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.
"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
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,
and now Dylan’s voice is sounding more desperate:
"The executioner's face,” he wails,
“is always well hidden."
The following article appeared in the Billings (MT) Gazette on Sept. 28, 2019.
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.