Here’s the latest World Wide Work update.
Project 562 by Matika Wilbur (Ten Speed). This beautiful book is a good introduction to Native American cultural and political activism today. A Native American photographer spent a decade taking portraits of a wide variety of indigenous community leaders, artists, and activists all across the U.S. In nearly 400 pages she presents their stories in their own words along with the photos.
The Five Wounds by Kirstin Valdez Quade (W.W. Norton). Members of the multigenerational Padilla family in a poor small town in New Mexico are all trying their best in life. But it’s not easy without the wealth and privilege they see that others have. Brilliant writing helps readers identify with each character, even if their circumstances may be very different.
Weave Me a Crooked Basket by Charles Goodrich (University of Nevada). When a family farm passes to the next generation who find it’s hard to make a go of it, it is tempting to sell out to corporate interests who are partnering in a money-making scheme with the nearby university. Will these likable siblings and their allies give in, or can they find creative ways to carry on with the farm?
This Other Eden by Paul Harding (W.W. Norton) A small, self-reliant community of formerly enslaved people as well as refugees from Ireland and other places lived for decades on Malaga Island off the coast of Maine. This evocative historical novel gets inside their lives and their feelings when they were evicted by the state in 1912.
A Ballad of Love and Glory by Reyna Grande (Atria). This novel is rooted in a hidden but fascinating part of U.S. history. When the U.S. invaded Mexico in 1846, ultimately taking more than half of Mexico’s territory in what is now California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and other states, nearly half of the invading army was made up of poor immigrants from Ireland and other European countries. As the war got going, hundreds of them switched sides, finding they had more in common with their Mexican counterparts than with the native-born officers who abused them. Grande focuses on the leader of what was called the San Patricio Battalion, as well as on the experience of women impacted by the war.
The Two-Headed Whale by Sandy Winterbottom (Greystone). An environmental scientist spent six weeks in Antarctica, and in the process became interested in the lives of the mostly poor men who served on the boats that decimated the whale population to generate huge profits for absentee industrialists. Weaving her experience and theirs together, she asks whether humans will learn from past mistakes.
Clean Air and Good Jobs by Todd E Vachon (Temple). Although academic at times, this book provides useful information for climate and union activists about challenges and opportunities in trying to work together.
Radical Acts of Justice by Jocelyn Simonson (New Press). A former public defender gives examples of four tactics that communities across the country are using to challenge mass incarceration, including community bail funds and campaigns to abolish the money bond system; publicizing what actually goes on in court proceedings through social media and other means; participatory defense in which community members help overstretched public defenders to gather evidence and tell the defendant’s story; and campaigns to shift budget priorities to alternatives to incarceration.
Just Action by Richard Rothstein and Leah Rothstein (Liveright). Two long-time advocates discuss what could be done at the local, state, and national level to promote racial integration and affordable housing, citing examples from across the U.S. and examining the pros and cons of solutions that are often put forward.
A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire (New Press). A network of corporate profiteers, billionaire funders, and right-wing political forces is working to undermine public education through attacks on teachers, school boards, and education unions and through school vouchers, money-making virtual schooling, and other ways of using public funds for private gain.
Atrocity Fabrication and Its Consequences by A.B. Abrams (Clarity). Whenever the U.S. goes to war, the public is told that the enemy is committing horrible atrocities, in contrast to America’s supposedly pure motives and conduct. In many cases, documents and other evidence come out later showing that these atrocities were exaggerated or didn’t happen at all and that U.S. intentions and tactics were not as clean as portrayed. Examples explored in this book include the Vietnam War, Tiananmen Square, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, the war on Libya, and more.
Fever in the Heartland by Timothy Egan (Viking). In the 1920s, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan in the Midwest was positioning himself to become president of the U.S. by scapegoating Blacks, Jews, Catholics, and immigrants, in collaboration with money hungry ministers and white supremacists in law enforcement. He was eventually brought down by his penchant for brutal sexual abuse and by the courage of those who stood up to the Klan’s power.
Instrument of the State by Benjamin J. Harbert (Oxford). A music professor spent years interviewing people imprisoned at the Angola state penitentiary in Louisiana who play in bands with other inmates. He also researched the role music has played at the prison for the past century.
Gossamer Folds. A young white father who moves to a small town with his wife and 10-year-old son freaks out when he discovers that a 25-year-old Black trans woman lives next door. It turns out that his own family is falling apart while his son bonds with the new neighbors who are facing their own challenges.
Palmer. A former high school football star who has just come home after 12 years in prison becomes responsible for a young neighbor boy who prefers tea parties and princesses to traditional masculine pastimes.
Broker. Two good-hearted but desperate Korean men go outside the law to sell orphaned infants to couples who want them, and two child welfare officers tail them, hoping to catch them in the act. When one of the young mothers who had to abandon her baby returns, life gets more complicated for all these characters as they reach out for human connection.
The Pencil. In an apparent commentary on Russian society today, this feature film by a Russian director follows an art teacher from St. Petersburg who takes a job at the school in a small, remote community where the main jobs involve working at the pencil factory or at the prison. The teacher shows how much better life could be for the local children as she introduces them to the world of art and brings out their talents and curiosity. But her efforts bring her into conflict with the ruthless criminal who has the whole town bullied.
Official Competition. Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas star in a clever feature film that has the feel of a mockumentary about wealthy actors and film directors.
White Trash Revelry by Adeem the Artist. A non-binary singer/songwriter who once was on a path to be a pastor eloquently sings about a changing South and about working class experience without the romanticizing found in so much country music.
Nuevo South Train by Larry and Joe. Two accomplished musicians, one an asylum seeker from Venezuela and the other a North Carolina native who spent ten years living in South America, have fun blending their musical styles.
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.