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World Wide Work - August 2010
Source Matt Witt
Date 10/08/03/23:23

This edition of the free bulletin, World Wide Work, is published by the American Labor Education Center, an independent nonprofit founded in 1979.


Strong memories of an unusual summer long ago came flooding back when the news media were filled with the story of Shirley Sherrod, the African-American Agriculture Department official from Georgia who was fired and then rehired by the Obama administration.

In case you missed it, Sherrod was fired for the beginning of a speech in which she said that, more than 20 years before, she was slow to help a couple save their farm simply because they were white. She was rehired when it turned out that the rest of the speech was about how she changed her mind, did help save the farm, and has come to believe that the most important divide is not between blacks, whites, and Hispanics but between those who have and those who don’t.

In the summer of 1970, I was part of a group of northern civil rights supporters that went to the area near Albany, Georgia, to work on the New Communities farm established by Charles and Shirley Sherrod and other African American activists.

The vision of the Sherrods and other longtime civil rights organizers was to create their own town where a large-scale farm would provide an independent economic base and where they would control the schools, housing, and law enforcement.

They were courageous people, having risked their physical safety for years to challenge power relationships that had changed little since the Civil War.

Our presence at New Communities was used to show local blacks and whites that the Sherrods and their cohorts had the resources and contacts to upset the old ways. We stayed in black sharecroppers’ shacks. White locals would park by the highway and gawk at us as we wielded hoes in the peanut fields. When fields of watermelon were ripe, we harvested them, and several of us drove truckloads to New York to sell to stoned-out audiences listening to Grand Funk Railroad at Fillmore East. (A journal of the summer’s experience was published as a book, Watermelon Summer, by Jeff Golden.)

We were but a footnote in the long struggle by the Sherrods and many others that continues to this day. The Shirley Sherrod firing fiasco brought back memories and served as a reminder of how much still needs to be done.

New and worth noting…

The New Jim Crow
by Michelle Alexander (The New Press). The civil rights movement challenged employment and housing discrimination and the denial of voting rights and access to education. Today, however, millions of people of color are denied basic rights because they are in jail or are convicted felons. A law professor and former ACLU attorney documents how mass incarceration has become a new legal form of Jim Crow – and asks why progressive Americans, including traditional civil rights groups, are doing so little about it.
The Can Man by Laura E. Williams and Craig Orback (Lee and Low). In this children’s book, a young boy watches a neighbor collect cans for survival after becoming homeless because of hard times. The boy gets the idea that he could collect the cans instead in order to buy a new skateboard. Eventually, the man teaches him some lessons about human kindness and community.
Yasmin’s Hammer by Ann Malaspina and Doug Ghayka (Lee and Low). A girl in Bangladesh yearns to go to school, but her family’s survival depends on the income she makes working in a brickyard. This children’s story gently explores conditions and dilemmas that are unfamiliar to many Americans.
Dreams of Repair by Eleanor Rubin (Charta). As Howard Zinn suggests in his introduction to this collection of works by a longtime printmaker and watercolor artist, Rubin’s art responds to suffering in the world but on a life-affirming, emotional level rather than as propaganda.
Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? by Thomas Geoghegan (The New Press). Germany’s economy is far healthier than the U.S.’s by virtually every measure, yet Germans enjoy far more paid time off and superior social benefits such as education, child care,  and health care. In Geoghegan’s usual meandering storytelling style, he recounts multiple trips to Germany to understand why their version of capitalism seems to be working better than America’s.
The Climate War by Eric Pooley (Hyperion). A veteran journalist describes the inside story of the political fight over climate change legislation, including the role White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has played in delaying and weakening Obama administration efforts on the issue.
The Progressive’s Guide to Raising Hell by Jamie Court (Chelsea Green). A consumer activist shares his thoughts about issue campaigning. One of his themes is that the key to victory often is to force a more powerful opponent into making a mistake you can exploit.
Customer Service by Benoit Duteurtre (Melville House). In this novella, a French journalist loses his smart phone and enters into 74 pages of hellishly frustrating interaction with today’s impersonal corporations.
1877: America’s Year of Living Violently by Michael A. Bellesiles (The New Press). 1877, like 1968 or 2001, was a year in which events converged to change the course of U.S. history. An historian writes in accessible style about a year of economic depression in which white mobs attacked African Americans and Mexicans, a national railroad strike headlined a series of major battles between working people and big capital, and the U.S. Army faced stiff resistance from Native Americans.
Solidarity Stories by Harvey Schwartz (University of Washington). An oral history of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union features first-person memories from union officials such as longtime president Harry Bridges as well as rank-and-file workers from the Pacific Coast ports, fields of Hawaii, and Powell’s bookstore in Portland, OR.
Frederick Law Olmsted: Essential Texts edited by Robert Twombly (W.W. Norton). Olmsted designed some of the most famous public parks in America. This collection of his writings reveals his thoughts about landscape architecture and the development of cities.

Sweet Crude.  This 93-minute documentary explores corruption, environmental damage, and civil conflict surrounding oil production in Nigeria, the source of more than 10 percent of the U.S. oil supply.
Citizen Architect. An hour-long film portrays a program of Auburn University that gives architecture students a chance to work closely with poor communities in rural Alabama to find innovative solutions to meet their housing needs.
Reel Injun. In this 88-minute documentary, a Cree filmmaker makes fun of the way stereotypes about native peoples have been created or reinforced by portrayals in Hollywood movies through the years.

Red Horse by Eliza Gilkyson, John Gorka, and Lucy Kaplansky (Red House Records). Three singers who usually record alone join together, often with one taking the lead on a song one of the others wrote. There are also covers of a few traditional songs or golden oldies.

NOTE: The online bookstore,, is looking to sell at a bulk or wholesale price a collection of 200-300 books dealing with labor, race, and class. If interested, contact

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