The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (Incite!)

Have you ever read a book that makes you shake your head in astonishment as if to say, “Why didn’t I know that?” This is that kind of book.

In a series of essays, the various authors demonstrate how the reliance on the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (NPIC) often not only undermines the kind of social justice work various groups seek to do but also supports the structure (i.e., capitalism) that makes the work necessary.

By dictating the terms of the grants, by shifting the focus from social justice to social services, by causing bureaucracy burnout, by professionalizing the work, non-profits co-opt the movement in order to keep better track of its leaders and to minimize its impact.

I appreciated that while there were some who advocated working outside the NPIC, others (including some of the non-profits themselves) are re-thinking their roles. Can non-profits be created for a mission and dissolve if and when the mission is complete? Can non-profits be supporting actors rather than stars? The whole idea of modeling your organization to reflect your vision of the world is essential and groundbreaking. Freire is all over this book. Our actions need to reflect our beliefs.

There is, not surprisingly, some overlap in these essays, but just when I thought, “Okay, I’ve got this,” along came “we were never meant to survive” by Ana Clarissa Rojas Durazo. Perhaps because the groundwork for the book’s thesis had already been laid, I was able to appreciate the details of Durazo’s presentation of how the NPIC worked to the detriment of anti-violence against women organizations. I went from shaking my head to dropping my jaw.

Working for social justice? Working at a non-profit / NGO? Thinking about applying for 501(c)(3) status? Thinking about donating money? Read this first.

Incite!

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The Gentleman from Ohio (L. Stokes with Chanoff)

I am still trying to learn more about Cleveland’s past, present and future, and I know enough to understand that Louis Stokes and his brother, Carl, were major parts of the city’s past. This autobiography, completed just before Stokes died at 90 and published posthumously, really becomes engaging when Stokes discusses first the Supreme Court he argued, Terry v. Ohio and then his work in Congress, both his role in forming the Congressional Black Caucus and his leadership of various committees, including the investigation into the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.. And I admit I was glad when he was willing to let down his guard a bit and share some of his anger about the racism he faced even as his accomplishments and recognition increased.

A remarkable man. A remarkable family. A pretty good book.

The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan (Zakaria)

The first book I am teaching next year is I Am Malala, so I want to learn more about Pakistan. This book seemed like an interesting way into the history of the country. It combines the author’s personal family story, focusing on her Aunt, the wife of the title, with the story of the country.

It helped as an atmospheric piece, but the structure did not help me. I wonder what it would have been like if she’d just focused on her aunt’s story as a lens through which to view the changing society. Alternatively, I wish the individual sections could have been longer so I could have had a better chance to grasp the cultural, political, and historical details involved in growing up in Pakistan.

Olio (Jess)

Every once in a while, someone comes along – think Garrison Keillor, Richard Pryor, Spalding Gray – who defies any of our conventional notions of genre, so something has to be invented for them. Meet the newest member of the group – Tyehimba Jess.

Jess, who has won both the Pulitzer and the Anisfield-Wolf awards for poetry, has definitely written a book that contains pieces that seem like poetry, but even that term, as expansive as it is, seems limiting here. This book also contains artwork, posters, interviews, music (the Fisk Jubilee Singers) and history. This book is so full of life that even at over 200 pages, I never wanted it to end. Even Jess’ author notes are marvelous.

We meet Scott Joplin, Henry “Box” Brown and Booker T. Washington, among others. But I think the most memorable character is Wildfire and the account of her introduction to academic and community life at Oberlin and her brave and bold exit.

Like most great literature, Olio makes me want to read more (a biography of Scott Joplin Jess includes in his bibliography), see more (the sculpture of Edmonia Lewis) and listen more (I’ve been playing ragtime in my car since I started this book).

I can’t wait to hear him present his work in September, as a part of Cleveland’s Book Week.

Friday, September 8
Tyehimba Jess, 2017 Anisfield-Wolf Award Winner, poetry, Olio
5:30 p.m.
Karamu House

Anisfield-Wolf juror Rita Dove declared herself wowed by the “roller-coaster mélange” in Olio, Jess’ second book of poetry, which reclaims African-American voices from the Civil War to World War I. It also won a Pulitzer Prize. Jess will bring his work to life on stage at Karamu House.

In the mean time, there’s this performance of “Syncopated Sonnets.”

And here’s his site.

Drama (Telgemeier)

The top 10 list of 2016’s most challenged books came out, and I immediately seized on it as a reading list. The first one I found at home was this graphic novel which I found delightful. I’m a big theatre geek. The scene when Callie steps into her favorite book reminds me of what graphic novels can accomplish in ways that ordinary ones can’t. I think Telgemeier captures the awkward adolescent dating scene and language quite well. As for the gay characters and the kiss, they are presented in a manner that aligns with the book.

As for those who object to it (and the other 7 books on the list that are challenged because of issues related to sex and gender), get the (*&$ over it. These are good books. These are stories that need to be told; in fact, they are long overdue. Children need them. Don’t be afraid. They aren’t contagious. Read them and learn. Or don’t. Just don’t get in anyone else’s way.

Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan (Lopate)

I ordered this in time (I thought) for a trip to New York, but it didn’t arrive in time. Still, I like Lopate. And books about walking. And New York. So I read it anyway. And it’s good. In pieces. It’s just exhausting as a whole. I mean there’s a lot of waterfront. And Lopate knows a great deal and knows how to find other people who know even more. I liked the asides about history (including a tentative defense of Robert Moses) and public policy, but overall, the book was just too much. I think that if / when I return to the city, I will just re-read the relevant sections or even bring them with me.

Life in Schools (McLaren)

This is a mammoth book of ideas. At times, it got too jargon-heavy, and I had trouble following it. Mostly, though, I found it inspiring. It’s nothing short of a call for a revolution, not just in schools but in society. McLaren, persuasively I think, argues that we cannot separate schools from society and that focusing only on schools is to address a symptom, not a cause. The main cause, McLaren asserts, is capitalism. McLaren seeks a transformation to socialism, one that may very well begin in the classroom.

McLaren bravely includes a journal he published as a young teacher, Cries from the Corridor, to demonstrate how he was once quite prone to the instincts of generally well-meaning teachers. Still, I wondered about the format here. It might have been nice to have his annotations on his younger self in the margins of this section.

I think it’s a book teachers should have on their shelves. As for the jargon-heavy parts, just treat them like Russian names in a novel, and, well, you won’t be far wrong.

a YouTube clip of McLaren