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Field Notes

“Coup? What Coup?”

The US government and the Bolivian putschists continue to describe this coup as a win for “democracy.” Disturbingly, this same claim is echoed in Mexico by political conservatives and the economic elite. Not only are they supportive of the coup, some are calling for similar violence against Mexico’s own center-left President, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

Mic Check

I had just stepped out of the subway station when my cell phone rang. It was my father. “I saw on the news that there are protesters gathering in Manhattan. Be careful getting home.” “OK, Dad. Thanks for letting me know. I’ll be careful.” I put my phone back in my pocket, reached for my cameras and felt the weight of them on my neck as I slipped their straps over my head. I adjusted my camera bag on my hip, turned the collar up on my old green army jacket, and took a deep breath as I faced the mass of protesters in front of me who had gathered in the chilly night air at Union Square.

A Life Defined by Political Engagement

Noel Ignatiev, the author of the following essay on Frederick Douglass, died on November 9th of this year. Although he had been ill, he wasn’t expecting death in the immediate future. In fact, he was looking forward to the publication of the essay in The Brooklyn Rail. The brief period of time since his death has witnessed a good number of formal obituaries and less formal reminiscences in The New Yorker, Commune, and The New York Times, which provide both biographical facts and descriptions of his impact and influence on students, friends and political comrades. I will try not to repeat too much of what has already been written.

Frederick Douglass, John Brown, and the Virtues of Impracticality

In a lengthy review in the New Yorker of David W. Blight’s recent book, Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,1 Adam Gopnik calls Douglass “the progenitor of the ‘pragmatic-progressive’ strain in American thought that led to Martin Luther King and Barack Obama.”2 Douglass is an attractive figure, and it is easy to understand why he fills the need of American mainstream thought for a Black political hero now that George Washington Carver (the one Black figure in the textbooks when I went to grade school) no longer serves. But the notion of “pragmatic progressive” suggests an alternative tradition, which we might call “impractical revolutionary.” Nat Turner, John Brown, and Malcolm X come to mind as exemplars.

“Liberalization” and the Search for Radical Change in Israel

2019 has been a very dramatic year in Israeli politics. A political stalemate resulted in the government’s collapse, followed by two consecutive elections due to the failure of Benjamin Netanyahu, usually considered a political miracle worker, to put together a new governing coalition. That in itself should have had the Israeli left looking for a way to reinvent itself, to take advantage of the political crisis. No such luck.

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The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

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