Review: Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt

necessarytrouble_19d.jpg

By Michael Hirsch

One might be tempted to read Sarah Jaffe’s book with a kind of archaeological nostalgia, to look upon it as a remnant of a bygone-era when the left had confidence in the gains it was making, before a meteor named Trump struck earth.

But the people Jaffe describes don’t have to become fossils buried beneath the sediment of the nascent Trumpian-era. The struggles her heroes and heroines face prefigure future battles to come.  Writing from the not-so ancient times of pre-election America in 2016, Jaffe offers example after example of what ordinary people can do when pushed too far and the Trump White House will likely push most of us to our limits.

Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt is chockablock with stories we can learn from of ordinary Americans who have just about all they can bear. Shaken out of complacency and resignation, they rise confront the social problems affecting their lives.

They were moved first to make changes directly around them, at work, in their communities, and their cities, but their increased involvement in activism broadened their horizons. It led them to think beyond the scope of their immediate interests, to seek common ground and work with others struggling with distinct but overlapping troubles. Jaffe’s vivid narrative outlines the transition from the personal to the political. The people she profiles were moved by experiences of intimate and communal loss to confront a social and economic system that is long past its sell-by date.

The book’s snappy title comes from an interview Jaffe conducted in 2013 with Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee during the 1960s civil-rights movement. Lewis said that election activity was just one part of the process of social change. Activists, he insisted, need to find “a way to get in the way,” to “get into trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble.”  

The book, to its credit, isn’t a simple rhetorical call to “unite and fight,” though it could be read as a faithful diary of protest. It charts the struggles of dozens of hard-working, mostly young and neophyte activists who sought to right social wrongs in the years following the 2008 Great Recession — to end police murders of African-Americans, to clean up toxic dumpsites, to restore their labor unions. The Walmart employees Jaffe profiles took their grievances not just to individual store managers but to the company’s home office in Bentonville, Ark.

Jaffe clarifies murky terms like “horizontalism” and “intersectionality” by showing how they operate in practice within protest organizations. Leadership can be both diffused and effective, she illustrates. Class and identity are not at variance, but indissolubly entwined.
Her sketch of the Labor Religion Coalition of New York State is one example of the intersectional nature of struggle. The ongoing battle to end the school-to-prison-pipeline teaches activists from the diverse groups in the coalition that ending mass incarceration requires living-wage jobs.

One the book’s strongest chapters covers police militarization. Jaffe documents how weapons developed in war zones and occupied nations abroad are now used routinely on restive, urban populations at home.

Another powerful chapter deals with storm-damage rescue work in New York following Hurricane Sandy. Jaffe tells how former Occupy Wall Street protesters launched a massive relief effort in the Rockaway peninsula when the Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency failed to deliver aid.

Surprisingly, Jaffe has some kind words for conflicted Tea Party members who don’t buy the Republican claptrap that unleashing business from regulation will raise all boats or that corporate leaders are job producers.

Will those Tea Partiers come around to fight for social justice someday? Is wondering about that overly optimistic? Blind to the dangers of the coming Age of Trump?


Perhaps, but we knew a Clinton administration would be no springtime in paradise. Neoliberalism is an uninspiring alternative to Trumpism, and the neoliberal order is cracking up, even if it is doing so in a manner few imagined possible. A finely written book such as Jaffe’s is not just a palliative of hope: The stories she reports of people building power through struggle offer a healthy direction forward.


 

Michael Hirsch is an editorial board member of New Politics and a member of New York City DSA.This article originally appeared in the Indypendent.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

 

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

April 24, 2017
· 46 rsvps

DSA is in the process of forming a Queer Socialists Working Group. This call will cover a discussion of possible activities for the group, its proposed structure, assigning tasks, and reports on the revision of DSA's LGBT statement and on possible political education activities. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
· 55 rsvps

Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.

Instructor:

Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt <talt@igc.org> 607-280-7649.
  • If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt <schmittaj@gmail.com> 608-335-6568.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance, by midnight Sunday.

 

DSA New Member Orientation Call

May 06, 2017
· 52 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  2 pm ET; 1 pm CT; 12 pm MT; 11 am PT.  

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 18 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.