Cinema & Soundtracks: FMH and FQ Celebrate #SCMS17

With the annual meeting of the Society for Cinema & Media Studies beginning this week in Chicago, UC Press journals Feminist Media Histories and Film Quarterly are pleased to offer a collection of limited-time free articles on cinema, soundtracks, and film music. Enjoy free access to these articles today through the end of the meeting on March 26, and be sure to meet the editors if you are attending #SCMS17!


Feminist Media Histories

Editor: Shelley Stamp, University of California, Santa Cruz

SCMS Attendees: Connect with FMH at SCMS 2017!

  • Meet the Editor, Shelley Stamp, to discuss publishing your work in FMH, at the UC Press booth on Friday, 3/24 from 11:00am-12:00pm.
  • Don’t miss the announcement of the winner of the 2016 SCMS Women’s Caucus Graduate Student Writing Prize (co-sponsored by FMH) at the SCMS Women’s Caucus Meeting!

 

In Defense of Voicelessness: The Matter of the Voice and the Films of Leslie Thornto
Pooja Rangan
Summer 2015, Vol. 1 No. 3

Tinkering with Cultural Memory: Gender and the Politics of Synthesizer Historiography
Tara Rodgers
Fall 2015, Vol. 1 No. 4

Backpacking Sounds: Sneha Khanwalkar and the “New” Soundtrack of Bombay Cinema
Shikha Jhingan
Fall 2015, Vol. 1 No. 4

Nené Cascallar’s Thirsty Heart: Gender, Voice, and Desire in a 1950s Argentine Radio Serial
Christine Ehrick
Fall 2015, Vol. 1 No. 4


Film Quarterly

Editor: B. Ruby Rich
Associate Editor: Regina Longo

SCMS attendees: connect with FQ at SCMS 2017!
Associate Editor Regina Longo will be available for meetings at the UC Press booth on Thursday and Friday afternoons.

Just in time for #SCMS17, Film Quarterly is delighted to unveil a newly redesigned website at filmquarterly.org. The refreshed site is fully device responsive and features a stronger visual component with full integration of social media, audio, and video. Full journal content continues to be housed at fq.ucpress.edu, but subscribers and non-subscribers alike are invited to read a curated selection of articles and web-only features on the new filmquarterly.org site.

Given that the annual conferences for both SCMS and the Society for American Music are being held this week, Film Quarterly’s editors would like to call your attention to a selection of articles (all available for free on filmquarterly.org) that should interest attendees of both #SCMS17 and #AmMusic17.

One Step Ahead: A Conversation with Barry Jenkins,
Michael Boyce Gillespie’s interview with the director of the Academy Award-winning Moonlight appears in the newly published Spring issue of Film Quarterly (read online or stop by the UC Press booth at SCMS to peruse a print copy).

Jewish, Queer-ish, Trans, and Completely Revolutionary: Jill Soloway’s Transparent and the New Television
Amy Villarejo
Summer 2016, Vol. 69 No. 4

The Master’s Voice
Claudia Gorbman
Winter 2014, Vol. 68 No. 2

Giving Credit to Paratexts in Top of the Lake and Orange Is the New Black
Kathleen McHugh
Spring 2015, Vol. 68 No. 3

Walking, Talking, Singing, Dancing, Exploding . . . and Silence: Chantal Akerman’s Sountracks
Barbara McBane
Fall 2016, Vol. 70 No. 1


Celebrating Women’s History with Grace Lee Boggs: “These Are the Times to Grow Our Souls”

Grace Lee Boggs was a tireless activist for feminism, Black Power, civil rights, environmental justice, and workers’ rights. A recipient of many human rights and lifetime achievement awards, including a place in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, Boggs remained a crusader for social justice right up to her 100th year.

In her 2012 book The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century, written with Scott Kurashige, Boggs drew from seven decades of activist experience to redefine “revolution” for our times. During the presidential election, co-author Kurashige edited together the following excerpts from the chapter “These Are the Times to Grow Our Souls” to share how Boggs continues to motivate us. This post originally appeared on the Grace Lee Boggs Facebook page, and we turn to this excerpt during Women’s National History Month as a reminder of the life and work of an extraordinary activist whose revolutionary legacy continues to inspire fundamental change today.


These are the times that try our souls. Each of us needs to undergo a tremendous philosophical and spiritual transformation. Despite the powers and principals that are bent on objectifying and commodifying us and all our human relationships, the interlocking crises of our time require that we exercise the power within us to make principled choices in our ongoing daily and political lives—choices that will eventually although not inevitably (since there are no guarantees) make a difference.

How are we going to bring about these transformations? Politics as usual—debate and argument, even voting—are no longer sufficient. Our system of representative democracy, created by a great revolution, must now itself become the target of revolutionary change. For too many years counting, vast numbers of people stopped going to the polls, either because they did not care what happened to the country or the world or because they did not believe that voting would make a difference on the profound and interconnected issues that really matter. Now, with a surge of new political interest having give rise to the Obama presidency, we need to inject new meaning into the concept of the “will of the people.”

The will of too many Americans has been to pursue private happiness and take as little responsibility as possible for governing our country. As a result, we have left the job of governing to our elected representatives, even though we know that they serve corporate interests and therefore make decisions that threaten our biosphere and widen the gulf between the rich and poor both in our country and throughout the world. In other words, even though it is readily apparent that our lifestyle choices and the decisions of our representatives are increasing social injustice and endangering our planet, too many of us have wanted to continue going our merry and not-so-merry ways, periodically voting politicians in and out of office but leaving the responsibility for policy decisions to them. Our will has been to act like consumers, not like responsible citizens.

Continue reading “Celebrating Women’s History with Grace Lee Boggs: “These Are the Times to Grow Our Souls””


Finding Women in the State

by Wang Zheng, author of Finding Women in the State: A Socialist Feminist Revolution in the People’s Republic of China, 1949-1964

This is our final guest post published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Thank you for reading!

Hundreds and thousands of Chinese women from diverse backgrounds had joined the Communist Revolution between the early 1920s and late 1940s. Like many of their male comrades, many Communist women had died in battlefields or on execution grounds in their fight against the warlords, Japanese fascists, and Nationalist government. When the Chinese Communist Party won the civil war in 1949, there were five hundred and thirty thousands women members in the CCP who now became the state power holder. Except for a few books in English presenting portraits of Chinese Communist women who endured tremendous hardship in the vicissitudes of the revolutionary journey, these women who had been an important part of the epic of the Communist Revolution curiously vanished in scholarship examining the CCP’s leadership in building a socialist country.

Parallel to the absence of Communist women in scholarship in and outside China have been the dominant narratives of how the party-state did or did not liberate Chinese women. Accomplishments or failures in advancing women’s equal rights and social economic progress have been unfailingly attributed to a monolithic abstract entity – the party-state, a patriarch paradoxically adopting many pro-women policies in the socialist period. If feminist scholars in the English speaking world since the 1980s have shown logical coherence in criticizing the Chinese patriarchal state’s failure to fulfill its revolutionary promise of women’s liberation, scholars in post-socialist China have articulated many contradictory statements without historical research, from “Chinese women have been the most liberated in the world,” to “a crime of Maoist women’s liberation was to have masculinized Chinese women.”

Based on archival research and interviews of Communist women who were officials of the socialist state at various administrative levels, my book reveals the concealed and erased history of socialist state feminists’ endeavors to materialize their visions of socialist revolution. Continuing an anti-feudalist New Culture agenda, state feminists operated in diverse fields including the film industry to transform patriarchal cultural norms and promote gender equality laws, discourse, and practices. Their conscious combat against sexism in and outside the CCP constituted a contentious “gender line” of struggle within the power structure of the Party. Excavating a hidden feminist history in the Chinese socialist revolution, my book presents the first scholarly effort to investigate the high politics of the CCP and examines the demise of a socialist revolution from a gender perspective. I also raise critical questions of methodology in scholarship dealing with specific historical moments but without a historical approach.


Wang Zheng is Professor of Women’s Studies and History and Research Scientist at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. She is the author of Women in the Chinese Enlightenment: Oral and Textual Histories and the coeditor of From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society, Translating Feminisms in China,  and Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era.


Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory

By Valerie Stoker, author of Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory: Vyasatirtha, Hindu Sectarianism, and the Sixteenth-Century Vijayanagara Court

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on March 19th.

The fall of 2016 was an interesting time to publish a book on the relationship between religion, identity, and politics. As we know, the United States elected a president in November who ran on an openly Islamophobic platform and who, within the first weeks of his administration, has made dramatic changes to American immigration policy.

Trump’s election is part of a general 21st-century wave of resurgent nationalism, populism, militarism, and religious and ideological conflict that are responses to broader social and economic change. My book, Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory, looks at a time and place quite removed from our contemporary lives: the South Indian empire of Vijayanagara in the early 1500s. But, not unlike recent reality, this empire was marked by high levels of immigration, foreign trade, a rapidly changing economy, and new patterns of religious, ethnic, and linguistic diversity. Much as in today’s world, these changes generated both anxiety and opportunity. I wrote this book in part to elucidate how Vijayanagara’s leaders managed these changes and what impact this management had on traditional social units like Hindu monasteries. How did people understand the differences between themselves and others and how did the machinations of the state affect these processes of identity formation?

To explore these issues, my research focused on the relationship between the Vijayanagara Empire’s most famous king, Kṛṣṇadevarāya, and the Hindu monastic leader, Vyāsatīrtha. In the field of Indian religious history, Vyāsatīrtha is best known as a sectarian polemicist who wrote several texts devoted solely to criticizing the views of rival religious traditions. But my work shows that he was also an agent of the Vijayanagara state who worked closely with rival religious communities on projects that helped Kṛṣṇadevarāya expand the state’s functional apparatus. This type of collaboration between religious rivals, who were often also linguistically and regionally distinct, was something the Vijayanagara court actively patronized for many reasons. Such collaboration created cosmopolitan nodes throughout the empire that became hot-beds of economic activity as well as cultural and intellectual exchange. My book re-reads Vyāsatīrtha’s polemical works as an attempt, not solely to criticize other systems of thought, but to engage with them in order to clarify both the boundaries and commonalities between different religious traditions. I argue that this very clarity provided the basis for successful collaboration in daily life.

Thus, by creating a religious cosmopolitanism that was inextricably linked to a variety of practical endeavors, Kṛṣṇadevarāya and his agents shaped a social environment that not only avoided religiously based conflict but supported socio-economic mobility in highly diverse settings. Of course, not everyone flourished within this framework. Because the Vijayanagara court’s patronage was selective, it was also exclusive. And there was plenty of militarism in Vijayanagara statecraft, directed both at rival polities to the north and recalcitrant groups within the empire. Nevertheless, the approach of the sixteenth-century Vijayanagara court to ideological and other differences provides a striking contrast to today’s political rhetoric and reminds us of the value in studying India’s past.


Valerie Stoker is Associate Professor of South Asian Religions and Director of the Master of Humanities Program at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Polemics and Patronage in the City of Victory is currently available as a free, open access eBook as part of our Luminos program. Read it online now.


The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan

by Marcia Yonemoto, author of The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on March 19th.

During the final month of the bruising 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign, Inoguchi Kuniko, a member of Japan’s parliament and former Minister of State for Gender Equality and Social Affairs, registered her disappointment at the coarseness of American political discourse, and remarked that “when the glass ceiling breaks, there are a lot of injuries that a woman must bear.”[1] This struck me as a valid but curious statement, coming as it did from a high-profile female member of the conservative wing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and staunch ally of current Prime Minister Abe Shinzō. For despite the Abe government’s vigorous endorsement of “womenomics,” its policy program to increase the number of women elected to public office, in high managerial positions in business, and in positions of authority in public life in general, Japan is still far from reaching the government’s target goals—indeed, at least by the measures of the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, Japan is trending downward, not upward, in terms of resolving persistent gender inequality.[2] So in speaking about the danger of shattering glass ceilings, was Inoguchi simply expressing sympathy for then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton? Was she speaking from her own perspective as one of a spate of women cabinet ministers in the Abe government, many of whose terms in office were cut short by campaign-finance and other scandals? Or was she speaking in the abstract, ruminating perhaps not about when women in Japan break the glass ceiling, but if they ever will?

These particular questions can’t be answered with any certainty, but it is clear that roles and perceptions of women in Japanese public and private life continue to evolve, to raise questions, and to spark debate. I address very similar issues in my book, The Problem of Women in Early Modern Japan, except my focus is on women in the seventeenth through early nineteenth centuries. The book explores the challenges women encountered when trying to reconcile confining social norms with individual autonomy, obligations to others with desires of their own, and limited public authority with myriad forms of private power. While the early modern military state often has been viewed as authoritarian and oppressive, its social and political controls were far weaker than those enjoyed by state today. And while the government articulated cultural norms and ideals of propriety, it lacked the comprehensive authority to enforce them, and this allowed considerable latitude for women to learn, to work, to write, and to play in ways contemporary observers may find surprising.

[1] “U.S. Presidential Campaign Shocks Women Around Asia-Pacific,” Asahi Shinbun/Reuters, 10/20/2016.

[2] Japan’s overall ranking dropped from 101st out of 145 countries surveyed to 111th out of 144. By comparison, the United States’ overall ranking also went down between 2015 and 2016, dropping from 28th to 45th. See World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2015, accessed at: http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2015/ and World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2016, accessed at: http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/ . Other data, however, show some progress—a 2016 Cabinet Office poll showed that for the first time, a majority of Japanese adults (54.2%) believed that “women should continue working even after they have children.” Maiko Ito, “Majority for First Time Says Mothers Should Continue to Work,” Asahi Shinbun 11/14/2016, accessed at: http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201611140005.html


Marcia Yonemoto is Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of Mapping Early Modern Japan: Space, Place, and Culture in the Tokugawa Period (1603–1868).


Challenging the Notion of “Globalization” as a 21st Century Phenomenon

by George Dutton, author of A Vietnamese Moses: Philiphê Binh and the Geographies of Early Modern Catholicism

This guest post is published in conjunction with the Association for Asian Studies conference in Toronto. Check back regularly for new posts through the end of the conference on March 19th.

In the second decade of the twenty-first century it has become a truism that we have finally entered the era of the “globalized.” It takes little effort for historians to produce a wide range of evidence to suggest that this is not the case, and that the phenomenon of “globalization” is one found already in the ancient worlds. This is particularly true with respect to the various “world religions” that emerged between the 5th century BCE and the 7th century CE, each of which gradually, and occasionally rapidly, travelled to distant corners of the globe. A particularly good example is Roman Catholicism, whose initial spread was relatively modest, but which then took advantage of the sailing ships of the “Age of Discovery” to span the globe. Unlike the other world religions, Catholicism has developed an elaborated ecclesiastical hierarchy that reaches around the world with implications for local Christian communities.

Over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, agents of the Christian church reached the farthest corners of Asia and slowly built up communities of local Catholics. One of these groupings was founded in the coastal reaches of the Red River in the northern part of what is today Vietnam, and was then often called Tonkin. Initiated by Portuguese Jesuits, this community of Catholics grew to several hundred thousand in less than half a century. These mission fields soon drew the attention of other orders – Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and secular mission societies – and priests from a range of nations – Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, among others.

The Christians in coastal Tonkin found themselves both served by the European priests that were in their midst, and profoundly shaped by ecclesiastical conflicts and decisions emanating from the Catholic centers of power in Rome and the Iberian Peninsula. While local Christians experienced a substantial measure of autonomy imparted by distance and the logistics of communication, they were still subject to church politics in Europe. Thus, the papal recall of all Jesuits priests in Tonkin in 1678 sent shockwaves through the community. The order to divide Tonkin into two vicariates that same year further shook the local Catholic communities, who found themselves now experiencing elements of their faith in ways shaped by differentiated approaches to ritual and emphasis. A century later the formal dissolution of the entire Jesuit Order in 1773 further rattled Tonkinese Catholics, now finding themselves subject to new ecclesiastical leadership whose dictates and expectations were often at variance with their long-standing traditions.

While those loyal to the deep rooted Portuguese Jesuit tradition defied their new overseers, this was not sustainable and in 1796 they dispatched one of their own, the recently ordained Vietnamese priest, Father Philiphê Binh, to Portugal on their behalf. This community understood the global forces of Catholicism, and the nuances of its politics. They became active participants in defense of their traditions and sending their emissary to Europe was an indication of their engagement in the church politics of the period. Vietnamese Catholics recognized, far more than most Vietnamese, the degree to which they themselves lived in an era of “globalization.” What happened beyond their borders in remote political capitals had profound and measurable impacts upon both their material and spiritual lives.

Father Binh’s emergence as a priest and representative of his community on a journey half way around the world to defend its spiritual traditions is the subject of my book. While in substantial measure it is the story of a particular man and the complex contours of his life, it is also very much a tale of the ways in which eighteenth-century religious globalization had profound repercussions for Catholics in Tonkin. It is thus a reminder that peoples in seemingly remote corners of the globe were already then active participants in a world where the reach of ideas and politics was no less extensive than in the twenty-first century, even if it travelled at the speed of sailing ships rather than fiber optics.


George E. Dutton is Professor of Vietnamese History in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

A Vietnamese Moses is currently available as a free, open access eBook as part of our Luminos program. Read it online now.


Reinventing the Self—from Masks to Avatars

By James H. Johnson, author of Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic

“Man is least himself when he speaks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.” Oscar Wilde’s quip is a fair description of how many view the mask: as freedom from constraints, a liberating truth-teller, the way to show who we really are. I had Wilde’s notion in mind when I first started thinking about writing a book on masks.  At least in the prosperous parts of the world, masks affirm what social mobility, abundant consumer choice, and technology make possible: perpetual reinvention of the self.

Writing about masks in Venice, I was powerfully reminded just how recent the freedom to reinvent ourselves actually is.  What did masks mean for people living in societies where you were born into a role that determined your fate? Where charting your own path was the exception and changing your identity was unheard of?

Venice was one of the most rigidly hierarchical states in Europe, and in the eighteenth-century it was awash in masks. We think of it as the capital of carnival—rightly so, with travelers from across the continent and around the world converging for its celebrations.  But Venetians also wore masks for six months out of the year, outside of the carnival season and for occasions that were far from festive.  They wore masks at formal receptions and state ceremonies, in public theaters and cafes, in the sprawling gambling hall, and, despite prohibitions, sometimes in church.

The Venetian mask—an unadorned piece of white waxed cardboard that extended to just below the nose—was an accepted article of clothing for over a century. Most of the time, it wasn’t meant to be secretive, mysterious, or provocative. Instead it was a way for this vastly unequal population living in close quarters to go about their daily business without the complicating protocols of rank and deference. Masks preserved a psychological space where physical distance was lacking. Of course they could hide identities, but their usefulness didn’t depend on anonymity.  Much of the time these neighbors recognized one another. They preserved and protected social roles by temporarily suspending them. For these reasons, they were conservative.

Since finishing Venice Incognito, I’ve been thinking about how other societies have seen in masks a version of their own ideals, fears, and illusions. For later writers and artists who probed the unconscious, for instance, the mask was an object of doom and fascination, a portal into the unknowable depths of the psyche. “Your soul is a choice landscape,” the poet Paul Verlaine wrote, “where masks and Bergamasks pass entrancing, / Playing lutes and dancing, slightly / Sad in their strange costumes.”

Today’s masks more often send us online than toward the murky landscape within. Our digital selves couple limitless masking with unprecedented visibility. The personal information we willingly share—a continuous account of what we’re buying, reading, eating, watching, and listening to—stands alongside a wider record of choices and habits that grows with every click. The audience for our digital identities is friends, family, and numberless strangers. It also includes the sophisticated software of marketers and political campaigns, with potential uses by employers, insurance carriers, and domestic surveillance bureaus.

Online visibility transforms the self into a fragmented, quantified, and unmoored series of data points. It may be that the thing we find so appealing about Oscar Wilde’s promise—that masks reveal the truth of the self—has begun to recede. The risk is that the self becomes its mask.


James H. Johnson is a cultural historian who writes and teaches on modern and early modern Europe at Boston University. His research includes eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France, the history of Venice, and music history. His book Listening in Paris: A Cultural History received the American Historical Association’s 1995 Herbert Baxter Adams Award and the American Philosophical Society’s Jacques Barzun Prize while Venice Incognito: Masks in the Serene Republic received the American Historical Association’s 2011 George L. Mosse Award and Oscar Kenshur Book Prize.


Venice Incognito is now available in paperback. James H. Johnson will be in New Orleans, speaking at the New Orleans Museum of Art, March 24 at 6pm and at Octavia Books, March 25 at 6pm. 

 


Heading to OAH? Save 40% on These U.S. History Titles

If you’re headed to the annual Organization of American Historians conference next month in New Orleans (April 6-9), be sure to visit UC Press at booth #219 for a 40% discount on our U.S. history titles. During the conference, follow @ucpress and  on Twitter as we share guest posts from our authors, exploring the ways in which the historical events of our past continue to shape our current day policies, politics, and culture.

Want to get a headstart on the conference? Take 30% off today on these new and bestselling titles, a selection of just some of the books you’ll find at the conference. Enter discount code 16W6596 at checkout.*

Continue reading “Heading to OAH? Save 40% on These U.S. History Titles”


A Free Press Is Our Greatest Ally

by Lucas A. Powe Jr., author of The Fourth Estate and the Constitution: Freedom of the Press in America

Two hundred fifty years ago William Blackstone wrote “the liberty of the press is indeed essential to the nature of a free state” and that observation holds true today. A vigorous free press is an essential component of any functioning democracy. Yet President Donald Trump has called much of the national press “the enemy of the American people.” That’s the language Joseph Stalin used for his purges. If what is reported is not to his liking, Trump proclaims it “fake news.” These latest statements come after he stated, while campaigning, that libel laws should be loosened so that public figures like himself could sue the press with an expectation of winning large verdicts. Yet the Framers put protection of the press in the Constitution for a reason. They knew that power is addictive and that checks on it are necessary.

Trump, like presidents before him, bridles about what he deems unfair coverage and the problems that unauthorized leakers cause any administration. His predecessor Barack Obama set an unenviable standard by initiating more prosecutions for leaks than all post-World War II administrations combined. Yet leakers serve a valuable function of getting information into circulation and debate. They must remain anonymous because otherwise they would face retaliation and the public would be the worse off for it.

A free press periodically reminds us of its necessity. Without the courage of the Washington Post, Richard Nixon’s efforts to subvert the Constitution might never have come to light. And the dangers of a docile press were all too evident in the build-up to the Iraq War where Bush Administration statements were taken at face value rather than subjected to the scrutiny that a decision to go to war should demand. Thus John F. Kennedy was able to prevent publication of leaks about the Bay of Pigs operation only to realize that if the New York Times had printed what it knew, the ill-planned and ill-fated invasion would never have occurred.

The job of presidents is to attempt to leave the country in better shape than they found it. Every presidency has an end, but the key democratic institutions remain in place and should be strengthened. That always includes a free and unafraid press because, as the Supreme Court has stated, we have a “profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” Rather than being an enemy of the people, a free press is our greatest ally. As I wrote in The Fourth Estate and the Constitution: “the press is an autonomous functioning watchdog on government, publicizing abuses, and, one hopes, arousing the citizenry.”


Lucas A. Powe, Jr., holds the Anne Green Regents Chair at The University of Texas, where he teaches at the School of Law and the Department of Government. A leading historian of the Supreme Court, Professor Powe clerked for Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas before joining the Texas faculty in 1971. His latest book is The Supreme Court and The American Elite, 1789-2008 (2009). Previously , reflecting a split career as a historian and a First Amendment scholar, especially of the electronic media, his three award-winning books were American Broadcasting and the First Amendment (California 1987), The Fourth Estate and the Constitution (California 1991), and The Warren Court and American Politics (Harvard 2000). Powe was also a principal commentator on the 2007 four-part PBS series “The Supreme Court.” He has also been a visiting professor at Berkeley, Connecticut, and Georgetown.


Law and Order and the Last Great Strike in America

by Ahmed White, author of The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America

Several weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, millions of Americans have skipped work, walked off their jobs, or otherwise demonstrated in protest of his policies. Many others are planning to do so in the weeks ahead. For those of us who study strikes and protests, these developments are at once thrilling and portentous, particularly in light of the peculiar place that strikes occupy in our country’s history. For most of American history since the late Nineteenth Century, it was quite a normal thing for people to go out on strike. In 1937, for instance, over 7 percent of American workers went out on strike; in 1946, that number reached 10 percent. Even as recently as 1970, almost six million men and women spent some time out on strike. But recently strikes have been exceedingly uncommon with only a handful each year. Even most union members have never been on strike.

Why are strikes so uncommon? The reasons are complicated, but one important thing stands out. The strikes of the 1930s and 1940s, especially, were extremely effective. They built the modern labor movement, upheld the New Deal against reactionary attacks, and ensured the foundations of the postwar political system. But precisely because they were so effective, the strikes were the targets of relentless counterattack by powerful business interests and their allies in government. At first, the dominant response to strikes in this period was a rather simple and venerable one. Strikes were considered presumptively illegitimate and often met with naked force, only crudely justified by law. Put into practice, this approach left probably 200 workers dead in the 1930s alone. However, later in that decade, even as some of the most violent strikes were still unfolding, the approach to strikes was rebuilt around the notion that, while the right was guaranteed by federal law and the U.S. Constitution, it was far from absolute and had to yield if strikers were violent or coercive. Although superficially reasonable, the real import of this new approach was to make the kinds of strikes that promised to be effective also the most costly for strikers and most likely to be found unlawful. And not because only disorderly strikes could be effective, but because even the anticipation of coercion or violence on the part of strikers was enough to justify arresting them, firing them, enjoining their picket lines, and using lawful force against them. Nor was the fact that strikers might have been provoked to act in these ways much of an excuse. The most notable example of this new approach can be found in one of the most tragic episodes in the history of protest: the 1937 “Little Steel” Strike, in which steel companies and their allies killed at least sixteen strikers in order to break a strike which they had caused, and yet paid almost no penalty for doing so. So it was that the repression of strikes was brought in line with modern notions of law and order.

Of course this all happened a long time ago, in the unique context of the labor movement and the labor law. But the approach to the law and politics that underlie it are broadly established in American law and provide the basis of an important caution to anti-Trump protesters who may not be familiar with this story. That caution is this: These protests may never be particularly effective. So far, their effects seem pretty modest and the response to them relatively mild. But if they do succeed in challenging powerful interests in government and business, they are not unlikely to become the target of a campaign of repression which will paint them as irresponsible enemies of the social good, regardless of how protesters have actually comported themselves. The history of striking in America tell us that you can bet on that.


Ahmed White is a Professor of Law at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His scholarship centers on the intersection of labor and criminal law and on the concept of rule of law.