On June 16th, I was a guest on the WSLR Peace and Justice Report – an outstanding program on progressive politics, broadcasting live from beautiful Sarasota, Florida.
The hosts conducted a gracious and thoughtful interview, asking me questions about my book, I Am Somebody: Why Jesse Jackson Matters, an assortment of political issues, and the future of American democracy. The entire episode is worthy of your attention, but my segment begins at the halfway point.
Early last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at length with former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. about his groundbreaking work and prescient ideas regarding voting rights, “states’ rights” racism, and democracy itself. Read my story on his meticulous dissection of the dangers facing American democracy, and his bold and imaginative proposal for rectification at Salon. You would be hard pressed to find this high quality of analysis elsewhere in mainstream discourse.
Pictured below is Jackson and me at the chart of Jackson’s making, which I describe in the story.
Here is a video of the discussion that took place on May 24th for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History with Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. and me. A couple of disclaimers are necessary:
1. The museum director, in his introduction, said that my book, “I Am Somebody: Why Jesse Jackson Matters,” is a memoir that Rev. Jackson and I wrote together. The director, clearly, did not even look at the title of the book, or the museum’s own advertisements for the event. While the interviews Jackson gave were crucial, and provide the heart of the book, “I Am Somebody” is my biography, independently written, of Jesse Jackson.
2. There were numerous technical difficulties. Therefore, if you watch, you might notice a few abrupt and awkward cuts.
Despite these unfortunate errors, it is a great discussion. Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. spoke with characteristic brilliance and inspiration about human rights, progressive politics, and his own battles for genuine democracy. Our moderator, Aaron Bryant, showed some wonderful photographs from the museum’s archives of a young Jesse Jackson leading the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968.
In a new essay for CrimeReads, I write about one of the best novels I’ve read in recent years, Willy Vlautin’s The Night Always Comes. Not only a riveting story with characters who feel as alive as your next door neighbors, it is also a brilliant exploration of class struggle and the abuse of the working class in present day Portland, and more the broadly, the United States. In addition to reviewing The Night Always Comes, I also explore the rich tradition in crime literature of dealing with class struggle in the United States, and the dearth of contemporary stories that present the financial precarity of life in the “world’s wealthiest nation.”
I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing Noam Chomsky for the second time. We discussed his answer to the question, “What is politics?”, intellectual culture in the United States, the power and necessity of activism, and a variety of other historical and political issues. Chomsky provided brilliant analysis on topics ranging from modern state capitalism to the fascistic threat from the Republican Party. He also reminisced about his childhood, and the culture of solidarity that existed within his “first generation, mostly working class” community.
One of the great gifts of my life is the development of a relationship with one of the world’s leading human rights leaders, and one of the United States’ leading dissidents, Jesse Jackson. The product of our six year conversation is my new book, from publisher I.B. Tauris,I Am Somebody: Why Jesse Jackson Matters. A blend of biography, political analysis, and journalism, I Am Somebody offers a bracing examination of Jackson’s momentous life, and a thorough dissection of American politics – from racial injustice to foreign policy.
In his foreword, Michael Eric Dyson calls I Am Somebody “brilliant.” Political scientist extraordinaire, Christina Greer, writes that it is “for anyone interested in presidential politics, Black American political history, and the link between the civil rights movement and modern political uprisings.”
James Felder, a historian and former member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, argues that I Am Somebody belongs in “every home and library.”
The most moving and informative assessment came from Jesse Jackson himself. He said, “It is the best and most thorough thing ever written about my work.”
Jackson and I had a wonderful conversation for the How To Academy in London:
Jackson and I also appeared together on “N’Digo Studio,” a television program hosted by Chicago journalist and media pioneer, Hermene Hartman, who also interviewed me for N’Digo magazine.
My regular column at Saloncontinues at full force. In the past couple of months, I’ve written about the danger of the right wing, the crimes of the American government, and the desperate need for the left to advance social democracy through a robust agenda, most especially the Green New Deal.
On the latter subject, I had the thrill of interviewing the legendary genius of linguistics, politics, and philosophy, Noam Chomsky. Chomsky and I discussed climate change, socialism, and American politics.
I was a 13 year old boy when I discovered the music of John Mellencamp. His songs were my usher into the world of writing, art, and creativity. A continual source of powerful inspiration in my work and life, I wrote my second book, Mellencamp: American Troubadour, about his music, and the ideas that surround it. The impact and influence of Mellencamp’s music on my life is so large that, without it, it is impossible to conceive of myself.
On Memorial Day, I had the incredible thrill and honor of driving to Nashville, Indiana to visit John Mellencamp in his recording studio. We sat for a long, fascinating, and fun conversation in the same room where he and his band have made so many of my favorite songs since 1983. Then, I watched he and the band rehearse for their upcoming tour, playing “Pink Houses” and “Paper in Fire.” To add to the pleasure and amazement of the experience, I also met the beautiful and soulful Carlene Carter, and had the opportunity to have a discussion with her.
Mellencamp’s first words to me were, “It is a good book.” That simple, but profound compliment is one I will always treasure (He was referring to my work of biography and cultural criticism, Mellencamp: American Troubadour).
Here is an amusing exchange from our conversation that did not make my essay: After Mellencamp explained that audiences have jeered and heckled him several times throughout his career, he added that, “not once has anyone said anything derogatory to my face.”
“Really, why do you think that is?” I asked.
“Because they know they type of person that I am. Would you say anything?”
Mellencamp laughed. “Well, I’m an old man now. So, you could probably kick my ass. Fifteen years ago, you would have kept your mouth shut.”