Movements for social change have always relied on common people to stand up and face an injustice. These people do not possess super human strength or abilities that the rest of us don’t have, they just decide at some point that they have to take a stand and say no more, or as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo have been saying for decades, “nuncamas – never again!” These women, mothers in Argentina, were not unusual in any way. These women had all suffered when members of their family had been disappeared by the Military Junta in the 1970s. Their acts of defiance were to stand in front of the National Palace and hold pictures of family members that were taken by the military or to beat on pots and pans in order to be a nuisance.
Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times is a collection of stories about people in the United States who are also choosing to take a stand against injustice. In their third book together, Amy and David Goodman have brought to life a wonderful collection of stories that tells us there are plenty of people in this country who are willing to take risks in order to stand up for justice. Many people have not heard these stories since they are generally not considered newsworthy by the commercial media outlets in this country. Amy Goodman, host of the awarding winning radio/TV show Democracy Now!, knows too well that the corporate media doesn’t think it is profitable to tell stories about people who not only show courage, but also challenge beliefs that those in power would rather have us ignore.
The book starts by profiling the amazing work of people like Malik Rahim in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Malik, a former member of the Black Panthers, was confronted by how racist the local, state, and federal government responded to the poor and minority residents of New Orleans. Malik realized that not only was the government not interested in rescuing the poor black people from the community he lived in, they were actually an obstacle for those who wanted to help. Malik and other eventually founded the group Common Ground Relief and started not only to assist people during the rescue, but also to figure out ways to empower people to challenge what the government response. Malik and others began to listen to those displaced from the hurricane and to offer help in the form of childcare and emergency housing, health care and the ability for people organize and demand that they be treated fairly.
Two of the areas of injustice that Common Ground Relief began to identify was the government’s desire to restructure New Orleans that would exclude many of the City’s poor and minority populations and that many of the government relief funds were going to corporate America as kind of a kick-back. One example from the book is that Carnival Cruise Lines was awarded $236 million dollars from the federal government to house people on their vacation boats. It was discovered later that the amount they were charging the government to house people who had been displaced was more than double the cost the company would charge people who were on vacation. The other thing that Malik and others were discovering was that those in power were using the hurricane catastrophe as a way to restructure the city. The City wanted to tear down housing that once belonged to poor Black families so that new development could be proposed. This kind of restructuring is what author Naomi Klein has called disaster capitalism, where economic elites use a catastrophe to put in place the kinds of projects and policies they could not under normal circumstances. Malik and Common Ground Relief have been fighting these policies and through education, organizing and Direct Action, a fight that continues today.
Another story that is brought to life in Standing Up to the Madness is about the courage of students at one high school to perform a play about the US war in Iraq even after they school administration said they couldn’t. Students at Wilton High School were scheduled to put on a play that was in large part based upon the writings and reflections of US veterans of the Iraq war. The play was censored at this high school after some parents complained that it was too anti-war. The administration stepped in and said that it could not be performed, but students decided to continue to rehearse. Eventually word got out and other venues offered to have their play performed, most notably the New York City Theater. As the momentum built the students began to get support form all kinds of civic organizations, from veterans groups and from the National Coalition Against Censorship. What was inspiring to read about this story was the impact it had on the students who stood their ground. One Wilton High student Natalie Kropf said, “I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much from anything I’ve done.” This is the kind of outcome you can expect when people stand up for what is right.
It is so rare that we get to hear these kinds of stories even though they happen all the time. Amy and David Goodman have done us all a great service by documenting these stories and communicating the message that it is possible to stand up against the madness. Amy Goodman will be in Grand Rapids on Saturday, May 10 while on tour promoting the book. The doors open for this event at 6pm, with Amy Goodman speaking at 7pm at Plymouth Congregational UCC at 4010 Kalamazoo SE in Grand Rapids.
Amy Goodman and David Goodman, Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times, (Hyperion, 2008).