Weekend Reading

On Sunday March 7, 1965, six hundred people, led by John Lewis, marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Just after crossing the bridge, they were met by Alabama State Troopers and local police. The men in uniform wore masks, and some of them were on horseback. They gave a brief warning, and then shot teargas and charged into the crowd with billy clubs. They rolled through undefended people with a sickening carelessness for human safety that the corresponding scene in Selma—Ava DuVernay’s necessary and otherwise fine film—failed to match. That’s the point, perhaps: that what we watch from the safety of a movie theater cannot, and should not, relay to us the true horror of things. For how would we bear it?

But watch the original footage. These Americans brutally beat unarmed women and men, thorough in their mercilessness, cheered on by other Americans, sending more than fifty Americans to hospital. The footage made the difference, and shocked the nation’s conscience. It accelerated the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

How not to link it all together? Selma and Ferguson, New York City and Cleveland, torture by the CIA and mass murder in Gaza, the police state and slave patrols: no generation is free of the demands of conscience, and no citizenry can shirk the responsibility of calling the state’s abuse of power to account.

This localist agenda is part of Mayor Spencer’s ambitious program to create a fairer and more sustainable local economy whose businesses stay put and where money spends more time circulating locally among networked enterprises. His administration is promoting worker cooperatives, energy efficiency, public banking, a local “food shed” and urban agriculture, remunicipalization of jobs (like the Socialists before them), and creating new jobs by reclaiming the city’s waste. No other current city administration in the United States, to my knowledge, is embracing such a broad range of “solidarity economy” strategies (although Spencer himself doesn’t use that specific term) to promote the well-being of its residents. And few other city administrations also face such steep challenges.

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