C.J. Janovy (No Place Like Home) Q & A

This week we will publish C.J. Janovy’s first book, No Place Like Home; Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas. Her beautiful, powerful book tells the epic story of how a few disorganized and politically naïve Kansans, realizing they were unfairly under attack, rolled up their sleeves, went looking for fights, and ended up making friends in one of the country’s most hostile states. Janovy, along with guest, will celebrate her book at 7pm on Kansas Day (01/29/2018) at the Lawrence Public Library.

We spoke to C.J. about her journey with No Place Like Home

1.When did you first have the idea to write No Place Like Home?

I explain this a bit in the intro. It was June 26, 2013, the day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry, which overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California’s ban on gay marriage, respectively. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote that the crowd’s jubilation outside the courthouse that morning was so loud it floated through marble: “A muffled cheer pierced the quiet in the Supreme Court chamber.” News from out in San Francisco was that people danced all night on Castro Street.

I went to a rally in downtown Kansas City with a couple hundred people, but it felt so weird to be celebrating historic rulings that didn’t change anything in states other than California that had banned same-sex marriage. A decade earlier, I’d covered the marriage-amendment politics in Kansas, and as I stood there at the rally that day, I wondered what had become of the Kansans who had fought it back then.

2. Can you describe your process of writing? How long did you spend working on the publication?

From that rally in June 2013 until I turned in the final, edited and revised manuscript was almost four years. I have a great full-time job, so I’d get up at 5 in the morning to write for a couple of hours before work, and usually put in at least one full day of writing on the weekends. I made several reporting trips around Kansas, and those beautiful drives around the state were the best parts, meeting and interviewing people and going to Pride celebrations and other events. I did a lot of phone interviews, looked at a lot of legislation, watched city hall testimonies archived on public-access TV channels, and read a lot of newspaper archives, including on microfilm at libraries.

3. What is one thing you were most surprised to learn while working on the book?

I was most surprised to learn that Charlie Snook, a transgender man from Newton, and LuAnn Kahl, a transgender woman who worked on farms in Haven and Kalvesta, appeared on an episode of a short-lived reality-TV series called “Sex Change Hospital” back in 2007. It was set in Trinidad, Colorado, where there was a surgeon famous for performing thousands of gender-confirmation surgeries (this I already knew). Alas, the episode is no longer on YouTube.

4. How did you identify the activists featured in the book?

The first person I contacted was Tom Witt of Equality Kansas, a statewide organization that works to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, who connected me with several other people. Like Tom, many of the activists I profiled were public figures – I’d seen them leading rallies or giving speeches or I’d read newspaper stories quoting them. When I interviewed them, they told me stories about other people who’d been involved, so I contacted those folks too. I sent emails and Facebook messages introducing myself to strangers, and many of them wrote back. Others clearly didn’t want to talk, a choice I respect.

5. You’ve lived on both coasts and have made a home in Kansas City. Can you describe the cultural differences or challenges LGBT citizens face in the middle of the country?

That’d be a whole other book(s) — and I hope dissertations are being written on the subject as we speak. But for starters, I’d say the biggest challenges are the smaller dating pool, and limited access to a large and diverse community of peers and allies  and the resources and services such communities can provide.

6. What do you view as the biggest issue facing the LGBT community in Kansas in 2018?

I think it’s the same biggest issue facing all of America in 2018: Saving our endangered democracy.

During the legislative session last year, Equality Kansas held one of its annual rallies on the steps of the Capitol. I was surprised, as were others, by how young the crowd was – mostly college and even high school kids. During his speech, Tom Witt gave them instructions (he’s good at that): “When you go home,” he yelled, “start looking outside your LGBT community and your Gay Straight Alliance and your usual church groups. Our country is in a horrible mess, but we have to resist. As a queer community, we already know how to resist and resist and resist. Take what you know about fighting bad ideas and say, ‘I’m in this fight with you.’ Unite with other progressive organizations around Kansas.” He’s right. We need to take our experiences and the hard lessons we’ve learned fighting for our own causes and put them to use in service of our country.

7. Your book is dedicated to Matthew Shepard. Has his death served as motivation for you to advocate for LGBT rights in conservative regions?

I wouldn’t identify myself as an advocate, though I’ve obviously written advocacy journalism; as a journalist, I consider myself a witness. But I know that witnessing is a political act, and that being present and recording these stories makes me a participant. I also know that being part of the community I’m writing about gives me access and understanding that outsiders might not have, and I feel a profound responsibility to my sources and their stories.

Matthew Shepard’s murder wasn’t what inspired me to start this project, but by the end of it I’d spent a lot of time on lonely roads. LGBT people – especially trans people – are still in danger. But in general, these days the world – yes, even Kansas – is a much better place for 21-year-old LGBT people. I want us to remember those who helped create it but didn’t live to see it.

8. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

I’m going to resist the urge to name one politician or the other who I hope reads the book so they’ll know their rhetoric doesn’t speak for all of Kansas. Instead, I’ll say I hope these stories reach individuals out there who might feel isolated, who want to make the world a better place but don’t know how, who need to know they’re not alone.

9. What are you reading now?

Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives, the University of Texas Press’s collection of personal essays by women music writers, edited by Holly Gleason.

 

C. J. Janovy is an arts reporter and editor for KCUR (Public Radio Kansas City, MO) and former editor of The Pitch.

From the Backlist: Libel Laws and the Free Press

Each Thursday we will look at backlist titles that remain or have become relevant. In response to President Trump’s recent pledge to examine libel laws, we revisit two tiles in our Landmark Law Cases and American Society series that helped define defamation law and libel.

In 2011’s The Free Press Crisis of 1800; Thomas Cooper’s Trial for Seditious Libel Peter Charles Hoffer offers a nuanced view of the Sedition Act, often regarded as an extreme measure motivated by partisan malice, that weighs all the arguments and fairly considers the position of each side in historical and legal context.

The far-reaching Sedition Act of 1798 was introduced by Federalists to suppress Republican support of French revolutionaries and imposed fines and imprisonment “if any person shall write, print, utter or publish . . . scandalous and malicious writing or writings against the government of the United States.” Such a broadly and loosely defined offense challenged the freedom of the American press and gave the government the power to drag offending newspaper editors into court. The trial of Thomas Cooper in particular became an important showcase for debating the dangers and limits of the new law, one with great implications for both the new republic and federal constitutional law.

“A terrific piece of work by one of our very best historians,” Peter S. Onuf said. “Written with verve and authority, it provides a masterful account of a little-known story with powerful implications for the subsequent history of free speech.”

Hoffer’s book is an authoritative review of this landmark case and a vital touchstone for anyone concerned about the role of government and the place of dissent in times of national emergency.

When the New York Times published an advertisement in 1960 that accused Alabama officials of willfully abusing civil rights activists, Montgomery police commissioner Lester Sullivan filed suit for defamation. Alabama courts, citing factual errors in the ad, ordered the Times to pay half a million dollars in damages. The Times appealed to the Supreme Court, which had previously deferred to the states on libel issues. The justices, recognizing that Alabama’s application of libel law threatened both the nation’s free press and equal rights for African Americans, unanimously sided with the Times.

In New York Times v. Sullivan; Civil Rights, Libel Law, and the Free Press, Kermit L. Hall & Melvin I. Urofsky provide a compact and highly readable updating of one of the most memorable decisions in the Supreme Court’s canon.

“By connecting what most commentators have seen as a controversial freedom of press case to the contentious civil rights movement that produced it, Hall and Urofsky have provided new insights into both legal and political history,” Steven F. Lawson said. “An excellent and accessible book about an important moment in American history.”

Char Miller (Where There’s Smoke) Q & A

Later this month we will publish Char Miller’s new book Where There’s Smoke; The Environmental Science, Public Policy, and Politics of Marijuana. This first-of-its-kind interdisciplinary anthology draws on the insights of scientists, researchers, and activists and ranges across the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences to explore the troubling environmental consequences of illegal marijuana production on public, private, and tribal lands.

We spoke to Char about his timely work.

1. When did you first have the idea to write Where There’s Smoke?

Like all book projects, Where There’s Smoke has been collaborative in all its stages. I had been writing about marijuana’s impact on the national forests, as a result of talking to Forest Service employees frustrated by the environmental despoliation illegal trespass grows caused; and by threats to their lives as they tried to manage the beautiful California forests. As luck would have it, UPK editor Kim Hogeland spotted my columns, we arranged to meet at a conference, and then had a fabulous conversation about some of the dimensions such an anthology might contain. Although the book morphed in the subsequent months while I was commissioning its chapters, Kim remained a guiding force throughout the process as were the many contributors to Where There’s Smoke.

 2. Can you describe your process of writing? How long did you spend working on the publication?

This was such a fun project precisely because its contributors were experts in their varied fields—ecology, sociology, history, grassroots organizing, public policy, politics, and law enforcement—and thus brought a wealth of knowledge, experience, and insight to their work. I learned so much from reading their chapters and then working with the authors to clarify and strengthen their arguments. For me, Where There’s Smoke was like an intense and rigorous seminar that lasted for roughly 18 months. I loved every moment of it.

 3. What is one thing you were most surprised to learn while working on the book?

I had started out with a pretty simple notion: that if marijuana was legalized, the damage that illegal grows were having on tribal and public lands might decrease. Many of the book’s contributors challenged that assumption and so Where There’s Smoke comes with its own internal debate—a very healthy thing. I was also surprised by the striking differences between the various legalization campaigns reported in the book—Colorado’s successful initiative was different from Oregon’s, which was different from the District of Columbia’s, which was quite different from California’s. Put another way, local politics shape local policy in particular and peculiar ways, yet each was a reflection of democracy in action.

4. How did you identify the major impacts marijuana has had on the physical and political landscape?

Identifying these issues depended on a lot of reading across an interdisciplinary array of scholarship and popular writing; tracking the legalization campaigns from one jurisdiction to another; and asking a lot of questions. It was exciting to reach out to potential contributors and tap into their networks to determine some of the key concepts and those who might best discuss them in Where There’s Smoke. My hope is that readers will discover, as I did, that there are some really sharp folks thinking about the complicated contexts in which we talk about marijuana, and now in several states, how we are regulating its presence in the public arena.

5. How do you anticipate the recent legalization of recreational marijuana will have on the challenged water tables in California?

Illegal marijuana growing has actually dewatered streams in northern California, and the hope is that legalization—and the related environmental regulations—that will now govern the legitimate producers will have a beneficial outcome on currently strapped watersheds. But it will take a couple of years before we’ll know if that hope has turned into a reality. Another aspiration is that those species, like the Pacific fisher, that have suffered from the wickedly toxic brew of chemicals that illegal growers routinely deploy to protect their grows, may rebound as a result of legalization. But again, it is too early to know.

6. What do you view as the biggest issue facing the legalization of marijuana on a federal and state level in 2018?

Because marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug—akin to heroin, according to the federal government—that means that state legalization is remains iffy. Legitimate growers cannot place their money in federally insured banks; the threat that the Department of Justice might crackdown on those states that have already legalized recreational and medical marijuana, makes for an uneasy marketplace. But states are willing to gamble because so much money is in play: every state that has legalized has found that the economic kickback—tax revenues—has grown much more rapidly than estimated, a boon to local coffers. California—the Golden State—expects to reap one billion dollars annually. So it is no wonder that neighboring Nevada legalized it recently. Or that Massachusetts did, too. Or that the rest of New England, not wanting the Bay State to “steal” their potential revenue, is seriously considering legalization. If this state-by-state pattern continues unabated, the federal government will have little-to-no leverage. Legalization is becoming mainstream; the Nixon Era War on (this) Drug is over.

7. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Where There’s Smoke will give him a much-needed refresher course on civics and a much-better understanding of the science, policy, and politics of marijuana in the 21st Century. The irony of AG Sessions’ assertion of federal power to regulate the sale and recreational use of marijuana is not lost on anyone who recalls Session’s states-rights rhetoric about civil rights, voter suppression, and segregation. The federal courts, and Congress, not the DOJ, will be the final arbiter.

8. What are you reading now?

Lots! My wife and I hiked in Ireland recently and we have been reading a number of Irish mystery writers, including Adrian McKinty, Tana French, and Caimh McDonnell. Given my interest in all things environmental—and because I’m on sabbatical!—just  completed Peter Wolleben, The Hidden Lives of Trees and Robert Moor’s On Trails.

 

Char Miller is the W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College and the author and editor of many books on environmental history and public lands, including, as author, Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream; America’s Great National Forests, Wildernesses, and Grasslands (with photographer Tim Palmer); and Seeking the Greatest Good: The Conservation Legacy of Gifford Pinchot. He also edited American Forests: Nature, Culture, and Politics, published by Kansas.

 

Warnings to the World, or, Why We Need to Think in Terms of Resilience

by Robin Kundis Craig, author of The End of Sustainability

On Monday, November 13, 2017, over 15,000 scientists around the globe warned humanity for the second time that we are on a “collision course” with environmental catastrophe (Ripple et. al. 2017). Humans have managed to reduce their emissions of substances that deplete stratospheric ozone back down to natural levels in the quarter-century since the first warning, but that’s about the only global environmental issue that’s heading in the right direction. Freshwater availability, marine fish catches, forest cover, and vertebrate species abundance are all dropping precipitously, indicating pervasive loss of natural resources, habitat, and ecosystem services. In contrast, dead zones in the ocean, carbon dioxide emissions, and global average temperatures are all increasing, as is global human population (ibid., fig. 1). In summary, “humanity has failed to make significant progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse” (ibid., 1).

In light of that lack of progress, consider, for a moment, that we might be telling ourselves the wrong story about our relationship to the natural world.

The first warning, joined by 1700 scientists, appeared in 1992 (Union of Concerned Scientists, 1992). That year was also an important year for the concept of sustainability. In June 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, better known as the Earth Summit, took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. That conference produced three major statements about sustainable development and two major treaties:

  • The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, a statement of 27 principles to guide the international community in achieving sustainable development;
  • Agenda 21, a nonbinding but comprehensive plan of action for achieving sustainable development;
  • The Statement of Forest Principles, more formally titled “Non-Legally Binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests”;
  • The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the first treaty to commit nations to dealing with climate change, and to which the United States is a party; and
  • The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (“the Biodiversity Convention”), the most comprehensive international treaty for dealing with the general problem of biodiversity loss and human use of species. Out of 198 nations, only the United States and the Holy See of Rome have failed to become parties.

Considered together, therefore, the products of the 1992 Earth Summit potentially were at least a large part of the answer to the scientists’ warning.

However, the 25 years since have proven that humanity is a lot better at development than it is at sustainability. In large part, that’s because we’ve told ourselves that the environment is a component of sustainable development that can be traded off against the other two, economic development and social progress. We picture this narrative of human choice and agency—humanity gets to decide—in two very common diagrams of sustainable development. The first is the “three pillars” model, in which each pillar operates independently of the other two to hold up sustainable development:

The second is the “overlapping circles” model, which acknowledges that there are tradeoffs among the three parts but nevertheless creates no bad choices among how to balance the three:

In truth, however, both social progress and economic development ultimately depend upon the environment. The environment, in other words, is not an element of sustainable development but rather the boundary of it:

Last Monday’s warning from the scientists is an acknowledgement, also captured in the Planetary Boundaries Project, that we are rapidly shrinking our own ecological capacity to progress toward our economic and social goals (Stockholm Resilience Center n.d.).

As if that weren’t bad enough, the environment we have counted on for roughly the last 12,000 years is rapidly changing as a result of climate change, ocean acidification, biodiversity loss, pollution, and other anthropogenic factors. The breadth and scale of these human-induced alterations has earned our current era a new moniker: the Anthropocene, or “new age of humans.”

Clearly, the narratives of sustainable development aren’t working, and we need a new story. In our book released this week, The End of Sustainability: Resilience and the Future of Environmental Governance in the Anthropocene, Melinda Harm Benson and I pair the cultural narrative of the trickster with science’s theory of ecological resilience to offer a new vision of how to prosper in our new world of continual change. Where sustainability assumes stationarity and predictability, resilience theory acknowledges constant flux and the potential for transformation in complex social-ecological systems, which are themselves an acknowledgement that humans and “nature” are inseparable. Where sustainability assumes human control and human choice, resilience theory acknowledges that human agency has limits: humanity is certainly a critically important factor in where the world goes, but we are not the complete masters of the universe, and a dose of humility would serve us well.

In essence, The End of Sustainability argues that we should be working to shape where our changing world is going, rather than ignoring or resisting the fact that it is changing, and will be for probably at least a few centuries. Our particular focus is what this change in narrative means for natural resources law and policy, but the bulk of the book considers how Americans think about their relationships to the environment and to climate change. It posits that climate change is the trickster of the contemporary world, bringing surprising changes that are sometimes bad, sometimes good, and sometimes—well, just change.

Like humans in trickster tales, moreover, while we cannot always prevent the trickster’s actions, we can respond in intelligent, thoughtful, and productive ways to whatever mischief he is causing. It will often be hard work, and being in the middle of a transformation is generally not the most comfortable or relaxing place to be. However, that’s probably where we are, so it’s time to knuckle down and start guiding the transformation so that we can maintain ourselves as part of a diverse and productive world—even if it’s a different place than the one we grew up in.

Works Cited

Ripple, William J., Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, Mauro Galetti, Mohammed Alamgir, Eileen Crist, Mahmoud I. Mahmoud, William F. Laurance. 2017. “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice.” BioScience, bix125 (November). https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix125.

Stockholm Resilience Center. n.d. “The nine planetary boundaries. Accessed November 16, 2017. http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries/planetary-boundaries/about-the-research/the-nine-planetary-boundaries.html.

Union of Concerned Scientists. (1997 [1992]). World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.  http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2017/11/World%20Scientists%27%20Warning%20to%20Humanity%201992.pdf.

Robin Kundis Craig is the James I. Farr Presidential Endowed Professor of Law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law. She is the author of Comparative Ocean Governance, Environmental Law in Context, and The Clean Water Act and the Constitution.

The Grass Isn’t Always Greener

by Char Miller, author of Where There’s Smoke; The Environmental Science, Public Policy, and Politics of Marijuana (Jan., 2018)

Fire and marijuana do not mix. That is especially true in California, where the season for wild land infernos and cannabis harvesting coincide. Cheryl Dumont knows all about the challenges that come with this combustible reality. When in October 2017 a set of wind-whipped fires roared across Napa and Sonoma counties, she was able to evacuate but could do nothing to save her well-tended crop. It went up in smoke, as did many other adjacent fields of tall, green-leafed plants ready for market.[1]

Dumont and her peers had anticipated a bumper harvest and a spike in demand. After all, in November 2016 Californians had voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, bringing weed out of the shadows. She and others were hoping to capitalize on that political turn, a dramatic shift in public opinion that is a crucial feature in my new anthology, Where There’s Smoke: The Environmental Science, Public Policy and Politics of Marijuana. The book is the first comprehensive and interdisciplinary analysis of the impact that marijuana has had on the physical and political landscape of the United States. Drawing on the insights of scientists, policymakers, and legal scholars, academics and activists, collectively it probes the complex relationship between marijuana, state and national politics, endangered species, law enforcement and social justice.

A cluster of chapters, for example, charts the tricky routes that Colorado (2012), Oregon (2014), and California (2016), along with the District of Columbia (2014), took to legalize marijuana. Each state’s approach was idiosyncratic, shaped in good measure by its differing demographics and histories. Each had to overcome a variety of social, economic, and political objections to secure the electorate’s approval. Each proposition or initiative therefore evolved over the years until proponents hit on the right combination of controls and regulations to build a large enough coalition willing to change the longstanding prohibition against the production and consumption of marijuana.

Little about this dynamic has been straightforward. It becomes even more complicated when set within the broader context of America’s war on the drugs. That Nixon Era policy is critical to the arguments of other chapters in Where There’s Smoke, which together reveal the striking degree to which national anti-pot policies harmed the very states that recently made marijuana legal. California, for example, which today produces upwards of 80 percent of the national marijuana crop, experienced its first boom in illegal growing as a result of the 1960s counterculture; farmers in what became known as the Emerald Triangle (Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties), grew grass for consumption in nearby Bay Area. The emerging industry might have stayed relatively small and stable had not President Nixon in June 1971 launched a crackdown on drug production south of the US border. This intervention actually brought the war home, because it incentivized cartels to shift their operations from Mexico and South America to California. They targeted national and state forests, as well as tribal lands, sites that proved to be the perfect environment for their trespass grows. Hard to reach, difficult to surveille, and almost impossible to disrupt, these illegal plantations blossomed in number and size across the next four decades. The black-market economy in the Golden State generated billions of dollars in illicit revenue.

To capture some portion of these ill-gotten gains is one reason why Californians (and voters across the country) have pushed to legalize marijuana, and then regulate and tax its production. There has also been an important environmental driver to these marijuana-reform proposals. As a number of the contributors to Where There’s Smoke point out, marijuana plantations—whether legal or not—can have some decidedly deleterious impacts on water quantity and quality, soil productivity, wilderness and biodiversity. Wildlife ecologists identify the rare and endangered species, in particular the Pacific fisher, whose life chances are undercut by growers’ indiscriminate use of rodenticides and other poisons. Tribal forest managers calculate the manifold costs that their people pay because of trespass grows on their homelands; their woods and waters are not safe. Environmental sociologists, law enforcement officers, and other researchers make the same case: the marijuana industry can be a destructive force, a very dirty business.

How clean it up? How restore damaged watersheds, canyons, and hillsides? There is no easy solution, as I note in the introduction to Where There’s Smoke. For some states, a political response, such as legalizing recreational use, might allow for stronger oversight of how and where marijuana is grown. California’s 2016 proposition took this concept one step further, setting aside a portion of the tax revenues the state would secure from the sale of legal marijuana for the regeneration of battered public lands. Yet legalization can only do so much, one public-land manager avers in the book: “Whatever happens [with legalization], we’ve got a job to do. So legalization isn’t a question for us. You’re not allowed to grow corn or potatoes in national parks, so we would go after those grows too.” Other observers are skeptical that legalization will undercut the drug cartels’ cash-cow business model to such an extent that they would be forced to uproot from California (or the other states that have or are considering legalization).

This much is clear. With eight states and the District of Columbia having legalized recreational use, and a total of 29 states (and D.C.) having sanctioned the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the politics of marijuana have shifted radically in a relatively short time. The federal government, however, has not yet joined the bandwagon. To date, marijuana remains classified as a Schedule 1 substance, like heroin. Although the Obama administration tacitly acknowledged individual state’s rights to manage, regulate, and enforce laws relative to marijuana, the Trump administration has reversed that more relaxed approach.

This has left pot farmers such as Cheryl Dumont in limbo: federal banking regulations, in line with federal drug laws, do not allow marijuana growers to deposit their profits in federally regulated financial institutions. This has forced growers to stash their money wherever they think is safe. Dumont, for one, buried her stash–$40,000 worth of gold and silver coin—in a plastic box, two feet underground. She had to leave it behind when the wall of flames swept toward her property, an intense wildfire that would incinerate her home and crops. It also melted her cache.

Char Miller is the W. M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College and the author and editor of many books on environmental history and public lands, including, as author, Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. the California Dream; America’s Great National Forests, Wildernesses, and Grasslands (with photographer Tim Palmer); and Seeking the Greatest Good: The Conservation Legacy of Gifford Pinchot. He also edited American Forests: Nature, Culture, and Politics, published by Kansas.

[1] Joe Mozingo, “Wildfires devastate California’s pot farmers, who must build without banks and insurance,” Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2017, access: http://beta.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-fire-weed-20171028-story.html

UPK’s Gordon Sander Knighted by Finland

Provided/Annina Aalto

Gordon Sander, author of, The Hundred Day Winter War; Finland’s Gallant Stand Against the Soviet Army, received Finland’s Order of the Lion in a ceremony Oct. 12 at the Finnish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C. The medal of the Knight of the Order of the Lion, bestowed by Sauli Niinistö, president of the Republic of Finland, was presented to Sander by the Finnish embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Antti Vänskä. Sander has written two books and hundreds of articles about Finland’s military history.

 

 

“I was motivated to write The Hundred Day Winter War, because I wanted to write a book about the Finnish characteristic which I most admire: sisu, which roughly translates to toughness,” Sander explains. “The story of the Winter War is essentially the story of sisu. I had written many articles about Finland before, and it was time to write a book about this little known country, and the war was the perfect subject, as well as one which I knew would interest foreign audiences. I also have been fascinated with the war ever since my first visit to Finland all the way back in 1977. Most importantly, perhaps, there was not a good one volume history of the war which covered it from both the Finnish and Russian side, as well as both the diplomatic and military points of view.”

During his research while writing The Hundred Day Winter War, Sander’s discovered the war was the first to be a battle of weapons and words.

“The most significant lesson I learned from my research, I suppose, is that the Winter War was, because of the attention it was given in the foreign press, and the sheer number of correspondents who descended on Finland to cover it, the first information war, insofar as it was the first war where at least one of the belligerents, Finland, recognized the importance of dealing with the media–including both welcoming it and, censoring it, i.e., shaping the media’s coverage of the conflict–which in turn influenced how it was perceived by other governments, and affected their willingness or unwillingness to provide aid to the Finns as the British and the French did, and the US did–to a degree.”

Sander’s experience in Finland writing The Hundred Day Winter War afforded him the opportunity to interview veterans of the war, visit battle sites and use his work to honor Finland’s victory.

 “All of the interviews I did with the aging veterans, some of whom died before the book was actually published, were moving experiences,” Sander explains. “From the interview I conducted with the member of the Lotta Svard (women’s auxiliary), which played a crucial role in the home front, to the colonel who commanded some of the men who fought on the Mannerheim Line. And then of course there was my own visit to the former Mannerheim Line, the main defensive line, near Viipuri, looking much as it did eight decades ago. Finally, and perhaps most memorably, there was the reading from the book I did at the remarkable monument at Suomussalmi, the site of the Finns’ greatest victory in the snow to a silent, appreciative group of one hundred Finns from the area.”

Sander is currently living in Daugavpils, Latvia, working on assignment from Politico. He has written for more than 20 publications including The New York Times, Financial Times of London, The Christian Science Monitor and the International Herald Tribune.

“Obviously the knighthood is one of the greatest honors of my career,” Sander says. “As far as I know I am only the American writer or journalist who has ever won it. Beyond that it validates my decision to devote half of my career to helping put Finland on the map.”

Producing Books that Matter; University Press Week, 2017

Admittedly, we like to think we’re unique. But, according to UPK Managing Editor Kelly Chrisman Jacques, the University Press of Kansas is different than many university presses (perhaps, especially, those that are larger).

“I didn’t realize how different our process is compared to the majority of other university presses, until I went to several AAUP meetings and talked with colleagues,” explains Managing Editor Kelly Chrisman Jacques. “Our production department is a cross-section of editing and design. Karl, our Art Director, designs all the book covers, ads, and marketing material. The manuscript and production team handles the editing and proofreading, and also the interior design of nearly all of our titles.”

Chrisman Jacques and her department, which includes Production Editor Larisa Martin and Production Assistant Colin Tripp, guide a manuscript from copy-editing to books in warehouse. All books are copy-edited and proofread by freelancers (“it’s so much more efficient for our staff size,” Chrisman Jacques explains), but trim, interior design, and layout are handled by her staff.

“We have a catalog of about 30 book layouts that are specific to our press,” she says. “When we receive a manuscript from the editorial department we have to ask how to best present the work. Some of our authors have established their work to a degree that they know what layout and typefaces we will use. Most of the time we work to make the layout the most efficient and attractive for the topic.”

While the staff at UPK is small and departments collaborate on projects, production staff and editors don’t cross lines often. Editor in Chief Joyce Harrison says her team of acquisition editors know how important it is to trust the production team.

It’s very important, because they know their side of the business so well,” Harrison says. “That allows us to know what we can and can’t promise authors, especially when it comes to schedules. Kelly’s team also works closely with the marketing department. So we all work together to produce outstanding books, but we have standards and schedules and plans that have to be followed.”

Chrisman Jacques and Harrison agree that the wild card in production isn’t design or typeface or a printing schedule… it’s authors.

“It’s critical for my team to have open and honest dialogue with the editors in order to keep authors on track,” Chrisman Jacques says. “We know that the editors will have our back if we have any issues with an author disagreeing with a copy edit or a layout choice. It’s nice to hear from an author who spoke to their editor and heard that, in fact, my team knows what we’re doing and have the author and the book’s best interest at heart.”

Authors at National Press Club Book Fair

A pair of UPK authors will be featured presenters at the National Press Club’s 2017 Book Fair & Authors’ Night on November 10 in Washington D.C.

Charles Calhoun will be signing copies of his critically acclaimed The Presidency of Ulysses S. Grant and Timothy LaPira will speaking with visitors about Revolving Door Lobbying, the book he co-wrote with Herschel F. Thomas III.

The books are among the nearly 90 titles selected by Politics & Prose, the District’s premier independent bookstore as the best of political publishing. The Capitol region’s premiere holiday book event is celebrating its 40th year! The National Press Club Journalism Institute is once again partnering with landmark local book seller Politics & Prose for a night of pols, pundits and prose.

Authors will be on hand to talk to their fans and sign books at this most exciting literary event of the season. Patrons can browse for books at the Club’s headquarters from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 for NPC and Politics & Prose members; $10 public. Tickets will also be sold online and at the door.

The Book Fair is a fundraiser for The National Press Club Journalism Institute, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization. The event helps the Institute’s programming and mission, which includes a competitive scholarship program with a focus on promoting diversity among the next generation of journalists, and training programs focusing on high standards, ethical conduct and best practices in a rapidly changing media environment.

CSPAN plans to feature books and authors on their programming.

Juliana v. Trump: Kids Fight Climate Change

By Dr. Elizabeth Blum[1], author of Love Canal Revisited; Race, Class, and Gender in Environmental Activism

On June 1, 2017, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate accords signed the previous year under President Barack Obama. Noting that “I can put no other consideration before the wellbeing of American citizens,” Trump justified his decision by stating that the accord “is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States, to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers, who I love, and taxpayers to absorb the costs in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic problems.”[2]

The president’s decision came during a decade when polls revealed that many people, and young people in particular, emphasized climate change as a significant global problem. An Ipsos poll in 2015 noted that knowledge of the terms “global warming” and “climate change” were near universal among American eighth graders, who not only believed it to be a real phenomenon, but pointed fingers at using gasoline, cutting down trees, and creating electricity as major causes. The eighth graders also believed that adults and previous generations saddled them with a problem for their future.[3]  According to another poll taken four years earlier, the Nature Conservancy reported that “American youth are unhappy with the condition of the environment, and lack faith in adults to address it … A majority of American youth (51%) rate ‘the condition of the environment and nature’ as an ‘extremely serious’ or ‘very serious’ problem.”[4]

Seemingly paradoxically, at the same time adults note young people’s awareness of environmental issues, they also gnash teeth and decry children’s overreliance on technology and lack of interest in the outdoors. Concerned about youth “spending more time in front of screens than outside,” President Obama launched the Every Kid in a Park program, which granted every American fourth grader and their family free admission to all federal land.[5]  The National Park Service later announced the continuation of the program in subsequent years.[6]  Richard Louv’s bestselling Last Child in the Woods blamed computers and video games on children spending less time outdoors.  “Nature-deficit disorder,” as he described it, led to attention deficit disorder, along with other problems.[7]  Adults consistently blame modern technology as an impediment to young people “connecting” with nature.

A group of twenty-one young people, ranging in ages from 10-20, defied these prescriptive, stereotypical connections of modern technology with nature. With the help of committed lawyers and scientists, they filed a pathbreaking lawsuit in 2015. Styled Juliana vs. Trump, the case alleges that that the federal government violated the constitutional rights of young people in contributing to, and failing to act sufficiently against, climate change.[8] The plaintiffs, referred to as the “Climate 21,” demand that the court tell Congress and the President to devise and implement plans to alleviate the root causes of climate change.

Julia Olson, the main lawyer in the case, brought the children together as plaintiffs. Only a couple of months prior to the birth of her second son, Julia Olson sat through the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which followed Al Gore giving his pathbreaking climate change talks. She remembers crying through most of the film, despite the fact that climate science was quite familiar to her as an environmental attorney. She felt overwhelmed by Gore’s message in the film, faced with the “added responsibility of ‘I’m bringing them [her children] into the world and I’m also leaving them with this planet that may not be safe for them.’” Faced with the film’s visceral message, Olson decided to act not only on behalf of her own children, but also for children globally and future generations.

Olson founded an organization called Our Children’s Trust, and began working toward a climate case, buoyed by a successful example of legal activism in the Philippines. [9] She specifically planned for children to be front and center, insisting that each plaintiff join the case of their own accord. Olson supported a view of legal activism as a path for children’s agency in the face of such an overwhelming problem as climate change. She noted that she teaches her children small measures, like refusing “plastic straws and toys with unnecessary packaging,” but realized that these typical adult prescriptions to environmental change simply lack effectiveness. “They’re going to need tools of how to live in [their] community and depend on people … and find ways to deal with the catastrophes that will come,” she notes.[10] Finding an empowered voice, as well as their place within a democratic republic reinforces that idea.

In most categories but geographic location, the young people Olson picked represent diverse characteristics. Eleven of the Climate 21 are from Oregon, and one hails from Washington state, making the Pacific Northwest overrepresented. Other areas have representation, though, with two plaintiffs from Colorado, and one each from Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and New York. The youngest plaintiff, Levi Draheim, is now 10, and was 8 when the lawsuit started; seven of the plaintiffs are now old enough to vote, and seven others are within two years at most of doing so. Gender and ethnicity show the greatest balance. The plaintiffs divide into 11 males, and 10 females. Almost half have non-white heritage, including African Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Overall, the case seeks most notably to demonstrate a broad array of inclusion, something for which the environmental movement has frequently been criticized.

The Climate 21 entered into the litigation for different reasons. Many of the plaintiffs come to their activism directly from their experiences in nature. Twenty-year-old Tia Hatton expressed a deep connection to the area near her home. She notes that “The sagebrush-filled desert skirts around [her home of Bend, Oregon], leading into National Forests, ancient rock formations, and vibrant rivers. This was my home growing up. The diverse landscapes of Bend became part of me … from a young age, I sought to protect this part of me.”[11]  Her enjoyment of Nordic skiing awoke her to the dangers of climate change, as she noticed snow levels regularly dropping. Levi Draheim, a 10-year-old boy from Indiatlantic, Florida, enjoyed going to the beaches regularly near his home. He watched and learned about progressive change in his area. He noted that “if the sea rises, our [home] could just be underwater. And our reefs … They’re just almost gone.  I can’t even go to the beach [anymore]. It gives me nightmares.”[12]  Deeply connected to the nature around their homes, Hatton and Draheim root their activism in dismay over real and future changes to places they love.

Jamie Lynn Butler of Arizona, and Jacob Lebel and Alex Loznak, both from Oregon, come from farming families. They each note that ever-increasing droughts and heat waves dramatically affected their families’ abilities to make a living. [13] Loznak noted that “during those heat waves, many of our trees died … We had plantations of timber trees that died. Some of our hazelnut trees died or needed intensive watering as a result.”[14] Butler remembers her family forced into selling off livestock when droughts made watering them prohibitive.[15] Contrary to Louv’s image of modern children as so unhealthily immersed with their technology, these young people demonstrate deep connections to nature that have informed and strengthened their beliefs in climate change. Rather than retreat into the world of video games, the Climate 21 chose to develop a political voice in the face of disenfranchisement.

In addition to a strong sense of place, many of the group also have deep interests in other environmental issues. Some pursue this through education. Hatton is an environmental and international studies major at the University of Oregon.[16] Senior Alex Loznak is a Sustainable Development major at Columbia University. Others have prior (and continuing) experience with activism. Jacob Lebel, a Canadian by birth who now lives in Eugene, Oregon, responded quickly to a threat by a Canadian company to build a natural gas pipeline close to his family’s farm. His activism helped to stop the plans for the pipeline. Expanding his geographical concern, he also protested at Standing Rock over the planned pipeline there.[17] Miko and Isaac Vergun participate in Plant for the Planet, a growing network of groups of children who help plant trees as a response to climate change.[18]  In 2014, Avery McRae (now 12), won a local award for raising more than $300 through a “fundraising party with games, crafts, and an introduction about the important role of salmon in the ecosystem.” She noted that her inspiration for the project came from “walking along Whitaker Creek … where she saw salmon spawning.”[19] Again, McRae demonstrates that her activism flowed from personal interactions with nature.

Families and culture provide an important entry point for activism for many of the young plaintiffs. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, probably the most visible of the plaintiffs, cites his Aztec heritage as instilling a “sense of responsibility as a person to protect and connect and be a part of something.” Both of his parents also connected through activism – his mother founded an Earth Guardians school in Hawai’i and his father served as an Aztec “ambassador for Mexico.”[20] Through her extended family, New Yorker Victoria Barrett has viewed climate change both from the American perspective and the developing world. Even over her lifetime, her Honduran grandparents have steadily fought the rising levels of the sea near their home by building ever increasing barriers against flooding.[21]

Louisianan Jayden Foytlin followed the example of her mother, Cherri, in diving into activism. In 2010, “stage-managed trips” organized for the press by BP in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster frustrated journalist Cherri Foytlin. When she hired a fisherman to take her into the Gulf, they found a pelican drenched in oil that died soon after. Determined to take action, Cherri accepted the leadership of Bold Louisiana, a group fighting oil development expansion. Although Cherri worried about her daughter’s activism, she also saw it as a constructive way for Jayden to participate. [22] Similarly, Jamescita Peshlakai, a state senator in Arizona who has made climate and environmental issues key to her service, influenced her Navajo daughter Jamie Butler to be active.[23]

Importantly, many of the Climate 21 use social media and technology to promote their activism and views of climate change. The young people refuse the negative nature-technology dichotomy so loudly espoused by adults. Martinez, who aggressively uses social media and performs hip-hop music on climate change, makes this connection explicit. He notes that the “reason I’ve been able to have such a huge reach with the Earth Guardian movement is because of social media, and the way it connects us all as a global family.”[24] Jacob Lebel, along with many others, posts videos on youtube to publicize issues. Lead plaintiff Kelsey Juliana, Journey Zephier, Alex Loznak, Nathan Baring, and Kiran Oommen all have Twitter and/or Instagram accounts to spread news of their activism. Others regularly use crowdfunding sources to publicize and seek support for their work. Juliana requested “adoption” to fund her participation in a 2015 climate march across the country. Miko and Isaac Vergun, as well as Zephier, used gofundme accounts to assist in traveling to various conferences and training sessions. Their highly developed use of social media allows them to connect with peers – using a media that they find familiar. Rather than technology precluding interaction with the environment, young people use it to spread their message and safeguard nature.[25]

Although parents and other adults have often been supportive, some adults have a more negative reaction, often rooted in concerns that political activism challenges adult domination over children. For example, Jayden Foytlin of Rayne, Louisiana, lost her best friend over her involvement in the case.  Her friend’s mother stated that “I don’t want nothing to do with children being in adult situations nor will any of our children. I think it’s pathetic that a young girl is even involved in something like this.”[26]  A frequent commenter on CNN’s stories, Balatonian, noted that “Kids must just remain good boys and girls, go to school and study. When they become responsible and sensible adults, then they can participate in voting for and criticizing their adult peers.” [27]  In both of these instances, adults reflected fears of children stepping outside of prescribed roles as a subjugated class to “inappropriately” challenge adults.

The case has been weaving its way through the rather byzantine legal system over the past two years. Unlike earlier efforts, however, Juliana v. Trump has achieved some notable successes. Judge Thomas Coffin recently set a trial date of February 5, 2018.  Judge Ann Aiken upheld his decision, noting that the case “is of a different order than the typical environmental case.”[28] The Trump administration reacted to this setback by filing a writ of mandamus with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where they objected both to the “the unlawful exercise of [the court’s] jurisdiction” and “the staggering burden imposed on the federal government by the ongoing discovery” in the case. They asked  that the appellate court order the lower court to dismiss the case. The Climate 21 filed a response, and eight groups supported them with amicus briefs. All now simply await the Ninth Circuit’s response or the beginning of the trial.[29]

Regardless of the outcome of the case, the efforts of the Climate 21 provide a valuable lesson in how children perceive and interact with the environment. Although they lack a formal political voice in society, these (admittedly exceptional) young people chose to participate in a legal, peaceful protest to affect change. Their actions should remind adults that the 21st century’s children maintain an intimate connection to nature that technology helps guide and promote. The stereotypical image of our current generation of children as lessened by their contact with technology needs serious reappraisal.

[1] The author would like to thank her husband, Sean Blum, for his invaluable help in negotiating the legal wranglings of this case, as well as Karen Ross and Kathryn Tucker for their comments on earlier drafts.
[2] Callum Borchers and Amber Phillips, “Transcript:  President Trump’s Remarks on Leaving the Paris Climate Deal, Annotated,” Washington Post, June 1, 2017, accessed June 2, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/06/01/transcript-president-trumps-remarks-on-leaving-the-paris-climate-deal-annotated/?utm_term=.7bd77ccfc164.
[3] “Nine in Ten 8th Graders Agree that Climate Change is Real and Human Activity Significantly Contributes to Climate Change,” Ipsos, March 13, 2015, accessed February 3, 2017,  https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/nine-ten-8th-graders-agree-climate-change-real-and-human-activity-significantly-contributes-climate?language_content_entity=en-us.
[4] “Kids These Days:  Why is America’s Youth Staying Indoors?” The Nature Conservancy, accessed September 5, 2017, https://www.nature.org/newsfeatures/kids-in-nature/kids-in-nature-poll.xml .
[5] Arne Duncan, Sally Jewell, Tom Vilsack, Jo-Ellen Darcy, and Kathryn Sullivan, “Let’s Get Every Kid in a Park,” The White House, February 19, 2005, accessed June 24, 2017, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2015/02/19/let-s-get-every-kid-park .
[6] Hannah Malvin, “Every Kid in a Park Program Extended; 4th Graders Get Free Park Admission,” The Wilderness Society, July 28, 2017, accessed August 1, 2017, http://wilderness.org/blog/every-kid-park-program-extended-4th-graders-get-free-park-admission.
[7] Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Chapel Hill:  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006).
[8] Originally filed in 2015, President Obama’s administration were the initial defendants in the case. Trump inherited that role with the change in administrations.  The 2015 case is the second case headed by Olson of children filing a case against the federal government for inaction over climate change in the United States.  Numerous cases at the state level have also been filed, without much success.
[9] John Sutter, “Meet the Mom Litigating the ‘Biggest Case on the Planet,’” CNN, September 13, 2016, accessed June 15, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/12/opinions/sutter-julia-olson-climate-kids-profile/index.html .
[10] Sutter, “Meet the Mom Litigating the ‘Biggest Case on the Planet.’”
[11] Tia Hatton, Biographical entry, Planet Forward, accessed September 1, 2017, http://www.planetforward.org/users/tia-hatton .
[12] John Sutter, “Kids are taking the feds – and possibly Trump – to court over climate change,” CNN, November 10, 2016, accessed February 10, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/10/opinions/sutter-trump-climate-kids/index.html.
[13] Sutter, “Kids are taking the feds – and possibly Trump – to court over climate change.”
[14] Dana Varinsky, “Meet the Kids Suing the US Government for Ruining the Earth for Future Generations,” Business Insider, November 19, 2016, accessed September 3, 2017, http://www.businessinsider.com/kids-suing-government-for-climate-change-2016-11.
[15] Emery Cowan, “As Climate Lawsuit Faces Challenge, Navajo Teen Contributes from Afar,” Arizona Daily Sun, August 30, 2017, accessed September 3, 2017, http://azdailysun.com/news/local/as-climate-lawsuit-faces-challenge-navajo-teen-contributes-from-afar/article_d399f129-e92c-5abd-81d0-9ddb8e6dabd6.html.
[16] Joe McCarthy, “Meet Tia Hatton, a Global Citizen of  America Who’s Suing Trump Over Climate Change,” Global Citizen, March 17, 2017, accessed September 3, 2017, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/global-citizen-of-america-tia-hatton/ .
[17] Kim Brunhuber, “Why A Canadian Teen Joined American Youth in Suing U.S. Over Climate Change,” CBS News, January 16, 2017, accessed August 1, 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/lebel-lawsuit-climate-change-1.3931321 .
[18] “The Story of the First Oregon Academy,” January 12, 2015, accessed September 3, 2017, http://www.plant-for-the-planet.org/en/about-us/news/f1a2f4d7-9811-11e5-a0ac-902b34544d94.
[19] “Salmon Heroes,” Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, accessed August 26, 2017, http://www.pesticide.org/salmon_heroes .
[20]Zoe Loftus-Farren, “Xiuhtezcatl Martinez:  Youth Voices are Powerful,” Earth Island Journal, Spring, 2017, accessed July 13, 2017, http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/eij/article/xiuhtezcatl_martinez/ .
[21] Mike Pearl, “Meet One of the Teens Suing the Federal Government Over Global Warming,” Vice Magazine, November 10, 2015, accessed February 20, 2017, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/kwxpde/meet-one-of-the-kids-suing-the-federal-government-over-global-warming-381.
[22] Neela Banerjee and Zahra Hirji, “Meet the Louisiana Teen Who is Suing the Federal Government Over Climate Change,” InsideClimate News, June 13, 2017, accessed August 25, 2017, http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2017/06/climate_change_lawsuit.html; Mark Hefflinger, “Over 400 Gulf Protectors Rally and Testify Against Bayou Bridge Pipeline at Public Hearing,” Bold Louisiana, January 13, 2017, accessed August 25, 2017, http://boldlouisiana.org/bbhearing/ .
[23] Emery  Cowan, “As Climate Lawsuit Faces Challenge, Navajo Teen  Contributes from Afar,” Arizona Daily Sun, August 30, 2017, Accessed September 1, 2017, http://azdailysun.com/news/local/as-climate-lawsuit-faces-challenge-navajo-teen-contributes-from-afar/article_d399f129-e92c-5abd-81d0-9ddb8e6dabd6.html.
[24]Loftus-Farren, “Xiuhtezcatl Martinez:  Youth Voices are Powerful.”
[25] “Kelsey Juliana,” The Great March for Climate Action, 2017, accessed September 1, 2017, http://climatemarch.org/kelsey-juliana/; Pam Vergun, “Vergun Plant for the Planet Germany,”  go fundme, June 4, 2016, accessed September 1, 2017, https://www.gofundme.com/VergunsToGermany.
[26] Neela Banerjee and Zahra Hirji, “Fighting Climate Change Can Be a Lonely Battle in Oil Country, Especially for a Kid,” Inside Climate News, June 13, 2017, accessed June 13, 2017, https://insideclimatenews.org/news/13062017/kids-climate-change-lawsuit-childrens-trust-jayden-foytlin-louisiana.   The negative reaction may also have stemmed from Rayne’s mostly conservative atmosphere:  many families rely on the oil industry for jobs, and complaints against the government may be more likely to be seen as unpatriotic
[27] Balatonin, comment, November 14, 2016, on Sutter, “Kids are taking the feds – and possibly Trump – to court over climate change.”
[28] Ann Coffin, Opinion and Order, United States District Court for the District of Oregon, Eugene Division,  November 10, 2016, page 52, accessed June 1, 2016, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/571d109b04426270152febe0/t/5824e85e6a49638292ddd1c9/1478813795912/Order+MTD.Aiken.pdf .
[29] A writ of mandamus allows the appellate court to review the decision of the trial court where proceedings are still ongoing.  For an outline of the progress of the case, as well as links to the legal filings, see the Our Children’s Trust website at:  https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/ .

Celebrities Take a Knee: Athletes, Actors, and Musicians versus the Reality Show President

By Mark Harvey, author of Celebrity Influence; Politics, Persuasion, and Issue-Based Advocacy, available in November.

As any sports fan knows, playing “The Star Spangled Banner” is a time-honored ritual at the opening of American sporting events—a kind of moment of reverence and national prayer to respect the United States and its ideals. Last year, NFL fans watched while Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers kneeled during the national anthem, claiming that he would not show respect for the flag or the country until it lived up to those ideals. Specifically, he expressed concern about the oppression of minorities in the United States.

Predictably, the action drew controversy from many football fans. Some came out in support of Kaepernick, while others argued passionately that athletes and celebrities had no place in politics. The controversy appeared to take a toll on the NFL. According to CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus, the protests likely led to lower football ratings. Moreover, the controversy may well have alienated largely conservative owners of NFL teams who contributed 42 times more money to Republican causes over Democratic ones. Thus, despite Kaepernick’s strong performance in the 2016 season, team owners likely viewed Kaepernick and his protests as too explosive for the average armchair quarterback, denying him the opportunity to play football in the 2017 season.

As Kaepernick has fallen out, the NFL has joined in.

At a campaign rally in Alabama on September 22, Donald Trump—the former reality show celebrity and businessman who earned his political stripes by leading the birther movement and ultimately winning the presidency—argued that NFL owners who see players “disrespecting the flag” should say, “get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired!” By Sunday, alarmed players and owners alike collectively “took a knee” in support of players’ first amendment right to free expression, the very action that put Kaepernick in the proverbial hot seat. Even Shad Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars—a man who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration—locked arms with his players during the demonstration at a game in London.

This controversy is only one of many celebrity-fueled political controversies during the Trump presidency. The NFL protests seemed to overshadow Stephen Curry and LeBron James’s criticism of Trump over the same weekend. Attacks on Trump have been a regular feature of entertainment award shows since Meryl Streep criticized Trump for being a “bully” at the Golden Globes. Mass protests such as the Women’s March on Washington have prominently featured celebrities. Even late night host Jimmy Kimmel has set aside his role as comic to advocate for universal health care, using his show as a platform.

What is going on here? Why is there such a proliferation of celebrity activism? More importantly, does it amount to anything? In my forthcoming book Celebrity Influence, I address these questions directly. What does our knowledge of celebrity influence tell us about the recent NFL controversy?

1. This is nothing new

Celebrity activism is not simply a knee-jerk reaction against Trump (pardon the pun). While Trump and Kaepernick, James and Curry, Kimmel and Streep are all important players in current political discourse, celebrity politics is not a new or unique feature of this Trump era. One of the greatest performers of his generation, Paul Robeson—singer, athlete, and the first African American to have a starring role in a film—was blacklisted in the 1950s for his affiliation as a communist, which informed his civil rights activism and appeals on behalf of the poor, starting in the 1930s. Popular singer Harry Belafonte was responsible for drawing attention to the activism of Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1950s and 1960s. In the early 1970s, John Lennon of the Beatles organized with Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Bobby Seale, and others from the radical left in an effort to prevent Richard Nixon from being re-elected, while Elvis Presley secretly met with Nixon to discuss ways to counter young subversives. In 1992, the bands U2, Public Enemy, and Big Audio Dynamite worked with Greenpeace to protest the nuclear factory near Sellafield in the UK. For years, actor George Clooney has been involved in efforts to expose genocide in Darfur, and Angelina Jolie has been a UN Goodwill Ambassador working on behalf of refugees.

 

This brief list represents a fraction of celebrity political interventions. Kaepernick, the NFL, and others demonstrating on their behalf are part of a chain of celebrities that has spanned generations. However, one could also argue that the number of interventions have likely increased over the years. The more media saturated our society becomes, the more prominent celebrity activism seems to be as celebrities exploit their relationship with media outlets to spotlight causes.

2. There is strength in numbers

Data I gathered for Celebrity Influence suggests not only that celebrities are often more successful at generating attention for political issues, but that the more celebrities involved in an event, the more publicity gained. This stands to reason. A single actor may be a conscientious objector. A large group of celebrities makes a movement. Such was the case with Dr. King’s 1963 March on Washington, where dozens of musicians and actors arrived at the event and used it as an opportunity to isolate businesses that engaged in discriminatory practices. A generation later, dozens of celebrities came together in 1984 to record songs like “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and “We Are the World,” and to organize the massive Live Aid concert event to raise money and awareness of the famine in Ethiopia. Even the U.S. government responded to the effort by changing the type and amount of aid offered to developing countries in Africa.

 

Large numbers not only increase the profile of a movement—they also provide needed cover for more vulnerable celebrity activists. Keep in mind that the social and economic costs of activism are potentially quite significant for celebrities. The Beatles refused to play concerts in America before segregated audiences.  Given their incredible commercial power at the time, this decision changed the operations of the concert industry. But even the Beatles lost support in the American South for Paul McCartney’s statements against racism and John Lennon’s misunderstood lament that “the Beatles are more popular than Jesus.” Likewise, in 2003, just days before the run up to the Iraq War, the Dixie Chicks were excoriated for saying they were “ashamed that the President of the United States was from Texas” during their London tour, causing them a loss of popularity that they never completely regained.

This case of Kaepernick and the NFL making a political statement is exceptional. According to an analysis prepared for this book, athletes are quite possibly the most vulnerable celebrities when it comes to suffering retribution for protests. The likely reason has to do with the nature of their contracts. Musicians had the least invasive contracts from the 1960s onward as a result of the studios’ changing business model, which gave rock musicians more freedom in the studio. In contrast, film actors were employed exclusively by a single movie studio, television stars appeared on a single program, and athletes performed for a single team, which meant that the image of the stars were seen to reflect positively or negatively on the image of their organizations. While film actors became more autonomous by the 1970s, television actors and athletes continue to be reliant on commercial income for networks and on product endorsements. Athletes watched as professional boxer Muhammed Ali and Olympians Tommie Smith and John Carlos were socially, commercially, and even legally isolated for speaking out against the Vietnam War or inequality. Athletes feared being dropped by their teams or losing key commercial endorsements.

Kaepernick is a perfect case in point. He took a risk by being the first to “take a knee.” As long as Kaepernick was perceived as a threat to television ratings, he could not be allowed to continue in football. However, as long as the entire institution of professional football took a stand, such protest can be allowed. There is strength in numbers—and in the endorsement of owners and the NFL commissioner.

3. These protests have the potential to make a difference

Historically, celebrities who have challenged or worked with presidents may have led to changes in attitudes and even policy. When Arkansas National Guard troops prevented African American students from attending a newly integrated high school in Little Rock, jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong criticized President Dwight Eisenhower for his weak response and refused to play in a goodwill concert in the Soviet Union. Eisenhower eventually sent 1,200 paratroopers from the 101st Airborne to force integration. Baseball player Jackie Robinson was a consistent critic of President John F. Kennedy for vacillating on inequality, and Kennedy eventually moved on civil rights legislation by 1963. Bono, lead singer of U2, had an ongoing lobbying and personal relationship with George W. Bush that culminated in debt relief and support for AIDS prevention and treatment in Africa. While one cannot easily prove that executive action would have been taken without these agents of change, one also cannot easily dismiss the popular pressure that was directed at these presidents as a result of celebrities shining a virtual spotlight on these issues and these presidents.

 

In addition, research for the book offered some interesting results that may tell us a bit about the effectiveness of the NFL protests. First, celebrities were more credible than many politicians on certain political issues and were highly persuasive. In particular, a level of expertise was afforded celebrities who were highly connected to transnational advocacy organizations, like Clooney and Jolie. Likewise, celebrities such as Elton John and Ellen DeGeneres were considered to be authentic on LGBT issues, likely because of their close personal identification with those issues.

Second, while partisans tended to view their own preferred politicians as credible on particularly divisive issues, people also found celebrities more credible than politicians from the opposing party. Thus, celebrities may have a mediating effect in political discourse. Since Watergate, Americans have become less trusting of politicians and American institutions. People believe that celebrities act independently of political self-interest, and may be more trustworthy as outsiders than those currently running the government. Considering these conclusions, it is no surprise that Candidate Trump’s appeals to elect an outsider who would “drain the swamp” would be so appealing to so many.

The NFL protests have the potential to be quite powerful if sustained. Will Trump be moved by players, coaches, and owners locking arms on behalf of free speech and civil rights? Probably not. Sometimes celebrity interventions fail. However, my research shows that these athletes may be quite persuasive to many other citizens and politicians. Indeed, since identity appears to be linked to one’s credibility on an issue, civil rights and free speech is a good match for NFL players. Seventy percent of NFL players are African American, so those black players locking arms with supportive white players have the potential to send an authentic and powerful message to a sympathetic American public. Perhaps it will continue to raise Americans’ awareness of the discrimination and violence that still plagues too many minorities in the United States.

And maybe we’ll see Colin Kaepernick throw the football once again.

Mark Harvey is the Director of Graduate and Undergraduate Programs at the University of Saint Mary, and the author of Celebrity Influence (out November 2017). You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook @DrMAHarvey.