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by John Freeman

Pub Date: Nov. 12th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-374-53885-9
Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A dictionary of political activism.

Freeman (Writer-in-Residence/New York Univ.; Tales of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation, 2017, etc.), editor of Freeman’s literary journal and executive editor of the Literary Hub, is mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it anymore. As he writes, our government is like a house on fire, with a “willfully ignorant and gloatingly cruel president.” Freeman argues that “we need to take the one tool being vandalized before our very eyes—language—and reclaim it, and redefine what it means to be an ethical citizen in the present moment.” He organizes his appeal for action around 26 words, creating a “lexicon of engagement and meaning,” and he uses each word as a starting point for his arguments, opinions, and critiques. “We need to grab the words that have possibility in them,” he writes, “and begin using them anew.” “Agitate” is a key word used throughout the book. Freeman writes that we are being manipulated and fooled and “need to agitate against apathy.” He discusses a litany of abuses: corruption; profiteering and power grabbing; attacks on voting rights and the environment; an information war; abusive racism; the hollowing out of our justice departments or erosion via a “corrosive acid wash of money.” Freeman bemoans “our lack of support of public education and our dereliction of teachers.” He balances what’s wrong with what’s right, like the rage of women’s rights and the altruism of giving. Like a ship sinking in dark waters, the author “wants to navigate around the rhetorical acts of sabotage, to grab the pump levers of language and turn the lights back on.” Though sometimes repetitious, Freeman encourages and uplifts. “We are going to change this,” he writes, “one day and moment at a time, on our own and with each other.”

Exuberant and inspiring clarion calls for activism.