A brief survey from the front lines of resistance by an author whose experience gives her a variety of perspectives.
Now a distinguished academic, Berry (American Social Thought/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich: Vote Buying and the Corruption of Democracy, 2016, etc.) began her activism as a college protestor during the Vietnam War and a journalist covering it for her university newspaper. She was fired by President Ronald Reagan from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and later named by President Bill Clinton to chair it. Though she writes like a historian studying political resistance, Berry benefits from her experience both inside and outside the government, working through different channels and with grass-roots movements as well. What she offers here is less a polemical broadside than a measured, matter-of-fact account of how resistance has pushed social movements forward and aided progress in movements including civil rights, war protest, pro–abortion rights, disabilities, gay rights, and so many others, despite consistent Republican efforts to “turn back the clock.” The author discusses Franklin Roosevelt’s support for segregation and how a planned March on Washington found organizers warned by Eleanor “that following through with the demonstration could precipitate a reactionary rollback of unspecified civil rights gains that she attributed to her husband’s administration.” That experience paid belated dividends with the civil rights marches of the 1960s. Berry goes light on demonizing Richard Nixon, whom she praises for establishing relations with China as well as the Environmental Protection Agency. She also argues that Clinton pretty much got a free pass from the left: “he had the advantages of personality and his party identification, and after the Reagan and Bush years, progressives and liberals were tolerant and glad to have a ‘friendly’ president in office.” A short coda on the many challenges of the Trump era restates what she plainly sees as the obvious: “None of these battles is over….Much resistance work still needs to be done.”
More of a well-informed handbook of effective resistance than a call to arms.