Out of the Mainstream: Books and Films You May Have Missed


Blue Ridge Commons
By Kathryn Newfont

This detailed history documents the role of some mountain residents in western North Carolina in opposing wilderness designation of national forests but supporting campaigns to block clear cutting and oil and gas development. The consistent thread was that they wanted to maintain their tradition of hunting and fishing while being able to log in a sustainable way.


Chasing Molecules
By Elizabeth Grossman

Chemicals in consumer products threaten our health and planet. Some scientists are developing “green chemistry” to substitute safer alternatives.


Conspiracy of Silence
By Chris Lamb

The campaign to desegregate baseball took more than a decade. Sportswriters for radical and African-American newspapers played a crucial role, while nearly all white writers for major publications either remained silent or opposed the change.


Crusade 2.0
By John Feffer C

Islam has replaced communism as the all- purpose enemy whose presence justifies huge increases in U.S. military spending, invasions of other countries, and erosion of civil liberties at home. The author argues that those who oppose Islamophobia must advocate not mere “tolerance” but active, positive engagement on a personal, community, and international level.


Dear White America
By Tim Wise

A leading white analyst of racism in America once again provides fresh takes as he punctures myths and defenses.


Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power
By Amy Sonnie and James Tracy

This is a history of organizations in the 1960s that united working-class whites for radical change. As part of their mission, they directly challenged racism because it divided working people. At times, they supported radical black groups with whom they had more in common than with white power brokers.


It Started in Wisconsin
Edited by Mari Jo Buhle and Paul Buhle
VERSO, 2012

This anthology focuses in part on the historical background behind the recent struggle over workers’ rights in Wisconsin. It also includes eyewitness accounts.


Living as Form Edited
by Nato Thompson

Inspiring text and color photos describe more than a hundred projects from around the world that combined elements of art, social engagement, and community building during the past two decades. Some involved performance art or historical reenactments with a twist. Others involved occupying public spaces. Still others gave normally marginalized people a chance to express and see themselves in a new way. All challenged corporate commercial culture.


Mink River
By Brian Doyle

This exceptional novel was written by a poet, and it shows in the lyrical style that brings alive characters and stories in a small town on the Oregon coast. Both the style and stories draw on the inhabitants’ cultural roots, from Native Americans to Irish immigrants.


So Rich, So Poor
By Peter Edelman

A lifelong activist who resigned from the Clinton administration to protest the gutting of welfare programs asks why poverty rates have steadily grown in America over the past ten years and proposes some solutions.


The Color of Law
By Steve Babson, Dave Riddle, and David Elsila WAYNE

The late Ernie Goodman, the subject of this detailed biography, was a Detroit- based attorney who devoted his career to supporting movements of the powerless, from the industrial sit-down strikes of the 1930s to victims of the Red Scare of the 1950s to the civil rights movement and the Attica prison rebellion of the 1970s. The law, he learned, serves those with wealth unless grassroots movements create enough pressure to force the courts and the political system to provide justice.


The Highest Vocation
By Helen Fox

A professor at the University of Michigan trained in the bottom-up educational principles of Paulo Freire raises controversial issues about the experiences of students of the Millennial Generation. As a broad generalization, she says, faculty who work with them find many more comfortable with structure than with challenging analysis and debate and more willing to engage in quick-fix volunteerism than to commit to long-term activism on complex issues.


The Invisible Enemy
By Greta de Jong

The civil rights movement ended most forms of open, legal segregation in the 1960s. But the struggle continued against “invisible” forms of racism that claimed that inequality was the result of color-blind market forces rather than conscious corporate and public policies.


The Operators
By Michael Hastings

A Rolling Stone reporter describes how policymakers’ decisions about the war in Afghanistan that have affected millions of lives have been based on ego, career enhancement, and power struggles. By his account, U.S. generals and Hillary Clinton maneuvered for escalation, Vice-President Biden argued for troop withdrawal and assignment of special forces to pursue “less than a hundred” Al-Qaeda operatives, and President Obama, indecisive and looking for a compromise that would offend no one, ended up giving the generals nearly everything they wanted.


The Passion of Bradley Manning
By Chase Madar
OR BOOKS, 2012

A short book tells the story of the soldier accused of giving thousands of documents to WikiLeaks to expose government lies and law breaking in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It explains why the documents were so revealing, why he might have found it necessary to release them, and the physical torture he has suffered while imprisoned on the Obama administration’s watch.


Valley of Shadows and Dreams
By Ken Light and Melanie Light
HEYDAY, 2012

A beautifully printed book of black-and- white photos and text portrays California’s Central Valley as a place where the greed of agribusiness has destroyed natural resources and created deep inequality.


Wisconsin Uprising
Edited by Michael D. Yates

The battle in Wisconsin over elimination of public workers’ collective bargaining rights showed that many Americans were ready to take to the streets to oppose the corporate political agenda. But it also exposed longstanding problems in the way the union movement operates and defines its mission.


Words of Protest, Words of Freedom
Edited by Jeffrey Lamar Coleman

More than 150 poems from the 1960s— mostly from the civil rights movement— bring alive the emotions of that time.


Working on the Railroad
By Jay Youngdahl

Major railroads hired Navajo workers to do the most physically demanding track work, knowing that they often would be unaware of their rights under American law. An attorney who represented many of the workers draws on interviews to describe their experiences.



Dhobi Ghat

Four characters from varying economic classes in Mumbai intersect in this engaging story that tells a lot about India and about the class divide anywhere.


Art Is…The Permanent Revolution

Some of the best-known artists of Europe such as Rembrandt, Goya, Daumier, and Picasso created graphic prints protesting war, inequality, poverty, and exploitation, and many were jailed or exiled for doing so. This unusually creative film shows some of the best protest work by sixty of them. It is accompanied by commentary by three contemporary American protest artists who show, step by step, how they make etchings, woodcuts, and lithographs today.


The American Dream

Two African-American friends in L.A. film their final days before they are sent to fight in Afghanistan, as well as some of their experiences while there. Despite a slow start, the resulting film is an exceptionally effective and unusual work of art about war, race, friendship, and American culture.


Austin Unbound

Austin was born a girl but felt from a very young age that he was really a boy. At the time this forty-three-minute documentary was filmed, he was going through his final operation to become a man. Born deaf and with an open and engaging personality, he shares the feelings that brought him to this point and leaves no question unanswered.


On the Ice

This gripping feature film begins by showing the lives of native teenagers in an isolated Alaskan town 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where parties feature homegrown rap music performances. When two boys go on a seal hunt with a friend, a life-changing accident creates a crisis for them, their families, and their community. The film’s powerful authenticity is enhanced by a director and cast of native people from that region.



A fifty-six-minute documentary consists primarily of interviews about an FBI program in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s to disrupt, discredit, and “neutralize” leaders of black, Latino, Native American, and white radical organizations. Many such leaders were assassinated or imprisoned. The FBI infiltrated such organizations to sow dissension or provoke actions that could be used as an excuse for repression. Footage from the time includes clips of U.S. Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho) whose committee investigated and documented these activities by the FBI and CIA that used “national security” as a pretext for violating Americans’ basic civil liberties.


*This column is adapted from World Wide Work, written by Matt Witt, and published eight times a year by the American Labor Education Center, an independent nonprofit that operates www.TheWorkSite. org, a free website that provides downloadable tools and tips for educators and activists.