Resistance: Reclaiming an American Tradition

Resistance: Reclaiming an American Tradition

by Jeff Biggers


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Resistance: Reclaiming an American Tradition by Jeff Biggers

"Resist we must, resist we will—and as this volume powerfully reminds us, in so doing we are acting on the deepest American instincts." —Bill McKibben, author of Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance

Across cities, towns, and campuses, Americans are grappling with overwhelming challenges and the daily fallout from the most authoritarian White House policies in recent memory.

In an inspiring narrative history, Jeff Biggers reframes today’s battles as a continuum of a vibrant American tradition. Resistance is a chronicle of the courageous resistance movements that have insured the benchmarks of our democracy—movements that served on the front lines of the American Revolution, the defense of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the defeat of fascism during World War II, and landmark civil rights and environmental protection achievements.

Legendary historian Studs Terkel praised Biggers’s The United States of Appalachia as a "how-to book" in the tradition of the American Revolution. With Resistance , Biggers opens a new window into American history and its meaning today. In a recovery of unsung heroes, including Revolutionary forefather Thomas Paine, Resistance is a provocative reconsideration of the American Revolution, bringing alive early Native American, African American, and immigrant struggles, women’s rights, and environmental justice movements. With lucidity, meticulousness, and wit, Biggers unfolds one of our country’s best-kept secrets: in dealing with the most challenging issues of every generation, resistance to duplicitous civil authority has defined our quintessential American story.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781640090477
Publisher: Counterpoint Press
Publication date: 07/03/2018
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 344,509
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

JEFF BIGGERS is an award-winning historian, journalist, and playwright. He is the author of several books, including The United States of Appalachia , State Out of the Union , and Reckoning at Eagle Creek ,winner of the Delta Prize for Literature and David Brower Award for environmental reporting. His last book, The Trials of a Scold , was long-listed for the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography. He is the founder of the Climate Narrative Project, an arts and advocacy initiative for schools and communities.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Enemy of the People

While the infamous "Reynolds Pamphlet" on Alexander Hamilton's sex scandal takes center stage in the Broadway musical phenomenon " Hamilton ," the assault on the free press and the First Amendment in its bitter aftermath might be the most chilling cautionary tale for our times.

Move on Alexander Hamilton. Meet Benjamin Franklin Bache, the first journalist "enemy of the people."

Politics were bitterly divided in 1798, too.

Noah Webster, whose hallowed dictionary we all cherish now, employed a few choice words against the Democratic Republicans and journalists in opposition to the Federalists: "The refuse, the sweepings of the most depraved part of mankind from the most corrupt nations on earth."

An inordinate fear and fearmongering over a growing immigrant population took place among politicians in those times, too.

President John Adams touted an Aliens Friends Act to deport anyone he deemed dangerous. But an alien invasion from France was the least of his concerns.

Adam was a thin-skinned president, vaguely reminiscent of present-day office holders. He brisked at the giggles over his moniker as "His Rotundity," and railed against what he considered deceptive and false characterizations of his administration by certain journalists. Fake news, in today's parlance.

Enter Benjamin Franklin Bache, the badass grandson of the inventor, and muckraking editor of the Philadelphia Aurora newspaper, who didn't cower to Adam's monarchical haughtiness.

The European-educated Bache had already been banned earlier that year from covering the proceedings of the House of Representative on the floor with the rest of the journalists after his reports exposed some salty language from a brawl. "The right of the people of the United States to listen to the sentiments of their representatives," he declared in vain, "was acknowledged by the first agents whom they appointed to express their voice in that assembly."
Adams might recall a certain president today in more than one way. He once wrote about preferring the title of "His Highness, the President of the United State and Protector of the Rights of the Same."

Bache simply found him an "old, querulous, Bald, blind, crippled, Toothless Adams."
It was Bache's Aurora newspaper that chastised Adams for Alexander Hamilton's infamous case of adultery, after the release of James Thomson Callender's scandalous "Reynolds Pamphlet."
Bache didn't earn a musical―and his role as the first journalist to hold the line on the freedom of the press has been forgotten in history.

Far from ignoring Bache and others, Adams, and other Federalists, had other ways to deal with journalists they considered the opposition.

This is the cautionary tale that didn't go well for Americans.

Under the guise of a threatened nation, invoking unholy French alliances among the American press and supposed spies, Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1798 intently to clamp down on the emerging free press hailed by Bache.

"To write, print, utter or publish, or cause it to be done, or assist in it, any false, scandalous, and malicious writing against the government of the United States, or either House of Congress, or the President"―-this was now a high misdemeanor, warranting imprisonment for journalists.

What President Trump deemed the "enemy of the people," in other words, was not simply dismissed on twitter—but jailed, in a harrowing reminder of political power gone awry.
Even before the law was passed, a Federalist-appointed judge issued an arrest warrant for Bache, who was hauled to the Philadelphia jail. He was charged with "tending to excite sedition, and opposition to the laws, by sundry publications."

Released from jail, Bache wouldn't back down. His newspaper office was attacked repeatedly with rocks. "Like the British monarch, John Adams now has the Alien and Sedition Acts to silence his critics," he wrote to his readers. He defended the First Amendment in defiance. Legions of other newspapers and critics defied Adams and the Federalists.

Unfortunately, Bache would never have his day in court; he died a few months later from the scourge of yellow fever. The scourge of the Sedition Act witch hunts would continue against select journalists for another year, including Hamilton critic Callender, though not without consequence.

Every musical has its last epic scene.

Igniting a backlash against Adams and the Federalists, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison led a movement in Virginia and Kentucky against the repressive acts against free speech and freedom of the press, leading to Jefferson's presidential election in 1800. The Acts expired three days before Jefferson's inauguration.

An unfortunate footnote in history, Bache's admonition to other journalists, and all American citizens, should resonate today: What alternative do we have between an abandonment of the constitution and resistance?

It may take a musical on Broadway, unless we see the revival of Alien and Sedition Acts in 2017 from a White House and Congress offended by journalistic inquiry and challenge, to answer that question.

Chapter Five: Resist Much, Obey Little

THE wind turbines that rise out of the cornfields here reminded me on a recent drive of one postelection truth, even in the red state of Iowa.

As President-elect Donald J. Trump considers whether to break the United States commitment to the Paris climate accord, the rise of clean energy across the heartland is already too well entrenched to be reversed.

By 2020, thanks to MidAmerican Energy's planned $3.6 billion addition to its enormous wind turbine operations, 85 percent of its Iowa customers will be electrified by clean energy. Meanwhile, Moxie Solar, named the fastest-growing local business by The Corridor Business Journal of Iowa, is installing solar panels on my house, and is part of a solar industry that now employs 200,000 nationwide.

Doomsday scenarios about the climate have abounded in the aftermath of the November election. But responsibility for effectively reining in carbon emissions also rests with business, and with the nation's cities and states. Those are the battlegrounds. Worldwide, cities produce as much as 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Many of the planet's cities lie along the coasts and are threatened by slowly rising seas. Seventy percent of those cities are already dealing with extreme weather like drought and flooding. Add in aging infrastructure and waves of migrants and it is obvious that city planners, mayors and governors have had to re-envision how their cities generate energy and provide food and transportation.

"The concept of a regenerative city could indeed become a new vision for cities," the Germany-based World Future Council reported recently. "It stands for cities that not only minimize negative impact but can actually have a positive, beneficial role to play within the natural ecosystem from which they depend. Cities have to constantly regenerate the resources they absorb."

This idea won broad support at a recent gathering of city leaders from around the world in Quito, Ecuador, hosted by the United Nations. The Habitat III conference approved a "new urban agenda" that urges cities to adapt to climate change but minimize their harm to the environment and move to sustainable economies.

In a changing climate, these approaches make sense. As Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, told the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce recently, "Cities, businesses and citizens will continue reducing emissions, because they have concluded — just as China has — that doing so is in their own self-interest."

With or without significant federal support, reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require major private investment, as it has here in Iowa, and ambitious private-public initiatives from mayors and governors. We need to activate a new era of cities—and states—of resistance.
California's recent move to reduce its carbon emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 is a hopeful shift that other cities and states should emulate. This would involve setting high benchmarks for developing green enterprise zones, renewable energy, cultivating food locally, restoring biodiversity, planting more trees and emphasizing walkability, low-carbon transportation and zero waste.

Following this regenerative approach, the Australian city of Adelaide reduced its carbon emissions by 20 percent from 2007 to 2013, even as the population grew by 27 percent and the economy increased by 28 percent. The city experienced a boom in green jobs, the development of walkable neighborhoods powered by solar energy, the conversion of urban waste to compost and a revamped local food industry. The city also planted three million trees to absorb carbon dioxide.

Over 10,000 climate initiatives are underway in cities worldwide, according to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which represents 80 major cities. In nearby Des Moines, for instance, Mayor Frank Cownie recently committed the city to reducing its energy consumption 50 percent by 2030 and becoming "carbon neutral" by 2050.

Initiatives like those have become a "fill the potholes" reality for many mayors, regardless of political games in Washington. In San Diego, the Republican mayor, Kevin Faulconer, helped to push through a climate action plan that commits the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. Other cities are following his lead.

Rural areas, in fact, may be even further ahead in the climate resistance.

Negotiators en route to the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris should have taken a detour on rural roads here in Johnson County. A new climate narrative is emerging among farmers in the American heartland that transcends a lot of the old story lines of denial and cynicism, and offers an updated tale of climate hope.

Recent polls show that 60 percent of Iowans, now facing flooding and erosion, believe global warming is happening. From Winneshiek County to Washington County, you can count more solar panels on barns than on urban roofs or in suburban parking lots. The state's first major solar farm is not in an urban area like Des Moines or Iowa City, but in rural Frytown, initiated by the Farmers Electric Cooperative.

In the meantime, any lingering traces of cynicism will vanish in the town of Crawfordsville, where children in the Waco school district will eventually turn on computers and study under lights powered 90 percent by solar energy. Inspired by local farmers, who now use solar energy to help power some of their operations, the district's move to solar energy will not only cut carbon emissions but also result in enough savings to keep open the town's once financially threatened school doors.

This is only a beginning, of course. Dirty coal still accounts for 60 percent of Iowa's electricity needs. But such centralization of electricity will falter, as other towns and cities follow the lead of Bloomfield, which recently announced plans to ramp up energy-efficiency efforts and shift its municipally owned utility — one of 136 in Iowa — to 100 percent energy independence, significantly through renewable sources by 2030.

But here's the catch: Even if every coal-fired plant shuts down, land misuse still accounts for an estimated 30 percent of the world's carbon emissions. The soils in the United States, like those of nations around the world, have lost calamitous amounts of carbon.

Table of Contents

Author's Note: Hope Resists xi

Introduction: Let Us Now Praise Resistance 3

1 We the People, Resist 23

2 Let Your Motto Be Resistance 58

3 Enemy of the People 86

4 To Undo Mistakes 114

5 Cities of Resistance 133

Acknowledgments 165

Bibliographic Notes 167

Index 195

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