I traveled across the country at the end of 2015 in a small pickup truck and camper to write my new book, The Revolution Where You Live: Stories from a 12,000-Mile Journey Through a New America. I visited eighteen states, five Native American reservations, and more than a dozen cities and small towns, and we launched the book the week after Donald Trump's Inauguration.
During these travels, I saw stark levels of economic hopelessness. I spent a lot of time in the Rust Belt, in the mountain West, in Appalachia, and in the South.
I didn't predict Trump's victory, but I could see why folks in these regions felt alienated by Hillary Clinton's statements during the campaign that the economy was doing well. So many people are saddled with debt. They're working several jobs to make ends meet, if they can find jobs at all. They can't afford to send their kids to college. Many lost their homes and all their net wealth during the recession that began with the crash in 2008. It's true that President Obama kept the economy from imploding. But he poured a tremendous amount of money into shoring up huge financial institutions--the ones that caused the crash through their reckless investments--while the people who lost their homes didn't get bailed out at all.
So offering more of the same was not a popular prescription for those people.
My focus during the four months I was on the road, though, was not on the election. I was talking to people stepping up to make much deeper change, people who were taking on wealth inequality, the environmental crisis, and racism in their own communities.
I came to believe that people who are "of a place," who know their places best and are the most committed to their quality of life, have more power than they know.
I visited southeast Montana, a conservative area where ranchers and native people were fighting to stop a huge coal mine. The ranchers I interviewed spoke with deep respect about the long history of native peoples in that region. But both groups, native and non-native, care deeply about the quality of the water and of their lives, and they want to pass those treasures down to future generations just as they had received them intact from previous generations. They were willing to do some extraordinarily hard work to fulfill what they saw as a sacred responsibility, and to work together, over many years, to fight that mine.
These are not powerful people, and they were up against big...