The Importance of Saying 'Hell, No': Chronicling the Legacy of Rebellion.

Author:Tempus, Alexandra
Position:BOOKS - Resistance: Reclaiming an American Tradition - Book review
 
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Journalist Jeff Biggers's handy reader, Resistance: Reclaiming an American Tradition, was born of a question from his twelve-year-old son on June 1, 2017.

On that day, President Donald Trump, accompanied by a play-as-the-ship-goes-down string ensemble, announced that the United States was pulling out of the global Paris Agreement to mitigate climate change.

"I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris," Trump blustered. Much as with his Muslim travel ban and his exhortations for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, the President drew a bright line between what is "American"--and thus worth protecting--and what is not.

Biggers's son asked him afterward if there was any hope for action on climate change. The author of eight books, who has often reported on environmental battles, felt the urge to sermonize about the climate. But he wanted instead to offer a deeper and broader story, one that depicted an America defined by people and forces other than the President.

"His real question: Was there any hope for his future?" Biggers would write. "This book is my response."

And so it is with a deep admiration of this worthy purpose that I admit some initial difficulty buying the argument Biggers makes in the very title of, and throughout, his book.

In five parts, the author traces a timeline of resistance and individual resisters, from American Indian orator and writer William Apess and turn-of-the-century lesbian labor activist Marie Equi, and the 1944 Supreme Court case of interned Japanese American Fred Korematsu, to modern examples like the Standing Rock standoff and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Reading these many fascinating and lesser-known chapters of history, I was nevertheless torn: Is resistance an American tradition? Or is resistance a rebellion against American tradition?

"This is what I believe," Biggers tells me. "In dealing with the most challenging issues of every generation, resistance to duplicitous civil authority and its corporate enablers has defined our quintessential American story."

The author, having covered social justice movements from the American Southwest, to the Heartland, to Appalachia and beyond, sees his most recent book as "a culmination of my work as a cultural historian of the resistance."

"Resistance has put the backbone in democracy," he adds. "Or rather, the resistance has given democracy a backbone."

But still: America was built through the atrocities of slavery, oppression, genocide, and...

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