Friday, May 25, 2012 2:22 PM
It’s pretty easy to get
depressed about this year’s elections. Super PAC noise is already drowning out
a lot of conversation in the presidential race, and voters on both sides are
having a hard time getting excited.
But in Oregon, things look very different. Last
week, a group called the Working Families Party led a campaign to unseat a
centrist Democrat from his post in the state house. Mike Schaufler has
represented district 48 for 10 years, and in that time has built a reputation
with the GOP on everything from corporate taxes to environmental politics
to health care. By 2012, many voters—including the Oregonian’s editorial board—were ready for a big change. Until very
recently, this proved difficult, what with Schaufler’s cozy relationship with big
corporate donors, like the Koch
That’s why his defeat in last
Tuesday’s primary was such a big deal, and why the Working Families Party is increasingly
a group worth watching, says Mother
Jones. Tellingly, the winner last week, Jeff Reardon, was everything his challenger
was not—especially when it came to raising money. To counter big donors, the
party combined old-fashioned grassroots organizing with a once-popular
electoral practice called fusion
voting, which is a little like instant runoff. Now in most U.S. elections,
getting votes is a zero-sum game, so third parties tend to hurt their closest competitors.
But in the handful of states where fusion voting is allowed, multiple parties
can endorse the same candidate. This means Working Families can lend its name
to a candidate from a bigger party. It also means candidates from both major parties
may want to compete over Working Families’ progressive agenda.
That’s exactly what happened
in a New York
state senate race back in 2004, reports The
Nation. Instead of trying to convince the Democrats’ nominee, Working
Families focused on her high-ranking
GOP challenger, Nick Spano. Well aware that Working Families had major
clout in his district, Spano agreed to the party’s most pressing demand—a
promise to raise the minimum wage. A few months later, having (narrowly) won
the election with the party’s support, Spano led a successful campaign at the
state capitol to do just that. The move was no doubt controversial, but effective,
says the Nation’s Alyssa Katz: “By wielding the power to make or break one of its
top leaders, Working Families pushed the Republican Party to take a progressive
A century ago, fusion
voting was a lot more popular—and legal in most states. This allowed populist groups
like the People’s Party to ally with both Republicans and Democrats in state
and national races to press for voting rights, education funding, and other
issues outside the political mainstream. In 1894, an alliance of Republican and
People’s candidates took over the state
legislature in North Carolina and sent
several Congressmen and Senators to Washington.
Two years later, the two parties controlled all statewide offices, and
introduced sweeping reforms like county home rule and badly-needed election
monitoring. The alliance even helped elect George H. White in 1896, the last
black member of Congress from a southern state until 1972.
North Carolina was not alone. The People’s Party had grown out of
the Farmers Alliance, a much larger movement of radical farmers and co-ops that
was active in 43 states by the early 1890s. Within a decade of its start in
1891, People’s candidates unseated dozens of U.S. Congressmen and won
governorships in nine states (five by fusion voting). And while it wasn’t the
only key to populist success in the 1890s, fusion voting was a big factor. Then
as now, it allowed a third party to compete in larger races, and enter the
electoral debate in a big way. It’s that success that groups like Working
Families would like to repeat today, though the process has become a little
Today, fusion voting
is banned in most states—more than a dozen passed bans by 1907, and now the
list stands at more than 40. But in most places where it is allowed, Working
Families has gained a foothold. In Connecticut,
the party recently championed a law to enforce paid sick leave for all
workers—the first in the nation. In New
York, it helped pass a statewide green
jobs program, among other successes.
Like People’s, Working Families has big ties to organized labor, and now, to parts
of Occupy. While Working Families can boast nowhere near the success of earlier
fusion parties, it stands out in an era of strict two-party politics and unprecedented
And interest is
growing. Fusion voting was actually banned in Oregon until 2009, when third parties and
activists made enough noise to reverse the ban. Since then Working Families has
fought for single-payer, workers’ rights, and fair trade laws in Oregon. And in another
parallel with older populism, the party has also championed a public state bank,
modeled on North Dakota’s—itself
a populist holdout of the radical farmers’ movement.
Reardon’s victory is a
big win for the party. For most of its short history, Working Families has been
an East Coast thing, so the fact that it’s now making waves out west could be
significant. But what seems even more important is the idea that third parties
could have much more of a voice in major elections. If other states follow in Oregon’s footsteps, elections
could have much more to do with issues and voters and much less to do with politics.
Brennan Center for Justice, The
Carolina History Project, American Prospect.
Image by whiteafrican,
licensed under Creative
Friday, July 29, 2011 4:08 PM
In New York City, an intense battle over new bike lanes has erupted into a fierce cultural war. But New York Press reminds us that this isn’t the first time a new mode of transportation has opened a schism in the city’s social fabric. Aaron Napartek, who founded the bike advocacy site Streetsblog, writes:
The tabloid ravings, harsh police tactics and political posturing aimed against bikes and bike lanes may seem intense today. In a historic context, however, the Bike Backlash of 2011 is nothing compared to the battle that took place during the decade after World War I when organized “motordom” carved out its place on New York City streets. …
University of Virginia professor Peter Norton details the early history of the car and the city in his wonky but fascinating book, Fighting Traffic. He describes the “blood, grief and anger in the American city” and the “violent revolution in the streets” of New York and other U.S. cities as automobile owners bullied their way on to city streets, literally leaving a trail of mangled children’s bodies in their wake.
In the 1920s, motor vehicle crashes killed more than 200,000 Americans, a staggering number considering how many fewer cars actually existed in those days. These days, 35,000 or so Americans are killed in car wrecks annually. Most of the dead are drivers and passengers on highways and in rural places. In the 1920s, most of the dead were kids living in cities. In the first four years after the Armistice of World War I, more Americans were killed in car wrecks than had died in battle in France.
Some critics of the time called the automobile “a pagan idol demanding sacrifice,” according to Norton, and street mobs sometimes set upon reckless motorists who’d hit pedestrians.
Now, the body count in today’s bike lane wars is admittedly no comparison. But the tenor of the rhetoric is often just as shrill. “Bike lanes have gone from simple strips of pavement festooned with green and white paint to sponges for a sea of latent cultural and economic anxieties,” writes New York magazine in a dispatch from the front lines, “Is New York too New York for bike lanes?”
Naparstek is ultimately hopeful about the outcome in Gotham: “Minds will change and the Great Bike Backlash will soon come to an end. … We’re just waiting for the culture to catch up to the infrastructure.”
UPDATE 8/9/2011: A new poll shows two out of three New Yorkers support the new bike lanes, the New York Observer reports—but only 27 percent believe more lanes should be added.
Source: New York Press, Streetsblog, New York, New York Observer
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Tuesday, January 25, 2011 10:04 PM
In ordinary times, in the ordinary places of North America, emerging artists come and go like the passing seasons. If you’re a talented young video artist, say, living in Dubuque and gaining regional attention, or if you’re an edgy photographer who has won a big grant award in Baltimore, what you do, nine times out of ten, is move away. You take your potentially fleeting cultural capital and attempt to parlay it into a big-time career by going to the Big City. For most, this means escaping to New York, but it can also mean (if your art is more media-driven) going to L.A. or, if you're more intrepid and enterprising, Berlin or London. For years, the story of most smaller-market art communities—such as Minneapolis, Vancouver, Seattle (on and off), Detroit, Kansas City, Cleveland, Portland, etc.—has often been more about who has left the scene than who remains behind.
This peculiar dynamic in art is due to the economic realities of art-making. That is, first and foremost, the market for selling art is a constant buyer's market. Because of the intrinsic appeal of the creative life (as well as other economic realities explained below), there will always be a plentiful supply of people wanting to be artists and never enough people to purchase what artists make. A 2001 Rand research brief reported that between 1970 and 1980, the number of self-identified artists in the U.S. doubled to 1.6 million, even though the U.S. population grew only about 11 percent over the same period. “Growth [in the number of artists] is not a sign that things have gotten better,” wrote Bill Ivey in his study of the business of the arts, Arts, Inc.: How Greed and Neglect Have Destroyed Our Cultural Rights (2010). “Once entry into a creative profession has been secured, the challenges of piecing together enough income to sustain a quality of life commensurate with education or training become apparent. Worrisome trends in employment and compensation cut across the creative professions.” As a result of this dearth of opportunity and support, according to Ivey, “artists must practice where the action is, in big cities where the cost of housing and work space outstrips the financial resources of all but the most successful.”
In other words, the artistic draw of the Big City is also the result of another strange facet of the economics of art: It attracts, in a very limited way, very Big Money. Most art markets—in visual art in particular, but also in music, filmmaking, and so on—are essentially what economists call a “winner-take-all” economy. Meaning, for the very few who rise to the top of the market the payoffs are astronomical. But for those who don't rise up, income remains scarce. A few years ago, for example, the British artist Damien Hirst was selling paintings for more than $1 million apiece, and his steel glass pill cabinet installation piece Where There’s a Will There’s a Way sold for $7.15 million. And while artists are often conflicted about the influence of money on art—Hirst himself once said: “Money complicates everything. I have a genuine belief that art is a more powerful currency than money—that’s the romantic feeling that an artist has. But you start to have this sneaking feeling that money is more powerful”—very few artists would ever turn down a big paycheck for one of their works, nor would they propose spreading the paycheck around to support the activities of their peers.
Unfair as the art market is to the vast majority of artists, sustained economic malaise can be a great leveler. Poor times—like the ones we’ve been living through since 2008—can flatten the economic landscape, diminishing the advantages of living in the Big City in relation to the disadvantages of the monetary and personal/social costs. A recent, widely circulated story by Crain’s New York business website described the struggles that New York artists have been facing over the past several years: Increasing rents, heightened urban pressures, disappearing jobs, loss of sales, diminishing income, and the like. Because of these factors, a recent survey by the New York Foundation for the Arts found that 43 percent of New York’s artists expected their annual income to drop by 26 percent to 50 percent over the next six months, and 11 percent believed they would have to leave New York within six months. “In New York, you have so much pressure to survive,” one musician and composer said, “you don't even know what you did that day.” As a result, the report suggested, artists are fleeing the once-alluring Big Cities and giving smaller, more cost-effective American cities a try.
At the same time, a recently released report on the creative sectors in Los Angeles told much the same story. The report, conducted by the Los Angeles Country Economic Development Corp., found that the ten local creative industries it surveyed saw a 7 percent decline in overall income and a net loss of nearly 40,000 jobs. And while the report had no exact numbers regarding a potential artist exodus from Los Angeles, it’s easy to speculate, based on these numbers, that economic and other pressures on the local artist community will only continue, as in New York, to mount across the region.
So, with artists suffering in the two largest American cultural Meccas, where is a struggling artist to go? Where can artists find arms welcoming enough to provide a chance to sustain their careers? Well, as it happens, perhaps sensing an opportunity in the leveled fields of the current economy several of America’s bleakest, and most economically depressed, cities—Detroit, Baltimore, and Cleveland, among others—have begun making their case to become the next American artistic epicenter. All of these places have begun offering incentives like housing allowances (or otherwise cheap housing options), grants and other competitive awards, and other support to artists, even as they promise at least some of the cultural amenities—museums, arts events, and the like—that one can find in the Big Cities.
It will take a few years until we know for certain whether these smaller cities’ efforts will reap the cultural rewards that both urban planners and artists-on-the-make are desperate to harvest. Until things shake out, then, art lovers everywhere owe it to themselves to appreciate the art in their cities while they still can. Otherwise you never know: Next time you get around to looking for your favorite local artists, they may well be gone.
Michael Fallon is a writer, editor, and non-profit administrator based out of St. Paul, Minnesota. His work has appeared in Art in America, American Craft, Public Art Review, Minneapolis-St. Paul Magazine, the OC Weekly, City Pages, and many other publications. Read his previous posts here.
Michael Fallon is a guest blogger at utne.com. The views expressed by this guest blogger belong to him and do not necessarily reflect the mission or editorial voice of utne.com or the Utne Reader.
Source: City Pages, Broken Pencil, Gothamist
, licensed under
Friday, October 29, 2010 11:36 AM
"I’m not a witch."
Kings and sons of God
Travel on their way from here
Calming restless mobs
Easing all of their, all of their fear
Strange times are here
Strange times are here
-The Black Keys
Strange times are indeed here, especially when we step back and take a look at the midterm election cycle of 2010. Here are a few stories that make us a little queasy about the state of the political process.
If the following are any indication, then apparently there is no room for peaceful assembly or freedom of the press this go-around: MoveOn.org volunteer Lauren Valle had her head stomped on by Rand Paul supporter Tim Profitt at a Paul rally. And Alaska Dispatch editor Tony Hopfinger was detained by “security agents” working for U.S. Senate Republican nominee Joe Miller for doing that thing those pesky journalists always want to do: ask questions.
Then there’s the Iowa Republican Platform, which pretty much wants to abolish all parts of government except, presumably, themselves. Who knows, maybe they do want to get rid of themselves. In which case there may be more common ground out there than we think.
Speaking of crazy, The New Republic has an article called “Year of the Nutjob” that highlights the candidates vying for the Maddest Hatter at our current national Tea Party.
Hey, did you ever think you’d live to see the day when you’d hear about a candidate for Congress dressing up like a Nazi or a campaign ad that begins “I’m not a witch”? Well, that day’s here and so are you! Thank your lucky stars.
The nice folks over at The Christian Science Monitor have come up with a way for you to waste at least ten minutes of your work day: It’s “The 10 weirdest political ads of 2010”! These range from frightening to just plain old entertaining. And you got sheep, Chuck Norris, and Auto-Tune. Looking at that line-up, maybe this election season wasn’t all bad.
Ok, that’s enough. You can get sucked down a wormhole looking into this tomfoolery. Let us know some of the weirder stories from Election 2010 that we didn’t include here.
Source: New York, Alaska Dispatch, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The Christian Science Monitor
Thursday, December 03, 2009 4:28 PM
I first fell in love with Zina Saunders’ work when I received a promotional postcard featuring an incredible portrait of President Obama. I’d never seen anyone use color the ways she does, particularly for skin tones. Then I discovered her Overlooked New York project, a collection of “portraits of impassioned New Yorkers doing what they love to do.” Saunders interviewed and painted a diverse cast of zany characters, from river swimmers to subway musicians, park artists to rooftop pigeon coop guys. This (until now) online project is now available in print. While you’re at it, you’ve gotta check out her political illustrations, featuring some of the funniest Sarah Palin caricatures out there. Brilliant.
Images courtesy of Zina Saunders
Thursday, February 12, 2009 2:06 PM
New Yorkers are notoriously provincial, or so the stereotype goes. Here are two charming projects that attempt to explain the devotion:
Jason Polan asked people to name their favorite thing about New York, then did his best to draw each one. Esopus published the results of the collaboration in its latest issue. The sketches capture the city’s quiet, day-to-day movements, celebrating the humble things—from pigeons to a row of discarded chewing gum—that make New York a great place to live.
Fred Argoff publishes a zine called Brooklyn! (not available online). Argoff posesses an encyclopedic knowledge of his favorite borough, and his zine proffers seemingly endless reasons to love it. Recent issues have featured guides to Brooklyn slang, the history of a famous local rollercoaster, and a great collection of aerial photos.
You don’t have to like New York—or even know it—to enjoy the drawings or the zine. The hometown love is infectious. It’ll leave you composing local paeans of your own.
Source: Esopus, Brooklyn! (for more info, write Fred Argoff at Penthouse L, 1170 Ocean Pkwy., Brooklyn, NY 11230-4060)
Friday, November 21, 2008 4:58 PM
David Klein was an illustrator and art director best known for his Broadway window cards and TWA travel advertisements in the 1950s and '60s. His work has been adopted into the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and a recent Klein Estate auction at Tepper Galleries yielded tremendous results: More than 90 percent of the 300 works brought to the block were sold.
His website allows you the opportunity to browse his collections of vibrant posters, window cards, and illustrations that fit perfectly into the current popularity of retro images. For those who contend that graphic design isn’t art (a hot debate in recent years), they need only look at his playful work to see evidence to the contrary.
To see more classic graphic design, check out Utne Reader's story on WPA posters.
Image courtesy of the Estate of David Klein.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008 9:02 AM
The large Hasidic Jewish population of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, has been clashing with hipsters since an onslaught of 20-somethings began invading their neighborhood in the ’90s. Today the two groups are fighting it out over bike lanes. At a community board meeting on September 8, the New York Post reports that Hasidic representatives proposed the elimination of bike lanes on the grounds that the lanes cause traffic problems and congestion. One Hasidic representative, Simon Weisser, admitted to the Post that the hipsters’ scantily clad attire was also a major problem. “It bothers me,” said Weisser, “and it bothers a lot of people.”
The bike lanes are the latest front in the hipster vs. Hasidic cultural clash over fashion, modesty, and neighborhood identity. New York Magazine points to an article from the Brooklyn Paper about a fight over a billboard for the remade TV show 90210 that was deemed distasteful because it featured people in swimsuits. Back in 2004, Harper’s magazine printed a more spiritual salvo in the fight against the hipsters, when Hasidic Jews distributed a prayer called, “For the Protection of Our City Williamsburg From the Plague of Artists.” The prayer read in part:
Please, our Father God of Mercy, have mercy upon our generation that is weak, and remove this difficult test from these people, these immoral antagonists that by their doing will multiply, God forbid, the excruciating tests and the sight of the impurity and immorality that is growing in the world.
Image by Sookie, licensened under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 13, 2008 4:20 PM
Every aesthetic movement has its rivalries, its schisms, its heated battles over who’s keeping it real and who’s already sold out. Hip-hop is, famously, no exception: East Coast vs. West Coast, Tupac vs. Biggie, old school vs. new school—we’re all too familiar with these contentions. But now some of the old-school contingent are hating on a new segment of their new-school progeny: hipster rappers (hipster-hop?).
Hipster rap, as loosely defined by the Chicago Reader, consists of the most recent crop of MCs and DJs who flout conventional hip-hop fashions, eschewing baggy clothes and gold chains for tight jeans, big sunglasses, the occasional keffiyeh, and other trappings of the hipster lifestyle. Mainstream rappers like Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco, along with smaller up-and-coming acts like Kid Sister and the Cool Kids, come under fire from the old-school hip-hop website Unkut, and Jersey City rapper Mazzi has recorded diss tracks criticizing, by name, the rappers he sees as poseurs.
The Reader argues that such criticisms don’t hold much water in a genre that has always reinvented itself, borrowing and remixing until the question of authenticity is at best a slippery one. It’s also superficial: much of the derision directed toward hipster rap barely extends beyond clothes and other accoutrements, while the actual substance of the music never really enters the discussion. Furthermore, hip-hop’s notorious homophobia still lingers; much of the backlash takes the form of overt gay panic as rappers call each other fags for copping the metrosexual appearances of hipster fashion.
Race also complicates matters: the latest crop of hipster rap—or new rap, or independent hip-hop, or whatever we’re calling it—is just as likely to be heard at a party full of white kids slamming back Sparks on the Lower East Side as it is in the black community. The Reader notes, however, that the listener base is increasingly diverse, citing multiple firsthand accounts of shows and parties around Chicago where the audience defies racial and socioeconomic categorization—a compelling rebuttal to those still hung up on racial, social, or artistic distinctions.
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Monday, April 21, 2008 3:00 PM
It’s difficult to capture the attention of a New Yorker. Artist Joshua Allen Harris has found a way, not only to make people stop and look, but also laugh out loud, and that’s good for everybody. His adorable inflatable creatures harness the power of the burst of air that accompanies a subway car’s passing, creating a wonderful, herky-jerky effect that gives the creatures their personalities. Best of all, in their deflated state, they look exactly like trash caught in the grates. As is often the case, things are more than they seem.
(Thanks, Wooster Collective.)
Here are two videos of Joshua Allen Harris’ work:
Friday, February 29, 2008 5:58 PM
The 1960s smashed the cliché of the isolated and introverted artist. Drugs, experimentation, and the search for freedom led troves of hippy artists out of urban scenes and into rural art communes. Artist Michael Fallon’s blog The Chronicle of Artistic Failure in America tells the story of one such artist, Dean Fleming. After playing a pivotal role in sparking Manhattan’s SoHo art scene, the painter turned his back on New York to make a life for himself in Colorado. Fleming found inspiration in the area’s Native American culture and mountainous scenery on a visit to Drop City, the United States’ first rural hippy commune. The unsustainable chaos he observed there led him to found a commune of his own, the Libre Community, in 1968. Fleming hoped Libre would allow artists of all kinds to escape the city and recharge. It must have worked, because the commune still exists today.
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