Bill Knight | Dissent and protest in America



A 36-year-old history professor at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, Dawson Barrett is a 2000 graduate of Illinois Valley Central High School in Chillicothe. He has a new book about recent history and an appreciation for his interest in history sparked by Steve Garrison, a long-time history teacher, part-time Bradley University instructor and current IVC board member.

“I was a bit of a slacker in high school,” says Barrett, who spent much of the last decade writing “The Defiant: Protest Movements in Post-Liberal America.”

“I was in mostly punk-rock bands, but like many young history buffs, I got into World War II history and then in classes I was encouraged to scratch beneath the official narrative of history, which doesn’t take into account everything that happened. It’s hard to make generalizations, but, really, little is taught how history works – at least the version of history that’s usually taught.”

His curiosity resulted in his 232-page book, which is comparable to a handful of classic history titles that tell “the rest of the story,” notably, Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States,” James Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and Dick Gregory’s “No More Lies.”

“Zinn and his radical approach to teaching was a huge influence,” Barrett says.

“The Defiant” looks at policy shifts after the 1960s through the lens of dissent.

“The history of the United States is a history of conflict,” Barrett says. “It is also, however, a history of defiance, dissent and opposition to the status quo. The world is a legacy of struggles won and lost: free speech, slavery, voting rights, child labor and segregation among them. [Protests] create opportunities for education, employment, recreation and leisure. They dictate our access to health care, food, shelter, clean air and water. They define our relationships to our government, our jobs, our communities, our friends and our lovers. They decide the quality of our lives.

“Protest movements are challenges to the powerful by people without other means,” he continues. And “this book examines U.S. protest movements in the Post-Liberal Era, a period in which neoliberal government policies have returned the U.S. economy to a raw, brutal and largely unrestrained form that is similar in many ways to the Gilded Age which predated the New Deal.”

The liberal era started getting eroded more than 30 years ago during the Reagan administration, he explains, and the 1992 election of Bill Clinton made it worse, creating a bipartisan consensus that decreased poverty assistance and increased the incarceration rate, deregulated investment banks and media, and instituted a new globalism exemplified in “free trade” pacts that cost Americans hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs.

“For much of the last half-century, policymakers in both major U.S. political parties have been guided by the ‘pro-business’ tenets of neoliberalism,” Barrett says. “Dubbed ‘casino capitalism’ by its critics, this economy has ravaged the environment, expanded the for-profit war and prison industries, and built a global assembly line rooted in sweatshop labor, while more than doubling the share of American wealth and income held by the country’s richest 1 percent. It has also reshaped the abilities of everyday Americans to influence their government.”

The author of 2015’s “Teenage Rebels: Successful High School Activists from the Little Rock Nine to the Class of Tomorrow,” Barrett divided his new book into sections on the environment, youth culture, labor, war/peace, and poverty/economic justice – with an epilogue touching on immigration/refugees, “fake news,” and other Trump-era issues.

“The Trump phenomenon has meant that we’re seeing a lot of people – in places like Texas and Illinois – saying that Wall Street is screwing people.

“We’re in a bizarre moment,” he adds. “It can be isolating; we feel like we’re in a life-or-death crisis as Trump attacks almost everyone. But it can be exciting as people reach across lines and engage in coalitions to fight back.”

Bill Knight

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