Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Local Actions

Local Actions: Cultural Activism, Power, and Public Life in America

Melissa Checker
Maggie Fishman
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 280
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Local Actions
    Book Description:

    Activism is alive and well in the United States, according to Melissa Checker and Maggie Fishman. It exists on large and small scales and thrives in unexpected places. Finding activism in backyards, art classes, and urban areas branded as "ghettos," these anthropologists explore the many routes people take to work toward social change.

    Ten absorbing studies present activist groups across the country -- from transgender activists in New York City, to South Asian teenagers in Silicon Valley, to evangelical Christians and Palestinian Americans. Each one examines a social change effort as it unfolds on the ground. Through their anthropological approach these portraits of American society suggest the inherent possibilities in identity-based organizing and offer crucial in-depth perspectives on such hotly debated topics as multiculturalism and the culture wars, the environment, racism, public education, Native American rights, and the Christian right.

    Moving far beyond the walls of academia, the contributors address the complex issues that arise when researchers have stakes in the subjects they study. Scholars can play multiple roles in the activist struggles they recount, and these essays illustrate how ethnographic research itself can become a tool for activism.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50242-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    Faye Ginsburg

    In their introduction to this groundbreaking collection of ethnographic studies of “local actions” in contemporary America, editors Melissa Checker and Maggie Fishman invoke the crisis of collective identity that many Americans experienced after September 11, 2001. The crisis they identify—the tension between unity and diversity in the U.S.—escalated in the early months of 2003 as America moved toward and entered into war. For many American researchers, both in and outside of the academy, these events also provoked us to reexamine the purpose of our own practices. How can our work help us better grasp, analytically, the complex transformations...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-26)
    Melissa Checker and Maggie Fishman

    Americans for once came together.” Over and over we heard undergraduates utter this common refrain as we struggled to help ourselves and our students come to grips with the terrible events of September 11, 2001. Indeed many of those Americans determined to construe something positive from that disastrous day have pointed out that, for the most part,¹ it brought Americans together. For most of that autumn Americans took a break from their individual commitments and took collective national action—giving copious amounts of blood and sending countless donations to New York City. Time and again we hear that such unity...

  6. 1 Treading Murky Waters: Day-To-Day Dilemmas in the Construction of a Pluralistic U.S. Environmental Movement
    (pp. 27-50)
    Melissa Checker

    On an unseasonably hot Saturday afternoon in early April, I bowed my head along with approximately forty other people in the main room of Hyde Park’s Mary Utley Community Center. In his resonant baritone Reverend Charles Utley, Hyde and Aragon Park Improvement Committee (HAPIC), president led a prayer over lunch. Utley stood with his back to an LCD computer image projector and a wide screen and faced the unusually large crowd of Hyde Park residents who filled the community room that day. We had gathered at the community center for a free workshop entitled “Environmental Justice and Public Participation Through...

  7. 2 Creating Art, Creating Citizens: Arts Education as Cultural Activism
    (pp. 51-70)
    Maggie Fishman

    In the spring of 1975, the year I graduated from a New York City public elementary school, we learned to sing “Dona Nobis Pacem” in the chorus. After the purple-inked rexographs with the song’s words were handed out, Miss Geasland translated the title for us—“Give Us Peace”—and then we practiced the three complicated melodies until we knew them well enough to sing them in a round. We performed that musical feat in our end-of-the-year concert along with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Cruel War Is Raging,” and other songs from the antiwar, civil rights, and folk music revival...

  8. 3 Creating a Political Space for American Indian Economic Development: Indian Gaming and American Indian Activism
    (pp. 71-88)
    Katherine A. Spilde

    The decade of the 1990s was a time of unprecedented economic and social change in Indian country. Yet, while many people have written about the growth of Indian gaming in the United States,¹ little attention has been paid to the fact that America Indian political activism has also grown at a rapid pace. In many ways Indian gaming has driven this increased political engagement by Indian nations, since it has served as activism’s primary economic engine. Additionally, Indian gaming has become a lightning rod in many political contexts, fueling the need for increased political involvement by Indian nations to protect...

  9. 4 “The Calculus of Pain”: Violence, Anthropological Ethics, and the Category Transgender
    (pp. 89-110)
    David Valentine

    The last time I saw Vianna-Faye alive was on a Saturday night in November 1997. We cruised the cool, dangerous streets of the so-called Meat Market on the far west side of Manhattan in her car, talking as she kept one eye on the cars crawling past, alert for the possibility of a date—code word on these streets for someone who will pay for sex. This car was paid for by sex work, and the money she had saved by working these streets would pay for her sex reassignment surgery (SRS). Like most of the African American and Latina...

  10. 5 We Shall Overcome? Changing Politics and Changing Sexuality in the Ex-Gay Movement
    (pp. 111-135)
    Tanya Erzen

    In the summer of 1998 full-page advertisements appeared simultaneously in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other national newspapers.¹ One version featured a woman named Anne Paulk,² her gleaming diamond wedding ring clearly visible. Underneath her picture the caption read, “wife, mother, former lesbian.” The ad was conceived and paid for by a coalition of Christian Right groups coordinated by the Center for Reclaiming America (CRA) as part of a larger media offensive against gay rights on the state and national levels.³ Anne’s testimony, as well as pictures of other men and women who had changed, was designed...

  11. 6 Sins of Our Soccer Moms: Servant Evangelism and the Spiritual Injuries of Class
    (pp. 136-158)
    Omri Elisha

    On May 3, 2001, Tina Wesson of Knoxville, Tennessee became America’s most famous soccer mom. On live television she won the $1 million grand prize on Survivor II, the sequel to the popular Reality TV series where contestants try to outwit and outlast one another under “primitive” conditions in harsh, remote regions of the world. After forty-two days of physical and mental hardship in the Australian outback, the forty-year-old Wesson pulled a surprise victory, a triumph of intuition and perseverance over the haughty pretensions of Gen Xers from the coasts. Mother of two and part-time nurse, with a winning smile,...

  12. 7 Food Fights: Contesting “Cultural Diversity” in Crown Heights
    (pp. 159-183)
    Henry Goldschmidt

    In August of 1991, the Afro-Caribbean, African American, and Hasidic Jewish communities in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights were engulfed in a violent conflict that a government report later called “the most widespread racial unrest to occur in New York City in more than twenty years” (Girgenti 1993:132). The violence began on the evening of August 19 with the deaths of a seven-year-old Black boy from Guyana named Gavin Cato and a twenty-nine-year-old Australian Orthodox Jew named Yankel Rosenbaum—the former struck by a car in the motorcade of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (the spiritual leader of the Lubavitch Hasidic...

  13. 8 FOBby or Tight? “Multicultural Day” and Other Struggles at Two Silicon Valley High Schools
    (pp. 184-207)
    Shalini Shankar

    In a packed gymnasium at Mercer High School in Silicon Valley, California eleven hundred students and their teachers rise as a student sings the “Star Spangled Banner” with electric guitar accompaniment. In the adjacent locker rooms girls fidget with their shiny golden head jewelry and generously applied makeup while boys enact mock sword fights with their dhandiya, or decorated sticks, which they will use shortly in their dance. The national anthem ends and students settle onto the bleachers in noisy anticipation of the hour-long multicultural program that has replaced their third and fourth period classes today. Elaborately costumed groups of...

  14. 9 Gathering “Roots” and Making History in the Korean Adoptee Community
    (pp. 208-230)
    Eleana Kim

    On a clear September morning in 1999, nearly four hundred Korean émigrés gathered at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Hailing from thirty-six states and several European countries, they had come to honor and remember the sacrifices of soldiers who served and died in the first major military conflict of the cold war. Although none were veterans, and few had memories of that time, the commemoration was powerful enough to move many to tears. In acknowledging the brutal human consequences of war—massive social dislocation, divided families, orphaned and abandoned children—they recognized the tragic roots of their...

  15. 10 Activism and Exile: Palestinianness and the Politics of Solidarity
    (pp. 231-254)
    Rabab Abdulhadi

    On a recent October night, over 150 people weathered the brutal cold and crowded a lecture hall at New York University. A mixed group of faculty, students, and community activists, they came to learn of Palestinian conditions under Israeli occupation and to extend support for Bir Zeit, the largest Palestinian university. Bir Zeit has been subjected to intensified and renewed closures, sieges, and widespread arrest of faculty and students since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, which have only increased during the first and the more recent Intifada. Organized by NYU Students for Justice...