“Should My People Need Me”

My profile of Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi runs on the cover of Ms. Magazine’s Winter 2012 issue. The woman who has long personified the fight for democracy and human rights in Burma has finally decided to engage with one of the world’s most repressive regimes. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate is running for a seat in a parliament created by the military junta that put her under house arrest for almost two decades, after stealing an election from her. Read about the challenges facing her as she attempts a shift from moral icon to politician. As she told Congressman Bill Richardson in 1994, “I look upon myself as a politician, and that isn’t a dirty word, is it, Congressman?”

Nativists Get A Tea-Party Makeover

The Nation – The Minutemen were the largest border vigilante group in the country before financial scandals and criminal violence tore the group apart. Now former leaders are bringing their anti-immigrant politics inside the Tea Party. Read my piece for The Nation. (Thanks to The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund for providing support.)

Minutemen gather near Tombstone, Arizona in 2005, in the above photo by Mark Ebner.

The whites-only BNP, founded in 1982 as a breakaway from the neo-Nazi National Front, has been trying to shed its nutter image as part of a bid for respectability in mainstream politics. It was recently given a platform far more prominent than Speakers’ Corner, when its chairman, Nick Griffin, appeared on the BBC flagship program “Question Time” alongside members of the political establishment. Griffin was elected to the European Parliament in June.

This weekend, at its annual convention at an undisclosed location, 300 core BNP members will debate changing its constitution, which currently restricts membership to “indigenous Caucasians.” The move resulted from a lawsuit against the BNP by the country’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission, but Griffin is spinning it as further proof of a changed party.

Read my piece about the far-right for GlobalPost. Part One: A Far-Right Party Makes a Bid for the Mainstream and Part Two: How Britain’s All-White Party Gained Its Following.

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The Keys to the Keystone State

When Barack Obama went bowling in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on March 29, his opponent was Senator Bob Casey Jr., the son and namesake of a popular former governor whose coal-mining pedigree had made him a hero of the white working class. Casey Junior had just endorsed Obama, and the presidential candidate, wearing blue-and-white Velcro shoes and a tie, bowled gutter ball after gutter ball and lost the game. But Obama wasn’t at Pleasant Valley Lanes to knock down pins; he was there to win over white blue-collar voters and thus prove to Democrats that he is “electable” in November.

In the iconography of the campaign, bowling might have been a bid for some cred with the white working class, but it also signifies community ties of the kind eulogized by Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone. Putnam mourned the fact that while more Americans are bowling, fewer are doing so in leagues, a sign of a breakdown in civic bonding and engagement. Recently, Putnam put forward evidence that diversity hurts social capital: that residents of mixed-race communities trust one another less, volunteer less, vote less and hunker down more in front of their televisions. Whether or not Putnam’s dystopian theory holds true will be crucial to Obama’s chances in Pennsylvania and perhaps in a general election contest against John McCain. Do people in checkerboard communities turn inward and away from one another, and does that make them more susceptible to campaigning that plays on racial and ethnic divisions?

Bowling for Pennsylvania, my piece for The Nation, explores this question.