Essays

The Climate of Change and the Dangers of Stasis

As the San Francisco bureaucrats on the dais murmured about why they weren’t getting anywhere near what we in the audience passionately hoped for, asked for, and worked for, my mind began to wander. I began to think of another sunny day on the other side of the country 13 years earlier, when nothing happened […]

Pale Bus, Pale Rider


Published in:   London Review of Books
February 20, 2014
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The young woman at the blockade was worried about the banner the Oaklanders brought, she told me, because she and her co-organisers had tried to be careful about messaging. But the words FUCK OFF GOOGLE in giant letters on a purple sheet held up in front of a blockaded Google bus gladdened the hearts of other San Franciscans. […]

Resisting Monoculture


Published in:   Guernica Magazine
January 7, 2014
A response to Grist: It's not about the buses, or, why San Franciscans don't love Silicon Valley

When people have to misrepresent you or focus on trivial details to score points against you, you know your main argument actually is doing just fine. But it was dismaying to be attacked in Grist, a site I like and hitherto admired (and where my work from Tomdispatch.com has occasionally been reposted). In Ben Adler’s “Hey […]

The Future Needs Us


Published in:   Tom Dispatch
December 22, 2013

North American cicada nymphs live underground for 17 years before they emerge as adults. Many seeds stay dormant far longer than that before some disturbance makes them germinate. Some trees bear fruit long after the people who have planted them have died, and one Massachusetts pear tree, planted by a Puritan in 1630, is still bearing […]

Should someone who steals food simply to survive a crisis really be called a looter?

A lie repeated often and confidently enough can become widely mistaken for the truth, becoming a belief that obscures the facts. False beliefs about disaster follow this model; their poison is concentrated in a few oft-deployed words, notably “mobs,” “panic” and “looting.” This poison is being poured out over the disaster zones of the Philippines […]

Joy Arises, Rules Fall Apart


Published in:   Tom Dispatch
September 15, 2013
Thoughts for the Second Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street

I would have liked to know what the drummer hoped and what she expected. We’ll never know why she decided to take a drum to the central markets of Paris on October 5, 1789, and why, that day, the tinder was so ready to catch fire and a drumbeat was one of the sparks. To […]

In or around June 1995 human character changed again. Or rather, it began to undergo a metamorphosis that is still not complete, but is profound – and troubling, not least because it is hardly noted. When I think about, say, 1995, or whenever the last moment was before most of us were on the internet […]

A Letter to Edward Snowden

Dear Edward Snowden, Billions of us, from prime ministers to hackers, are watching a live espionage movie in which you are the protagonist and perhaps the sacrifice. Your way forward is clear to no one, least of all, I’m sure, you. I fear for you; I think of you with a heavy heart. I imagine […]

Google Eats the World

Finally, journalists have started criticizing in earnest the leviathans of Silicon Valley, notably Google, now the world’s third-largest company in market value. The new round of discussion began even before the revelations that the tech giants were routinely sharing our data with the National Security Agency, or maybe mergingwith it. Simultaneously another set of journalists, apparently […]

The Separating Sickness


Published in:   Harper’s
June 1, 2013
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How leprosy teaches empathy

Eddie Bacon was a forklift operator at Trident Seafoods in Akutan, Alaska. In the summer of 1999, he developed mysterious rashes on his hands, arms, and legs. He visited a doctor, who gave him a variety of ointments, but they did nothing. He grew weak, lost weight. He had trouble seeing. No longer able to […]

Google Invades


Published in:   London Review of Books
February 7, 2013

The buses roll up to San Francisco’s bus stops in the morning and evening, but they are unmarked, or nearly so, and not for the public. They have no signs or have discreet acronyms on the front windshield, and because they also have no rear doors they ingest and disgorge their passengers slowly, while the […]

Hate Crimes in America (and Elsewhere)

Here in the United States, where there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes, and one in five women will be raped in her lifetime, the rape and gruesome murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi on December 16th was treated as an exceptional incident. The story of the alleged rape of an […]

350 Degrees of Inseparability


Published in:   Tom Dispatch
April 22, 2010
The Good News About the Very Bad News (about Climate Change)

These days, I see how optimistic and positive disaster and apocalypse movies were. Remember how, when those giant asteroids or alien space ships headed directly for Earth, everyone rallied and acted as one while our leaders led? We’re in a movie like that now, except that there’s not a lot of rallying or much leading […]

When the Media Is the Disaster


Published in:   Tom Dispatch
January 21, 2010
Covering Haiti

Soon after almost every disaster the crimes begin:  ruthless, selfish, indifferent to human suffering, and generating far more suffering. The perpetrators go unpunished and live to commit further crimes against humanity. They care less for human life than for property. They act without regard for consequences. I’m talking, of course, about those members of the […]

Earth, Too Big to Fail?


Published in:   Tom Dispatch
December 20, 2009

For Isaac Francisco Solnit, born December 17, 2009 It’s clear now that, from her immoveable titanium bangs to her chaotic approximation of human speech, Sarah Palin is a Terminator cyborg sent from the future to destroy something — but what? It could be the Republican Party she’ll ravage by herding the fundamentalists and extremists into […]

9/11’s Living Monuments


Published in:   Tom Dispatch
September 10, 2009
How 9/11 Should Be Remembered

Eight years ago, 2,600 people lost their lives in Manhattan, and then several million people lost their story. The al-Qaeda attack on the Twin Towers did not defeat New Yorkers. It destroyed the buildings, contaminated the region, killed thousands, and disrupted the global economy, but it most assuredly did not conquer the citizenry. They were […]

The Grinning Skull


Published in:   Tom Dispatch
December 21, 2008
The Homicides You Didn’t Hear About in Hurricane Katrina

What do you do when you notice that there seems to have been a killing spree? While the national and international media were working themselves and much of the public into a frenzy about imaginary hordes of murderers, rapists, snipers, marauders, and general rampagers among the stranded crowds of mostly poor, mostly black people in […]

News From Nowhere


Published in:   Harper’s
October 15, 2008
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Iceland’s polite dystopia

In late 2007, an Icelandic teenager named Vífill Atlason created a minor international incident when he phoned the White House, told the operator he was the president of Iceland, and managed to set up an appointment to speak with George W. Bush. When the White House figured out what was going on, Atlason was taken […]

Revolutions Per Minute


Published in:   Orion
June 1, 2008
Radical transformation is all around us

WHEN I WAS a young activist, the ’60s were not yet far enough away, and people still talked about “after the revolution.” They still believed in some sort of decisive event that would make everything different—an impossible event, because even a change in administration cannot bring a universal change of heart, and the process of […]

Men Explain Things to Me


Published in:   Tom Dispatch
April 13, 2008
Facts Didn't Get in Their Way

I still don’t know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at forty-ish, passed as the occasion’s young ladies. The house was great — if you like Ralph Lauren-style […]

One Nation Under Elvis


Published in:   Orion
March 1, 2008
An environmentalism for us all

The biggest wilderness I’ve ever been in—a roadless area roughly the size of Portugal with about fifty contiguous watersheds and the whole panoply of charismatic macrofauna doing their thing undisturbed—is another story. This one is about what happened afterward, when I and the Canadian environmentalists I’d been traveling with arrived at the nearest settlement, a […]

Revolution of the Snails


Published in:   Tom Dispatch
May 1, 2008
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Encounters with the Zapatistas

I grew up listening to vinyl records, dense spirals of information that we played at 33-1/3 revolutions per minute. The original use of the word revolution was in this sense — of something coming round or turning round, the revolution of the heavenly bodies, for example. It’s interesting to think that just as the word […]

Detroit Arcadia


Published in:   Harper’s
July 14, 2007
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Exploring the Post-American Landscape

Until recently there was a frieze around the lobby of the Hotel Pontchartrain in downtown Detroit, a naively charming painting of a forested lakefront landscape with Indians peeping out from behind the trees. The hotel was built on the site of Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, the old French garrison that three hundred years ago held […]

The Thoreau Problem


Published in:   Orion
May 1, 2007
When the route to paradise threads through prison

Thoreau was emphatic about the huckleberries. In one of his two most famous pieces of writing, “Civil Disobedience,” he concluded his account of a night in Concord’s jail with, “I was put in jail as I was going to the shoemaker’s to get a shoe which was mended. When I was let out the next […]

The Age of Mammals


Published in:   Tom Dispatch
December 18, 2006
Looking Back on the First Quarter of the Twenty-First Century

[For Solomon Solnit (b. Oct. 18, 2006)] The View from the Grass I’ve been writing the year-end other-news summary for Tomdispatch since 2004; somewhere around 2017, however, the formula of digging up overlooked stories and grounds for hope grew weary. So for this year, we’ve decided instead to look back on the last 25 years […]

The uses of disaster


Published in:   Harper’s
October 1, 2005
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Notes on bad weather and good government

In his 1961 study, “Disasters and Mental Health: Therapeutic Principles Drawn from Disaster Studies,” sociologist Charles Fritz asks an interesting question: “Why do large-scale disasters produce such mentally healthy conditions?” One of the answers is that a disaster shakes us loose of ordinary time. “In everyday life many human problems stem from people’s preoccupation with […]

Sontag and Tsunami


Published in:   Tom Dispatch
January 3, 2005

On the first day of the New Year, while headlines blazed with news of 140,000 or more deaths around the coastal rim of South Asia, I found myself with a small but solitary task. I removed Susan Sontag’s name from the list of those who receive Tomdispatch. She had been an early reader, well before […]

Acts of Hope


Published in:   Tom Dispatch
May 19, 2003
Challenging Empire on the World Stage

What We Hope For On January 18, 1915, eighteen months into the first world war, the first terrible war in the modern sense — slaughter by the hundreds of thousands, poison gas, men living and dying in the open graves of trench warfare, tanks, barbed wire, machine guns, airplanes — Virginia Woolf wrote in her […]