Michael Greenberg is the author of Hurry Down Sunshine and Beg, Borrow, and Steal: A Writer’s Life.
 (January 2019)


California: The State of Resistance

California governor-elect Gavin Newsom on election night, Los Angeles, November 2018
Today the Republic of California, as a couple of dozen settlers christened it in 1846 during the Mexican-American War, again feels like a breakaway state, with its own mores, laws, phobias, and monumental contradictions. The California legislature’s rebellion against President Trump’s polices may be the most serious one that an individual state has mounted against the federal government since South Carolina threatened to secede over cotton tariffs in the 1830s. The terms of the rebellion were set on November 9, 2016, the day after Trump won the presidency, when the heads of the state senate and assembly issued a joint statement declaring that California “would lead the resistance to any effort that would shred our social fabric or our Constitution.” “Resistance” has become an overused word, but state lawmakers have made good on their vow.

In the Valley of Fear

Tomato harvest, Firebaugh, California, 2014
Measured by yearly production, the San Joaquin Valley is one of the highest-value stretches of farmland in the country, and is dominated by large growers who preside over a labor force of migrant workers in a way that has not changed much since Carey McWilliams described it in his 1939 book, Factories in the Fields. The Fresno-based writer Mark Arax likens it to a Central American country. “It’s the poorest part of California,” he told me. “There’s almost no middle class. To find its equivalent in the United States you’d have to go to Appalachia or the borderlands of Texas.”


A Historic Win for New York Tenants

Activists with the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance occupying the capitol to demand legislators pass a “universal rent control” bill to strengthen tenants’ rights, Albany, New York, June 4, 2019

On June 14, the State Legislature in Albany passed a bill that will profoundly change the tenor of life in New York City. The law—known officially as the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, but dubbed by its advocates “universal rent control”—strengthens tenant protections for the city’s nearly one million privately owned, rent-stabilized apartments. The release from distress for thousands of people facing the prospect of displacement will ripple through the city. With the passage of this bill, the lament that has become a cliché—that New York has lost its soul, that it offers no space for the unconventional, that it is home only to the rich and ruthless—will be significantly less true.

Ricketts to Reporters: Drop Dead

Former DNAinfo reporter Ben Fractenberg speaking at a rally at City Hall Park hosted by the Writers Guild of America to support the journalists and other staff members who lost their jobs after they voted to form a union, New York City, November 6, 2017

Was the shutdown of the online news sites DNAinfo and Gothamist purely an act of spite? Ricketts’s acquisition of Gothamist in March suggests that he had been determined to make the business work. He seemed willing to continue to try to “crack the code” of profitability at DNAinfo only if his reporters had no bargaining power. News organizations’ only recourse at present is to hope that Congress may enact antitrust legislation that takes into account the monopolistic evolution of the Internet.

The New Resistance

The first weeks of the Trump administration have felt at times like the onset of a kind of cold civil war. Everything about the present moment feels different than protests of the past. In 2003, protests against the invasion of Iraq received virtually no support from elected representatives and were dismissed by most news outlets as knee-jerk pacifism and therefore inconsequential. Today, the opposition to Trump’s policies from a broad range of present and former elected officials has been immediate and appears to be spurred on by, and in visceral agreement with, protesters on the street.