Top critical review
Great start--but the story is woefully incomplete (but read it anyway!)
Reviewed in the United States on May 1, 2013
This is really two books. The first 3/4 of the book os a detailed examination of attempts to organize poor white people living in the Uptown neighborhood on the north side of Chicago for a few years in the late 60's and early 70's. The last section is a much briefer, less detail rich account of similar work in New York and Philadelphia at about the same time. These latter sections lack the rich local detail of the first part of the book, and the reader gets the feeling that the authors did not have nearly the same number of interviews and documentary record that they had for Uptown.
The first portion of the book--focused on Uptown was both fascinating, and disappointing. Roger Ebert once said that no one can enjoy a movie shot in their own dining room because all they will see is the flaws in the wallpaper. Maybe that was my problem with Hillbilly Nationalists.
I have worked in Uptown since 1978--a few years after this account stops--at the Uptown People's Law Center, a store-front legal clinic much like the one described in the book. I know several of the people from Uptown described in the book. The history of JOIN, Rising Up Angry, and associated organizations is certainly fascinating, well written, and full of detail. a good story.
But his presentation of the so called fracturing of the left in Uptown--which is where the book stops its account--is woefully incomplete. Many people picked up the struggle right where the book stops--and are still there today. Dozens of activists have now lived and worked in Uptown for 30+ years, struggling in one structure or another to maintain a progressive position in a racially, economically, and ethnically diverse community, and continuing to link the local struggles with multiracial citywide coalitions, national movements, and the international anti-colonialism/anti-war movements. This effort has reshaped Uptown, with a core of progressive, low income people of all races and ethnic groups (and sexual orientation), all willing and able to fight for their community.
Just this past weekend, the community banded together to fight against school closings. The group included students, artists, teachers, and poor people, Black, White, Latino, Asian, African, and many more. Many had lived here for decades, and in some cases families included three generations who attended the same local school. This history of struggle has resulted in a community unique in Chicago--if not the entire country.
The few short years described here were only a beginning, not an ending. The remainder of the story needs to be told.