Political satirist/muckraker Barbara Ehrenreich has a snappy new book out: This Land Is Their Land is a collection of short articles and blog posts about economic inequality (she's against it), the power of negative thinking (she's for it), and how parents who can't afford health insurance for their kids might want to consider enrolling them in a pet insurance plan instead.
MERCURY: Political writing can often times feel very hopeless, but This Land Is Their Land is very galvanizing. Many of the pieces end with a call to arms, even if it's just something like, "Eat a hamburger."
EHRENREICH: I do try to mobilize people. One's hope is always that people will read your book and rush out their doors and march on city hall. That doesn't happen too often—and I actually worry that I'm not prescriptive enough. I'm not a policy wonk, I don't have detailed prescriptions for what people should do. I expect people to exercise good sense and good judgment. I don't get into the exact details of how to implement a policy. I think we have to have universal health insurance, I think we could implement that overnight by saying "Medicare is for people of all ages." Other people can work out the details.
You end the piece "French Workers Refuse to Be Kleenex" [about student protests in France] with a series of questions that basically boil down to, "Why are Americans failing to band together and demand economic and social change?" You don't answer those questions in the piece—do you have any answers?
I do, but some of them are covered in the next book I'm working on, which is about positive thinking in American culture and how evil it is. We've been told now for years that if you complain, you're a whiner and a victim, that no one should ever complain, [no matter how bad things get].
I'm always amazed, though, at how much is actually going on. This April I was very involved with the truck drivers' protests of high diesel fuel costs. They demonstrated very effectively in Washington, DC and made a very strong statement. We need more protests, more people standing up and saying that we can't do this anymore. Whatever it takes—it could be organizing a union, it could be a community organization.
Do you think that things have to get worse before they're gonna get better?
I would hope not, I think people would have the sense to not let things move to utter catastrophe.