SPEAKING VOLUMES: Art, Music & Literature in Review by Martine Compton
The American title “No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need” will prompt U.S. readership to pick up the book faster with the Tweeter-in-Chief’s, as Klein so aptly puts it, name in the title. These readers will see author and activist Klein’s new incendiary work as the beacon of hope that it most certainly is. As for me, I had obtained a British text of Klein’s book online with Abe.com (the global, independent-bookstore-driven version of Amazon) after a state-wide inter-library-loan search (MelCat) struck out completely. All were checked out or, as in my library’s case, copies did not exist.
“NO IS NOT ENOUGH” is a call for unity. Klein invites us all to kill our “Inner Trump” and this part of the book is especially empowering. Like her colleague and fellow Canadian Naomi Wolf’s “The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot”, “NO IS NOT ENOUGH” challenges the reader to reclaim citizenship as both a right and a responsibility.
Klein reminds readers that by looking at the big picture we can reclaim our birthright as world citizens. Her work convincingly connects unchecked corporate greed and climate change with a global refugee crisis, xenophobic fascism, and links all these to the forced evictions, pollution, and mass incarceration at home (in North America). And this is just the tip of the melting iceberg. Action is necessary because alignment with status-quo neoliberal politics breeds a zoned-out apathy akin to waiting for a superhero billionaire to counter those destructive forces at work today in Washington and Wall Street. Though I wholeheartedly agree, I would like to point out that the same section which speaks of “Marvel Comics superheroes” then lists Superman and the Flash. Point of order: that’s D.C. Comics, not Marvel. Ahem.
Where did our jobs go?
Last winter, my town’s used bookshop closed (now moved to Abe.com, hence my purchase), having been a local business for over 15 years. The owners elected to close shop shortly after the library opened its own bookstore. The Friends of the Library sales, which open for four-day periods about four times a year, sell books for $.50 or $1.00, a rate which cannot sustain overhead or labor that is not publicly funded, and against which bookshops simply can not offer sustainable competition. Like the longstanding booksellers down the road from the library, the two bookstores (in neighboring towns) I worked and shopped at previously, have closed its doors.
Needing books like some people need cigarettes (my old boss at the now closed Royal Oak Books, Pat Jonas, once confronted me about my reading addiction: “Do you have a sickness with books?”), I decided to volunteer to work a local library branch’s community book sales. Due to my extensive experience in the book world, I was immediately pushed up the ladder to work in the Friends of the Library Online Division, the most robust arm of the library. In truth, I hungered to return to my vocation of sticking books into people’s hands, but at least I got to handle books, and a perk of my post was getting to screen new DVD donations at home for “quality”.
While at my library desk for the online sales, I overheard two administrators discussing paid library positions. One said to the other in conspiratorial tones, “…But, if we can get a volunteer to do it…” Shortly after hearing this, I quit doing the online sales and volunteered only at the in-house sales. At these public library book sales all labor, such as mine, is unpaid, despite the fact that the memos we volunteers receive at the close of each sale boast of the thousands of dollars we help raise each time. When I read a recent mailed letter gleefully thanking me for helping raise nearly $20,000 at one sale alone, it was impossible not to realize that a portion could support a going rate for the services people like me provide our community.
Say it loud, say it proud: “Not my values!”
The local Barnes & Noble has a used book section I sometimes patronize. My town is the only one in this part of the country to have a used section at their Barnes & Noble, the demand is so great it rivals book towns like Portland, Oregon. My last post at a Barnes & Noble, a company which once provided excellent benefits and hours to its workforce, was in 2001, and the following year the number of independent bookstores halved. It became to me undesirable when we clerks were effectively expected to put customers present in the store third to phone and online sales. I made the move then to antiquarian books, which was my bread and butter for the next fifteen years. Once those shops could not compete with online and library sales and closed, I moved to work for “Friends” of the library, and took to underpaid caregiver positions to earn a living (Michigan’s rates fall almost 10% below national averages).
While on “duty” at my final sale in my local library’s book room, the head Shift Volunteer pulled me aside and asked me why I wasn’t at my post. I replied that I had been, but as someone had requested my help, I’d taken them to find the section they wished. She looked at me, and said hurriedly, and a bit aggressively, “But that’s not your job.” She wanted me instead to stand nearby the cashiers, (where they had overstaffed and subsequently there was no chair for me at the table with the others), in case there was a line. My job? I thought with disgust. The look on my face must have been clear as a bell, because she was afterwards solicitously conciliatory. The head volunteer’s choice of words got me thinking about how though I was not being paid, I was being treated as though I was. Now it was abundantly clear that helping the community find good books was not only not in my “job description”, it wasn’t a job anywhere anymore. Paid or unpaid, service professions are being consistently undervalued in place of commercial ones. In the words of the immortal Nero Wolfe, “Pfui!” Not my values. That incident marked my last sale there.
Today I am filling out a catalog request form for “NO IS NOT ENOUGH” as my first step in a more community-minded life. As a former library volunteer, I happen to know that copies put into the “donation bin” within the walls of the library may not be entered into the catalog system. They will first be screened to see if the Friends of the Library (apart from the library’s, incidentally) can sell it online at a profit (for more than $6), then sold at the library’s seasonal in-house book sales, made entirely of donated or discarded volumes, and open to the public.
We’re All in It Together
Klein’s book underscores the notion that green living is holistic living, including a living wage double the current minimum wage. Service jobs traditionally held by women, such as librarians and teachers, are consistently underpaid, underfunded or cut altogether in favor of those that are traditionally held by white males and overfunded. My Godmother who is a librarian and her daughter, my Godsister, who is a music librarian moved to Boston because there were no jobs in Michigan. And yet our libraries are wealthier than ever.
Not unmentioned in “NO IS NOT ENOUGH” is the sad reality that this American election has severed friendships and other significant bonds. In my own experience, a writer friend of mine used a small gathering of a friends mourning the sudden death of our beloved brother, to declare out of nowhere that she feels people who neither voted for Trump nor Clinton de facto elected Trump and “are just as much to blame” as Trump supporters. A friend present there whose abusive ex destroyed her absentee ballot was particularly wounded by this loud-mouthed and unhelpful invective (all present including myself had none of us voted Republican).
That Klein warns against silo-politics, or single-issue approaches, is an important aspect of her vital work. Who voted for whom, she insists, is unimportant. Klein urges us to leave behind petty squabbles and to work together toward common goals based on a wise, earth- and civil-rights-valuing approach to public and private life. Let us spend less time in our cars, and more time with the most vulnerable in society. As a hard-of-hearing person who professionally has cared for children and the elderly and infirm, I was buoyed by this reminder that how you treat others helps create (and sustain) the life around us. It put me in mind of writer and economist (and co-founder of the Occupy Wall Street movement) David Graeber’s work, “Debt: The First 5,000 Years”. Among the other life-changing ideas in his book, it puts forth the radical idea that the underpaid or unpaid people whose main occupation involves caregiving and service contribute in important ways to a better, stronger future and that NO ONE, not pro-bank politicians, not the payday loan sharks backed by the courts and prison system, has the right to tell you “how much you owe”. Graeber warns, “Any system that reduces the world to numbers can only be held in place by weapons, whether these are swords and clubs, or nowadays, ‘smart bombs’ from unmanned drones. It can also only operate by continually converting love into debt.”
Take the Leap
The last chapter of Klein’s new work contains The Leap Manifesto. This is a document recently drawn up by activists and leaders in government, civic forums, the arts and grassroots politics that goes further that transcends the status-quo’s defensive approach and creates forward motion. For instance, its “polluter pays” principle is a call to reroute funding from wasteful warmongering operations to child and elder care and community centers.
The Leap Manifesto was drafted in Canada but anyone can join the cause. Read it for yourself, and if you believe in what is calls for, join the growing movement. If we don’t act soon, we have everything to lose. And go to your local library to read or request a copy of Klein’s new book. Reader, treat yourself. You deserve the dose of hope.