Strangers In Their Own Land – a Book Review

I listened to the book Strangers In Their Own Land a couple of weeks before the Elections. And that was very appropriate reading for that time! The book description from Goodreads says:

In Strangers in Their Own Land, the renowned sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country – a stronghold of the conservative right. As she gets to know people who strongly oppose many of the ideas she famously champions, Russell Hochschild nevertheless finds common ground and quickly warms to the people she meets – among them a Tea Party activist whose town has been swallowed by a sinkhole caused by a drilling accident – people whose concerns are actually ones that all Americans share: the desire for community, the embrace of family, and hopes for their children.

Strangers in Their Own Land goes beyond the commonplace liberal idea that these are people who have been duped into voting against their own interests. Instead, Russell Hochschild finds lives ripped apart by stagnant wages, a loss of home, an elusive American dream – and political choices and views that make sense in the context of their lives. Russell Hochschild draws on her expert knowledge of the sociology of emotion to help us understand what it feels like to live in “red” America. Along the way she finds answers to one of the crucial questions of contemporary American politics: why do the people who would seem to benefit most from “liberal” government intervention abhor the very idea? 

The idea of this book resonates deeply with me. I am often faced with questions from outsiders, especially from people who live in other countries, how people in their right minds can support Trump? I always say that it’s not like these people are cruel and inhumane; it’s just the see different sides of Trump’s policy, and that there may be reasons why they find these policies appealing, and why they find government interventions bad; and it’s not like they are stupid. 

I really liked this book for the conversation’s calm tone, for the author’s willingness to listen and understand. You can’t change people’s mind stating that they are idiots; if you want to convince people to your views, or at least plant a seed of doubt, you should clearly understand where they are coming from and converse with them on their territory.

Once again, some of the people’s stories in this book reminded me of my grandparents’ generation point of view. They might seem to be on the opposite pole of the political spectrum, but I remember this pride of always providing for themselves, always doing their best at work, never being late. Interestingly, somehow they never considered any government assistance, like pensions, the housing they were “given”, things like free education as “assistance.” And probably rightly so, because all these things would never compensate for what the government effectively took away from them in the form of reduced pay, budget redistribution, etc. In any case, I was surprised to hear my grandfather (and to some extent, my mother) in these voices from the American South. 

After-Election Thoughts

Thinking about what had happened yesterday… First, it still does not feel like it’s all over. Still can’t put my guards off. Still, I feel like – “is it really over?” 

Make no mistake, I know better than anybody that at large, it is not over. But the first obstacle on the way to normalcy is removed, and I still can’t internalize the feeling that I can let this anxiety go. 

Yesterday, when I listened to Kamala and Joe, I could not stop thinking about Obama’s speech twelve years ago. I remember this speech very well; I saved the recording and listened to it multiple times. In that speech, Obama practically laid down all he was going to do in the years to come, and he told his audience that there would be things they won’t like. I remember how people were getting angry at him at some point in his presidency and how he was often not understood. I am sure the same will happen with Joe, and I am mentally ready for that. 

There are even more chances that people will be unhappy. After all, he is a centrist. Yes, that was a calculated move; any candidate just a little bit further left could hardly win. Even Biden was called a socialist by the Trump supporters. But I can see how the left wing of the party could become unhappy with him pretty soon. Not like this is something new or avoidable. 

I also thought that this happiness was very different from happiness twelve years ago. Back then, it was excitement about great things that would come; it was “we will do so much better!” Now it is more like, “OK, now we can start rebuilding what is ruined, now we can start planning how to clean up this mess.” Happy thoughts, but at the same time, pretty sad thoughts. 

Like most people, I am thinking about how to approach bridging the Big Divide. Too many people whom I know personally voted for Trump. Too many people understand nothing about BLM, and worse – do not even want to try. I am torn between the feeling that I do not want to talk to people on the opposite side of the spectrum and that I need to talk to them because things won’t change otherwise. 

I am hopeful, and I worry, and I am relieved – all at the same time.

Scenes from Kenosha, two months after the shooting of Jacob Blake

As I’ve commented before, we journalists have a tendency to swoop in when there’s a crisis/controversy, and then forget about it once the heat dies down. And that is something I’ve personally been trying to avoid, even when I don’t get paid for it.

Kenosha has been on my radar long before the shooting of Jacob Blake. I visited it several times – the first time back in college, in one of my “how far can the [then $5] Metra weekend pass get me” day trips. I wanted to see the only midwestern town within communing distance that had some form of tramway (a heritage-style streetcar loop that, as I quickly realized, was little more than a tourist attraction for the HarborPark development in downtown Kenosha). I visited it a few times since, because it’s the only way to go to another state on a Metra weekend pass, and while I don’t have as much inexplicable fondness for it as I do for Michigan City, it has its charms. I even visited Kenosha twice during the pandemic – once in May (when, by a strange coincidence, the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the state’s stay-at-home order) and once in June.

So, when the shooting happened, I already had some context. I already knew that it was a manufacturing town those existence once revolved around several major auto plants (the aforementioned HarborPark development was built on the site of large American Motors Corporation lakefront plant). I knew that the city was home to more African-Americans than many people might assume, with some living there since the days of the Underground Railroad. When protesters marched on Kenosha County Courthouse, and when riots swept through downtown and Uptown areas, I had a pretty good idea where several of those streets were.

I originally planned to try to get to Kenosha on August 24, what ended up being the second day of riots (and the day before Kyle Rittenhouse killed two protesters and wounded another), but I missed the mid-day train. Because Union Pacific North Metra Line is running on a limited schedule in these pandemic times, it meant that there was no point catching the following train, since I would basically only have time to walk around for a few minutes before I had to catch the last train back to Chicago. Paying work kept me from making another attempt until Friday, August 28. By that point, the protests continued, but they were mostly peaceful, and National Guard was brought in

Continue reading “Scenes from Kenosha, two months after the shooting of Jacob Blake”

The Last Weekend Before Elections

It was another extremely busy weekend, mostly spent on the book writing plus trying to catch some nice weather on Saturday.
Regarding the book, we finally have a reviewer who’s suggestions are exceptionally helpful, but they require us to go back to almost every chapter and make some changes. And all changes have to be reviewed by all three of us :). As of yesterday, we had five different chapters in work: submitting one, drafting a plan for another, replying to the reviewer comments on the third, and waiting for re-review on the other two.
That was my busy Sunday, and I am so glad that it was a Sunday with an extra hour!
I had multiple blog posts in mind for this weekend, and I didn’t have time for any. But there is one thing I still want to write about today, before the election day.
Anna was doing phone banking and leaving literature by the doors over the weekend, and when I think about that, I want to cry. I do not have enough words to describe how proud I am of my daughter.
You know how it is commonplace that only young people and retirees are activists because others are busy working taking care of their families. And here is Anna, doing phone calls and walking the turf. When I expressed my admiration for what she is doing, she told me: I remember how I woke up on Wednesday four years ago, and this year, and now I want to make sure I did everything I could to prevent the same thing happening again.
I wish more people would understand that you can’t shield yourself away from politics “because you are busy taking care of your family.” The future of your family, the future of your children, depends on upcoming elections. There is hardly anything more important than that.
BTW, a couple of weeks ago, our HR sent out this message:

Which made our director of analytics anxiously ask me whether he needs to reschedule a by-weekly Sprint planning, and I told him I already voted:)

Anna messaged me a couple of pictures of Nadia, helping her to canvass. I think that many years later, Nadia would be proud of them. I know that some people would view it critically as “indoctrinating the young children.” But I think about it as teaching civic and being true to your moral values.

No Matter What Will Happen, Do Not Give Up!

Today, I went to the clinic escort; for several weeks, the shifts were filling fast, and I didn’t even have a chance to sign up. And later, I was traveling. Having that I do not tolerate the cold well, that shift could be my last opportunity for the year.

The shift was quiet; there were just a couple of antis out, and we wrapped up by 11-30. Before we left, our team leader gathered us together in a circle and said: Please remember that whatever happens, it is not the end of the world. Do not get discouraged, no matter what the outcome will be. We will find a way to help people, underground or up in the sky; I do not know. But we will find a way to do the right thing.

I think it was so well said that I want to pass these words along: we hope for the best, but whatever will happen, don’t get discouraged.

Early Voting Day

On October 12, my 77-old neighbor texted me: I didn’t see a ballot drop box where you said it should be. Is it inside? 

I talked to her a couple of days before that. She was hesitant to send her envelope by mail, and I told her there would be a dropoff box. My very moderate, if not conservative neighbor talked like I never head her before: I filled in the ballot. I told my husband: turn the TV off; I do not want to listen to him anymore. I tried to find some logical explanations, but enough is enough! Another neighbor chimed in: my mom said she wants to vote in person. She said we could take folding chairs and wait, no matter how many hours!

From what I was told, the first several days of early voting were indeed hours. I went to check on the situation of Friday, resolving that if the line is long, I will return home and fill in my absentee ballot. 


The line seemed OK. It took about fifteen minutes of waiting outside, and about ten minutes inside, and then voting itself. I surrender by absentee ballot to the election judge, cast my vote, and dropped the printed ballot into the box. This process with printing and then manually casting is still relatively new. 

As it often happens this year, there were no “I voted” stickers toward the end of the day, but that is fine. I am glad that so many people are voting early. 

We were writing the postcards to the Florida voters through September, and we were told not to mail them before October 21. I mailed mine immediately after I got back from Helsinki,’ but I think it was already too late :). Which honestly, I do not regret!

My Mailbox

FOr the past two weeks, from time to time I find Morrison’s campaign materials in my mailbox. I do not know whether his campaign decided to cut on data analyst or what, but my mail looks funny together:

Two days ago, my vote by mail package arrived. I am impressed by the number of languages:)

I am still undecided though whether I wan to vote by mail or vote early.