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KPFA - Against the Grain

Progressive Talk

Acclaimed program of ideas, in-depth analysis, and commentary on a variety of matters — political, economic, social, and cultural — important to progressive and radical thinking and activism. Against the Grain is co-produced and co-hosted by Sasha Lilley and C. S. Soong.


Berkeley, CA


Acclaimed program of ideas, in-depth analysis, and commentary on a variety of matters — political, economic, social, and cultural — important to progressive and radical thinking and activism. Against the Grain is co-produced and co-hosted by Sasha Lilley and C. S. Soong.




Fund Drive Special: How the Right Shadows the Left

The rise of the far right has been one of the most alarming developments of the last few years, exercising a gravitational pull on much of American politics. Liberal critics often chalk up the appeal of right to the irrationalism of the downtrodden. But writer Naomi Klein argues that the populist right is, in its perverse, hateful way, addressing often legitimate discontent about an unequal society. She argues that the only antidote is a renewed anticapitalist left. The post Fund Drive Special: How the Right Shadows the Left appeared first on KPFA.

Fund Drive Special: Sharon Salzberg on Meditation

Meditation pioneer and world-renowned teacher Sharon Salzberg talks about her book “Real Happiness: A 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation.” The post Fund Drive Special: Sharon Salzberg on Meditation appeared first on KPFA.


Fund Drive Special: Regenerating a Damaged Planet

When we think about nature preservation, many of us picture not just wetlands and forests, but farms and pasturelands. Yet journalist George Monbiot argues that the most destructive effects that humans have had on the planet has been through farming – through deforestation, the destruction of the soil, and the massive loss of habitat. Resources: George Monbiot’s TED Talk Audio excerpted courtesy Penguin Random House Audio from Regenesis by George Monbiot, read by the author. The post Fund Drive Special: Regenerating a Damaged Planet appeared first on KPFA.


Fund Drive Special: A Civil Rights Powerhouse

Audio portions of the award-winning documentary film “Move When the Spirit Says Move: The Legacy of Dorothy Foreman Cotton.” The post Fund Drive Special: A Civil Rights Powerhouse appeared first on KPFA.


Phosphorus: Reaping the Harvest

It’s both a precious resource and a dangerous pollutant, exponentially increasing crop yields, while fouling our waterways with blue-green algae. The element phosphorus has played a crucial role in agriculture and war, while its reserves are unevenly distributed, with much of the world’s supply located in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. Writer Dan Egan discusses the double-edged nature of an element that is increasingly depleted and overused. Resources: Dan Egan, The Devil’s Element: Phosphorus and a World Out of Balance Norton, 2023 The post Phosphorus: Reaping the Harvest appeared first on KPFA.

Mobilizing Across Generations

How does a social movement attract younger participants, who may be turned off by older activists’ approaches, styles, and understandings? Elisabeth Jay Friedman describes how Ni Una Menos, an influential feminist formation in Argentina, managed to build an intergenerational mass movement. (Encore presentation.) Elisabeth Jay Friedman and Ana Laura Rodríguez Gustá, ‘“Welcome to the Revolution’: Promoting Generational Renewal in Argentina’s Ni Una Menos,” Qualitative Sociology (Image on main page by TitiNicola.) The post Mobilizing Across Generations appeared first on KPFA.


Criminalizing the Victims of Intimate Partner Violence

What happens to survivors of violence — often perpetrated by intimates — who defend themselves against their attackers? According to legal scholar Leigh Goodmark, it often depends on whether those survivors look suitably victim-like. She discusses the circumstances that frequently lead to the criminalization of survivors of violence –- and makes the case for the abolition of a punitive legal system. (Encore presentation.) Resources: Leigh Goodmark, Imperfect Victims: Criminalized Survivors and the Promise of Abolition Feminism UC Press, 2023 The post Criminalizing the Victims of Intimate Partner Violence appeared first on KPFA.


Hansberry and Hay

To be queer and communist at a time when the Communist Party in the U.S. banned LGBT people was tricky and often perilous. In her new book Bettina Aptheker profiles Lorraine Hansberry (who famously penned the play “A Raisin in the Sun”), Harry Hay (best known for founding the Mattachine Society), and other figures with radical sensibilities and closeted sexualities. (Encore presentation.) Bettina Aptheker, Communists in Closets: Queering the History 1930s-1990s Routledge, 2023 The post Hansberry and Hay appeared first on KPFA.

The Commons and Communism

What is the relationship between things held in Common — from rivers and forests, to traditions of sharing and mutual aid — and communism? How should we understand the connection between the Commons within class society and life after capitalism? Historian Peter Linebaugh weighs in on the history of the idea of Communism, the very different history of enclosure, and the influence of the Commons and egalitarian indigenous ideas on the work of Karl Marx. The post The Commons and Communism appeared first on KPFA.


Yemeni American Realities & Resilience

The pandemic, the Muslim bans, the US-backed Saudi bombing of Yemen, counterterrorism initiatives – Yemeni Americans have faced, and continue to confront, major challenges to their well-being and their ability to connect with loved ones in Yemen. Sunaina Maira’s recent ethnographic work focuses on Oakland-based Yemeni corner store owners and their families. (Encore presentation.) Nadia Kim and Pawan Dhingra, eds., Disciplinary Futures: Sociology in Conversation with American, Ethnic, and Indigenous Studies NYU Press, 2023 (Photo on main page by Sunaina Maira.) The post Yemeni American Realities & Resilience appeared first on KPFA.


Organizing in the Gig Economy

Can classic organizing methods be effective in gig economy workplaces? Paul C. Gray examines how methods like organizing conversations, social mapping, social charting, leader identification, and the identification of strategic chokepoints were applied by food couriers in Toronto to the peculiar circumstances of their platform-based work environment. (Encore presentation.) Labour/Le Travail Gig Workers United (Photo on main page by Kai Pilger.) The post Organizing in the Gig Economy appeared first on KPFA.


The Roots of the Far Right Press

At a time when media ownership was held in a few hands, rightwing press barons combined celebrity coverage with xenophobic and nationalist politics, lauding authoritarian leaders and playing down the threat of fascism. In the lead up to World War Two, the likes of William Randolph Hearst and Robert McCormack in the U.S., and Lords Rothermere and Beverbrook in the UK, flirted with fascism and promoted imperialism. Historian Kathryn Olmsted argues that they paved the way for far-right mass media today.(Encore presentation.) Resources: Kathryn S. Olmsted, The Newspaper Axis: Six Press Barons Who Enabled Hitler Yale University Press, 2022 The post The Roots of the Far Right Press appeared first on KPFA.

“Unfree” Labor in Immigration Detention

In many immigration holding facilities, detainees can choose to work for wages. But is the language of choice in this context misleading? Katie Bales deploys the concept of unfree labor to explain what’s going on within what she calls the immigration industrial complex. She emphasizes the historical and geopolitical factors that compel many detainees to agree to work for often miniscule wages. (Encore presentation.) Boris et al., eds., Global Labor Migration: New Directions University of Illinois Press, 2022 (Photo on main page by DIAC Images.) The post “Unfree” Labor in Immigration Detention appeared first on KPFA.

Remembering Mike Davis

Mike Davis was an exceptional thinker and writer: a deeply committed socialist who dazzlingly illuminated the unfolding ecological and social contradictions of late capitalism. Whether writing about his native Southern California, or contemplating the fate of billions in the world’s mega-slums, Davis gave us new ways of seeing — always with a post-capitalist world in his sights. Geographer Richard Walker discusses the many contributions of his fellow urbanist and radical. (Encore presentation.) The post Remembering Mike Davis appeared first on KPFA.

Cedric Robinson’s World

How did the influential scholar Cedric Robinson understand black radicalism and global capitalism? Yousuf Al-Bulushi has written about what he sees as several constituent elements of the Robinsonian black radical tradition, including an appreciation of culture (which pushes back against Marxism’s materialism) and a critique of state-based models of self-determination. Al-Bulushi also considers Robinson’s engagement with world-systems analysis. Yousuf Al-Bulushi, “Thinking Racial Capitalism and Black Radicalism from Africa: An Intellectual Geography of Cedric Robinson’s World-System” Geoforum (pdf) (Image on main page by Doc Searls.) The post Cedric Robinson’s World appeared first on KPFA.

The Price of Gene-Based Medicine

Gene-guided healthcare has taken U.S. medicine by storm, promising precision, targeted treatments to myriad illnesses. It has also proved very profitable. James Tabery traces how genetic medicine vied within the federal government with another approach to healthcare — one emphasizing the social and environmental determinants of health, such as whether you live in a polluted neighborhood — and triumphed over it. He argues that private industry has benefited, while public health has suffered. Resources: James Tabery, Tyranny of the Gene: Personalized Medicine and Its Threat to Public Health Knopf, 2023 Photo credit: Dave Titensor The post The Price of Gene-Based Medicine appeared first on KPFA.

High-impact Philosophy

The full-length interview with the British philosopher and educator Peter Cave, focusing on four thinkers profiled in his new book: Marx, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Arendt. Peter Cave, How to Think Like a Philosopher: Scholars, Dreamers and Sages Who Can Teach Us How to Live Blooomsbury, 2023 The post High-impact Philosophy appeared first on KPFA.


Hyping Innovation, Neglecting Maintenance

Ours is an era of breathless talk about innovation, technical change, and disruption –- all for the presumed greater good. But what if the focus on relentless innovation has obscured the more important work of maintenance and care? Historian Lee Vinsel discusses the trajectory of technical innovation and its valorization, as well as the devaluing of maintaining what already exists. (Encore presentation.) Resources: Lee Vinsel and Andrew L. Russell, The Innovation Delusion: How Our Obsession with the New Has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most Currency, 2020 The Maintainers The post Hyping Innovation, Neglecting Maintenance appeared first on KPFA.

History’s Complicity in Empire

What role do historians, and the discipline of history itself, play in how historical events unfold? Priya Satia contends that historians were key architects of British imperialism, that history enabled empire in fundamental ways. She also contests the notion that history unfolds in a linear and progressive fashion, and discusses the work and impact of the working-class historian E. P. Thompson. Priya Satia, Time’s Monster: How History Makes History Belknap Press, 2023 (paper) The post History’s Complicity in Empire appeared first on KPFA.

Organizing Against Poverty

They shut down the Las Vegas strip, when the casinos were operated by the mafia, and waged a grassroots fight against racism and poverty. The struggle of African American poor mothers for welfare rights in Nevada is a story with lessons for our times of punitive austerity. Historian Annelise Orlick has documented one of the forgotten but key social struggles of the 1960s and 70s. Resources: Annelise Orleck, Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty Beacon Press, 2023 The post Organizing Against Poverty appeared first on KPFA.