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Taking On the Establishment

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Jun. 9, 2008
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If there’s a single tenacious thread uniting both sides of the political spectrum, it’s the use of populist rhetoric to lather the American public into a foaming frenzy. The medium of choice might be civil liberties, health-care costs or loudly disseminated threats to national security, but the agenda is usually the same: to win public approval by appealing to the hopes or fears of the masses. In fact, the history of populism is in some respects tied to the history of rhetoric itself, harkening back to the stoas of ancient Greece and the unparalleled orators of the Roman Forum. However, in his new book, journalist David Sirota understandably chooses to limit his scope.

  In The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street andWashington, he traces American populism from the 19th century through Ned Lamont’s 2006 campaign for the U.S. Senate (for whom Sirota served as a top aide). He goes on to highlight the resurgence of populism today, both nationally and locally. His research involved traveling across the country to unearth several grassroots organizations setting out to challenge the status quo: from the Minutemen in California who put it on themselves to secure U.S. coastal and border boundaries from “all individuals, contraband and foreign military,” or the plain-spoken activist nun Pat Daly.

  Sirota will be the featured guest at the Milwaukee Press Club’s Newsmaker Luncheon at noon on Tuesday, June 17, at 137 E. Wells St. He’s a well-chosen contributor to the luncheon’s theme, “The Rise of Political Populism in America,” and will be joined by Keith Schmitz of the local nonpartisan group Common Ground and Chris Kliesmet, founder of the grassroots political organization Citizens for Responsible Government.

  Though the luncheon is open to the public, preregistration and prepayment are required and can be done online at www.milwaukeepressclub.org or by calling (262) 894-2224.

  Whether it’s a search for self-awareness or merely the result of an unhealthy self-absorption, many of us consult the cryptic calculations of horoscopes, the rose-tinted recollections of our parents or the “unbiased” opinions of our friends in order to glean a better understanding of who we are and how we came to be that way.

  When author and academic Sonya Huber found herself covertly stealing off to activist meetings with her newborn baby in tow, she turned to a rather unlikely source to explain her anti-establishment appetites: her long-dead grandfather. Rather than ingesting the prejudices harbored against him, she decided to go beyond the cloud of disrepute that surrounded him and reveal an ardent socialist committed to surviving and stealthily opposing the status quo of Nazi Germany. She comes to Broad Vocabulary on Wednesday, June 18, at 7 p.m. to talk about her new book, Opa Nobody.


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