PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


After America's Midlife Crisis by Michael Gecan

Gecan explains exactly what a community organizer might do, and why we actually need them.

After America's Midlife Crisis

Publisher: The Boston Review Books
Length: 144 pages
Author: Michael Gecan
Price: $14.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication Date: 2009-09

When Rudy Giuliani called Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama a community organizer in a derogatory manner, he managed to inspire almost as much rage from liberals as did Sarah Palin's incessant winking. However, many of those insulted did not know exactly what a community organizer did. Even those familiar with the term might not have realized just how powerful that role can be.

Enter Michael Gecan, whose short book, After America's Midlife Crisis emphasizes the importance of community organizers, and articulates the effective procedures for improvement that take place when policy is controlled at the grass roots level. He claims that the current methods of approach, "Republican and Democratic, tax-cutting and program-generating, corporate and labor" will not be useful when it comes to reviving America's shattered economy. There larger programs only help cities that are already relatively well-off, and it is not those cities that prevent the country from thriving.

Using several examples from his own experience in the Chicago area, Gecan demonstrates just how particular the operations of each community are and why they require a government that understands them. In particular, he addresses the way that American cities have changed, and in some cases deteriorated, over the past 30 years. Quite simply, Gecan asserts that things must change drastically in order for the United States, and its citizens, to live well again.

He discusses the period in the' 80s when President Ford threatened New York City with "municipal mortality", and the promising effect it had. When pushed to find solutions, communities become ingenuous, driven and dynamic. He points out that the changes that saved the city did not start in City Hall. Rather, it was the rebuilding of disenfranchised communities that enabled New York to bounce back.

Specifically, independent groups created buildings that provided stable homes for families. The people that the lived there began to care about their community. Keeping public transportation running and implementing a solid police force also contributed dramatically.

While some of his opinions seem Utopic, others are quite liberal and would be likely to meet resistance from more conservative opponents. He argues that since the since rebuilding communities costs money, programs that cut taxes do a disservice to areas in need. While he advocates the need for money from the government, his recipe for success is "less government, more planning". He argues strongly for the value of religious organizations such as churches and synagogues that might facilitate growth in a community and in particular, motivate citizens to act.

Those concepts feel particularly unique; it's not often that we here a liberal arguing that if we just let the Roman Catholic Church take charge, everything will work out. His ideas may seems a tad idealistic, but through copious examples and personal anecdotes, he makes a good case for them.

He also offers a warning tale to emphasize that a church cannot serve as sole leader. It must be a place where individuals find agency. He tells the story of a Catholic school in his hometown that ignored fire code laws and ultimately caused the death of 90 students in a fire. It's not exactly obvious why this story is included. In fact, his book weaves between being an academic paper and personal memoir.

While the parts of the paper where he spoke sentimentally about his personal experience were quite engaging, they served to dilute, not tighten his argument. He goes on to discuss the rebuilding of schools that is taking place in that community, including a charter school. However, the sudden emotional tone towards the end of the paper seems a bit out of place. It feels like the book needs to be either longer or shorter in order for Gecan to effectively state his case.

Still, a short book that began with a rush of statistics and information about demographics and city lines and economics ended on a powerful, optimistic note. Although it seems that America is quite far from running the system the way Gecan envisions it, he emphasizes the hope and the ingenuity of the common people. At a time when it seems that most Americans are completely apathetic or disengaged, his descriptions of the possibilities for active communities are fascinating.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Nevill's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.