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Cheap Motels and a Hotplate: An Economist's Travelogue by Michael D. Yates
Can an academic engage readers in a book about a 60-month road trip across the United States? Yes, when the author has a grassroots tilt on work, inequality, and ecology. In Cheap Motels and a Hotplate: An Economists Travelogue, author, editor, and retired professor Michael D. Yates departs western Pennsylvania with his wife, Karen, to work and sightsee in cities, parks, and towns across the nation.
The couple begins their journey with a stay in Yellowstone National Park. They work as a minimum-wage desk clerk and waitress, respectively, at a corporate-run hotel. Readers feel the Yatess unease from multitasking cancellations and reservations for rooms and tables. By the end of their stay, the Yates are working shorter hours to spend more time exploring the park, bereft of the original inhabitants, such as the Sheepeater Shoshone, who were forcibly removed by whites, along with other tribes, over a century ago.
In Portland, following a Manhattan stint as editor for Monthly Review, two of the Yatess four adult children join them. The young men, highly skilled in their occupations, hope to nab livable employment. It is not to be. Portland and the Northwest are no employment paradise for them and other 20-somethings. Yatess book is totally relevant to young adults, the so-called Generation Next between the ages of 18 and 25 who scramble to make ends meet.
For each community and region visited, Yates provides a demographic snapshot (population by race, median household income, rent, and mortgage). Yates, who once labored for the United Farm Workers, uses such stats to amplify the social conditions of the folks they meetincluding landlords, park rangers, and shopkeepers. Readers also get a treasure trove of tips on dining, hiking, and lodging to enjoy and avoid.
On leaving the Northwest, the Yates solve their food problem. Health-conscious, they opt to cook on a two-burner hot plate and live in low-priced motels. In contrast, scores of wage-earners in communities large and small live this way out of necessity. Yates wants the reader to be as outraged as he is that folks who labor long hours at low wages are in such dire straits.
In Miami Beach, the fortunate few live large. Blocks away from their wealth, a quarter of the people under age 18 live below the federal poverty line. Does the former class create the latter? Yates suggests so. His is not the conventional wisdom.
In Cheap Motels and a Hotplate, Yates builds on his radical critique of capitalism detailed in Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy (Monthly Review Press, 2003). His aim in both books is to help people to understand the roots of social inequality, and then to change the world their labor creates into one in which all peoples basic needs are met.
To this end, Yates enhances his book with a spatial approach. In Sedona, Arizona, with its red-rock sandstone buttes, mesas, monoliths, and pinnacles, Yates confronts the clash between public and private spacea gated community for the rich next to public land on which those of modest means hike. A gorgeous desert also details the contours of American capitalism. As of 2005, the share of national income going to the upper class matched that in the Great Depression.
Before Hurricane Katrina the couple visits the Gulf Coast. The people are poor and the environmental racism is ghastly. Air pollution in Big Bend National Park, Texas, from other states is so dire that the Yates skip sightseeing there. For the hikers they have become, this is a strong statement.
Yates writes in warm appreciation of the country and its residents and for action to reverse the waste of both. This requires a vision of a more just way of living. As he puts it in the final chapter, What we have seen and done might serve as an inspiration for all of us to struggle to create a world in which the freer way we have been able to live is the norm for everyone.
Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento. He is a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramentos progressive paper.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.