It will come as news to absolutely no one that the economy remains in terrible shape-the names for the period have ranged from “The Great Recession” to “The Second Great Depression”-but Lisa Dodson’s book points to a little-chronicled but widespread response: subversion.
Dodson’s The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy is a fascinating look at how people in different industries and rank find ways to support each other and, individually and collectively, to undermine ever so slightly the existing order.
Thanks to dear friend and uber-connector Danny Postel for yet another informative and enjoyable book reference.
Dodson makes it clear that, contrary to others’ assertions that these actions constitute a new “underground railroad,” these people are not coordinated and mobilized.
But she does write in the introduction that she, “did come upon an array of secret and sometimes illicit ways people push against unfairness.”
This, she decided, was a story worth telling.
Her interview subjects’ subversions take many different forms.
Some restaurant managers use flexible staffing to accommodate their largely female wait staff’s juggling of home and work responsibilities. Other supervisors at clothes stores fudge a bit on inventory so that a high school senior can look fabulous for her prom. And Dodson supplies examples of teachers who know that they should not give their students rides or help their families fill out bureaucratic forms to access services, but do so anyway.
In the course of this slender book, Dodson looks at wages, the limited opportunities for women to advance, the nation’s treatment of children in its schools, the impact of poverty on health and the need for the society to better value and tap into people’s creativity, gifts and possible contributions.
While the former union activist and current Boston College professor does not yet see a broad and organized set of actions, she leaves little doubt where her sympathies and what her desired outcomes would be.
In the book’s final chapter, she writes, “Democracy is the people’s work, always a work in progress. Today, doing what others have done before, common courageous people reach the point where they break the rules-seek a moral underground-in order to treat others as they would be treated because, finally, that is the heart of decent society.”
Dodson’s insightful book uncovers and brings forward many of those actions. We benefit from these people’s bravery and learn from Dodson’s account of them.