As a public intellectual I have always sought to contribute to and illuminate movements for justice, peace and environmental sustainability. Not content to be confined to one of the silos into which academics are usually slotted, my work bridges disciplines and issues. I started out in college as an English major and earned a Masters in English and Comparative Literature. My first book, A Different Heaven and Earth: A Feminist Perspective on Religion (1974) was born out of my involvement in the Women’s Movement of the early 1970s. Its publication helped to inaugurate a new field in religious studies—feminist theology--and for about a decade I was a public speaker and writer on issues of religion and feminism and the intersections of gender, race and class.
Several definitive life experiences have shaped my understanding of and my writing about the hollowness of so-called "American exceptionalism" and the "American Dream": living among the Latino and Black poor for ten years in East Harlem, NY; leading a Witness for Peace delegation to Nicaragua during the U.S.-funded Contra War where I stayed with a family in a mud-floored hut in the war zone so I could return to the U.S. to bear witness to what our government was doing in our name; coming to know people who had been exiled from apartheid South Africa, and Chile after the U.S. supported coup; directing a program for a national church agency that supported poor people who were struggling for social and economic justice in African American, Native American, Latino, Asian and poor white communities. Out of that experience was born the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, an organization in anti-racism and community organizing that has trained thousands of people both across the country and abroad; and leading several study tours to Venezuela during the Hugo Chavez's presidency where we witnessed a revolution that had reduced poverty, greatly increased literacy and printed copies of the national constitution on bags of food that were provided to the poor in government subsidized mercados--giving the lie to our government's propaganda about that leadership.
In 1984 I joined the Jesse Jackson presidential primary campaign becoming the campaign's National Rainbow Coordinator, another eye-opening experience in understanding both the potential and limitations of a progressive political campaign. After that I returned to graduate school—this time in political science--I used the insights I had gained from that campaign as the basis for my dissertation and second book, The Rainbow Challenge: The Jackson Campaign and the Future of U.S. Politics (1987), one of two definitive studies of that campaign.
I next began working with a coalition of scholar/activists interested in promoting full-employment at living wages. Out of that was born the National Jobs for All Coalition (now National Jobs for All Network) as well as numerous articles, policy monographs, and a co-authored book, Jobs for All: A Plan for the Revitalization of America (1994). We have been working on both national Job Guarantee legislation and efforts at the state level.
When Government Helped: Learning from the Successes and Failures of the New Deal (2014) examines the New Deal as a template for the problems and challenges of our own age. I serve on the Research Advisory Board of the Living New Deal, a website containing links to the thousands of projects across the country that were created by FDR’s New Deal—a model for how we could come out of our present crisis if we had the kind of leadership we had in the 1930s.
My latest book, Ubuntu: George M. Houser and the Struggle for Peace and Freedom on Two Continents (Ohio University Press, 2020) is a biography of one of the most important human rights activists of the twentieth century.
Another aspect of my career has been my involvement with the Global Ecological Integrity Group, an international network of scholar/activists who for years have sought to warn the public of the impending climate catastrophe and what we must do to mitigate it. Their website contains books with a wealth of information on this subject.