Peter Dreier

Peter Dreier, who teaches politics at Occidental College, is the author of The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

Recent Articles

Why He Was In Memphis

Most Americans today know that Reverand Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee, but fewer know why he was there. King went to Memphis to support African American garbage workers, who were on strike to protest unsafe conditions, abusive white supervisors, and low wages -- and to gain recognition for their union. Their picket signs relayed a simple but profound message: "I Am A Man." If he were still alive, King would surely be working with unions, clergy, and community groups to raise the federal minimum wage, enact local living wage laws, expand health insurance to all Americans, and help America's working poor -- hotel workers, janitors, security guards, hospital employees, grocery workers, farmworkers, and others -- unionize for better working and living conditions. Today we view King as something of a saint, his birthday a national holiday, and his name adorning schools and street signs. But in his day, the establishment considered King a dangerous...

Livable Los Angeles

In 2000, a group of environmentalists and housing advocates founded Livable Places to promote new housing construction in neighborhoods with good transit as an antidote to continuing sprawl. With more than 150 nonprofits building affordable housing in Southern California, Livable Places is unique in its dual strategy of both advocating and developing housing using a smart-growth model. Livable Places both talks the talk and walks the walk. One of its developments, Olive Court, with 58 new residences for owner-occupants currently under construction, is located one block from a light rail station in Long Beach. Another, Fuller Lofts, where a 1920s industrial building is being recycled into 102 condominiums, is just three blocks from a light rail station in Los Angeles. Both have great bus service and are close to downtown jobs. Livable neighborhoods mean communities that are safer and pleasant for people to walk. At Olive Court, Livable Places has placed the parking at the rear, with...

Not Just for the Gentry

We need to imagine a future in which Los Angeles is the greenest and cleanest big city in America,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in his April 2006 state of the city address. That's a tall order when you consider Los Angeles' long-standing love affair with the twin icons of suburbia -- the car and the single-family home. Yet many agree with Villaraigosa that it's time for Los Angeles to kiss the suburban sweetheart goodbye and start courting urban green. After three decades of significantly improving air quality through tougher automobile emissions and factory standards, Los Angeles is losing ground again. The idling ships and trucks at L.A.'s port, the nation's largest, are a major source of pollution. Proposals to “green” the port range from having docked ships turn off their engines and plug into electric outlets to encouraging rail rather than trucks to move containers out of the port. But that still leaves the cars, which produce about half the air pollution in California. If...

Jim Baker's War

The war in Iraq may be a disaster for George W. Bush, but for James Baker III it has become an opportunity to seal his reputation as a statesman rather than a political fixer, which is how he's spent much of his career. Baker is already getting kudos as a skilled diplomat who engineered a "bipartisan consensus" -- the highest honor that can be bestowed by the political punditry -- among the 10-member blue-ribbon Iraq Study Group, laying the groundwork for a possible U.S. withdrawal from an unpopular war. As a nation, we seem to be suffering from short-term memory loss. After all, if it weren't for James Baker, we wouldn't be in Iraq in the first place. Let's connect the dots. Baker was the ringmaster who orchestrated the Bush campaign's strategy for the controversial Florida recount in 2000 that turned his popular vote loss into a Supreme Court-imposed victory and a rent-free home in the White House. Without Baker, there'd have been no President George W. Without George W., no war in...

Trying Times

The capture of Saddam Hussein may have implications beyond giving President George W. Bush a modest ratings boost. It raises questions about whether the U.S. government can guarantee (or even wants to give) a fair trial to a one-time collaborator. As was true with former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, Suharto of Indonesia and a score of others, Hussein used state power to commit criminal acts. And like his fellow dictators, Saddam Hussein, the human-rights abuser, enjoyed decisive support from Washington -- while he was useful. For Bush, a nightmarish scenario looms: Hussein on the stand before the November elections, spilling the proverbial beans about his 1980s relations with current Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. As President Ronald Reagan's emissary to Iraq, Rumsfeld, according to declassified documents, helped Hussein acquire material for his weapons of mass destruction. A now-ubiquitous photo shows Rumsfeld shaking Hussein's hand...

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