Courtney Martin

Courtney E. Martin is a Prospect senior correspondent. She is the author of Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists (Beacon Press). You can read more about her work at

Recent Articles

Seeking Justice in a System that Doesn't Guarantee It

How do we hold police and local governments accountable for the backlog of untested rape kits?

"This is another situation that highlights just how our legal system is not built for positive rights," explains legal expert and investigator Sarah Tofte, curled up in the papasan chair in her office at Human Rights Watch, drinking coffee. The "situation" she is referring to is the backlog of untested rape kits -- nearly 13,000 of them -- in police storage facilities and crime labs in Los Angeles County, the subject of a report she authored last month. When I'd first heard that all of these rape kits were piled high, even though each one only costs between $500 and $1,000 to test, I'd grown livid. Studies confirm that kits, which often contain crucial DNA evidence, lead to much higher rates of prosecution and conviction. "What do you mean by ‘positive rights?' Are you saying that there's virtually nothing we can do about this as regular citizens?" I ask. "Positive rights mean that you have a legal guarantee to something, rather than the right to be protected from something,...

The Combat Within: Female Veterans and PTSD Benefits

Given the rate of sexual assault of female soldiers, it's time to start acknowledging that not only combat veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress.

Maricela Guzman joined the military for the same reason so many young people do -- she needed money for college. Raised in a working class, Mexican immigrant family in South Central Los Angeles, she dropped out of school at 16 so she could work at McDonald's to supplement her family's income. (The family was about to lose its home, burdened by a high-interest-rate mortgage that Guzman had negotiated herself at the age of 14 because she spoke the best English.) But Guzman was determined -- she went back to school, eventually earned her high school diploma, and then went on to East Los Angeles Community College. Her mother threatened to take on a second job to help her with the tuition, so she did what many loving children would do. She signed up for the Navy. Guzman tells me this story over a cup of coffee in a Starbucks in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles. She is 32 now and has to pause often to collect her thoughts. She wears her long, dark hair pulled back in a no-nonsense bun,...

The End of the Women's Movement

The era of the singular feminist agenda is over. But that doesn't mean gender-based activism is.

Gloria Steinem of the National Organization for Women attends an Equal Right Amendment rally outside the White House on July 4, 1981. Now, change is created via strategic communication and small grass-roots movements. (AP Photo)
The Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, housed at the continually surprising and alive Brooklyn Museum, celebrated its second anniversary last weekend with a speak-out called "Unfinished Business." As the title suggests, the aim was to bring a diverse range of feminists together in one auditorium to talk about the future of our so-called movement. The lineup of official speakers was, indeed, admirably diverse -- both ethnically and generationally; it included activist and researcher C. Nicole Mason, labor organizer Ai-jen Poo, GritTV host Laura Flanders, novelist and rabble-rouser Esther Broner, and hip-hop artist Toni Blackman. Most of the voices from the audience, however, sounded eerily similar. They spoke longingly about the exuberant past, characterized by abundant energy and "sisterhood." They lamented that no locatable movement exists anymore, that no one is organized, that no one is out in the streets. At one point, Broner even admitted, "I interpret everything...

A Radical Vision for the Council on Girls and Women

We need to shift our priorities on women's issues, and the new White House Council for Women and Girls can be the catalyst.

Sometimes you fight so long and hard for something that it's hard to believe you've actually won. There was a bit of that sentiment among the feminist community following President Barack Obama's announcement last week that he would create a White House Council on Women and Girls, headed up by Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser and friend of the Obamas, and run by Tina Tchen, who is currently director of the White House Office of Public Liaison. Some were quick to insert cynicism into the celebration before it had even begun. Chris Cillizza, of The Washington Post blog, The Fix, wrote , "Obama and his team know that if he can maintain his 2008 margin among women in his reelection race in three years time, he will be sitting pretty. Expect then more symbolic moves like the establishment of the Council to demonstrate Obama's commitment to women and women's issues." Amie Newman, of RH Reality Check , shot right back : "Hopefully, this is not simply a ‘symbolic' gesture … but...

The Trouble with Outside Activists

Do-gooders from out of state are still flocking to help New Orleans rebuild. Are they actually doing as much harm as they are good?

It used to be that tourists headed to New Orleans for Mardi Gras had fantasies of glittering beads, yards of sickeningly sweet frozen drinks, and public nudity. But many of those who headed down South last week were actually on a whole different flight of fancy. Like Juan Ponce DeLeon's mythological fountain of youth, the Lower 9th Ward has become upper-middle-class America's source of feel-good absolution. Do-gooders flood down to New Orleans, their bags packed full of old T-shirts and their minds packed full of altruistic dreams. They want to build houses, watch them spring up from the dirt as they do on Extreme Makeover Home Edition . Indeed, they genuinely want to help people. But the darker side of all of this well-intentioned activism is that it has created a revolving door of services and support in a parish that is in dire need of a strategic plan. I recently headed down to the Lower 9th Ward myself on a reporting trip for the book I'm working on. It didn't take more than a...