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

The Upside of Downsizing

In the wake of the recession, Americans are consuming less and communing more.

A Zipcar station in Washington, D.C. (Flickr/NCinDC)
Over the past year, it seemed that every major media outlet declared "the end of men." The latest in this series was last month’s Newsweek cover story, which declared that the economic meltdown has rendered males an “endangered species.” I’m as eager to see a gender shake-up as anyone, but I’m afraid that the obsessive focus on this one side effect of the economic crisis is overblown and distracting us from some other significant cultural changes. Gender may be shifting but so is how we consume and commune. For starters, small is beautiful -- again. Though the phrase was first used in the 1970s, to describe a back-to-the-land mentality, it’s being reimagined in modern design. The Not So Big House movement, started in 1998 with the publication of architect Sarah Susanka's book of the same name, has truly taken hold in this tough economy. Susanka advocates that people look for a house that is a third smaller than the one they previously thought they...

Urban-Rural Divide No More

An increasing number of urban dwellers are retreating to the country -- and taking the city with them.

(Flickr/Jimmy Emerson)
Carol Coletta, the president and CEO of Chicago-based CEOs for Cities , directed the 100 or so young, urban leaders seated before her to look up at a map of the United States as she demonstrated the steady migration of Americans out of rural areas and into cities over the last 10 years. Little blue dots representing the population piled inward and on top of one another like bees to a honeyed hive. Coletta is a true city evangelist, as were most of those in attendance at last week's Urban Next Summit conference in San Francisco. There's no question that cities are where the action and attention are largely focused these days. According to the U.S. government, 80 percent of Americans live in an urban setting. One of President Barack Obama's first orders of office was to create a White House Office of Urban Affairs, not a surprising move for a man who won the election with city dwellers by a margin of 28 points. Richard Florida's 2003 bestseller, Rise of the Creative Class , argued that...

The Mosque in the Mirror

It's easy to point fingers and call out conservative racism, but the progressive community has a long way to go, too.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (Flickr/trevino)
Editors' Note: This piece has been corrected . The proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero has set off a firestorm of media coverage that, for the most part, is a reflection of our broader national discourse on race, religion, and difference -- yet again highlighting our inadequate grasp of these issues. It's like a flashback of 2008, when every other week proposed a new ratings-hyping headline asking: Is so-and-so racist? The answer, in short: yes. To quote the Broadway musical Avenue Q , "We're all a little bit racist." We could certainly add a new verse to that song this month: "We're all a little bit religiously intolerant." These conversations tend to fixate on individual prejudice, stifling a more complex and important investigation into structural and cultural racism -- dynamics that shape so much of our daily lives, differential opportunities, and experiences. It is, indeed, depressing that a large group of Americans are advertising their ignorance about Islam and, in the...

All Style, No Substance?

Feminists have a fraught relationship with Michelle Obama's political agenda.

(White House/Pete Souza)
It's no big mystery that Sarah Palin makes feminists want to poke their own eyes out. That plucky delivery and empty rhetoric, that faux-folksy manipulation and mama-bear shtick. She's essentially using our ideas -- the strength of women, the importance of independence -- but without our integrity. We hate that she's performing empowerment rather than actually delivering it. We hate the way conservative pundits lust after and objectify her. We hate that she's everywhere, saying nothing. But there's another woman who is currently proving even more problematic for the contemporary feminist. She's a graduate of Princeton and Harvard, formerly a highly successful lawyer at the Chicago firm Sidley Austin, the mentor to our current president of the United States of America. That's right, Michelle Obama. Unlike Palin, who is aggravating because she's all style and no substance, the first lady is driving many a feminist batty because she's got so much substance but is shrouding it in...

A Conference of One's Own

Do we still need to carve out separate spaces for girls and women in order to ensure that their ideas are heard?

Elizabeth Pisani at TED2010. (TED/James Duncan Davidson)
When TED calls, you answer the phone. TED is a 26-year-old organization that hosts some of the world's most sought-after conferences, and a highly trafficked website featuring 18-minute talks on "ideas worth spreading." If your mom, co-worker, or best friend hasn't sent you a link to a TED talk already, it's just a matter of time. Last month, I was invited to participate in a brainstorming session about a new TED initiative: TEDWomen. TED is teaming up with the Paley Center for Media, a think tank of sorts, to create an event in Washington, D.C., focused on girls and women. I was immediately honored to be invited, and simultaneously, a bit cynical about the premise. Did we really need another women's conference? Why not insert gender issues into the annual TED conference? I wasn't the only skeptic. At Salon 's Broadsheet blog, Ryan Brown writes , "Given the wonky gender imbalance in other TED conferences, it's hard to shake the feeling that creating a separate event for women simply...