Peter Dreier

Peter Dreier teaches politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His latest book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012).

Recent Articles

Frances Kelsey: The Government Bureaucrat Who May Have Saved Your Life

Kelsey's crusade for tougher drug regulations remains a powerful symbol of good government. 

Rex Features via AP Images
Rex Features via AP Images Frances O. Kelsey during Senate testimony about corporate pressure to approve the drug in spite of her concerns about the drugs safety, August 1, 1962. I n our current culture, the phrase “government bureaucrat” is often used as an epithet, but Frances Kelsey—who died on August 7 at age 101—was a career government bureaucrat who was also a genuine American heroine. In the early 1960s, Kelsey, a doctor and research scientist with the federal Food and Drug Administration, almost singlehandedly took on the pharmaceutical industry. She stood up to the manufacturer of a dangerous medicine—thalidomide—and saved tens of thousands of babies from birth deformities. If you are in your 40s or 50s, Kelsey, working quietly in her FDA office, may have saved your life, by making sure that your doctor didn't prescribe thalidomide to your mother. Kelsey's battle with the makers of thalidomide is an inspiring tale of how one individual's expertise and courage protected the...

Racism on Camera

The recent wave of police violence isn't anything new. It's just been caught on video. 

Texas Department of Public Safety via AP
AP Photo/Matt Rourke Philadelphia Police officers demonstrate a body-worn cameras being used as part of a pilot project, Thursday, December 11, 2014. I f you’ve regularly watched the nightly news over the past few years, you might think that the recent arrest and jail-cell death of Sandra Bland in Texas is part of a growing wave of police abuse of black citizens. Some news reports have even called it an epidemic of police violence against African Americans. But the harsh reality is that there has been no sudden upsurge of racial profiling, arrests, beating, and killing of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers. Rather than an abrupt recent rise in police mistreatment of black Americans, we’ve become more aware of the problem, in part because more incidents of police abuse are being captured on camera. The series of deaths of black Americans has made more white Americans aware of how different their lives can be. A turning point occurred in 1991, when the brutal...

Is Bernie Sanders Too Radical for America?

Although pegged as a fringe candidate, Sanders' views are surprisingly mainstream. 

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin In this photo taken May 20, 2015, Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders poses for a portrait before an interview with The Associated Press in Washington. N ow that Bernie Sanders is rapidly climbing in the polls and attracting huge audiences to his campaign events, his opponents are starting to attack him for being too radical. After all, Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist. Of course, few Americans know what “socialist” means. Some mistakenly associate it with Communism. In fact, Sanders has often said that he favors the kinds of policies favored by the Scandinavian democracies. Asked about this last month by George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC News’ This Week , Sanders said : In countries in Scandinavia like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, they are very democratic countries. Voter turnout is a lot higher than it is in the United States. In those countries, health care is the right of all people; college education and graduate...

Read More: 20 Women Who Should Appear on the $10 Bill

Inside the lives of 20 courageous women who changed history and fought for social justice. 

Public Domain
Public Domain I n a speech last year in Kansas City, President Barack Obama said he received a letter from a nine-year-old girl that included a list of possible women to put on America’s paper bills and coins, “which I thought was a pretty good idea." In March of this year, Barbara Ortiz Howard and Susan Ades Stone started a campaign called Women on 20s to demand that the government replace former President Andrew Jackson’s image on the $20 bill with a woman from history. Now, the Obama administration is following through, although not in the way that the two women and the many followers they galvanized had hoped. Last week, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that in 2020—the 100th anniversary of the 19 th Amendment granting women the right to vote—a woman will appear on the $10 note, not the $20 bill. Lew explained that the $10 bill was already scheduled to be redesigned to deal with counterfeiting threats. The new currency will feature state-of-the-art security and composition...