Standing in the Doorway

Standing in the Doorway

Dissent in the Twenty-first Century

One of the big changes Dissent went through, as we entered the new century, is that we moved into a new “home office” that was just an office, and left our office that was a home. Not just any old home, but the home of Simone Plastrik (d. 1999), who was not only our business manager but also, along with her husband, Stanley (d. 1981), one of our founders half a century ago. Simone was one of the few really magical people I have ever known. Her home projected her aura. Her apartment wasn’t big, yet we all felt bathed in light and space and fresh air; old and new books vied for space with plants, children’s drawings with vintage Abstract Expressionist art, memories of a life that began in interwar Paris with urgencies of New York and America here and now. Everything overflowed here, yet nobody felt crowded out. Militantly different men and women fought and thought here for years, protected in ways they never thought of. As she lay dying, we came to see what a remarkable achievement her home had been. She had created a great extended family; without asking us, she had adopted us all.

In one of our first issues of the century, Dissent, Winter 2000, we bade Simone goodbye. But it was too short, a restless farewell: we were so busy. (I am focusing on this issue, but I could have selected any number of others.) We printed not one but two symposia: a black-comic riff on the presence and/or absence of “critical culture” in America today and an agonized trip through the ambiguities of the abortion issue for Catholics, feminists and Democrats. Some of our contributors were usual suspects, others were specials: Jules Feiffer’s marvelous cartoon on “Jaytalking” inspired our “critical culture” talk. It was striking how many people, in and out of our symposia, had a lot to say. Boris Kaputsin explored “Russia as a Post-Modern Society” and viewed both the growth and the crash of Soviet communism in the light of structural crises in modern life. Susan George, in a penetrating critique of the World Trade Organization, imagined many forms of globalism and argued that we didn’t have to settle for the worst. Harold Meyerson showed how John Sweeney’s AFL-CIO was helping to invent a larger, republican form of liberalism. Gabrielle Banks got down with Salvadoran teenagers talking sex, drugs, gangs, and capital. Ken Conca reflected on the environmental movement’s inner contradictions and current troubles. There were about ten more fascinating, unpredictable pieces on everything under the sun.

Our twenty-first-century authors sounded very different from the folks who had yelled at each other for years in Simone’s living room. In fact, most of the communication between us and them was online. They came from many occupations, ethnicities, and parts of the world. They wrote in fairly clear English (often clearer than ours), but shared no...

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