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'Bury the Chains,' by Adam Hochschild

SHOWCASE | January 23, 2005

Citizen activism and investigative reporting as powerful tools in England 200 years ago

A new book, “Bury the Chains,” by Adam Hochschild, extols citizen activism in the abolitionist movement in England two centuries ago -- and calls attention to the crucial role played by watchdog-style reporting in creating a public awareness of the evils of slavery. In a review in the Washington Post, Steven Mufson, a Post editor and author himself, calls the book “wonderful.” Notes Mufson:

The British abolition movement of the late 1700s pioneered the strategies that every activist group now takes for granted: direct mailings, legal test cases, campaign pins, grassroots lobbying. "Each of these tools, from the poster to the political book tour, from the consumer boycott to investigative reporting designed to stir people to action, is part of what we take for granted in a democracy," Hochschild writes. "Two and a half centuries ago, few people assumed this."

The investigative reporting reference merits repetition: “Investigative reporting designed to stir people to action.” As it happens, the investigative reporters in this case weren’t journalists at the outset, but came to their calling as witnesses to great injustice and brutality.

Hochschild, a co-founder of Mother Jones, has written award-winning books as well as magazine and newspaper articles. “Bury the Chains” runs 468 pages and is published by Houghton Mifflin.

The Mufson review (click here) is an education in itself: Here is the first paragraph:

Often, outrage is not enough. If campaigns to end injustices have succeeded, it is because they have been thought through, built well, fought hard. In our lifetimes, we have seen great strides in the effort to end child labor, segregation and apartheid; we have seen real gains in the battles for women's rights, consumer safeguards and environmental protections. But successful movements require more than the audacity to try to right a wrong, especially when that wrong is pervasive, widely accepted and underpins a vast economic enterprise. They succeed because of organizational savvy. The granddaddy of these transforming citizens' crusades, and the one that altered perhaps the most amazingly unjust and savage institution of all, was the British movement to end the international slave trade.

investigative reporting
01/25/2005, 02:17 PM

Investigative reporting, is only as good as the ACTION, that it inspired. Citizen activism, is only as good as the actions of the citizens, that a well research stories entailed.

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