Peter Dreier

Peter Dreier is the E.P. Clapp Distinguished Professor of Politics and founding chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. 

Recent Articles

Recalling Pete Seeger’s Controversial Performance on the Smothers Brothers Show 50 Years Ago

Seeger had been blacklisted as a communist and this gutsy defiance of a corporate media giant marked his return to the mainstream cultural scene.

Fifty years ago this week, folk singer Pete Seeger performed the controversial anti-war song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour show on CBS television. The story of that appearance, and that song, illustrates the tumultuous political tensions of the era and was a bold act of defiance against corporate media power. Seeger, who died in 2014, is now viewed as a legendary figure in American history. But when Tom and Dick Smothers invited him on their show, many people still viewed him as a dangerous radical, marginalized by the nation’s political, business, and media establishment. Seeger had been blacklisted from network television since the 1950s because of his leftist politics. For a brief period in the early 1950s, as a member of the Weavers quartet, he performed in prestigious nightclubs, appeared on network television shows, and recorded several hit songs, including “Goodnight, Irene,” “Tzena Tzena,” “...

Who Was Marjory Stoneman Douglas?

The namesake of the high school where 17 people were killed was a remarkable progressive activist—much like the students now demanding real gun control.

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
There’s nothing on the Parkland, Florida, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School website about the woman whose name adorns the school, so its students may not realize that in rising from last week’s tragedy to speak truth to power, they are following in Douglas’s activist footsteps. Douglas would certainly see a bit of herself in Emma Gonzalez, the poised and eloquent young woman whose speech electrified her classmates, teachers, parents, and the whole country at a Fort Lauderdale rally on Saturday, only days after a gunman entered her school and killed 17 people. “If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened and maintain telling us how nothing is going to be done about it,” said the 18-year-old senior, “I'm going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association.” Douglas, who challenged the political and business establishment...

Wells Fargo Gets What It Deserves—And Just in Time

Janet Yellen lowered the boom on the crooked bank—but now finance’s regulators are all Trump appointees.

(Ron Sachs/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images)
On Friday, Janet Yellen’s last day as chair of the Federal Reserve, the central bank imposed harsh penalties on Wells Fargo—the nation’s fourth-largest bank and its leading home lender—as punishment for its long-term abuse of consumers and employees. Much more than a slap on the wrist, the Fed announced that it would replace four members of Wells Fargo’s 16-member board, which it accused of failing to oversee the bank and fix problems that have transformed it from a corporate icon to a public disgrace. It also prohibited Wells Fargo from growing any larger than its current asset size ($2 trillion) until the regulator is persuaded that the bank has changed its ways. That means that Wells Fargo won’t be able to keep pace with rival banks engaged in mergers and acquisitions with other financial firms. “We cannot tolerate pervasive and persistent misconduct at any bank,” said Yellen. The Fed’s decision was unprecedented, but it was...

An Organizer's Life

(Photo courtesy of Jobs With Justice)
There’s a scene in last year’s documentary by Lilly Rivlin, Heather Booth: Changing the World , in which Heather and Paul Booth discuss how they met at an anti-war sit-in at the University of Chicago’s administration building in 1966. “The sit-in lasted several days and nights. We got to know each other very well,” Paul recalled. “By the end of the week I was ready to propose marriage and I did.” Married the following year, they spent a lifetime together as key organizers and activists in every social justice movement of the past half-century. On Wednesday, Heather was escorted, in handcuffs, out of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., at a protest of Dreamers and Jewish activists in support of DACA and immigrant rights. At the time, she didn't know it was Paul's last day. Paul had died unexpectedly at 7:30 p.m. of complications of leukemia. In their last conversation, Paul told Heather that he was proud of her involvement in the civil...

Should Democrats Hope that Joe Arpaio Wins Arizona’s GOP Nomination for Senate?

Will the retired sheriff’s candidacy put the Grand Canyon State in play?

Should liberals and Democrats pray for a Joe Arpaio victory in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate? On the one hand, his primary victory would further poison the political atmosphere and embolden white supremacists, anti-immigrant haters, and other bigots. On the other hand, an Arpaio candidacy would make it more likely that a Democrat will win the Senate seat next November, similar to Doug Jones’s defeat of Roy Moore for the Alabama Senate seat last month. A Democratic victory could help the party gain a majority in the Senate, where the Republicans now have a slim 51-49 edge. On Tuesday, the 85-year-old Arpaio declared his intention to seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Jeff Flake, who declined to run for re-election after polls revealed he would have a hard time winning his party’s nomination. A poll of likely Republican voters on Tuesday revealed Arpaio, with 29 percent of the vote, to be in an almost dead heat with...

Pages