Project

Populism and Peoplehood in the United States

Goal: My current book project—Populism and Peoplehood in America—argues rather than turning to creating new theories for alternatives to right-wing nationalism, we can instead learn from past American actors and activists. Using thousands of historical newspapers, archival sources, and historiographic texts, I show how Lincoln’s redefinition of the American founding, a social gospel urban mayor’s campaign to bring greater economic justice for new immigrants, Martin Luther King’s attempts to save the soul of the American nation, Illinois Black Panther chairman—Fred Hampton’s—efforts to form a cross-racial coalition to fight the racial and economic oppression, and the contemporary Poor People’s Campaign all used invocations to religion, patriotism and sometimes populism to redefine what America meant to their followers and called them to form a coalition to fight to preserve this renewed vision. This history of advocacy suggests that left-wing variations of stories of community building complete with invocations to religion, patriotism, and populism were no less prevalent or powerful as the current right-wing variations and now more than ever we cannot afford to abandon these powerful mobilizing strategies.

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Michael Illuzzi
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My current book project—Populism and Peoplehood in America—argues rather than turning to creating new theories for alternatives to right-wing nationalism, we can instead learn from past American actors and activists. Using thousands of historical newspapers, archival sources, and historiographic texts, I show how Lincoln’s redefinition of the American founding, a social gospel urban mayor’s campaign to bring greater economic justice for new immigrants, Martin Luther King’s attempts to save the soul of the American nation, Illinois Black Panther chairman—Fred Hampton’s—efforts to form a cross-racial coalition to fight the racial and economic oppression, and the contemporary Poor People’s Campaign all used invocations to religion, patriotism and sometimes populism to redefine what America meant to their followers and called them to form a coalition to fight to preserve this renewed vision. This history of advocacy suggests that left-wing variations of stories of community building complete with invocations to religion, patriotism, and populism were no less prevalent or powerful as the current right-wing variations and now more than ever we cannot afford to abandon these powerful mobilizing strategies.