10 Disruptors: People Who Really Shook Up the System in 2013
It is very rare these days for someone with disruptive instincts and intentions to actually gain power. But Bill de Blasio's landslide victory to become mayor of New York City was one of voters' most disruptive acts in recent memory. Along with Elizabeth Warren, "Big Bill" becomes the elected official with the most potential and influence.
The thing about de Blasio is that he is already a political pro on every level. He will operate in ways that will sometimes inspire progressives and will at other times chagrin them; for example, his appointment of Bill Bratton as Police Commissioner. Bratton was a brilliant political move doing away with the dark shadow of Ray Kelly and his stop-and-frisk advocacy in one fell swoop. De Blasio told me he thought Bratton "had done an excellent job in LA, working well with progressives and people of color," so he intends to have him do an excellent job in NYC. It was a neat way of solving what could have been a big political headache.
The main point is, unlike say Rudy Giuliani, de Blasio does not have a security-obsessed brain. He has many other fish to fry, in particular aiming to reduce some of the inequality in NYC, no easy task. As key advisor Kenny Sunshine points out, "de Blasio says basically the same thing wherever he goes." He is not a politician who tailors things. I loved it at the Nation dinner when he said, "Well you know, I didn't get the endorsement of the New York Post, or the Daily News, or even the New York Times. The one magazine I did get endorsed by was the Nation, so you could say that the road to City Hall goes through the Nation magazine."
3. Michelle Alexander: author and speaker as disruptor.
There is nothing more infuriating and depressing in America than the "culture of mass incarceration" that has dominated the U.S. for decades. The result is a virtual gulag of people under the control of the fundamentally racist criminal justice system. Even though white people outnumber black people five to one in the U.S., and both groups use and sell drugs at similar rates, the latter make up 55 percent of those convicted for drug possession and 74 percent of those imprisoned for drug possession, according to the ACLU.
No one has fought harder, and been more articulate in the attempt to bring some sense to American policymakers and the public about our jail-crazy society than Michelle Alexander, an associate professor of law at Ohio State University and a former ACLU lawyer.
The all-powerful prison-industrial complex undermines the futures of those behind bars and their extended families—a poison whose ripple effect contaminates millions upon millions of people. The tragedy is that many are behind bars for victimless crimes, serving harsh sentences. When similar sentencing practices take place in other parts of the world the U.S. is quick to label those nations “police states.” Nothing has contributed more to poverty and inequality than the oppressive U.S. penal system. As Michelle Alexander has pointed out in great detail in her bestselling book The New Jim Crow—as well as in the speeches and talks she gives across the country—nothing else so underscores how deep and persistent racism is in America. There are many heroes in the struggle to disrupt the massive prison complex, but Alexander has become a most visible symbol of smarts, grace and determination.