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Discourse Blog Birthday Week

The Year In Discourse Blog: Features and Essays

Including exclusive unlocked content from behind our paywall!

the year in features
Jack Crosbie/Sam Grasso/Caitlin Schneider

It’s our big Birthday Week, so we’re compiling some of our best posts over the first year (!) of our existence. Today, we’re highlighting some of our favorite essays and reported features. And to mark the occasion, we’ve taken down the paywall from an exclusive collection of posts that were previously available only to our paid subscribers. They’re now free for all of you to read! (Look for the words “UNLOCKED” in the headlines.)

We’re delighted to have made it to a year, but we need your help to get us to our second birthday! If you appreciate the work in this post, please consider becoming a paid subscriber so we can do even more of it. Subscriptions start at just $8 a month.


The Year In Discourse Blog: Politics

Now let’s take a look at some of our best features and essays!

‘Elon Musk Made Me a Socialist,’ by Jack Crosbie

I think it’s a pretty well-acknowledged fact that the election of Donald Trump radicalized a lot of generally liberal people, to either the left or the right. I am unquestionably much more radical now than I was at the beginning of 2016. But for me, that change has just as much to do with Elon Musk as Donald Trump. Stories critical of Trump were allowed and even encouraged on the site; stories critical of Musk were not as welcome, despite the fact that both men are billionaire snake-oil salesmen who rely on a cult of personality propped up by disadvantaged people who want to believe someone rich and smart is looking out for them.

‘When the Uprising Comes to Town,’ by Paul Blest

Yet even a place like Graham, it would seem, is not permanently immune to the forces of history. That is why I found myself there on June 25, alongside hundreds of other Black Lives Matter protesters, in the town square where the monument still looms. I was there because, in the wake of the uprisings that followed the police killing of George Floyd, Graham has found itself plunged into the same heated disputes over its racist legacy as the rest of America. At one point, the battle in Graham even led to the virtual suspension of First Amendment rights in the entire county. And at the center of everything is that courthouse and that Confederate monument. 

‘No Heroes: The Racist Legacy of John Muir and American Conservation,’ by Caitlin Schneider

John Muir held the natural world sacred and made it his life’s work to protect it, but his reverence for his fellow humans (as illustrated in much of his writing) is often indifferent at best, and the conservation efforts he championed frequently came at the expense of people who occupied the land long before evangelizing white settlers arrived. It makes sense that Muir is lauded in American history, because his story is perfectly American: enacting colonization and calling it enlightenment. 

‘Saying Goodbye to My Therapy Fears,’ by Samantha Grasso (UNLOCKED)

I’ve never googled my therapist, and I never will. When I first started going to her, three years ago, I was 23. I was five months into a job that I was great at when I was trying, and bad at when I wasn’t. I’d stay up for hours thinking about how shit I was at my job and how no one could depend on me, and the anxiety would keep me up all night. And then I’d oversleep, and the vicious cycle would continue. And then I’d feel guilty and pathetic and have meetings with my boss and my boss’ boss, and I guess I’m just lucky no one got tired of my shit fast enough to fire me. 

‘Turned Away,’ by Paul Blest

Keny Murillo could not believe what he was hearing. It was the morning of June 23. The 26-year-old medical interpreter had taken his father, Saul, to a Durham hospital with shortness of breath, a cough, rising blood pressure, and low oxygen levels less than an hour ago. These were classic symptoms of a worsening case of COVID-19, and other people in the family, including Keny himself, had recently suffered their own battles with the illness. Now, the same hospital was calling and saying Saul—who doesn’t speak English, and was communicating through one of the hospital’s interpreters—was well enough to go home, and that Keny should come pick him up. Something was wrong.

‘Caught in the Ripple,’ by Samantha Grasso (UNLOCKED)

This ripple of secondary effects on workers will be felt for lifetimes to come, whether through employment, housing, and food insecurity or through mental and physical health problems. COVID has pushed into disarray the lives of people it may never physically infect. My dad is one of those people.

‘A Visit to the California Town Founded by Black Americans,’ by Caitlin Schneider (UNLOCKED)

California is full of ghost towns. Usually, the eerie ruins serve as monuments to the boom and bust of the Wild West—abandoned by Hollywood production studios or residents in search of better livelihoods or a more reliable water source. Allensworth is a ghost town of a somewhat different variety. The town—located about two-and-a-half hours northwest of Los Angeles—was founded in 1908 by five Black men who sought to create an independent and self-sufficient community. It was among the first (if not the first) towns in California founded, financed, and governed by Black Americans. 

‘My Long, Maddening Search for a Joe Biden Bumper Sticker,’ by Caitlin Schneider (UNLOCKED)

 I tasked friends and family across the country with keeping an eye out for Biden bumper stickers for one week. I had eyes stationed up and down the west coast, throughout the Midwest, Texas, Tennessee, and the Eastern Seaboard. Reports trickled in. No Biden stickers, they said, but did I want photos of Trump signs or Black Lives Matter signs? I continued to roam Los Angeles. I found Bernie after Bernie sticker, but still no Biden. As the days went by, evidence mounted, illustrating what we all already know: No one feels anything about Joe Biden.

‘Let Me Tell You About My Heart,’ by Rafi Schwartz

As I write this, it’s running at about 54 beats-per-minute, which is pretty good considering that, until a week ago, it was thumping away at more than 130, nonstop, for months on end. I won’t bore you with the details of how I actually learned I have a bum ticker. All you really need to know is that for nine hours last week, I served as a human pincushion in the hopes of un-fucking my fairly fucked-up organ — and it worked. Kind of.

‘Finding My Grandparents’ Graves Online,’ by Samantha Grasso (UNLOCKED)

The first time I saw my Mimi’s grave, it was in July, and it was online. It wasn’t her grave, I guess, but her grave marker — the pieces of metal soldered together that indicated to visitors that there lay Donna L., born in 1939 and died in 2013. 

‘No, We Couldn’t,’ by Paul Blest

As a onetime liberal who drifted further and further to the left over the course of his presidency and in the years that followed, I’ve always viewed former President Barack Obama’s political legacy to be something of an incomplete project. But there’s something about reading Obama’s own words in his 700-plus page memoir, A Promised Land, that makes it abundantly clear that he viewed these impediments to political change not as a barrier to be overcome but rather as limitations that were there for his own good, though they sometimes mildly aggravated him. What’s more, he gives no indication that he would ever have done anything differently—and it is this quality above all which makes A Promised Land such a frequently frustrating read.

‘The Show Must Go On,’ by Jack Crosbie

About a week ago, we all thought this was going to end in blood. After a shock like January 6, it’s easy to get carried away and overcompensate. I decided that I would put body armor in my car to come down to DC and cover the inauguration, figuring that I probably wouldn’t have to use it but, hey, you never know. By the time I’d actually picked up the rental car, that felt pretty silly, as all reports seemed to indicate that a second flood of boomers and YouTubers and armed militia members was extremely unlikely. What we got instead was an incredible, sweeping, virtuoso performance by the American security state. 

‘The Rise and Fall of Grand Slam USA,’ by Paul Blest

Learning all of this sent me fully down a rabbit hole. Was it a pure coincidence that at one point there were dozens of places all over the country that shared the name Grand Slam USA, or was it an ill-advised idea for a franchise that was lost to time? It turns out that the answer is a little complicated.