In some ways, Jeffrey Kluger’s newest book, “Raise Your Voice: 12 Protests that Shaped America,” couldn’t come at a better time. With the challenges facing the United States and world right now with the coronavirus outbreak, young people desperately need heroes, a sense of hope and a call to action, now more than ever.
“Raise Your Voice,” which was published by Penguin Random House, begins with the Boston Tea party of 1773 and ends with the largest demonstration in American history, the Women’s March of January 2017. The book is targeted for readers between the ages of 10 and 16.
Jmore recently spoke about the book with Kluger, a Pikesville native and 1972 graduate of Pikesville High School. Kluger is the author of 11 books, including “Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13,” which was the basis of Ron Howard’s award-winning 1995 film, “Apollo 13,” starring Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon.
An editor at large and science and technology writer for Time magazine, Kluger, 65, lives in Manhattan with his wife, Alejandra, and their daughters, Elisa and Paloma.
Jmore: Before we talk about your new book, can you, as a longtime science writer, give your take on how you think this pandemic is going to play out?
Kluger: Over the long course of human history, we’ve always overcome viruses and pandemics. Originally, people with good immune systems were the ones who survived. Then, our knowledge of hygiene and social distancing taught us something about controlling pathogens further.
Now, we have antibiotics and antivirals, vaccines and genomic science, molecular biology and a whole arsenal of tools we didn’t have then.
This will play out, a lot of people will be hurt, a lot of people will die [and] there will be a lot of pain. But we’ll come through it.
So how does someone with a law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law become an editor at large and science writer at Time magazine?
That’s a good question. When I was at Fort Garrison Elementary School [in Pikesville], my sixth grade teacher, Cynthia Cohen, who is now Cynthia Monfried, was the first person to recognize some ability to work with words. She got me engaged in a way others hadn’t.
I went through high school and college with other interests, and it wasn’t until law school I realized the law wasn’t a terribly good match for me. I wrote some articles that never were published, but that experience was very much more gratifying for me than anything I’d done in law school. Writing felt right.
But why science writing?
I always found that I have a lay person’s appetite for science. I was motivated by it, excited by it, but I didn’t have the disciplined mind for it. Yet, explicating science felt like something I could comfortably do well.
I picked science up on my own and, when I moved to Manhattan in 1979, there was an explosion of jobs at science magazines, Omni, Discover, Science Digest, among them. I was competing against experienced science writers and editors.
When I was interviewed for a position writing about science, I said, ‘I will never make the mistake of presuming on the part of the reader greater knowledge of science than I have.’ Which means I would tell people I was interviewing to explain the science to me in ways that my readers can understand it. From Discover magazine, I went to Time.
Why does your new book target readers who are in fifth through ninth grades?
There is no better time to introduce people to the idea of social activism. They are young enough that they can shape the direction of their lives, but old enough that they can feel somewhat empowered. Kids who are fifth-through-eighth and ninth graders can view the Women’s March and think that this is something I can do. Acquaint them with history and, we hope, breed future activists.
Is this a political book?
This is not a blue or a red book. Kids from liberal or conservative families can embrace this book. The Boston Tea Party, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the first Earth Day, for example, are non-partisan events.
Why is this the right time to publish this volume?
We are at a partisan inflection point. A great many pivotal issues are front and center, but I’m not sure the young people who will read this book will be in a position to effect change before 2024.
Yet I hope they will demonstrate now with their parents and, by the time they’re old enough to vote, I hope they’re out in the streets on their own.
What were the criteria for selecting the 12 protests?
Here’s what I said in the introduction: “The 12 stories of civil uprisings are among the ones that have shaped us the most – and they are ones that teach us lessons still.”
Many of them are touchstones that have made a difference. I think of President Obama’s second inaugural speech when he invoked the Three S’s. All he had to say was, “From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall,” and everyone knew what he was talking about. When events become shorthand, we as a nation are shaped by them.
They define the national ethos, they define the ways we define ourselves. We are a nation that will not tolerate that African-Americans must give up their seats on a bus. We won’t tolerate discrimination based upon sexual orientation.
In the introduction, you write, “When one group becomes freer, so do we all.” What do you say to those who disagree with this concept?
Freedom is not a zero-sum game. Most newly won freedoms don’t encroach upon your freedom, but they do encroach upon your power and privilege. For example, the African-American population is now competing for jobs and for seats at an integrated stadium. They will get some jobs and they will get some seats, so others won’t get them. But that doesn’t encroach upon a non-African-American’s attempt to get some jobs or seats in the stadium. It does encroach upon power and privilege.
There are exceptions, because there are carve-outs in the amendments to the Constitution. Freedom of speech carves out exceptions. You cannot stand on a soapbox and incite an angry crowd to become a public menace, to cause imminent and likely harm to others. If AR-15s are killing thousands of people a year and their purchase becomes restricted, then your freedom to buy an AR-15 will be encroached upon.
How will you measure this book’s success?
Sales certainly. The reviews are good, and we’re also getting a good reaction from teachers and librarians.
For the long-term impact, I guess I’ll have to wait and see how many activists look back on this book and say it was a timely experience for them.
Peter Arnold is a Silver Spring-based freelance writer.
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