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When I sat down to think of how to introduce you to In These Times’ first new leader in 35 years, I began the way we historians always do: with research.
I already knew that Alex Han was one of the most respected labor and political organizers in the country, and especially in his hometown of Chicago. That he’d played a critical role in the historic Chicago teachers’ strike of 2012, a strike that helped revitalize a movement fighting against the corporate takeover of public education. That he’d helped parlay that crack in the edifice of corporate greed into a movement for a higher minimum wage that made “Fight for $15” a household phrase. That he was instrumental in building the independent political organization United Working Families, which launched a 2015 challenge to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and forever set back the political ambitions of one of the worst neoliberal ghouls in the Democratic Party. That, in the words of one politician I talked to, every time Alex enters a room full of fellow warriors for justice, heads turn, for he is a figure who truly commands affection and respect.
What my new research taught me is that he managed to do all that while appearing in the Chicago Tribune exactly once, in an ad for a gig he played at the Red Line Tap in 2009.
It gets across why I’ve come to admire Alex so much. He gets huge things done. He achieves genuine change. And he does it all with a modesty that reflects the highest moral aspirations of the Left: All for one, and one for all. Heck, he’s even modest about his modesty. “I’m not going to be the one in the front of the room,” he told me when I asked him about how he accomplished all this while staying under the media radar. “Bringing the donuts, making sure the objectives are being met: For an organizer, if you’re talking, sometimes you’re doing it wrong.”
When Editor & Publisher Joel Bleifuss decided to move on to form a new publication dedicated to reporting on rural America, it inaugurated an intense search for the best possible replacement that took the better part of a year. Alex becomes only our third head honcho since James Weinstein founded ITT in 1976. I was thrilled to find out that there are an enormous number of talented and dedicated people out there working to change the world for the better. I’m even more thrilled to report that we found the best possible person for the job. Alex’s hiring trumpets what makes In These Times unique among progressive publications: the activism at our core.
I asked him why (besides the pleasure he obviously takes at thinking and reading about big questions about social and political transformation) he wanted to lead a media organization as the next step in his career. “I think the biggest opportunities always exist where there are clear needs and there are clear strengths,” he said.
In These Times, a secure, strong institution with a great history behind it, is the clear strength. The clear need comes from the fact that when it comes to using media, the Right and the center are much more effective than the Left.
“Media determines what people think is possible,” he notes. The other side’s success has made conservatism almost feel “like a force of gravity.”
Now he wants to help devise ways to help move the needle back in our direction — and as he does, rest assured there will be donuts.
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Rick Perlstein, an In These Times board member, is the author of Reaganland: America’s Right Turn, 1976-1980 (2020), The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (2014), Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (2008), a New York Times bestseller picked as one of the best nonfiction books of the year by over a dozen publications, and Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, winner of the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Award for history.