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A Fighter for the Working Class
Journalist Linda Tirado lost sight in one eye after being shot in the face with a rubber bullet by a police officer during a protest following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. WCCO-TV

A Fighter for the Working Class

Co-published by Economic Hardship Reporting Project and The American Prospect.

Linda Tirado is a fine writer. And as a result of police brutality against journalists, she is now dying in her early forties.

It started when Tirado covered a George Floyd protest in Minneapolis in 2020. She was shot in the face with a rubber bullet by a police officer. While rubber bullets, law enforcement assures us, are nonlethal, the force of a shot can fracture skulls.

Tirado lost her sight in one eye, and over the last few years the full extent of her injury became clear. She also had brain damage and it was getting worse. And now, as her recent co-authored Substack informs us, “she is dying. Slowly, painfully, and with none of the dignity she’s earned and all of the TBI-induced dementia that’s stealing her limited time left with her kids.”

She’s still with us, however. So we wanted to take this chance to honor her, as she has honored others.

My late colleague and friend Barbara Ehrenreich first met Tirado after the latter wrote a 2013 piece about her life as an IHOP cook in Utah. In that 2013 viral HuffPost essay, Tirado explains how systemic poverty forces financially struggling people to make “bad” decisions—from what they eat to why they smoke. After it ran, Tirado received 20,000 emails in a week. Barbara was impressed, so she decided to support her work, including her book Hand to Mouth, which she called “devastatingly smart and funny … Tirado is the real thing.”

She also lured Tirado into collaboration with our organization, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project, which is how I first encountered her. Barbara and I felt she was the avatar for the sort of writer our organization sought to support—acidly humorous, working-class, and hell-bent on exposing the cons of late capitalism. Plus, Tirado’s prose was special, marked by both pith and universality. Take these lines from Hand to Mouth: “When you never have enough money it ceases to have meaning. I imagine having a lot of it is the same thing.”

Also, we at EHRP saw Tirado as an influence more generally, as in my story about well-educated people finding themselves on welfare, this piece about the disconnect of government smoking bans while other public-health crises go unchecked, and Barbara’s about how it’s nearly impossible for poor people to find the time and space to write about poverty.

As Barbara wrote about Tirado and her work in the Prospect, after she was grievously hurt by the police: “She dares to take on the question affluent people too often ask about the poor: Why do they do things that ‘aren’t good for them,’ like smoking?” “The answer is stress,” Barbara wrote, “the grating, day-after-day stress generated by bad bosses, lousy pay, overwork, and the knowledge that each shift will be followed by what sociologist Arlie Hochschild calls the ‘second shift’ as a wife and mother.”

But Tirado’s sharp political sense was not just directed at describing her own experience. She also applied it to others, up and down the gradient. In a piece of EHRP (and Elle magazine), Tirado wrote in 2017 about women who voted for Trump: “Solipsism is self-soothing. It is easier to believe that everyone knows everything you do …”

The George Floyd protests were part of Tirado’s ambit, documenting the Americans on the edge. She was in Ferguson for the protests after Michael Brown’s murder. During protests against the killing of another Black man in St. Louis, Anthony Lamar Smith, Tirado slept in the streets.

After tragedy was forced upon her, Tirado still fought like hell. As the proverb has it, “in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” and Tirado continued to see America more clearly than most of us ever will. As Tirado wrote in The New Republic, “I have lost half of my vision, but I lack no clarity: There can be no peace without justice, and no justice without full-throated, damningly righteous anger.” Let us praise her for her brave reporting, her calls and fundraising when others were hurting, and her crackling spirit.

Please learn more about how to support Linda Tirado and her family here.

Save An Endangered Species: Journalists

Alissa Quart is the author of five books of nonfiction including the acclaimed Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselves from the American Dream, now out in paperback, Squeezed: Why Our Families Can't Afford America and Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers. She built the non-profit the Economic Hardship Reporting Project with the late Barbara Ehrenreich: she has run it for close to a decade. She is also the author of two books of poetry Monetized and Thoughts and Prayers, and has written for many publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post and TIME. She has produced films and the show “Going for Broke,” centering on EHRP’s lower income contributors. Her awards include an Emmy, an SPJ Award, a Columbia Journalism School Alumna of the Year Award, a Nieman Fellowship, and a National Press Club commendation. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.

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