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New York, the Global Capital of Protest

Kieft relented, setting a precedent that would inspire nearly four centuries of dissent, which Steven H. Jaffe, a curator and historian, reconstructs in “Activist New York: A History of People, Protest and Politics” (New York University Press), an illustrated companion to an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York.

Mr. Jaffe incontrovertibly establishes New York as “the capital city of social activism” by recounting a litany of provocative flash points, including the Flushing Remonstrance, the Zenger trial, the Stamp Act, slavery, immigration, slums, pay and safety standards for factory workers, women’s suffrage, the Red Scare, Prohibition, the Cold War, school integration, civil rights, nuclear disarmament, feminism, gay rights, Occupy Wall Street and racial profiling by law enforcement.

“Activism is what happens when ordinary people mobilize in hopes of shaping their society’s future through collective public action,” Mr. Jaffe writes — action that evolved from the handwritten appeal for religious tolerance on behalf of the Quakers in Flushing, Queens, to which a ship from Amsterdam would take months to deliver a response, to the instantaneous, galvanic impact of social media.

Professor Eric Foner of Columbia University reminds readers in his foreword that while most people either romanticize or don’t remember where the nation’s roots germinated, “many ideas assumed to be timeless features of American culture originated with radical movements.”

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Philip Ashforth Coppola’s four decades of pen-and-ink drawings that fill six self-published volumes have been condensed by two filmmakers, Ezra Bookstein and Jeremy Workman, into a nightstand-size book. Despite its two dimensions, Mr. Coppola’s vibrant and evocative underground art, accompanied by brief explication, leaps off the pages.

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