Maddie writes and edits stories about food, health, the environment, and culture. She oversees Mother Jones' research department and manages its Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program. Email tips to moatman [at] motherjones [dot] com.
Maybe you remember Claressa "T-Rex" Shields: At 17, she was the youngest boxer in last summer's Olympics, the first games to ever let women spar. Aggressive, spunky, and intensely focused, she trounced a Russian opponent twice her age in the finals to return home to Flint, Michigan, with a gold medal. "I wrapped it around my hand when I went to sleep," Shields says. "I had this fear that when I woke up the medal was going to be silver."
Yet unlike fellow gold medalist Gabby Douglas, the teen gymnast who is expected to rake in $8-$12 million from sponsorships, Shields has received no national endorsement deals (though a local car lot gave her a custom black and gold Camaro). "I think because women's boxing is new, I guess," she says. "I don't really know."
Shields started boxing after her dad, in and out of jail throughout her childhood, took her to the gym when she was 11. "I was a quiet, angry child who felt I wasn't cared about," she says. "When I worked out, I felt like I was fighting against something. I still haven't figured out what it is."
AUDIO: Click arrows below to listen to Claressa
Since the Olympics, it has been harder to focus. "I had this big old goal I was going towards: the medal." Plus there are the usual distractions, says Jason Crutchfield, with whom Shields trains two to three hours a night: "Her biggest problem right now is boys. That throws everything off."
Still, in her seven-year career, Shields has only lost one match—and in February, she whupped three-time world champ Mary Spencer: "She was bigger than me, she weighed more than me, and it looked like she was stronger, but she just couldn't do anything with me." It was the first time Shields' mom and siblings had seen her fight live.
Outside the ring, she has her sights set on winning the USA Boxing National Championships this week, graduation in May, college in the fall, and the Rio Olympics in 2016. It's a lot to think about for a high school senior, but as Crutchfield often barks: "Never let them know when you're sweating."
"A lot of times growing up, people looked at me different because I was a girl," Shields says. "But I never had my hair done. I would play football in the field with the boys. Once I went out to the gym, I could throw on a T-shirt and I could train, just like the guys. I could sweat just like them; I could run just as hard as them. Nobody saying, 'Oh, a girl's not supposed to do that.' I fit right in."
Before matches, says Shields, "I listen to rap music—Lil Wayne, Drake. And then I listen to gospel to calm me down."
Coach Jason Crutchfield had Shields move in with his family last year after she had a series of arguments with her mother. "She used to call us in the middle of the night to come and get her…So I just let her come stay."
Shields sketches her medal at Northwestern High School. One regret? Spring break tournaments, while "everyone else is hanging out and going to parties and stuff like that."
Sporting red, white, and blue nails six weeks before London. Unlike other boxers, Shields says, she'll never wear makeup to bouts: "What if the makeup gets in my eyes while I'm fighting?"
"When I fight and my hair is messed up, it makes me fight harder. Like a beast or whatever. So when I was getting my hair done, she was getting to the last braid, and I said, 'No, leave that piece right there.'"
"I didn't think it would be that heavy," says Shields of her gold medal. She now keeps it locked in a safe, and has put the $25,000 of award money in savings.
Photographer Zackary Canepari is editing a documentary about Claressa Shields, due out later this year. See the trailer below, and visit the film's homepage here.
This story appears in the May/June issue of Mother Jones magazine.
While working on an assignment to capture how people made use of the streets in Monterrey, Mexico, photographer Alejandro Cartagena discovered an unusual perspective on commuting. Two or three mornings a week for a year, Cartagena would stake out pedestrian bridges overlooking a southbound highway to snap shots of workers riding in the back of pickup trucks.
The trick, he says, was to "try to predict which trucks would be carrying people on the back," then run across the overpass and prepare to quickly photograph the moving vehicle's passengers. Many of the men were ducking down to avoid attention, though some were likely just protecting themselves from the cold.
The "Car Poolers" photos, now on display at the Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles, show workers preparing for the mundane—another day of construction in one of Monterrey's many suburbs. Taken together, they serve as an unusual portrait of survival and adaptation amid sprawl and uncertainty.
A sense of risk pervades the images. Monterrey is Mexico's wealthiest city, and one of its largest. But while it has a history as a hub of business and culture, the sensational violence of the drug war has cast a shadow on the once-booming metropolis. In what was once ranked as Latin America's safest city, citizens must now contend with decapitations, balaceras (shootings), kidnappings, and security checkpoints and curfews imposed by both the government and the gangs.
"Thousands of local businesses have closed their doors because they refuse to pay the drug gangs for uso de piso (protection)," Cartagena says. As the Los Angeles Times reported last year, the violence has lead to "what some dub an exodus from Monterrey, a brain drain that includes businessmen, artists, and young professionals." Wealthier inhabitants who have remained are buying up downtown real estate while the drug cartels have moved their operations to the suburbs, says Cartagena, where even construction firms must pay them for protection.
"Call me paranoid, but the stories are closer and closer and it's had a great impact on my perception of safety," Cartagena tells me. Even taking pictures of everyday commuters is cause for vigilance: He worked on this project with an assistant because he didn't feel safe in the streets alone with a camera. Street vendors, taxi drivers, and transit police are all potentially working as informants for the cartels and might perceive a photographer as a threat.
"I do not want to portray an uninhabitable city. We go out, we are happy, we just had our first baby," he adds. Photographing daily routines was in a sense an act of rebellion against the proliferation of bad news. "We need other stories apart from guns and blood." But even as "we continue to live as 'normal,'" Cartagena says, "we know things are not."
Political satirist Lizz Winstead, graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, and Antarctic explorer Felicity Aston
In the early '90s, a guy at Sony told a female singer that she was "too black, too fat, too short, and too old." Lucky for us, she stuck with music, and 20 years later America finally discovered singer Sharon Jones. Now known as the "Queen of Funk," Jones recently played with Prince in Madison Square Garden. (We interviewed her in 2011). In honor of International Women's Day, we're taking a moment to highlight ladies like Jones, who, whether in politics, show biz, or coding, have managed to defy or ignore expectations. Below, a sampling from Mother Jones' archives of smart, fearless, and "sassy" women.
New Yorker writer George Trow once described Jamaica Kincaid as "our sassy black friend," a moniker Kincaid seemed to delight in when she talked to Mother Jones about her beloved Obama T-shirt, juggling motherhood and writing, and her newest semiautobiographical novel.
Jen Pahlka left behind rock star status in the computer-gaming world to launch Code for America, which places fellows in broke cities so they can build apps to conquer civic problems. We caught up with Pahlka last year to talk about breaking down barriers between the public and private sectors and solving Silicon Valley's sexism problem.
A wild Andrena bee visits a highbush blueberry flower.
The foods that make our meals more colorful and delicious—coffee, watermelon, almonds, to name a few—depend on pollinators like bees. In fact, three-quarters of global food crops rely at least partly on pollination by animals. But two reports published in Science last week show how wild pollinating insects such as bumblebees, butterflies, and beetles are disappearing, putting these foods at risk. Plus, one of the reports reveals, substituting hives of honeybees isn't going to cut it—according to research collected across 20 countries, managed honeybees don't do nearly as good of a job at pollinating as their wild counterparts.
Rachael Price, Sarah Dugas, Luz Elena Mendoza, Aluna Francis, and Laura Mvula.
Male bands (Mumford and Sons, the Black Keys, Fun.), poppy collaborations (like Gotye and Kimbra's tired duet), and, as Stereogum put it, predictable "mom-safe and Starbucks ready" favorites (Adele and Beyoncé) predominated the list of Grammy winners this year. Meanwhile, I've been struck by the array of refreshingly bold new female vocalists blossoming behind the mainstream. Quirky, fresh, raspy, vintage, or full of lungs, all five of them are under-the-radar but destined for bigger spotlights. Check out the videos below so you can say you heard them before they were famous.
Australian by birth, Nashvillian by pedigree, Price earned a degree in Jazz Studies from New England Conservatory and performed with T.S. Monk Sextet at jazz festivals around the world. After hearing a recording of Price in 2003, actress/singer Kathryn Grayson deemed her "the best young voice I've heard, period. No one around her can even touch her voice and style." While Price mostly stuck to standards in her early career, she's now departed from strictly jazz as a member of the indie group Lake Street Dive.
Price's voice soars with clarity and classically trained precision. She can make the most of a Motown cover but also glides easily into blues, country, and pop. The video above, featuring Price belting out a relaxed cover of The Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," aptly showcases her glamor and command. But also make sure to listen to the band's original song "Bad Self Portraits" (below), which has Price sounding like a young Bonnie Raitt. Bonus: Her band mate Bridget Kearney rocks it on the upright bass and has a lovely voice, too. Lake Street Dive just finished touring with Yonder Mountain String Band, will soon be touring with Josh Ritter, and has a date this week opening for Mavis Staples in Iowa.
AlunaGeorge, featuring chanteuse Aluna Francis, is quickly becoming one of the breakout bands of 2013. Consisting of Francis and producer George Reid, the electronica group combines intimate vocals with synthesized pop, house, R&B, and dub-step. Though already pretty big in the UK—the duo nabbed second in BBC's Sound of 2013 contest—Francis' voice will likely get way more air time in the US in the coming year.
Francis, who is half Indian and half Jamaican, worked as a reflexologist and previously sang for the band My Toys Like Me. She first met Reid when he remixed one of My Toys' songs, and they paired up and released their first commercial single ("Your Drums, Your Love," above) late last year. Though minimalist and futuristic, AlunaGeorge's songs are made human by Francis' velvety touch. She imbues the pulsing drive of a late-night dance tune with soulful emotion, and her high-pitched timbre balances well with Reid's beats, to a mysterious but alluring effect. "You can't say I'm going nowhere, when you don't know where I am from," she croons. On the contrary, I'd say she's barreling straight toward stardom. AlunaGeorge's debut album, Body Music, is due out in June.
Portland-based band Y La Bamba draws from Mexican folk songs and mariachi singers as influence for its eerie tunes. Emerging in 2003, the band has enjoyed limited success in indie circuits, but never much widespread attention, apart from becoming one of NPR Music's darlings. That could change this year, as they just wrapped up an East Coast tour alongside the Grammy-nominated Lumineers.