Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.
1. As Professor Gets Punished for Teaching About Race, Students Mobilize
This month, I have been a part of a broad coalition of students, artists, activists, teachers, professors, union leaders and community members who are organizing resistance to the sexist, racist and classist collegiate structures in Minnesota. This group was catalyzed by the position that Minneapolis Community and Technical College took in reprimanding Professor Shannon Gibney when two white male students complained about their discomfort during a lesson she was teaching on structural racism. We find it deplorable, albeit unsurprising, that institutions like MCTC have chosen to emphasize the comfort of white male students in lessons on structural racism, and we refuse to stand for it. Our coalition is planning direct action not only to defend Professor Gibney but to seek structural accountability in these institutions while envisioning new spaces and relationships in higher education.
2. After Students of Color Sit-In, UCLA Investigates
On November 14, a group of twenty-five students at UCLA, collectively known as UCLA Call 2 Action: Graduate Students of Color, held an open teach-in during a member’s mock dissertation presentation in a graduate course in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. During the teach-in, participants shared important texts written by scholars of color and recounted painful and moving accounts of racism, sexism and heterosexism within the department. The participants urged departmental leaders to consider and extend the implications of the Moreno Report to the experiences of students of color at UCLA. Immediately following the teach-in, the professor of the class circulated an e-mail to colleagues denouncing the action and insinuating that the students of color in his class staged a “protest” principally because, as poor writers, they were unwilling to accept his grammatical corrections—despite the fact that they all have received high marks on written work and did not raise his grammar corrections as cause for concern. He also forwarded his e-mail, without the knowledge of departmental leadership, to various media sources, prompting a barrage of hateful and racialized messages directed at his students. GSE&IS leadership has commissioned a faculty committee to consider racial discrimination across the school. The Call 2 Action group is working with school leadership to organize a series of town hall meetings beginning in January 2014.
—Call 2 Action: UCLA Graduate Students of Color
On December 16, five immigrant youth and allies blocked the main entrance of the downtown Los Angeles detention center, protesting the close to 2 million deportations at the hands of President Obama. The action was part of a national #not1more campaign—from New Jersey, to Philadelphia, to Virginia and beyond—to grant administrative relief, like Deferred Action, for all 11 million undocumented people in the country. Los Angeles County has been responsible for deporting more people than even the controversial Maricopa County in Arizona. California immigrant youth are preparing similar actions across the state to pressure the Obama administration. At the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, our vision is to partner with other youth of color to target for-profit companies that run the nation's prisons and detention centers, such as the Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group.
On December 17, #NotYourAsianSidekick took off. Everyone from young girls, to Asian men, to white people, to my women of color sisters joined the conversation to discuss Third World unity, youth-empowered movement, the death of the ally-industrial complex, dismantling anti-blackness in Asian-American circles, dismantling the state, multi-racial and bi-racial issues, immigration issues, generational issues, health disparities, interfaith issues, queer AAPI people, disability and patriarchy. Our goal was, and is, to create a third space for Asian-American feminism where women of color can be in solidarity rather than fighting for a seat at the table with white, capitalist America.
5. At UMass, Students Fight for Representation
At the University of Massachusetts, students have been making a greater push for increased voting power on the board of trustees. Students from the Student Government Association and the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy have organized to support H.1088 and S.580, which would give all five student trustees voting power. When student trustees first starting serving the board in 1863, they each had a vote. But as more schools were added to the system, more voting student trustees were not. While the votes do rotate annually school-by-school, each year three schools are not represented on the board, hindering students on their respective campus. Last year, for example, UMass-Lowell didn't have the voting power to maintain a financing system that allowed students to run an account balance of $3,000 before enrolling in classes. The board's decisions range from tuition, master plans and other issues pertinent to academics and campus culture—which differs vastly between residential schools like UMass-Amherst to commuter campuses like UMass-Boston.
6. At Cooper Union, Freedom Hits the Board
As the result of Cooper Union students' sixty-five-day occupation of our president's office, the Board of Trustees agreed to include a student trustee, and to mentor a "working group," charged with finding an alternative to tuition. As the group met regularly over this past semester, the Board of Trustees demonstrated a persistent and alarming disregard for the students’ ability to organize, govern and look out for themselves. In addition to impeding and threatening to cancel the students' elections for the (non-voting) student trustee, the board blocked a proposal from the architecture school to raise money to cover future tuition bills, and tried to introduce a new code of conduct that would take power away from students' ability to engage in direct action. The board met on December 10 to discuss the working group's report, but will not make a final decision for thirty days. We hope that with a new chairman leading the board and with our new student trustee, the board will be able to find an alternative to charging tuition, but this will require a dramatic shift in the way that the board views both the students and Cooper Union.
7. Hoodies Up
Million Hoodies Movement for Justice is a national organization working to protect and empower young people of color from racial profiling and senseless gun violence through creativity and innovation. Million Hoodies was formed in 2012 after a video which helped generate global support for the arrest of George Zimmerman. We are now calling for young people interested in putting an end to gun violence and racial profiling through direct action organizing, creative technologies and communications to join our network. In 2014, we'll be working on divestment campaigns from gun manufacturers and look to confront Stand Your Ground laws.
8. Zero Tolerance Out
On January 1, twelve years of harsh discipline practices that disproportionately impact students of color, and the creation of a pipeline to incarceration and unemployment instead of college and careers, will come to end—not because of newly elected Mayor Bill de Blasio alone but also because of the powerful work of youth, who continue to organize to dismantle the pipeline to prison. In November, the Urban Youth Collaborative organized a Talking Transition Tent event to offer the de Blasio Transition Team solutions to end the criminalization of students and the over-policing of our schools. We are committed to working with the mayor and the next schools chancellor to end discriminatory discipline and push for restorative justice and social and emotional supports in schools. In the first 100 days of his administration, we are pushing for Mayor de Blasio to end suspensions for "defying authority," revise the current Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Education and NYPD to limit the ability of police to handcuff students for minor misbehavior and expand restorative justice programs. In January, UYC is launching our statewide legislative campaign, pushing to allocate $20 million to fund restorative justice programs, limit the use of out-of-school suspensions and hold schools districts across the state accountable. As students, we belong in the classroom, not jail cells.
—Urban Youth Collaborative
9. How Long Will School-Sponsored Apartheid Last?
As a result of the campaign led by Students Against Israeli Apartheid, on December 19, George Mason University will accommodate graduates, faculty and guests to walk out in protest of this year’s commencement speaker, Shari Arison. While Arison comes to Mason to promote her purported ethical business model, a joint faculty-alumni letter exposes her portfolio as being anything but ethical—financing illegal settlements, building a portion of the apartheid wall and building a highway that denies access to those of non-Jewish descent. As the letter circulated, initiating conversations throughout the university, SAIA members plastered the campus with posters exposing Arison's investment priorities. Additionally, SAIA conducted a satirical social media campaign that seized the university’s rebranding hashtag, forcing them into inactivity. A mock apartheid wall was erected in our quad displaying the message, “NO HONOR IN APARTHEID,” and featuring a large poster asking, “Who will Mason Honor Next?” surrounded by photos of other dishonorable figures, including Ray Kelly and David Petraeus.
10. Who’s Next on the Safety Accord?
On December 5, UPenn’s Student Labor Action Project, an affiliate of United Students Against Sweatshops, won its End Deathtraps campaign. UPenn is the first school in the country to mandate that its apparel licensees sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. After building support around campus—hosting vigils and teach-ins, speaking to classes, meeting with our Committee on Manufacturer Responsibility and circulating a petition—SLAP convinced UPenn President Amy Gutmann to demand that brands prioritize worker safety. The Rana Plaza and Tazreen factory fires put in question the destructive conditions of the garment industry. In response to the efforts of garment workers and student solidarity, our universities are helping realize an industry that heeds the demands of workers.
—Aaron Cantú focuses on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, social inequality and post-capitalist institutional design.
“Everyone Is a Criminal: On the Over-policing of America,” by Chase Madar. The Nation, December 9, 2013.
Madar examines how mindless “zero-tolerance” zeal and decades of increasing police militarization have led us to a point in which few moments in our lives aren’t managed by (mostly) boys in blue. It’s interesting to consider how police proliferation has happened alongside (or complicity with?) the development of a massive surveillance apparatus. With this in mind, it’s probably more absurd to suggest that the US is not a police state.
—Owen Davis focuses on public education, media and the effects of social inequality.
“Cyberlibertarians’ Digital Deletion of the Left,” by David Golumbia. Jacobin, December 4, 2013.
What does the Left look like online? David Golumbia answers in the negative: cyberlibertarians. From the hacktivist ideology, which posits that liberating information will liberate humanity, to the neoliberal corporatism of Silicon Valley, Golumbia examines the underlying politics of those who own the web. But being progressive in cyber-politics poses vexing contradictions. For instance, Google bankrolled and even coordinated protests against SOPA and PIPA, bills liberals characterized as overreaching favors to the entertainment industry. Meanwhile, online civil liberties groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are helmed by libertarians and funded by corporations. Cyberlibertarians espouse a distrust of government and a faith in private interests, both of which challenge those who value a democratic government’s role as check on concentrated capital.
—Hannah Gold focuses on gender politics, pop culture and art.
“What the New York Times (and France) Got Wrong About Prostitution,” by Melissa Gira Grant. Slate, December 11, 2013.
Last Wednesday, the French National Assembly passed its “fine for john laws,” placing the legal onus on customers rather than sex workers. On Monday The New York Times endorsed this position with an editorial, giddy at the thought that “governments around the world are increasingly guided by the idea that sex workers are victims.” Grant, whose book Playing The Whore will be published by Verso next year, points out that these laws still shame sex workers, pushing them farther underground. She also notes that the op-ed did not consult or quote any actual sex workers in its outpouring of progressive sympathy. As Laurie Penny wrote in her column at the New Statesman about the massive and highly publicized police raids of sex workers in London last week: “At a time when millions of women and girls across the continent are being forced to make hard economic choices—including prostitution—why does the biggest public feminist conversation still resolve around whether or not it is moral to have sex for money…?”
—Allegra Kirkland focuses on immigration, urban issues and US-Latin American relations.
“ATF uses rogue tactics in storefront stings across nation,” by John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 7, 2013.
This investigation exposes the coercive, shameful techniques used by undercover agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Targeting juveniles and mentally disabled adults, ATF operatives conducted dozens of storefront stings, pressuring their patrons and “employees” to procure guns and drugs to be sold at the stores and then arresting them after several months of illicit transactions. Their phony pawnshops, which paid top dollar for stolen goods, spurred burglaries and theft in the rundown neighborhoods where they were located. Jeff Griffith, a Wichita lawyer representing one of the defendants, makes the glaring, succinct point: "There is enough crime out there, why do you have to manufacture it?"
—Abbie Nehring focuses on muck reads, transparency, and investigative reporting.
“Push to Diversify City Contracting Falls Short of Goals,” by Adam Wisnieski. City Limits, December 10, 2013.
In his second year in office, Mayor Bloomberg resurrected an anti-discrimination law that had had been killed years earlier by Rudolph Giuliani. Bolstered by a 294-page study completed in 2005, Local Law 129 set citywide goals for government agencies to grant contracts under $1 million in certain industries to companies owned by minorities and women, counteracting the stark disparity in the companies that have historically been successful in bidding for city contracts. Yet this three-part series in City Limits reveals that agencies have failed to meet almost every goal the law established. Reporter Adam Wisnieksi provides various explanations for the shortcomings, from a lack of accountability in tracking the law's results to the way it interacts with the city's preexisting procurement rules, which make it difficult for agencies to handpick the contractors they want. This reporting and, in my opinion, much of the digging beneath the headlines you find in the pages of City Limits plays an important role in holding the city government accountable to the goals it sets for itself.
—Nicolas Niarchos focuses on international and European relations and national security.
“Whose sarin?” by Seymour Hersh. London Review of Books, December 19, 2013.
I was sitting down to eat (and rather hungry at that) when this came over the Twitter feed on Sunday. But for the time I took to read the piece, the wiles of Limus were cast aside, dinner be damned. As Fielding would say, “Men who pay for what they eat will insist on gratifying their palates, however nice and whimsical these may prove”—and my taste was for Hersh’s piece. The meat of my repast was the revelation that the Obama government had indulged in some sort of reconstruction of evidence in trying to go to war in Syria in late August and early September. Hersh alleges, based on sourcework, that there is little evidence to tie Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian Army to the August chemical attacks, and that the administration lied when it says it was sure it was the culprit. The wine was that the media misreported the story and didn’t try to verify Obama’s claims. I disagree with his article on some fronts. Intelligence gathering is (I’ve read) a complicated process, and always involves some cherry-picking. He also has utter faith in US sensors around Syrian chemical bases, which I think is certainly misplaced. Another problem is that he implies Jabhat al-Nusra could have launched the Sarin gas, which, as Dan Kaszeta, a former army chemical weapons expert, wrote in Now, is almost impossible to countenance. The debate, in any event, is interesting from the government perspective. Hersh has caught the Obama administration in yet another act of duplicity. “Can we ever trust the government on ‘National Security’ matters?” I asked myself as I finished and began to set about my evening vittles. I speared some eggplant. “Probably not.”
—Andrés Pertierra focuses on Latin America with an emphasis on Cuba.
“Obama and Castro shake hands: could this indicate a new rapprochement?” by Jonathan Watts. The Guardian, December 11, 2013.
The recent handshake between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro has gotten a lot of flak in the US, with Senator John McCain comparing it to shaking hands with Hitler. Mainstream outlets haven’t been much better. Here is an interesting and balanced look at what the real impact of the exchange may be.
—Dylan Tokar focuses on Latin America, politics and literature.
“State of Deception,” by Ryan Lizza. The New Yorker, December 16, 2013.
Lizza’s piece is filled with juicy details from pivotal intelligence briefings, and appends much-needed history to the debate that many are only aware of through the leaks of NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
—Elaine Yu focuses on feminism, health, and East and Southeast Asia.
“Madiba in Palestine,” by Robin D.G. Kelley and Erica Lorraine Williams. CounterPunch, December 10, 2013.
In light of the American Studies Association's boycott of Israel, and as an antidote to "what Cornel West calls the 'Santa Claus-ification' of the man who was only removed from the US Terrorist Watch list in 2008," this CounterPunch article reflects on Mandela's political career by looking at his understanding and advocacy of boycotts as a strategy of resistance, his conception of the Palestinian struggle for nationhood as a global movement and his vision of citizenship not based on race or religion. While the historical contexts of apartheid and the Israel-Palestinian conflict are obviously different, comparing the necessity for a victory based "on the sharp edge of principles, struggle and solidarity, not forgiveness, apologetics, and compromise" is vital.
I turned 18 just months before the 2008 presidential election, making me eligible to participate in one of the most historic races our country has ever seen. Casting my ballot for Barack Obama was anti-climatic—I was away at college, so I filled out an absentee ballot. The act of voting didn’t feel all that monumental. But election night did.
As soon as the major networks had determined that Obama would be the next president of the United States, I ran outside with the rest of my freshman dorm and celebrated on the quad. It was like a scene from a cheesy movie: hundreds of students congregated in the center of campus, cheering and commemorating the moment we had all been hoping for. It’s an image I often conjure up when older generations call us apathetic.
I voted for Obama in 2008 because I was enchanted by his rhetoric. I wanted a president who believed in the same issues that I did, who thought LGBT rights and racial equality weren’t just important but essential. I was tired of old white men making decisions for millions of people who didn’t have their same privileges. I wanted a president who was the polar opposite of George W. Bush, someone who would get us out of imperialist conflicts in the Middle East masquerading as war.
I wanted Barack Obama to be my president. I knocked on doors with a friend on Super Tuesday, and handed out pamphlets about the former senator from Illinois in a predominantly conservative neighborhood. I read his memoir on my spring break in high school. I devoured all his speeches on television and YouTube. Then, I voted accordingly. Obama’s campaign didn’t just inspire me to want change: he made me want to be a part of that change.
A recent survey from Harvard’s Institute of Politics finds that 54 percent of millennials now disapprove of Obama’s job performance. (Compare that to a 2009 poll that showed a 58 percent approval rating among young people.) America’s youth has changed its tune, and for good reason.
For many of us, what came after Obama’s campaign was disappointment after disappointment. Sure, the first bill signed into law under his presidency was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a piece of legislation aimed at leveling the gender pay gap. But these kind of symbolic measures weren’t representative of the more radical ideologies Obama had, to me, once exhibited.
President Obama campaigned, and sold me, on an antiwar platform. Nearly five years later, my friends and family are still being deployed to Afghanistan. Guantanamo Bay is still up and running, and the president has supported torture tactics despite backlash and resistance. His lack of comprehensive immigration reform continues to hurt our nation: by the end of 2013, almost 2 million people will have been deported under President Obama’s watch. (To compare, the same amount of people were deported in total between 1892 and 1997.) The Obama administration has been accused of being “the most hostile” administration toward the press in history. Not to mention that little NSA spying issue.
With every day spent in the White House, the president’s bright-eyed idealism seemed to shift toward the same old politics of every man who came before him. In turn, my idealism shifted right along with his. Am I disappointed? Of course. Would I vote for him again? Absolutely.
I’m not the only millennial living with this contradiction. Harvard’s new study also showed that46 percent of millennials surveyed would vote for Obama again. Of course we would—because the alternative is way scarier. As long as the US has to operate and govern within the democratic two-party system, these are the choices we have to make.
When November 6, 2012 came around, I was in my last semester of college. I felt like my political consciousness had come full circle. This time, I was little older, and a little more sober to the fact that the president is limited to the political systems currently in place. I knew what Obama had done, and the promises he hadn’t fulfilled.
I cast another absentee ballot for Obama. And this time, when he won, I felt my hope a little more absent as well.
1. In DC, DREAMers Join the Fast
On December 1, I traveled to DC with other leaders from United We Dream–Tampa Bay. We met with our members of Congress, demanding that they lead on immigration reform for our families. We also joined the #Fast4Families. Our movement is proud to stand with Eliseo Medina, a labor leader and voice in this movement for decades, and the other leaders for a moral awakening and to send a message to Speaker Boehner to stop delaying immigration reform. As a citizen from a mixed status family, I’m fighting for my sister, who is undocumented, and my parents, who remain undocumented and haven’t seen my 24-year-old brother since they left Mexico twenty years ago.
2. In El Paso, Dream 30 Meet New Asylum-Seekers
While the Dream 30 were detained at El Paso Processing center in Texas this past October, the cases of many immigrants who had passed their credible fear interview, the first step for asylum, but still had not been released was brought to our attention. The failure to release them flies in the face of a 2009 ICE memorandum establishing that those “found to have credible fear” and who present “neither a flight risk nor danger to the community” qualify for parole. So far, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance has found more than 100 cases where detainees are being held despite meeting criteria for parole, including three cases of pregnant women detained in conditions detrimental to the health of their unborn babies and several instances of harassment based on religious or sexual identity. We are asking for a full congressional review of the facility and of local ICE officials who are not releasing detainees under the memo.
—National Immigrant Youth Alliance
3. In California, Activists Disrupt Obama, U-Lock to ICE
On November 25, Ju Hong, a University of California student and member of Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights and Education, or ASPIRE, intervened in President Obama’s immigration reform speech in San Francisco. Hong pleaded with Obama to stop the deportations, a message that ASPIRE has echoed. That same day, three young women u-locked their necks to the front gates of a detention center in the city of Adelanto. And then, on December 2, Orange County organizers held an action in front of a detention center, insisting ICE be shut down and reiterating the national call for administrative relief for all and an end to deportations.
4. Mandatory Minimums Get Tabled, for Now
The Chicago Chapter of Black Youth Project 100 is organizing to stop SB 1342 from becoming law in the State of Illinois. SB 1342 would require anyone caught with an illegal firearm to receive mandatory one-year sentencing and a felony charge. Decades of research demonstrate that laws like SB 1342 do not actually decrease gun violence or make our communities safer. This law will put more black bodies in prison at the expense of unaccountability for illicit gun sellers; our communities need good schools and good jobs, not more incarceration. On December 2, BYP 100 members joined Project NIA in an action outside Chicago’s City Hall to send a message that young black people are invested in making sure SB 1342 does not become law. SB 1342 was expected to be voted on during the December special session, but has been delayed until the upcoming spring session. BYP 100 Chicago will continue gathering petition signatures and phone-banking, focusing on key members in the Illinois State Legislature. For us, this is personal.
5. Stand Your Ground Inches Forward, Opposition Grows
In November, the Ohio House of Representatives voted to bring Stand Your Ground to Ohio. In spite of ten city council resolutions against the shoot-first law, opposition from police associations, prosecutors and legal professionals and sustained outcry from faith groups and youth, state representatives are still pushing forward with the bill. After the Ohio Student Association delivered 10,000 petition signatures with the Ohio Organizing Collaborative and the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus and died-in outside the statehouse, our representatives continued to ignore the voices of Ohioans opposed to the bill. So we disrupted the vote, and are getting ready to turn up the pressure as it moves to the Senate, #unafraidtogether.
6. Youth Services International Meets a Youth Groundswell
In Florida, Dream Defenders are preparing for a long battle against a huge corporation profiting off youth incarceration: Youth Services International. In recent years, Florida has privatized the entirety of its $183 million juvenile commitment system—the country’s third largest, after only California and Texas. This means more young people in YSI prisons, boot camps and detention centers, which have a long history of abuse and negligence. Two lawsuits have just been filed against YSI, CEO James Slattery and staff at its Broward and Pembroke Pines facilities, accusing staff of physical and emotional abuse and the corporation of negligence. Despite its history, the Department of Juvenile Justice and Secretary Wansley Walters are still in the process of granting the company another contract for a facility in Miami, the third contract since a Huffington Post investigation brought the facility to light. Dream Defenders have been visiting the members of the Senate Criminal Justice and Civil Rights Subcommittee to demand that YSI be granted #NoMoreContracts in the state.
7. At GWU, the Minimum Wage Moves
With skyrocketing housing costs, too many DC residents cannot find the money to continue calling the city home on the current minimum wage, $8.25 an hour. On December 3, the DC City Council passed both the Minimum Wage Amendment Act and Earned Sick and Safe Leave Amendment Act. The legislation brings DC’s minimum wage to $11.50 by 2016, incrementally increasing every year, and ties it to the Consumer Price Index. Students from the George Washington University Roosevelt Institute have joined a coalition of community organizations, including the DC Jobs with Justice, RESPECT DC and multiple local unions, to put grassroots pressure on the council. Activists have visited council offices, filled up the hearing room meetings and organized numerous rallies. Leading up to a follow-up vote on December 17, students will continue applying pressure to the council.
—Yasemin Ayarci and Joelle Gamble
8. At Alvarez High School, Students Get a Rare Win
On November 25, the Providence Student Union’s “No More School Closings!” campaign culminated in a big win. Back in October, the Providence School Department announced a plan to close Providence’s Alvarez High School, where the Providence Student Union has a youth-led chapter. Less than an hour after we got the news, a large group of PSU members were standing together in the Providence School Board’s chambers, ready to speak out against the department’s proposal. After a month of organizing, from rallying the community, to successfully pushing the city council to pass a resolution against the closure, to packing school board meetings and more, the school board voted to keep Alvarez High School open.
—Providence Student Union
9. Free Speech at UC?
Students at the University of California–San Diego are being charged with violating the student conduct code after disrupting Chancellor Khosla’s speech at the annual Founders’ Day event. On November 15, in the lead-up to a one-day student strike in solidarity with striking campus workers, students read demands and grievances to the chancellor involving the conditions of workers, grad students and undergrads in the University of California amid growing privatization. Though this was the third consecutive Founders’ Day disruption, it was the first year with charges. In response, students have started a petition and a letter writing campaign and have planned several demonstrations, including a mock checkpoint where students are to cross the line and shut up as they symbolically have their freedom of speech taken away.
10. A Union at NYU?
After an eight-year struggle, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/UAW and Scientists and Engineers Together/UAW reached a historic agreement with New York University in which the administration will remain neutral and respect our right to vote on union representation on December 10 and 11. A majority vote by more than 1,200 GAs, TAs and RAs would restore collective bargaining—once again making NYU the only private institution with a graduate employee union—and put us in position to have a new contract in place by the end of the academic year. Looking forward to voting “yes” to win back the Union, a group of more than 100 graduate employees from every major department across NYU and the Polytechnic Institute of NYU has endorsed the agreement, which expands the number of eligible graduate employees beyond the previous contract and includes a joint statement affirming that collective bargaining will “improve the graduate student experience” and “sustain and enhance NYU’s academic competitiveness.”
This article was originally pubished in the student-run NYU Local.
Members of the NYU Student Labor Action Movement gathered on the 12th floor of Bobst Library on Friday December 6 to sing carols about workers’ rights. Likewise, they delivered a letter to John Sexton urging implementation of an updated code of conduct to protect the rights of workers in unsafe factories in Bangladesh that produce NYU apparel. The University Senate unanimously passed a resolution yesterday submitted by SLAM, specifically requiring NYU’s licensees to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh across the 28 factories that produce NYU apparel in the country. Only one licensee, Adidas, has signed the accord to date.
In the letter that SLAM members left with Sexton’s office today, the student activists cite the Rana Plaza disaster in April, where 1,132 workers died in a factory collapse, as well as the more recent Aswad textile factory fire in October. “While garment factory workers are fighting for their lives, our university, as a consumer of these products, has a moral obligation to ensure that those who produce our collegiate apparel can do so in a safe environment, without fear of dying at the workplace,” the letter said.
For today’s event, part of SLAM’s ongoing End Deathtraps campaign, the carolers rewrote popular Christmas tunes. To the tune of “Jingle Bells,” students sang: “N-Y-U, N-Y-U, safety is a right / Oh what fun it is to stand with workers in their fight!” They also presented “Joy to the Workers” and “Workers’ Rights Are Coming To Town” before finishing with “Twelve Days of Workers’ Rights.” (“On the first day of Christmas, John Sexton gave to me workers’ rights solidarity!”)
Robert Ascherman, a sophomore in the Gallatin program and one of SLAM’s carol writers, celebrated the University Senate’s decision. “We’re really excited that NYU is finally standing up for workers’ rights,” Ascherman said, but the campaign to establish workers’ rights is not yet complete. “All decisions at NYU go through John Sexton himself. The [Senate's] decision was really just an advising decision on updating the code of conduct, so we went caroling to encourage him to do what’s right.”
SLAM had also previously discussed the recommendation with university senators, faced off against Sexton at this semester’s town halls, held a “die-in” at the University Senate, and written to Sexton about the issues at stake.
“It’s one thing to update our code of conduct,” Ascherman said. “What’s really going to be a test of NYU’s morality is whether or not it boycotts these companies. We’ll continue to fight this campaign through to the end.”
The anti-choice movement is up in arms over my play, MOM BABY GOD, and I have a simple message for them: Bring it on. We’re not backing down.
Based on two years of immersive undercover research on the anti-choice movement, MOM BABY GOD explores the resurgent attack on reproductive rights and, especially, the student arm of the anti-choice movement. As firm believers that live theater can be an important tool for social change, the MOM BABY GOD team (myself, director Emma Weinstein and designer and production manager Allison Smartt), decided to take the show on tour across the country this fall to engage audiences in urgent conversations about the escalating attack on reproductive freedoms.
Little did we know, while we were on tour performing for enthusiastic crowds, Students for Life of America was busy plotting a smear campaign against the show. In an article in National Review attacking the show, Students for Life President Kristan Hawkins admitted that she sent a male Students for Life representative undercover to our sold-out New York City premiere, wearing state-of-the-art spy glasses to illegally film the show. Hawkins now claims that Students for Life won’t release the footage because it is “too vulgar to release to the general public.”
The show follows Jessica Beth Giffords, a 15-year-old girl who is equal parts Justin Bieber superfan and aspiring pro-life celebrity, as she attends the Students for Life of America Conference. Throughout the hour-long solo performance, Jessica interacts with six other characters based on real-life pro-life activists, from crisis pregnancy center directors to ministers to self-described “pro-life feminists”. We follow her as she absorbs the misinformation in an abstinence-only “sexual purity” workshop and struggles to contain her crush on a popular and flirtatious Christian boy who sports a purity ring. This sexual struggle and the notion that girls and women can embody sexual desire outside of the context of heterosexual marriage is precisely what Students for Life finds so vulgar.
I would argue that the only “vulgarity” in MOM BABY GOD is the very right-wing politics that Students for Life champions. And far from being an embellished send-up of the right-wing, I found no need in MOM BABY GOD to exaggerate the tactics and rhetoric I encountered within the anti-choice movement.
Since the 2011 congressional attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, I have been immersing myself in the anti-choice movement. Inspired by the NARAL investigations of crisis pregnancy centers and by theater that puts real people’s voices and stories onstage, I began to craft a solo show that asked the questions, “How, forty years after Roe v. Wade, have we lost so much ground?” And, of perhaps more importance, “What are we going to do to fight back?”
Going undercover in the anti-choice movement was the acting challenge of a lifetime. While I never assumed a fake identity, I bit my tongue too many times to count. At the Students for Life of America Conference, I interviewed a group of teenage boys who told me how hard it is to remain “sexually pure,” especially with so many cute, like-minded pro-life girls around. I got beers with “pro-life feminists” who assured me that sex is “way better” when you wait for your hot Christian husband. And I listened patiently, if with difficulty, as a young man earnestly explained the “science” behind why, in his words, “sex between two women doesn’t work.”
At a crisis pregnancy center fundraiser, I participated in a painful rendition of “Happy Birthday” to the babies “saved” by the CPC. And I had to contain my rage when, at the Youth Rally for Life, a prominent anti-choice activist referred to the crowd as “survivors” of a “Holocaust against the unborn,” co-opting the language of anti-rape activists and equating abortion clinics with Nazi death camps in the same breath.
This may be why Kristan Hawkins and anti-choice activists like her seem so afraid of MOM BABY GOD: It holds a mirror up to the anti-choice movement and exposes the sexist and sexually repressive nature of their politics. Even more threatening, MOM BABY GOD inspires audiences to fight back.
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In every city, audience members—from young women to my partner’s 52-year-old dad—signed up to become clinic escorts at area clinics. In our post-show discussions, clinic staff spoke about the scare tactics anti-choice activists use to harass women and staff members alike. Young queer people talked about how homophobic abstinence-only education prevented them from coming out.
Most significantly, people wanted to know what we could do to build a movement to counter anti-choice politics and fight for reproductive justice. In every discussion, I’ve made the same point: the first lesson we can learn from the anti-choice movement is that they have gained so much ground because they are the ones in the streets shaping public opinion. Just like the abortion rights activists of the 1970s who held public speak-outs to break the silence around abortion, we need to be in the streets today, shaping the conversation and changing hearts and minds.
The day after the National Review article was published, MOM BABY GOD opened booking for our West Coast Spring 2014 tour. Come see what the right-wing is so afraid of. Bring us to your campus and community. And join us as we take the anti-choice movement head-on and fight for reproductive justice for all.
Jessica Valenti explains why some companies are refusing to include birth control coverage in their insurance plans.
—Aaron Cantú focuses on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, social inequality and post-capitalist institutional design.
“If mayors ruled the world: a conversation with Benjamin Barber,” by Jonathan Derbyshire. Prospect, November 22, 2013.
This is an interview with Benjamin Barber, who imagines a world where “inefficient supra-national institutions” are displaced by a global system of networked urban centers. He argues that nation states are not only too massive to sustain “bottom-up citizenship, civil society and voluntary community,” but also too sovereign to competently address inter-dependent challenges like terrorism and climate change, and only a global cosmopolis led by a parliament of super mayors can lead us out of crisis. His explanation is a little muddled when he tries to explain whether there is an ideal size to which cities should grow, and his discussion of a “pragmatic, post-ideological” future induces horrible flashbacks to Obama’s first presidential campaign, but he is surely not the only thinker who feels our 17th century public institutions are too outdated to handle the challenges of the 21st.
—Owen Davis focuses on public education, media and the effects of social inequality.
"STEM: Still No Shortage," by Freddie deBoer. Medium, November 27, 2013.
It's become a truism that the US needs to bulk up on STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and math—if we want to be the hale and vigorous superpower we once were. Freddie deBoer dispels the myth, showing that job prospects for STEM grads are actually quite slim, and that humanities majors have a better chance at employment. He points out the irony that the technologies lauded for employing STEM majors are in part responsible for the displacement of professional workers and increasing automation of production.
—Hannah Gold focuses on gender politics, pop culture and art.
“Girl trouble: we care about young women as symbols, not as people,” by Laurie Penny. New Statesman, November 30, 2013.
Every week I am inches away from picking Laurie Penny's column at the New Statesman as my article highlight. This time, the topic is young girls and self-esteem. A recent study by Girlguiding found that 87 percent of women ages 11-21 think they are judged more on their appearance than their ability. Penny argues that this should be expected in a society that is by-and-large addicted to treating women, young girls in particular, as symbols of sex, purity, ambition and so forth. "Girls know perfectly well that structural sexism means they can’t have everything they’re being told they must have," writes Penny.
In related news, Jamie Kilstein and Allison Kilkenny have been killing the female empowerment beat all week on Citizen Radio with their discussions of institutionalized sexism and men's rights activists. Jamie has his own uproarious rant on male privilege and how all men can and should be feminists.
—Allegra Kirkland focuses on immigration, urban issues and US-Latin American relations.
“Body Snatchers of Old New York,” by Bess Lovejoy. Lapham’s Quarterly, November 22, 2013.
The 1991 discovery of an African burial ground near Chambers Street provided crucial evidence of New York City’s role in the international slave trade. Yet the story goes much deeper: this unincorporated patch of land, where most of the city’s slaves were interred, was a favorite target of Columbia Medical students, who stole cadavers from local cemeteries under the cover of night to use in their anatomy classes. Bess Lovejoy recounts how this morally dubious practice provoked one of the city’s earliest race riots and led to the passage of the first US law banning grave-robbing. Her piece offers a fascinating portrait of post-Revolutionary New York.
—Abbie Nehring focuses on muck reads, transparency, and investigative reporting.
“On Why Struggles over Urban Space Matter: An Interview with David Harvey,” by Hiba Bou Akar and Nada Moumtaz. Jadaliyya, November 15, 2013.
Every urban dweller who pays rent or takes on credit card charges should read this interview with David Harvey in Jadaliyya. Though not an expert on every urban uprising in Cairo, Istanbul or Thailand, Harvey can paint in broader brushstrokes what the struggle to reclaim the right to the city may signal about social inequality and its manifestations in our city neighborhoods.
—Nicolas Niarchos focuses on international and European relations and national security.
“Two Gunshots On a Summer Night,” by Walt Bogdanich and Glenn Silber. The New York Times, November 23, 2013.
This is a classic piece of accountability journalism telling the story of what happened after two gunshots rang through the Florida night, leaving a police officer's girlfriend dead. The official verdict was that she had committed suicide with her boyfriend's gun, but the Times's investigation shows how the police bungled their inquiry and jumped to the conclusion that their colleague was innocent. They then stifled further investigation. Bogdanich and Silber go on to show how the problem of domestic violence in police departments is pervasive and all too often ignored as officers are unwilling to go after their own kind. This tale is a poignant reminder of how police departments must be submitted to the same scrutiny as other parts of society, as well as the pernicious role that domestic violence continues to play in the US today. it's also a reminder of how good journalism can bring these and other hidden abuses to light: Though they were stymied by a department whose officials refused to be interviewed, and by the sheer fact that most domestic violence is by its nature hard to identify, Bogdanich and Silber's thorough reporting, surveys and interviews all contribute something that could feel more academic than journalistic if it weren't such a pleasure to read.
—Andrés Pertierra focuses on Latin America with an emphasis on Cuba.
“US man marks 4 years in Cuban prison, writes Obama,” by Jessica Gresko. Associated Press, December 3, 2013.
Almost half a decade ago, American Alan Gross was subcontracted by the US government to establish a limited and—by local laws—illegal Internet network in Cuba. He was arrested as he tried to leave the country, and his network quickly rolled up. Over a decade ago several Cuban state security agents infiltrated Miami-based Cuban American organizations in response to the 1990s terrorist bombing campaign targeting hotels on the island that was done at the behest of extremist factions within the Cuban exile community. They too were arrested, as spies. Both Gross and the Cubans have admitted working as agents for their respective governments. As pressure in the US to find a solution to Alan Gross's imprisonment rises, a representative from the Cuban foreign ministry has proposed a quid pro quo: Gross for the remaining four Cubans in the US. Both Gross and the case of the "Cuban 5" have been major stumbling blocks for any possible détente under President Obama.
—Dylan Tokar focuses on Latin America, politics and literature.
“Mexican oil workers fear Pemex proposal,” by Stephanie McCrummen. The Washington Post, August 13, 2013.
Mexican President Peña Nieto is moving to pass legislation that will open the country’s oil sector to foreign investment for the first time since its nationalization in 1938. Since Pemex, the state’s oil company, lacks the capital to expand drilling operations and capture additional profit, Nieto’s energy reform is being billed as the only way forward. But foreign investment won’t address the problems that prevent Pemex from serving more than a small cadre of elites, and any form of privatization rightly remains deeply unpopular among those who labor on oil rigs and the Mexican people at large.
—Elaine Yu focuses on feminism, health, and East and Southeast Asia.
"Land and Blood,” by Pankaj Mishra. The New Yorker, November 25, 2013.
This is a concise but nuanced account of Sino-Japanese relations and modern world history from the perspective and timeline of Asia, interlaced with a review of two books—two revisionist histories on the topic. In light of today's escalating disputes, Anglophone readers will find this piece informative.
Every three years a division of the OECD called the Programme for International Student Assessments, or PISA, tests 15-year-olds around the developed world on math, reading and science. The report’s subsequent publication unfailingly stirs up a frenzy of politicians seeking soundbites, reformers grasping for useful outrages, and reporters scrounging for sensational angles.
This year the United States placed in the middle of the pack in reading and science, and below average in math, prompting headlines like “US High-School Students Slip in Global Rankings,” as The Wall Street Journal fretted. But lost in the hubbub over the performance of 6,100 US teenagers on one-off exams is an account of what’s really wrong with American education.
Mainstream outlets dutifully grab blurbs from the usual suspects in the reform crowd and their counterparts in labor and progressive education circles. One camp calls for greater accountability measures, such as Common Core standards, while the other asks us to address childhood poverty and pay teachers more. Then they return to the rankings.
The problem is that the undue focus on test scores gets in the way of nuanced debate and automatically puts opponents of accountability and market reforms on their heels, since testing sends the first volley: our kids are flubbing some huge important test.
Still, PISA’s voluminous reports provide some grist for thoughtful analysis. As Diane Ravitch and others note, it was ever thus in international test rankings for the US, which “has NEVER been first in the world, nor even near the top, on international tests,” Ravitch writes. To best improve scores, she recommends addressing the near-quarter of US children in poverty.
The PISA report leaves no question as to poverty’s importance: “socio-economic disadvantage translates more directly into poor educational performance in the United States than is the case in many other countries”—about 15 percent of variation by its calculations.
Others emphasize policy conclusions that PISA draws: children attending pre-kindergarten perform better across most OECD countries, and higher-performing countries tend to pay their teachers quite well. “The United States,” says the report, “spends a far lower proportion than the average OECD country on the salaries of high-school teachers.”
But it remains unclear whether we should even waste our breath on PISA results. Researchers Martin Carnoy and Richard Rothstein with the progressive Economic Policy Institute threw a wet blanket on the “ideological hyperventilation exercise.” Months after warning that 2009’s results betrayed sampling errors, they accused the US Department of Education and PISA of “planning a highly orchestrated event, ‘PISA Day,’ to manipulate coverage of this release.”
PISA sent advance results to a select cadre of organizations, such as the Alliance for Excellent Education, known for championing accountability measures. Writing for Slate, Dana Goldstein notes that a number of the participants in PISA Day happened to also be prominent backers of Common Core academic standards.
The affinity between PISA and US accountability mavens is no clearer than in the little remarked-upon fact that an entire chapter in PISA’s “Lessons” for the United States was penned by Jason Zimba, the “guru” behind the Common Core mathematics language and one of the standards’ co-founders. Tasked with examining the pertinence of Common Core to PISA results, he found that if the United States were to implement the standards faithfully, “PISA scores would improve.”
It’s a remarkable collaboration. A supposedly aloof transnational NGO assigned the capstone chapter of its US policy recommendations to a paid advocate and author of a politically contested education initiative. They delegated research tasks to a guy who co-founded an education technology company, then a “leading provider of assessment reporting,” that was later bought by the second-largest textbook publisher in the US.
PISA claims to provide “a powerful tool that countries and economies can use to fine-tune their education policies.” But more important is what they miss. PISA didn’t ask Bruce Baker of the labor-affiliated National Education Policy Center to write a chapter on equitable allocation of school resources, even though PISA declared “33% of the variation in mathematics performance can be explained” by how well-resourced principles consider their schools to be. A 2012 report Baker co-authored on widespread funding inequities lauded Massachusetts, which produces some of PISA’s highest achievers. It dinged Florida, which posted the weakest scores of the three individual states PISA measured, for “a substantial decline in state effort and funding level.”
PISA didn’t invite Gary Orfield of UCLA to discuss the defining feature of American education: segregation. PISA only mentions segregation to note that “school choice—and, by extension, school competition—is related to greater levels of segregation in the school system, which may have adverse consequences.” The report doesn’t specifically address the deepening segregation in US schools, which are as segregated now as they were when de jure apartheid still held sway.
PISA didn’t ask Elaine Weiss of Bigger Bolder Approach to Education to examine the way choice and competition in the US affect school performance. BBA has released blistering reports on the failures of market-oriented solutions promulgated under the Obama administration, which has cited international test scores as justification for its initiatives. PISA, however, finds “there is no evident cross-country relationship between the degree of competition among schools and student performance.”
No one at the ACLU was asked to discuss the school-to-prison pipeline that burgeoned with the expanded use of zero-tolerance discipline in US schools. Nor was anyone called to examine US’s singular system of mass incarceration, which makes it 7.5 times more likely for black children to have a parent in prison than white children.
Nor does any part of the PISA report deign to mention arts and music education in schools, which, unlike international rankings, constitutes a legitimate crisis in US education. In the era of standardized-test based reforms, children of color in particular have seen their arts and music education opportunities dwindle to about half those of white students despite the well-established benefits of creative arts in education, even for standardized exams.
With PISA, test scores get the first word, and they’ll eventually get the last, since free-market-minded reformers will flog us with warnings of “lagging scores” and “stagnation” for years to come. Meanwhile, equity-minded public school advocates will move on to things that matter.
Pedro Noguera on the need to move beyond the Common Core.
This article was originally published by the invaluable Generation Progress.
Last April, Cornell University found itself in the midst of a bit of controversy. A series of documents released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation showed that Cornell was one of a handful of educational institutions and a larger number of police stations with a certificate of authorization from the FAA to fly a drone. While a certificate of authorization (referred to simply as a COA by those enmeshed in the world of unmanned aviation systems) hasn’t been held by the university for a few years, they’re still quite involved in the development of drone technology.
The extracurricular group Cornell University Unmanned Air Systems (CUAir) “aims to provide students from all majors at Cornell with an opportunity to learn about unmanned air systems in a hands-on setting,” according to its website. CUAir took home first place at the Student Unmanned Air Systems Competition held at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland in June. The website for the group lists Lockheed-Martin and Electronic Warfare Associates as its platinum sponsors.
Unmanned aircraft systems have received a growing amount of media coverage in the context of their militarized uses in Pakistan and Afghanistan, yet general knowledge of the fact that unmanned systems for domestic uses have been growing is limited and they are poised to become integrated into general airspace as soon as September 2015.
Two pieces of federal legislation passed in January of last year: The Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 require the FAA to choose six national test sites for research centers for remotely piloted aircraft, and begin their integration into national airspace in 2015. Since the announcement, there has been a flurry of activity by the drone industry and research sectors to establish themselves as frontrunners in the contest to be approved for both the use and development of these systems.
A New York Times editorial explained what the legislative aim of developing these technologies is: “The drone go-ahead…envisions a $5 billion-plus industry of camera drones being used for all sorts of purposes from real estate advertising to crop dusting to environmental monitoring and police work.”
A variety of organizations have submitted applications to be chosen as one of the six test sites. According to Sen. Chuck Schumer (a big proponent of New York being chosen as one of them) out of fifty initial applications the list of applicants has been narrowed to twenty-five. The winners will receive a five-year contract with the FAA to conduct research. In New York State, that applicant is the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance (NUAIR). Made up of forty public, private and academic organizations, their research would potentially happen in many parts of New York and Massachusetts (probably mostly in existent military airspace) but would be focused in central New York. Alliance members include Lockheed-Martin, many of the existent upstate New York airports or military testing areas, as well as about a dozen academic institutions, according to Andrea Bianchi, program director of NUAIR, among them both SUNY Binghamton and Cornell University.
Bianchi said that Mark Campbell, director of the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Cornell, was one of NUAIR’s primary contacts at the University. Campbell also said he believes he was the first person at Cornell that NUAIR reached out to, but expressed that his involvement in NUAIR had been limited thus far. He “had done some unmanned aerial vehichle (UAV) work in the past,” and after NUAIR contacted him he contacted other Cornell faculty with UAV experience so that they could “bring any input they might have to the [FAA] proposal process.” As for the privacy concerns? “For the most part, we’re going to be away from that fray,” Campbell said. “We’re so focused on the research…we see the benefits but we understand the concerns.”
Campbell was chosen as a member of the Institute for Defense Analyses’ (IDA) Defense Science Study Group in 2011. IDA’s website describes the group as “a non-profit corporation that operates three federally funded research and development centers to assist the United States Government in addressing important national security issues.” While a non-profit, IDA said that it “only works for the government,” and they claim “to ensure freedom from commercial or other potential conflicts of interest, IDA does not work for private industry.”
Apparently the IDA does not see a potential conflict of interest in working with academic leaders and top government intelligence officials, however. The site proudly proclaims the Defense Science Study Group’s purpose of bringing together “young professors from many of the nation’s top universities” who are “invited to participate focus on defense policy, related research and development, and the systems, missions and operations of the armed forces.” According to the program’s website “members interact with top-level officials from the Defense Department,” as well as visiting military bases, defense labs and interacting with Congress.
In short, it seems to be a total overview of the United States’ defense operations. Campbell’s interest in UAVs would seem to extend beyond being a purely research-focused interest. Incidentally, the Institute’s CEO and President, David S.C. Chu, served as under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness for the entirety of the George W. Bush administration, so any argument for IDA being anything other than an extension of the government with more autonomy in how it operates is definitely dubious.
While the research NUAIR hopes to conduct would be for civil and commercial purposes, the existent military assets in New York and Massachusetts still set NUAIR’s application apart in the alliance’s view, according to Bianchi. She said this is because drone technology is already used for military purposes. The large amount of existent military airspace in the state would also allow NUAIR to begin testing very quickly once their application is approved.
The 174th Air National Guard Attack Wing is one of the key military assets in NUAIR’s proposal, and is located at the Hancock Airfield just outside Syracuse. It is from here that one of the now-infamous MQ-9 reaper drones deployed in Afghanistan is controlled from. The group Upstate Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars, as well as other activist groups, have protested there multiple times, and many people have been arrested, although five arrestees just received a groundbreaking acquittal. There was a resolution supported by the Syracuse Peace Council and some Common Council members that was set to be voted on to make Syracuse a “warrant-less surveillance drone-free zone” until Congress accepts legislation that protects people from spying from the unmanned aircraft, but as of October 2 the Syracuse City Council put the decision on hold because they needed more information about the mesh of local rule and federal law. NUAIR naturally lobbied against such proposed legislation.
The Syracuse Peace Council is “ worried about first and fourth amendments being violated,” according to Ann Tiffany, an anti-drone activist and council member who has been working on the anti-drone resolution. Tiffany thinks there’s the potential for good uses of drones, but given the fact that “the FAA has given permits to 80 police departments” already, the council is worried about where uses are heading. “I think every time a community drafts a resolution like this, it helps to strengthen the national picture,” Tiffany said.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK and the Global Exchange, echoed these sentiments. “It’s going to come from the grassroots because there’s so much opposition…and it’s such a broad spectrum of odd political bedfellows as well,” she said. Benjamin is also the author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. She’s led coalitions to Pakistan and Yemen against drone killings, and last May drew a lot of media attention when she interrupted President Obama during a foreign policy address to question his actions regarding Guantanamo Bay and drone warfare. Benjamin believes there is already growing awareness that drones are entering our airspace, and are poised to be everywhere, but she does think a national conversation about how to safely integrate them is missing. “I wouldn’t be opposed to drones that are used for positive things,” Benjamin said, however there’s a need to “sort out the good and the bad and the industry isn’t helping with that. By ignoring the tremendous problems with drone warfare they have put themselves in the category.”
Despite the lack of national political discussion, Benjamin does think the media has a certain fascination with drones, that the allure of flying robot-servants is too large for it to not grow in scope as an issue. “The media does show all these cute uses of drones––to bring you your pizza, and your taco,” she said. “I think the media’s very intrigued by drones…and that will spur backlash. Imagine when the first drone…gets shot down by somebody.”
Ann Tiffany notes that a few states have already passed bills restricting drone use, and that there are a few bills in Congress aimed at ensuring privacy concerns are properly heeded in the integration into national airspace. Rep. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) sponsored a bill in Congress titled the “Drone Aircraft Privacy and Transparency Act of 2012.” Among other things this would require the Secretary of Transportation to establish certain procedures to allow for civil operation in the national airspace system of small drone systems and would ensure that the integration of drone systems into the national airspace system is done in compliance with certain privacy principles. However, the bill is still only in committee, and it’s likely to be kept on the back burner for quite some time
The economic potential is huge for central New York if NUAIR’s application is one of the winners, and would be for any region chosen as one of the six. Civil and commercial use of unmanned aircraft systems in the U.S. could supposedly have an $82 billion-plus economic impact in the first 10 years. Perhaps these promises of an economic boom are causing politicians to waive security and privacy issues aside?
So far the nature of how these systems will be integrated into our airspace is almost entirely undetermined. We only know that they will be a part of future skies. The frightening part is that the integration will be so soon and has been pushed for relentlessly by industry without there being sufficient public dialogue beforehand.
Mark Campbell said that when he “saw that UAVs were coming out, before 9/11, there was a big push for commercial UAVs,” and post-9/11, with ongoing national security interests, that meant research and uses shifted to the military sector. Now he thinks that “Over the past few years it has gone down,” and that that’s attributable to both moving away from the wars, as well as the budget battles and sequestration that “has had an effect on defense funding at universities and [I think it] will continue to do that.”
Benjamin puts it in starker terms: “I think it’s natural that the industry would go for anything that it can,” she said, and “when it saw particularly that the wars were winding down it was really anxious to look for other venues to develop a market for its technology.”
Benjamin thinks the research sectors of many universities and military contractors have “certainly merged because so many of the grants have come from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA.)” In response, she offers the idea that college activism efforts should take a page out of other movements that exposed underlying conflicts-of-interest between academic institutions and unethically profitable companies. “It would be good to have a divestment movement that focuses on divesting from military companies,” she said, “not just for drones. In general I think our military contractors are out of control.”
All of the mainstream coverage of the FAA plan has acknowledged security and privacy concerns, but ultimately echoed the view of government and industry officials who claim that those issues will be addressed to the fullest extent possible during the testing process.
While group representatives are quick to offer lists of the many uses drones can be used for that will be beneficial on a mass scale, the only address of privacy concerns at the national level seems to be an assurance that they will be addressed.
In just over fifty years we’ve gone from being warned of a burgeoning military-industrial complex, to the normalization of privatized national security services with academic institutions being outwardly involved in the development of technology used to keep the military-industrial gears churning. It almost seems the term “military-industrial” doesn’t properly account for the nuanced, yet substantial and profitable role of academic institutions as liaisons between the military and industrial factions of the American economy. Academia gives these government-industry relationships credence by validating their ethical purpose through acceptance of military research money, and speaking on the technology’s merits as veritable government spokespeople.
The tomato pickers of the farms in Florida have raised the torch of accountability for over a decade now, successfully challenging behemoth food conglomerates in a self-determining struggle for their own welfare.
Where there were once rampant human rights abuses, economic exploitation and a culture of fear peddled by infectious ignorance, there is now the legally binding Fair Food Program, “an initiative consisting of a wage increase supported by…corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes, and a human-rights-based Code of Conduct.” Designed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers—a vanguard group representing the voices of Florida’s tomato pickers—the FFP establishes ongoing audits by an independent council to ensure that the farms supplying tomatoes to the FFP’s corporate signees are upholding these labor standards.
So far, every fast-food corporation that sources its tomatoes from Florida’s farms has signed onto the plan except for Wendy’s.
The international purveyor of square beef patties has steadfastly refused to sign the FFP, a lone maverick among its industry peers like Burger King and Taco Bell. When confronted with letters, phone calls and public rallies over the last two years from farm worker unions, students and activists demanding the company justify its refusal, Wendy’s executives have insisted the company already purchases tomatoes from suppliers operating under the FFP. Advocates argue that such assurances are basically meaningless without any legal mechanism to corroborate the claims, and are demanding a real, written commitment.
To this end, students, farmworkers and food justice activists all over the country poured into the streets the week of November 15—the date Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas launched the franchise—to demand the franchise’s owners sign the FFP. Leading organization efforts has been the Student Farmworker Alliance, which has allied itself with the cause of the Florida farm workers and is using student engagement to force Wendy’s to joining the FFP.
“This is the biggest action we’ve done so far,” says Sarah Vázquez, who serves on the national committee of the Student Farmworker Alliance. “[The action] provides a fine pressure point to engage student populations and engage with Wendy’s on campus, leveraging our power and voices.”
On November 16 in eighteen cities from New York to Miami to the Bay Area, high school and college students joined community activists and farmworkers in demanding Wendy’s agree to the accountability measures outlined in the FFP. In Columbus, Ohio, near the company’s headquarters, more than 200 people gathered by Ohio State University before marching to a Wendy’s restaurant about a mile and a half away.
“Students and residents in Wendy’s home town will not stop until Wendy’s makes a verifiable commitment to the Fair Food Program and does its part to end farm worker exploitation in its supply chain,” said Cruz Bonlarron Martinez of the Student-Farmworker Alliance, as reported in the Examiner.
More than 130 student activists converged on Washington, DC, from a number of regional universities, including American, Georgetown, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania. The group rallied loudly in front of the White House before marching to a nearby Wendy’s restaurant where a delegation of four students handed the manager a letter outlining the protesters’ demands.
Patricia Cipollitti of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee worked in the weeks before the march to bring together students from various socially minded campus organizations. “It’s up to us as student allies to continue to push Wendy’s until it can no longer deny farmworkers the just and dignified working conditions they deserve,” she said, adding, “we can start reverting that trend and building a more dignified and more sustainable food system that pays its farmworkers a living wage.”
At the University of Pennsylvania, the Penn Student Labor Student Action Project (SLAP) has been working with Philly Fair Foods, the wider coalition of Philadelphia residents engaged in food justice issues, to carry out a week of action leading up to the November 16 protests.
“Penn SLAP will not stop demonstrating and organizing actions until Wendy’s does the right thing and signs on to the Fair Food Program,” said Daniel Cooper, a spokesperson for SLAP. “We are equally committed to [removing Wendy’s] from our universities unless Wendy’s becomes the fifth of the top five fast food restaurants to sign the Fair Food Program.
The action taken by students across the nation mirrors that of their counterparts a decade ago, when students at 300 universities and fifty high schools “organiz[ed] educational events and direct actions, participat[ed] in cross-country tours” to force Taco Bell’s hand in signing the newly drafted Fair Food Program. At the time, youth activists went as far as running off Taco Bell franchises from twenty-five campuses during a four-year boycott before the chain finally capitulated in 2005 and became the first corporate participant in the FFP. Ironically, the man who served as Taco Bell’s president at the time—Emil Brolick—is now the current president and CEO of Wendy’s.
Then as now, students are demonstrating that they stand in solidarity with the farmworkers of Florida. Wendy’s ability to shirk accountability largely rests on the cynical hope that consumers will remain indifferent and ignorant toward its human factors of production. They are mistaken; students are engaged and informed, and if history serves as an example, they will only grow more confrontational until Wendy’s formally joins the Fair Food Program.