Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.
As Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel blogged, Oliver Stone's "ambitious ten-part documentary series tells the behind-the-scenes stories that have shaped our country and the world as we know it today."
Narrated by Stone, this new one-hour Showtime series features human events that at the time went under-reported, but crucially shaped America's unique and complex history. The first chapter explores the birth of the American Empire by focusing on Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Through examination of key decisions during World War II, discover unsung heroes such as American Henry Wallace and explore the demonization of the Soviets. Watch it now!
This article was originally published by The Daily Cal.
A finalized report on election results released at the end of November provides a breakdown of votes on local measures and state propositions in precincts with large numbers of students.
According to the Alameda County election results, most residents of those precincts voted against Measure S, with a majority voting in favor of Measure R and state Proposition 30.
Although Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said that 30 percent of voters who vote in national and state elections usually do not vote in local elections, he said that he noticed more participation in the local elections this year than in previous years.
Measure S — which would have prohibited sitting on sidewalks in commercial districts between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. with limited exceptions — failed by a margin of just 4 percent.
A majority of the precincts near the campus with a high student population largely voted in opposition to the measure, which may have played a substantial role in its defeat.
“If you just look at the results of the precincts where there are high numbers of students … (students) really were the margin that defeated Measure S,” Arreguin said.
In District 8, which encompasses most of the east side of campus, 251 voters living between Bancroft Way, Channing Way and east of Piedmont Avenue voted against the measure, compared to the 125 voters who supported the measure, according to the report.
According to ASUC Senator Nolan Pack, student involvement played a large role in raising awareness about the sit-lie measure and its impacts on campus and the community.
“The Measure S campaign worked at an incredible ground gain,” Pack said. “People go door to door walking and talking about the impacts, and a lot of those canvassing were overwhelmingly students.”
Measure R — which will amend the existing city charter to eliminate the 1986 boundary lines and adjust district boundaries to reflect the city’s updated population — passed throughout the city with 65.92 percent of the vote.
Overwhelmingly high support was seen in precincts around the campus, which includes parts of Districts 4, 6, 7 and 8, which all border the campus and contain large student populations.
According to report, in one precinct on the south side of campus between Durant Avenue and Channing Way, 519 residents voted for Measure R, as opposed to the 94 residents who voted against the measure.
“Students acknowledge that this was an opportunity to have more of a voice and thus supported it in broad numbers,” Arreguin said.
Despite the city’s large student population, the current — and controversial — boundaries divide the city in such a way that it has not been possible to create a supermajority district of UC Berkeley students since the redistricting rules were established in 1986.
At the state level, Prop. 30 also drew enormous support from precincts with many students. Passed on Nov. 6, the proposition will increase the tax rate on Californians earning more than $250,000 and temporarily raise the state sales tax by a quarter of a percentage point to increase funding for K-12 education and universities.
More than 80 percent of residents in almost all precincts in District 7, which includes most of the south side of campus, voted in favor of the measure.
“Prop. 30 certainly sparked a lot of interest in students on the UC Berkeley campus … and that was really represented by large lines at the dorms,” said ASUC Chief Deputy of National Affairs Nicholas Kitchel. “(It’s) definitely an example of how students were driven to vote.”
In his book Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, journalist and scholar Christian Parenti travels across time and space to show how climate change has exacerbated problems created by Western militarism and neoliberal economic restructuring around the globe. Published by Nation Books in 2011, Tropic of Chaos describes the “catastrophic convergence” of poverty, violence and climate change, and how the Global North, particularly the United States, holds much of the responsibility.
Last week, Parenti published a controversial article in the Huffington Post in which he called out 350.org and climate activist Bill McKibben’s Do the Math campaign. The popular campaign aims to pressure universities, pension funds and churches into divesting from the fossil-fuel industry, but Parenti argues that a divestment campaign, while great for mobilizing the masses, isn’t going to hit industry where it hurts.
We spoke to Parenti about his arguments against the Do the Math campaign, Tropic of Chaos, his response to Hurricane Sandy and why pressuring and working with the government should be the climate justice movement’s top priority.
Reading your op-ed, it seems that one of the major differences between your argument and Bill McKibben’s is that his focus is on hurting the fossil-fuel industry through divestment, while you’re focusing more on the role of the state and how we can pressure it into acting. Could you talk a little bit about that distinction?
I’m all for hurting the fossil-fuel industry. I’m not opposed to that, but I don’t think divestment is going to hurt the fossil-fuel industry. It’s not going to do anything to the Koch brothers. It’ll tarnish them if there’s a big enough political spectacle around it. It will tarnish their reputation—it will do symbolic damage, and that’s great. I’m not opposed to the divestment campaign. I just think there should be other demands involved because divestment itself is actually not going to hurt the bottom line of the fossil-fuel industry. It will help tarnish its reputation if the campaign gets big enough, but it is being pitched as something else. It is being pitched as a direct assault upon their bottom line, and that, it is not.
I think that it’s good to mobilize people against the fossil-fuel industry, but I also think that it’s dangerous to fall into a kind-of progressive-green-left version of neoliberal assumptions about the role of markets versus the role of states. To describe the state as broken, to describe the state as something that should be avoided and gone around is to play into what is really a corporate-dominated narrative. So I think there has to be a realistic appraisal of the important role of government in creating regulation and thus hurting the fossil-fuel industry. And not just hurting the fossil-fuel industry but building up the alternatives.
At the end of that op-ed, I laid out some facts that are very rarely discussed, which is that the government—beyond any types of subsidies or special programs—is an enormous consumer of energy. It is an enormous consumer of the things that come from energy: vehicles and buildings. If the government at the federal, state, and local level took its consumption seriously as a political tool, it could use all of that money to help jump-start clean energy. We’re dealing with a very compressed time frame—and Bill McKibben has been excellent about translating the science to a mass audience—so we have to deal very realistically and in very short-term ways with what this means. And that’s why I think we have to be serious about trying to build up alternative energy now, as soon as possible.
You hinted at this already, but in your article, you specifically say that this divestment campaign is a tactic, not a strategy. Would you support this as a tactic if it were part of a larger strategy that did directly address the government? Or do you think that because of the time crunch, it really isn’t a good use of resources?
I would support it as a tactic, partly because it has such momentum. If we were starting from scratch, I don’t really think it’s the best. Getting tied up with these boards of trustees—they’re going to resist. I’m old enough to remember the anti-apartheid struggle. It involved people living in shantytowns on campuses for years at a time, so that’s what’s required.
Is that the most efficient use of our energy when there’s currently basically no campaign to try and make the EPA follow the law, for example? The EPA has tremendous power, which it’s not using. So I would support it as a tactic because it’s established, and if it fit into a broader strategy that has other pieces, and if it was acknowledged publically that it’s fundamentally symbolic in nature—which McKibben and others at 350 will do privately. But I don’t think it’s really useful to tell people that you’re basically going after the fossil fuel industry’s bottom line in public and then in private say, “Okay, it’s actually symbolic.” Which one is it? Is it symbolic? Symbolic politics have their place. I’m not opposed to symbolic politics, but let’s be clear which is which.
I think one of the most useful aspects of symbolic politics is that it can mobilize a lot of people and make people feel that they can play an important role in a campaign.
Yeah, I think so.
And something that the Do the Math campaign has done really well is to engage students. These divestment campaigns are a way to mobilize mass numbers of people, and mobilizing students can be very important because they have connections and access to powerful institutions and resources that other people might not. I’m wondering what you think the role of students could be in a mass movement if it’s not through these divestment campaigns. You mention the idea of pressuring universities to buy clean power and electric vehicles.
I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. I think there should be both. We should be ready. What if there aren’t victories on the divestment front quickly enough? I mean, if there are proper secondary demands about really committing the universities to purchasing clean vehicles, that’s a good secondary demand. Rule number one of negotiation is just buy some business book on negotiations. You always have multiple issues on the table, and you push on one and give in on another. You play your multiple issues off against your opponent’s multiple issues. So I think that that would be useful at the level of the campus.
But also, you know, at the level of discourse, I think it’s really, really dangerous to fall into this anti-government sensibility—that Washington is broken, etc., etc. That’s exactly what corporate America wants the left to think. Corporate America in the age of neoliberalism wants a left opposition that can’t even see or imagine what the state is or could be. And I fear that this falls into that, potentially. Not necessarily, but if there’s this explicitly anti-government message, I just think that’s really, really disruptive. And it’s also historically incorrect. No one studies economic history; there are very few programs in the United States that even offer economic history as a discipline—read Michael Lind’s new book, Land of Promise—you see that capitalism always involves a robust role for the state. I think we need to think about how government is ever-present in the economy and try and use that power to shape and control and check the fossil fuel industry.
You write that government is the only one who can control fossil fuel and that the Clean Air Act, if it were enforced, would do what is needed. What strategies do you have for actually pressuring the government and working with the government?
Well, I think step one is that there has to be a discussion about the meaning of Massachusetts vs. EPA. There has to be a discussion about all the various rules that the EPA is sitting on and has been sitting on and not issuing since 2007. I think there has to be pressure put on the state about this stuff. And it’s not that there’s none of that. There is some of that, but I think it’s very, very underdeveloped.
This is not all about 350.org. We’re talking about larger issues in the green movement. Look at the first two years of the Obama administration. What did the big green groups do? They spent half a billion dollars and two years pushing for basically unneeded and ultimately failed climate legislation, and nobody talked about how there were already laws on the books due to Massachusetts vs. EPA that would basically give the federal government the power to impose a defacto carbon tax. This is not a criticism aimed at 350—they do discuss that kind of thing.
But in general, the mainstream environmental movement in the US has been very bad about not thinking about, not addressing, not spreading the news that the EPA is empowered to really impose limits on the fossil-fuel industry. One of the main groups that does deal with this is the Center for Biological Diversity. They’re very clear about this and they, more than anybody, have done a lot of work to begin a discussion about these rules. Thirty rules, I think it is, that the EPA is sitting on and not issuing. So I don’t have a full strategy for you immediately, but step one would be to begin discussing the role of government in realistic terms.
What do you think has to happen for the EPA to actually act?
It has to issue the rules that it’s sitting on. So I think there has to be pressure put on the White House—on the executive—to allow the EPA to do that. Now how can the White House be pressured? Well, Obama should be humiliated and he should be attacked and he should be called out. He should not be given a free pass on this.
So I’d like to talk a little bit about Tropic of Chaos. A big theme of that book is how government has, over the years, acted to play a big part in global climate violence by promoting the message that climate change doesn’t affect everyone equally, but rather it’s the poorest countries who have already been subjected to western militarism and neoliberal reforms for years who are the most affected. Could you elaborate a little on the idea that climate change exacerbates problems that were already there?
Well basically, climate change rarely acts in isolation, as you laid out. It generally acts by exacerbating preexisting crises. Those preexisting crises are, in a nutshell, the legacy of Cold War militarism, which has littered the Global South with cheap weapons and unemployed young men who know how to use them. The other legacy is the legacy of neoliberalism, which is to say radical free-market economic restructuring, which for thirty years was promulgated by the World Bank and IMF and economics departments of the West, who were pushing an idea that the state is bad and needs to be removed from the economy and that markets always work best on their own. That has led to increased inequality and absolute immiseration for many people; sometimes it leads to high rates of growth, but it always increases inequality. But very frequently, it doesn’t even lead to high rates of growth. So that has left the economies of the Global South in bad shape, with increased poverty and increased inequality, primed for instability.
So into that comes the extreme weather associated with climate change, and that pushes people who depend on fishing and farming over the edge economically. So they adapt to this crisis in lieu of the state not being there with any kind of program of sustainable development and adaptation because the state has been attacked and systematically dismantled by neoliberalism. In lieu of the state having a plan, people fall back on whatever means they have at hand to adapt, and those means are the leftover weaponry of the Cold War and, increasingly, the War on Terror. So people pick up the gun and they go after their neighbor’s cattle or they pick up the gun and they band together with their ethnic or religious group and try to get them their fair share of the state and then take power. And so that is how the catastrophic convergence works.
The implications of that for policy are that I think we really need to, obviously, move away from militarism and move away from abrasive proxy wars—and we’re on the verge of doing it again in Syria. We also need to step away from neoliberalism and re-engage with the reality of how capitalist economies work, which is that there’s always a little bit of socialism involved and that there’s always a role for the state. We’re either conscious of that and use state subsidy and state investment and state consumption and state planning consciously to build up aspects of the economy that we want, like clean power, or we’re unconscious about it and we allow the other side, which is to say corporate America, to use those subsidies and those planning tools to shape the economy as they see fit, which is around speculative financial bubbles, fossil fuels and militarism.
One of the sections I’m most interested in is your discussion of the US-Mexico border. You talk about how the people who are the most vulnerable to climate change don’t always have the resources to migrate, but they’re the ones who most need to. And at the same time that this need to migrate increases, the borders start to harden and authoritarianism becomes the norm. So you have this vicious circle of the US creating conditions of poverty and violence that makes people need to migrate, but this increase in migration then results in the tightening of borders, making it that much harder to migrate.
So in the Global South, climate-driven violence appears in the fashion that I described earlier: climate change exacerbating preexisting crises and expressing itself as civil war, banditry, etc. In the Global North, you see climate violence as xenophobic border militarization and anti-immigrant policing, and also as an embrace of open-ended, global-scale counterinsurgency and counterterrorism campaigns, as embodied by drone warfare, use of Special Forces, and this kind of new counterterrorism warfare that is going on all over the world.
So those are the ways in which climate violence appears in the Global North: as border militarization, repression of immigrants at home, and an embrace of this permanent, low-level counterinsurgency on a global scale. And the counterinsurgency stuff, this is expressed pretty explicitly in numerous documents that come out of the US military and various European militaries and the Australian military. They discuss this quite openly as their response to climate change. And to their credit, frequently these militaries end those reports by saying, “This is not a solution. This is what we do as militaries: we break-in, we kill people, we put the lid on instability. But if there aren’t actually proper economic changes that move away from fossil fuels, then there are limits to what a military adaptation can do.” But in the meantime, that’s what they’re doing. They’re moving forward with militarized adaptation.
So I wanted to ask you about the conclusion of your book where you emphasize the need for reforms and putting aside larger structural problems to deal with the immediate threats, but you’ve already touched on that. I think something that definitely brings that immediacy into perspective is an event like Hurricane Sandy. There’s a debate about the pros and cons of discussing climate change in terms of extreme weather events and I was wondering what your thoughts were.
Well, what you see in Sandy is a version of the catastrophic convergence. It’s still these pre-existing crises. Life in the projects down at Coney Island was not great to begin with, and then what does Sandy do? It makes it even worse. It takes an endemic, low-level crisis and pushes it over the edge into a really extreme, dire crisis in which, you know, people were dying for lack of running water and electricity. I mean, the whole thesis of my book is to not talk about climate change in isolation but to historicize it and specify it geographically. It’s always happening in the context of history, and history is always geographic and spatial and specific. There’s no single story; there are unifying patterns, but each place has specific dynamics that have to be dealt with as such.
And in terms of the first part of your question, you didn’t really want to touch on it but I think that it’s important. One criticism that my book has received from the left is that this book lays out how capitalism is destroying the environment so why isn’t there a call for the end of capitalism. And the argument is that I’m basically sidestepping that for the moment because of the time frame of climate change. There’s a limited number of years to deal with this so, along with dealing with all of the other environmental problems, we have to try and buy time to do that by coming up with really realistic short-term solutions to the question of mitigating climate change, and that means asking now for these institutions and laws. So what I lay out in that op-ed and what I lay out in the end of the book is what I think is a realistic set of moves to do that.
It’s not a solution to all the environmental problems. Part of the argument is that climate change can be confused with the overall environmental crisis, which involves overexploitation of the sea, deforestation, the spread of toxic pollution, on and on and on. It can seem like it’s the same as all those things because it’s so potentially catastrophic in its consequences, but it’s actually really a subset of a larger problem and it’s the environmental problem that has to be dealt with first because of its specific timeframe. And not at the expense of the other problems, but we have to really take science seriously. The science says we have to deal with this question immediately or we’re going to hit self-fueling runaway catastrophic climate change and that’s going to preempt any other kind of set of solutions to other problems.
I want to bring up Sandy again because I read an article that you wrote about Hurricane Irene where you talk about how volunteerism and self-organization alone are incapable of handling the aftermath of a disaster, and I wanted to know what you thought about Occupy Sandy and other community-based relief efforts.
I think it’s great. My point in that article about Irene was that the huge sums of money necessary to rebuild stuff cannot be raised by volunteers. And what I’d like to see is the mutual aid work also think about the state and not give the state away to the enemy but put demands on the state. In Vermont, what you saw in terms of mutual aid was the use of the town meeting structure and local government as the method and the institution at the local level that people used to respond to the disaster and rebuild. So you had this blending of grassroots mutual aid with local, democratically accountable grassroots government, and—I’m talking from Vermont right now—this state could not have rebuilt without federal aid.
I think it’s very, very dangerous to have a monolithic view of government as just this big, bad thing because there’s no way that small communities can come up with the money they need to rebuild. And they also don’t have the power to extract taxes from huge international corporations and force them to pay for reconstruction and rebuilding. Only strong states have the ability to do that. So we need a combination of mutual aid and robust, democratically accountable government.
Christian Parenti will be giving a lecture at 7 pm tonight on “Climate Violence Now: The global manufacture of natural disasters beyond Sandy” at NYU, 194 Mercer Street, room 307.
Photo by Matt Sekellick
The clock tower of the Foundation Building of Cooper Union on 3rd Avenue and 7th Street in Manhattan stopped at 12:40 pm on December 3 signifying the start to the occupation of the Peter Cooper suite, a studio room behind the clock where twelve students barricaded themselves yesterday. The students mounted the protest to urge the school not to begin charging tuition to undergraduates.
The taking of the 8th floor was followed by the quick arrival of security staff and administrators who tried to literally saw their way through the bolted door. These attempts were put on hold out of fear of injuring the students that were physically defending the space with their bodies pressed against the barricades.
Aside from military schools across the US, Cooper Union is one of eight free higher education institutions in the country. Founded by philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, the school is known for its rigorous admissions program and a curriculum providing free, high-quality education for the brightest and most innovative budding engineers and artists from all over the world. Cooper himself asserted that university was founded on the idea that education at the institution would be as “free as air and water”, and its mission being to create access to art education to students regardless of their race, religion, sex, wealth or social status.
Like the City University of New York [a public institution that first implemented tuition in 1975, at which the cost of education has gone up 500% for students since], Cooper Union was free through the Great Depression. However, over the past several years the Board of Trustees has been devising plans to address the institution's growing deficit of 16.5 million dollars, largely the result of an expansion plan, by shifting the weight of administrative spending onto the shoulders of students and their families. The school says it has not made a decision on charging tuition for undergraduates but in April, it broke precedent by instituting tuition costs for graduate students for the first time in its 110-year history.
The twelve occupiers students along with the group, Students for a Free Cooper Union, released a statement with three tough demands:
1) The administration publicly affirm the college’s commitment to free education.
2) The Trustees immediately implement structural changes with the goal of creating open flows of information and democratic decision-making.
3) The President of the college, Mr. Bharucha, step down from his position.
In the evening, the students put on a session on education and debt in the Great Hall of Cooper Union that involved performances, presentations, videos and a brief livestream of the occupiers from a mere seven floors above the gathering.
Writer and organizer Marina Sitrin began the session by locating the current occupation of Cooper Union in the larger context of social movements across the globe, from the Arab Spring to the anti-austerity movement of Chile to the #YoSoy132 movement in Mexico to the student movement that successfully stopped the proposed tuition increase in Quebec. Sitrin asserted that what makes our movements significant and also threatening to the status-quo is that they are not only movements of refusal and the rejection of policies that do not reflect the world we want to see but also movements of creation, where we assemble, learn from one another, make art, and build social relations that are pre-figurative.
The occupying students themselves are not only refusing to allow their institution to implement tuition for students that will come after them (they are not self-interested, but are hell-bent on protecting the integrity of their school for future generations to come) but also outside while they reclaimed the interior of their school building, fellow students and allies providing free and participatory classes outside through the Free University--providing a creative and pre-figurative component to the protest.
Sitrin also stressed that what’s especially exciting about the last year is how we have been able to borrow strong messaging, tactics, strategy and imagery from other successful social movements and have thus built a dialectic relationship across the globe in the process. The occupation of Peter Cooper suite was a prime example of how students in the US are learning from other student struggles: the bright red bannering was reminiscent of the Quebec student strike of 2012, the messaging of “free education for all” was similar to that of the banner drops and signs at CUNY student protests over the past several years.
The students continue to occupy the space today. Whether they will leave or be ejected is anyone's guess. Moving forward, examples of grassroots struggle for social change abound. In New York City, where I live, the Cooper Union struggle to remain a tuition-free institution may yet be tied together with the continuous organizing in communities post-Hurricane Sandy, the recent fast food workers strikes, the new Rolling Jubilee that buys people’s anonymous debt for pennies on the dollar and numerous other ripples of popular dissent.
This is what democracy looks like.
On November 29, students at the University of New Hampshire delivered a petition signed by 1,000 of their peers to the office of President Mark Huddleston, calling for the divestment of the institution’s endowment from fossil fuel corporations. The action came in response to a letter received by the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC)—a student-led advocacy group which argues that the administration’s professed sustainability priorities are undermined by investments in carbon-burning giants—from the UNH Foundation, which manages the university’s endowment portfolio.
The Foundation presented its stance in unequivocal terms: “Divestment in fossil fuels is not a practical or feasible option for the UNH Foundation.” Doubling-down, Huddleston himself released a statement published in a local paper, advising “those who would seek to limit the scope of foundation investments [to] introduce themselves to the current UNH students who would have their financial aid suspended as a result of such actions, and ask them how they feel about such a policy.”
In response and rebuttal, SEAC members—many of whom do receive scholarships and financial aid—are urging financial alternatives that they believe more accurately reflect the school’s stated priorities around climate change as well as their own values, as the video below makes clear.
Romney ate with the president. A man wants his face tattoo removed. Election season ended a month ago, but that's not stopping the media's obsession with presidential politics. And when they're not speculating about 2016, we get Powerball coverage. For a change, Nation interns scanned the headlines for stories you might've missed, from the revolving door aspirations of Obama aides to the plight of Pakistan's Shia Muslims.
Nader Atassi focuses on Middle Eastern politics and society.
“Aftermath of Gaza Assault: Black Eye for Israel and Strengthened Hamas,” by Alex Kane. Mondoweiss, November 26, 2012.
This article provides an excellent analysis of the aftermath of the Gaza Assault for Israel and Hamas. Kane argues that Israel failed to achieve any strategic objectives, failed to enhance its position in the region and failed to strike any fatal blows to Hamas, all while tarnishing its image internationally due to the high civilian death toll. Hamas emerged strengthened and will probably benefit from the assault in the long run. Hamas will be seen in a more positive light by Palestinians all over, it has enhanced its stature in the region, and possibly improved the economic situation in Gaza if the blockade on Gaza is eased, as stipulated in the ceasefire agreement. All in all, despite overwhelming military might, Hamas is the party that emerged stronger in the aftermath of the Gaza war.
Jeff Ernsthausen focuses on domestic politics and the influence of money on public institutions.
“Special Report: How gaming Libor became business as usual,” by Carrick Mollenkamp, Jennifer Ablan and Matthew Goldstein. Reuters, November 20, 2012.
Reuters released a special report last week on the Libor manipulation scandal that cost Barclays hundreds of millions in fines this summer and prompted lawsuits against—and on-going investigations of—many of the world's largest banks. The report takes an in-depth look at how the practice of manipulating a key set of interest rates for profit by those trusted to report them became an everyday activity at Barclays, and how regulators in the US were warned as early as the mid-1990s that the Libor system was ripe for corruption.
Stefan Fergus focuses on US media, the Presidency, and China.
“Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan Apparently Can't Remember Anything,” by Matt Taibbi. Rolling Stone, November 27, 2012.
I really like the way Taibbi covered the various, plentiful, objectionable practices of the banking industry. His profiles of CEOs and other shady characters who operate in and around global finance are engaging and filled with scathing, intelligent polemics. In this piece, he takes apart a Moynihan deposition in the MBIA vs. Bank of America case. It highlights a broader issue with these types of depositions. Taibbi lays out the facts, explains everything clearly and concisely. Reading accounts like this always makes me sad that the UK's "Spirit of the Law" approach is not used more widely. Apparently, CEOs and government officials are, as a group, highly prone to amnesia.
Steven Hsieh focuses on US politics, the media, and East Asian affairs.
“North Korea Joke Slips Over China’s Great Firewall,” by Alexa Olesen. Associated Press, November 28, 2012.
The People's Daily accidental republication of the Onion went viral this week. In case you missed it, the Communist state-run web site picked up an article announcing Kim Jong-un as the "Sexiest Man of 2012" and posted it alongside a 55-photo slideshow of the chubby Korean dictator. In case you're wondering how a piece of obvious satire made it into the Communist party's English speakerphone, the AP has it covered. Also check out this hilarious analysis in The Economist that points out China is unintentionally "flexing its soft power."
Adam Hudson focuses on war and peace-related issues.
“The 'both-sides-are-awful' dismissal of Gaza ignores the key role of the US government,” by Glenn Greenwald. The Guardian, November 21, 2012.
Typical discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict follows a familiar script. The conflict is portrayed as a distant war between two sides, Israeli and Palestinians. While Israel is always given support in public discourse, the US is assumed to be an innocent, uninvolved party that only wants peace as two foreign entities continue to fight each other. But, as Glenn Greenwald rightly points out, this narrative is massively false. The US, for more than forty years, has lent Israel unyielding political, diplomatic, military and economic support. It gives Israel $3 billion a year in foreign aid, most of it military, and vetoes any UN resolution that holds Israel accountable for its oppression of the Palestinians. This unyielding support gives Israel carte blanche to do whatever it wants, such as maintain its cruel, illegal and immoral occupation of the West Bank, a crippling blockade and occasional bombings of the Gaza Strip, thereby ensuring the conflict will continue. If Americans want to seriously address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they need to hold their own government accountable for bankrolling Israel's atrocities.
Ricky Kreitner focuses on corruption, influence, and regulatory capture.
“With second term assured, Obama aides eye jobs as lobbyists on K Street,” by Kevin Bogardus. The Hill, November 24, 2012.
Despite a toothless executive order issued on President Obama’s first day in office meant to limit former government officials’ ability to lobby their ex-employers—Obama called it “a clean break from business as usual”—the infamously well-greased revolving door has continued to spin. Just since Election Day, Joe Biden’s deputy chief of staff left to become Pepsi’s new senior vice president of global public policy and government affairs, according to this article in The Hill by Kevin Bogardus, who provides an unintentionally comedic portrait of Washington DC insiders jockeying for lucrative positions after leaving the administration. One headhunter said Obama’s executive order hasn’t been an issue even once, as everyone involved recognizes the new restrictions can be easily addressed. Even so, the transition might not be so easy, Bogardus warns: “Former administration officials will have to compete with ex-lawmakers and Capitol Hill aides,” who tend to “have larger networks”—the rascals.
Annum Masroor focuses on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Pakistan's Shia genocide,” by Murtaza Hussain. Al Jazeera, November 26, 2012.
As Pakistan's Shia population celebrated the religious holiday of Ashura last week, they were met with a series of bomb attacks and violence throughout the country. In Rawalpindi alone, 23 people were killed as a suicide bomber hurled a grenade into the religious procession before detonating his vest. Dozens more were killed in cities elsewhere, from cosmopolitan centers like Karachi to Khyber-Pakthunwa's Dera Ismail Khan. Sadly, such bloodshed is common for Shias in Pakistan, and especially common during religious holidays. As Murtaza Hussain explains, Pakistan's Shia population has been targeted by a wide range of extremist groups, including the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), the notorious anti-Shia group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and its offshoot Sipah-e-Sahaba (SSP). Some lay the blame on rising extremism in Pakistani society, while others blame the Gulf (and Saudi Arabia in particular) for tampering with Pakistan as a weight against Iran. But perhaps the sad irony of Pakistan's continued rejection of its Shia population is the way it has continued to reject itself; the country has enjoyed a long, inclusive history with its Shia members, including the founder of Pakistan himself. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, sometimes referred to as the "Father of the Nation," was Shia. But his vision of a modern, free, secular state has failed the country's 20 percent Shia population.
Nick Myers focuses on the military, environment and politics in pop culture.
“Darrell Issa Denounces Internet Regulation In Reddit AMA,” by Rebecca Berg. Buzzfeed, November 28, 2012.
California Representative Darrell Issa is well known for two things: Pretending to be an awesome government watchdog by performing ridiculous witch hunts in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and trying his hardest to look internet savvy and seem sympathetic to web culture. But his latest attempt at the latter comes with a commitment to stand against new Internet rules for two years. Now let’s wait and see if he can successfully pull that off, and then hold him to pushing for hands-off web regulatory policies into the future.
Anna Robinson focuses on gender, sexuality and social justice.
“Your Brain on Fashion,” by Minh-ha T. Pham. Huffington Post, November 26, 2012.
Minh-Ha T. Pham is one of the two "two clotheshorse academics" (the other being the fantastic Mimi Thi Nguyen) whose blog Threadbared discusses "the politics, aesthetics, histories, theories, cultures and subcultures that go by the names 'fashion' and 'beauty'" and in doing so "considers the critical importance of taking clothes—and the bodies that design, manufacture, disseminate, and wear them—seriously as an entry point into dialogue about the world around us." This post argues against fashion anti-intellectualism—that is, treating fashion as something that is simply frivolous and/or has aesthetic value only—is too closely linked with misogynistic devaluations of the feminine. Furthermore, she writes, this allows fashion folks who engage in sexist, classist, culturally appropriative and racist behavior (in runway shows, advertising, prints and styles used) off the hook because "it's only fashion." Her work is vital in turning our attention to the complex cultural work fashion does in our society.
Christie Thompson focuses on structural poverty.
“Why Mass Incarceration Defines Us As a Society,” by Chris Hedges. Smithsonian, December 2012.
Alabama was once a hub for the slave trade. Today, it sentences more people to death per capita than any other state. While they seem disparate realities, civil rights champion and founder of the Equal Justice Institute Bryan Stevenson argues they are merely two points along the same long line of racial injustice. Chris Hedges travels to Montgomery to profile Stevenson, whose work was integral in striking down mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders. “You have to understand the institutions that are shaping and controlling people of color,” Stevenson says.
Elisa Wouk Almino focuses on South America, particularly Brazil.
“Amazon deforestation 'at record low.’” BBC, November 27, 2012.
The deforestation rates in Brazil are at their lowest, having dropped 27% from the previous year. Nonetheless, over 1,780 miles of the rainforest were wiped out, and we might expect a return to higher rates given the recent deforestation code that Dilma only partially vetoed. Moreover, these general statistics do not reflect the unevenness of the situation, as some states have witnessed a rise in deforestation as high as 33%.
Eric Wuestewald focuses on international conflict and human rights.
“Africa For Norway: Viral Video Pokes Fun At Stereotypes In Aid Efforts,” by Suzanne Lennon. NPR, November 28, 2012.
My pick this week is less my typical analytical article about a grave topic, and more coverage of a particularly brilliant satirical campaign. Comprised of Norwegian and South African students and academics, the group Africa for Norway purports to be raising awareness, money and radiators for freezing Norwegians dying of frostbite. Complete with an inspiring ballad modeled after "We are the World" and "Do they know its Christmas," the group is a smart rebuke to the oversimplified aid organizations claiming to help African countries, but doing so without any sense of nuance, information or investigation of real need. Instead of donating to causes simply for a warm feeling of altruism, the group is aggressively calling for people to actively get involved in "positive developments in Africa and developing countries" instead of falling for humiliating stereotypes.
In the wake of one of the worst hurricanes to ever hit the East Coast, stories have surfaced about the phenomenal job Occupy Sandy has done to bring relief to some of the most affected sites in the New York area. For anyone who has not experienced the organized chaos that have marked Sandy volunteer efforts, it may seem surprising that Occupy, the group which US media outlets have criticized for disorganization and lack of clarity, has emerged as one of the most effective implementers of hurricane relief efforts.
Not only does Occupy continue to successfully manage two major distribution hubs in Brooklyn, which daily disperse thousands of materials to other hurricane relief sites, but Occupy volunteers have proven their ability to provide aid to affected populations even when government agencies have not.
While FEMA was setting up its relief stations miles from some of the most vulnerable populations, Occupy volunteers were hiking up dark stairwells in buildings without power, bringing supplies and medical aid directly to doors. When FEMA abandoned relief efforts during the nor’easter which hit the region shortly after Sandy, Occupy volunteers were still on the ground, dispersing supplies and helping residents clear out their waterlogged homes. Pictures snapped since then have documented FEMA workers turning to Occupy organizers for information about how to best serve the neediest communities.
Ironically, one year after its organizers were routinely rounded up by the NYPD for arrest, Occupy has turned out to be the most invaluable asset to New York’s largely unprepared first responders during this $42 billion crisis. The aftermath of this hurricane has proven that the months of group discussions and deliberation surrounding economic justice in Zuccotti Park last year were not “occupied” in vain. Today, anyone who walks into one of these Sandy relief centers will see those same communication systems in use.
Volunteerism in the Rockaways is a brilliant example of Occupy’s mutual aid in action. The Rockaways’ narrow strip of land, which juts westward at the bottom of the Long Island peninsula between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, is one of the areas hit hardest by Sandy. At one point during the storm, the water from the bay and the ocean met on the Rockaway peninsula, filling the first story of many homes and storefronts with water and destroying hundreds of parked cars. Streets were left filled with piles of sand. It is also an area where Occupy’s organized volunteerism has had the biggest presence.
The surge also twisted the A train tracks off their course, which stripped residents and visitors without cars of their main means of commuting to and from the rest of the city. Immediately, the Rockaways were at a volunteer disadvantage because of its now (even more) remote location. One of Occupy’s first major contributions to volunteer relief was to establish St. Jacobi Church in Sunset Park as a place where volunteers could self-organize carpools.
At the end of each day, volunteers make sure everyone who makes the trip down has a ride back to Sunset Park before dark. On multiple occasions, I have asked a volunteering stranger if they knew of a ride back to Brooklyn. Each time, word would travel to another stranger, who would walk up to me to offer a free seat. That is the power of mutual aid.
Once volunteers and supplies make it to the Rockaways, there are several locations where one may go to drop off or pick up materials like cleaning products and yard tools along the peninsula. The main Occupy hub in the Rockaways is located at the YANA community center on Rockaway Beach Blvd, between Beach 113th and 112th streets.
YANA, which stands for You Are Never Alone, opened as a worker training facility only a week before Sandy hit. Barely surviving a massive fire that destroyed the block of property just a few storefronts west of its own facilities, YANA was badly water damaged and required a complete gutting. Occupy volunteers and Greenpeace members came together at the site to support the effort. Now, powered by Greenpeace solar energy generators, the entire block hosts medical relief. hot food and the supply center where volunteers keep lists of residents who call in for assistance, whether it be a medical need, material request, or a need for manual labor.
The volunteers at the YANA site then assign people to attend to each request. Partnership efforts made with local organizations and small businesses have connected Occupy volunteers with local residents, who play a critical role in advising the unfamiliar eyes and ears, creating a relaxed, shared learning environment amid overwhelming scenes of destruction.
One YANA site volunteer, Rasul Murry, explained that Occupy Sandy volunteers are beginning to understand both the short-term and a long-term scope of needs in the Rockaways. Partnerships with local organizations and faith centers have spurred discussions about ways to support local leadership, during the storm cleanup and beyond.
“Something impressive is that we see residents go in to supply centers for help and then later come back to volunteer,” Murry explained. “There is real evidence of the beginnings of a local infrastructure that can begin to look at the longer-term needs of the disaster that Rockaway has seen for several decades.”
Murry is referring, in part, to the razing of large swaths of beach bungalows during New York’s period of urban renewal that produced large vacant land plots, and their recent infill by mass suburban style luxury condominiums, which are generally seen as paying little respect to local community needs.
Tenants on the peninsula tell me they suspect the recent real estate surge has prompted some Rockaway building owners to prefer that their properties be condemned. This way they may stop providing services to tenants, collect insurance, destroy property and repurpose it for profit. “My landlady, she’s from Brooklyn and she wants me out. She knows she can make a lot more money off someone new to the Rockaway Beach area, so she’s not turning the heat or electricity back on. She says she wants me out by the end of the month,” one resident explained.
Among the Occupy volunteers are a few lawyers who are helping organize rent strikes and pushing for mechanisms whereby the government will not condemn a building without prosecuting the landlord for failure to provide services. Murray added, “We need to assure that residents have a long lasting real voice and that Rockaway recovery does not become a replication of New Orleans, not an opportunity to systematically remove people of color.”
The horizontal leadership model used by Occupy (wherein no one is “in charge,” and volunteers may start initiatives without the official clearance of a head figure), on the one hand, makes it difficult to know if the organizing is as effective as it could be. On the other, it's working at least as well as other, more traditional relief efforts and much better than most.
A Sandy Relief Resources newsletter was started recently by a few volunteers and distributed in South Brooklyn, South Queens (including the Rockaways) and Staten Island. The newsletter provides information about disaster unemployment and hiring opportunities, staying warm without heat, emergency snap benefits, FEMA disaster relief, cleaning up, shelters and care and food and supplies. Another similar publication that came out of the Occupy splinter organization Strike Debt is the Debt Resistors’ Operations Manual, which provides tips to those who will have to take out FEMA loans to rebuild their destroyed properties. As Murry put it, “the Occupy movement is a sort of organism—it generates cells that move out, bound by a broad supra-ideological consensus.”
Technology has, of course, played a huge role in the success of Occupy Sandy’s relief efforts. At the end of each day, each distribution hub submits a list of needs for the following day to Celly, a website that forwards messages to any cell phone tapped into the social network. The affiliated Twitter and Facebook channels which are updated several times per day to tell volunteers where they are needed and which supplies to bring. Camera phones have also proved useful: a sign taped up in YANA’s headquarters instructs volunteers to “Take a picture of this with your phone,” referring to a map of the Rockaways with relief headquarters marked.
Perhaps it is the adopted motto “Another World is Possible” that has mobilized thousands of volunteers to join the newly directed Occupy movement. “Last year Occupy was criticized for promoting class warfare,” said one first-time volunteer, “It’s much easier to stand behind Occupy now that we are not only critiquing the government’s assistance granted to big banks and business, but are actively stepping in to provide assistance to the individuals and small businesses that are being ignored.” For several volunteers I’ve spoken with, the Occupy Sandy effort is their first experience working within the mutual aid framework.
Occupy volunteers continue to spend donation funds as needed, with an eye towards the future. In times of crisis, New Yorkers do come together, though many residents have expressed worry that as soon as Sandy headlines begin to wane, so too will the much-needed volunteer support and supplies. “The Rockaways is New York’s ugly stepchild,” remarked one resident, expressing frustrations the Rockaway community has had with Mayor Bloomberg’s lack of attention to community concerns, both before and after Sandy hit the peninsula. While the community was still reeling in response to storm damage, the Mayor’s administration was still championing the construction of a natural gas pipeline to be built straight through the Rockaways’ Jacob Riis Park—a move which many environmental groups believe will endanger local wildlife and residents, in light of recent pipeline leaks and explosions elsewhere.
Gasland Filmmaker Josh Fox has been on the ground since Sandy hit to create a documentary “guerilla” film which will air today (November 27, 2012) somewhere in the East Village (text @climatecrime to 23559 to stay in the loop.) Meanwhile, Occupy Sandy intends to hold a long-term occupation in the Rockaways, and will use the donated funds that continue to come in to provide further support for the community’s reconstruction. You can make a donation to the ongoing effort here.
Elizabeth Herman, photographer, Fulbright Fellow, and one of the 2012 Jezebel 25, has been busy collecting over the last two years. From Boston, Massachusetts to Hue, Vietnam; Siem Reap, Cambodia to Ajmer, Rajasthan, India; Cairo to Northern Ireland, Elizabeth has been photographing women involved in various conflicts around the world. After graduating from Tufts University in 2010, Elizabeth spent a year doing research as a Fulbright Fellow on the Liberation War in Bangladesh, continuing photography in her spare time. After a number of other trips abroad, she’s now back in the US, living in New York, freelancing and working as the International Picture Intern at TIME Magazine. Her research and photography have been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian and NPR. And for the first time, she’s exhibiting her ongoing project “A Woman’s War” at the United Photo Industries Gallery in Dumbo, Brooklyn. The Nation sat down with Elizabeth to talk about the transition from high school darkroom to photojournalism, how “A Woman’s War” came to be, and where she’s headed next. To hear more from Elizabeth, check out her talk this Thursday, November 29th at 7:30pm at the United Photo Industries Gallery. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Hasina Begum. Sirajganj, Bangladesh. August 2011.
How did you begin taking photographs?
I took darkroom photography all four years of high school. I didn’t want to go on to study photography in college but I wanted to continue doing it. So when I got to Tufts [University], I ended up getting involved in EXPOSURE [which is Tufts' human rights, documentary studies, and photojournalism student-run club, under the umbrella of the Institute for Global Leadership, which is directed by Sherman Teichman] …With them I learned more about documentary photography. In high school I’d done more art photography, like classic high school darkroom, taking photos of your friends with makeup on their faces, that kind of thing. Then when I got to college, I learned how to take photographs to tell a story. I did workshops with EXPOSURE, then once I graduated I moved to Bangladesh and had a research fellowship there and ended up working on documentary photography on the side, just by myself.
Katerina Kaltak. Ilidža, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
What projects did you work on with EXPOSURE?
We did some local projects in the Boston area. And then we ended up doing these one or two week-long intensive workshops where you went with professional photojournalists abroad and worked on a single story. I first went to Siem Reap, Cambodia and then Ajmer, Rajasthan in India, Hue in Vietnam, and Houston, Texas. The first one that I did was [during my] sophomore year. You apply to the workshop with a vague sense of what the project will be, but you develop it over the course of the year. EXPOSURE works with the Aftermath Project, an organization that tries to promote photographers that do projects in the aftermath of a conflict. We also worked with VII Photo, which is a photo agency specializing in conflict photography… Aftermath is run by Sara Terry and VII Photo was co-founded by Gary Knight. Both Sara and Gary ran workshops with EXPOSURE students over the summer, and I took two workshops with each of them, which was wonderful in that it provided two very different, yet complementary approaches to photojournalism -- studying with each of them, and then going out and doing my own work allowed me to develop my own style and sensibility.
Was there tension between the approaches?
They both offer very different perspectives on photography ... And each of them was very good about saying this is my take on photography, which is going to be very different from what another person will say, rather than, “What I say is right and what they say is wrong.” It allowed me to pull different elements from each.
Aya Mohsen. Cairo, Egypt. May 2012.
How do you see the two mediums – art photography and photojournalism – as related to, divergent from, or informing each other?
What attracted me to photography originally is it’s beautiful, and it’s wonderful to work with. I can’t draw; I’m not artistic in that way. I love photography because it’s artful and it’s very technical as well. I think the great thing about photography is it’s just another way to tell stories. In high school I spent a lot of time developing the technical craft – I’m still working on it for sure, but … it becomes second nature. You’re photographing and you’re not thinking about the technical, it’s just about how do you make photographs that communicate the story you’re trying to tell. It was all about the photograph before, and now it’s about the photograph as a medium to tell a story. And different photographs serve different purposes …But generally, thinking about how to use photographs as a means to talk about something broader or larger.
Tell me about “Women Warriors” or “A Woman’s War”.
It started out as “Women Warriors” because I started the project on an EXPOSURE workshop where I interviewed women that fought with the North Vietnamese army. They were all soldiers and they all served on the Ho Chi Min trail. They were women warriors in the purest sense of the words. Then, when I took the project to Bangladesh, it evolved a little bit. It became about women who were actively involved in combat: some women fought and were soldiers, but some women were involved in other ways. There were organizers or there were peace protesters, or they did medical support. I had a problem with the term “warriors” as possibly glorifying war. I wasn’t actively trying not to do that, but I was also very wary that it could go that way. So it became more about a woman’s perspective on war, as being one of many perspectives that aren’t often heard. It could be any minority group, kids perspectives [or any alternative perspective] and it just happened to be women because I’m a woman and it seemed one very large subset of the population that has been by and large unheard.
Lê Thi My Le. Hue, Vietnam. July 2010.
In which countries and on what conflicts have you focused?
It started in Vietnam with the war against the US. Then I took it to Bangladesh and spoke to women there who were involved in the Liberation War. Then I went to Egypt and spoke to women involved in the uprising in 2011. After that, I went to Bosnia and spoke to women involved in the Bosnian War – women on all sides: Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croats, Bosnian Muslims. Then I went to Northern Ireland and spoke with women on all sides of the Troubles there.
Not to encourage generalization, but were there any common themes?
Totally, that was the surprising thing. I had idea how to make it visually coherent, so I was photographing portraits of the women and locations. In the [United Photo Industries] Gallery show, it’s only portraits, but I also photographed locations where major events took place (a battlefield, or a road, or Tahrir Square) and more abstract things, around the ideas that the women spoke about. So, photographing their dreams or photographs that are more evocative than they are literal. …So I used visual tools to make it visually coherent, but I was worried about [the fact that] these are very different conflicts, these women were involved in very different capacities. But these common ideas kept coming up. One huge one is trauma. Many of these women experienced serious trauma and didn’t have the space to speak about it and are missing support whether from their families or loved ones or medical support. Another really important one is memory. One thing I’ve tried to go into more, and this goes back to trauma, is the role of memory. Sharing your story and being able to move beyond is a huge part of the reconciliation process for a lot of these women. So sometimes I’ll be interviewing women and will ask them something like, “Tell me about your childhood,” and they’ll talk for two hours. And it’s just because they haven’t had the chance to talk. And I could be anybody that’s sitting across from them.
S. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. August 2012.
Did you feel like the engagement with memory, or how different women felt about the retelling process, was dictated by what cultural purpose memory is understood to serve in different cultures?
That’s a really interesting question. The degree to which women were open with me was definitely different depending on cultures. I think Northern Ireland was the most wary because there was the most media coverage. Egypt was also wary because there’s been a lot of coverage. Bangladeshi women were incredibly open because their stories have been totally ignored, so they were excited that somebody was interested, and especially that a foreigner was interested…Bangladesh was definitely a different sort of [situation] because I was learning the language and trying to make it feel like home, which of course is impossible but by the time I left it felt like a significant space in my life. I think that that is different because I was trying to connect to a country. You hopefully connect to each country you visit, but [learning] the language made a huge difference. But I think that the thing that made the biggest difference was the amount that the event had been talked about in general, and the amount that women had talked about the event [specifically].
How did you choose the countries from which you reported?
It was really about where I was able to find support to go. [With] Vietnam, I had the place before I had the project. When I was doing research I came across a book about this woman Karen Turner (Even the Women Must Fight). And she spoke about women in the war. That’s where I first got the idea. Then my research in Bangladesh was all about the Liberation War. And I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting to try and continue this? Then I went to Egypt on a fellowship right after I got back from Bangladesh and they’d seen my work in Bangladesh and wanted me to continue the project. I then applied for a grant to go to Bosnia. From Bosnia, I was shooting for an NGO in Northern Ireland. So each part of the trip has been funded by a different source. They talk about the changing face of journalism, you know – the first [project] was a school trip, the second one I had a fulltime job and just did this on the side [and all in the context of] a research fellowship, the third one was a journalism fellowship for two weeks, the fourth one was a grant and the fifth one I was working for an NGO on a separate project. So it’s been interesting.
Mary Doyle. Belfast, Northern Ireland. August 2012.
You mentioned that you often get the question: why the focus on women?
I’ve had some men approach me asking why are you focusing only on women? There are male veterans that haven’t had their stories told. And that’s the point. It’s about what stories are being told and why the stories that aren’t, aren’t. I think one thing that turned me off of photojournalism at first was [I knew] I’m not going to be a conflict photographer. I have a lot of respect for people who do that. I think my anxiety level is too high for that. I think my mom’s anxiety level is too high for me to do that....And so I just thought, there are a lot of other stories that need focus and so I think that I was like what can I as a 24 year old woman coming from Mass. how can I play to my strengths and also be wary of the areas I’m weaker in, what project can I work on now?
Anonymous. Cairo, Egypt. May 2012.
So what’s next? Are you going to continue A Woman’s War?
Yes. I’d like to do it in the US [focusing on] women that have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s really hard to find them actually. I think that just as Northern Ireland was wary, the US is very wary…[As for what’s next] I’m really excited to see the work presented. This is not the end of the project, this is kind of like a break. I’ve been working on it by myself for a long time, so it will be really nice to get feedback and see how people respond. Right now I have a lot of material – I have 100 or 200 hours of video footage and I’m thinking of turning that into a documentary. I have all these oral histories. So this is a moment to pause. I’ve done a lot of collecting in the past two years and this is the time to pause and think about what to do with it all.
On Tuesday November 13, just days before Israeli missiles began to pelt Gaza, a motley group of students, one after another, made the case for why the Associated Students at the University of California, Irvine should urge the school administration to divest from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Thousands of miles and dozens of checkpoints removed from the region, the students at UCI spoke passionately about human rights violations in the Occupied Territories, comparing the situation with South Africa’s Apartheid.
In the end, the Associated Students voted unanimously, 16-0 with no abstentions, to pass the resolution. The room that had reverberated with tense anxiety while the board of students were deliberating, erupted in cheer at the verdict. For UCI, this small victory was monumental. Traci Ishigo, president of UCI’s Associated Students, addressed the room, capturing the students’ conviction saying, “We are agents of change in this world.”
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has roused heated discussions on college campuses across the country for about as long as the conflict itself has endured. In this regard however, UCI has historically been a unique case, to put it mildly. Protests and debates have snowballed into disciplinary suspension of a student group, criminal convictions of students, and a nationwide media spectacle, transforming the otherwise sleepy Southern California campus into a free-speech battleground.
Despite a well-deserved reputation for sidestepping student rights and suppressing free speech on the issue of Israel, UCI is the first California campus whose student body passed the resolution for divestment. Both UC Berkeley and UCSD made similar attempts to push for divestment through their legislative student bodies, but were unsuccessful. “The decision made by ASUCI's Legislative Council clearly shows the strength and integrity of students utilizing their collective power to protect human rights on a global scale,” Ishigo said in a press release. While the overwhelming consensus on the resolution was a historic step for the student body, the UCI administration delivered a swift response in rejecting the resolution the very next day. The administrators released a statement saying that, “such divestment is not the policy of this campus, nor is it the policy of the University of California. The UC Board of Regents policy requires this action only when the US government deems it necessary. No such declaration has been made regarding Israel.”
The administration turning a cold shoulder to the resolution comes as no surprise to anyone. UC leaders had addressed the divestment campaign at UC Berkeley in 2010, sharply turning it down by claiming that it unfairly targets Israel and said in a statement, "This isolation of Israel among all countries of the world greatly disturbs us and is of grave concern to members of the Jewish community."
And at UCI, in February of the same year, the administration sternly punished the Muslim Student Union for its alleged involvement in planning a disruptive protest of Israeli Ambassador, Michael Oren. Many remained convinced the administration operated at the behest of external pro-Israel groups, who have elbowed their way into campus politics, pressuring the school to take a strong stance on student dissent against Israel. The 11 students who had interrupted Oren while speaking were charged and convicted with misdemeanors, an unprecedented and decidedly harsh punishment for students involved in a campus protest.
So, while ASUCI’s resolution to divest has no teeth in repealing financial support from Israel, it is an impressive victory for pro-Palestinian students on campus, who have honed their strategy in reigniting the Israel-Palestine debate on campus by steering clear of affiliating with certain student groups (namely the Muslim Student Union) and garnering diversified support through passing the resolution through the Associated Students governing body. In fact, with the exception of the Asian Pacific Student Association and Jewish Voice for Peace, students spoke only as individuals and represented no groups on campus.
Most importantly however, the passing of the resolution in a climate of intimidation by school administration and off-campus interest groups is a testament to the resilience of the students who have not let the school’s thorny past quiet their voices of opposition to Israel’s policies in the Occupied territories. ASUCI’s historic move created little stir on campus between pro-Palestine and pro-Israel student groups, but has caught the eye of those off-campus organizations who have a demonstrated interest in the campus proceedings, and are skeptical that this development isn’t indicative of friction between student groups. “It’s upsetting when so many people have watched that campus and feel that that campus is making progress, to see something like this happen,” saidRabbi Aaron Heir of the Simon Weisenthal Center. “Disconcerting is a nice way of putting it. Some people feel this is egregious, and it harkens back to that same menacing spirit that dominated campus during the Oren episode.”
While the students who had brought forth the resolution had been working on it for three years, external pro-Israel groups are looking to undermine the students’ efforts by denigrating the resolution as a rash and ill-informed strategy to fan the flames of tension on campus. “The resolution indicates that the students really don’t understand the situation very well at all. It’s so misguided,” said Roberta Seid, Education/Research Director of Stand With Us and lecturer at UCI. “Its real goal is not so much to get divestment implemented as much as it is to force debate, so that they can spread these canards against Israel, and make them seem normal or even familiar to students- it’s a way to turn people against Israel.”
Regardless of the students’ motives, they have unintentionally invited these external groups to meddle on campus once again. “We’re certainly monitoring the situation, it’s disappointing,” said Heir. “I think the University should condemn it and if there is any more instances of these kinds of anti-Israel measures I would expect the university to take a more active role.” As was the case with the Irvine 11 incident however, many UCI students do not feel threatened in the face of pressure from the administration or its influential friends. “The resolution has nothing to do with campus climate, and is not on the basis of a campus conflict,” said Sabreen Shalabi, a UCI student and a co-author of the resolution. “I think University students have always been on the frontlines for fighting for social justice, especially in the UC system, and they will continue to be on the frontlines of social justice.”