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Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important Stories (10/14)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nationinterns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week, and please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

— Angela Aiuto:

Angela focuses on money in politics.

Karl Rove vs. the Koch brothers,” by Kenneth Vogel. Politico, Oct. 10, 2011.

A competition is brewing between Republican insider Karl Rove and the libertarian Koch brothers, with each camp planning to direct more than $200 million to conservative groups in the months leading up to the 2012 election. Could their growing rivalry—already evidenced by what Vogel refers to as a "seemingly competing infrastructure"—ultimately threaten Republican electoral success this November? It's still too early to tell, but I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.

— Cal Colgan:

Cal follows the drug war and human rights in Latin America.

Paramilitaries may have entered Mexico's drug wars,” by Tim Johnson. McClatchy, Oct. 7, 2011.

The recent discoveries of dozens of bodies being found in houses and freeway underpasses in the Mexican port city of Veracruz over the past few weeks indicate the presence of a paramilitary death squad in the region. Authorities claim the death squad was created to conduct revenge killings against members of the notorious Los Zetas cartel. With their apparent military training, the death squad's actions underscore the reality that President Felipe Calderon doesn't have as much control over the military as he claims.

— Teresa Cotsirilos:

Teresa focuses on "Global South" politics, or sociopolitical developments in areas of the developing world.

The digital revolution in sub-Saharan Africa,” Laila Ali. Al Jazeera, Oct. 12, 2011.

Here's a statistic that should challenge long-held perspectives on the process of third world development. By 2015, it is estimated that sub-Saharan Africa will have more people with cell phone access than electricity access at home—and that people with home access to the internet, but no home access to electricity, will reach 138 million. Seizing on these unexpected trends, schools and universities throughout sub-Saharan Africa are exploring the use of mobile technology to assist in teaching. Pilot programs in Tanzania and South Africa have used video technology, downloadable by phone, to make lessons more engaging and interactive—and to reach rural students who live too far away from school to attend. As with the Aakash tablet in India, these development programs have their critics, but nonetheless promise to approach entrenched problems in creative new ways.

— Paolo Cravero:

Paolo follows war, peace, and security.

Liberia: A time to change perceptions?” by Azad Essa. Al Jazeera, Oct. 11, 2011.

Until 2003 Liberia has been the quintessence of Africa's war: child soldiers, ‘blood-diamonds,’ blood thirsty warlords and greedy traffickers were the players in this modern African tragedy. Since then things have slowly changed, and Essa's account looks at how politics has been normalized and a democratic process is developing. Clearly Liberia is not perfect, but it is good enough to ask ourselves whether it is 'a time to change perceptions.' Who would have dared asking this question 10 years ago? 

— Erika Eichelberger:

Erika follows the environmental beat.

Oil sands imports could be banned under EU directive,” by Fiona Harvey. The Guardian, Oct. 4, 2011.

As the scandals behind the Keystone pipeline deal mount up, and as environmentalists rally their forces before the administration's final decision on the fate of the project at the end of this year, the EU is proposing an effective ban on the import of dirty tar sands all together. A story by Fiona Harvey in The Guardian points out that despite intense pressure by the oil lobby and Canada itself, the EU Climate Change Commission is moving in the right direction. The fuel quality standard proposal faces a tough fight before final approval, but comes at a crucial time, with global attention focused on the US as it considers a move that NASA climate scientist James Hansen said would spell "game over for the climate."

— Josh Eidelson:

Josh covers the labor beat.

Obama Averts Railroad Workers’ Strike, Extending Concessions Conflict,” Mike Elk. In These Times, Oct. 11, 2011.

After Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen voted to authorize a 25,000 person strike, President Obama last week exercised his authority under the Railway Labor Act to block the work stoppage.  Obama has appointed a Presidential Emergency Board with thirty days to recommend a resolution to the negotiations over contracts for the BLET and other railroad unions.  The Railway Labor Act allows the President to outright refuse many railway and airline workers who seek to strike. Most private sector workers are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, which (as amended by Taft-Hartley) places great restrictions on the right to strike as well.

— Eli Epstein-Deutsch:

Eli looks at the intersection of politics, ideas and economics from a macro perspective.

Finance as a Class?” by Thomas Michl. The New Left Review, July-August 2011.

This book review engagingly delves into a phenomenon that I've seen covered in glimpses here and there in the mainstream press (for instance, the Atlantic): the growing ability, over the last several decades of global financial elites to act together as a class, in pursuit of shared interests. The political consequences have been weighty, and it's a story worth understanding in its various ramifications.

— Collier Meyerson:

Collier’s beat is discrimination.

Decolonization and Occupy Wall Street,” by Robert Desjarlait. Racialicious, Oct. 11, 2011.

The burgeoning “Occupy Wall Street” movement with its 150-plus active protests touts the populist motto, “We Are The 99%,” however the majority of images circulating around the Internet disproportionately reveal sullied white, college-aged youth. According to the 2010 census, minority populations make up almost 40% of this country. In the article I chose for this week, American-Indian writer and activist Robert Desjarlait argues that there is a disconnect between the predominantly white movement of “Occupy Wall Street” and the people they claim to represent. The only way to make equitable change, Desjarlait declares, is to encourage protestors to desert their efforts on Wall Street and shift focus to decolonization.

— Allie Tempus:

Allie follows human rights.

‘Honor killing' targets Turkey's LGBTs,” by Jodi Hilton. GlobalPost, Oct. 12, 2011.

With the European Commission's recent official recommendation that Turkey begin negotiations to join the EU, issues of tolerance still stand in the way. Though Turkey has aggressively promoted a climate of LGBT acceptance of late, the country still has much to prove. This article is a thorough round-up of the story of Ahmet Yildiz, the victim of Turkey's first known LGBT "honor killing," and similar cases since then, which dramatically undercut Turkey's more superficial attempts to champion human rights.

— Jin Zhao:

Jin follows the US’s image in international media.

Steve Jobs Dies; Chinese Reactions,” by Samuel Wade. China Digital Times, Oct. 6, 2011.

China Digital Times aggregated Chinese Apple fans' responses to Apple founder Steve Jobs's death from various sources including Sina Weibo (the Chinese equivalent to Twitter), China Real Time Report, AP, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, and South China Morning Post. These awe-struck mournful responses, both vocal—"your products changed the world and your thinking influenced a generation"—and physical—setting up shrines outside Apple stores, when read side by side with the stories reported by Mail Online earlier this year about multiple Apple workers' suicides in China and the environmental and health issues associated to Apple products' manufacture, show especially disturbing signs of the effects of globalizing consumerism and the disparity and disconnection between classes in China created on its way to one of the world's biggest economies.

Occupy College Defies Stereotype of Quiet, Inert Generation Y

This article was originally published in the Daily Orange.

It's a scary and exciting time to be a college student in the United States — often for the same reasons. We're living in a time of societal uprisings and social change that, in many ways, parallels the electric culture of the 1960s revolutions — equal rights legislation, wartime and questioning the role of our government. At the heart of all these forms of civil unrest is one major similarity: relevant protesting.

Most recently is the Occupy Wall Street movement, a protest that originated in New York City and has now spread to more than 900 cities nationwide in an effort to challenge the economic status quo and the degree of influence Wall Street has over our government. The main goal is to relay the message that 99 percent of America is being controlled by the elite 1 percent of Americans.

Occupy College, born out of the Occupy Wall Street movement, is similar in its fundamental purpose but differs in the sense that the majority of participants are college students located on their respective campuses. Students on more than 100 campuses nationwide walked out of their classrooms at noon last week in protest of rising student loan debt, increasing college costs and a feeble job market.

Our generation has for once silenced the critics who incessantly cast us off as unapologetically apathetic. Thomas Friedman labeled us "Generation Q for quiet" in a 2007 New York Times column and "Generation Limbo" in an August 2011 feature. Participating students in the Occupy College protests achieved something that our generation lacked until this point: a visible presence within a significant social movement.

Now that college students have caught the mainstream media's attention, what do we do with it?

Students shouldn't think of Occupy College as a single day's worth of protesting — this nascent activism needs to be further explored. The most effective way to accomplish a cohesive social movement around the issues supported by Occupy College is not just to act and mobilize, but also to stay organized and think critically throughout the entire process.

Katrina vanden Huevel, editor of The Nation magazine, provided her own insight on this topic at Syracuse last week, the night before Occupy College took place. "There is a thin line between anger and passion. This is a moment that calls for anger. There's something mobilizing about anger and about passion — and in this era, in this political moment, it's mobilization we need fused with big and risky ideas."

Given the current economic climate, students are rightfully angry, but I question how effective the Occupy College protests were. There weren't any main objectives established, and, in turn, there weren't any successful goals achieved. But as a movement, Occupy College has a hell of a lot of potential. Transforming this into an actual movement is just a matter of outlining goals. It's also critical to recognize the ways in which to go about achieving these goals and targeting the right people in charge.

The general public needs to be well versed in the key issues for which Occupy College is fighting. It's important to go about relaying these messages and achieving said goals in the most effective ways possible.

People are fired up, and mainstream media outlets are finally reporting on the outrage that fills our generation. It's important to take advantage of this moment in history and continue to organize with a more focused direction. Activism is about determining goals and moving people capable of creating those changes. Now that Occupy College has succeeded in acquiring both an online and physical presence, we can't let our anger burn.

Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important Stories (10/7/11)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week, and please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

— Angela Aiuto:

Angela focuses on money in politics.

Lobbyists in on 'super' secrets,” by Anna Palmer. Politico, Oct. 3, 2011. 

As the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement against disproportionate corporate influence in politics continues to swell, the Congressional supercommittee charged with slashing $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit is deciding the nation's financial future in secret. Well, not entirely in secret: Though no details of the committee's recent closed door meetings have been released to the press, congressional staffers have made sure to keep their lobbyist friends up to date. This news is hardly surprising, but serves as a current and significant example of how the 99 percent are largely excluded from the most important political conversations.

— Cal Colgan:

Cal follows the drug war and human rights in Latin America.

Drug War: Faster And More Furious – Analysis,” Eurasia Review, Sept. 30, 2011. 

This news analysis piece in Eurasia Review critiques the U.S. and Latin American governments' muddled efforts to fight the War on Drugs. The article not only critiques the ATF's botched Fast & Furious operation, but also argues that multimillion-dollar enforcement policies like the U.S.-Mexico Merida Initiative and Plan Columbia primarily serve the arms industry and private contractors. The result, according to the article, is the escalation of violence, especially on the U.S.-Mexico border. 

— Teresa Cotsirilos:

Teresa focuses on "Global South" politics, or sociopolitical developments in areas of the developing world.

India unveils world's cheapest tablet computer,” by Mark Magnier. Los Angeles Times, Oct. 6, 2011.

Subsidized by the government, the "Aakash" tablet computer costs only $35, and officials hope to eventually drive the price down to $10. The production of this device has been riddled with delays and plagued by skepticism— widespread corruption has historically jettisoned a wide array of outreach programs in India, and many rural schools in India lack toilets and teachers, let alone the electricity to power a tablet. If successful, however, the Aakash could bring basic computing, social networking, and Web surfing to up to millions of rural Indians, and could help raise a large percentage of India's population out of poverty.

— Paolo Cravero:

Paolo follows war, peace, and security.

The climate gamble on African soil,” by Sumayya Ismail. Al Jazeera, Sept. 17, 2011.

When talking Climate Change and Climate Justice we often refer to the perils to our future. By looking into some of the proposed solutions Ismaili's article shows how the mainstream is not concentrating on the real climate challenges on the ground. 

— Erika Eichelberger:

Erika follows the environmental beat.

Retired Republicans Quietly Try to Shift GOP Climate-Change Focus,” by Coral Davenport. National Journal, Sept. 30, 2011.

Rick Perry and his ilk in Congress might deny climate change, but a recent article in the National Journal reveals that a number of retired Republican lawmakers are now working behind the scenes to correct their party's "anti-science" image. While formerly vocal GOP climate-change fighters have caved to the Tea Party base and quieted their calls for action, those outside the campaign cycle have decided to speak the truth.

— Josh Eidelson:

Josh covers the labor beat.

"Two-Tier System Remains in UAW Deal With Ford," by Akito Yoshikane, In These Times, Oct. 5, 2011.

Yesterday the UAW reached a tentative contract agreement with Ford that appears similar to the one ratified by General Motors employees last week.  Despite Ford's $6.6 billion in profits last year, the Ford agreement would leave in place the two-tier wage system established in 2007.  Improvements in the agreement reportedly include job creation and a raise for lower-tier workers.  But Yoshikane interviews a professor whose research suggests that if workers ratify the agreement, the two-tier system will make future negotiations even more difficult.

— Eli Epstein-Deutsch:

Eli looks at the intersection of politics, ideas and economics from a macro perspective.

Bleed the Foreigner,” Harold James. Project Syndicate, Oct. 4, 2011.

Harold James's ongoing series "Capitalism Then and Now" insightfully places the global financial crisis in context, linking it to larger social trends. This week's article is a good reminder that the seduction of greater isolationism and nationalism is a false comfort in the face of instability and distant threats; a sense of mutual obligation and solidarity is what's needed.

— Collier Meyerson:

Collier’s beat is discrimination.

Gene Lyons' column too far: To dismiss a great black public intellectual because she made you feel uncomfortable is completely ridiculous,” by Elon James White. Salon, Sept. 30, 2011.

When Mellissa Harris-Perry published “Black President, Double Standard: Why White Liberals are Abandoning Obama” in The Nation she identified legislative zones especially dear to the liberal electorate (progressive Health Care policy, criminal justice, gay rights, African American unemployment rates and military defense spending) that have been used to malign Obama’s presidency as ineffective but in which, by her reckoning, the President’s policies have in fact been comparable to or more liberal than his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton’s.  Perry makes the claim that white liberal disenchantment with the current President has less to do with his policy record, then, and more to do with a less explicit form of racism that would hold black leaders to a higher standard than their white counterparts.  The piece initiated a sometimes angry, sometimes patronizing, sometimes conciliatory and sometimes congratulatory dialogue with white and liberal journalists (among others) like Joan Walsh and Gene Lyons that, in the end, strengthened the potency of Perry’s initial claim: the unwillingness of white liberals to examine their racial prejudices perpetuates existing inequitable power structures. The article I chose for this week is a visceral addition to the conversation by Elon James-White.

— Allie Tempus:

Allie follows human rights.

How a Rick Perry Ally Kept an Innocent Man Locked Up,” by Tim Murphy. Mother Jones, Oct. 4, 2011.

With Troy Davis and Amanda Knox in the news, wrongful imprisonment is on worlds' conscience right now. This example is hopeful, as Texan Michael Morton was released after new DNA evidence was finally tested. But as often in these cases, a corrupt official and backroom politics exacerbated the evils of a broken justice system and kept an innocent man imprisoned 25 years too long.

— Jin Zhao (web):

Jin follows the US’s image in international media.

Philippines: Creative Protests During Campus Strikes,” by Karlo Mikhail Mongaya. Global Voices, Sept. 28, 2011.

As the world is starting to get psyched about the (long over-due) Occupy Wall Street and other "Occupy" protests in the US, students across countries such as the UKChileSpain, and the Philippines continued to rise up this fall in mass demonstrations to protest against education budget cuts, tuition raises or privatization in their countries. In this article, Philippine activist and writer Mongaya reports on the creative strategies students used in their mass protests across the Philippines to protect their rights to education.  

Free Speech, the Pro-Israel Lobby, and the Case of the 'Irvine 11'

After enduring a disputably legitimate trial, ten students were convicted in September of disrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at the University of California, Irvine last February.

This came as no surprise: in an unprecedented move last year, the UCI administration issued a binding recommendation to ban a registered student group for that same offense, convicting the students of a flippant breach of the university’s free speech code. The decision was issued amid allegations that the administration silenced the group, the Muslim Student Union, to placate fuming off-campus pro-Israel groups, who had long been voicing their opposition to the MSU and its activities.

The four-month investigation culminated in a punishment that is rarely applied and traditionally reserved for extreme cases of hazing and alcohol abuse: MSU is the first registered student group to be banned at UCI, ever.

What compelled the administration to send down such a heavy-handed verdict that would not only stifle campus life but also put out a widespread chilling warning about the boundaries of free speech on university campuses? 

Oren set the stage for what would become a first-amendment battleground on February 8th of last year when he was disrupted by eleven students, who would be later arrested and christened as the “Irvine 11.” These students likely thought they would wear that arrest like a student activist’s badge of honor, but were soon made an example of by the administration and its influential friends, and learned that there is a high price to pay for dissent against Israel.

The protest was clearly intended to disrupt Oren and stall his speech. The section on free speech and advocacy in UCI’s student conduct code states protests must not infringe on anyone’s right “to teach, study and fully exchange ideas”. 

The “Irvine 11” are now first amendment poster children, but it seems that this was not the case at hand anyway. The students claim they acted as individuals, but evidence provided to the university by an anonymous source includes intercepted MSU listserv emails that suggest that the protests were organized by the MSU. University officials maintain that it is not just the protest that landed the MSU in deep waters, but the fact that they denied involvement in it. A closer look at the long history of several external organizations’ interest in the MSU however, suggests there are more powerful forces at play here.

Exaggerated Response

Why is it so alarming that the MSU was banned? Protests are commonplace and controversy is tradition at university campuses. Disrupting a speaker doesn’t exactly seem like the kind of offense a student would face criminal charges for, or for which a registered group of over 250 students would be collectively punished. The MSU organizes more than 300 events annually for its members and for the larger campus community. Most events promote interfaith dialogue, humanitarian efforts and spiritual learning.

The “Irvine 11” are no pioneers, in fact, in 2005, Harvard University looked strangely like UCI. Norman Finkelstein was invited to speak by a student group and was disrupted repeatedly by shouting protestors, who even forced him to stop speaking temporarily. The students, many of whom were members of Harvard Students for Israel (HSI), technically violated the school’s Protest and Dissent Guidelines, and the Harvard Crimson even condemned the protest in an editorial. The Oren situation at UCI is hauntingly reminiscent of Finkelstein at Harvard in 2005, just reversed, but the Harvard Students for Israel suffered no consequences whatsoever.

External Pressure

The confounding decision suggests that UCI had folded in the face of unyielding pressure by outside organizations. Twelve pro-Israel groups including StandWithUs, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, sent a letter to UC President Mark Yudof, criticizing the university’s reaction to alleged anti-Semitic acts and stating that many Jewish UC students feel "an environment of harassment and intimidation” on UC campuses. It seems that shutting down the Muslim Student Union was just “a step in the right direction,” said Rabbi Aaron Heir of the Simon Weisenthal Center. In response, Yudof recognized the groups’ concerns and promised to do “everything in [his] power" to protect Jewish students. Groups such as the Zionist Organization of America and StandWithUs have been keeping a vigilant eye on the MSU since as far back as 2001, and have been attempting to snare them for one reason or another. “The MSU has been of concern since 2001 because it regularly invites speakers and mounts displays that often cross the line between criticism of Israel’s policies into bias that includes lies and half truths,” said Roberta Seid, Education/Research Director of Stand With Us and lecturer at UCI.

In 2004, the ZOA manufactured much furor when a few dozen Muslim students wore green stoles with Arabic script on them at graduation. It mounted complaints stating that the stoles incited terrorism against Jews and Israel and were a statement of support for Hamas. Experts later verified the stoles simply stated the Islamic creed and a prayer asking God for increased knowledge. 

Later the same year, the ZOA filed a complaint against the university to US Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights about alleged anti-Semitic speeches by speakers invited to UCI by the MSU, and discrimination against Jewish students. A three-year investigation by the Office of Civil Rights concluded the speeches were based on opposition to Israeli policies, not the religion or national origin of Jewish students, and that university officials acted appropriately. Not pleased with the outcome of this investigation, a group of local citizens formed a task force in February 2007, to conduct their own investigation. The Orange County Task Force on Anti-Semitism released their own report a year later, singling out the MSU in their findings stating, “The Muslim Student Union is agenda driven and unchecked by the bounds of propriety,” and “the University has failed to educate its Muslim students about citizenship and American values.”

The ZOA has labored relentlessly to legitimize its scorn for the MSU, and found itself at odds with the university itself in the process. The group urged UC President Yudof to address issues of anti-Semitism at UCI, citing many MSU activities as problematic and calling out UCI Chancellor Michael Drake for being irresponsive. A representative at the Jewish Federation of Orange County said, “The community has had concerns with the activities of the MSU for at least the last seven to eight years,” and said the Federation itself has been involved “directly” for five years. The ZOA and company’s strong-armed efforts and the city of Irvine’s conservative demographic created a dangerous cocktail. 

Hamas in Orange County?

An MSU event in May 2009 served as the real linchpin in solidifying a formidable coalition of pro-Israel organizations against the Muslim student group and successfully brought government attention to its activities. In an event co-sponsored by several other student groups, the MSU featured George Galloway and collected minimal donations to support the humanitarian convoy, “Viva Palestina” to legally provide medical aid to Gazans. The pro-Israel community rallied behind the ZOA, who in a letter to UCI’s Chief Campus Counsel, claimed that the MSU was using the university as a fundraising base for Hamas. Amid these allegations, Viva Palestina issued a statement confirming that the promises made to donors “were upheld to the highest degree. Every transfer of funds for medical supplies and the purchase of vehicles to be used for humanitarian purposes was well-documented.” Still, the ZOA  may have influenced California Congressman Brad Sherman to pen a letter to Chancellor Drake that said, “I believe your investigation will confirm that UCI MSU has solicited funds for a terrorist organization...and at a minimum prevent the MSU from operating on campus...” After an eight month long internal investigation, UCI responded saying that while the MSU failed to mention it was fundraising, the university was “unable to determine whether the failure was negligent, reckless or intentional,” giving no legitimate credence to the ZOA’s weighty allegations about terrorism. This drew sharp critiques from the ZOA and other members of the Jewish community, and intensified the chasm between the off-campus groups and the UCI administration.

Oren, the Coup de Grâce

Fast forward to the Oren debacle: The ZOA sprung up immediately—releasing a statement calling on all potential donors to withdraw support from UCI, and Jewish students to not enroll there. It slammed Drake with ignoring anti-Semitism and for not holding “student groups like the Muslim Student Union to the university’s clear standards of conduct,”  threatening, “UC Irvine must now pay the price for its inaction.” For Jewish groups on campus, this battle cry was over the top.  Leaders of five student groups called the ZOA’s demand “counterproductive and one of the worst ways to deal the MSU at UCI,” in an open letter. In fact, many sources on campus have cast a veil of skepticism on whether or not the claims of anti-Semitism coming from these external groups are even accurate. In the past, off-campus groups have drawn attention to what’s not really brewing at UCI—distorting facts, taking things out of context and playing up controversy because, “it's more interesting to read about poor little Jewish students getting beat up by Muslim kids.” Once again, the commotion was being heard far from campus grounds.

The ZOA succeeded in sending a bold message to the university.  By intensifying pressure, these external groups were now mobilizing much more than just issuing public statements to get the university’s attention. In a meeting with UC President Yudof a month after the incident, Shalom Elcott, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation Orange County; Gerald Solomon of the Samueli Foundation; and Jeff Margolis and Dr. Jim Weiss of the Jewish Federation’s Rose Project voiced their grievances about the MSU’s alleged involvement in disrupting Ambassador Oren. This wasn’t the first time Jewish leaders were meeting with UC officials either. Seid of StandWithUs stated she “has also met with deans and other officials over the last several years to discuss the problem of extremism and anti-Israel/anti-Semitic hate propagated by the MSU.” Rabbi Heir confirmed that he spoke with all the chancellors regularly and held “high level meetings” with Chancellor Drake to “make many of these points to them face to face.” In an article published in J Weekly, Elcott, of the Jewish Federation, said “we expect a very specific response from the University of California leadership,” and Hillel President Wayne Firestone added, “I do believe that strong disciplinary procedures by the university...[are] in order here.” These, along with other testimonies, confirmed suspicions that off-campus groups have a vested interest in the MSU’s status.

Amid swelling tension, UCI’s administration punished the entire MSU in one fell swoop. The resounding implications of this resolution undoubtedly sent tremors through student groups across the nation. When asked about Muslim organizations on other campuses, Rabbi Heir hinted that “they are part of the familiar cast of characters when it comes to those groups that demonize Israel and delegitimize Jewish people very often.”

What has happened to the Muslim Student Union at UCI casts a dark and deterrent shadow on the status of free speech on university campuses. And the Muslim students in Irvine have faced a brick wall of commanding opposition from pro-Israel groups who seem to have now established their rank with the UCI administration and further, with the District Attorney’s office in Orange County. 

As the case of the Irvine 11 escalated from an internal disciplinary proceeding to a criminal prosecution, the drastic measures taken by the District Attorney’s office fueled renewed suspicion surrounding the legitimacy of the charges against these students. The issue was no longer about the MSU, but pro-Israel groups remained in the picture. Before a grand jury investigation was launched, Rabbi Hier exercised his clout when he met with Susan Schroeder, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' chief of staff. After the verdict found all students guilty, these groups scrambled to commend Rackauckas for his “courageous” efforts. The MSU’s suspension was eventually reduced, and the students who were charged will serve no jail time, but the forces at work here did accomplish transforming the image of ten Muslims students from impassioned activists to criminals and thugs. The Irvine 11, the MSU at UCI, and an entire community that flanked them in support, were reduced to outlaws and those that defend them. The case may have closed on the Irvine 11, but students all over the country may now be intimidated into thinking twice before they pick up a picket sign or rally in the streets for a cause they believe in.

'Sharing Is Caring': Students and Teachers Explain Why They Marched to Occupy Wall Street

Among the thousands who marched to “Liberty Plaza” last night were many students and teachers demanding drastic change. I spoke to some of them about why they came, what they want, and how they see each other. What follow are edited transcripts of conversations that took place at the October 5 march from Foley Square.

Beverly Segers, 29-year math teacher for adult students:
I have a son who’s been out of work for three years. He had one job for 14 years, and now he cannot find a job here in the United States. I’m sick of it. He’s qualified to do so many things, and he’s even reeducated himself. What does he have to do to get a job in this country?

I’m marching for the young people, the students who graduated from college but can’t get a job. I’m marching because every time we turn around it’s more budget cuts, more budget cuts. While those rich fat cats, they go to the spa.

We’re suffering in this country, and somebody has to do something. Congress won’t do anything, the Senate won’t do anything, the President won’t do anything, but we’ve got to do like we did in the ‘70s. I got arrested in the ‘70s during the Vietnam war. I’m willing to get arrested again. Because it’s worse than it was then, understand? I’m 69 years old. I’m not going to live forever.

If my students even get their GED or certificate, where are they gonna work? They ask me for job advice and it’s very frustrating. I have nothing to tell them. We used to have a job counselor a few years ago, but they were laid off too.

The students started the revolution in the ‘60s and the ‘70s with Kent State—that’s when the country woke up. This changed the world before. It’ll work again.

Tianna Strickland, college student at Manhattan School of Visual Arts:
I really love this, I’m really proud of everyone getting together for a unified cause.

I’m already 80,000 thousand dollars in debt from school, so I’m really wary about whether or not I’m going to find a job after college, and how to pay off my debt.

I really hope that this sparks a change in the government, and a change in the people. And I really hope that it sparks a revolution, that people realize that we can do something as a collective without the government’s approval, without anyone’s real approval.

I’m a fulltime student. I work four days out of the week. I pay my own rent. I pay my own school, everything by myself, and I am worried about how I’m going to pay. I’m in my last year of college and I haven’t even paid for it yet. And I’m worried about whether or not I can even graduate.

It looks really grim. It looks really sad, like I already know a bunch of my friends that have had to drop out of college because they can’t afford it anymore. I think unions being involved here is really good, because it shows that it’s not just kids or students that are being affected—it’s everyone that’s being affected. A lot of the time students don’t get taken too seriously. And so when you get students and workers involved it gets taken more seriously, and it heightens the situation in a good way.

Maria Ortiz, bilingual education teacher:
Public schools really under Bloomberg have become a dictatorship—they dictate to us what to say, they dictate how to say it, and they dictate what to teach. When in reality we are the ones who know each child, and we know what each child needs. There are a lot of jobs that have been lost among teachers everywhere, so right now the class sizes are getting huge.

I think the reason we are in this position—that they are firing so many middle class and low income people—is because Wall Street has the most money, they have taken over all our resources, and that goes for schools. That’s why the public school systems been cut, and that’s why our classes are overcrowded.

We are all into this, and there is a sisterhood and a brotherhood to this, because we all see what Wall Street is doing to the whole economy.

Nick Fiora, Manchester Community College Student:
We were pretty upset with the way the mainstream media was covering this, so me and my friend, we slapped together some money and came down from Connecticut to participate in this. We believe in the cause. A lot of my friends, they have jobs and they have to support their families and they couldn’t make it. They wanted me to go down to represent them.

I was overwhelmed by the number of people here. We met some people that were here from day one, and they were like in tears, they were so happy. They were like, “We did this. And there were only 30 or 40 of them, and now they’re looking at a crowd in the thousands."

We have funded two wars that we can’t get out of. That’s a lot of money every day that could be going back to the American public and back into the economic system, but it’s going overseas to fund wars that aren’t really going anywhere. Politicians should start by creating jobs for America, and that in turn is going to get rid of that deficit.

Occupy Wall Street isn’t unfocused, it’s just that there’s a lot of problems.

Mary Alice Boyle, fourth grade teacher and local union president:
Where I teach in Peekskill, my school has a 68% poverty rate. I see a lot more homelessness now, a lot more hungry children. We’re up to 30 kids in a class. We lost 45 of our 300 union members already. We’re struggling, we’re suffering. We just don’t have any staff to meet the needs of these children. So they’re not going to have the education they need so they can live any kind of a decent life. I just see the American dream isn’t going to be there for the next generation.

We already had 40 layoffs, and I’d say next year with Governor Cuomo’s property tax cap we’re going to lose even more. I don’t know how we’re going to do it. We just don’t have anybody left. We’re bare bones. Even with no raises at all, we’re going to have to continue to cut staff.  We’ll have 50 in a class I guess. Or more “virtual learning”—they’re saying we won’t use teachers, we’ll just put kids on the computers. And you have Bill Gates trying to privatize education, just like they’re trying to privatize everything else.

I think it’s great that somebody’s standing up. I’ve been waiting for this generation to stand up and say: “Hey wait a minute, what’s going to happen to us? Where’s our American Dream? I got the college education, I did what you told me to do, and there are no jobs for us.” Because the corporations want them working for 10 dollars an hour with no benefits, so there’ll just be the haves and the have-nots.

Kyle Carraro, CUNY law student:
People are upset, our economy is not doing so well, and the people who were put in charge of running society are only watching out for themselves. Part of coming out here is just seeing how many people feel the same way, seeing how many people recognize that it’s so few Americans that have taken just about everything. I don’t know if they didn’t learn their lesson in pre-school: Sharing is caring.

Every problem here goes back to the money. Where I live used to be a public co-op. But now they’ve gone private. We’re fortunate to have been grandfathered in, but now people have to pay about 3500 dollars a month to live there, which is ridiculous. Who can afford that? You see malls being built, all this new luxury housing being built, and a lot of people don’t realize that the city’s actually giving them tax breaks to build that.  Meanwhile, the city tells the people in public housing, “Sorry, you know we have no money to repair your apartment.” And there’s people that every time it rains, they have a substantial amount of water in their apartment. They have mold on the walls. It looks like something out of a science fiction movie, it’s really disturbing.  It’s really disrespectful and the city tells them that they have to wait until 2014 to have things repaired that are really unacceptable and actually illegal. The city says, “Yeah we have this responsibility, we just don’t have the money right now.”

It’s not sustainable. You screw over enough people and look what happens: everyone’s out here.
 
It just feels good to be out here. I have no idea where it’s going, and I don’t think people should look to something like this as a solution. It’s just another step in what will hopefully be genuine long term change that’s long overdue.

Students Join Occupy Movement

Posted originally at OccupyBoston.

A nation-wide student walk-out is planned for today, Oct. 5, at noon. From New York to Los Angeles, students will march in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

In Boston, students from universities and colleges across the city will join together in solidarity with Occupy Boston and take part in the walk-out. Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern, Tufts, Brandeis and others including Harvard, MIT, UMass Boston, Berklee, Simmons, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, will leave class and march with us. They have organized on the site studentsoccupyboston.com, which states its goal is to “to act as a central communication point for organizing Boston area college students to help Occupy Boston,” and on Twitter, at @studentsoccupy.

On Facebook, students are circulating an invitation to their friends, which includes the following description of Occupy Boston:

“What I can tell you is that attending an #OccupyBoston event is the only way you will ever have a shot at understanding what the movement is really about. I can tell you that the individuals involved with #OccupyBoston and #OccupyWallStreet are unbelievably passionate, organized, determined people of every age, race, ethnicity, nationality, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, and spiritual affiliation who are working unwaveringly in the spirit of democracy. I can tell you that members of the #Occupy movement’s General Assemblies are effectively drawing the nation’s attention to a number of alarming economic, political, and social issues that negatively impact each and every one of us. Finally, I can assure you that this movement will be what its participants make of it, and for that reason, I implore you to visit Dewey Square for a General Assembly and to have a say in what #OccupyBoston becomes. I cannot contain my excitement when I think of the potential a movement like this has to change the United States and the world for the better, and I know that the participation and support of every single student and recent graduate in the Greater Boston area will help it achieve its incredible promise.”

We are so proud of our students. Boston is America’s college town— meaning one third of people who live in the greater Boston area are under 30, and 60% of those are students.

For more information on how your school can get involved, please email studentsoccupyboston@gmail.com or follow on Twitter @studentsoccupy

AFL-CIO Young Worker Summit Declares Support for Occupy Wall Street

In the latest sign of solidarity between labor and the Occupy Wall Street movement, the AFL-CIO has issued a statement from its Next Up Young Worker Summit in support of the Manhattan protesters. Eight hundred young workers and student activists approved the statement on the final day of their gathering in Minneapolis. It notes that “The top 1 percent controls the economy, makes profits at the expense of working people, and dominates the political debate. Wall Street symbolizes this simple truth: a small group of people have the lives and livelihoods of working Americans in their hands.”

Mary Clinton, an Occupy Wall Street activist and Next Up participant who proposed the resolution, says it passed “overwhelmingly.” “It’s important for labor to reach out beyond servicing its own members…” she adds, “and recognize that a lot of the gains and victories of the labor movement are gains that were won as part of a broader social movement.” Clinton is a labor studies graduate student at the City University of New York.

The Next Up statement also says:

“In the last two weeks, young people have sparked a movement on Wall Street, just as they did through the Arab Spring and in Wisconsin against Scott Walker…more than 800 Next Up participants from around the country stand with those on Wall Street who are making their voices heard. The future of our country depend on young people demanding the future we believe in. And we believe that Wall Street should pay for the damage they’ve done to our economy, our jobs, and our communities – foreclosing on homes, making massive profits with no oversight, and not sharing in building a future for the next generation.

“We stand together in calling for a country that doesn’t just work for the top 1 percent. We stand together to call for a sustainable future that doesn’t begin with massive tax breaks for the wealthy and end with austerity measures and a jobs crisis.”

Over the past week, several New York union locals have announced their participation in a march from City Hall this Wednesday to meet the Wall Street occupation. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the protests “a valid tactic” adding that “being in the streets and calling attention to issues is sometimes the only recourse you have…”

The General Assembly, the open-decision making body of Occupy Wall Street, issued its first official statement on Thursday, declaring that “a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.” The General Assembly statement lists a series of grievances against corporations, including illegal foreclosures, domination of media and politics, and attacks on collective bargaining. Clinton faults New York unions for not working more closely with community groups to avert cuts in the recent budget fight. “We all need to be banding together,” she says, “and demanding that we’re not going to have cuts, we’re not going to have layoffs, and we’re not going to compromise.”

Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important Stories (9/30/11)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week, and please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

Angela Aiuto:

Angela focuses on money in politics.

The Hidden Hands in Redistricting: Corporations and Other Powerful Interests,” by Olga Pierce, Jeff Larson and Lois Beckett. ProPublica, Sept. 23, 2011.

A ProPublica investigation of the redistricting battles that have followed the 2010 Census reveals that many major players—from Fair Districts Mass to the California Institute for Jobs, Economy and Education—are not who they appear to be. Their tactics are as deceptive as the stakes are high, for the victors will shape elections at the state and Congressional level for the decade to come. ProPublica's findings serve as yet another example of how unlimited, undisclosed political contributions are eroding our democratic process.

Cal Colgan

Cal follows the drug war and human rights in Latin America.

Drug war cables: ‘Burn poppies, burn,’” by Chris Arsenault and Sam Bollier. Al Jazeera, Sept. 4, 2011.

Although this Al Jazeera English article is almost a month old, it is still relevant because it details the most recently discovered WikiLeaks cables on the drug war. In spite of their often snarky and humorous titles, these cables reveal a recurring theme, especially when it comes to Latin America: U.S. officials consistently doubt the resolve of their Latin American and Caribbean allies when it comes to political purity in their fight against drug traffickers.

Teresa Cotsirilos:

Teresa focuses on "Global South" politics, or sociopolitical developments in areas of the developing world.

Brewing Up Double-Edged Delicacies for Mosquitoes,” by Donald McNeil Jr. The New York Times, Sept. 26, 2011.

The New York Times's recent special section, "Small Fixes," covers low-cost, high-impact innovations in the developing world that could ultimately save thousands of lives. The articles in this series are all well worth a read—one of them, involving groundbreaking developments in cervical cancer prevention, has already been extensively re-blogged—but the one that I've listed above is my favorite. Scientists at Hebrew University in Jerusalem have developed a strain of "nectar poisons" that can be sprayed on flowing plants, and would attract and then kill mosquitos (little known fact: while female mosquitos drink blood, mosquitos usually subsist on nectar). Environmentally friendly and inexpensive, preliminary forms of the solution have killed off 90% of the mosquito populations in Malian villages—thereby all but eliminating the threat of malaria.

Paolo Cravero:

Paolo follows war, peace, and security.

 Armed defenders of Syria's revolution,” by Nir Rosen. Al Jazeera, Sept. 27, 2011.

In this second article of Al Jazeera's Syrian Series, Special Correspondent Nir Rosen discusses instances of armed clashes between Syrian army defectors and state security forces and gives a comprehensive account of the internal dynamics of the fighting factions. Worth a read if you like crisp and in-depth reporting in the tradition of great foreign correspondents.

Erika Eichelberger:

Erika follows the environmental beat.

Millions of Acres of Land You Inherited are at Risk,” by Congressman John Garamendi. Firedoglake, Sept. 21, 2011.

Congressman John Garamendi of California writes on Firedoglake that there are several bills currently being debated in Congress that would eliminate protection for millions of acres of national land, allowing oil, timber and mining interests to exploit them for profit. Hopefully, such outrageous proposals that threaten the climate, biodiversity and water access will be defeated.

Josh Eidelson:

Josh covers the labor beat.

GM UAW Members Ratify Labor Accord; Ford Deal May Be Next,” by David Welch and Keith Naughton. Business Week, Sept. 28, 2011.

The United Auto Workers (UAW) announced Wednesday that General Motors employees had ratified their first new contract since emerging from bankruptcy. UAW leaders faced criticism from members during negotiations for agreeing to maintain a two-tier system established in 2007, under which new employees have worse benefits and half the wages of long-time workers. That helps explain why more than a third of the membership voted against the new agreement. UAW leaders say the new contract guarantees profit-sharing and new job creation while resisting further benefits cuts. Negotiations are ongoing between the UAW and Ford, the most profitable of the "Big Three."

Eli Epstein-Deutsch:

Eli looks at the intersection of politics, ideas and economics from a macro perspective.

Immigration, the Republicans, and the End of White America,” by Ron Unz. The American Conservative, Sept. 21, 2011.

Sometimes it can be entertaining to read the conservative press. I sometimes like the American Conservative not only because it lays out right-wing thinking so starkly, but also because can it be relied on for strange perspectives (contrast with the cliched, predictable Weekly Standard). For instance this article begins with a spine-tinglingly cynical calculation about the efficacy of Republican race-baiting, yet somehow by the end evolves into a stirring call for a living wage—detailing arguments about the socially detrimental character of a poorly paid underclass that liberals quite often fail to muster.

Collier Meyerson:

Collier’s beat is discrimination.

Ching Chongs and Tiger Moms: The 'Asian Invasion' in US Higher Education,” by OiYan A. Poon. Hyphen, Sept. 27, 2011.

Professor of Law at Yale University, Amy Chua wrote a memoir last year entitled Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mom, that revealed "the rewards and the costs - of raising her children the strict 'Chinese' way." The piece I chose for this week is an analysis of the cultural significance behind the popularity of Chua's memoir. OiYan A. Poon cites Chua's ability to "take advantage of white anxieties over China’s challenges to American exceptionalism and white dominance in elite US colleges" as the main reason for its success.

Allie Tempus:

Allie follows human rights.

A clinic in Gonzales struggles to deal with Texas' health care cuts,” by Lisa Sandberg. Texas Observer, Sept. 27, 2011.

While Texas Gov. Rick Perry continues to come under friendly fire in GOP debates for his stance on the HPV vaccine, back home rural communities face the real problem of deep cuts to already limited reproductive health resources. This piece is littered with details that manage to highlight the state's coexisting cultural pride and its social bleakness, revealing an unsettling new reality: in Texas, champions for family planning care may as well be outlaws on the range.

Jin Zhao:

Jin follows the US’s image in international media.

US soldier gets 7 years in prison for Afghan murder.” Reuters, Sept. 24, 2011.

Andrew Holmes, an American soldier who shot a 15-year old unarmed civilian Afghan boy at close range, posed with the body for photographs (viewer discretion recommended), and kept a finger bone of the boy as a souvenir, plead guilty and was sentenced to seven years in jail, which can be reduced to no more than four years, according to his lawyer. Holmes's family has set up a website asking for support, claiming that Holmes unwillingly participated in the killing.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer: “Youth Face An Abyss Now”

Eight hundred young workers and activists are gathering tomorrow in Minneapolis for the AFL-CIO’s second annual Next Up Young Worker Summit.  On Friday, they’ll march through downtown Minneapolis with signs that say “I Want a Job.”  The conference is spearheaded by AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, 41, the youngest person ever to hold the Number Two spot at the nation’s largest labor federation. This week I spoke with Shuler about the challenges and opportunities facing young workers and the labor movement.  What follows is an edited and condensed transcript.

Last year you wrote in The Nation that young people are in “jeopardy of permanent economic scarring.”  How so?
Youth unemployment is double the average.  Youth face an abyss now: coming out of college, not being able to find a job, carrying extraordinary debt, delaying adulthood.  More people are living with their parents than anytime since World War II. Even if you find a job, it’s at a lower wage rate than before the recession.  So you’re starting behind and you never end up catching up.  You’re competing with older unemployed workers, including people coming out of retirement because they lost their pension.

Is youth organizing a new focus for the AFL-CIO?
It has been since we were elected in 2009. When Rich Trumka and Arlene Holt-Baker and I came in, we recognized that we weren’t doing a great job in the labor movement of reaching out to young people. We did a listening tour, and there was a real hunger to build coalitions.  Since then we’ve been reaching out to young progressive organizations.  There was so much to be learned from these organizations on how to make the labor movement relevant not just to young union members, but to young workers in general. In Wisconsin you saw young people leading the charge. The labor movement thought it was a natural voice for young people out there who feel disenfranchised, and we also need young workers to ensure our own future, so it was a natural pairing.  We started building infrastructure that led up to our first summit last year with 400 young people who want to mobilize and educate and agitate.  It’s been growing exponentially since then.

What’s the purpose of this week’s summit?
It’s for young workers to have a space to network and exchange ideas. It’s an education platform to talk about the issues facing young workers.  It’s also to provide leadership development, because we need it in the labor movement, where we have very few opportunities for young people to ascend to leadership positions. Last year we tried to plan everything at headquarters, but we learned that the young workers really wanted to be an integral part of planning the summit, and so this year we were able to decentralize the planning.

There’s a long history of tension in the labor movement between exclusivity and inclusion, including over race, gender, and immigration.  How do you see that dynamic play out in organizing young workers?
We are doing everything we can to shed those old stereotypes.  Reaching out to young people is our first and probably only hope. For whatever reason people have in their heads that we’re an island of privilege or exclusivity.  And the new labor movement is actually reaching out beyond its membership like never before, and young people are part of that.  We’re alive and well and we want to help improve their economic circumstances, fight for social justice, and work on issues that we have in common. One of the goals is intergenerational alliances.  When you have a system that’s based on seniority, a lot of more seasoned leaders are older and so it takes a lot to be able to bring different generations together to understand each other. We’re really proud of our success at getting our individual affiliate unions to start their own young worker programs.

Do you think young people are confronting different issues on the job than other workers?
Yes and no.  For the most part young workers are concerned about pay and benefits like the next person. But there are also quality of life issues that tend to be a greater focus for this next generation, including equity in terms of job-sharing and flexible schedules. The workforce is changing and encompassing more freelance, part-time, and contract workers.  These are the types of work that we haven’t necessarily been familiar with in the labor movement, so the goal is to find ways to make it fair while preserving the integrity of the job. We need to modify our ways of doing business to fit with the changing workplace.

Does it make it harder to engage young workers when unions agree to “two tier” contracts that protect certain benefits for current workers but not for new ones?
Every situation is different. The bargaining unit elects the people that represent them at the table, and you would hope that all of these systems are negotiated with all of the members in mind, and are the fairest proposals that could be on the table.

One summit panel is about state-level political threats.  Do you see the attack on public workers as a consequence of the decline in private sector unionization?
Definitely.  The density question is the biggest and most important challenge we have in front of us.  How do we grow? And we’re basically in a defensive posture in every state.  It’s not only attacks on the public sector and collective bargaining – it’s prevailing wage laws, it’s voting rights, it’s everything you can think of being thrown at us.

The current generation is much less likely to grow up with family members or neighbors who are in a union.  How does that affect youth organizing and youth culture?
It’s definitely had an impact. It used to be that everyone had a cousin or parent or grandparent in a union, and that connection has become so distant that young people don’t see unions as relevant to them.  So our job is to step back and find ways to make that connection. A lot of people think it’s by continuing to preach and tell people, “Well you’re going to make more money if you join a union,” or “You’re going to have access to healthcare,” and those are obviously very important substantive reasons, but we also need to connect on values, connect with people emotionally based on dignity in work and how work needs to be respected. Everybody can relate to that.  The goal is to figure out what drives a young person to reconsider us.

Five Ways Young Americans Can Fight Back Against Student Loan Debt

This article was originally published by Alternet and is re-posted here with the permission of the author.

I’m going to come out to you. I am overburdened by student loan debt. Since graduating at the height of the financial downturn with a degree that isn’t easily applicable to an ever-competitive job market, I’ve been stuffing my loan statements in a box under my bed. The only reason I feel empowered to say this to an audience is because I’ve found out that I’m not alone. In fact, there are 206,000 of us who graduated in 2008 with at least $40,000 in student loan debt. Student loan debt exceeded credit card debt for the first time in 2010, and according to the debt clock that keeps ticking away, we’re only $60 million shy of the oft-cited $1 trillion mark.

The dismal anecdotes of youth in this country have been reported on this site. Even Mayor Bloomberg acknowledged that something should be done for these hopeless young people before we take to the street to riot. 

Remember Mohammed Bouazizi? So much has happened since this 26-year-old Tunisian food vendor set himself on fire in front of a local municipal office. The rest is a tumultuous recent history of riots, protests, tent cities and overall acting out in the Middle East, collectively referred to as the Arab Spring. Though Bouazizi wasn’t a college student, as reported in much of the narrative, his desperation in the face of police brutality and unemployment in a society that was blind to his community’s struggle mirrors ours. Bouazizi set himself ablaze in order to be seen. 

I hearken back to this story, not because I’m advocating a repeat of this scene, or because with police violence and retaliation against the #OccupyWallStreet protesters, it seems like we’re heading for the same violent crescendo as our Middle Eastern counterparts. But in a profile of the boy behind the legend, Bouazizi's mother spoke to the humiliation that her son felt—his lack of control over the course of his own life. In order to regain control, he took his life. With mounting bills, disappearing jobs, and a deaf, dumb and blind government, the time is ripe for a similar spark and resulting uprising here in the US.

But it probably won’t happen—or at least not in the same way. Clinical psychologist Bruce Levine wrote on this site that “Young Americans...appear to have acquiesced to the idea that the corporatocracy can completely screw them and that they are helpless to do anything about it.” He succinctly articulated the weights that hold young Americans back; what keeps us from rallying to the streets in sustained, significant protest.

In my talks with Levine, he seemed much more hopeful about the potential of youth to overcome these barriers. He acknowledged that the insidious forces that keep us from the streets were established by his generation, and said to me and all youth that firstly, “we must do something to get you out of your pain.” He started me off with a few solutions. Here they are for your viewing, debating and (hopefully) implementing pleasure. 

1. Student Loans—The Personal

Large debt—and the fear it creates—is a pacifying force,” says Levine. Student loans have been in the spotlight recently. In 2009, Robert Applebaum posted a Facebook note calling for student loan forgiveness as a direct means of economic stimulus. “Responsible people who did nothing other than pursue a higher education would have hundreds, if not thousands of extra dollars per month to spend, fueling the economy now,” he wrote. Since then, a burgeoning collective movement has formed and our individual grinding and knashing of teeth over our monthly bills has been poured into a focused group building. His “Forgive Student Loans” petition reached 300,000 before it went to MoveOn.org and is currently moving its way up to 400,000.

But for a graduate in pain, this is small relief. What’s holding you back won’t immediately be fixed by a petition or even legislation. Connecting your personal struggle to the overall political battle is the key to moving this along. In the meantime, here are some things to know and do for personal relief from student debt pain.

  • The student lending system, like its house-lending cousin, is an intentionally confusing process with lots of opportunity for hijinks and malfeasance on the part of collection agencies. If you are confused about who owns your loan, your current standing or any other issues, the Office of the Ombudsman at the Department of Education can be helpful in tracking the life of your federal loan(s). They even give advice about dealing with lenders, default, fraud and bankruptcy.

  • The Institute for College Access and Success has initiated the Project on Student Debt, which Applebaum also works with. Although you can’t contact the project directly with your personal woes, it has great resources—whether you’re applying to college, in college or a graduate—to assist you and do great political work around consumer protection rights for student loan borrowers.  

  • Did you know you could qualify for Income Based Repayment (IBR) and loan consolidation even if you’re in default? Programs like IBR and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) are under-publicized options that can immediately take off some of the student loan burden (watch the demo on IBRinfo.org). The great thing about IBR is that after paying based on your income for 25 years (or 10 years for public service employees), the rest of your loan is forgiven. Though not a perfect system (the “forgiven” amount is still taxable income) IBR could reduce your monthly payments significantly.  

  • Generally, be open and honest about your situation. Talk to your loan holder(s) and ask questions about your options. If someone is rude, or excessively demanding, report them. To learn more about dealing with collection agents, go to the Federal Trade Commission website’s Facts for Consumers. Form support groups with young and old at varying stages of the college game. Share resources and stories and help each other without judgment.

2. Student Loans—The Political

Now that you feel a bit more secure in your situation, it’s time to motivate and advocate for the end of what Levine calls “student loan indentureship.” If you’re not convinced that this is a growing national crisis wrought with the same inequalities that precipitated the housing crisis, here are a few factoids: The corruption reaches all the way to the top, with Speaker of the House John Boehner being the recipient of the most contributions from the student loan industry.

College tuition rates enjoy steady growth even as employment opportunities for recent grads decrease. The DOE reports that 8.8 percent of student borrowers are defaulting, and those numbers are increasing. Both private and federal student loans were stripped of bankruptcy protection. That means borrowers don’t get the basic consumer protections those who incur gambling debt receive. Wages can be garnished without a court order, unlike every other situation where a court order is mandatory. Almost any provision that would protect borrowers, the latest being the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has been attacked and dismantled by our corporate-friendly Congress.

If you don’t want to advocate for student loan forgiveness, at least agree that student loan borrowers deserve the same consumer protections enjoyed by every other industry.

In that vein, support these platforms. As a lawyer, Applebaum acknowledged that the reason for asking for such an extreme provision as nation-wide loan forgiveness is so we could achieve basic protections—a "shoot for the moon, but at least reach the stars" situation. “I recognize that the political reality is not in my favor,” he told me, “but I started the national conversation and that is more important.” Sign the petition and support Rep. Hansen Clarke’s resolution to forgive student loans. Connect with student groups doing work around tuition hikes and student debt (more on that in #4).

3. Drugs

Young people indulge in all types of substances to get away from their pain—none more pervasive and dangerous than those prescribed to us by medical professionals. "Just as people themselves can abuse drugs, abusers can use drugs to abuse and break people,” Levine writes in Get Up, Stand Up! He continues, “Saul Alinsky, the legendary organizer and author of Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, would today certainly be diagnosed with ODD and other disruptive disorders.”

After the movements of the '60s and '70s, corporate interest used two main industries to control and suppress future rebellions: higher education and the drug industry. Their best hope to continue uninterrupted with their corruption and manipulation is to have a zombie population, one that’s under-educated and over-medicated.

Though psychotropic drugs like LSD are illegal, drugs like amphetamines that "treat" ADHD are encouraged for their abilities to subdue petulant children and make them more manageable for parents and schools. The disparities in who gets prescribed psychotropic drugs are well documented. Books such as the The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became A Black Disease explore the reasons why "doctors diagnosed schizophrenia in African American patients, particularly African American men, four times as often as in white patients." In Get Up, Stand Up! Levine noted that in 2009 "antipsychotics were the highest grossing class of medications, with sales of $14.6 billion." Though Americans are only 5 percent of the world’s population, we consume 90 percent of the Ritalin produced.

For a solution, Bruce Levine suggests, “Instead of behaviorally manipulating or medicating these rebellious kids, in a more democratic society, we would be validating the reasonableness of questioning authority and challenging illegitimate authority. We would be asking: Why are they rebelling? Is the authority that they are rebelling against an illegitimate authority? Can we help these young people rebel in a way that helps them gain more self-respect because it is successful against illegitimate authorities?” (Listen to Levine’s own experience within the profession.)

This is not to deny that mental illness exists. It very much does, but the current approach to solving it is severely impaired. Examine your own mental health and see where you may be taken advantage of. If you’re interested in alternate mental health facilities check out Freelancer’s Union health directory and read member's profiles. Rebellion is not a pathology. It’s one of the first tools toward freedom.

If you think that the drug industry and the psychoanalytical community are above reform, consider this: up until 1973 homosexuality was considered a mental disorder included in the DSM where treatment, including shock therapy, was recommended for patients. Now, two of the most conservative institutions—marriage and the military—are legally required to acknowledge the union (in some states) and the existence of this community. It’s not hard to imagine that diagnosis like ADHD and ADD may have the same outcome.

4. Education

In Levine’s piece, he details the pitfalls and failings of our education system in three points. In one, he says that schools educate for compliance and not democracy. As previously noted, education systems, both higher and elementary are not in the business of creating free thinkers. So in order to unlearn the doctrine and free your mind, a good suggestion comes from Walter Mosley’s Twelve Steps to Political Revelation. In “Meeting of the Twelve” he suggests that you “[g]et together with a dozen people and ask a question that brings to light a cultural or political conundrum. Let each member of the twelve make a brief comment on how they see the problem and what they think might be the solution.... This weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly meeting will be an exercise in genius.”

In this way, without the school model, arbitrary test and scores, you create genius, as genius is not the work of one brainy individual, but “a collaborative phenomenon."

If you are in college, be aware that, “the corporatocracy has figured out a way to make [y]our already authoritarian schools even more authoritarian.” College tuition is rising at an alarming rate compared to other consumer spending like medical expenses and housing. Public universities and colleges, described as institutions receiving 60 percent of government funding, are becoming more and more privatized as funding decreases and student contribution through tuition hikes increase.

I attended a meeting at Hunter College of the City University of New York, where a group called Resist and Multiply discussed the egregious tuition hikes this year at CUNY and SUNY (State University of New York) schools and the proposed increases during the next few years. This highly informed and motivated group pointed out that Hunter historically provided education for the underserved lower middle classes, whose families would otherwise be priced out of a higher education for their children. Now, rising tuition and fees, paired with unaffordable food (from private companies) at the college and a 60 percent adjunct population (who themselves are taken advantage of financially and who unlike tenured professors have no job security or incentive to engage in a long-term fight with the students), has tarnished that proud history.

A lesson from this group would be to identify winnable causes to motivate the student body at large. People sign on to things once they see progress. State debts are used to justify most cuts to programs and hikes in spending, so if you’re in a public university, connect with other schools in your state and discuss ways to fight cuts and hikes at your school. If you’re at a private college, find out the school’s accreditation organization here. Every few years schools are up for review by these services, and that creates an opportunity to propose changes through student government or any other student/faculty/administration committee. Visit Campus Progress to learn how for-profit colleges rip off their students. (Also check out their infographic on shrinking Pell Grants.) Form coalitions with other student organizations (ethnic, social, etc.) and pool resources. Co-host events, work on rallies and support each other’s individual causes and events.

If you are yet not in college, reconsider going. There are numerous arguments out there to support this, but it all stems from knowing yourself and what you most want to do with your life (which may be a lot to ask of an 18-year-old). Half the number of admitted students leave without degrees. Though degree holders generally earn more than those without, the majority still won’t get the high-paying jobs their degrees promised. Don’t be seduced by “name-brand” colleges; this matters least when evaluating your education. Go to Dontgotocollege.com and read this article about rethinking the college promise.

5. Apathy

This is probably the most difficult aspect to overcome. In Levine’s last few points, he highlights fundamental consumerism, television and surveillance as tools that contribute to “youth zombification.” An extension of his view of fundamental consumerism is that corporations have successfully co-opted the look of an activist. Even organizations with progressive reputations that form part of the look don’t deserve their current reverence. The most insidious aspect of corporatocracy is that the system has created a culture that supports corporate goods while simultaneously condemning the corporation that produces them. But before I continue on a rant about consumerism, understand that aspiring to the other extreme, asceticism, is just as bad. We all need goods and services. But pledging allegiance to one particular good or service is just as bad as denouncing everything.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in a world that counts on it. As a young person, just living life and trying to survive puts you in too many damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situations. But there are ways to achieve a compromise in a world obsessed with your pacification.

For the personal, examine your own relationship to digital media, television and social networking sites. Can you easily “turn off” from Twittering and Facebooking at will? Do you use it as a tool, or does it rule you? Go to How to Quit Facebook for suggestions on how to examine, reduce or quit the site. Read this article on how to slow down your life. Try something new and different every week. Whether it’s finding a new route to work, going to a cooking class or even skipping your favorite TV show for a stroll in the park, these small actions prove that you do have the power to change your own life, and eventually, the reality of this generation.

For a political solution, engage in some form of social justice action. If that seems too extreme for you, consider this quote from Get Up, Stand Up!: “People have been led to believe that their oppression is 'normal'; they are told, 'Nothing personal, it’s just the market.' [Steve] Meacham [organizer for City Life/Vida Urbana] believes that organizing is about changing this framing.” Organizing and advocating is probably the best long-term strategy for getting youth out of their personal and political pain.

Take the Forgive Student Loan Debt campaign. Applebaum, though affiliated with other organizations that work on this issue, started it on his own accord out of his living room with a Facebook post. He now has a petition that’s creating more and more traction, a website, a blog and a highly active Facebook presence (now, there’s a good reason to Facebook). He considers himself the default leader because he started the campaign, but admins in the group have just as much say as he does. For youth wary of subscribing to another campaign or organization that would use their youthful zeal toward its own agenda, this a good mantle to take up.

Becoming connected with other like-minded individuals is probably the most significant step toward personal freedom. To use those connections to build coalitions and power toward political freedom is the best form of resistance any movement can adopt. In a recent article, Peter Dreier, a professor of politics said:

Riots occur when people are hopeless. Civil disobedience takes place when people are hopeful—when people believe not only that things should be different but also that they can be different.

There’s no need for the extreme violent action we saw in London a few weeks ago, though the plights are real there and here. With careful, strategic planning, inter-generational cooperation and long-term goal oriented actions, we can create a youth uprising that’s powerful, sustained, thoughtful and inclusive and finally get out of our pain.

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