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Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.

University Enrolls Illegal Immigrants

Five undocumented immigrants joined the freshman class this year, according to La Casa Latina, the cultural resource center for Latino students.

While most students arrive on campus ready to share their stories with roommates and friends, these five students took extra precaution to ensure that they kept part of their background secret—their immigration status.

Undocumented immigrants are individuals who are not US citizens or legal residents but live in the United States. The Urban Institute, an independent analysis center, estimates that 65,000 undocumented students graduate from US high schools every year. Although there is no federal or state law that prohibits universities from admitting undocumented immigrants, many assume that they cannot legally attend college because they are not eligible for federal financial aid.

In recent years, there have been a number of undocumented immigrant students at Penn, according to La Casa Latina Associate Director America Espinal. The five who arrived this year were initially brought to La Casa’s attention through the Admissions Office, which gives the center a list of undocumented immigrant students to reach out to at the beginning of each year, according to Espinal.

Dean of Admissions Eric Furda declined to comment, and Student Financial Services spokeswoman Marlene Bruno maintained that her office was unaware of undocumented students at Penn.

When working with a student who is not a citizen or permanent resident, Penn's Student Financial Services will not include federal aid as part of the need-based financial aid package, according to Penn’s Office of the General Counsel.

According to La Casa Director JohnFive undocumented immigrants joined the freshman class this yeany Irizarry, private institutions such as Penn have the capacity to support undocumented students. “The Ivies have the resources to do that,” he said. “They have the private donations that can allow them to be more welcoming.”

The full article is available at the Daily Pennsylvanian.

Georgia Bans Undocumented Students From Top Schools

Georgia's university system just voted this week to ban undocumented students from enrolling in five of the most prestigious state colleges

Several states have been debating whether to allow undocumented students to attend college, and on what terms.  In 2008,  USA Today reported that: 

In the past two years, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and Oklahoma have refused in-state tuition benefits to students who entered the USA illegally with their parents but grew up and went to school in the state. That represents a reversal from earlier this decade, when 10 states passed laws allowing in-state rates for such students. 

This summer, South Carolina became the first state to bar undocumented students from all public colleges and universities.

North Carolina's community colleges in May ordered its 58 campuses to stop enrolling undocumented students after the state attorney general said admitting them may violate federal law.

There are two debates going on here: whether students who’ve lived in the state for a significant portion of their lives, but don’t have citizenship status, should qualify for in-state tuition—and, more radically, whether they should be permitted to enroll in state schools at all. 

Georgia’s decision is also part of a larger push that’s been gaining momentum over the past year to block undocumented students from the educational system on all levels.

A number of public elementary and high schools have been taking steps to gather information on students’ citizenship status and to discourage undocumented students from attending. One Iowa gubernatorial candidate has even been campaigning on the idea of overturning Plyler vs. Doe, the Supreme Court decision that established the right to K-12 education for all children regardless of immigration status.

Unfortunately, these critics seem to be missing the point that education is a cornerstone of integration and positive citizenship. 

These kids are here now, regardless of what papers their parents have, and giving them the chance to get an American education is both the most moral and the most cost-efficient way to address the situation.

Let’s take the German education system as a cautionary tale. Germany’s been in denial about its huge influx of immigrants until recently, despite admitting a steady flow of immigrant workers since the 1950s, and the country's multicultural growing pains are coming to a head after years of an education system that tends to exclude minorities from college-track schooling.

In the German education system, you have to take a test arond age 10 that determines whether you track towards vocational, professional, or college education—and if students have recently immigrated and their German isn't strong, or their parents need them to join the workforce sooner to help the family out, they're probably headed for the vocational track.

Der Spiegel raised this point when the 2006 PISA study results revealed a huge achievement gap between German students and those with a "migration background." 

Specific criticism was levelled at the German and Austrian school systems for their practice of separating students by achievement at the age of 10. In Germany, this means that high-achieving students are placed in university track schools after the fourth grade and lower achieving students are essentially blocked from ever attending university. Many of the third-tier schools in Germany's three-level system become collection points for under-achievers, problem students and foreign students. Poor conditions at such schools have recently been splashed across the headlines in German papers.

It seems, four years down the road, that occupational segregation hasn’t exactly built social harmony, either.  

Let me break that down another way:

Anti-immigrant sentiment today -> banning kids from education system -> professional segregation -> less integration -> pundits and politicians blame immigrants for not integrating -> rise in xenophobia -> less security and social stability for everyone on the whole.

Does any of that sound like a good idea? 

Penn Democrats Register 1,300 New Voters

This semester, student political groups Penn Leads the Vote and Penn Democrats registered a combined 1,341 students to vote in the upcoming midterm elections. At just 180 short of the 1,521 student voters in 2006, the numbers suggest potential for high voter turnout. The number does not include students who registered last semester, sent registration forms through the mail themselves and students who did not need to re-register due to a change of address.

These high registration numbers are promising, according to Peter Levine, director of the Tufts University-based Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which studies youth voting trends.

According to CIRCLE’s analysis of Census 2010 data, 86.8 percent of college students who were registered in 2008 actually voted, and “most of the pundits’ chatter about low interest by young people is either mere speculation or comes from comparing 2010 to the height of the 2008 presidential campaign,” Levine wrote in an e-mail.

However, he also cautioned against conflating a higher registration rate with a larger number of registrations done by organizers. “Lots of people do not register through groups, and sometimes when organizations register people, those people would have registered anyway,” Levine wrote.

According to Penn Dems President and College junior Emma Ellman-Golan, the group registered 250 new voters and re-registered 250 students whose addresses had changed.

“We’re really glad to see registration numbers go up,” Ellman-Golan said, adding that “young people traditionally vote Democrat, and I don’t think that’s changing this year.”

The full article is available at the Daily Pennsylvanian.

 

The Campaign Trail: A Break From Politics

"This is kind of like a homecoming for me," Black Thought mused at the start of his set with the Roots. "I graduated from the high school right across the street there, just like my father before me." At Robert Fulton elementary school in Germantown, Philadelphia, the crowd loved every minute of it.

Philadelphians, already roaring for their hometown musician, were fired up by the time President Obama took the stage to make a heated delivery of his midterm stump speech. The rally was a resounding success, but it's going to take more than a presidential appearance if Democrats want to hold on to Pennsylvania's open senate seat.

Across the political spectrum, the idea that Washington is out of touch with real Americans is repeated to the point that it has become simply another piece of mind numbing, meaningless campaign rhetoric. I have always been an apologist for the elitist rebuttal that "real Americans" do not understand the nuance and complexity of governance and, for that reason, America is a representative republic and not a direct democracy. When I signed up for a DC College Democrats campaign trip to Pennsylvania, my rationale was even less substantive: we need to increase voter turnout in low-income urban areas, I thought, so that the Democratic candidate will be elected in order to maintain a majority in the Senate.

The lead up to campaigning did little to challenge my assumptions. The campaign literature featured a door hanger with a picture of three African-American professionals frowning at a photo of Republican senate candidate Pat Toomey, who seemed to have gained a John Boehner orange tinge somewhere in the photoshopping process. Outside the bus window stood a crowd that looked different from the people in the campaign literature. A predominately black crowd in traditional Islamic dress gathered around a sign that read "Revolutionary Workers Party." We had work to do.

En route to our assigned neighborhood, my canvassing partner Sam and I practiced the painstakingly crafted script. I knocked on the first door in a seemingly endless line of dilapidated row houses that compose most of North Philadelphia. There was no answer. I turned to see a pair of hijab-clad schoolgirls peering curiously from their adjoining porch at the confused Chinese boy who had wandered into their neighborhood. Figuring no one was home, I slipped a flyer under the door and was turning to leave when the door creaked open and a man in a stained XXL Phillies T-shirt emerged, frowning at me with suspicious annoyance. I looked down at my information sheet.

"Uh, Marvin?" I asked hopefully. He grunted something that I assumed to be a yes. I launched into my pitch: "Hi, my name is Mike and I'm a volunteer for the Sestak for senate campaign." I paused, waiting for a response before adding, "He's the Democrat."

Marvin's face shifted instantly into a bright smile, "Well why didn't you say so? You know the folks in this neighborhood are behind you 100 percent." He continued to talk animatedly, putting a rough, pudgy hand on my shoulder. "You know, I've lived here for sixty-eight years and the first time I ever voted was in '08." There were two other names on my list at this address.

"What about Maurice and Latoya? Can we count on their votes too?" I asked, excited to find so much enthusiasm on my first try. Marvin looked away and his smile faded.

"Well, you see Maurice, he's a good boy really, but he's… um, he's incarcerated right now," Marvin sighed and shook his head, "and Latoya, that's my wife, well she can't make it to the polls unless there's someone that can find her a wheelchair to get there."

At Georgetown, I usually complain that political discourse lacks substance because it consists entirely of rhetoric and contains no real political theory. Canvassing the neighborhoods of Philadelphia gave me an unexpected opportunity to climb down from the ivory tower and see the real impact of government policy for myself. For most college students, which party takes power means a difference of a few hundred dollars in financial aid or taxes for our parents. In North Philly and neighborhoods like it across the country, government policy on healthcare or unemployment benefits can mean the difference between life and death.

One hundred and twenty student volunteers from DC knocked on nearly 10,000 doors across Philadelphia. Every voter had a unique story, but shared a unifying theme. "I don't vote," one woman told me with cynical indifference, "all them politicians is corrupt."

"What about Obama?" I asked. Her eyes suddenly sparkled with electricity.

"He's different," she sighed dreamily. At every house I visited, the narrative was the same. Healthcare and financial reform have not delivered an instant cure for America's problems, but after generations of poverty, violence and resulting political disengagement, people finally feel that their voices matter. In other words, the American people have found hope.

The president's speech in Philadelphia was one of his angriest yet. Clearly he is frustrated with the disenchantment in his white liberal base and unyielding resistance on the right, but the most work needs to be done among first-time voters, particularly in neighborhoods like Germantown, Philadelphia. While "hope" and "change" are just pieces of rhetoric for cynics like me, they mean everything to Marvin and his neighbors who had never even bothered to vote until two years ago. It was truly rewarding to spend the weekend with those "real Americans" who I had previously derided as ignorant. I got to see that politics is not just my favorite sport to play inside the Beltway but rather something concrete that has the potential to change lives.

What Democracy Looks Like

On a Saturday in June, workers, organizers and allies of UNITE HERE Local 217’s downtown Providence hotels marched in solidarity with gay rights activists in the Rhode Island Pride Parade. Rainbow confetti carpeted the streets. Lady Gaga blasted from every float. Though I played high school soccer, I’ve never seen so much (or so little) underwear on a single occasion. Even for my college eyes, this was a lot of skin. When they said Big Labor, they meant it.

This was Providence, a place where sexuality and solidarity are less bad romance than mutual labor of love. That night, I witnessed a union between unionism and sexuality-based identity politics, the old left and the very new left. It was a heady mixture of social movements that, even in the liberal academy, you’re led to associate with the supposedly burned out student radicalism of the '60s. At Yale, the social left conspires with the economic center. As alum and National Review writer Matthew Shaffer puts it, “A member of the Party of the Left is now more likely to work for a hedge fund than a labor union after graduation.” I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

It doesn’t have to be. As I’ve learned from the social movement unionism of UNITE HERE, a new generation of worldly social liberals is ripe to be organized under the union banner. UNITE HERE disproves the standard assumptions about how to spend your energy if you’re the sort of student who’s into “doing good” or “solving problems.” In the process it shows that the labor movement is, or can be, far from the stodgy, middle-class-white-male, bloated bureaucracy that many otherwise reasonable Democrats make it out to be.

UNITE HERE is at the forefront of labor “organizing” in its strictest sense. Organizers are tasked not with cutting deals with employers but with building strong committees of workers who then, themselves, take on the task of organizing other workers. As some recent high-profile certification votes convincingly show, workers prefer this model to the more top-down approach of the formerly Andy Stern–led Service Employees International Union, whose concession bargaining and shop-floor unionization raids unfortunately but understandably put a bureaucratic Big Labor face on labor. 

It’s the sort of organizing that would attract Carmen Castillo, a member of the Local 217 committee whose struggle is simple: “I want to be a professional, to make a good job and make good money” and, every year, take a “vacation home” to the Dominican Republic. For Carmen, economic self-determination is both the point and the process toward organizing success. This active personal stake is the grassroot of broader social movement spirit. Picketers and paraders are, first of all, participants.

Call it democratic, progressive, American, “socialist,” whatever. What’s at stake is not an ideology, but life itself. Shouting “Show me what democracy looks like!” alongside a hundred others, as professors from the New York Times–funded “American Democracy Project” conference crossed a picket line to enter a militantly anti-union hotel, is the closest I’ve come to a singular political imperative.

For every rebel, there’s a cause. UNITE HERE–style social movement unionism is fundamentally a flow of on-the-ground campaigns with concrete goals. What looks like a mass anti-corporate uprising may, in the aggregate, be one, but foremost, it’s a demand for living wages, fairer job security protection, employer accountability to a progressively weakened National Labor Relations Board, women’s rights, gay rights, immigrant rights, better schools and stronger communities.

This form of unionism is never just about contracts. It harkens back to a long tradition of labor progressivism. UNITE HERE’s Sleep with the Right People campaign has contributed $125,000 to combat California’s ban on gay marriage. Unions have helped secure “community benefits agreements” between developers and communities in over fifteen cities since the first in Los Angeles in 1998. And on October 2, thousands of workers and activists from across the country converged on Washington for One Nation Working Together, a march for jobs, education and economic justice. As new United Auto Workers president Bob King puts it, the whole point of the labor movement is to provide every human being with dignity and a decent standard of living.

This is particularly true at Yale. It took me nearly two years to find out that Yale’s unions, UNITE HERE Locals 34 and 35, were more than a shortcut for dispensing paychecks to New Haven’s largest workforce. In fact, the 2009 contract was the first in recent history without vigorous union contention and the usually ensuing student, faculty and community mobilization. The locals have a special ally in Connecticut Center for a New Economy, a coalition-builder which has helped animate a historically community-minded workforce and forge a truly mutual Yale–New Haven relationship. Most recently, Yale’s unions have been vocal champions of the municipal living wage ordinance currently up for consideration—even though they don’t benefit directly from it.

Forgive my excitement. Social movement unions are real, imperfect institutions made up of real people. And yet you don’t create change by recruiting saintly revolutionaries prepared to martyr themselves for a cause. Instead, you build structures and situations that transform will into power and people into communities.

Experience it for yourself. Then judge the labor movement.

And then, if you’re a student, rethink your fourteen-point plan to travel and/or “save” the world. Indeed, the struggles and daily life of small post-industrial cities like New Haven and Providence draw little sensational press and even less consideration from the average college student. But the guts and the soul of grassroots unions, sustained by the communities that they enliven and create, deserve our attention. If you’re looking for a summer or lifetime’s worth of campaigns to help win, here are your model cities.

Young Democrats Tackle the Enthusiasm Gap

A recent Rock the Vote poll of 18- to 29-year olds suggests that the “enthusiasm gap” between young Republicans and young Democrats, while slight, is a factor that could affect the outcome in crucial swing districts in this fall's elections.

The poll found that young Republicans are beating young Democrats 63 percent to 58 percent when it comes to how much attention respondents are paying to the election.

But the results aren't all one-sided for the Dems: 46 percent of youths retain a favorable view of the Democratic Party, while only 36 percent have a favorable view of the GOP. This month, many young Democrats across the country are working tirelessly to engage youth voters and close the enthusiasm gap.

When asked why youth do not seem as excited about the midterm election as they were about the 2008 presidential election, Rock the Vote president Heather Smith says that in 2008, youth “worked very hard and got engaged to elect a leader that spoke to them…but since then, I think they’ve been left wondering where that leadership had gone.”

Adrian Zamora, president of Texas State College Democrats, comments on the current mind frame of young voters: "All the new voters in 2008 are a little weary of voting Democrat again, because of the deflated economy, controversial legislation and a president who, at times, seems to not want to put his foot down. Democrats need to be scratching and clawing to ensure that young voters will return to the polls in November."

Anjani Nadadur, Press Secretary of The DC Federation of College Democrats, on the other hand, thinks that “the idea that there is even an ‘enthusiasm gap’ at all is a fallacy. College Democrats across the country who first got engaged in politics during the 2008 election have continued to work tirelessly for Democratic causes and candidates.”

Kaley Hanenkrat and Madeline Joseph, president and vice-president of the Columbia University College Democrats, have not seen evidence of the ‘enthusiasm gap’ either because “Columbia Democrats historically enjoy widespread support from the university and the New York community. “

While it is not surprising that many New Yorkers support College Democrats, youth votes may also produce favorable results for Democratic candidates in red states.

“Supporting Democrats in Texas is certainly an uphill battle,” says Adrian Zamora, “We are a red state, but our demographics are changing. We are increasingly turning purple. Democrats have a good shot at winning a statewide election for the first time in 16 years with Bill White. Without the youth vote, however, the road to victory is much more difficult.”

In order to combat the challenges that Democrats are facing this election and to take advantage of the opportunities, thousands of chapters of College Democrats and Young Democrats across the US are capitalizing on social media such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to spread their messages. On September 1, California College Democrats launched a video contest called, ‘Don’t Get Meg’d’ to increase awareness of why Meg Whitman should not be elected governor of California.

Emma Ellman-Golan, president of the University of Pennsylvania Democrats, highlights the ways that students are also bringing energy to more traditional campaign activities. “We can canvass for hours, and our course schedules let us volunteer during the work week. We’re out there every week going door to door to register voters, making canvassing trips, and hosting phone banks to get people enthused.”

“The fact remains that young people will be casting votes for Democrats,” says Ellman-Golan, “and we just have to convince them to make it out to the polls.”

The Nation would like to hear about how your youth organization is working to support Democratic causes and candidates. Please leave a comment or submit your Extra Credit article pitch to students@thenation.com. Pitches should be 200 words or less, and please send links to your organization or projects if you wish.

Media Exploits University Tragedy

This piece was originally published in Rutger University's The Daily Targum

The death of University student Tyler Clementi might have been properly mourned if it were not for the massive rallies and aggressive news coverage that altered the nature of the situation. The truth is that an 18-year-old boy killed himself—he was a student just like the rest of us, someone just trying to receive an education. Yet people's relentless agendas took his death and turned it into a cause based on false pretenses.

A crowd of more than 20 people ended up lying outside the entrance of the Rutgers Student Center on the College Avenue campus the first night of the news breaking. The chants were, "We're here. We're queer. We want safety in our homes." The mistake was that Clementi's death should not have been turned into a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender protest for gay rights and safe spaces at the University. Robert O'Brien, Department of Anthropology assistant instructor, led the rally as he chanted, "Not safe in dorms, not safe at Rutgers." Essentially, an angry mob fending for their rights turned the death of a young boy into a cause for "safe spaces" for gays across the University - all the while, these spaces already existed. We have groups across campus that deal with students' psychological difficulties—17 Seconds is one that deals with suicides—as well as groups that address their sexual orientation. We have these spaces, and the University community is diverse enough to provide students with whatever it is they need.

The focal point of Clementi's tragic death should have been a boy's inability to deal with the hardships of life. And yet the news and certain organizations picked this up and carried it into the ranks of general causes for major social groups—for their profit. Did Tyler really feel unsafe after all? Do we know the reason behind his suicide? Do we know if he, himself, would take part in the movement behind his death—the push for safe spaces?

It is disappointing that everyone from news to celebrities picked up the story. Actress Brittany Snow and actor Neil Patrick-Harris are just two of the many celebrities belittling Clementi's death—forcing his remembrance into a cause rather than a proper mourning.

We did not know Tyler. It was barely three weeks into his first year at the University, and most of his neighbors in his residence hall barely knew him. Turning his death into a push for gay rights is a fallacy. Homosexuality is not the only reason for which people kill themselves. In this case, it might have pushed Clementi over the edge, but the fact that he was gay should by no means turn his death into a march for safe spaces. These groups want to be heard. They want the attention. They want their agendas to shine in the limelight.

Instead, we should address that the signs of a suicidal 18-year-old kid were unseen and went unnoticed, not "We want safety in our homes." We have the safety, or as much of it as we together as a University community can in today's world. What we need is to notice those of us who need help and help them. Entertainers stay away. O'Brien leave the issue alone. Let us—family, friends and the University together—mourn for Clementi, and just for him, rather than using him as a martyr for a cause that has yet to be proven.

 

Sound and Fury Forever

On Friday at midnight, I joined students from nearby universities and high schools to gather with members of local unions and community organizations at a parking lot on the New Haven shoreline. Soon we would set off to Washington for One Nation Working Together, a nationwide march for jobs, education and economic justice. Bagged lunches were packed. Phone numbers were exchanged. Seagulls nested. Interstate 95 roared above. Spirited lefty musician Bill Collins thrilled us with a rock rendition of "Solidarity Forever." The cold made it hard to participate, and so I huddled with friends and watched. Little did I know that the performance had only just begun.

At 8 am we arrived in DC. The wide morning sky and movie-set city blocks gave no hints of the crisis in Washington or the impending activist struggle which intended to combat it. Downtown was more utopian than even a naïve tourist could hope. Rows of big screens and loudspeakers towered over swaths of ralliers stretching half a mile back from the podium atop the Lincoln Memorial. Because of the surrounding sound system, screens and security fencing, you couldn't see the stage unless you were close. This meant that most people witnessed each speech in three acts: first, the voice; second, out-of-sync lip-motions on screen; third, the echo from the loudspeakers.

Even more extraordinary was the motley crew of ralliers on hand. Known and unknown labor unions and socialist parties were joined by smatterings of civil rights activists, college students, public education advocates, environmentalists, Catholic progressives, Israeli settlement objectors and African aiders. At least at first, this one rally to fit all felt more like a thousand species at a common food source than a movement.

The icon of this play was a boy who stood by the walkway to the Mall with a stack of small signs reading End War. Free merchandise was in good supply at the march, and a woman casually asked the boy if she could have a sign. The boy said, "That'll cost you a donation."

We live in a capitalist world. Pennies are pinched for peace. Mass anti-corporate uprisings feel like Times Square. Solidarity is spectacle. Modern contexts shape modern social movements.

That was the beauty of October 2 in DC, a day away from the mainstream liberal consensus on campus. One Nation felt more symbolic than real, more like theater than grassroots action. And yet AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was wrong when he told us that "We signify our one nation." We are our one nation, as real an America as any.

Though we are not inevitable. Without reimagining the present so as to channel anger and disillusionment leftward, our nation cannot, as NAACP President Benjamin Jealous put it, "get votes off the sideline and onto the battlefield."

Speaker and singer Harry Belafonte recalled the right's history of "insidious attack" on disenfranchised minorities and silent majorities. Power is, indeed, insidious. Its demagogues prey on disillusionment and uncertainty. Its vast cross-spectrum media conglomeration mutes action and voice with words and numbers. Power transforms diversity into division. Once power divides, it is able to conquer, or at least commodify and contain, one by one.

The results are visible. When we forget that the struggle for gender equality has been one of active contestation and coalition-building across race and class, feminism loses its support—and its meaning. Nation writer Jessica Valenti argues that "by pushing a vote for Clinton on the basis of her gender alone, establishment feminists…opened the door for conservatives to demand support for Palin for the very same reason."

Power divides the young and the old alike. In the Yale Herald, Zola Quao, a black female student, writes about confronting a white homeless man on the street in New Haven and feeling a curious reversal of historical domination. Hers is a lesson for all students—black, white, male, female—who attend "elite" universities. If we fail to locate where our historical oppression intersects with what we see on the street, then the status quo which built the academy will conscript us into its ranks.

Conveniently, the difference and diversity that made One Nation feel like a disassembled puzzle are the same forces that create the possibility of a victorious American left. The spectacle of the Grand March, initially disorienting as it may be, unites our disparate voices in harmony. It's the presence of others that invites us to clamor outside the box, and toward something higher. The result is a movement that transcends categories and campaigns. Upon encountering the Warsaw ghetto, W.E.B. Du Bois wrote: "The race problem in which I was interested cut across lines of color and physique and belief and status and was a matter of cultural patterns, perverted teaching and human hate and prejudice, which reached all sorts of people and caused endless evil to all men."

What we need is a united left organized around new cultural patterns and new teachings. This demands that we look beyond our own "race problem" and connect with others. For me, Saturday's frenzied, incomprehensible, half-mile-long pool party with colorful signs and big screens was a kaleidoscope of Warsaw ghettos. My contingent of New Haven students and laborites had gathered in solidarity before, but never as notes in a melodiously cacophonous national medley.

I stood up, walked around a bit, saw more kitschy signs, grabbed some to put up in my room, and got closer to the stage. Jesse Jackson thundered forth. The loudspeakers echoed. Workers from SEIU 1199 in Tennessee cheered. Socialists screamed. Journalists scribbled something about Glenn Beck. Lincoln looked down knowingly. Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, said, "Feel your own power!" A sign said, "Hell yes, we can."

Andrew Shirvell Needs to be Fired If We Want to End Violence Against Gays

This post was originally published by NYU Local.

Andrew Shirvell, the assistant attorney general of Michigan, has been suspended.

This is uneasy news for anyone who believes that being gay is not a request for discrimination and violence. Shirvell has been the sole author of a blog (made "invite only" as of Friday morning) called "Chris Armstrong Watch," whose singular raison d'être is formulating bigoted assaults on Chris Armstrong, a University of Michigan student who became the school's first openly gay student body president.

Shirvell has called Armstrong a "dangerous homosexual ‘rights' extremist," pasted a rainbow flag and a swastika onto Armstrong's photo, said he was "Satan's representative on the student assembly," accused him of being a "racist" with a "radical homosexual agenda," and launched pretty much every other brazenly homophobic attack conceivable short of carrying signs that read god hates fags.

Shirvell has videotaped Armstrong's house, posted pictures and updates from Armstrong's and his friends' Facebook pages, targeted his friends and family and shouted him down at student events. Let me emphasize that all Armstrong has done was to be openly gay, and express support for mixed-gender housing for queer students (which we have at NYU).

These are intolerably violent times to be gay in America. The fact that Shirvell only took a leave of absence raises questions about how law enforcement, by not appropriately cracking down on homophobia within its own ranks, might unintentionally but implicitly soften what would-be assailants perceive to be the ramifications of hate crimes against gays. As it were, homophobia is routinely overlooked in these cases: school officials ignore complaints about bullying, and then pretend it never happened after the kid shoots himself; police neglect to label something a "hate crime" after gay men are beaten and called "faggots."

Shirvell defended his campaign against Armstrong's "very, deeply radical homosexual agenda" on Anderson Cooper 360 last Wednesday (and not too gracefully, thanks both to his sheer idiocy and Cooper's brilliant questioning), claiming that this was a "political campaign" that "wasn't personal" and that he "wasn't the only first person [sic] to criticize Chris." More surprising were the comments made by Shirvell's boss, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox (a Republican), who also appeared on the show. Cox said Shirvell was being "immature" but quickly rebuked any suggestions that Shirvell be fired, arguing that his actions took place outside of work and were therefore protected by the First Amendment.

As a journalism student, I'm all for freedom of speech. I strongly believe that disgusting, bigoted speech should be as well protected as courageous, respectable speech. But the issue here isn't freedom of speech. The issue is whether permitting this kind of behavior from a government official—and one working for the state Justice Department, nonetheless—encourages broader, more aggressive patterns of homophobia.

Shirvell isn't just making broad homophobic statements, which are bad enough. He's personally targeting one specific gay student. There's a clause in Michigan state law that says all civil workers can be punished for "conduct unbecoming a state employee." That's vague, but I'm quite sure that stalking and harassing a college student purely based on his sexual orientation is very clearly "unbecoming conduct." The Michigan Daily, the University of Michigan's campus newspaper, wrote in an editorial that Shirvell's behavior prevents him from properly serving the public:

"His behavior does not stem from immaturity. It stems from hatred. And this type of hatred makes Shirvell unsuitable to remain a government official. It will affect his ability to interpret laws—which is the job of the attorney general's office."

The assaults and deaths of gay Americans cannot continue, and the government has to demonstrate that this kind of violence—and the attitudes that feed it—are unacceptable. Firing Andrew Shirvell from the post of assistant attorney general of Michigan is a necessary demonstration. Once he's unemployed, he can blog about whatever he wants. And no one will care.

National Day of Action to Defend Public Education

Early last spring, students in California sparked a movement that has grown dramatically over the past year propelled by increasingly savage cuts to state education budgets nationwide. Thousands organized and participated in the March 4, 2010, National Day of Action to Defend Public Education events. The protests were most active in California, as this video shows, but took place in thirty-two other states as well.

It's clear that the fight has only just begun. Public universities throughout the country are raising tuition costs and seeking private investors. Budget cuts, tuition hikes, school closings and right-wing reforms are hitting working families the hardest, especially in communities of color.

As we hurtle back to the future, the educational disparities between rich and poor are growing wider and public schools are swiftly being re-segregated, with schools serving poor students starved of resources, and forced to track their pupils into non-academic, dead-end programs.

But young people aren't taking the narrowing of their opportunities lying down—This Thursday, October 7, tens of thousands of students, faculty and supporters will take part in coordinated actions as part of the National Day of Action to Defend Public Education. With multiple actions planned in at least thirty-three states currently, Thursday's protests are meant to pick up the momentum from last March and keep the issue in people's minds.

In Athens, GA, fun-loving activists are staging a “celebration of education” on North Campus in front of the Administration building at noon with music, dancing, flyering, chanting, and "a bunch of other cool stuff." In San Diego, there'll be a walkout of San Diego City College Campus and at UCSD, SDSU and at secondary schools, followed by a downtown rally and march in the evening. In Hunstville, Texas, a protest on the mall will offer a large sheet of butcher paper for students, alum, and faculty to note the total of their student debt.

Find an event near you and show your solidarity with students under siege this Thursday.

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