Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.
Author Toni Morrison (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Toni Morrison’s debut novel The Bluest Eye is a widely acknowledged masterpiece. Its literary reputation, however, has done little to placate wannabe censors who have tried to discredit and even ban the book from schools, citing depictions of incest and child molestation as “pornographic” and “totally inappropriate” for students.
Last week, the novel came under fire in Morrison’s home state of Ohio. At a board meeting on September 10, 2013, Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar criticized The Bluest Eye as “pornographic” and called for its removal from state teaching guidelines for high school students. Terhar was outraged by the inclusion of the book on the new Federal Common Core Standard’s recommended reading list for eleventh graders. “I don’t want my grandchildren reading it, and I don’t want anyone else’s children reading it,” Terhar said at the board meeting. Board member Mark Smith doubled-down on Terhar’s intolerance, calling the novel part of “an underlying socialist-communist agenda.”
The fact is that The Bluest Eye is an unflinching look at racism and sexual violence, written by an Ohio native who has won the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (not to mention being a member of The Nation’s editorial board!).
In real-life America, an estimated 207,754 women are sexually assaulted annually, a full 44 percent of whom are under the age of 18. This pervasive sexual violence is reality for tens of thousands of students, a reality the Ohio Board of Ed is looking to whitewash with this latest censorship drive.
Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Terhar, challenging her argument that Morrison’s novel is “pornographic.” Instead of banning the book, the advocacy organization suggested that Ohio schools “use controversial literature as an opportunity to improve students’ critical thinking skills and to create open dialogue between students and the community.”
That’s a good suggestion, one of which we should be especially mindful during Banned Books Week, which started this past Sunday and runs through the weekend. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982, and, according to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported.
In addition to a Virtual Read-Out, hundreds of Banned Books events are taking place this week coast to coast at bookstores, libraries, schools, community centers, parks and other public spaces. Find an event near you and join The Nation and the ACLU in standing up for Toni Morrison and telling Ohio Board of Education President Debe Terhar to please stop promoting the censorship of valuable works of literature.
What is the new American Dream? In a new book and companion video, noted environmentalist Gus Speth breaks it down in simple, inspiring language and details how we can start incorporating a fundamentally new set of values in our homes, streets, neighborhoods, and cities.
Speth identifies a dozen features of the American political economy—the country’s basic operating system—where transformative change is essential, and explains how structural change can be brought to America. Watch and share the video and heed Speth’s urgent call to arms.
Since the civil war in Syria broke out two years ago, the United Nations estimates that more than six and a half million people have been displaced. Of those, more than two million Syrians have fled their country, according to the United Nations refugee agency. With nowhere to go, many end up in overcrowded, overwhelmed and underfunded refugee camps. By the end of this year, the UN estimates that a full half of the population of Syria will be in dire need of aid.
With the imminent threat of a US military intervention seemingly receding, the world’s focus should be on aiding the increasingly desperate Syrian population. Relief efforts have been especially difficult given the increasing violence of the conflict but many steadfast organizations are offering supplies, shelter and medical care for people displaced by the crisis.
Here’s an incomplete list:
Doctors Without Borders is providing direct medical aid in six hospitals and four health centers inside Syria. The group is also sending medical supplies, equipment and support to the medical networks throughout Syria that they cannot access themselves. They accept donations online, and you can earmark your gift for Syria by calling 1-888-392-0392.
The Danish Refugee Council is one of the largest organizations on the ground in Syria. The agency is taking donations on its website.
Islamic Relief USA is providing food, housing essentials and medical supplies for those displaced inside Syria as well as refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. To help these efforts, select “Syrian Humanitarian Aid” on the donation page.
The British group ActionAid is raising funds specifically to support relief in the Zaatari camp, an enormous refugee city in Jordan currently housing close to 150,000 displaced Syrians. Donations can be made online.
CARE is operating four refugee centers in Jordan, and is helping refugees there with cash assistance for rent and food. In Lebanon they are helping refugees get access to clean water. Staffers are also working inside Syria, providing emergency supplies for families, psychosocial support for children and emergency medical equipment and specific support for women. You can aid their efforts with an online donation or donate by phone at 1-800-521-CARE.
International Medical Corps is providing health care and counseling services for Syrian refugees with static and mobile clinics at refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. They are also offering medical support to the hospitals and medical facilities in these countries handling refugee care. Support their work by donating online or by calling 310-826-7800.
The International Rescue Committee is helping refugees inside Syria and in the bordering countries with medical and emergency supplies. In refugee camps they are providing water, sanitation and education services. They are also offering counseling, safety and support for women and girls at risk. Help by donating online or at 1-855-9RESCUE.
Shelterbox is providing tents, kitchen equipment, blankets, water purification systems and classroom supplies to more than 4,500 refugee families in Syria. In the coming months the group plans to support another 5,000 families. You can help with an online donation or by texting SHELTER to 20222 to make a $10 donation.
Save the Children is helping young people caught up in the crisis with temporary learning facilities, child friendly spaces and programs to help them cope with their trauma. They are also providing necessities like food, blankets and clothing to refugee families. You can support the Syria Children in Crisis fund by donating online or by calling 1-800-728-3843.
Please use the comments field to let me know what I’ve missed.
Zoe Carpenter outlines the case for diplomacy in Syria.
The relatives of victims of Chile's dictatorship march outside La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 (AP Photo/Luis Hidalgo)
Forty years ago today, Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government in Chile was overthrown by a US-backed military coup.
Under Allende’s administration, the people in Chile tried to pursue their idea of a new kind of society: equal, free, and with justice for all. The US government, bent on undermining the possibility of democratic socialism in its hemisphere, did its best to destroy that idea with low-intensity warfare, political and economic sabotage and support for rightwing army leaders that wanted to overthrow the government.
The brutal consequences of that coup remain one of the most glaring examples of the inhumanity of imperialism and since the violent overthrow remains a universal symbol of “anti-democracy at its best,” as the recently deceased author and filmmaker Saul Landau once put it, the anniversary should be taught and remembered in the United States, which played a decisive covert role in the events of forty years ago.
Of the five largest fast food corporations in the country—McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King, Taco Bell (Yum! Brands), and Wendy’s—Wendy’s stands alone as the only one who has refused to join the Fair Food Program, a unique farmworker-driven initiative consisting of a wage increase supported by a price premium paid by corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes, and a human-rights-based Code of Conduct, applicable throughout the Florida tomato industry.
As Wendy’s positions itself to implement sustainable business practices and promote its sourcing of “honest ingredients,” it must realize that respect for human rights and worker participation are integral components of the genuine sustainability that today’s consumers expect and demand.
That’s why the indefatigable Coalition for Immokolee Workers is staging a Wendy’s Week of Action, August 3 to 11. Join the movement calling on Wendy’s to join the Fair Food Program and find out how you can sign an open letter, call Wendy’s management, deliver info to Wendy’s franchises, educate your community about the issues and help spread the word about the campaign.
Nobel Peace Prize nominee PFC Bradley Manning has been in prison for more than three years. He is accused of sharing documents that expose US war crimes, government corruption, and corporate influence on US foreign policies. This is the charge, but to me and millions of others, whoever did expose these crimes is a hero and a patriot. Yet the government has chosen to persecute the alleged whistle-blower rather than pursue the criminals.
Manning’s court martial started on June 3. Human rights lawyer Chase Madar, author of the invaluable The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story behind the Wikileaks Whistleblower (Verso), is attending the proceedings and blogging at thenation.com during the course of the trial.
This impassioned appeal from Daniel Ellsberg makes clear what an injustice the US government is perpetuating on Manning. Read and share the letter and then check out the Bradley Manning Support Network to see how you can help save the life of a true American hero.
Read Chase Madar - what is in Bradley Manning's leaks anyway?
Riot police use teargas to disperse the crowd during an anti-government protest at Taksim Square in central Istanbul. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal)
Thousands of demonstrators in Turkey today vowed to press on with their campaign after clashing with police around Istanbul’s central Taksim Square into the early hours of the day, the fifth straight day of protests. They were joined by the Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions, which is staging a two-day strike to show solidarity with the protesters and to demand better workplace safety and higher wages.
Turkish protesters have now taken to the popular non-profit fundraising site Indiegogo with a new campaign to build momentum on what some are calling the start of a revolution.
What if we felt the same way about Turkey as we feel about Game of Thrones? Read Michelle Dean on revolution on television and in real life.
A woman carries her child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, OK. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
In what is now officially one of the worst tornado disasters in US history, dozens of people have been reported dead in Oklahoma—many of them children—with the toll expected to rise as the search for survivors in the rubble continues. Television showed shocking destruction spread over a large area, with block upon block of homes and businesses, many in and around the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, completely demolished.
As is always the case, it’s the poor who are bearing the brunt of the catastrophe: because sub-standard housing is much more vulnerable to natural disaster, because support networks are likely to be far more impoverished and because whatever small cushions people possess are quickly wiped out in the face of disaster on this scale.
So how to help?
Here are some Oklahoma groups on the ground doing relief on behalf of the state’s most impoverished residents. They desperately needed our help before this storm was even glimpsed, but now more than ever, support is critically needed. I'll keep updating this list so use the comments field below for suggestions and check back later.
The Oklahoma Regional Food Bank was established in 1980, and has grown into the largest non-faith-based hunger-relief organization in the state of Oklahoma. It already had its hands full trying to feed the estimated 675,000 Oklahomans not getting enough to eat; now it has established special outposts near Oklahoma City to provide immediate food to those rendered homeless by the tornado.
Occupy Norman is acting as a clearinghouse for information about indie relief efforts and coordinating housing and medical supplies for those urgently in need.
Feeding America, whose mission is to “feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks,” says it will deliver trucks of food, water and supplies to communities in Oklahoma, and will also “set up additional emergency food and supply distribution sites as they are needed.”
Team Rubicon’s Operation: Starting Gun is mobilizing volunteers to go directly to the communities to help assess damages and expedite home repair. Your support will help get these volunteers where they need to be as quickly as possible.
Set up through the non-profit, grassroots-supporting Global Giving, the Oklahoma Tornado Relief Fund is raising dollars for both immediate needs, as well as long-term rebuilding goals.
The Red Cross has set up shelters in various, affected communities. Donate to the Red Cross Disaster Relief fund; the organization also suggests giving blood at your local hospital or blood bank. If you’re searching for a missing relative, check the Red Cross Safe & Well site.
Students at Green Mountain College. (Courtesy of Divest Green Mountain.)
Kudos to Green Mountain College for its announcement this week that it is committing to divest its $3.1 million endowment from companies profiting from fossil fuels. GMC is the fifth college nationwide and the second in Vermont to commit to divestment as part of a nationwide campaign that has spread to over 300 colleges and universities and more than 100 cities and states across the country.
The GMC Board of Trustees voted on Friday, May 10 to immediately divest from fossil fuels and establish a process for aligning future investments with social, environmental and governance goals. GMC has a $3.1 million endowment, only 1 percent of which is currently invested in the 200 fossil fuel companies that own the vast majority of the world’s coal, oil and gas reserves. So it’s a symbolic victory, yes, but one that demonstrates the increasing traction of the divestment movement.
“We’re pleased with the conversation that has occurred this semester between students and administration, resulting in the divestment from the list of the most destructive 200 fossil fuel companies,” said a statement issued by Divest GMC, the student group on campus who led the divestment campaign. “As students of an environmental liberal arts college we look forward to continuing the dialogue of authentic sustainability, both environmentally and socially. In this way we are strengthening student voice in all aspects of institutional education.”
Students at GMC began their divestment campaign last February. In March, a number of students participated in Mountain Justice Spring Break, traveling to West Virginia to witness the devastation of mountaintop removal firsthand. In April, the GMC Student Senate voted unanimously to support divestment and more than 50 percent of the student body signed on to a petition supporting the move.
“A heartfelt thanks to the handful of students of Club Activism at Green Mountain College who never lost hope and to the administration and board of trustees at Green Mountain College who listened as the murmur became a broad movement across the college community,” said Dr. Paul Hancock, professor of economics and director of the Sustainable Community Development Center at GMC. “This small place has accomplished so much to sound the alarm about climate change and overhaul the way we work and live. As we blow past 400 ppm let’s hope the folks in our nation’s capital respond to the demands of these young leaders.”
The GMC announcement provides a boost of momentum for divestment campaigns at other Vermont colleges including Goddard, St. Michaels, Johnson State, Middlebury and the University of Vermont. “This puts huge pressure on Middlebury’s Board of Trustees to divest,” said Middlebury College sophomore Teddy Smyth. “Our school’s reputation for environmental leadership is lagging behind our neighbors at Green Mountain College.”
Activists are also pushing for divestment at the state and city level. Mor than 957 people have signed a petition, to date, calling on the state legislature to pass legislation to divest the state’s pension funds from fossil fuels.
“Vermonters want to align the state’s financial holdings with our strong environmental ethic,” said Maeve McBride, an organizer with 350 Vermont. “The Vermont legislature has banned fracking and set ambitious efficiency targets, but our state pension funds are invested in companies that frack, drill and pillage. We were the first state to ban fracking, and we can lead again by divesting our state pension funds from fossil fuels.”
Over the coming weeks, students across the country will continue to meet with their boards of trustees to push for divestment. This summer, the Go Fossil Free campaign aims to expand the divestment movement and lay the groundwork for an even bigger fall of organizing on campus.
Read Emily Crockett on why the millennial generation isn’t just a bunch of narcissists, as a recent Time article suggests.
The voices of family members of those killed by the NYPD have been surprisingly absent from recent organized calls for police accountability. On May 10, family members who have lost loved ones to the NYPD will come together at Police Plaza in lower Manhattan with elected officials, community leaders and grassroots organizations to call for police accountability and changes to how cases of police killings are handled. The group of mothers is also asking artists to create music dedicated to the parents of those killed by the NYPD. (Instructions here.) Check out the Justice Committee site and learn how you can join and support its efforts to redress and reform police violence against minority populations in New York City.