Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.
In February 2012, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, after a lengthy feud with the state teachers’ union, came to an agreement over a comprehensive teacher evaluation system for the state. The arrangement was made so that New York State would be eligible to receive $700 million of Race to the Top funds, a national sweepstakes spearheaded by President Obama that allocated monies to states that adopted his education policies.
Under the new system known as the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation would be based on standardized test scores, while the remaining 60 percent would be based on subjective measurements, like classroom observations and student surveys. Then, teachers would be sorted into four categories: ineffective, developing, effective or highly effective.
However, there’s one catch. In the bill, it states: “The new rating system would prohibit a teacher or principal who is rated ineffective in the objective measures of student growth from receiving a developing score overall.” In other words, if a teacher is unable to raise their students’ test scores for two consecutive years, even if he or she is deemed highly effective on the subjective measures, the teacher could be fired.
I recently graduated from Syosset High School. My district’s APPR plan was approved at the beginning of this school year. A month later, the Student Learning Objective (SLO) exams were unleashed on all the students in my school in every subject, including art, music, and physical education. Yes, in gym class, multiple choice exams with colorful green Scantrons were doled out. I wish I were kidding.
Teachers would administer the same exam at the beginning and at the end of the year. By means of value-added measurements and an obtuse formula, the teachers’ effectiveness would be determined. Moreover, in New York general state aid for schools is now tied to teacher evaluation, which puts further strain on the most impoverished communities in our state.
I cannot begin to describe some of the conversations I’ve had with educators, many of whom are veterans with decades of experience in this profession, who are feeling humiliated, demoralized and beaten down by this process.
I didn’t want anything to do with the tests, so I opted out of every single SLO exam. Each time, I put my name on the test booklet and Scantron and then handed the blank items back to my teacher. There were no consequences.
At the same time, a groundswell of opposition was growing. Two principals, Sean Feeney of the Wheatley School and Carol Burrris of South Side High School, took the lead and drafted a letter protesting the evaluation system. As of January 2013, 1,535 principals as well as 6,500 parents, educators, and students have signed onto the document.
If there’s one thing that is absolutely clear to me, it’s that Governor Andrew Cuomo has ignored the voices of students, teachers, principals, and parents who have grave concerns about the evaluations. He is frankly telling millions of students and teachers that their value is no more than a number in a spreadsheet.
What he’s forgotten is that evaluation is best done when the purpose is not to punish and reward teachers but to lend them support, to foster collaboration, to encourage self-evaluation, and to allow for rich and lengthy observations by principals and fellow colleagues.
So Governor Cuomo, tell it how it is. You can fire my teachers. You can close down my school. You can break up my community. You can kill the love of learning in children. But don’t tell me that it’s because you want the best for me. I’m not a stupid little kid. Do you hear me?
This week, everything is falling apart: Syria; the Canadian environment; the Times’s coverage of Honduras and Venezuela; higher education as we know it. But if activists’ creative roasting of neo-philanthropic tycoon Carlos Slim is any indication, the best response may be laughter.
Alleen Brown focuses on education.
“The MOOC Moment and the End of Reform,” by Aaron Bady. The New Inquiry, May 15, 2013.
In a lengthy essay, Aaron Bady describes the speed at which higher education has been smacked by MOOCs. His piece hints at the ways the rhetoric of “innovation,” especially in education, masks practices that serve to reproduce hierarchy.
James Cersonsky focuses on labor and education.
“Oaxacan Teachers Challenge the Test,” by David Bacon. Truthout, May 9, 2013.
Mexico’s education system is awash with the same neoliberal orthodoxies that rule the United States, and in both countries there are pockets of organized resistance and refusal. While this piece falls short in critical ways—it doesn’t implicate students as agents in Mexico’s political economy of education, and it says that “the national union in Mexico is an entrenched part of the power structure,” as if the United States is categorically different—it does highlight Mexican alternatives that should be taken seriously. The Program for the Transformation of Education in Oaxaca, for one, “sees a teacher as an agent of social change…someone who has roots in a community, is interested in all the problems of the children, is familiar with the culture of the people, who can promote education projects with parents. In other words, a teacher the ruling class doesn’t want.”
Catherine Defontaine focuses on war, security and peace-related issues, African and French politics, peacekeeping and the link between conflicts and natural resources.
“Infographic: Africa’s natural resource wealth.” Al Jazeera, May 12, 2013.
The annual Africa Progress Report released on Friday highlights the dubious attitude and “unconscionable” practices of some foreign companies involved in the exploitation of natural resources in Africa. Indeed, as former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan points out, “Some companies, often supported by dishonest officials, are using unethical tax avoidance, transfer pricing and anonymous company ownership to maximise their profits, while millions of Africans go without adequate nutrition, health and education.”
Andrew Epstein focuses on social history, colonialism and indigenous rights.
“What if people told European history like they told Native American history?” by Kai. An Indigenous History of North America, May 9, 2013.
If this counterfactual seems far-fetched, dig around for your high school textbook and look at the chapter titled “the Americas before 1492.” Little-known fact: the city of Cahokia, located near present-day St. Louis, had the same population as London and Paris in 1250.
Luis Feliz focuses on ideas and debates within the left, social movements and culture.
“Is laughing the mic check of 2013?” by Laura Gottesdiener. Waging Nonviolence, May 14, 2013.
This, my last article of the week, is a call to up the ante. In the post-micro-credit business model era—which supposedly will save Africa and Africans—various business venturers with pseudo-altruistic hearts surfaced. In the same way that The Nation has published essays about how NGOs in Haiti have been undermining the state and ultimately the sovereignty of the nation, the magazine, thanks to people like Laura Gottesdiener and others reporting, can also assess critically neo-philanthropic yet for-profit business expansion projects extending not only into Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America but also into online education.
Elana Leopold focuses on the Middle East, its relations with the United States and Islam.
“The Syrian Heartbreak,” by Peter Harling and Sarah Birke. Middle East Report Online, April 16, 2013.
Harling and Birke offer insight into the horrifying violence and suffering so vividly described in today’s front-page New York Times article. Arguing, ultimately, that the conflict is “the product of international standoff,” the authors refute sectarian explanations for the violence, in part by outlining the disintegration of a strong Syrian national identity.
Alec Luhn focuses on East European and Eurasian affairs, especially issues of good governance, human rights and activism.
“I Heart Syria,” by Gary Brecher. NSFWCorp, May 13, 2013.
Gary Brecher breaks down the video of the Syrian rebel cutting out his victim’s heart and taking a bite out of it. Rather than taking this as a smug affirmation of Western values in the face of the horror of the Middle East, we should see this for what it is, Brecher argues: a recruitment video aimed at recruiting 17-year-olds for an undermanned Al Qaeda–inspired brigade. And a PR boon for the Assad regime.
Leticia Miranda focuses on race, gender, telecommunications and media reform.
“Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform,” by David Kravets. Wired, May 10, 2013.
Wired looks at mission creep in the immigration bill that has privacy advocates up in arms.
Brendan O’Connor focuses on media criticism and pop culture.
“Ask Polly: Jesus, My Struggling Writer Friends Never Shut Up!” by Heather Havrilesky. The Awl, May 15, 2013.
This doesn’t fall so much into the Advice For Writers category as it does the Advice For People Who Have To Talk To Writers, Whether They Are Writers Themselves Or Something Else Altogether category. There’s a lot here worth keeping in mind, although—as ever—it all seems to boil down to this: “Calm down… and get back to work.”
Anna Simonton focuses on issues of systemic oppression perpetuated by the military and prison industrial complexes.
“When drone strikes collide with stop-and-frisk,” by Natasha Lennard. Salon, May 11, 2013.
As a landmark trial challenging New York’s notorious stop-and-frisk policy begins, Lennard connects the criminalization of young black and brown men through policing and incarceration in the United States to the military targeting of the same demographic overseas.
Cos Tollerson focuses on Latin American politics and society, and United States imperialism.
“Noam Chomsky, Scholars Ask NY Times Public Editor to Investigate Bias on Honduras and Venezuela,” by Keane Bhatt. NACLA, May 14, 2013.
Keane Bhatt, a Washington-based activist who blogs for NACLA, is spearheading an effort to demand accountability and accuracy in the mainstream media’s often errant reporting about Latin America. For months he’s used social media and his platform at NACLA to call attention to inaccuracies in John Lee Anderson’s New Yorker article “Slumlord: What has Hugo Chávez Wrought in Venezuela,” and has compelled the magazine to run two corrections (hopefully with a third forthcoming as pressure mounts). Now, expanding his critique from individual errors in a single article to habitual mischaracterizations in one of the country’s most widely read newspapers, Bhatt has brought together a group of experts who specialize in Latin America and media studies to sign an open letter objecting to The New York Times’s biased coverage of Honduras and Venezuela.
Sarah Woolf focuses on what’s happening north of the US border.
“B.C. election: Christy Clark pulls off an upset for the ages,” by Tim Harper. Toronto Star, May 15, 2013.
It was a disappointing Tuesday night for progressive voters in British Columbia. Center-right premier Christy Clark bucked the pollsters and their predictions to pull off a shocking victory—a majority government, no less—retaining the premiership, while losing her local race for member of Parliament. American environmentalists: take note. Clark’s re-election all but guarantees the approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline.
Students walk out on May 9. (Credit: @215studentunion)
Running a massive deficit of hundreds of millions of dollars, Philadelphia’s school system is planning to eliminate all sports, extracurricular activities, counselors and libraries—beyond which, for schools eviscerated by austerity politics, there’s not much left to lose. At noon today, May 17, thousands of students are expected to walk out of class and flood downtown.
“It’s time that the City Council and Governor Corbett started listening to students,” says Sharron Snyder, a junior at Benjamin Franklin High School and an organizer with the Philadelphia Student Union. “If they spent even one day in my school, they would know that already we don’t have the right resources to succeed.”
Walkout organizers state, “We are willing to break the stereotypes and expectations of urban youth, and are taking this opportunity to tell the world that urban school districts deserve funding, and it is your responsibility under the Commonwealth Charter to provide us with more than a ‘bare bones education.’”
Here are five backstories to #walkout215:
1. The pregame. On May 7 and 9, students staged two walkouts, the first with a few hundred students, the second with upwards of 1,000. The May 7 action was launched by an unaffiliated group, the Silenced Students Movement, over Facebook and Twitter. By Thursday, members of the Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) and Youth United for Change (YUC), the city’s largest student organizing groups, were in on the call. This time, students have the support of PSU, YUC and the broader Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS). The coalition includes the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, both student groups and an array of community groups and other unions.
2. The school closing shell game. The citywide uprising goes hand-in-hand with the city’s unprecedented, Boston Consulting Group-inspired maneuver to shutter public schools. In December, the city announced that 41 schools would be closed or relocated—a total that has since dropped to 23. Over the spring, students, teachers and allies have disrupted SRC meetings, blocked traffic, marched endlessly and released their own survey-based plans to revamp the school system. The district hasn’t undertaken the school-by-school community needs assessment that PCAPS is demanding before any schools are closed. Putting aside the dubious logic of “facility underutilization,” any labor savings from closed schools portend disaster for students and workers alike. And the students who are affected are more likely to be black or Latino. A handful of PCAPS groups, including PSU and YUC, are part of the Journey for Justice, a growing national movement led by people of color. The coalition’s demands pivot on the racialized thrust of neoliberal education policy; in some cities, groups are pushing federal civil rights complaints against school closings and related overhauls.
3. Receivership. City students and state leaders don’t exactly agree on issues of school funding. In response to protests against Governor Tom Corbett’s planned commencement address at Millersville University, state Department of Education spokesman Tim Eller said, “Unfortunately, those people believe the only support for education is shown by how many zeroes are on a check.” After a Corbett-proposed $1.2 billion in cuts to public education funding in 2011-2012, the state cut $860 million, or $410 per student. That year, Philadelphia lost 1,600 teachers and 2,100 other school staff. For their part, city spokespeople decry state underfunding—while, last year, bankrolling charter school expansion. Since 2001, the district has been run by the state-directed School Reform Commission (SRC). Hundreds of students walked out to protest the state takeover—enacted by the state legislature partly under the pretense of district budget woes.
4. School safety. When schools are closed, students risk crossing myriad social boundaries—including gang lines—to survive in their new environments. Through the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, Philadelphia students are pushing for student voice in school safety policy. After a series of actions last summer, the campaign won a new, less punitive discipline matrix and protections in the school dress code for gender-nonconforming students. More recently, students successfully advocated for pilot restorative justice programs in ten schools. This month’s mass actions aren’t some hormonal release, but flashpoints in years of organizing. The Campaign for Nonviolent Schools is a prime example.
5. History. On November 17, 1967, more than 3,500 students from at least twelve high schools walked out and marched to the Board of Education. In conjunction with the Black People’s Unity Movement, students demanded black representation on the city’s school board, black history taught by black teachers and the removal of police from schools. Despite clashes with 400 cops—and 57 arrests—the walkouts drove the administration to open dialogue with students and allies over curricular reforms and community voice in school policy.
Today’s protests, which land on the 59th anniversary of the Brown decision, recast the legacy of civil rights struggle.
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.
This article was originally published by Campus Progress and is re-posted here with permission.
Poor me-me-me. Because I am a Millennial, according to Time magazine’s Joel Stein, I am a stunted, shallow narcissist who needs to have statistics mansplained to me by a Gen-Xer:
“Millennials consist, depending on whom you ask, of people born from 1980 to 2000. To put it more simply for them, since they grew up not having to do a lot of math in their heads, thanks to computers, the group is made up mostly of teens and 20-somethings.”
LOL, Joel! Sorry, you didn’t grow up with computers. In that case, let me carefully explain another Internet term that we Millennials learn while checking our phones every hour for eighty-eight daily text messages:
A troll is somebody who deliberately goads others on “Internet message boards” (you might remember these from GeoCities) just to get a reaction. And you, Joel Stein, are the perfect example of an offline troll: a journalist who riles up readers by smearing an entire generation as lazy—only to turn around and completely undermine his own half-baked shock-bait with the latter half of his article. I’m loath to feed a troll, but this particular troll, who admitted to “cozying up to the editor of the magazine” in his early career, has too wide and too credulous an audience.
“I have studies! I have statistics!” Stein crows. Actually, he has about two paragraphs of cherry-picked data! He has hand-waving generalizations! He has quotes from twenty people over age 32, and only two under age 30! (Thanks to fellow Millennial and Campus Progress alum Tyler Kingkade for the latter observation.)
Some of Stein’s mistakes may be simple carelessness. Maybe, when he wrote that Millennials “have less civic engagement and voter participation than any previous group,” he just hadn’t read that Millennials are most interested in civil service careers and volunteerism, had record levels of voter participation last year and care far more about family than fame.
Maybe it didn’t occur to him, when citing a survey of middle schoolers who want to grow up assisting famous people, that early adolescence isn’t the best time to evaluate most people’s career paths. And maybe he just hadn’t heard that the National Institutes of Health survey about Millennials’ narcissism has been called into serious question under peer review.
But too many of Stein’s blunders are internal contradictions that if not he, then his editors, should have known better than to print.
He says young people are stunted because they spend more time socializing with peers than adults, then says Millennials don’t rebel as much because they have friendlier relationships and more in common with their parents. He snarks about middle-class families displaying far more photos of themselves than in the ’50s, but those are the houses Millennials grew up in, not the ones they head—and then he says vacation-slide-showing baby boomers, given the same technology, would have been just as obnoxious as Facebook-oversharers. He debunks his own claims about the self-esteem-hyping, over-trophying culture of the 1970s by writing that “millenials’ perceived entitlement isn’t a result of overprotection but an adaptation to a world of abundance.”
Maybe that “perceived” entitlement is just “how rich kids have always behaved,” but Stein’s most glaring omission is failing to acknowledge just how not-rich this generation is becoming, and just how badly the baby-boomer-created system has failed them.
It’s hard to fathom how Stein can call Millennials lazy when too many of them slave for sixty-hour weeks working multiple jobs to take unpaid internships, all so that they can see no wage gains from all that extra work.
It’s outrageous to connect Millennials’ supposedly “stunted” intellectual growth with the popularity of keeping them on their parents’ insurance until age 26, when the reality is that “good jobs” with benefits are getting harder to find.
And it’s jaw-droppingly insulting that Stein’s only discussion of low-income youth is a flippant reference to “ghetto-fabulous” lifestyles.
The “how Millennials will save the world” part of the piece has some decent points.
Millennials have positive attitudes. They are shaped by, and shape, the technology and environment they are presented with. Their egalitarian, decentralized understanding of the world will change and benefit both them and the world.
But Millennials and their world won’t benefit from confused, stereotype-driven understandings of who they are and what they care about. While we keep building bridges to the future, let’s keep the trolls tucked away underneath them.
Driving with my father through Chevy Chase, Maryland, when I was young, I once asked him, “What do people in a country club do?”
My Dad, never having been a member, evoked F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby.
"From what I’m told, they play polo and are 'rich together.'"
A decade later, I finally understand what he meant. Some of these intermingling rich people drink scotch together, play a few leisurely rounds of golf every Sunday, and otherwise revel in their common membership in an elite institution.
But I know about another club.
As a twelfth grader living in the shadows of numerous prestigious high schools, I encounter peers who are not only smart but actively smart together, basking in the glory of their exclusive intellectual status.
The qualifications for admission to this club are neither money nor social connections (although these certainly don’t hurt). You’re a full member of the club, endowed with unrestricted privileges to boast freely and judge smugly, only if you have a high SAT score.
Members of the club take as gospel the premise of the SAT: that real, valuable intelligence is reducible to a few objectively measurable skills. They brag about their grades and swoon over J. Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein and Richard Dawkins—not for their contributions to humanity but for their high IQ scores. The problem is that whatever academic attributes the SAT assesses, nobody claims that it measures our morality or our commitment to others, qualities for which Kaplan offers no preparation. It distinguishes neither the sociopaths from the do-gooders, nor the apathetic from the culturally engaged.
Even if the SAT is an accurate prognosis of academic capabilities (which, as we know, is a highly contested view), it is merely an indicator of how advanced our literary essays or mathematical analyses could be, if only we ever choose to create them. For the same reason that having the ability to compose a symphony isn’t praiseworthy if you don’t actually produce and perform a musical number for eager listeners, your high SAT score means nothing if you never make creative use of your mind and heart.
When I did well on my SAT as an eleventh grader, I tried not to take pride in my score, feeling that accomplishment must precede pride. The commonplace message that “you should be proud of your high SAT score” broadcasts a false notion of success, conflating academic possibilities with real achievements.
When all of the propaganda about test-taking is circulated, too many bright students inhale. Believing that they’ve actually done something valuable by scoring big, they start mingling among themselves and themselves alone, sealing their specialness with the experience of “being smart together.” It may be an understandably defensive response to the exclusivity of rich kids or the anti-intellectual thrust of high-school hierarchies, but it can be hurtful to everyone else.
Students like me should be asked to use what are perceived as our gifts for society’s betterment. When Dr. King preached, “everybody can be great,” he didn’t mean that we’re all destined to get high test scores or that greatness only belongs to those who score highest. Whatever our aptitudes are, “everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”
I saw the truth in this claim while tutoring a struggling tenth grader who was unfairly berated by his teacher for “being a menace.” When one of his peers rose to the boy’s defense, standing up to ask the teacher to “please treat us politely,” the adults in the room were clearly taken aback. To think—a non-Honors student who actually practiced and expected civility! It was one of my best moments in high school.
I recently overheard one of the “high achievers” call all the “ghetto kids” at our school “retarded.” He got a near-perfect SAT score, but never participated in any of our school-wide community work projects. In my mind, his comment illustrated the moral vacuity of test-obsessive culture and the absurdity of deifying kids who are too selfish to share their gifts with people around them. Instead, we should encourage our “brainiacs,” as well as our talented artists, athletes, thespians, programmers and musicians, to elevate their communities—and themselves— by helping struggling students.
I am only 18, but have already seen too much snobbery, if not abject meanness, from some of Charles Murray’s “cognitive elites” to believe that the world would be a better place if only they were running it. If students today must emulate an elite body, let it be the anti-elitist moral elite, the folks who refuse to crassly “pull rank” with their various gifts and instead use them to improve society for everyone.
From left to right, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich sit in the defendant's cage at their trial. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko.)
At the culmination of the documentary Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, band member Maria Alyokhina tells the court that “this trial is not just an evil, grotesque mask, it is the face that the government wears when speaking to the people of our country.”
The Sundance-winning documentary by Roast Beef Productions, which makes its public debut on June 10 on HBO, presents the narrative of the Pussy Riot trial as a parable on the reactionary nature of the Putin regime and its crackdown on free speech. Directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin have collated a wide array of court proceedings, public actions and interviews with the defendants' parents and those who would see the three girls hang (in some cases literally).
But the documentary also leaves out a few messy details. Although it doesn't ignore the position of the Orthodox faithful undergirding the prosecution’s case, the film remains couched in the traditional Western narrative of the trial, which blames Putin for all things rotten in Russia, and fails to give full measure to the conservative majority and public employees, pensioners and others that still support both the president and Patriarch Kirill.
Meanwhile, it's unclear whether any of the film's profits will go to the group or related causes. (Roast Beef Productions reportedly had a contract with a company linked to a Pussy Riot lawyer, but band members have condemned the commercial use of the group's name). Lerner told The Nation that he could not disclose any commercial arrangements related to the movie but that the production team has a close working relationship with freed band member Yekaterina Samutsevich (although they unfortunately decided not to interview her).
The documentary begins with footage of the infamous “punk prayer” of February 21, 2012, when Pussy Riot members attempted to perform their song “Mother of God, Drive Putin Out” in Moscow’s iconic Church of Christ the Savior. Three of them made it onto the ambon at the head of the church and began yelling lyrics criticizing the Orthodox Church and its subservience to the state before being dragged out by security. (The film doesn't explore the difference between the widely circulated music video version it shows and the unedited footage where the girls sing mostly a cappella, which is arguably far less provocative.) Alyokhina, Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were later tried and convicted on charges of hooliganism and inciting religious hatred, and Alyokina and Tolokonnikova are now serving two years in penal colonies.
To its credit, the film attempts to give a human face to all those involved. Their somewhat befuddled parents describe the three girls’ personalities and path to radical politics, while the Carriers of the Cross, a kind of motorcycle-less biker gang in shirts reading “Orthodoxy or Death,” remark rather wistfully that in earlier times, such witches would have been hanged or burned at the stake.
Even the state prosecutors, two doughy, watery eyed bureaucrats, get their moment before the camera to refute contentions that Putin is directing the court proceedings, exclaiming that the opposition sees Putin “behind every bush.”
It's too bad the directors didn't interview Samutsevich, who was released in October after changing her defense and who has reportedly fallen out with Tolokonnikova. Instead they attempt to gain a glimpse into the girls' personalities and motives through footage of their questioning and trial. Some of the most human moments occur when the band members are chatting idly in the defendant’s cage, surrounded by cameramen and glowering policewomen as they wait for the proceedings to start. “Where are our lawyers?” Tolokonnikova wonders. “They’re giving interviews or tweeting,” Alyokhina says. “Or at the bar,” Tolokonnikova jokes.
The film’s climax comes with the riveting final speeches of the three girls before the guilty verdict that they expect, where they strike a tone that is defiant—they continue to condemn Putin, the Church and the trial—while arguing that their apologies were sincere.
“Every day, more people understand that if the political system ganged up like this on three girls that performed for 30 seconds in the Church of Christ the Savior, it can only mean that this system fears the truth and sincerity that we represent,” Tolokonnikova tells the court.
There’s certainly a lot of truth to this, but prosecutors’ framing of the protest as an affront to the faithful wasn’t entirely off-the-mark either. An independent poll on the eve of the verdict found that 42 percent of Russians thought Pussy Riot had “insulted holy places and believers’ faith.” Another poll during the trial showed that only five percent of Russians supported letting the band members off with no punishment.
It’s important not to forget these circumstances while watching what is otherwise a rousing defense of free speech.
Read Alec Luhn on Russia's fledgling student movement against controversial education reforms.
Bradley Manning is escorted out of a Maryland courthouse in 2012. (Reuters/Jose Luis Magana.)
At the end of April, the San Francisco LGBT Pride Committee announced that Bradley Manning, a Nobel Peace Prize–nominated gay veteran and whistleblower currently languishing inside a military prison for releasing classified military documents to Wikileaks, would be a grand marshal at this year’s pride parade. But mere hours after the news broke, San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee President Lisa Williams released a statement rescinding the honor and calling the decision “a mistake that never should have been allowed to happen.”
The controversy has divided the LGBT military community and drawn significant attention to what some critics have seen as Pride’s backing away from contentious issues and embracing of corporate sponsors. As a long time queer youth and antiwar activist, I couldn’t keep silent.
Let’s start with William’s own words. Williams claims, “the hint of support for actions that placed in harm’s way the lives of our men and women in uniform…will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride. It…would be, an insult.” But contrary to William’s intentional misrepresentation of the facts, investigations have demonstrated that no military personal have been harmed as a result of Manning’s actions. Rather, Manning’s bravery has revealed to Americans the gruesome reality behind US wars and occupations abroad. The only people endangered by Manning’s actions are the politicians and military officials accountable for engineering, covering up and justifying the US war efforts.
Most glaring in William’s statement is her blatant disregard for the lives of LGBTQ people beyond the borders of American soil. What about the violence carried out by US military forces against the LGBTQ people of Iraq and Afghanistan? The death and destruction inflicted by military drones against the people of Pakistan and Yemen, plenty of them queer? Or the countless LGBTQ Palestinians forced to endure the trauma of living under Israeli apartheid and occupation in Gaza and the West Bank? Do the lives of Arab, Muslim and brown queer people, and what Bradley Manning’s actions have done to highlight the injustices carried out against them by our government, not matter to the San Francisco Pride Committee?
While the board feels it necessary to bar Manning from the post of grand marshal, they are more then willing to embrace a slew of corporate sponsors that commit enormous levels of economic violence on working-class and poor communities and violate countless laws and regulations in their pursuit for profit. Writing in The Guardian, a publication that picked Manning as its “Person of the Year” in 2012, blogger Glenn Greenwald highlighted how corporations like AT&T, Bank of America and Wells Fargo underwrite San Francisco Pride for their own marketing purposes.
It would be nice to be able to say that the committee’s decision is surprising. Unfortunately, pride parades across the country have become increasingly corporatized and visibly less connected to political activism and social justice. Half-naked glittered men, dykes on bikes and spectacular drag queens still parade through major city streets in June, but they do so “sponsored by” massive Budweiser floats, Bank of America tents and opportunistic politicians eager to court queer money and voting power. So, it’s ironic to see Williams charge those who pushed for Manning to be chosen as grand marshal as symbolizing “a system whereby a less-than-handful of people may decide who represents the LGBTQ community’s highest aspiration” when it’s her and the forces she represents who have steered Pride away from its original radical and defiant sprit.
The Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 and the first Gay Freedom Day parades organized in its aftermath began as demonstrations for sexual and gender freedom and opposition to injustices everywhere. Solidarity and resistance to all forms of oppression, not obedience to corporate America and the military-industrial complex, were the spirit of the Gay Liberation Movement.
Bradley Manning’s bravery to stand in solidarity with occupied people everywhere by speaking truth to power makes him a hero who stands in the best tradition of LGBTQ history. He deserves to be honored as grand marshal. The San Francisco Pride Committee doesn’t speak for the vast majority of LGBTQ people, most of whom still believe in a basic commitment to social justice, human rights and solidarity. I’ll be at Pride this year, holding the biggest “Free Bradley Manning” sign I can find, and I hope you will be too. It’s time to take Pride back.
Read Dave Zirin’s post about Olympian and activist John Carlos’s take on NBA player Jason Collins coming out.
This photo essay by Caleb Savage originally appeared at NYU Local and is reprinted with permission.
Students from Cooper Union had been occupying President Jamshed Bhraucha’s office all day on May 8 in protest of the administration’s plan to begin charging tuition. This was the scene inside during the excitement of a 6:00pm rally in Cooper Square that evening.
Although there was a heavy police presence at the rally, the crowd was relatively small and well-behaved.
NYU student Paul Funkhouser spoke about solidarity between students and NYU’s own administrative controversies.
A longstanding Cooper Union faculty member voiced her support for Free Cooper Union.
Students from Columbia’s delegation, along with several other schools and organizations, were also on hand to voice their solidarity.
A member of Free Cooper Union addressed the crowd in Cooper Square on Wednesday evening. Students are upset about the lack of transparency and input from students and faculty regarding Cooper Union’s finances. Due to millions of dollars in budget deficits, Cooper Union plans to start charging tuition for the first time in its history.
This excellent sax player performed transition music and sound effects and injected the somewhat somber event with a certain amount of excitement.
In addition to the black banners flying from Cooper Union’s top floor, the large windows along Lafayette street were painted in support of Free Cooper Union.
Delve into this week's batch to find out about security in Somalia, racism at the Grey Lady and the biggest atomic security breach in United States history. Who do Syrians hate more, Assad or Israel? Can the BRICS countries relax the grip of the IMF-World Bank axis? Also: hipsters, Game of Thrones and the "Russian Facebook."
— Alleen Brown focuses on education.
“Mad Science or School-to-Prison? Criminalizing Black Girls,” by Sikivu Hutchinson. The Feminist Wire, May 2, 2013.
On screen and in real life, white girls are allowed to make mistakes in their intellectual and life pursuits. Not black girls, argues Sikivu Hutchinson. The arrest of Kiera Wilmot is case-in-point. When an impromptu experiment resulted in a small explosion in a science classroom, the 16-year-old was arrested and expelled from school.
— James Cersonsky focuses on labor and education.
“New York Times Recycles Same ‘Racist Undertones’ It Covers,” by Seth Freed Wessler. ColorLines, May 7, 2013.
How not to write about migrant labor in the US: don't quote any migrant laborers; treat migrant-labor employers as innocent exploiters of a broken immigrant system and frame the story as a race conflict between black (or any) citizens and undocumented workers. Cuing the Times' A1 coverage of a lawsuit filed by black workers against agricultural employers in Georgia who favor cheap migrant labor. As Seth Freed Wessler puts it, rather than pitting blacks against Latinos, "Why not write about the racist undertones in the policies," that is, the ones that "have systematically pushed black and Latino workers into the most vulnerable parts of the labor market?"
— Catherine Defontaine focuses on war, security and peace-related issues, African and French politics, peacekeeping and the link between conflicts and natural resources.
“France's Forgotten War,” by Robert Zaretsky. Foreign Policy, April 30, 2013.
“Somalia asks for international support.” Al Jazeera, May 7, 2013.
Somalia has been plagued by war since 1991. However, since September, a UN-backed government is in power, thus putting an end to more than a decade of transitional rule. Security remains a priority as an armed group, al-Shabbab, continues to carry out attacks in the country. In London this month, fifty countries and organizations have gathered to discuss ways to prevent Somalia from falling back into lawlessness and violence. Britain has pledged $15 million “to help train security forces and judges.” Despite the many challenges that Somalia still faces, Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon remains hopeful. According to him, “a bright future for Somalia is within touching distance.”
— Andrew Epstein focuses on social history, colonialism and indigenous rights.
“Interactive: Powering the Gulf,” by Sam Bollier and Mohammed Haddad. Al Jazeera, May 1, 2013.
In this interactive feature marking International Workers Day, Al Jazeera vividly demonstrates that nations are not discreet, bounded units—border walls and maps not withstanding. There are more than 100 million migrant workers worldwide, and the fast-growing, oil-pumping Gulf states are among the biggest destinations.
— Luis Feliz focuses on ideas and debates within the left, social movements and culture.
“The ‘Fucking Hipster’ Show,” by Anthony Galluzzo. Jacobin, May 9, 2013.
This week’s article examines the populist ethos that suffuses the commonsense antipathy towards the figure of the Hipster, which is not that different from the (misrecognized) psychic hatred reactionaries invoke for the figure of the Jew and the immigrant. Galluzzo provides an accessible entry point into a broader discussion of ideology and capital, showing how the latter mystifies the former.
— Elana Leopold focuses on the Middle East, its relations with the US and Islam.
“A Syrian Reaction to Israel's Bombing; The Likely Regional Repercussions; What Happens When U.S. Presidents Draw Red Lines.” Background Briefing with Ian Masters, May 5, 2013.
This episode of Ian Masters's daily radio program takes an in-depth look at goings-on in Syria after last week's Israeli bombings. Speaking with three observers, the program considers the conflicted Syrian reaction to the strikes by a population that simultaneously abhors Israel and President Assad. It also contemplates Assad's "Plan B," as well as potential US involvement in the crisis.
— Alec Luhn focuses on East European and Eurasian affairs, especially issues of good governance, human rights and activism.
“The strange, conspiracy-filled case of ‘Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg,’” by Caitlin Dewey. The Washington Post, May 6, 2013.
Russia reportedly has the most active social networking audience in the world, and the mass opposition protests of 2011-2012 were organized largely on Facebook, Twitter and the country's homegrown leading social network, VK. While they can't do much about Twitter or Facebook (although iPad-toting PM Dmitry Medvedev couldn't resist a photo op with Mark Zuckerberg in Moscow), the Russian authorities may be attempting to crack down on "Russia's Facebook" with a bizarre case against its founder and an apparent hostile takeover attempt. Of course, widespread sharing of copyrighted material on VK has also been a headache for the Russian authorities—and something the United States has pushed them on.
— Leticia Miranda focuses on race, gender, telecommunications and media reform.
“I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet,” by Paul Miller. The Verge, May 1, 2013.
A tech writer goes on a year-long Internet cleanse to understand all the ways it has impeded his ability to connect to the "real world." But in the end, he finds that "the internet isn't an individual pursuit, it's something we do with each other. The internet is where people are."
— Brendan O’Connor focuses on media criticism and pop culture.
“What Is Going on With the Accents in Game of Thrones?” by Max Read. Gawker, May 6, 2013.
Gawker is the House Greyjoy of web publishing. What is dead may never die.
— Anna Simonton focuses on issues of systemic oppression perpetuated by the military and prison industrial complexes.
“The Prophets of Oak Ridge,” by Dan Zak. The Washington Post, April 30, 2013.
This week a trial begins for three religious peace activists who are responsible for what The New York Times called the biggest security breach in the history of the nation’s atomic complex. From “Mission” to “Fission,” Zak's meandering, fourteen-chapter article tells the story of the nun, the painter and the drifter who, with the help of divine grace and a pair of bolt cutters, broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
— Cos Tollerson focuses on Latin American politics and society, and United States imperialism.
“Will the Brics bank deliver a more just world order?” by Caroline Bracht. The Guardian, May 8, 2013.
For decades, Europe and North America have used shared control of the IMF and the World Bank to maintain their hegemonic hold on the global financial system. In order to counter the arbitrary dictates of representatives from the world's crumbling empires, countries in the developing world have long emphasized the need to create an alternative institution that can empower perspectives without a voice in the IMF and World Bank and redistribute global power more equitably. Now that it seems the so-called BRICS may finally establish such a bank, Caroline Bracht examines some of the possibilities, challenges and limitations that will face a new global financial institution once it's inaugurated.
— Sarah Woolf focuses on what’s happening north of the US border.
“Montreal police arrest 447 at May Day demonstration.” CBC News, May 2, 2013.
Montréal: police can kettle 447 demonstrators within mere minutes of a protest's kickoff, detain them for hours on end, fine them each $637...and nobody bats an eye. Since the beginning of the 2012 Québec student strike, this kind of police repression (sanctioned by the province and municipality with the help of Bill 78 and Bylaw P-6, respectively) has become mindbogglingly run-of-the-mill.