Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.
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). That year, 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’s 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 fifty-seven 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.
North Carolina activists protest Republican policies. (Credit: The Daily Courier)
E-mail questions, tips or proposals to email@example.com. For earlier dispatches, check out posts from January 18, February 1, February 15, March 1, March 15, April 2, April 15 and April 26.
1. North Carolina Students Blockade State Republicans
The North Carolina General Assembly is passing an avalanche of regressive policies, including deep cuts to unemployment insurance and public education, restrictions to Medicaid eligibility, racist voter suppression laws and raising taxes on 900,000 working North Carolinians while cutting taxes for the richest twenty-three families. Now, students are standing in resistance with people from across the state. On April 29, seventeen people were arrested for blocking the doors to the State Senate, including two students from NC Student Power Union. On May Day, 350 students from ten different campuses marched to the General Assembly, and five students were arrested for trying to enter the building. On May 6, another group of thirty-one people were arrested—including grandmothers, students, professors and preachers. Mobilizations are planned each Monday until the end of the legislative session.
—NC Student Power Union
2. Florida Youth Rise Up to Defend Pushed-Out High Schooler
On April 22, 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot was arrested at her Polk County high school for conducting an explosive science experiment. The teen, who has no criminal history and maintained good grades, suddenly found herself trapped in Florida’s insidious school-to-prison pipeline, which has continually funneled mostly youth of color out of Florida’s schools and into the criminal justice system. Polk County Superintendent John Stewart has made the decision to place Kiera in an “alternative school” as he considers expulsion proceedings. Dream Defenders finds these actions by Superintendent Stewart reprehensible. We demand that Stewart drop all expulsion proceedings against Kiera Wilmot and allow her to return to her enrollment at Bartow High School. We are calling on concerned individuals to sign this petition, organizations in solidarity to sign this organizational petition and for everyone to contact Polk County Superintendent directly at 863-534-0521 to let him know we will not stand for this in Kiera’s case—or for this kind of treatment for youth in any case.
3. At Dartmouth, It Gets Real
RealTalk Dartmouth is a growing movement of students, faculty, alumni and public supporters that seek to contest a deeply entrenched culture of hate that affects the lives of Dartmouth College students. On April 19, the first of several direct student actions took place to make visible the foundation of our mission—Dartmouth has a problem—at the annual show put on for prospective students. Following the protests, the College announced a day of cancelled classes for students to partake in small group meetings and discuss the campus climate—which many students, faculty, alumni and RealTalk members felt was simply an image-saving move. This is only the most recent and highly publicized example of student dissent. Every year, the college stands witness to sexual assault, racism, homophobia, transphobia and elitism enacted by students who, in turn, face little to no disciplinary action. Through nonviolent protest, RealTalk signals to the administration and to the community that we’ll no longer tolerate this vicious cycle of systematic dehumanization.
4. In Philadelphia, Hundreds Walk Out Against Budget Cuts
The Philadelphia Student Union is a founding member of the Philly Coalition Advocating for Public Schools. We've joined together with teachers, parents and community members to advocate for keeping our schools open and making them better. This year, the School Reform Commission voted to close twenty-three schools in Philadelphia. At the meeting where they voted, nineteen people, including our Executive Director, Hiram, and a PSU alum, Azeem, were arrested. This is just the first phase of a five-year plan to close schools in Philadelphia. Right now, we’re preparing to fight back against the next round of school closures; working with students and staff in schools to ease the transitions when students whose schools closed move into our schools; and, as part of the Campaign for Nonviolent Schools, working with principals and the SRC to get restorative practices in our schools. On May 9, students from across the city walked out and rallied at City Hall to protest the district’s deep budget cuts—which include arts, sports, counselors, nurses and much more.
—Philadelphia Student Union
5. In Chicago, Lincoln Parkers Walk Out for Their Teachers' Jobs
On May 2 at Chicago’s Lincoln Park High School, there were many whispers about “the walkout,” how no one was going to show up and how those who did show up would get suspended. When the bell rang at the end of second period, hundreds of students walked outside, and whispers subsided to cheers of teacher-student solidarity. Students were protesting the firing of eight teachers as part of the school's recent implementation of a “Wall-to-Wall” International Baccalaureate program. The walkout started as a series of rumors the afternoon before, a Facebook event was made that night and the walkout happened just twelve hours later. The students staged a peaceful protest, and were not punished.
6. Providence Students Reject the State Rap
The Providence Student Union has been fighting for months against Rhode Island’s adoption of the New England Common Assessment Program, or NECAP test, as a make-or-break graduation requirement. Students have held creative demonstrations such as a zombie protest and an event where successful adults took (and mostly failed) the test themselves. On April 30, the Providence Student Union staged its own State of the Student Address outside the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education's annual State of Education speech, where students offered their own list of recommendations for transforming their schools. After the event, a group of PSU leaders marched into the State House and delivered their policy recommendations to the Commissioner of Education, the Chair of theBoard of Education, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House.
—Providence Student Union
7. Louisana Students Ward Off the Data Thiefs
In Mandeville, Louisiana, people are angry about the state’s move to hand confidential student information to inBloom, a private data management company. In April, a classmate and I attended an emergency meeting in Baton Rouge on student data sharing. In my testimony I asked, "How would you feel if your personal belongings were stolen and sold to the highest bidder?" We were bullied by Superintendent John White for questioning his motives in selling our information to anyone who wants it without our consent. A few of us will be missing final exams to speak up again at the next board meeting—and we'll continue to educate our peers.
8. Making Space for All Students at Rowan
Project 3 was started by students at New Jersey’s Rowan University who are frustrated with the extreme lack of inclusiveness on campus. Self-segregation is highly prevalent, and students do not feel the university is committed to creating more understanding of historically marginalized communities. Students are proposing the creation of a Multicultural, LGBTQ and Women's Center to provide safe spaces for these communities. A one-person Office of Multicultural Affairs on a campus of over 12,000 students is indicative of our university’s insufficient commitment to inclusion. Students have not been involved nor asked to help create any new initiatives that would establish permanent change. Project 3 looks forward to bringing all interested parties together to establish a new center here.
9. When Will Pomona Workers Get a Break?
On April 30, dining hall workers at Pomona College in California voted 57-26 to form a union with UNITE HERE Local 11. This marked the final victory for workers after more than three years of fighting for respect in their workplace and a voice within the college community. Since this campaign first went public in Spring 2010, workers have spoken out about undervalued work, injuries in the workplace and unjust firings. In December 2011, students, alumni, faculty and clergy stood in solidarity with workers after seventeen people were fired following a document check of the college's employees. After a strong push from the community, the college finally agreed to rehire workers if they returned to the college with a work authorization permit. Now that the union has been certified, this growing community will support workers as the negotiations for a contract begin.
10. What Would Bucky Badger Do?
After organizing for dignity in the workplace in response to unsafe working conditions and discrimination, 105 workers from Palermo Villa, Inc., were fired in May 2012. Students, faculty and staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been pressuring Chancellor David Ward to cut the $217,000 contract with Palermo that allows the company to brand its pizza as "the official pizza of Bucky Badger." The campaign escalated from caroling outside the Chancellor's house, a 10,000 signature petition and letter deliveries to a full-blown sit-in at the Chancellor's office on April 29. Twelve students were arrested and subsequently released. Now, Chancellor Ward is calling on the National Labor Relations Board, Palermo and the developing Palermo's Workers Union to rehire eleven workers who were fired illegally—but they still haven't been rehired.
Tom Corbett speaks on the Pennsylvania state budget. (AP Photo/Bradley C. Bower)
After Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett proposed a 53 percent cut to the state’s 2011-2012 higher education budget, Millersville University President Francine McNairy sent an urgent campus-wide email. Corbett’s “massive cuts are upsetting,” she wrote on March 8, 2011. “We at Millersville are encouraging our students and their families, our faculty, staff and alumni to contact their local legislators and urge them to advocate on behalf of public higher education in Pennsylvania.” On March 28, the men’s cross country team ran a 40-mile relay from Millersville to the state capitol, where they met up with thousands of students and workers from across the state for “United We Stand, Underfunded We Fail.” Three months later, the Republican state legislature lowered a smaller axe—18 percent. Still, this would cost Millersville $6.34 million, including, despite their triumphant, crowd-parting display, all three men’s track teams.
This was Millersville’s first austerity-on-acid trip—a departure from previous, even Republican, administrations. Between 1985 and 2011, the state’s share of its budget plummeted from 60 percent to 25 percent; students’ contribution went from 40 percent to 75 percent. In 2010, Tea Partier Tom Corbett came in to sweep away whatever was left of the state’s blue economy. In 2011, the state cut public education by $860 million (after a Corbett-proposed $1.2 billion), hitting already under-resourced districts, like Philadelphia, the hardest. In 2012, Corbett scrapped the state’s General Assistance fund, a direct subsidy that mostly benefited people with disabilities. Meanwhile, the governor’s 2013-2014 budget, in keeping with previous years, includes a $68 million increase in operating funds and $166 million in capital projects for the Department of Corrections. For Pennsylvanians, these are known quantities: this year, Corbett earned the lowest approval rating in the eighteen-year history of the Franklin & Marshall poll (18 percent). His appearances in Philadelphia are routinely protested. (A September 19 town hall at the Museum of Art was sidelined by chants of “We want education, not incarceration!” and “Corbett go home!”)
Naturally, then, the man Millersville has chosen to usher graduating seniors into the world of debt and unemployment is the same one who rules it: Tom Corbett.
For those who have borne the brunt of Pennsylvania’s austerity politics, Corbett’s anointment as commencement speaker is a slap in the face. “The audacity for someone to bring him in to speak to us—I feel like it’s disrespectful, it’s a cruel joke,” says fifth-year senior Kyle Johnson, who has dealt with cuts to his campus work hours and financial aid issues. “But, you know, the university is a business. You come to find that out once you go along.” On March 8, Johnson received a less-than-reassuring email from Jerry Eckert, chairman of the Commencement Speaker Committee, reading, “I know this note will not satisfy you…this is an opportunity to demonstrate to the Governor and others what a fine University and its students are—a worthy investment by the state!”
An opportunity, indeed—for people like Jerry Eckert. In the weeds of Corbett’s selection are hints of old-boy patronage, a business decision based on shifty insider trading.
Two figures stand out. The first is Eckert, Millersville’s Vice President for Advancement—and an appointed member of Governor Corbett’s higher education committee. The second is Kevin Harley, a 1986 Millersville grad who doubles as a member of the Millersville University Council of Trustees and Corbett’s sitting press secretary. With these gubernatorial ties, the logic of Millersville’s “demonstration” works both ways. For someone whose infamy stems from the unpopularity of his budgetary decisions, Corbett’s selection gives him the opportunity to enter the politically no-frills space of a graduation ceremony and trumpet his abstract devotion to the state’s shrinking education system.
If Corbett’s selection is an under-the-table political play, Millersville has followed in step—violating its own bylaws in the process. For the commencement committee that Eckert chairs, which comprises students, faculty and administrators, “The terms of office begin 1 October, and the committee shall meet at least one time per year, usually during the fall semester, but at other times at the call of the convener or a majority of the members of the committee.” But according to university spokesperson Janet Kacskos, “They haven’t met in the last couple years.” Millersville has “a standing list of folks we’d like to speak at commencement,” she told The Nation, and as sitting governor, Corbett’s appearance is significant.
Eckert issued an apology to the president of the student senate (but not the university at large) for failing to follow procedure. Meanwhile, the governor’s overt stance on his selection has been collegial—that is, apolitical. “His commencement addresses are not—he’s not going to talk about budgets, he’s going to talk about the accomplishments of the students,” says Harley, who dismisses suggestions of any political maneuvering. “He considers it an honor to speak.”
For faculty and students, the university’s apologies are stacking up. At Millersville—and universities the world over—command-and-control governance is part-and-parcel of unforgiving budget politics. Over spring break, the university bulldozed “the Bush,” a patch of forest on campus used for biology research, to make way for a new student housing project. The Friday before the break, all faculty members were emailed about the move—far too late for any to speak up. In November, Millersville’s Council of Trustees overruled the school’s Presidential Search Committee in nominating a slate of potential new presidents for the state to choose from—a possible violation of Pennsylvania Act 188.
“It has become a slippery slope of people being disenfranchised,” says Jill Craven, a Millersville English professor. “There’s an old boys network that works in a particular way. It’s another thing when administrators want to take advantage of that.” Faculty have also felt the blunter edge of the Corbett axe. In March, the union representing the fourteen schools in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) settled contract negotiations with the state—after nearly two years of negotiations and a November vote authorizing a strike.
What to do about Corbett at commencement?
When the governor spoke at Albright College in 2011, the faculty voted unanimously not to grant him an honorary degree—despite that Albright is a private school that’s off the governor’s operating table. At Millersville, the top-down governance that set the stage for Corbett’s selection has lit a fire under campus dissenters.
Over the course of the semester, student organizers have met with faculty members, faculty union representatives, students from other PASSHE schools and alumni. A SignOn.org petition saying that Corbett “does not deserve the honor of speaking at our ceremony” has amassed over 2,200 signatures (nearly half the size of the Millersville student body). “We have fostered a dialogue amongst ourselves to drive democracy in action,” says Rizzo Mertz, a 2011 Millersville grad. “The amount of collaboration among students, alumni and faculty has been fantastic.”
Come commencement, students and allies plan to stand silently and turn their backs on the governor when he speaks. “He turned his back on us, so we’re going to turn our backs on him, and show him what it feels like in public,” Mertz says.
Mertz has also filed right-to-know requests with the state, PASSHE and the university for documents related to the presidential search and commencement selection. In April, the state rejected most of Mertz’s requests, but did return now-former President McNairy’s November invitation to Corbett, which applauds his “successful professional career” and “commitment to community involvement.”
“Our students and staff are highly respectful,” Kacskos says, about the commencement stirrings. “They all believe in diverse opinions and free speech.”
“This isn’t a matter of free speech,” Mertz rejoins. “It’s a matter of self-respect.”
In the neoliberal university, speech may be free, but it’s also profitable. At a commencement ceremony, speakers have an ideal opportunity to make bank. With no room for rebuttal, counter-speech must be off the premises (as with “alternative commencement” ceremonies) or a silent jam.
Score one for Tom Corbett.
But score another for the forces of popular resentment—who, at an event where imagery trumps debate, don’t seem willing to give the governor’s image back.
For first-person takes on student uprising across the country, read StudentNation's Dispatches From the US Student Movement.