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

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 4/11/2014?

Vanishing ice caps

A NASA satellite image shows the state of Arctic sea ice. (Reuters/NASA)

—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration and literature.

The Problem with Counting,” by Jennifer Pan. Dissent, April 3, 2014.

Jennifer Pan’s take on the VIDA count—which lists, annually, the ratio of male-to-female bylines at major publications (e.g., The Nation’s overall 2013 VIDA count was 478:179… smh)—simultaneously indicts the literary old guard (and much of the new guard) for their perennially dude-heavy mastheads, while also explaining why such inventories are an inadequate, even counterproductive, means of measuring equality in journalism. The problem with the “numbers game,” i.e., judging the media establishment’s inclusivity on the basis of the number of female or black or queer writers who have bylines, is that it tends to “transform media inequality from a structural problem to an individual one.” So long as the very lowest rungs of the publishing world—where un- or under-paid internships still reign—are only available to people with economic privilege, prestigious college degrees and access to the networks of literary power, writers with those advantages will be overrepresented in the pool of candidates for jobs, and writing opportunities, at the top. Counting bylines, Pan suggests, addresses only the symptoms of a deeply embedded institutional disease—substituting “a politics of shaming for a politics of redistribution.” Of course we should hold editors accountable for hiring a diversity of writers—just as we should hold colleges accountable for admitting a diversity of students—but we must never mistake achieving parity at the top for the real work of building fundamentally egalitarian institutions, from the ground up.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

“How Children’s Books Fuel Mascot Stereotypes,” by Aura Bogado. Colorlines, April 7, 2014.

Growing up as a sports fan outside of Atlanta, Georgia, I encountered racist images of Native Americans every summer when I would go see the Atlanta Braves play baseball: the tomahawk chop, Chief Noc-A-Homa, the war chant. These encounters informed my ideas of Native Americans and their culture just as much as the brief asides in school dedicated to versions of “American” and “European” history that were far more concerned with the accomplishments of powerful white men than with the indigenous people. However, after reading Aura Bogado’s recent piece for Colorlines, I realized that I probably encountered these images at a far younger age, while learning to read as a child. In the piece, Bogado interviews Debbie Reese, an academic, blogger and tribally enrolled Pueblo Indian from Nambe Pueblo who studies children’s literature. Reese mentions images in popular children’s fiction as fueling the same stereotypes manifested in racist mascots and sports teams. Some of my favorite childhood series were guilty: The Berenstain Bears and Clifford the Big Red Dog, among others.

—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.

The Tipping System Is a Scam—And Here are Six Ways to Game It,” by Alice Robb. The New Republic, April 2, 2013.

This article has an unfortunate title: it lays out six studies that have revealed the cruelly arbitrary factors that tipped workers’ income depends on. Among the things that will reliably and significantly increase the tips workers receive are: having blond hair, wearing red and drawing smiley faces on customers’ receipts. The idea that servers’ pay depends primarily on how competent their service is is a joke. Unless, of course, we consider the emotional labor and “beauty labor” they do to be part of their job, which, of course, it ends up being: as in many feminized occupations, much of the work that is required of the workers goes unrecognized. We should read this article in the context of the recent movement to end the “tip credit” (which allows tipped workers to be paid far below minimum wage) and also in the context of other recent work on women’s labor—I thought this article about egg donation and this one about women in the media were particularly interesting, this week. But mostly, we should focus on the first half of the title, and take inspiration from the nascent anti-tipping movement the article identifies, rather than resign ourselves to trying to game it with dye-jobs and the simulation of happiness.

—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.

How Politics Makes Us Stupid,” by Ezra Klein. Vox, April 6, 2014.

It’s important to read things you disagree with, but also to engage with initially unpalatable ideas on a non-superficial level: this is both the thesis of Klein’s article and my reason for reading it. Data-driven news, the idea behind Klein’s Vox Media and this piece, operates under the assumption that there’s some objective truth accessible through a few uncontroversial basic axioms of thought—namely, a strong faith in the natural and social sciences. Klein’s piece is both a plug for data journalism and an attempt at explaining why people don’t use “facts” to get the right answer, but to get the answer that they want to be right. (Surprise!) For example, he cites a study that asked people whether a certain scientist was indeed an expert on an issue; and it turned out that people’s actual definition of “expert” is “a credentialed person who agrees with me.” Sure, pathos often triumphs over logos when it comes to politics and ideology. But Klein’s article is an epistemological failure—can you really prove the objectivity of data journalism by, um, using data journalism?

—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.

Contesting the U.S. Constitution through State Amendments: The 2011 and 2012 Elections,” by Sean Beienburg. Political Science Quarterly, Spring 2014.

In this thorough look at recent state-level challenges to federal constitutional law, Beienburg evokes archetypal questions about US federalism. The thirty-page article features sections on abortion, race and voting, eminent domain, guns, gay marriage, healthcare, religion, campaign funding and marijuana.

Should citizens be able to vote on laws if they directly challenge federal constitutional law? Can states expand positive rights? What’s a positive right? Should federal power be based primarily in commerce? (Remember, the federal government’s power to desegregate lunch counters and enforce the Clean Water Act derives from the Commerce Clause.) Will we define federal floor protections on which states can build? How will we determine if states violate those floors? When should federal law be a ceiling? What’s the difference between nullifying federal marijuana law and nullifying the Voting Rights Act?

Regarding eminent domain, it’s interesting that Beienburg labels folks who challenge the Supreme Court’s Kelo v. New London decision as conservative. Progressives too are skeptical of granting private property to developers, miners or pipe layers who profess merely to increase tax revenue. Do liberals shy away from these fights because they think challenging federal power is a slippery slope?

Surprisingly, I appreciate Representative Mike Coffman’s (R-CO) approach to legalizing marijuana in his home state. Beienburg says, “Coffman…opposed Colorado’s amendment but backed his constituents’ right to do so.”

—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups’ relationship with technology and development.

What the IRS’s Taxation Ruling Means for Bitcoin and Other Digital Currencies,” by Kyle Chayka. Pacific Standard, April 9, 2014.

Some people hope that digital currencies eventually will help promote greater global equality, encouraging sustainable habits and increasing access for the poor in countries lacking stable banking and currency systems. That dream is pretty far away from realization, and certainly not all Bitcoin users have that apparently altruistic focus. But in the meantime, the US government has moved to bring Bitcoin into a more (in theory) steady system of wealth sharing: taxation. The government’s decision to treat bitcoins as a commodity rather than a currency and tax them as capital gains rather than income is not the most redistributive option. And the system also allows capital loss deductions for Bitcoin, raising the question, Chayka notes, “What happens when deductible capital losses in digital currencies start functioning as a form of money laundering?” So Bitcoin’s ultimate effect on inequality is still unclear, but it will be interesting to see what happens.

—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.

Letter from the Archive: The Genocide in Rwanda,” by Philip Gourevitch. The New Yorker, April 4, 2014.

Genocides, Remembered and Forgotten,” by George Packer. The New Yorker, April 8, 2014.

Genocide’s aftermath draws out the extremes of idealism and cynicism: idealism in the hope that the freshest incarnation of systemic mass murder will finally give the world its “never again” moment, cynicism because I know it doesn’t work that way. The mechanics of genocide—the approval, overt or tacit, from someone, something, higher up—allow morality to be cast aside without even preliminary thought. The horrors of the past cannot sway a mind freed from considering right and wrong.

This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda. To commemorate the event, The New Yorker asked Philip Gourevitch to select and comment on some of the pieces he wrote for the magazine immediately following the genocide and in the decade or so that followed. The act of remembering is important. But not every genocide has made the same imprint on the public consciousness, George Packer reminds us as he writes about the trials of former Khmer Rouge officials who participated in Cambodia’s genocide.

Those that engage in the act of remembering are not always those that need it most. But we all need the reminder—even if only to balance our own moral centers—monsters often aren’t monsters, but people who give away their moral agency.

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

Call climate change what it is: violence,” by Rebecca Solnit. The Guardian, April 7 2014.

My take on the most recent IPCC report on climate change is a pessimistic one, albeit also probably fairly accurate: in short, we’re f*#@ed. The projections of how global warming will impact global health offer some insight into my sentiment. The World Health Organization estimates that health costs stemming from climate change will amount to $2-4 billion a year by 2030. This graphic artfully displays some other harrowing figures: 20-25 million more children will be undernourished by 2050, already 40,000 annual deaths can be attributed to climate change and one in eight deaths worldwide is linked to air pollution. Climate change is killing people, notably the poorest among us.

The IPCC report, and climate change generally, has not experienced a dearth of media attention, but no one conveys my sentiment better than Solnit. She calls climate change what it is: an egregious and sustained violence committed by the wealthy on the poor. She is angry, as we all should be: climate change and its effects are a function of inequality and corporate greed. That anger needs to be harnessed if there is going to be any movement on climate change, be it by forcing our government and industry to adopt greener technologies or pay reparations to poor countries who bear the brunt of the burden.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

How Nigeria Became Africa’s Largest Economy Overnight,” by Uri Friedman. The Atlantic, April 7, 2013.

Nigeria’s economy nearly doubled in size on Sunday, outpacing South Africa’s and catching up to Belgium. “As days go, it was a good one,” writes The Atlantic’s global editor Uri Friedman. But, as he explains, the overnight miracle has less to do with spontaneous, hyper-rapid economic development as it does with correcting for a longstanding measurement error. After twenty-four years, the Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics updated its metrics for calculating gross domestic product (GDP)—a process known as “rebasing,” which in wealthier countries happens every few years. With thriving sectors like the country’s film industry, Nollywood, and the explosion of cell phone use taken into account, Nigeria’s economy is worth $510 billion, making it the twenty-sixth largest in the world. This numerical shift on paper has real world implications: a higher GDP means Nigeria is no longer eligible for certain kinds of development aid; it also makes the country more attractive to foreign investors. On the global stage, Nigeria can now contend for membership to political groupings like the G-20, the BRICS and the UN Security Council. It’s important to note that GDP only tells us so much and is far from a perfect gauge of societal wellbeing; the cheery statistical revelation about Nigeria’s overall economic health does little for the growing number of Nigerians living in extreme poverty. As the Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano cuttingly put it, “In our countries, numbers live better than people.”

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

Chicago decriminalized marijuana possession—but not for everyone,” by Mick Dumke. The Chicago Reader, April 7, 2014.

In this piece for The Chicago Reader, Mick Dumke shows the failures of Chicago’s attempt to reform its marijuana laws, replacing possible prison time for possession of under fifteen grams with a ticketing system. The article makes good use of statistics and data to show how racial profiling has not diminished under these policies and has in some areas become even more severe. He also extends a sympathetic ear to the policemen and women who work these beats and who express their discomfort with the policies that they are expected to enforce. While the piece may seem like old news to some, Dumke’s mix of dogged reporting and statistics research proves a powerful indictment of superficial approaches to drug reform.

Read Next: Intern Sam Adler-Bell on workers and students who fought back against exploitative hotel management, and won.

The NCAA Makes Billions and Student Athletes Get None of It

Shabazz Napier

Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier (13) celebrates after winning the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against Kentucky Monday, April 7, 2014, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

This opinion piece was originally published in the student-run Daily Targum at Rutgers University.

For many years, the pay-for-play issue in major college sports was a no-brainer to me. A full-ride scholarship—a free education—is an invaluable experience. A college degree is something so many bright Americans struggle to afford, let alone attain. So the idea of athletes getting any kind of compensation beyond a free opportunity to pursue a degree was silly to me.

Not long after coming to Rutgers, I started to realize that student athletes are in a situation the rest of us cannot truly relate to. Universities recruit them to operate within the NCAA—a fully commercialized, multi-billion dollar industry that regulates players to the point of exploitation.

All television revenue, ticket and jersey sales, likeness promotions and other sources of income go to the NCAA, the schools, the coaches, the event staffs and everyone else involved in the business—except for the athletes creating the value. Last year, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament generated $1.15 billion in television ads, well beyond the revenue generated by the NFL and NBA playoffs, according to ESPN.

Despite devoting forty to sixty hours per week to their sport most of the year—more than many full-time jobs—Division I football players aren’t considered employees and lack basic economic rights under the NCAA’s cartel restrictions. That’s what former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter is pushing to change in his fight for unionization of the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA). He wants better medical insurance and academic support for players, and rightfully so.

The NCAA’s exploitative marketing comes in exchange for a scholarship incidental to the industry, and it requires far more time spent playing a major sport than studying for classes. Colter testified that advisors kept him from pursuing a dream of becoming a doctor in favor of easier classes to cater to his football schedule. That’s not putting someone in a position to succeed academically if they aren’t going professional athletically.

Yet somehow, universities paint a picture of student athletes being primarily students. They find it appropriate to use them as a vehicle for institutional promotion during sporting events that have nothing to do with education. The reality is, they care almost exclusively about a football player’s talent and marketability—nothing more, nothing less. The “student athlete” is a false concept.

The National Labor Relations Board’s decision last week to uphold CAPA’s petition carries few short-term ramifications, as the NLRB only affects private schools. But it’s beginning to expose the bigger fundamental issue here.

In response to the ruling, Northwestern appealed and wrote in a statement that it believes its student athletes “are not employees, but students.” That’s nonsense. Since when are money and education mutually exclusive?

There is no other student on scholarship at any university told they can’t be paid while receiving an education, and athletes collectively hauling in tons of money for their schools should be no different.

NLRB regional director Peter Sung Ohr found in his twenty-four-page ruling that Northwestern’s football team generated approximately $235 million in revenue from 2003 to 2012. A typical training camp day entails mandatory meetings, film sessions and practices from 6:30 am to 10:30 pm. Sorry, but that is a job, not an extra-curricular activity.

Imagine you’re an English scholar. You write a novel that becomes a best seller, but have to forfeit any profit to the school because you’re already taken care of with paid expenses. Or what if you’re a talented engineering student who builds something as innovative as Facebook in a dorm room, but couldn’t reap any benefits, because you were told the college experience is enough?

The NCAA tags student athletes with the label of “amateur,” but it’s more of an excuse to control the distribution of billions of dollars than an institutional ideal. The notion that college athletes should play strictly for the love of the game is laughable. If so, why give them a scholarship at all? Oh, right, schools need athletes enrolled for revenue and institutional advancement.

To be clear, student athletes do not need salaries or monthly paychecks, even though the NCAA runs just like any other professional sports league. They should simply be allowed to operate within the free market like anyone else in America. Schools can pay what they want, and athletes should be able to sign endorsements for their own likeness and image. It’s fairly simple.

There is no evidence to suggest that athletes being compensated a fairer market value would compromise an educational mission. Ivy League schools don’t award athletic scholarships, but that doesn’t mean their players love the game more than those in the Big Ten. And athletes in the Big Ten aren’t compromised academically by virtue of their scholarship.

Why would going beyond an arbitrarily capped number be any different?

The NCAA and misinformed fans have a myriad of excuses and unanswered questions, as if they are impossible to solve. There isn’t enough money. College athletics will crumble. Athletes already have it great as is. How much will everyone be paid?

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None of those scare tactics is sufficient justification for restricting only one class of people in a booming industry that, oddly enough, has no problem making challenging business decisions with everyone else involved. Coaches and athletic directors can negotiate million-dollar contracts, billions are available for installing state-of-the-art facilities, but the whole enterprise hinges on maintaining an arbitrary benefit to the student athletes.

Please, that’s ridiculous. Billion-dollar industries don’t collapse when their employees receive more than their expenses.

Sometimes life isn’t fair, but the business the NCAA is conducting is unethical.

Read Next: Catch up on the latest in student activism.

Last Week, Students Struck in California, Walked Out in Newark and Sat-In at Dartmouth. What’s Next?

Newark

Newark students walk out. (Photo: Newark Students Union)

Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing—from established student unions, to emerging national networks, to ad hoc campaigns that don’t yet have a name. For recent dispatches, check out January 27, February 10, February 26, March 7 and March 21. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch.

Contact studentmovement@thenation.com with any questions, tips or proposals. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).

1. As Grad Teachers Strike, UC Cracks Down, Thousands Mobilize

On April 2 and 3, UAW 2865, which represents teaching assistants at the University of California, went on strike to protest unfair labor practices. At Santa Cruz, these included intimidation of student workers and threats to withhold future employment for members’ participation in a legally sanctioned strike planned for March 2014. Protesters gathered early on April 2 and were confronted by riot police imported from UC Berkeley. When a union leader announced the picket would soon begin, he was promptly tackled and arrested. Nineteen other student workers were subsequently arrested. The ruthless tactics employed by Executive Vice Chancellor Alison Galloway in keeping one of two entrances open, against the possibility of complete campus shutdown, ignited further response from students, faculty and community members. By the second day of the strike, the protest quadrupled to almost 400—and police repression continued. Early April 3, after being pushed by an officer in the crosswalk, a student was arrested and charged with battery. Riot police interrupted picketing throughout the day, but the protest culminated with high spirits. Defense campaigns and contract negotiations are on the horizon.

—Erin Rose Ellison and Rachel Fabian

2. In the Face of “One Newark,” Seven Schools Walk Out

On Thursday, April 3, more than 1,000 Newark Public School students walked out of class to protest Superintendent Cami Anderson’s “One Newark” plan. The plan uses rhetoric about “excellence” and “equity” to confuse the public about the district’s deeper plans to close and destabilize public schools—while laying off 700 teachers this year and 1,100 teachers over the next three years. The NSU organized students from seven high schools across the state’s largest school district to walk out of class, into the streets and on to Newark City Hall. From there, we started a “Walk of Shame” where we visited corporations that profit off the privatization and destruction of Newark Public Schools, including Prudential Insurance, a contributor to the One Newark plan and TEAM Charter Schools, and the Foundation for Newark’s Future.

—Jelani Walker and Kristin Towkaniuk

3. At Dartmouth, Freedom Budget Sparks Two-Day Sit-In

On Tuesday, April 1, a group of thirty-five Dartmouth students arrived at President Hanlon’s scheduled office hours asking for a point-by-point response to a Freedom Budget for Dartmouth, inspired by Martin Luther King’s Freedom Budget. Quickly, our visit turned into a sit-in of the president’s office and part of the administrative building, which lasted 48 hours. During the sit-in, students read poetry, danced, planned with students outside the office, coordinated food deliveries and interfaced with administrators regarding demands and rules for sitting-in. Eventually, sixteen students who continued to occupy the office agreed with Dean Charlotte Johnson that they would leave if given only low-level punishment; protection from retaliation; an externally conducted, third party campus climate review survey conducted by the end of 2016; and meetings with decision-makers directly in charge of provisions of the Freedom Budget by May 20.

—Dartmouth Action Collective

4. In Wake County, Jumpsuits Pack the School Board

On March 7, Selina Garcia, a Southeast Raleigh High student and member of NC HEAT, was arrested by a school resource officer for fighting on a school bus. The school police officer said she needed to “learn a lesson.” Garcia, who was living in foster care without a legal guardian at the time, spent twenty days in an adult jail, which was dubbed an appropriate “temporary home” until the county found her a new place to live. NC HEAT, a youth-led group which organizes around education issues, led a campaign for her release, wearing prison jumpsuits as a solidarity statement to a school board meeting, packing the courthouse and the social services office with supporters and calling for accountability in an online petition. On March 27, Selina was released—but as we celebrate her homecoming, NC Heat vows to continue organizing until police are out of our schools and all young people have access to counseling and safe learning and living environments.

—NC HEAT

5. #not1more x 80

On April 3, the John Jay DREAMers arrived in DC to pressure President Obama to stop deportations and, in particular, the deportations of Ardani Rosales Lemus and Jaime Arturo Valdez Reyes, whose dates are soon approaching. On Capitol Hill, along with the DREAM Action Coalition, the JjDREAMers urged Congress to stop the administration’s record number of deportations. On April 5, the JjDREAMers joined activists from more than eighty cities across the country for a National Day of Action for #not1more deportation.

—Maricela Cano

6. #USMFuture #UMaineFuture

At the University of Southern Maine, students, staff and faculty are battling administrators over the transformation of USM to a business-friendly “metropolitan” university. On March 21, after the administration’s proposal to eliminate four departments, word leaked that layoff notices were being issued to fifteen additional tenured faculty. That day, more than 100 students and faculty gathered outside the Provost’s office, sparking the creation of the student group #USMFuture. Alongside State Representative Ben Chipman, students introduced an emergency bill calling for a retroactive moratorium on cuts and demanding an independent audit of UMaine System finances. Students, staff and faculty throughout the seven-campus University of Maine System, as well as off-campus labor and community groups, are joining in coalition with USM as #UMaineFuture, to demand more state funding and administrative accountability for public higher education in Maine.

—#USMFuture

7. LA Students—and Unionists Nationwide—Converge

On March 29, more than 100 students from across Los Angeles participated in EmpowerED 2014, a conference focused on education and hosted by USC EdMonth and Students United for Public Education. Throughout the day, students heard from K-12 student union leaders from Chicago, Providence, Portland and Newark about the student organizing currently growing throughout the country in response to the top-down policies of the education reform movement. Students also shared experiences and ideas in open forums, developed leadership and organizing skills in interactive workshops and worked to develop a vision for an education system that serves all students—and incorporates student voices. Some of the issues highlighted were the elevated policing and criminalization of youth; school reconstitutions, like at Crenshaw and Dorsey High Schools; and closings, as in the current case of Roosevelt High School’s Academy of Environmental and Social Policy. By the end of the day, a group of students expressed interest in forming a student union in Los Angeles.

—Hannah Nguyen

8. Michigan Builds a Student Power Network

On Saturday, March 29, fifty activists from across Michigan converged in Ann Arbor for a day of strategizing. Although many were students, the group spanned age groups and occupations. Participants shared stories from myriad struggles, ranging from organizing against Emergency Managers, tuition freezes and university corporatization, to pushing for environmental justice and divestment from Apartheid Israel, to direct action at the Enbridge pipeline, to defending workers’ rights in our communities and overseas. At the end of the day, each person shared one action that they would take in support of a Michigan Student Power Network, making our acts of resistance and our struggle for a more just and equal Michigan seem more hopeful, more reasonable and, with newfound statewide solidarity, possible.

—Duncan Tarr, Mariah Urueta, Gregory Hunter, Cassandra Van Dam, Ian Matchett

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9. When Will Kentucky Stop Privatizing?

At 1 pm on April 1, students at the University of Kentucky interrupted a meeting of the board of trustees with a mic-check and a message: no outsourcing and no Sodexo. While a coalition of students, faculty, staff, farmers and community members have opposed the privatization of UK’s historically public dining services since March 2013, the administration has continued to pursue bids from multinational foodservice companies. Sodexo showed itself to be particularly unacceptable when it cited the Affordable Care Act as a reason for reclassifying all its workers to part time status last December, removing liability for employee benefits. The mic-check kicked off the Campus Worker Justice Week of Action and came alongside USAS campaigns across the country. UK USAS is moving forward by continuing to gather support from students, building the Kentucky Promise Coalition, debating dining privatization on WRFL on April 9 and planning an action later this month.

—UK United Students Against Sweatshops

10. Could College Athletes Be Recognized?

Athletes and advocates discuss what’s next in the wake of the NLRB’s March 26 decision. (Video: ESPN)

—College Athletes Players Association

 

Read Next: Brown students and workers unite against an exploitative hotel.

Brown Students and Workers Unite to Convince the University to Boycott an Exploitative Hotel

Renaissance protest

Santa Brito and her coworkers picket outside the Providence Renaissance Hotel. (Photo courtesy of Unite Here Local 217)

Santa Brito, a housekeeper at the Renaissance Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, was cleaning rooms the day her water broke. “I was afraid,” she said. “I kept working throughout my pregnancy because people said the company was very aggressive.” Raquel Cruz, also a housekeeper, told The Nation that managers at the Renaissance refused to give her and other pregnant women light duty, even when their doctors ordered it. “At thirty to thirty-five weeks, they still want you to do the same job, the same number of rooms. And you have to keep working because otherwise you lose your job.” A week after giving birth, Brito called the hotel. “They told me they didn’t know when I could come back to work.… They told me they couldn’t guarantee my job.” A week later she was fired.

In 2011, the Renaissance gained some unwanted notoriety when Joey DeFrancesco quit his job at the hotel with the help of his bandmates in the What Cheer? Brigade. A video of Joey’s raucous exit has 4.3 million views on YouTube. “They were stealing our tip money, paying us poverty wages, making us work double or triple shifts,” DeFrancesco told The Nation. “When I quit, I didn’t want to go quietly.” Last March, in response to this ongoing cycle of abuse, 75 percent of Renaissance workers signed a petition demanding a fair process to join a union. Since then, they’ve held informational pickets outside the hotel almost every Wednesday. The Renaissance—owned by the Procaccianti Group—has responded with an intense anti-union campaign. Raquel’s husband, Marino Cruz, who also works at the Renaissance, says that as soon as the workers went public with their demands, the managers “started attacking the leaders. Giving them more work. And looking for excuses to fire them.”

On December 4, the workers escalated their campaign by declaring a boycott. “Our bodies suffer from the work yet we live on the edge of poverty,” the workers’ statement read. “We ask all people of good conscience not to patronize the Renaissance Hotel until we are able to work and live with dignity.” The Unitarian Universalist Association, which had intended to have its convention at the Renaissance, canceled 847 reservations. Local politicians voiced their support. And last week, thanks to the combined efforts of students and hotel workers, the Brown University Community Council (BUCC) voted to discourage the Brown community from patronizing the Renaissance.

Since the fall, members of Brown’s Student Labor Alliance (SLA) had been marching with Renaissance workers on the picket lines, providing a welcome burst of energy to the weekly demonstrations. But when the boycott started, students hatched a plan to use Brown’s clout in the Providence hospitality industry—the university brings thousands of parents, alumni and visiting scholars to the city each year—to support the workers’ effort. “We have certain leverage at Brown to transform the everyday lives of working people in our community,” says Mariela Martinez, a senior SLA member who goes by the name Mar, “We have to use it.”

Moving fast, SLA members drafted a resolution in support of the boycott and secured a spot for the issue on the agenda at the next BUCC meeting in February. They invited workers from the Renaissance to attend and share their stories. It’s part of SLA’s job, Martinez says, to force the administration to confront the lived experiences of people who they might otherwise see as nothing more than the service they provide. “It’s really easy to be stuck in an office on College Hill, and not be touched by these stories,” she told The Nation. “What student labor alliance does is bring the human aspect of the workers’ lives and stories to the forefront.”

Since Procaccianti bought the hotel in late 2012, those stories have only gotten worse. For months, workers complained to managers that new cleaning chemicals were burning and irritating their hands and faces. Nothing was done. Then an OSHA investigation revealed that the hotel had been using faulty spray bottles with mismatched tops and providing poor hand protection. Noxious chemicals were spilling all over workers’ skin. When I spoke with Raquel Cruz, she showed me burn marks still visible on her hands. Her husband Marino said coworkers exposed to the chemicals were still getting rashes and nosebleeds. The hotel was fined $8000 for the OSHA violations.

At the meeting in February, the students presented their case for a resolution in support of the boycott—citing a similar measure passed in 2011 during a labor dispute at a unionized hotel. Santa Brito, who has become one of the fiercest leaders in the hotel since getting her job back (with the help of the Department of Labor), told her story. She lifted her sleeves to show the burn marks on her forearms. She talked about her child. But either because the students had gotten on the agenda too late and had already used up their time; or because the councilmembers, unable to understand Brito’s rapid Dominican Spanish, couldn’t adequately gauge the gravity of what she was saying; or because of something else, more tragic and obvious than either of those, the facilitator of the meeting—President Christina Paxson herself—interrupted Brito and said they would have to table the matter for another time. The meeting ended without a vote.

Many SLA members were outraged. They felt as though the council had deliberately marginalized Brito and her story. But they were also galvanized. “You have to go through the official channels,” Martinez explained, “Not because you believe they will work, but because when they don’t work, it shows how corrupt the system is.” That moment “when Santa was cut off,” Martinez said, “was a concrete demonstration of how workers’ stories are brushed to the side at Brown.” Over the course of the next month, SLA went outside the “official channels,” passing out hundreds of leaflets at Brown’s extravagant 250th Anniversary events, getting media coverage on campus and raising awareness. They collected hundreds of petition signatures and met with individual members of the BUCC to win their support.

In early March, there was another BUCC meeting. SLA packed the room with supporters. Once again, workers came and shared their stories, adding to the ever-growing list of grievances against the Procaccianti Group. (A pending NLRB complaint contends that the hotel’s anti-union tactics violate the NLRA.) And this time, after some nitpicking over the language, the council voted almost unanimously in support of the resolution, which “encourages the Brown community to take all appropriate measures to avoid holding any events at the Renaissance during the current labor dispute.”

The resolution does not use the words “union” or “boycott.” Marisa Quinn, Brown’s vice president for public affairs, told The Nation that the resolution merely requires the university to “provide information” so that “visitors can make individual choices regarding hotel options.” She affirmed, however, that Brown’s events services and purchasing department “will refrain from using the hotel” until the dispute is resolved. Quinn, the only person on the council who did not support the resolution, says she “would have preferred to wait until after the NLRB review” to take action.

Still, the resolution is a victory. And the workers are grateful. “The students have supported us an incredible mount,” said Marino Cruz. “They’ve really had our backs, and we’re ready to support them in whatever fight comes.” This idea of reciprocity, of fighting each other’s fights was something I heard again and again from workers at the Renaissance. It’s a labor movement thing (an injury to one…), but it has a different resonance when applied to the relationship of solidarity between low-wage service industry workers and students at an Ivy League college.

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Martinez, who comes from a working-class family in South-Central Los Angeles, was sheepish when I told her about all the gratitude expressed by Marino and Raquel Cruz. “Whenever they say stuff like that, we say, ‘No it’s actually all of you that inspire us, we’re doing the little bits that we can, but the reason we do this is that we’re already so astonished by the work that you are doing.’” Martinez feels this especially strongly about the Renaissance workers. “They are facing real intimidation on a daily basis.… We’re just going to class and going to meetings. We’re not in any real danger.”

But Marino Cruz doesn’t see it that way, “They may go to a wealthy university and live different lives than us, but they have noble hearts, they have pure hearts. They are fighters, just like us.”

For his part, DeFrancesco has sought to use his erstwhile YouTube fame to amplify the message of the Renaissance workers, maintaining a website where service workers across the country can share their stories of abuse and resistance. “The organizing my co-workers continue to do is obviously way braver and far more important than the viral stunt I pulled,” he told The Nation, “Fighting—not quitting—is what actually wins better working conditions.”

 

Read Next: {Young}ist reclaims the millennial narrative.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 4/4/2014?

Foreclosed home

Foreclosed home in Los Angeles (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration and literature.

"Toward Cyborg Socialism," by Alyssa Battistoni. Jacobin, January 2014.

Confession: I don't care about "environmentalism."

Don't get me wrong. I think pollution is bad. I rallied for Coal Divestment at my university. I read Naomi Klein. I follow 350.org on twitter. But at some point, I made a conscious choice to let other more committed environmental activists to do my caring for me. At the time, I saw environmentalism as a mode of political involvement that appealed to especially huge numbers of people in my generation (for good reason), and so felt like I could get away with focusing on the labor movement, on combating income inequality and mass incarceration instead. I was like, "you guys, got this. Tell me where to sign, where to show up, and I'll be there, but I have other meetings to be at!"

In an editorial from Jacobin's winter issue, Alyssa Battistoni explains how stupid I am. Where many leftists have criticized the (mainstream) environmental movement for too comfortably accommodating neoliberalism—just buy these funny looking light bulbs and we'll save the planet!—Battistoni indicts the anti-capitalist left for failing to engage adequately with environmental issues, not as one item on a political agenda but as fundamentally interconnected with our efforts to organize toward an alternative economy. More critical and compelling than the welcome "environmental justice" terminology gaining credence in the green movement, Battistoni calls instead for a "cyborg socialism," which forefronts the entangledness of ecology and technology, of class struggle and the planet it takes place on.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

"Cheerleaders make the NFL's billions. They deserve to be paid minimum wage," by Nichi Hodgson. The Guardian, March 30, 2014.

The National Labor Relations Board’s recent decision to allow players at Northwestern University to form a union is a major victory for college athletes long denied the fruits of their own labor. However, football players are not the only labor pool that is exploited by the multibillion dollar industry. Nichi Hodgson's recent Guardian piece highlights the fact that NFL cheerleaders—the faces and bodies so ubiquitous in television and in-house NFL advertising—are paid less than minimum wage. Moreover, paternalistic NFL teams insist that these women adhere to a strict standard of moral behavior (as if the NFL is some bastion of morality). As Hodgson describes it: "no fraternizing with the players, including no discussion of wages or working hours; no jewelry, other than wedding bands and team-mandated earrings; no weighing a single pound more than you did at the beginning of the season; compulsory tans, fake or skin cancerous—the list goes on." As Hodgson points out, these are the same punitive practices found in strip clubs. However, strippers have been able to push for back wages and compensation, such as the Spearmint Rhino dancers who successfully sued the club chain for almost $13 million. "Even strippers have more labor rights than cheerleaders," and even the team mascot makes a minimum wage. It's time that cheerleaders received the same.

—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.

Game of Homes,” by Rebecca Burns, Michael Donley & Carmilla Manzanet. In These Times, March 31, 2014.

In These Times reports on the rapid growth of big bank– and private equity firm–owned housing in the wake of the financial crisis — and what it portends. The authors write: "After first making money from the housing bubble that crashed the economy, then benefitting from the federal bailout, banks and investors now stand ready to profit all over again by cleaning up the mess they made." A source tells the authors of the piece that, for example, "in many cases, victims of foreclosure are literally renting back their own houses." They detail the ways that gentrification, unsafe living conditions and general poverty and precarity result from financial companies increasingly serving as the (absentee) landlords of huge swathes of American cities. Another recent article in In These Times, "The End of Jobs?" gives a similarly important analysis of another of the economic trends that are leading, broadly speaking, away from the mid-twentieth-century "American Dream" and its fantasy of stability. Both come with ideas for solutions: accompanying "Game of Homes" is the article "Three Ways to Cut Wall Street Out of the ‘Housing Recovery,’" offering ideas on how to move forward.

—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.

"Talking With 13-Year-Old Leggings Activist Sophie Hasty," by Amanda Hess. Slate, April 1, 2014.

An interesting, albeit poisonous paradox: Middle-school girls are forbidden from wearing leggings because they are distracting to boys and destructive to the educational environment; therefore, dress code. However, girls who transgress against the vague clothing guidelines are forced to hide behind their friends when administrators approach, wear embarrassing gym shorts and even take papers home for their parents to sign. Now, what's more frustrating to administrators' educational ambitions? The inherent vice associated with the female body, or the regulations educators impose on those bodies?

—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.

Export Stupidity,” by Richard Heinberg. Post Carbon Institute, March 27, 2014.

Assuming law to be static is a big mistake. For example, new crude oil facilities that promise only to ship carbon domestically (exporting US crude has been essentially forbidden since 1975) should be met with skepticism. As proof, Congress is now thinking of lifting the 1975 ban. Richard Heinberg’s short piece, which does not mention the crude oil ban specifically, still offers a good antidote to Congressional hearings on promoting US carbon exports. Sorry to self-promote, but I predicted this in February 2013.

—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups' relationship with technology and development.

"Terrabyte Incognita: Africa Might Not Look Like You Think It Does," by James Wan. Think Africa Press, March 28, 2014.

It's well known that cartography can't be entirely objective. Greenland is grossly oversized in the commonly used Mercator projection, and I know some Australians who prefer the "upside down" map of the world. Scholars like Thongchai Winichakul and Benedict Anderson have written about how the development of cartography was key in defining national identity because it not only gave firm physical borders to the nation state but also gave people a mental image of the country. Wan's article argues that that ubiquitous modern cartographic technology, Google Maps, isn't immune. "Google Maps claims to be on a 'never-ending quest for the perfect map,'" he writes. But due to its ad-based profit model, against which "not even states have the vast resources necessary to compete...Africa comes very low down on the pecking order." Wan concludes: "As was the case a century ago, it is still just a small group of Western individuals with specific ideas of the world that have the resources to map the world."

—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.

"Other People's Pathologies," by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The Atlantic, March 30, 2014.


The first essay assignment I received in my college African-American lit class asked us to answer the question: What is White-American literature? A class of mainly white students, we would spend the whole semester learning to see the thing we spent a lifetime not seeing: White-people culture, branded as the norm, rendered invisible as a result.

Is it silly to lump all white people into one group and start ascribing it with universal characteristics? It's as silly as it is to do it with black people, or any other race or ethnicity.

And yet, it's open season once again on the public examination of black culture. This time, at least, it has produced an exhilarating exchange between Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait. Coates's latest volley turns the eye of observation on those who are doing the judging, reminding us that the privileged are hobbled by their own filters. They, like everyone, see the world not like it is, but as their upbringing and environment make them see it—and behave accordingly. It is a reminder that values unobserved still exist, and those values have contributed to a devastation of black communities that has lasted centuries—a history the privileged (and we're talking white privilege, specifically) have never been forced to contend with or seriously answer for. As Melissa Harris-Perry put in her most recent Nation column: "Social science has spent little time debating the tangle of pathology that ensnares the privileged. We are trained to intervene with those who lack resources, to find the problems there, and to ignore the perpetrators of the inequality."

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

"Obamacare: Where Are We Now?" by John Cassidy. The New Yorker, March 28 2014.

"Health Caring," by Jeffrey Toobin. The New Yorker, April 7 2014.

I was delighted to find out that Obamacare's March 31 deadline not only produced upwards of 7 million signups, but some excellent, policy-driven health journalism (my favorite). Not necessarily known for its healthcare coverage, The New Yorker offers some thorough—and, happily, positive—commentary on the ACA. Cassidy suggests that while the Democrats may be winning the war in policy—there are substantial and measurable positive outcomes for millions of people (including me, as a new Medicaid beneficiary) stemming from the ACA rollout—it's losing the war on rhetoric: While most Americans overwhelmingly support individual policy changes attributable to the healthcare law, they remain critical of Obamacare as a whole. That's thanks in large part to Republicans' united, scathing and deliberately misinformed (read: "death panel") attacks on the measure, and Democrats' anemic defense. Toobin notes that Obamacare helps the poor the most, and that it is this element of the law that is arguably most important and impactful, and provokes the most push back from conservatives. Looking at the historic experience of Medicaid, he suggests it's just a matter of weathering the battle; with the passage and enactment of the law, the war is already being won.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

Foreign Aid 101, Third Edition” by Oxfam America. April 2, 2014

Aid is one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated areas of our federal budget. As Oxfam’s updated primer on the subject makes clear, “foreign aid” has many faces. American taxpayers have financed, to cite just a few examples, the mobilization of emergency supplies for typhoon victims in the Philippines, programs to link Kenyan farmers to outside markets and counter-narcotics operations in Columbia. To speak of aid in generalities—without making even the elementary distinctions between humanitarian relief, development assistance and the strategic backing of political and military allies—serves only to perpetuate confusion and muddle an important conversation. For readers seeking a nuanced understanding of the subject, Oxfam’s Foreign Aid 101 is a good place to start.

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

"Introducing BuzzFeed Ideas," by Ayesha Siddiqi. BuzzFeed, April 1, 2014.

Among the listicles and the suddenly omnipresent quizzes, BuzzFeed recently unveiled a new section of their website, BuzzFeed Ideas. Introducing the launch, Ayesha Siddiqi, the site's editor, offers her take on the revitalized form of criticism she hopes to have on her site. She promises to take seriously the "social web" and have articles predicated on conversation that move beyond reactionary think pieces to present more nuanced "ideas." While the exact nature of the site's content and how it will interact with the rest of the site remains to be seen, Siddiqi's introduction promises an exciting new space for critical writing.

 

Read Next: A new bill would require universities to enact anti-harassment policies.

Federal Bill Calls on Universities to Enact Anti-Harassment Policies

US Capitol

US Capitol Building in Washington, DC (Reuters/Jim Bourg)

This article was originally published in the student-run Yale Daily News.

Under a bill introduced in Congress Thursday, colleges and universities would be required by the federal government to enact anti-harassment policies for the first time.

The bill—named for Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers freshman who committed suicide in 2010 after being harassed by another student—would require policies prohibiting harassment at any institution receiving federal student aid funding. Because nearly all colleges and universities in the United States—including Yale—receive some level of federal student aid funding, the mandate would effectively be universal. Although the University is among those that already have harassment policies in place, the bill would nevertheless seek to strengthen federal support for and control over such policies.

The bill would prohibit harassment by other students, faculty or staff on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or religion. Included in the bill is a recognition of and prohibition on cyberbullying. If passed, colleges and universities would also be required to distribute their anti-harassment policies to students and employees.

“No student or employee should have to live in fear of being who they are. Our schools should not be, and cannot be a place of discrimination, harassment, bullying, intimidation or violence,” said Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, who introduced the bill, in a statement. “This legislation is an important step forward in not only preventing and addressing harassment on campus, but also making sure our students have the freedom to succeed in safe and healthy communities of learning and achievement.”

Though Yale has not publicly taken a stance on the bill, University spokesman Tom Conroy said Yale is firmly opposed to harassment and discrimination of any kind.

Baldwin cited a 2004 study by Rowan University in which 27.5 percent of college students indicated they had seen students bullied by other students. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are twice as likely to experience harassment, according to the study.

If passed, the bill would also create a competitive grant program, run by the US Department of Education, through which institutions can apply to create, expand or improve anti-harassment initiatives.

“The reason why it’s important to have this legislation explicitly is because it holds institutions accountable to creating a hostile environment rather than just the perpetrator of the harassment,” said Hope Brinn, a co-founder of college preparation resource The Collegiate Blog, and an activist against sexual violence at Swarthmore College.

Students at Yale indicated that though the bill may not have immediate ramifications for Yale specifically, it demonstrates the government’s increased attention to the problem of harassment.

“I personally think this is a great step forward in the right direction by the US government,” said Winnie Wang ’15. “This bill reminds us that harassment is a form of sexual and gender-based violence, is greater than ‘just a women’s problem,’ and that we should have zero tolerance for such behavior on college campuses across America.”

Lindsay Falkenberg ’15, who is involved in the Undergraduate Title IX Advisory Board, said she is generally glad to see the bill focus on harassment through technology. Though cyberbullying may be more relevant to younger generations, college-aged adults are still not entirely safe from technology-based harassment, she said.

But Falkenberg is also wary of an approach to minimizing sexual misconduct exclusively through policy. She pointed to work that could be done on the “micro level,” such as changing campus climate through discussions and awareness events.

“There is already so much discussion of policy and efforts on policy [at Yale],” she said. “But there’s only so much that policy can do.”

The bill currently has thirty-two co-sponsors in the House and seven in the Senate, among them Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73. All of the co-sponsors in both chambers are Democrats.

A number of civil rights, legal and education organizations have thrown their support behind the bill, including the Human Rights Campaign, the National Women’s Law Center and the American Association for University Women. Nevertheless, the bill has a slew of hurdles to jump over before landing on President Barack Obama’s desk.

When an earlier version was introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg in 2011, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) took a strong stance against it, claiming that existing laws already protected students against on-campus harassment. FIRE added that “young adults don’t need special laws that treat them like children.”

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Brinn countered FIRE’s claim that existing laws are enough. Because homophobic harassment can be construed as harassment based on gender presentation, Brinn said, it can fall under Title IX. However, she added that it is still important for institutions of higher education to explicitly state that homophobic harassment is not tolerated on their campuses. Introduced in February 2013, the House version of the bill has remained in committee for over a year. It remains to be seen whether the introduction of the Senate bill will lead to movement in the House.

The House version of the bill was introduced on the same day that Rutgers announced the creation of a Tyler Clementi Center, which aims to support teaching and research that address challenges students face when transitioning to college.

 

Read Next: A Q&A with Northeastern's Students For Justice in Palestine.

Q&A with Ryan Branagan of Northeastern's Students for Justice in Palestine

SJP Northeastern

Northeastern chapter of SJP (Photo courtesy of Northeastern SJP)

Northeastern University in Boston recently sparked controversy when it suspended a pro-Palestinian student group, Students for Justice in Palestine. A Northeastern spokeswoman told the Boston Globe that the group was suspended because it flouted university rules, vandalized school property and failed to deliver a “civility statement” outlining rules for future conduct, required after the group was placed on probation last year for a walkout at a campus presentation by Israeli soldiers. “They are not being singled out,” said Renata Nyul. “There is no pressure coming from anywhere. This is simply the result of violating a series of policies and procedures that every single student organization needs to adhere to.” Student activists counter that the group was singled out because its views are unpopular and that the administration was bowing to pressure from alumni and donors. In this interview, StudentNation writer Keegan O'Brien talks to Ryan Branagan, an executive board member of Northeastern University's Students for Justice in Palestine, to get his side of the story.

* * *

Keegan O'Brien: Before we get into the details of this story, could you start off by describing the mission of Students for Justice in Palestine?

Ryan Branagan: Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a grassroots solidarity organization with the Palestinian struggle for liberation with hundreds of autonomous chapters in North America and thousands of student members and community supporters. It is committed to ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the separation wall. It recognizes the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality. It calls for respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return. The first chapter was founded in 2001 at UC Berkeley during the Second Palestinian Intifada (2000-2005), but since Israel's criminal 2008-09 assault on the people of Gaza in Operation Cast Lead, SJP chapters have really mobilized and increased our membership and influence exponentially.

The focus of many SJP chapters has been responding to the 2005 call of Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, on the model of the international campaign against Apartheid South Africa, which assisted the ANC's defeat of the white supremacist government in 1994. By boycotting Israeli goods, divesting our universities from companies that directly assist the colonization of Palestine and pushing for an arms sanction against Israel—à la South Africa—until it complies with international law and discontinues its war crimes and crimes against humanity, we hope to join with Palestinians and people of conscience internationally to bring down another apartheid state.

Can you tell me what happened at Northeastern University with your campus' SJP chapter? Why has the university revoked your club status? What are the charges students are facing?

Northeastern SJP's suspension comes at the end of a long line of differential treatment, academic sanctioning and censorship of our student organization on campus. After SJP organized a silent walkout of an event featuring representatives of the Israeli Defense Force in April 2013, we were put on probation, pressured to sign a "civility statement," and required to attend "leadership trainings." Despite the fact that we completed all of these and were officially removed from probationary status in the beginning of this semester, we were suspended on March 7, 2014 without a hearing. The suspension—which is in place until 2015 unless the university considers our appeal, which it has yet to do—charged us with violations that we were not responsible for or in any way connected to (such as the "vandalism" of a statue on campus of prominent Zionist Robert Shillman), old violations from our probation that we had already been cleared of or found not responsible, and new charges that had to do with a mock eviction flyering campaign we did on campus.

In conjunction with the last charges against our organization, two women of color who partook in the direct action were visited in their dorms by Northeastern police and individually charged with alleged violations that initially could have resulted in their expulsion or suspension. These attacks on our members, however, prompted widespread condemnation and we successfully forstalled administration efforts to expell these students. However, they still face the threat of "deferred suspension" and SJP remains suspended.

Can you tell me more about the mock eviction action? Why did you do it and what was its purpose?

In tandem with Palestine solidarity organizations worldwide, Northeastern SJP participated in the 10th annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) here in Boston. IAW is a week-long chorus of dissent against Israel's racist and colonial policies against the indigenous Palestinians and seeks to raise awareness for the ongoing injustices they face.

Here at Northeastern SJP, we seized upon one recent campaign that is common practice for numerous SJPs throughout North America—namely, posting mock eviction notices on students' dormitories. We feel this campaign is effective and timely reminding us of the more than 26,000 Palestinian homes that have been demolished by Israel since 1967 using American-made D-9 bulldozers, while Jewish-only illegal settlements continue to be built in ever greater frequency.

SJP distributed over 600 flyers to the Northeastern community, which clearly stated these were false eviction notices but reflected real, horrific realities for the people of Palestine. Our aim was to peacefully, legally raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians and the university's complicity in Israel's apartheid system. However, due to pressure from outside Zionist organizations and Northeastern administration's ignominious history of viewpoint discrimination against SJP, this act of civil discourse was criminalized by the university.

What influence—if any, have outside, pro-Israel organizations had on the Northeastern Administration's actions?

The direct influence outside Zionist organizations have on the administration is clear. As I wrote in an article for the pro-Palestinian blog Electronic Intifada, anti-Palestinian groups like the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) and Anti-Defamation League (ADL) have been threatening the Northeastern administration with legal complaints under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ostensibly to review the federal funding of the university in light of alleged "anti-Israelism" and "anti-Semitism" of SJP. These accusations and legal complaints have been waged before—from Berkeley to Columbia University—and every single time the case has been thrown out as illegitimate. In fact, I'd say it's near slander—and that's the point. The ADL and ZOA know that this legal strategy is a losing one, but pursue it anyway to pressure administrators to suppress voices for Palestinian liberation on campus.

Moreover, there is a fundamental conflict of interest when it comes to the donors of Northeastern University. For example, multimillionaire Robert Shillman, CEO of the Cognex Corporation, is also a major donor to the ZOA, and was cc-ed in its letter to the Northeastern administration threatening legal action. On campus we also have Raytheon Amphitheater and a partnership with that corporate war profiteer, which not only manufactures the Tomahawk cruise missiles that the American military uses to kill innocent civilians in Iraq and Libya, but also sells AGM-65 missiles to Israel, which it uses against Palestinians in Gaza.

The Ruderman Foundation is also a major donor to the university, and is colluding with the administration on April 1, 2014 to bring six members of the Israeli Knesset to campus, including members of far-right racist parties like Dr. Shimon Ohayaon of Yisrael Beitenu. Yisrael Beitenu was foundered by former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has been described as Israel's Jean-Marie Le Pen and a neo-fascist, and is known for threatening Palestinian MKs with physical violence.

How has your organization responded to the university's actions? What are your plans for moving forward? And what has the response been like from other students and organizations on campus, the larger Boston community or even nationally and internationally?

Despite the numerous hurdles and acts of suppression the administration has attempted to leverage against SJP, our campaign to fight their attack on free speech has so far been remarkably successful. This is due not only to the incredibly brave and determined activists I have the honor of working with, but also the international outpouring of support we've received from people as far away as Mexico, Australia, Palestine and Italy. Within three days of our suspension, over 6,000 people signed our petition in support. When we called for a march on campus to deliver the petition to President Aoun's office, over thirty student and community organizations ranging from Jewish Voice for Peace to Youth Against Mass Incarceration to Women's Fight Back Network came out en masse; between 250-300 people assembled at 10:00 am on a cold Tuesday morning. Moreover, our student allies have been gracious enough to help us remain a force on campus, reserving rooms and hosting teach-ins in solidarity.

We're most excited about prolific Palestinian-American author, journalist and activist Ali Abunimah's visit to Northeastern University on April 1, which our comrades at the Progressive Student Alliance are hosting. All of this has been incredibly humbling and inspiring, and I think there's a clear message being sent to the administration: SJP is not alone in caring about justice in Palestine, free speech on campus or social movements. Singling us out is not only wrong, but futile. The administration will not stop our organizing, nor will it stop free speech. We fight this unjust attack with every fiber of our being until victory, and we're never going to stop until our university completely divests from Israeli apartheid.

As you know, Northeastern's SJP is not the only SJP to experience harassment and repression from campus administrators in recent months. Why do you think we are seeing campus administrations work so hard to disrupt SJPs work at Northeastern and at other universities?

While campus suppression of pro-Palestine speech is hardly unprecedented in the United States, I think the most recent wave of attacks—from the unprincipled assault on the American Studies Association by hundreds of campus presidents (including Northeastern President Aoun), to the censorship of Columbia SJP at Barnard, to the attack on Professor Iymen Chehade's academic freedom—is a testament to our growing strength. With divestment resolutions passing at Loyola, narrowly losing at UCLA and mobilizing hundreds at the University of Michigan despite defeat, it's becoming increasingly clear that Zionist attempts to stamp us out are failing. The fires of rebellion are spreading, and they're scared.

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What do you want other students and activists to learn from your struggle?

Hopefully, this shows to the disempowered and the pessimistic a basic truth: struggle works. Social movements can influence social change, and we all have a role to play. However, especially with the diverse group of supporters who have joined us in the trenches, I think it's time to start making the connections. These neo-liberal universities are built on stolen indigenous land and profited from the holocaust of enslavement—America, like Israel, Australia and Northern Ireland, is a settler state. Were we to move against only Zionist settler colonialism or only American patriarchy, we'd be missing a crucial chance. This movement for BDS against Israel should lead to a wider movement against all settler colonial states, all forms of oppression, against capitalism itself. We have a chance right now, but it's on all of us to start using our university educations to think critically about our society and fight for real emancipatory change.

To sign the petition for Northeastern SJP, please go here.

Click here for more information about Ali Abunimah’s “The Battle for Justice in Palestine” book tour stop at Northeastern.

 

Read Next: Nation interns curate the week's reads.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 3/28/2014?

Senate floor

Members of the US Senate assemble in the Old Senate Chamber. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

This week's edition of article selections by Nation interns includes introductions written in verse.

—Samuel Adler-Bell focuses on labor, mass incarceration and literature.

Hartford, Connecticut,” by Freddie DeBoer. n+1, March 13, 2014.

I know it's not pretty
But I was born in this city
New England's Still-Rising Star

And ain't it a pity
We're not the hip kind of gritty.
Then maybe you'd get out of your car.

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

"The Case Against Qatar.” The International Trade Union Confederation, March 2014.

For those who thought the Sochi Olympics were corrupt, I present the World Cup in Qatar,
an exploitative country where you can kiss labor rights and racial equality au revoir.

ITUC's report shows workers at stadium projects "living like horses in a stable,"
Threatened, robbed, confined, deported, killed or disabled.

Qatar's the most extreme example of World Cup labor abuses but it's not the only one.
The rush to complete stadiums in Brazil has death tolls rising by the ton.

As sports fans we should know about the violence behind events like these,
and demand an end to all the corruption and sleaze.

—Laura Cremer focuses on labor, gender and the historicization of culture and politics.

Gilding the Lily,” by Carina Hart. The Beheld, March 25, 2014.

Carina Hart discusses "beauty work":
the labor people (mostly women) are
expected to perform to make their bodies
socially acceptable. In this
short post specifically she asks why certain
types of beauty work are viewed as "good"
and others viewed as shameful, bad. Invoking
Donna Haraway's "Cyborg Manifesto,"
Hart interrogates our notions of
appropriate and inappropriate
distortions one can make to "natural" forms.

—Cecilia D’Anastasio focuses on ethics, feminism, press freedom and tech.

"Don’t Look Now," by Angus Johnston. The New Inquiry, March 27, 2014.

Fifty years ago, the Times published a headline we might expect to see on the Huffington Post's click-bait-ridden Twitter page: "37 Who Saw Murder Didn't Call Police." Kitty Genovese, a young woman living in Queens, was brutally murdered in view of over thirty witnesses in 1964; but the Times headline, and indeed the entire story describing the overwhelming apathy of all of Genovese's neighbors, was enormously exaggerated. Angus Johnston of The New Inquiry counts twenty-nine significant errors in the original times story, but that's besides the point: Why didn't at least thirty people call the police against the background of Genovese's desperate cries? "Genovese, her friends, her neighbors—all had real reasons to distrust the cops," writes Johnston. Many key witnesses, at least one of whom was homosexual and afraid of persecution, didn't contact the authorities in time to save Genovese for fear of sacrificing their own wellbeing in the process. "The Genovese story isn’t just a story of individual moral culpability, it’s also a story about malign and corrupt institutions and the corrosive effects those institutions have on our lives," and that's a story worth remembering today.

—Simon Davis-Cohen focuses on self-governance, climate adaptation and science.

Section 32. Right to Local Self-Government [PDF],” proposed amendment to the constitution of Colorado, March 2014.

Can Americans be trusted to self-govern? Well, in Colorado a proposed state constitutional amendment—in response to fracking—strikes a balance between our fear of local control and a growing need for local protections. The amendment would empower local Colorado communities to eliminate the “rights, powers, and duties of corporations,” should they conflict with local “health, safety and welfare.” Though, the amendment clarifies, such local lawmaking shall not weaken or restrict the protections and rights of “individuals [not persons, which would include corporations], their communities or nature.”

Last week, the initiative passed the crucial “single subject” test. Should the initiative survive forthcoming industry appeals it will be accompanied on November’s ballot by up to three competing fracking initiatives brought by large environmental and industry groups. Looks to be a showdown in Colorado.

—Justine Drennan focuses on marginalized groups' relationship with technology and development.

"Banks Won't Do Business With Legal Marijuana Sellers. Enter PotCoin," by Dana Liebelson. Mother Jones, March 26, 2014.

Financial firms still have their fears
about working with pot pioneers,
so weed men use cash,
which leads to a rash
of robberies, violence and tears.

But lo! Check out what PotCoin offers!
Inspired by Bitcoin, it proffers
those legal weed dealers
a tool against stealers:
the chance to use digital coffers.

—Corinne Grinapol focuses on education and international relations/national security.

"Report: NY Schools are most racially segregated." Associated Press, March 24, 2014.

Postracial is not
75 percent black schools
1 percent white schools
70 percent poor schools
70 percent rich schools
It is not New York
holding a title never displayed
in tourism adverts
New York state: Winner, most segregated schools
no Southern state comes close.

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

On the Pain of Violent Men, or, Why I’m not Sorry about Max and Montle,” by Linda Stupart. Africa is a Country, July 19, 2013.

Last year, a social media war ensued in South Africa after two male writers, who worked for a male magazine, made rape jokes on Facebook. Thanks to the speed of Twitter, within hours the story was making national headlines, and both men were consequently fired.

I was living in Cape Town at the time and several of my friends, some of whom personally know the now-dismissed writers, asked my thoughts on the matter. I generally loathe all things stemming from social media, and so shrugged it off, but coming across this piece nearly a year after it was written inspires within me a more pointed view on the matter. The jokes were not "tasteless" or a simple mistake, as many of my friends argued—even those who considered themselves feminists didn't want to personally attack their acquaintances. They were sexist and the writers deserved to be fired. Stupart describes the pain that she felt in watching the debate unfold, and reading her account reminds me of my emotional and physical discomfort around male assertion of sexuality—cat calls, jokes at parties about who can get the most girls, being looked up and down on a run—that I encounter daily in Washington DC, just as I did in Cape Town. We continue to live in a patriarchal, sexist society, and the rapid defense of the rape joke-telling writers is demonstrative of that. Women have a right to be pissed off; men who say such comments, on any platform, need to be held to account and society should face its own ugliness, and the ease with which we dismiss it, if we're going to provoke any sort of change.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

Three Myths that Block Progress for The Poor,” by Bill and Melinda Gates. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014 Gates Annual Letter.

Misconceptions about the volume and impact of foreign aid, and about the low-income countries on the receiving end of it, are many. Here Bill and Melinda Gates take on three of the most common: that poor countries are doomed to stay poor, that foreign aid is generally wasteful and ineffective and that saving lives today will lead to overpopulation tomorrow. They write that these are powerful untruths, dangerous memes that spread cynicism and jeopardize funding for demonstrably successful, life-saving aid programs. So long asthe average American believes that the federal government already allocates 27 percent of its annual budget to foreign aid, advocates like the Gates stand little chance of driving up the actual figure—1 percent, or about $30 in taxes for every American.

Translated into verse by Corinne Grinapol:

Untruths pile up and
Bill and Melinda Gates count the ways:
poor countries are doomed to stay poor
cynical
foreign aid is wasteful, ineffective
wrong
today's saved lives are tomorrow's overpopulated masses

Powerful untruths,
dangerous memes that
jeopardize funding for
proven
life-saving aid

Another untruth
believed by the average American:
foreign aid,
27 percent of the federal budget

How to ask for more,
to increase the actual figure:
the lone one percent
obscured in the shadow
of the obstinately solid lie

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

"The Right's New ‘Welfare Queens’: The Middle Class," by George Packer. The New Yorker, March 25, 2014.

At The New Yorker, George Packer describes the persistence of right-wing ideas about labor and unemployment in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. Framed around his recent testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, Packer's article shows how conservatives are now targeting the culture of middle class white people as the source of inequality, claiming that they find it more appealing to live off the government than do an honest day's work. More than just a report on a demoralizing new ideology, Packer pulls back the curtain on Washington and shows how in the theater that is politics, ideas that aren't back up by facts can become appealing and influential.

 

 

Read Next: {Young}ist reclaims the millennial narrative.

{Young}ist Reclaims the Millennial Narrative

{Young}ist

Members of the {Young}ist staff meet in Berkeley, California. (Photo courtesy of Muna Mire)

Millennials are in vogue. But the very idea of the millennial is a top-down phenomenon, a canned attempt to market to a young demographic. It is a strategy that has found success through the sheer force and repetitiveness of its message. Left with few alternatives, millennials consume this image of themselves. Eventually, they may internalize this set of images and ideals—regardless of how critical they were or still are.

Like many other marginalized groups, Millennials don't have a controlling stake in their own representation. The people who write about millennials aren't often themselves millennials. In fact, you can argue that popular narratives around the millennial as an identity category are constructed outside the authentic lived experiences of actual millennials. Those accounts can look like political disengagement, apathy, technological dysfunction and narcissism. Many of us don’t see ourselves reflected back in that story.

{Young}ist.org is an attempt to disrupt a circular, negative narrative about youth that cultivates hopelessness rather than efficacy among our peers. {Young}ist fills a niche: we see ourselves as positioned to report the stories of youth in crisis and in action.

The {Young}ist site is an independent media platform started by youth for youth to share news, stories, thought and culture that matter to us. It’s a way for young people to find their peers, share visions for change and connect over political struggles on the ground. Our staff and contributors provide a variety of content to make this possible, including multimedia, longform and investigative journalism. We don’t want to merely react to the narratives and stories that have been imposed on us externally—we have other stories to tell about youth. Our editorial strategy is undergirded by an understanding that there is a difference between providing evidence of social problems and mobilizing to fight them.

While we are coming together to tell the story of a generation that has been dispossessed, a generation that has inherited climate and economic crises, we also want to tell stories of how youth are mobilizing to organize around immigration, LGBTQ rights, racial and climate justice, education, labor and more. We are a relentlessly hopeful generation. When we say that we are dispossessed, we say that with an understanding that we also possess the tools, capacity and motivation to contend with these issues. We at {Young}ist want to intervene in the narrative about millennials not just because we think it’s wrong but because we know we embody its opposite: a thriving, capable, growing network of youth fighting for a more just world.

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With our new website launch, {Young}ist will officially begin its journey and continue to generate and support content provided by a network of activists, organizers, journalists, writers, artists and collaborators that are already doing this work on the ground. The new site will make it possible for {Young}ist to continue to grow as a hub for independent media, thought, politics and culture that matters to young people. Our project aims to bring young people to the table who recognize the injustice in their lives and are taking on vibrant, participatory alternatives to make the lives of young people,collectively, more livable. If that sounds good to you, we ask you to check out our new website, now officially live at www.youngist.org.

 

Read Next: Students urge Massachusetts Governor Patrick to ban new fossil fuel contruction.

Student Activists to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick: Say No to New Fossil Fuel Construction

Oil rig

Oil rig (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

This open letter addressed to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick was originally posted by Students for a Just and Stable Future and is re-posted here with permission.

Dear Governor Patrick,

We write to you today as students and youth of Massachusetts concerned about our futures. On Monday, March 31, we will be walking out of class to call for a ban on new fossil fuel infrastructure in the Commonwealth. We request that you meet us that day at a public rally on the Boston Common at 11:00 am to answer our call. The energy infrastructure built today will affect our entire lives, and we insist that these decisions not be made without our involvement.

We are driven to this action by the desperation we feel as we see the impacts of political inaction on the climate crisis. Climate change is already turning western states into dustbowls while strengthening the devastating power of storms. Drinking water supplies are shrinking while sea levels are rising. Continued inaction robs more and more of our generation of the chance to survive.

There is still time to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis, but this window of opportunity is rapidly shrinking. The International Energy Agency has determined that we only have until 2017 to stop building new coal, oil and gas infrastructure before we are “locked in” by the lifetime emissions of these projects to extremely dangerous levels of warming.

We must draw the line against new fossil fuels. Your climate initiatives, while stronger than those of most politicians, are not enough. Building more power plants, pipelines and export terminals in Massachusetts will result in either billions of dollars of stranded assets or the creation of a society destabilized by unpredictable weather, food and water shortages, and extreme climate disasters. In either case, our generation will pay a heavy price.

There is an alternative. We can choose to meet all new energy demand through a combination of renewables, energy efficiency and conservation. Reinvesting in sustainable solutions, from public transit to distributed solar power, will create thousands of local jobs, produce healthier communities, and, in turn, more equitably distribute resources in our society. This is the future, full of hope and possibility, that we would like to build—and we are determined to do whatever we can to achieve this vision.

Your legacy is our future, Governor Patrick, because the energy choices that you make determine the future that our generation will inherit. You should not make these decisions without us. Your actions today will be remembered tomorrow. For the sake of our generation and those to follow, we call on you to immediately ban new fossil fuel infrastructure in Massachusetts.

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We will walk out of class on March 31 because we are determined to fight for our futures. Will you acknowledge your generational responsibility and meet us in public on that day?

Sincerely,

Students for a Just and Stable Future

 

Read Next: Get caught up on the latest in student activism from across the country

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