Campus-oriented news, first-person reports from student activists and journalists about their campus.
The financial future of Berkeley’s public preschool and child care programs have been thrown into flux now that Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget for the upcoming school year has been released.
Though the state’s proposed cuts presented in January will not be finalized until the budget revision in May, the Berkeley Unified School District is already looking for ways to remedy an expected $568,200 deficit resulting from a 10 percent reduction in state funding slated for preschool and child care programs for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
Currently, the district has three preschool programs of different lengths — three hours, 6.5 hours and 9.5 hours — which serve a total of 449 preschoolers who have not yet entered school. Although the district’s need-based child care program — which serves 252 students of low-income families — called Berkeley’s Excellent Academic Road to Success, the BEARS program, will be affected, the main priority right now is preschool, according to Zachary Pless, district supervisor for extended learning programs.
“It’s really difficult to plan ahead,” Pless said. “Unfortunately we don’t know (anything) for certain, only what we have learned in the past.”
The three proposals the board members considered at their meeting Jan. 25 for dealing with the cuts to preschool classes ranged from keeping the status quo — by using the district’s general funds to make up for the funding discrepancy — to eliminating the three 9.5-hour classrooms.
“Based upon what we know now, our intentions are not to change the programs in any way that is within our control,” said board director Karen Hemphill. “Because we don’t know what the cuts are going to be, we can’t promise parents anything.”
Sandra Farmer, one of seven teachers at the district’s Franklin Preschool, said the cuts of the past few years have impacted the quality of care given to students. The longer, 9.5-hour programs are all filled, Farmer said, and although the six-hour programs are helpful, she said she thinks they do not serve the real needs of parents who work long hours.
“I’ve been a teacher for over 38 years, and I’ve never seen anything like what’s happening right now,” she said. “I’m just appalled that so much money is spent on everything else except for child development.”
In the scenario that the school district keeps all of its existing programs, Hemphill said the district has a financial “cushion” from saving money over the past years.
“The reason we (saved up money) was because sooner or later, we knew we were going to need it,” she said.
At the district meeting, the board indicated that keeping these programs is vital for parents and students, even if it is necessary to spend district reserves to keep them the way they are now, Pless said.
The board also discussed the newly proposed eligibility requirements for parent income that will exclude some parents whose income currently allows them to pay just a portion of the total cost for subsidized day care, according to Pless.
For UC Berkeley senior and parent Melissa Barker — whose eight-year-old daughter attends one of the school district’s child care programs at Emerson Elementary — the problem lies not with the schools but within the system. A low-income student who pays $50 per month for child care, Barker said paying child care after college is going to be a subject of worry in the near future, especially if the eligibility continues rising.
“As a parent in California, I have a lot of anxiety about my daughter’s education,” she said. “I can get all the education I want, but where is my daughter getting it from?”
According to Pless, of the initial 10 percent that was cut from these programs’ budgets last year, the state gave back about four percent, which Pless said can be used to fill the hole that could be left by next year’s cuts.
“The state has changed its mind,” he said. “The problem is that we’re the messenger, and sometimes the parents lose trust in us.”
This article was re-posted from the invaluable NYU Local.
The latest in the Chick-fil-A saga is a petition that has surfaced online, written by Gallatin freshman Hillary Dworkoski. In the past we’ve brought you news of the conservative chain, and how to avoid eating their homophobic chicken. Now Dworkoski is hoping to change the Chick-fil-A, housed in Upstein, from an avoided eatery to a nonexistent one.
Hosted by change.org, her petition reads:
While Chick-fil-A denies having an “agenda against anyone,” an investigation by Equality Matters revealed that Chick-fil-A’s charitable arm, WinShape, donated nearly $2 million to anti-gay groups in 2009 alone. That $2 million supported groups such as Focus On The Family, Exodus International, and the Family Research Council. And New York City’s only Chick-fil-A is located in a cafeteria in a New York University dorm. NYU prides itself on being a diverse, open and inclusive campus community. Unfortunately, maintaining a contract with an anti-gay vendor like Chick-fil-A undermines what makes this university so great. While the NYU Student Senators Council recently voted not to remove vendors for political reasons, they did allow that the school could remove vendors that violate human or labor rights. As Secretary Clinton recently announced, “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” As such, I respectfully request that NYU remove Chick-fil-A from campus.
Posted on January 20th, the petition has already obtained 758 signatures.
Dworkoski felt compelled to take action because she saw a disconnect between the ideals of NYU and Chick-fil-A.
“The main reason I decided to go to NYU out of the many schools I applied to was because NYU is the only place I felt like I could truly fit in and the student body is incredibly diverse and accepting. This was really important to me in choosing schools and I expected that NYU would be completely accepting of all types of students.
“When I first heard that Chick-fil-A was anti-gay, I was really surprised that it had remained for so long despite the large number of LGBT students at NYU, so I decided to try and do something about it. That’s when I made the petition,” said Dworkoski.
“The reason I chose to do it on change.org is because it allows people from all around the world to sign, and they have. I haven’t created a physical petition, but many other students have been sharing the link on facebook, which has really helped get the word around,” said Dworkoski.
Dworkoski has encountered some frustrations. She said, “Some students disagree merely because they love the food at Chick-fil-A. This has been very hard.”
But Dworkoski is determined. “I hope to gain as many signatures as possible in order to put pressure on the university to remove Chick-fil-A. They need to take responsibility for their actions,” said Dworkoski. She is optimistic that within a few weeks the petition will reach 5,000 signatures.
Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out nearly everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week and use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.
Laura Bolt focuses on human rights and revolution:
“France: Abusive Identity Checks of Minority Youth.” Human Rights Watch, January 26, 2012.
As concerns about safety erode into dangerous excuses for personal violations, this article from Human Rights Watch serves as a sobering reminder of police power, institutional racism and individual freedom in everyday France. The personal stories of the young men about their experiences with invasive and unwarranted "identity checks" add a unique first person element to an important and sobering story.
Zoë Carpenter focuses on the intersection of economics, health and the environment:
“Design o’ the times: Empowering Minorities to Shape Urban Landscapes,” by Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson. Grist, January 31, 2012.
The landscape of urban America is often painted as a troubled one: the city as an incubator for disease and crime, a smog-hued emblem of social, economic and environmental catastrophe. Dickinson looks at architecture and design as active forces that both reflect the values of our society as a whole and shape the character of local communities. She offers a hopeful vision of how participatory design could make for cities that work for, rather than against, health and empowerment.
Umar Farooq focuses on the worldwide movement for democracy:
“Growing Irrelevance of the Indian Ayatollah,” by Praveen Swami. The Hindu, February 2, 2012.
The recent decision of the Indian government to bar Salman Rushdie from speaking at a literary festival has reignited Indian discussion of secularism. In this piece, religious extremism is predictably blamed on poverty, and the author pits "civilization" (equated with capitalism) against faith. While the article's historical and contemporary assertions are dubious, it represents an important mindset among South Asia's educated seculars, who often peek over the India-Pakistan border to see what their neighbor is up to.
Loren Fogel focuses on peace, power and political culture:
“Seymour Hersh and John Pilger on U.S. Imperialism, Iran’s Imaginary Nuclear Weapons, and Media Complicity in War,” hosted by Dr. Helen Caldicott. If You Love This Planet, January 20, 2012.
In a recent edition of If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott, a physician and expert on nuclear and environmental dangers, spoke with renowned journalists Seymour Hersh and John Pilger about how and why mainstream media is so unwilling to report the big picture truth of what major national powers are doing. Hersh demystified the IAEA report on Iran and what he called the P5 “dance against the Iranian bomb, that frankly most people understand doesn’t exist.” In turn, Pilger observed, “The most important weapon in the armory of great power in these wars is to convince the public at home that they are not colonial wars, that they have a real purpose that involves the people of the country.” He added, “What I am implying is that the media is an extension of organized power.”
Connor Guy focuses on racism and race relations:
“Christie Says Like Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Rights Movement Could Have Been Settled Through Ballot Referendum,” Tom Hester. Newsroom New Jersey, January 25, 2012.
Though he has since apologized, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's comments last week are deeply troubling, and point to a persistent misunderstanding about the civil rights movement in the United States. In short, Christie suggested that the civil rights movement could have accomplished its goals through ballot referenda. The unstated, erroneous assumption here is that a majority would have approved civil rights protections for minorities. Christie and other officials considering marriage equality legislation right now need to understand that an important function of the legislative process is to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority--and should be used as such.
Ebtihal Mubarak focuses on human rights:
“Boston College Researchers Drink with the IRA, and Academics Everywhere Get the Hangover,” by Harvey Silverglate. Forbes, January 25, 2012.
What happens when an academic institution is thrown in the middle of a political dispute and is pushed to share a confidential research study? Lawyer Harvey Silverglate raises important points regarding the latest court order forcing Boston College to reveal certain testimonies of former of IRA members documented in its Belfast Project. He argues that unlike journalists, academics are not accustomed to having to stand up to government demands for confidential information.
Hannah Murphy focuses on sex and gender:
“Land Rights for Women Can Help Ease India's Child Malnutrition Crisis,” by Renee Giovarelli. The Guardian, January 20, 2012.
Despite robust economic growth, a recent study showed that 42 percent of children under five in India are malnourished, with rates of maternal mortality, low birth weight and malnutrition comparable to sub-Saharan Africa. But giving women the right to own land could help combat these statistics—new research in developing countries has indicated that if the woman of the house owns land, families are likely to have better education, nutrition and health. Women are considered a lower class in India—but it's not just about gender equality anymore.
James Murphy focuses on migration in the 21st century:
“Europe's Lost Generation: How it Feels to be Young and Struggling in the EU,” by Viola Caon. The Guardian, January 28, 2012.
This simple but striking feature on the crisis in Europe sets a human face to the all-too-familiar youth unemployment statistics. Reports from Greece, Spain and Italy illustrate how Europe's youth, the so-called lost generation, is worst hit by the austerity measures gripping the continent.
Erin Schikowski focuses on the politics and business of healthcare:
“GSK's Andrew Witty on the Future of Pharma Collaboration to Help Poor Countries,” by Sarah Boseley. The Guardian, January 31, 2012.
In this article, Sarah Boseley attempts to cut through evasive diplomatic responses in order to find out how thirteen Big Pharma CEOs, whose companies "used to fight tooth and nail," decided to work together in launching an initiative to eliminate or control neglected tropical diseases. Given that companies like GlaskoSmithKline, Pfizer and Abbott are going so far as to open their compound libraries, which contain information about potential drug treatments that have yet to find commercial application, Boseley's question seems quite appropriate.
Elizabeth Whitman focuses on the Syrian uprising, its implications and the wildly varied domestic and international reactions:
“Exclusive: Leaked Syria Observers' Report Details Failings of Mission,” by Colum Lynch. Foreign Policy, January 31, 2012.
With regard to Syria, two crises appear to be going on—an extremely violent, urgent and destructive one inside the country, and a completely different one outside. In the latter, international organizations such as the Arab League and the United Nations have pathetically failed to constructively address the violent crackdown, casting serious doubts upon both the utility and intent of efforts such as observer missions and Security Council resolutions.
Tomorrow, February 1, 2012, Occupy Colleges will participate in National Solidarity Day with Occupy Oakland, with a heavy heart but a decisive voice: Violence against unarmed activists – anywhere – is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. This call to action is a result of a day of police violence at Occupy Oakland’s January 29 rally where over 400 activists were arrested and many injured as waves of beatings, projectiles, tear gas and flash grenades were shot at unarmed activists.
Occupy Oakland was rallying in an attempt to seize a vacant building it hoped to transform into a haven for the homeless and a community hub. However, as activists neared the building, Oakland Police formed a line of defense around the abandoned dwelling and blocked any attempts of marching onward in any direction. A community was awakened and more activists joined the standoff, which inched forward only to be pushed back. Relations were peaceful until OPD decided to disperse the marchers with an excess of force and intimidation. Batons were used and tear gas was thrown before bullets were fired into this crowd of unarmed men and women. The scene played out again and again throughout the day as activists, whose only crime was an unyielding will to rally for a cause, were met by violence, more bullets, gas and flash grenades. At least one woman was shot unconscious during this attack. As activists surrounded her in order to protect and relocate her, OPD fired bullets and tear gas directly at them.
Since October 2011, the Oakland Police Department has arrested more than 600 Occupy activists. At least 400 activists were arrested on January 29 alone, including 7 members of the press when the OPD refused to honor press passes by several media members, again violating standard procedure.
OPD’s extreme measures are what has given the OPD notoriety among the citizens it is supposed to serve. Its civil rights violations predate Occupy Wall Street and include planting evidence, beating up and robbing suspects. As a result of these and other violations, OPD is currently serving a five-year consent decree, meaning its daily operations are under court supervision. Moreover, according to crowd management policy specifically implemented to address abuse of powers in the past, they must “use minimal amount of force and intimidation” when managing crowd control. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, a Berkley alumna with a history in activism herself, is the controversial and divisive mayor at the helm of the OPD and has been quoted as supporting and opposing Occupy Oakland all in the same month.
This call to action is in solidarity with Occupy Oakland and all city and campus Occupies across the nation who have been victim of police violence and intimidation tactics. It will include an all day strike, with protesting students gathering in a centrally located area on campus. This is a peaceful protest and all organizers are encouraged by Occupy Colleges to take the Pledge of Non-Violence.
Please log on to Occupy Colleges website for a list of participating schools, to register your school or to learn more about how to organize a group or event at your university.
During the height of the Red Scare, as Joseph McCarthy crusaded against all things Communist, including literature, Dwight D. Eisenhower famously urged citizens: “Don't join the book burners. Don't think you're going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don't be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.”
It’s a new century, but the xenophobic misgivings of a few Republicans in key positions has led to the banishment of Mexican-American Studies in Arizona’s public schools. In 2010 lawmakers John Huppenthal and Tom Horne drafted HB 2281 which decreed that state-run schools were to exclude “any courses or classes that. . .are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” or “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.”
Despite the fair-minded rhetoric, this legislation was passed in a state where “illegals” from Mexico are frequently held up by Republican politicians as a menace to society, albeit superficially indistinguishable from the many latinos who immigrated legally or were born in America. And since the list of verboten books includes works by Mumia Abu Jamal, Howard Zinn and Winona La Duke, the word “ethnic” takes on unsavory political undertones.
The bill even goes as far as to conflate teachers of ethnic studies with terrorists plotting to “promote the overthrow of the United States government.”
Massive backlash against the ban has been slow in coming but could prove politically disastrous for the powers that be. Locally, it has galvanized the Mexican-American community, inspiring Tuscon youth in particular to respond creatively and decisively.
Teacher Activist Groups (or TAG) have begun organizing a month of action wherein teachers across America incorporate the banned material into their lesson plans. Joining the Education for Liberation Network listservis the best way to stay apprised of new developments.
The American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom made a point of formally denouncing the legislation. Support this organization by buying one of the anti-censorship items in its store.
A blog called Banning History in Arizona is calling for submissions of concerned citizens reading a passage from any of the banned books, uploaded to YouTube and marked #banninghistory.
If you live in Tucson, consider visiting one of your local independent bookstores and buying one of the banned titles to read or give to a friend.
You can also change your Facebook profile to an image that reflects your belief in freedom of thought. Tweet or post your concerns to friends, or share this blog.
Finally, you can sign this petition and e-mail the Arizona Superintendent’s office directly to let John Huppenthal know how you feel about his law.
Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nation interns try to cut through the echo chamber and choose one good article in their area of interest that they feel should receive more attention. Please check out their favorite stories below, watch for this feature each week and use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.
— Laura Bolt
Laura focuses on human rights and revolution.
“Tahrir Square: A Year in Graffiti,” by Wendell Steavenson. The New Yorker, January 24, 2012.
Sometimes words are not quite enough to capture moments in time. As we reflect on the Tahrir uprising and the sometimes awkward tension between where it was and where it is going, a collection of the year in graffiti illuminates as much, if not more, of the revolution than post hoc analysis can.
— Zoë Carpenter
Zoë focuses on the intersection of economics, health and the environment.
“Utah Doctors Join the Occupy Movement,” by Dr. Brian Moench. Truthout, January 22, 2012.
Big money isn't just a threat to democracy and equality—it's also a public health hazard. Dr. Moench explains why a group of physicians in Utah is suing the world's third largest mining corporation and why health justice matters for the 99 percent.
— Umar Farooq
Umar focuses on the world-wide movement for democracy.
“Where's the 'Bread, Freedom and Social Justice' a Year After Egypt's Revolution?” by Mariz Tadros. The Guardian, January 25, 2012.
Class divisions, like the one between Occupy Wall St. and Occupy the Hood, are powerful shapers of peoples' identities but often overlooked by media, as we run the simple, catchy stories. The Egyptian revolution is no exception. There is plenty of blame to go around, but it seems like in Egypt, freedom and hunger go hand-in-hand.
— Loren Fogel
Loren focuses on peace, power and political culture.
“U.S. Companies Key to Gulf Missile Shield.” United Press International, January 9, 2012.
It’s been twenty-nine years since President Reagan first proposed that the United States invest in ballistic missile defense capabilities, “to keep the peace well into the next century.” Well, we are now in that next century, and though the Cold War is allegedly over and the Soviet Union has become but a distant memory, cutting edge missile defense technologies are proliferating rapidly. Iran’s perceived nuclear ambitions are cited as a key impetus for the development and deployment of such capabilities, but the strategic and financial commitments being made look like something else—the construction of a 21st century global security armature that is likely to foster overconfidence in the ability to deter risk and neglect the art of diplomacy.
— Connor Guy
Connor focuses on racism and race relations.
It seems that far right extremists in Tucson, Arizona have found a way to simultaneously attack their two least favorite things: brown people and intellectualism. As this article details, conservative state politicians have shut down a highly successful ethnic studies program in Tucson and banned a number of very intelligent, cogent books by Native American and Mexican-American authors. Their reasoning? They were "offended" by lessons about whites oppressing minorities. What Newt Gingrich started when he riled Tea Party ideologues by suggesting that racism is gone forever comes to its inevitable conclusion here: the forced suppression of the idea that racism ever existed.
— Ebtihal Mubarak
Ebtihal focuses on human rights.
“Egypt’s Election Results Are None of Israel’s Business,” by Lisa Goldman. +972, January 22, 2012.
No one said it better than Lisa Goldman in +972 online magazine—whatever the immediate outcome is, democracy remains Egypt’s only remedy after decades of dictatorship rule. The discourse that Egyptians' freedom might jeopardize Israel’s stability is frivolous, not to mention patronizing.
— Hannah Murphy
Hannah focuses on sex and gender.
“The Parade Is the Pride of Serbia,” by Phil Hoad. The Guardian, January 24, 2012.
In October 2010, 5,000 Serbian police guarded a 1,000 marchers in Belgrade's Gay Pride parade, as rioters fired shots and threw petrol bombs into the crowd; the violence was so severe, that in the following year, the parade was cancelled all together. But in 2011, "Parada," (The Parade) a cheeky but indicting comedy about a policeman at the Parade stole the Serbian box office, and is now being screened in Serbian schools to help stimulate debate—their goal: a riot-free 2012 Parade.
— James Murphy
James focuses on migration in the 21st century.
“Homesick: Why Chinese Migrants Will Take 3.2 Billion Trips Over 40 Days,” by Helen Gao. The Atlantic, January 26, 2012.
In an election year it can be easy to forget that 'migration' has a meaning beyond the Rio Grande. Migration is a global phenomenon, and often internal: In China, city dwellers now outnumber rural dwellers for the first time as more people seek better economic opportunities. At this time every year, millions of Chinese return to their families for the holiday period. Gao's feature in The Atlantic captures the scale and struggle of the annual Chinese New Year migration. Three billion journeys are made during this period—all within her borders.
— Erin Schikowski
Erin focuses on health and environmental politics.
“Docs more likely to suspect abuse in poor kids,” by Amy Norton. Reuters, January 20, 2012.
According to a study published earlier this month, physicians may be more likely to suspect physical abuse when treating injured children from lower-income households, as compared with children from higher-income households. Surprisingly enough, the researchers concluded that race had no significant effect on the percentage of doctors who suspected abuse. Although these findings could have significant implications, they have been ignored by most mainstream news organizations.
— Elizabeth Whitman
Elizabeth focuses on the Syrian uprising, its implications and the wildly varied domestic and international reactions.
“Why Russia Is Willing to Sell Arms to Syria,” by Fred Weir. The Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 2012.
Russia's support for the Assad regime—and its resistance to any collective international action—in Syria is unsurprisingly rooted in self-interest, this article explains, with financial considerations playing a leading role. Still, though Russia and Syria have been longtime allies and Russia still reaps hefty profits from arms sales to Syria, other factors bolster Russia's support for the Assad regime, including the desire to oppose interference in a sovereign nation, especially when Russia is confronting its own domestic unrest.
An Open Letter to the UC Riverside Chancellor Timothy White:
On Thursday, January 19 I spent a good part of the afternoon as a member of the crowd protesting outside the UC Regents meeting. I stood with students I'd taught, students I knew from their work with campus organizations, and students I've seen at other demonstrations. I stood with faculty, staff, Occupy activists from the region, and students from other campuses.
I stood right behind a barricade formed from placards painted after the cover of books used in our classrooms. This book-barricade was both a visual intervention (asserting knowledge as our choice of defense) and something that helped us to maintain our shape as a crowd.
In the two hours I was behind that barricade, we didn't move forward or back. We just stood there, chanting, talking, expressing our anger. The crowd got bigger and louder, but its peaceful character didn't change. The crowd successfully used Occupy Movement practices to control itself. Nevertheless, toward the end of the Regent's meeting, a UCPD officer declared through a bullhorn that our gathering was "an unlawful assembly."
The crowd chanted, "Tell us why! Tell us why! Tell us why!" It was an honest request.
No one on the other side made even the slightest gesture to respond to our question. And no administrator made even the slightest gesture towards negotiating with us. To do so would have been to admit that the UC Regents were trapped inside the building. To do so would have been to admit that the University of California Regents had grossly underestimated UC Riverside when it chose the campus for its meeting.
Our campus is "docile" by some standards. We don't have Berkeley or UCLA's history of activism. A lot of our students commute, which means that our campus environment is less condensed, less volatile.
UC Riverside is an open campus - perhaps the most open in the University of California system. Parking is relatively cheap and easy. Our students are so diverse it's hard to imagine what person would think, "this campus doesn't represent me." If Berkeley and UCLA are often the sites of large protests it is partly because those campuses represent the system - participating in an action there has a unique symbolic function as those campuses are "flagship" campuses.
Our campus represents something else. Our campus is rich with transfers from the community college system, rich with returning students, veterans, parents, kids who are the first in their families to graduate from college. Dreamers.
In the University of California system, our campus has one of the most organic relationships with its region. This makes for good press, but it also means that of the UC campuses we are the most reliant on state funds. We are the most vulnerable, our life as a public university feels quite precarious.
On some level, the people planning this meeting banked on that precarity. They banked on the notion that our students are too busy working to pay their tuition (and/or their parents' mortgages) to get involved with a protest.
The people coordinating the Regents meeting seemed to have been surprised by the size of the crowd, and by its persistence. The UCPD and the administration's confusion struck a lot of us as dangerous.
When the UCPD declared our demonstration an "unlawful assembly" it implicitly announced its intention to use force to break up the crowd without seeking another way to address the situation: negotiation of an exit for the Regents. With a negotiated exit the Regents risked not violence, but the embarrassment of being shunned.
The only instruction given to us was to not advance. In two hours, there'd been no motion from the crowd indicating that we would do so. There was discussion about moving forward and also if we should back up, since many of us were crowded on stairs and if the UCPD advanced on us there, we'd likely be hurt. But we did neither. We held our ground. The barricade formed at the front helped us to do that.
Word got out that the Regents were trying to leave via the back of the building (protesters were also there, but in smaller numbers). The crowd at the front broke up as we tried to reform at the building's service entrance.
When we got to the back of the student center, those forming the book barricade tried to take their protective stance at the front of the crowd. Someone took one of the metal barricades and pulled them towards the protesters, as we'd been doing all afternoon at various points around the building. No one had previously interfered with this.
The UCPD found their chance, though - as the crowd regrouped at the back of the Hub, they used force to prevent the formation of another blockade. Later, they would describe the attempt to form a barricade as violent. When the protesters went to move barricades (again, as they'd been doing all day with no interference), it was not an act of violence. There was nothing threatening about it - the threat was that the activists were going to successfully block the street. At this point, people were shoved to the ground, dragged across the pavement and plastic pellets were shot at the crowd. I saw wounds left by these pellets on students I've seen in my own classrooms. There is ample video out there showing this.
The UCPD threw people to the ground, the UCPD shot their new pellet guns into the crowd, the UCPD used force on us.
The next day: UC administrators organized an Orwellian campaign to represent the violence of that incident as caused not by the UCPD but by the protesters. Even more bizarre was the eagerness for the administration to blame not students, but the public - as if the two should be distinguished from each other. In weekly letter to the campus community the Chancellor White claimed that "the disturbance of a few individuals" ruined the demonstration, and that they did not represent the "non-violent students and community members engaged in peaceful protest and exercising their right to free speech." But the people beaten and shot at by the UCPD are our students; they are our colleagues. And they are our neighbors. We were all in it together. They are the public, and the public is us.
Tell us why, Chancellor. Why you stopped seeing yourself in us.
During the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network’s recent retreat in New York City, each of the Senior Fellows from its six program areas sat down to explain what issues they’re focused on and the innovative solutions they’ve developed to address them. From empowering students to fight back against the school-to-prison pipeline, to finding inspiration for new foreign policy ideas in the Arab Spring, to bringing new voices to the fight against climate change, their ideas are offer fresh perspectives and remedies for long-standing social ills.
With the nation’s Islamophobia industry cresting at an acme, The Crescent Directive couldn’t have come at a better time.
Like other American-Muslims, law student and author Khurram Dara understands why critical and constructive dialogue bettering the image of Islam locally and globally is a necessity. “It’s important to have educated, articulate individuals to be able to provide that information. These group of people are important to have for people who genuinely want information on Islam,” Dara says.
But his own tactics - which he outlines in a style close to a 'How To Save Face for Muslims Living in America for Dummies' handbook - are a touch different from other American-Muslims working to better the image of Islam in America. Where others stage rallies, panel discussions and events, Dara advocates making Muslim religious holiday Eid a grand affair, in the spirit of “good old American commercialism." And where others form organizations, Dara proposes throwing it down with your non-Muslim coworkers at a holiday party.
And what of the plenty and passionate defenders of Islam in the media? Dara simply doesn’t find them be all that effective -- well, at least not as effective as say, engaging in the “American way”.
A month after 9/11 the Dara family were featured in a news story “Mom, Apple Pie, and Islam.” Dara, then a twelve year old, would tell the reporter “We’re just like average American people”. Today the twenty-three year old Columbia law student better understands what he expressed more than a decade ago.
In the opening of his essay he (humorously) delineates his average Americanness noting his naturally occurring, perpetual tan yet lack of a diverse background. “For me, this is the only country I’ve ever lived in, and the only one I ever want to live in”, Dara points out. Growing up in Amherst, New York, Dara an ex-Boy Scout, is fluent in English only. Despite being a religious minority in America, his closest friends are people outside his faith and ethnicity. And when spending time with his law school roommates it's not religious dialogue on the table but sports, movies, and girls that are up for discussion.
For Dara, fostering these relationships is what has helped humanize Islam for those in his circle. “They knew the things being said about Islam were untrue, not because they had studied it thoroughly, but because they knew me” he writes in his book which reached the number one spot on Amazon’s Best Books of Islam list on the day of its release.
As I perused through the advance copy Dara sent me, I found myself searching for the familiar strategies, themes, and defenses, created and frequently employed by those working in the anti-Islamophobia sphere. Instead, what I found was entirely different from the usual defenses articulated by the Islamic community’s passionate and progressive scholars, writers, thinkers, and leaders. The Crescent Directive is a nicely packaged story, stratagem, and vision of "how PTA meetings, Thanksgiving dinners, and Little League baseball can save the image of Islam in America".
The Crescent Directive opposes the complete shedding away of one’s identity. It does not condone leaving behind one’s traditions and customs. But it does urge ordinary American-Muslim to drop the isolationist-antagonist stance that has become common in the wake of 9/11. Essentially, what the essay proposes is that the display of investment in the American way (through community involvement, loving thy neighbor, giving of charity - a concept, fundamentally reconcilable with the Islamic way - having your kid pick up a musical instrument, and parental involvement in school) will go a lot farther and deeper in establishing inclusiveness.
But one domain in which Dara declares American-Muslims must continue to remain vociferously vocal, is the battle against the “perception that we are soft on radicalism and don’t clearly condemn terrorism. The solution is not easy, but I think a good step forward would be really making an effort to eradicate radicalism within our faith. Actions speak louder than words.”
I find myself buying what Dara’s selling.
It may very well be true that those with a deep-rooted hatred of Islam are not looking to be taught, moved, or changed by any religious discourse. And, no doubt, personal connections and a display of one's investment in the American way, would be a healthy existence both for the individual and the community.
But what to make of those, I ask Dara, who despite the American-Muslim’s attempt at integration and cohesion, will continue to view Islam as a threat?
“Sometimes people send me messages telling me to “go back to where I came from”...I’m just honest with them about it. I don’t want to go back to Houston. It’s too hot there,” he responds.
Follow Khurram Dara at @KhurramDara and catch him hosting the @minorityreport this spring.