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Five Ways Young Americans Can Fight Back Against Student Loan Debt

This article was originally published by Alternet and is re-posted here with the permission of the author.

I’m going to come out to you. I am overburdened by student loan debt. Since graduating at the height of the financial downturn with a degree that isn’t easily applicable to an ever-competitive job market, I’ve been stuffing my loan statements in a box under my bed. The only reason I feel empowered to say this to an audience is because I’ve found out that I’m not alone. In fact, there are 206,000 of us who graduated in 2008 with at least $40,000 in student loan debt. Student loan debt exceeded credit card debt for the first time in 2010, and according to the debt clock that keeps ticking away, we’re only $60 million shy of the oft-cited $1 trillion mark.

The dismal anecdotes of youth in this country have been reported on this site. Even Mayor Bloomberg acknowledged that something should be done for these hopeless young people before we take to the street to riot. 

Remember Mohammed Bouazizi? So much has happened since this 26-year-old Tunisian food vendor set himself on fire in front of a local municipal office. The rest is a tumultuous recent history of riots, protests, tent cities and overall acting out in the Middle East, collectively referred to as the Arab Spring. Though Bouazizi wasn’t a college student, as reported in much of the narrative, his desperation in the face of police brutality and unemployment in a society that was blind to his community’s struggle mirrors ours. Bouazizi set himself ablaze in order to be seen. 

I hearken back to this story, not because I’m advocating a repeat of this scene, or because with police violence and retaliation against the #OccupyWallStreet protesters, it seems like we’re heading for the same violent crescendo as our Middle Eastern counterparts. But in a profile of the boy behind the legend, Bouazizi's mother spoke to the humiliation that her son felt—his lack of control over the course of his own life. In order to regain control, he took his life. With mounting bills, disappearing jobs, and a deaf, dumb and blind government, the time is ripe for a similar spark and resulting uprising here in the US.

But it probably won’t happen—or at least not in the same way. Clinical psychologist Bruce Levine wrote on this site that “Young Americans...appear to have acquiesced to the idea that the corporatocracy can completely screw them and that they are helpless to do anything about it.” He succinctly articulated the weights that hold young Americans back; what keeps us from rallying to the streets in sustained, significant protest.

In my talks with Levine, he seemed much more hopeful about the potential of youth to overcome these barriers. He acknowledged that the insidious forces that keep us from the streets were established by his generation, and said to me and all youth that firstly, “we must do something to get you out of your pain.” He started me off with a few solutions. Here they are for your viewing, debating and (hopefully) implementing pleasure. 

1. Student Loans—The Personal

Large debt—and the fear it creates—is a pacifying force,” says Levine. Student loans have been in the spotlight recently. In 2009, Robert Applebaum posted a Facebook note calling for student loan forgiveness as a direct means of economic stimulus. “Responsible people who did nothing other than pursue a higher education would have hundreds, if not thousands of extra dollars per month to spend, fueling the economy now,” he wrote. Since then, a burgeoning collective movement has formed and our individual grinding and knashing of teeth over our monthly bills has been poured into a focused group building. His “Forgive Student Loans” petition reached 300,000 before it went to MoveOn.org and is currently moving its way up to 400,000.

But for a graduate in pain, this is small relief. What’s holding you back won’t immediately be fixed by a petition or even legislation. Connecting your personal struggle to the overall political battle is the key to moving this along. In the meantime, here are some things to know and do for personal relief from student debt pain.

  • The student lending system, like its house-lending cousin, is an intentionally confusing process with lots of opportunity for hijinks and malfeasance on the part of collection agencies. If you are confused about who owns your loan, your current standing or any other issues, the Office of the Ombudsman at the Department of Education can be helpful in tracking the life of your federal loan(s). They even give advice about dealing with lenders, default, fraud and bankruptcy.

  • The Institute for College Access and Success has initiated the Project on Student Debt, which Applebaum also works with. Although you can’t contact the project directly with your personal woes, it has great resources—whether you’re applying to college, in college or a graduate—to assist you and do great political work around consumer protection rights for student loan borrowers.  

  • Did you know you could qualify for Income Based Repayment (IBR) and loan consolidation even if you’re in default? Programs like IBR and Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) are under-publicized options that can immediately take off some of the student loan burden (watch the demo on IBRinfo.org). The great thing about IBR is that after paying based on your income for 25 years (or 10 years for public service employees), the rest of your loan is forgiven. Though not a perfect system (the “forgiven” amount is still taxable income) IBR could reduce your monthly payments significantly.  

  • Generally, be open and honest about your situation. Talk to your loan holder(s) and ask questions about your options. If someone is rude, or excessively demanding, report them. To learn more about dealing with collection agents, go to the Federal Trade Commission website’s Facts for Consumers. Form support groups with young and old at varying stages of the college game. Share resources and stories and help each other without judgment.

2. Student Loans—The Political

Now that you feel a bit more secure in your situation, it’s time to motivate and advocate for the end of what Levine calls “student loan indentureship.” If you’re not convinced that this is a growing national crisis wrought with the same inequalities that precipitated the housing crisis, here are a few factoids: The corruption reaches all the way to the top, with Speaker of the House John Boehner being the recipient of the most contributions from the student loan industry.

College tuition rates enjoy steady growth even as employment opportunities for recent grads decrease. The DOE reports that 8.8 percent of student borrowers are defaulting, and those numbers are increasing. Both private and federal student loans were stripped of bankruptcy protection. That means borrowers don’t get the basic consumer protections those who incur gambling debt receive. Wages can be garnished without a court order, unlike every other situation where a court order is mandatory. Almost any provision that would protect borrowers, the latest being the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has been attacked and dismantled by our corporate-friendly Congress.

If you don’t want to advocate for student loan forgiveness, at least agree that student loan borrowers deserve the same consumer protections enjoyed by every other industry.

In that vein, support these platforms. As a lawyer, Applebaum acknowledged that the reason for asking for such an extreme provision as nation-wide loan forgiveness is so we could achieve basic protections—a "shoot for the moon, but at least reach the stars" situation. “I recognize that the political reality is not in my favor,” he told me, “but I started the national conversation and that is more important.” Sign the petition and support Rep. Hansen Clarke’s resolution to forgive student loans. Connect with student groups doing work around tuition hikes and student debt (more on that in #4).

3. Drugs

Young people indulge in all types of substances to get away from their pain—none more pervasive and dangerous than those prescribed to us by medical professionals. "Just as people themselves can abuse drugs, abusers can use drugs to abuse and break people,” Levine writes in Get Up, Stand Up! He continues, “Saul Alinsky, the legendary organizer and author of Reveille for Radicals and Rules for Radicals, would today certainly be diagnosed with ODD and other disruptive disorders.”

After the movements of the '60s and '70s, corporate interest used two main industries to control and suppress future rebellions: higher education and the drug industry. Their best hope to continue uninterrupted with their corruption and manipulation is to have a zombie population, one that’s under-educated and over-medicated.

Though psychotropic drugs like LSD are illegal, drugs like amphetamines that "treat" ADHD are encouraged for their abilities to subdue petulant children and make them more manageable for parents and schools. The disparities in who gets prescribed psychotropic drugs are well documented. Books such as the The Protest Psychosis: How Schizophrenia Became A Black Disease explore the reasons why "doctors diagnosed schizophrenia in African American patients, particularly African American men, four times as often as in white patients." In Get Up, Stand Up! Levine noted that in 2009 "antipsychotics were the highest grossing class of medications, with sales of $14.6 billion." Though Americans are only 5 percent of the world’s population, we consume 90 percent of the Ritalin produced.

For a solution, Bruce Levine suggests, “Instead of behaviorally manipulating or medicating these rebellious kids, in a more democratic society, we would be validating the reasonableness of questioning authority and challenging illegitimate authority. We would be asking: Why are they rebelling? Is the authority that they are rebelling against an illegitimate authority? Can we help these young people rebel in a way that helps them gain more self-respect because it is successful against illegitimate authorities?” (Listen to Levine’s own experience within the profession.)

This is not to deny that mental illness exists. It very much does, but the current approach to solving it is severely impaired. Examine your own mental health and see where you may be taken advantage of. If you’re interested in alternate mental health facilities check out Freelancer’s Union health directory and read member's profiles. Rebellion is not a pathology. It’s one of the first tools toward freedom.

If you think that the drug industry and the psychoanalytical community are above reform, consider this: up until 1973 homosexuality was considered a mental disorder included in the DSM where treatment, including shock therapy, was recommended for patients. Now, two of the most conservative institutions—marriage and the military—are legally required to acknowledge the union (in some states) and the existence of this community. It’s not hard to imagine that diagnosis like ADHD and ADD may have the same outcome.

4. Education

In Levine’s piece, he details the pitfalls and failings of our education system in three points. In one, he says that schools educate for compliance and not democracy. As previously noted, education systems, both higher and elementary are not in the business of creating free thinkers. So in order to unlearn the doctrine and free your mind, a good suggestion comes from Walter Mosley’s Twelve Steps to Political Revelation. In “Meeting of the Twelve” he suggests that you “[g]et together with a dozen people and ask a question that brings to light a cultural or political conundrum. Let each member of the twelve make a brief comment on how they see the problem and what they think might be the solution.... This weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly meeting will be an exercise in genius.”

In this way, without the school model, arbitrary test and scores, you create genius, as genius is not the work of one brainy individual, but “a collaborative phenomenon."

If you are in college, be aware that, “the corporatocracy has figured out a way to make [y]our already authoritarian schools even more authoritarian.” College tuition is rising at an alarming rate compared to other consumer spending like medical expenses and housing. Public universities and colleges, described as institutions receiving 60 percent of government funding, are becoming more and more privatized as funding decreases and student contribution through tuition hikes increase.

I attended a meeting at Hunter College of the City University of New York, where a group called Resist and Multiply discussed the egregious tuition hikes this year at CUNY and SUNY (State University of New York) schools and the proposed increases during the next few years. This highly informed and motivated group pointed out that Hunter historically provided education for the underserved lower middle classes, whose families would otherwise be priced out of a higher education for their children. Now, rising tuition and fees, paired with unaffordable food (from private companies) at the college and a 60 percent adjunct population (who themselves are taken advantage of financially and who unlike tenured professors have no job security or incentive to engage in a long-term fight with the students), has tarnished that proud history.

A lesson from this group would be to identify winnable causes to motivate the student body at large. People sign on to things once they see progress. State debts are used to justify most cuts to programs and hikes in spending, so if you’re in a public university, connect with other schools in your state and discuss ways to fight cuts and hikes at your school. If you’re at a private college, find out the school’s accreditation organization here. Every few years schools are up for review by these services, and that creates an opportunity to propose changes through student government or any other student/faculty/administration committee. Visit Campus Progress to learn how for-profit colleges rip off their students. (Also check out their infographic on shrinking Pell Grants.) Form coalitions with other student organizations (ethnic, social, etc.) and pool resources. Co-host events, work on rallies and support each other’s individual causes and events.

If you are yet not in college, reconsider going. There are numerous arguments out there to support this, but it all stems from knowing yourself and what you most want to do with your life (which may be a lot to ask of an 18-year-old). Half the number of admitted students leave without degrees. Though degree holders generally earn more than those without, the majority still won’t get the high-paying jobs their degrees promised. Don’t be seduced by “name-brand” colleges; this matters least when evaluating your education. Go to Dontgotocollege.com and read this article about rethinking the college promise.

5. Apathy

This is probably the most difficult aspect to overcome. In Levine’s last few points, he highlights fundamental consumerism, television and surveillance as tools that contribute to “youth zombification.” An extension of his view of fundamental consumerism is that corporations have successfully co-opted the look of an activist. Even organizations with progressive reputations that form part of the look don’t deserve their current reverence. The most insidious aspect of corporatocracy is that the system has created a culture that supports corporate goods while simultaneously condemning the corporation that produces them. But before I continue on a rant about consumerism, understand that aspiring to the other extreme, asceticism, is just as bad. We all need goods and services. But pledging allegiance to one particular good or service is just as bad as denouncing everything.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed in a world that counts on it. As a young person, just living life and trying to survive puts you in too many damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situations. But there are ways to achieve a compromise in a world obsessed with your pacification.

For the personal, examine your own relationship to digital media, television and social networking sites. Can you easily “turn off” from Twittering and Facebooking at will? Do you use it as a tool, or does it rule you? Go to How to Quit Facebook for suggestions on how to examine, reduce or quit the site. Read this article on how to slow down your life. Try something new and different every week. Whether it’s finding a new route to work, going to a cooking class or even skipping your favorite TV show for a stroll in the park, these small actions prove that you do have the power to change your own life, and eventually, the reality of this generation.

For a political solution, engage in some form of social justice action. If that seems too extreme for you, consider this quote from Get Up, Stand Up!: “People have been led to believe that their oppression is 'normal'; they are told, 'Nothing personal, it’s just the market.' [Steve] Meacham [organizer for City Life/Vida Urbana] believes that organizing is about changing this framing.” Organizing and advocating is probably the best long-term strategy for getting youth out of their personal and political pain.

Take the Forgive Student Loan Debt campaign. Applebaum, though affiliated with other organizations that work on this issue, started it on his own accord out of his living room with a Facebook post. He now has a petition that’s creating more and more traction, a website, a blog and a highly active Facebook presence (now, there’s a good reason to Facebook). He considers himself the default leader because he started the campaign, but admins in the group have just as much say as he does. For youth wary of subscribing to another campaign or organization that would use their youthful zeal toward its own agenda, this a good mantle to take up.

Becoming connected with other like-minded individuals is probably the most significant step toward personal freedom. To use those connections to build coalitions and power toward political freedom is the best form of resistance any movement can adopt. In a recent article, Peter Dreier, a professor of politics said:

Riots occur when people are hopeless. Civil disobedience takes place when people are hopeful—when people believe not only that things should be different but also that they can be different.

There’s no need for the extreme violent action we saw in London a few weeks ago, though the plights are real there and here. With careful, strategic planning, inter-generational cooperation and long-term goal oriented actions, we can create a youth uprising that’s powerful, sustained, thoughtful and inclusive and finally get out of our pain.

President Obama: Forgive Student Loan Debt

Forgiving student loan debt would provide an immediate jolt to the economy by putting hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of extra dollars into the hands of people who will spend it - not just once, but each and every month thereafter - freeing them up to invest, buy homes, start businesses and families. This past year, total student loan debt finally surpassed total credit card debt in America, and is on track to exceed one trilion dollars within the next year. Student loans themselves are responsible for tuition rates that have soared by 439 percent since 1982 and for saddling entire generations of educated Americans with intractable levels of student loan debt from which there is, seemingly, no escape. Relieve them of this burden and the middle class will help rebuild this economy from the bottom-up.

We encourage all StudentNation readers to sign on to the call by the non-profit group We The People to petition the Obama Administration to "Forgive Student Loan Debt to Stimulate the Economy and Usher in a New Era of Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Prosperity."

Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important Stories (9/23/11)

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 please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

Angela Aiuto:

Congressional Millionaires To Weigh Obama's Proposed ‘Buffett Rule,’” by Michael Beckel. OpenSecrets.org, Sept. 20, 2011.
Despite broad public support for a tax hike on the wealthiest individuals, congressional Republicans attacked President Obama’s proposed “Buffett Rule” this week as an incitement of class warfare. How could Congress be so out of touch with the American people? The Center for Responsive Politics explores its glaring conflict of interest. 

Cal Colgan:

Killings alarm Mexico bloggers.” Al Jazeera, Sept. 16, 2011.  The bodies of two young people were found in Nuevo Laredo, a town on the Texas border with Mexico, tortured to death by the members of the Zetas drug cartel. The man and woman were victims of Mexican drug cartels' deadly attacks on citizen reporters and professional journalists.

Teresa Cotsirilos:

Got Cheap Milk?: Why ditching your fancy, organic, locavore lifestyle is good for the world's poor,” by Charles Kenny. Foreign Policy, Sept. 12, 2011.  Kenny's article is provocative, to say the least. Contrary to popular belief, he argues, buying local and eating non-genetically modified organic food is not in the best interest of the developing world's poor—and is some cases is not particularly good for the environment either. An original, well-researched argument, and definitely worth a read.

Paolo Cravero:

Rabbani's death and Afghanistan's future,” by Anand Gopal. Foreign Policy, Sept. 20, 2011.  I chose this article because of the importance of the historical moment in recent Afghan history. The death of Rabbani further complicates the possibility of negotiation with neo-Taliban, and it is also a symbolic strike for those envisaging a peaceful Afghanistan in the near future. 

Erika Eichelberger:

A War Against Food Waste,” by Dylan Walsh. The New York Times, Sept. 15, 2011. 50 million American households suffer from food insecurity. At the same time, 200 pounds of food is thrown away every year for every man, woman and child in the US. Check out Dylan Walsh's NY Times Green blog post on the initiative being planned by the Grocery Manufacturers Association to reduce food waste sent to landfills and increase donations to food banks.

Josh Eidelson:

Grocery strike avoided; deal called 'win-win' for both sides,” by P.J. Huffstutter. Los Angeles Times, Sept. 19, 2011. Hours before a potential strike by 54,000 union grocery store workers in Southern California, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) reached a tentative agreement on a new contract with the Ralphs, Vons, and Albertsons chains.  UFCW leaders say the deal protects workers' comprehensive family health insurance.  Workers will be voting on it Friday and Saturday.  If they hadn't made a credible strike threat, their negotiations would have looked very different.

Eli Epstein-Deutsch:

When Did Trickle-Down Get Respectable?” by Timothy Noah. The New Republic, Sept. 19, 2011. This post is a brief nod to an insidious and under-covered development in American political culture: the loss of the rhetorical and conceptual toolbox used previously by the left to combat the fallacies of "supply-side," "Reagonomics,""trickle-down," "the Laffer curve," etc. Somehow these are no longer active disparagements; hence, among other things, Republicans are able to repeat assertions about the dangers of "raising taxes on job creators" without a coherent framework in which to debunk them.

Collier Meyerson:

 “When the Death Penalty Hits Home,” by Helena Andrews. The Root, Sept. 21, 2011.  The execution of Troy Davis has rightfully taken its place front and center in progressive media. But Davis's story piqued my interest in the lives of those effected by victims of capital punishment. Helena Andrews's piece is a brave meditation on her cousin's fate and the deterioration of their relationship.

Allie Tempus:

"Revealed: Aid to Ethiopia increases despite serious human rights abuses,” by Angus Stickler and Caelainn Barr. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Aug. 6, 2011. This piece, though only a part of the Ethiopia Aid Exposed series published by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, serves as an excellent overview of the entire project. It declares that the EU, despite contributing massive aid to the country, has repeatedly adopted a policy of "hear no evil, see no evil" when it comes to human rights violations there. It's a brutal examination of international benevolence tangled in competing interests and outright ignorance. 

Jin Zhao:

Aumentan ataques contra mexicanos de la etnia triqui en NY,” (Increasing attacks against the Triqui Mexican in NY). NTRZacatecas.com, Sept. 16, 2011. A recent AP story reminds us of Marcelo Lucero's murder in 2008 and anti-immigrant violence that remains an issue of contention among concerned groups and those in law enforcement. This article I came across on a Mexican website (and another on the same topic) tells us the story of an even more vulnerable Hispanic group, Triquis, who live in upstate New York. Because the majority of them do not speak English or Spanish and many of them are unclear about their immigration status, Triquis often fall victims of not only criminal/violent attacks but sometimes police abuse.

Ariel Dorfman's Message to Youth Who Want Change

This video message from storied Chilean-American author and human rights activist Ariel Dorman offers a stirring call to youth who want change. He has lived the aftermath that so many countries and cultures will be confronting in the months and years ahead, and his perspective couldn't be more relevant today. Moving, provocative and passionate, Dorfman offers both inspiration and a challenge to young activists today.

Howard University Protest in Support of Troy Davis

The George Board of Pardons and Paroles on Tuesday denied clemency for Troy Anthony Davis today. This video shows highlights of a rally held by Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI) at Howard University in support of Troy Davis as one part of the International Day of Action on September 16, 2011. Student involvement in the case has been especially strong.

Please take a moment and call Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm at 912-652-7308 and ask that he withdraw the death warrant.

Brooklyn College Faculty Condemn NYPD Infiltration of Muslim Student Group

This was reposted with permission from the invaluable studentactivism.net.

The faculty council of New York City’s Brooklyn College has unanimously condemned NYPD’s spying on the campus’s chief Muslim student organization, saying it has a “chilling effect” on academic freedom.

Documents made public earlier this month indicate that the New York Police Department has been monitoring Muslim student groups at seven local colleges – City, Baruch, Queens, Brooklyn, LaGuardia Community College and St. John’s. At Brooklyn and Baruch, the department sent undercover police officers to spy on the groups directly. St. John’s college is private, while the rest of those targeted are part of the City University of New York.

The NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim organizations was undertaken in concert with the CIA, whose inspector general is now investigating whether the Agency’s involvement violated the law.

The Brooklyn College resolution said that the faculty “opposes surveillance activities by the NYPD and affiliated agencies on our campus either directly or through the use of informants for the purposes of collecting information independent of a valid and specific criminal investigation,” and called on the college’s administration to reveal “their knowledge of or involvement in this surveillance and information gathering.”

Brooklyn College president Karen Gould, who took office in 2009, said the NYPD had not informed her administration of its spying.

Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important Stories (9/16/11)

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 please use the comments section below to alert us to any important articles you feel warrant broader attention.

Angela Aiuto
Angela will be focusing on money in politics.

Fulfilling Kennedy’s Promise: Why the SEC Should Mandate Disclosure of Corporate Political Activity,” by John Coates and Taylor Lincoln. Public Citizen, September 2011.
Professor John Coates of Harvard Law School and Taylor Lincoln of Public Citizen make the case for mandatory disclosure of political spending by publicly traded corporations in a report showing—contrary to popular assumption—that politically active companies that disclose their activities are valued more highly than those that do not.

Cal Colgan
Cal will be following the drug war and human rights in Latin America.

Napolitano denies knowledge of Fast and Furious gun-tracking program,” by Jordy Yager. The Hill, Sept. 13, 2011.
Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano denied to a senate investigation committee that she had knowledge of the ATF's Fast & Furious program, a covert program where the bureau authorized the sale and distribution of assault weapons to straw-buyers for Mexican drug cartels in an effort to track the weapons. The botched operation has already resulted in the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, but top-ranking Obama administration officials are still denying prior knowledge of the program before ATF Director Kenneth Melson stepped down from his position.

Teresa Cotsirilos
Teresa will focus on "Global South" politics, or sociopolitical developments in areas of the developing world.

Wikileaks cable: Ethiopia reporter Argaw Ashine 'flees.’”  BBC, Sept. 15, 2011
After suffering repeated government interrogations, Ethiopian reporter Argaw Ashine has told the BBC that he has fled his country because he was cited in a US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks last month. Though Wikileaks denies that any "journalistic source" is named in the leaked cable, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) claims that this is the first instance in which a citation in a Wikileaks cable has caused direct repercussions for a journalist.

Paolo Cravero
Paolo will be following war, peace, and security.

The Journalist and the Spies: The murder of a reporter who exposed Pakistan’s secrets,” by Dexter Filkins. The New Yorker, Sept. 19, 2011.
I chose this piece because I read the book that Shahzad wrote, and I thought it was a really good piece of investigative work. I also believed that his work could have shed some light on the Pakistani regime, and that it could have contributed in setting the tone for a new roadmap toward transparency and conflict resolution in the region. I was deeply wrong.

Erika Eichelberger
Erika will be following the environmental movement.

Facing the Forests: Can community land management save forests—and fight climate change?” by Dorian Merina. The Caravan, May 1, 2011.
The UN has named 2011 the 'International Year of the Forests' and is focusing on local indigenous communities in the fight to protect forests worldwide and mitigate climate change. Dorian Merina's story, published in The Caravan in May, but equally relevant now, paints a vivid picture of community-managed forest preservation in the Philippines.

Josh Eidelson
Josh will be covering the labor beat.

Longshore Workers Dump Scab Grain to Protect Jobs,” by Evan Rohar. Labornotes, Sept. 8, 2011.
This week I'm watching the Washington State showdown between members of the International Longshore Workers Union (ILWU) and a new management consortium set on doing their work without them. In a scene that's become rare in the US labor movement, workers from across the state have been blocking train tracks, defying a restraining order, and halting production.

Eli Epstein-Deutsch
Eli will be looking at the intersection of politics, ideas and economics from a macro perspective.

The Non-Scenic Route to the Place We’re Going Anyway,” by John Lanchester. London Review of Books, Sept. 8, 2011.
This piece by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books offers a very good, wide-angle account of the insanity of international austerity politics.

Collier Meyerson
Collier will be following discrimination.

A Racial Profiling Victim on 9/11 Shares Her Story,” by Arturo R. García. Racialicious, Sept. 14, 2011.
As we rounded the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 this past Sunday with a day-long commemoration of the lives lost in the tragedy, one woman, Shoshana Hebshi was removed from a plane and detained for appearing Arab. The incident serves as a harsh reminder for us work to affirm the honor of those wrongfully and unlawfully profiled.

Allie Tempus
Allie will be following human rights.

The pursuit of happiness: In Bhutan, progress is measured by how happy people are, not how much wealth people have,” by Robert Costanza. Al Jazeera, Sept. 13, 2011.
Following the recent transition of Bhutan from a monarchy to a democracy, the tiny country tucked between India and the Tibetan region of China revisits its 40-year-old gross national happiness—or "GNP"--initiative by polling its people directly. The piece, written by an American professor of sustainability, details the ways in which the more traditional measurement of GDP growth does not necessarily reflect social progress. It's refreshing to see human rights—such as clean natural resources and "recreational and spiritual opportunities"—addressed not as a response to crisis, but as a tool to prevent it.

Jin Zhao
Jin will be following the US’s image in international media.

China: Now With America's Attention Back,” by John Kennedy. Global Voices, Sept. 13, 2011.
Fully embracing the ideologies of democracy, freedom, and fairness, Chinese writer Yang Hengjun argues that the US has a track record of successfully defeating formidable enemies—such as the former Soviet Union—with its ideologies, a strategy that the US should stick to instead of engaging in the "War on Terror," which has greatly hurt its core strength. Critiquing Sino-US relations and China's undernourished democracy, the article reflects the keen interest that many Chinese hold in the US politics and foreign policy, and the Chinese perceptions of these issues, even though some may be overly romantic, naive or idiosyncratic.

Grinnell College Announces $300,000 Social Justice Prize

Last year, Grinnell College, a liberal arts institution in Iowa, launched a $300,000 annual prize to honor individuals under the age of 40 who have demonstrated leadership in their fields and who show creativity, commitment and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change.

The  "Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize" will recognize up to three individuals each year, and for each $100,000 in prize money, half will go to the individual and half to an organization committed to the winner’s area of interest.

The program is in its second year, and was started under the leadership of Grinnell College President Raynard S. Kington as a concrete reward for activists who continue in the liberal arts tradition to create concrete social change. “In creating this prize, we hope to encourage and recognize young individuals who embody our core values and organizations that share our commitment to change the world,” says President Kington.

The Nation commends Grinnell for sponsoring the award and encourages all eligible readers to apply for this prize, which is one of the largest of its kind available in the US.

Nominees may be US citizens or foreign nationals, and no affiliation to Grinnell College is necessary. Grinnell encourages entries across a wide range of fields, such as science, business, the arts, the environment, social services, religion and ethics, as well as projects that cross several fields.

The Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice award is open to all and will be accepting nominations from now through November 14th. Click here to nominate an outstanding young activist!

Little Love for Labor

I didn’t learn much about the labor movement in high school. At best, it was taught like suffrage—a long-ago response to long-ago problems. At worst, it was taught like prohibition—curious, misguided, and painfully anachronistic. Most of the time, my history classes didn’t discuss the labor movement at all.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one.

Last week the Albert Shanker Institute, a think tank endowed by the American Federation of Teachers, released a report, American Labor in US History Textbooks, documenting the movement’s compressed portrayal in our major textbooks. It offers a stark assessment: “If, while driving to school, students happen to see the bumper sticker: ‘Unions: the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend,’ that may be more exposure to American labor’s historic role as a force for social progress than they will ever get in the classroom.”

Three historians wrote the report after reviewing the main high school history textbooks of the four chains that together dominate the industry (if you’re an American high school student, chances are your textbook is one of them). They found that the textbooks portray strikes as violent, disruptive, and socially negative, while downplaying employers’ role in instigating violently repressing job actions. Social and economic reforms like the New Deal are credited to visionary politicians and the critical pressure from labor protests is studiously minimized. Social movements for civil rights and women’s equality are divorced from labor concerns or participation. With the exceptions of the United Farm Workers organizing and air traffic controllers getting fired, unions virtually disappear from the textbooks after 1960—as does workplace injustice.

The textbook The Americans tells students that President Truman “refused to let strikes cripple the nation,” and says that “Labor unions benefited” from the National Industrial Recovery Act, without mentioning their role in securing the historic legislation. United States History writes that the legacy of the Haymarket incident (the inspiration for May Day) was that, “Employers became even more suspicious of union activities, associating them with violence.” American Anthem mentions “images of workers being beaten or killed” as the kind of “negative publicity” General Motors had to avoid when its workers went on strike.

Taken together, such portrayals make it easy to come away with the sense that unions were an understandable response to sweatshop conditions in the past, but have been rendered unnecessary, and even counterproductive, given contemporary legal regulations and a more enlightened business class. Not coincidentally, that’s the impression you’d get from a lot of our newspapers, politicians, and TV shows too. Meanwhile, Walgreens fires an 18-year worker for grabbing a bag of chips to ward off a diabetic attack.

As the report's authors note, there are moral and strategic failures as well as successes in the history of the American labor movement, and students should be taught both the proud and the shameful. High schools that treat union members like free masons are doing students a disservice. They obscure important stories and ideas, while reinforcing familiar bad ones: that injustices that are bad enough will eventually get fixed without need for organizing; that what happens at work stays at work; that change comes from the top; that we should measure how democratic our economy is by how many products are available to buy.

The least we owe our students is to try to tell them the truth.

Top Ten Back-to-School Songs

Songs about school have probably been sung by students for as long as there has been formal schooling. Wikipedia reports that examples of such literature can be found dating back to medieval England. Here, we've tried the highly dubious task of trying to highlight ten of the best such songs ever written. Please use the comments field below to let us know what we've missed.

1) Pink Floyd, Another Brick in the Wall

2) Dolly Parton, Coat of Many Colors


3) The Clash, Mark Me Absent 


4) The Ramones, Rock and Roll High School


5) Belle & Sebastian, We Rule the School 

6) The Replacements, F*** School  


7) The Smiths, The Headmaster Ritual 

8) Chuck Berry, School Days 


9) Pete Seeger, What Did You Learn in School Today? 

10) Vampire Weekend, Campus 

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