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The Land of Goodbyes: Emigration Through the Eyes of Those Who Stay Behind

Fifty percent of the residents of Zapotitlan Palmas, a town in Oaxaca, Mexico, leave for the United States each year. Mexican journalist and former Nation intern Chantal Flores and Haitian-American filmmaker Stefani Saintonge have teamed up to produce a documentary film, La Tierra de los Adioses (The Land of Goodbyes) about why residents keep leaving and what it means for the people – especially youth – they leave behind. They produced “La Bolsa” (“The Bag”), the short below, being made public here for the first time, from the footage they’ve shot so far. I interviewed Flores and Saintonge in New York, where they’ll be showing “La Bolsa” and raising money ahead of their November 6 deadline to win Kickstarter funding to finish the film. What follows is a condensed and edited transcript of our conversation.

Why did you choose to explore the bags? Saintonge: It’s an intricate, traditional craft, and it’s beautiful–but at the same time women feel trapped, having to make these bags because they don’t have any jobs in the town. So it’s either that or migrate. They depend on their husbands who are in the US, but when that doesn’t cut it, they have to make these bags. There’s no employment, and they’re stuck laboring over these crafts, which are really beautiful, but they have to do it. It’s not just an art. And they work so hard, doing two a day.

How did you come to the topic of emigration? What does it mean for this town? Flores: When I came back to Mexico, almost all the people I talked to were immigrants, had been in the US, or had relatives in the US. I ended up in Zapatilan Palmas, teaching a writing workshop, and heard from these kids who are in constant contact with immigration. We wanted to make this video that would focus on kids in a town whose whole lifestyle is defined by the US - people leave for the US, success is related to the US. There are people there who have never been to Mexico City, but have been to LA, New York, Chicago, and they know everything about the US.

Even though these kids haven’t left yet, they will eventually leave. We won’t prevent them from coming to the US, but we want to give them more opportunities. Emigration shouldn’t be the next step, it should be an option. And in this town, and in many Mexican towns, emigration is your responsibility if you want to do something with your life. And that is very sad. People tell you that they want to come to the US to become someone. It’s sad, because they are already human beings.

How does it affect the town’s culture? Flores: When I interviewed Mexican kids about America, I expected them to say, “Oh, it’s awesome I want to go there.” But they said “It sucks. You just work long hours, and you just go from your house to your workplace, and that’s it.” Hearing those answers changed my perspective on the kids. I used to just see them as people who were dreaming of coming to the US. But they don’t really want to come to the US. They want to stay in their town. They want to help their town to progress, they want to be with their families. Yet because of the economic situation and the lack of opportunities, they are forced into thinking that they need to come to the US, and that’s the best thing that could happen to them.

Kids feel abandoned by parents that emigrate to America. They don’t see them for years. Many of my students were teenagers who couldn’t remember what their father looked like. Or their father was coming back after 10 years, and then the whole family dynamic was changing–the kids were suddenly with someone who has power over them, and they didn’t know how to deal with that.

When you are walking around the town you just see women, old people, and children, that’s it. The fathers are in the US. In many cases, women know their husbands have started families in the US too, but they don’t talk about that. They need the money and they need to accept their husband back. Women in this town go through loneliness and abandonment, and they don’t have the emotional support they need, or the resources to give their kids the emotional support they need.

Before this film, Chantal created a website where she posted writing from her students. How would government policies change if the voices of these students played a bigger part? Flores: These kids have so many ideas. They would ask the Mexican government for jobs, because they don’t want their parents to leave. And they want basic stuff like soccer balls and training to know how to play sports and make art. I did a mural contest with five of my kids where they were supposed to choose an issue and then show what they would like the Mexican Government to do about it. And they asked me if they could focus on the American government instead. They surprised me. They were like, “We just want them to respect our parents and provide them with better working conditions.”

Is the discussion of immigration in this town different from the national immigration debate in Mexico? Flores: Right now the immigration debate in Mexico is focused on what we as a society have to do to keep our people here, rather than what do we need to demand from the US government. The Mexican President just said that the US needs to treat immigrants better, which is super hypocritical, because Oaxaca is the main route for people from Central America to come to the US border, and you see in Oaxaca how Mexican citizens are treating people from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvado: like they are a lower class below poor people in Mexico. So we have important issues to focus on on both sides of the border. And the drug war is making everything harder.

Last month I had a meeting with the town’s mothers and asked them what they need. Someone asked me to develop a project to prevent emigration. I was like, “I cannot develop a program to prevent emigration when we have no jobs and the economy is like this.” Immigration is such a natural thing. People are always moving. She said, “Why are you saying that you cannot do that?” And I said, “Because we need jobs.” She’s like, “OK, so what do we need to do so we have jobs here and they don’t leave?”

Saintonge: One of the students we interviewed wants to go to college, he wants to be a teacher. But he’s given up. He’s fifteen years old and he’s like, “I’ll probably just work in a factory on the border.” So he’s not going to migrate to the US, but he’s migrating out of Zapotitlán, because he says his parents can’t afford it, and he has to support them. How has migration played out in your lives?

Saintonge: I’m the child of immigrants. My parents came during a time when the policies here were a lot more welcoming. And now I see what immigrants are going through in this country and it shocks me. I think about what my life would have been if my parents had come with a climate like this–or if they hadn’t been able to come.

Flores: I left Mexico when I was 18 to go study at the University in Toronto. It was hard to go through that process of being in a different culture, having an accent, speaking a different language. Suddenly, I was being categorized by classmates as someone who is Latin, or Spanish, or from the third world. It was kind of hard to suddenly to see myself, and my home, through all these stereotypes. After I graduated, it was really hard to get a job in Toronto. Not only because of the the economic crisis, but also because employers would say, “You’re a Mexican. I have a Canadian, why would I hire you?” I worked at a bagel shop with all these illegal immigrants from Mexico. My boyfriend at that time, he was undocumented too, and he had been in Toronto for almost five years. It was hard to see how he couldn’t go back even to see his family.

That was something that was very easy for me to identify with the kids, that feeling of missing something or someone every day. You don’t realize, but it’s so exhausting. And as a kid it’s devastating to live out this constant emptiness–that you are missing someone in your life, and their support. I saw kids that don’t have the energy to study or focus on things, because they are always missing something. I was missing my family when I was in Toronto, and I got so tired of it that the easiest thing was to try to forget about them, because you cannot be crying every day missing them. But in not thinking about them, you neglect a part of yourself. Going back home to Mexico and knowing that I don’t have the opportunities I want and deserve there is really frustrating.

La Bolsa from Stefani Saintonge on Vimeo.

Occupy Colleges Plans Solidarity Teach-ins

For two days beginning November 2, Occupy Colleges, a grassroots organization bringing awareness to the Occupy Wall Street movement within the college sphere, will stage a National Solidarity Teach-In for colleges and universities across the country. To date, more than 100 campsues have events planned. The Teach-ins will serve to open and continue dialogue around the Occupy Wall Street movement in an environment where experts in various fields can liberally address questions or concerns.

Teach-ins will be organized by students on campus. They will take place in a central and easily accessible place for students, local communities and the media. Participants will be comprised of experts in their fields (professors in anthropology, political science, history, economics, etc) and fellow students.

Topics will range by school, but will include discussions on how Occupy Wall Street movement may affect future elections, historical perspectives on past Occupy Wall Street-like movements, what led to the Occupy Wall Street movement and what comes next. Teach-ins are meant to be participatory and oriented toward action. The purpose is to create an open discussion with professors and students with no defined ending time, so that everyone has an opportunity to speak and contribute.

Check the Occupy Colleges website for info on individual events.

People's University Brings Teach-In To Washington Square Park

This article was published originally in the invaluable NYULOCAL.

As Occupy Wall Street fans out into different parts of New York City (and, well, the world), Washington Square Park has quickly become the hub for student involvement in the protest. From the student walk-out earlier this month to the recent addition of a student general assembly by the fountain, university participation is picking up momentum.

This Saturday began the newest iteration of student organization: People’s University, a teach-in style lecture series of professors and academics, organized largely by graduate students and a few undergrads from NYU. They’re organized around the idea that education should be free and in public spaces, and “not a consumer good,” according to their Tumblr, so they’re bringing academia outdoors.

Teach-ins have been a staple of American protests since 1965, when 200 professors at the University of Michigan taught for 12 hours to protest the Vietnam war. Professors and other academics have been giving lectures to the protesters at Zuccotti for a few weeks now, including NYU professor Slavoj Zizek, journalist Naomi Klein and the Nation reporter Chris Hedges to name a few. 

The group behind People’s U call themselves NYU4OWS, and work with New School and CUNY students to organize the student general assemblies that have began to be held in Washington Square Park too. The People’s U schedule of speakers is peopled thus far with such notables as Niel Smith, a famous geographer who teaches at CUNY, and Sujatha Fernandes, a sociology professor whose talk is listed as “Hip Hop for Social Change.” Based on this piece she wrote for HuffPo, it will be cool.

NYU politics professor Christine Harrington will speak in the park on Wednesday, and is so far the only NYU professor on the list.

The first session brought the Marxist economist and New School professor Richard Wolff to the park on Saturday afternoon. He gave his lecture through the “people’s mic” system; in short slices of sentences which are then chimed back by those listening, to circumvent the law against amplified sound.

It sounds laborious– a twenty-minute lecture repeated quarter-line by quarter-line — but the stamina of the audience of college kids was impressive, and after a few minutes of settling into unison, the system lent cadence and energy to the talk. What listeners agreed with they repeated louder. What Wolff wanted emphasized he left as a single word to be chimed back. At one point in the talk the people’s mic gave a standalone “bullshit!” dramatic flair.

Wolff drew parallels between the current economic situation and the other time “American capitalism collapsed,” during the 1930s, when the Great Depression sparked a massive push for union organizing and a time of protest which produced programs like Social Security and the first state unemployment benefits.

“When everyone from the government to the big businesses said there was no money, the unions, socialists and communists said ‘we know they have the money,’ and they demanded programs,” Wolff said.

The Great Depression began in 1929 but the people needed four years to “get over the shock” enough to begin organizing, Wolff said. Here we are in the fourth year of our own economic quagmire, and here is a Marxist economist speaking at a teach-in. Here is Occupy Wall Street and all its Occupy cousins. This could perhaps be the beginnings of a second such movement, he said.

But  today’s Occupy movement needs to learn from a fatal flaw of the 1930s that lead us to today’s economic mess, according to Wolff: that movement never fundamentally changed the way corporations worked. They were left untouched, and they evolved into the problematic institutions we have today. The protest and whatever articulated rumblings that will last beyond it can’t just settle for jobs programs or bank reform, he said. “If we don’t restructure the corporations, we will see our good work undone.”

By “restructure,” he meant a transformation into a Marxist operation, where workers, consumers and surrounding community make all the decisions when it comes to production, and the rest of the corporate operation is eliminated entirely.

 A corporation is a fundamentally undemocratic institution. We need to transform corporate enterprise to make corporations to be just as democratic as we want everything else to be. the people who most depend on the decisions of corporations are the people who work there and the people who consume what they produce. [...] We should all say a fond and sincere farewell to the shareholders and the boards of directors. ‘You badly messed up. We don’t hold it against you. Go home.’

That elicited a few cheers and elevated two-hand-waving, the motion of approval used at general assemblies.

When news media need one line to explain Occupy Wall Street–indeed the whole Occupy movement–it is that the protest is “against corporate greed.” The range of grievances is overwhelmingly diverse and the movement is without a list of demands, but there is no single point more fundamental than that. Wolff’s perspective represents one approach to fixing the corporate system that all protesters agree is broken. It is distinctly Marxist, shaped by the American socialist movement  he described, and it is an opinion shared by many protesters; but it is by no means the only opinion. It is probably not even a majority, if any opinion can claim that much consensus at Zuccotti. The other People’s U speakers will bring other approaches to the table, the same way the people who speak at general assemblies constantly add to the multitude.

As Wolff ended his lecture, a group left to join a march at Union Square against police brutality.

“All of us take our hats off–and if there weren’t laws, other articles of clothing off–to show our appreciation,” Wolff said, “Because the alternative, to leave things as they are, is no longer tolerable."

Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important Stories (10/21)

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 focuses on money in politics.

Financial Giants Put New York City Cops On Their Payroll,” Pam Martens. CounterPunch, October 10, 2011.

The New York City Police Department has made nearly 800 arrests since the Occupy Wall Street protests began a little over a month ago, and several videos have surfaced showing officers using violent tactics in their apprehension of demonstrators. If you've been down to Zuccotti Park, this chant might sound familiar to you: "Who do you protect? Who do you serve?" Pam Martens has taken up these questions in a stellar article on the NYPD's Paid Detail Unit, which allows private entities—including the New York Stock Exchange, the World Financial Center and Goldman Sachs—to rent a city cop for an hourly rate.

— Cal Colgan:

Cal follows the drug war and human rights in Latin America.

US Government Accused of Seeking to Conceal Deal Cut With Sinaloa ‘Cartel,’” by Bill Conroy. The Narcosphere, Oct. 1, 2011.

Zambada Niebla, the son of one of the leaders of the notorious Sinoloa cartel who is awaiting trial in federal court in Chicago after being extradited last year, has recently argued that he and other members of the cartel's leadership were working with the U.S. government by providing intelligence on rival drug trafficking organizations. Niebla alleges that U.S. government officials granted him immunity from criminal charges -- like that which he now faces -- in exchange for the information. Although prosecutors issued a rebuttal days after the publication of this article, they did admit that they are seeking special court procedures under the Classified Information Procedures Act to ensure that certain information isn't made public during the court proceedings. Still, the history of Colombian informant Baruch Vega's relationship with the CIA and FBI in dealing with Colombian cartels  and the fallout from the ATF's "Fast and Furious" operation could lend credence to Niebla's claims.

— Teresa Cotsirilos:

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

Haiti Doesn't Need Your Old T-Shirt,” by Charles Kenny. Foreign Policy, November 2011.

Foreign Policy is very good at approaching development issues from minority—and often contentious—perspectives. This week, Charles Kenny discusses the issues and set backs surrounding US aid abroad, arguing that much of the aid we send is ineffective at best, and can often be detrimental to communities. The article also happens to be pretty funny. Did you know that we dropped 2.4 million Pop-Tarts on Afghanistan in January 2002? Neither did I.

— Paolo Cravero:

Paolo follows war, peace, and security.

Why Regional Solutions Won’t Help Afghanistan,” by George Gavrilis. Foreign Affairs, October 18, 2011.

In the past decade regionalism has gain a position of prominence in the IR discourse. Advocates for these types of solutions base their claims on the idea that cooperation between states will maximize benefits to the parties. However, more often than not, states that wink at regional solution also make sure, on the side, to gain just a little more than anyone else in the deal. This interesting and analytical article shows how despite repeated attempt to push for regional solutions for Afghanistan, these will ultimately not work. A good read if you want to keep up with a seemingly endless war.

— Erika Eichelberger:

Erika follows the environmental beat.

Transparency Watch: A Closed Door,” by Curtis Brainard. Columbia Journalism Review, September/October 2011.

Obama promised the most transparent government in history, but a survey of environmental, science and health journalists conducted by The Columbia Journalism Review and ProPublica, found that this administration is silencing science much as the previous administration did. In 2006, the Bush administration tried to keep NASA scientist James Hansen from speaking out about climate change, but, according to the CJR investigative report Transparency Watch: A Closed Door, many of the journalists surveyed complain that similar gag orders are still a problem.  While the Obama administration has made marginal progress toward increased transparency, invocations of "privacy," FOIA delays, interventions by the OMB, and restrictive interview permissions are still big problems. Veteran science reporters contend that this is a long-term trend, that transparency has been on the decline since the 70s."Reporters on the science beat may have to accept that the days of easy access are gone," the report concludes.

— Josh Eidelson:

Josh covers the labor beat.

Greece unrest: Athens clashes amid general strike.” BBC News, Oct. 19, 2011.

Greek private and public sector workers launched a 48-hour strike in opposition to the austerity agenda, including a Thursday parliamentary vote on layoffs of public workers and deeper cuts to their wages and benefits.  Greeks rallied throughout the country, including a 70,000-person demonstration in Athens.  This is the latest in a series of anti-austerity general strikes in Europe this year; Portugal's largest unions have called for a one-day general strike November 24.  Strikes over government legislation, or by union members whose contracts haven't expired, are extremely rare in the United States.

— Eli Epstein-Deutsch:

Eli looks at the intersection of politics, ideas and economics from a macro perspective.

Simon Patten on Public Infrastructure and Economic Rent Capture,” by Michael Hudson. The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, October 2011.

This essay by the insightful, unorthodox economist Michael Hudson draws on the work of Progressive Era's Simon Patton to paint a non-obvious yet cogent connect-the-dots between various pernicious phenomena of contemporary global capitalism--high rents, decimation of the real-estate tax base, wage repression and cost-inefficient privatization of utilities.  He argues for the interrelated goals of rent-minimization, renewed public investment, and implicitly, an end to the financier-driven debt-stranglehold on national land-wealth, in the form of distressed mortgages. Along with David Harvey's "Right to the City," this should make for good reading at the Occupy working group for the development of demands.

— Collier Meyerson:

Collier’s beat is discrimination.

‘Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street’: Really, Bro?” by Jill Filipovic. AlterNet, Oct. 15, 2011.

Founded on broad-mindedness, The Occupy Wall Street movement makes itself susceptible to being claimed by adherents who reinforce present social inequities. Recently, two young men who admittedly were responding to the images they saw of women at Occupy Wall Street being circulated around the Internet—set out to make a film featuring "The Hot Chicks Of Wall Street." The result is an abhorrent objectification of some women protestors. Sarah Jaffe's piece is smartly crafted scornful addition to the lot.

— Allie Tempus:

Allie follows human rights.

Women ride in back on sex-segregated Brooklyn bus line,” by Sasha Chavkin. The New York World, Oct. 18, 2011.

Closer to home, affronts to human rights can operate in subtle shades of gray. This story explains how a bus running between two neighborhoods in Brooklyn requires women to sit in back. The rule is followed by the mostly Hasidic residents that ride this unique, privately-owned bus in compliance with religious tradition. Problems arise because the bus is open to all members of the public. This instance may be limited in impact, but it hints at a larger issue in first-world countries. When a society is free from the outright torture and genocide of citizens, human rights can still hang in the balance between religious rights, rights to free speech and basic measures of equality.

 — Jin Zhao (web):

Jin follows the US’s image in international media.

Why Occupy Singapore Failed,” by Mong Palatino. Global Voices, Oct. 19, 2011.

Occupy Singapore, launched at the Raffles Place last weekend, had a small turnout despite economic problems, such as high income inequality and a high unemployment rate, that plague the country. The reasons for this "failure" could be, as seen by the public, ineffective organization and mobilization, citizens' fear of police action, the "repressive political climate" in Singapore, or simply a culture that is more interested in food than protests.

Why I Occupy

I've heard a lot of people question the ambiguity of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I've also seen people blindly throw their faith behind the occupations as though the physical acquisition of these public spaces was somehow going to translate to change. I'd like to take another position, a compromise of sorts.

Occupation is necessary tactic. The protestors marching all throughout the country are doing this nation a service by illuminating the parasitic infection of corporate influence on our government. However, occupation is not a means by itself. It can't be. There are no universally backed solutions; there is little dialogue between protestors and the people that can affect the change they demand.

The real benefit of the Occupy movement is the freedom of discourse that has now entered the American conversation. Occupy Wall Street was the culmination of many years of frustration, but it's not the first time these problems have been identified. No, the Occupy movement is the realization that others see the problems too.

For the first time ever, the anarchist is talking to the anti-Fed guy; the soccer mom with three kids is talking to the college student inspired by Malcolm X. There is a revolution of conversation occurring, and the people who always felt there was something wrong with the system are now coming together and talking about it.

And that is huge.

People are meeting other like-minded individuals. They are making connections, planning marches and organizing rallies. There are teach-ins and fundraisers. This occupation is a training ground for the ideological and political battle that will soon take place.

Next year is a big one for elections. The elected officials who have continually proven to be unworthy of this nation's trust will be in the hot seat. The Occupy movement must rally together and get organized. Those who wish to see a change in the way this country works have found each other. They've practiced organizing events for the past few weeks; it will be time to utilize those connections, harness those ideas, and force these political puppets to take a platform that the people want.

The problems that the occupations have identified: corporate greed, corruption in government, inadequate tax policies, rising costs of education -- these are not things that can be simply fixed by demanding a change overnight. These are systemic problems that require a lot of hard work and innovative ideas to fix. And the occupation is the perfect place to find those people motivated enough to fix it. As the weather gets colder, and physical occupation loses its luster, the minds of these protestors must still be occupied. They must group together in the most efficient way, tackling problems that they specialize in. They must offer concrete solutions, and refuse to vote in politicians who don't take their platform. If necessary, they may take to the streets to emphasize their point.

The occupations have given us a chance to actually participate in our country. Let us use this chance wisely.

Why You Need to Be Part of the Occupy Colleges Movement Now

This article was originally published by Ithaca College's Buzzsaw Magazine and is reprinted here with permission.

I remember in the Spring of 2010 when a few other students and I met in an empty classroom to talk about the low wages Ithaca College’s dining service workers were receiving. About six people showed up regularly to our meetings back then. By the time we became the Labor Initiative in Promoting Solidarity and had a protest in Spring 2011 on campus, nearly 50 students joined in the march on-campus to downtown, where we were greeted by nearly 100 community supporters. It was remarkable — LIPS was truly grateful to have such support. Yet, when I saw my peers rally at Free Speech Rock in the culminating protest — students I had never seen before — I couldn’t help but wonder, “Where were you when we needed you?” Where were all the students when we needed them to speak to workers, do research and organize initiatives around the most glaring injustice on campus? Why did they only show up for the action-packed rally at the end?

Movements grow, naturally. Of course, there will always be fewer people at the start of a movement, as members try to raise awareness and recruit others. However, I did not understand why, when students became aware of the living wage campaign — which many were — they did not immediately jump on board. LIPS did countless hours of legwork, and then students joined in the glory near the end.

Today, as I reflect on the Occupy Ithaca College rally, I see similarities. Students are aware of the Occupy Wall St. protests; many were also aware of the rally yesterday. This Occupy movement, which calls for stepping up, taking back your community and utilizing the power of the people, is a crucial development. For me, it is the only thing worth thinking about, discussing and being a part of. I know college students are busy, but every club they are in, every job they have to work, every time they stress out over homework or simply get angry about how busy they are — it all comes back to Occupying Ithaca College, Occupying Ithaca and Occupying Wall Street. All of the eggs are in this basket.

If you are aware of the movement and support the movement, you must be with the movement now. You must help with the legwork. Do not just come take part in a lively action and then fail to come to the Ithaca College General Assembly on campus this Tuesday. Do not scream about injustices for an hour one afternoon and then disregard attending the Occupy Ithaca General Assembly meetings with the community downtown. Do not sit in class rolling your eyes at students who will “accomplish nothing” by walking out and then come out to the big rally at the end when these students prove to you they can accomplish something.

This is the case for several students I spoke to who refused to walk out — they did not believe the movement would bring about any change. Perhaps it won’t. There has been a strong tendency in this world for a lack of true change, and therefore, it “makes sense” for nothing to come of this. Just like LIPS’s fight for a living wage — it didn’t “make sense” for Sodexo, a multinational corporation, to lower their profits in order to pay their workers a better wage at Ithaca College. (After all, that’s what business is about.) But, perhaps, if we take a leap of faith, change may be possible. Although a fight for a living wage is far less difficult and complex than a fight for a new societal system, the only way we may see change, perhaps, is by believing in a miracle. Plus, the only way the Occupy movement can start making those clear, concrete demands people are criticizing it for lacking, is to get every one together to talk about what makes them angry in their daily lives and ways we can change that. Be a part of that discussion.

Yesterday, some students walked out of class risking an absence, risking missing work, and risking the critical judgment of professors or fellow students, all in order to stand in solidarity with their peers. Down by Wall Street, protestors are risking getting pepper-sprayed, arrested and beaten to help those who have been affected by Wall Street (nearly everyone in this country). In Egypt, people risked death (and 846 people actually died) to get rid of a dictator and have a more democratic society. You have to join the others that are risking for you now.

Inaction is a form of action. You are either there with this movement or you are not there with this movement. The time is now to let yourself hope. We may well lose the battle, but if we win, you do not want to have to ask yourself, “Where was I when they needed me?”

Students Briefly Occupy Chile's Senate Building

This post was originally published by HuffPostCollege.

Dozens of youths disrupted a Senate committee hearing Thursday, then occupied the Senate office building for eight hours to demand a referendum on how to resolve Chile's social problems, especially education.

The activists left Thursday night after getting a promise from opposition legislators that they will introduce a bill requiring a binding referendum, although political leaders on both right and left have said Congress itself must decide the dispute.

The occupation of the Senate headquarters in Santiago came just hours after riot police evicted protesters from galleries at the Congress building in Chile's port city of Valparaiso.

University and secondary school students have been boycotting classes and mounting demonstrations for nearly six months pushing their demand that the government make extensive changes in Chile's education system, including making public schools free for everyone.

The action at the Senate building began when students and other protesters flooded into a hearing room where the Senate's education budget subcommittee was meeting.

Three youths climbed atop the committee table and unfurled a sign reading "Plebiscite now" as Education Minister Felipe Bulnes and others at the hearing hurriedly left. Activists shouted at Bulnes, who stumbled during scuffling on the way out. A young man broke a window and threw  coins at the Cabinet minister.

The protesters then occupied the Senate headquarters and transmitted the situation live over the Internet by webcam. They urged other students to converge on the building, which housed Chile's congress before the 1973-90 military dictatorship.

Police sealed off the building with metal barriers to keep more people from entering and faced off with a crowd of about 600 protesters holding signs demanding "Free Education" and "Referendum Now." A few dozen activists tried to force their way in but were driven back by water cannons.

Senate President Guido Girardi, a member of the opposition, promised the protesters holding the Senate building that they would not be dislodged by force as were those at the Congress.

Girardi's promise drew criticism from pro-government legislators, including Sen. Alberto Espina, who accused Girardi of "a serious dereliction of duty" in failing to ensure the security of the hearing.

The protesters finally agreed to leave the building after talking with opposition senators and representatives who agreed to introduce legislation for holding a referendum.

The youths were put in police vehicles outside to have their identities checked. Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter said they could face charges of threatening a minister of state and interfering with legislative work.

Students have been pressing for a national vote because they don't trust Chile's establishment, and the protests have won sympathy for the students from about 80 percent of the population, according to opinion polls. At the same time, President Sebastian Pinera's support has dropped to between 20 percent and 30 percent.

However, Chile's constitution allows referendums in only very limited circumstances, such as when Congress and the president cannot resolve their differences.

Students are demanding the government provide free public education for all Chilean students, not just the poorest, and improve the quality of schooling. They also want state subsidies for private colleges reduced.

Pinera's government has said it cannot afford to make education free for everyone, and student leaders have broken off negotiations with the administration.

The president has sent his own proposals for education changes to Congress, and appointed a commission of experts to provide him with further ideas in January.

NYU Students Join Occupy Wall Street Protest

This article was originally published in NYU's Washington Square News.

As the Occupy Wall Street protests swelled in the East Village this weekend, so did the student population joining the now international movement.

This weekend, students joined an eclectic mix of young and old protestors when a 3,000-strong rally congregated in Washington Square Park along with 500 others in Tompkins Square Park. The group marched and merged with an estimated 30,000 people in Times Square. Police forces and demonstrators clashed in various locations across the city, and at one point protesters knocked down a police horse in Times Square. According to East Village activist John Penley, protesters in Tompkins Square Park super-glued the locks on the park gates and climbed limousines.

"That's the first time I've seen that kind of action on Avenue A in 15 years," Penley said. New York Police Department Commissioner Paul Browne said 92 demonstrators were arrested by early Sunday morning. Fourteen of those arrested were in violation of the Washington Square Park curfew.

As police lined the streets of Washington Square East and South, chanting slogans like, "We are unstoppable, another world is possible." A protestor wearing an NYU shirt waved a sign that read, "We're young, but that means we have the most to lose." According to Columbia University sociology and journalism professor Todd Gitlin, though the movement has seen disillusioned citizens of all ages come together, the main force behind the movement has been the critical mass of "free-floating energy" from the younger generation.

"There is a fear that the possibility of an ordinary life is slipping off the edge," Gitlin said, citing increasing student debts and unemployment as being the fuel behind the college students' frustrations.

In an effort to capture the burgeoning student momentum, occupywallst.org recently began posting a schedule of weekly all-student assemblies in the city. Daniel DiMaggio, a first-year graduate student in CAS, said he was enthused about the strong student involvement in the movement since early October.

"I think that students have an important role to play in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, bringing their energy and enthusiasm with them to these protests," he said. "I hope this generation of students can find a sense of moral outrage as sharp as that which drove student activists during the Civil Rights and Vietnam anti-war movements of the '60s."

Zoltan Gluck, a Ph.D. student studying anthropology at CUNY Graduate Center, said he hopes to grow student participation in OWS. "The main idea here is the student assembly," he said. "We are trying to encourage people to engage and organize in their own campuses." Samuel Boujnah, a Tisch junior, attended both the Washington Square Park and Times Square rallies.

"Just by going to NYU, you're supposed to be better off," he said. "But to me we're not better off than the average American, we can still relate."

Gitlin said a transformation of the political system will rest on the shoulders of the collective body. "The question of major change is whether the movement can endure," Gitlin said. "If not, it will have produced some memorable experiences and will dissolve into the mists of time."

Nation Interns Choose the Week's Most Important Stories (10/14)

Our media coverage is often dominated by one big story that crowds out most everything else. As an antidote, every week, Nationinterns 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 focuses on money in politics.

Karl Rove vs. the Koch brothers,” by Kenneth Vogel. Politico, Oct. 10, 2011.

A competition is brewing between Republican insider Karl Rove and the libertarian Koch brothers, with each camp planning to direct more than $200 million to conservative groups in the months leading up to the 2012 election. Could their growing rivalry—already evidenced by what Vogel refers to as a "seemingly competing infrastructure"—ultimately threaten Republican electoral success this November? It's still too early to tell, but I'll be keeping my fingers crossed.

— Cal Colgan:

Cal follows the drug war and human rights in Latin America.

Paramilitaries may have entered Mexico's drug wars,” by Tim Johnson. McClatchy, Oct. 7, 2011.

The recent discoveries of dozens of bodies being found in houses and freeway underpasses in the Mexican port city of Veracruz over the past few weeks indicate the presence of a paramilitary death squad in the region. Authorities claim the death squad was created to conduct revenge killings against members of the notorious Los Zetas cartel. With their apparent military training, the death squad's actions underscore the reality that President Felipe Calderon doesn't have as much control over the military as he claims.

— Teresa Cotsirilos:

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

The digital revolution in sub-Saharan Africa,” Laila Ali. Al Jazeera, Oct. 12, 2011.

Here's a statistic that should challenge long-held perspectives on the process of third world development. By 2015, it is estimated that sub-Saharan Africa will have more people with cell phone access than electricity access at home—and that people with home access to the internet, but no home access to electricity, will reach 138 million. Seizing on these unexpected trends, schools and universities throughout sub-Saharan Africa are exploring the use of mobile technology to assist in teaching. Pilot programs in Tanzania and South Africa have used video technology, downloadable by phone, to make lessons more engaging and interactive—and to reach rural students who live too far away from school to attend. As with the Aakash tablet in India, these development programs have their critics, but nonetheless promise to approach entrenched problems in creative new ways.

— Paolo Cravero:

Paolo follows war, peace, and security.

Liberia: A time to change perceptions?” by Azad Essa. Al Jazeera, Oct. 11, 2011.

Until 2003 Liberia has been the quintessence of Africa's war: child soldiers, ‘blood-diamonds,’ blood thirsty warlords and greedy traffickers were the players in this modern African tragedy. Since then things have slowly changed, and Essa's account looks at how politics has been normalized and a democratic process is developing. Clearly Liberia is not perfect, but it is good enough to ask ourselves whether it is 'a time to change perceptions.' Who would have dared asking this question 10 years ago? 

— Erika Eichelberger:

Erika follows the environmental beat.

Oil sands imports could be banned under EU directive,” by Fiona Harvey. The Guardian, Oct. 4, 2011.

As the scandals behind the Keystone pipeline deal mount up, and as environmentalists rally their forces before the administration's final decision on the fate of the project at the end of this year, the EU is proposing an effective ban on the import of dirty tar sands all together. A story by Fiona Harvey in The Guardian points out that despite intense pressure by the oil lobby and Canada itself, the EU Climate Change Commission is moving in the right direction. The fuel quality standard proposal faces a tough fight before final approval, but comes at a crucial time, with global attention focused on the US as it considers a move that NASA climate scientist James Hansen said would spell "game over for the climate."

— Josh Eidelson:

Josh covers the labor beat.

Obama Averts Railroad Workers’ Strike, Extending Concessions Conflict,” Mike Elk. In These Times, Oct. 11, 2011.

After Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen voted to authorize a 25,000 person strike, President Obama last week exercised his authority under the Railway Labor Act to block the work stoppage.  Obama has appointed a Presidential Emergency Board with thirty days to recommend a resolution to the negotiations over contracts for the BLET and other railroad unions.  The Railway Labor Act allows the President to outright refuse many railway and airline workers who seek to strike. Most private sector workers are covered by the National Labor Relations Act, which (as amended by Taft-Hartley) places great restrictions on the right to strike as well.

— Eli Epstein-Deutsch:

Eli looks at the intersection of politics, ideas and economics from a macro perspective.

Finance as a Class?” by Thomas Michl. The New Left Review, July-August 2011.

This book review engagingly delves into a phenomenon that I've seen covered in glimpses here and there in the mainstream press (for instance, the Atlantic): the growing ability, over the last several decades of global financial elites to act together as a class, in pursuit of shared interests. The political consequences have been weighty, and it's a story worth understanding in its various ramifications.

— Collier Meyerson:

Collier’s beat is discrimination.

Decolonization and Occupy Wall Street,” by Robert Desjarlait. Racialicious, Oct. 11, 2011.

The burgeoning “Occupy Wall Street” movement with its 150-plus active protests touts the populist motto, “We Are The 99%,” however the majority of images circulating around the Internet disproportionately reveal sullied white, college-aged youth. According to the 2010 census, minority populations make up almost 40% of this country. In the article I chose for this week, American-Indian writer and activist Robert Desjarlait argues that there is a disconnect between the predominantly white movement of “Occupy Wall Street” and the people they claim to represent. The only way to make equitable change, Desjarlait declares, is to encourage protestors to desert their efforts on Wall Street and shift focus to decolonization.

— Allie Tempus:

Allie follows human rights.

‘Honor killing' targets Turkey's LGBTs,” by Jodi Hilton. GlobalPost, Oct. 12, 2011.

With the European Commission's recent official recommendation that Turkey begin negotiations to join the EU, issues of tolerance still stand in the way. Though Turkey has aggressively promoted a climate of LGBT acceptance of late, the country still has much to prove. This article is a thorough round-up of the story of Ahmet Yildiz, the victim of Turkey's first known LGBT "honor killing," and similar cases since then, which dramatically undercut Turkey's more superficial attempts to champion human rights.

— Jin Zhao:

Jin follows the US’s image in international media.

Steve Jobs Dies; Chinese Reactions,” by Samuel Wade. China Digital Times, Oct. 6, 2011.

China Digital Times aggregated Chinese Apple fans' responses to Apple founder Steve Jobs's death from various sources including Sina Weibo (the Chinese equivalent to Twitter), China Real Time Report, AP, Bloomberg, Al Jazeera, The Wall Street Journal, and South China Morning Post. These awe-struck mournful responses, both vocal—"your products changed the world and your thinking influenced a generation"—and physical—setting up shrines outside Apple stores, when read side by side with the stories reported by Mail Online earlier this year about multiple Apple workers' suicides in China and the environmental and health issues associated to Apple products' manufacture, show especially disturbing signs of the effects of globalizing consumerism and the disparity and disconnection between classes in China created on its way to one of the world's biggest economies.

Occupy College Defies Stereotype of Quiet, Inert Generation Y

This article was originally published in the Daily Orange.

It's a scary and exciting time to be a college student in the United States — often for the same reasons. We're living in a time of societal uprisings and social change that, in many ways, parallels the electric culture of the 1960s revolutions — equal rights legislation, wartime and questioning the role of our government. At the heart of all these forms of civil unrest is one major similarity: relevant protesting.

Most recently is the Occupy Wall Street movement, a protest that originated in New York City and has now spread to more than 900 cities nationwide in an effort to challenge the economic status quo and the degree of influence Wall Street has over our government. The main goal is to relay the message that 99 percent of America is being controlled by the elite 1 percent of Americans.

Occupy College, born out of the Occupy Wall Street movement, is similar in its fundamental purpose but differs in the sense that the majority of participants are college students located on their respective campuses. Students on more than 100 campuses nationwide walked out of their classrooms at noon last week in protest of rising student loan debt, increasing college costs and a feeble job market.

Our generation has for once silenced the critics who incessantly cast us off as unapologetically apathetic. Thomas Friedman labeled us "Generation Q for quiet" in a 2007 New York Times column and "Generation Limbo" in an August 2011 feature. Participating students in the Occupy College protests achieved something that our generation lacked until this point: a visible presence within a significant social movement.

Now that college students have caught the mainstream media's attention, what do we do with it?

Students shouldn't think of Occupy College as a single day's worth of protesting — this nascent activism needs to be further explored. The most effective way to accomplish a cohesive social movement around the issues supported by Occupy College is not just to act and mobilize, but also to stay organized and think critically throughout the entire process.

Katrina vanden Huevel, editor of The Nation magazine, provided her own insight on this topic at Syracuse last week, the night before Occupy College took place. "There is a thin line between anger and passion. This is a moment that calls for anger. There's something mobilizing about anger and about passion — and in this era, in this political moment, it's mobilization we need fused with big and risky ideas."

Given the current economic climate, students are rightfully angry, but I question how effective the Occupy College protests were. There weren't any main objectives established, and, in turn, there weren't any successful goals achieved. But as a movement, Occupy College has a hell of a lot of potential. Transforming this into an actual movement is just a matter of outlining goals. It's also critical to recognize the ways in which to go about achieving these goals and targeting the right people in charge.

The general public needs to be well versed in the key issues for which Occupy College is fighting. It's important to go about relaying these messages and achieving said goals in the most effective ways possible.

People are fired up, and mainstream media outlets are finally reporting on the outrage that fills our generation. It's important to take advantage of this moment in history and continue to organize with a more focused direction. Activism is about determining goals and moving people capable of creating those changes. Now that Occupy College has succeeded in acquiring both an online and physical presence, we can't let our anger burn.

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