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StudentNation

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

Students Mark Anniversary of BP Disaster With a Human Oil Spill

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley students stage a human oil spill to protest fracking. (The Daily Californian/Lorenz Angelo Gonzales)

This article originally appeared in the student-run Daily Californian.

A human oil spill spread across Dwinelle Plaza on Monday—a silent demonstration against fracking that is the first in a series of events to kick-start Earth Week 2014.

The day after the four-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, about twenty students, clad entirely in black, circled and sprawled around a miniature wooden oil rig covered with protest signs. Protesters wanted to illustrate the environmental effects of fracking by using human bodies as symbols of the devastation.

“An oil spill is a very visible and recognizable example of the corruption and destruction wrought by the fossil fuel industry,” said Jake Soiffer, a freshman and an actions coordinator at Fossil Free Cal, in an email. “The details—lying on the floor, wearing all black—bring out the serious, pressing nature of the issue.”

Fracking, also known as hydraulic fracturing, involves extracting natural gas and oil by injecting water, sand and chemicals—many of them toxic—into underground shell rock.

The protest, which was planned and sponsored by Students Against Fracking and by Fossil Free Cal, comes a month after a similar demonstration on Sproul to pressure Governor Jerry Brown into banning fracking in California. Like last month’s protest, students Monday aimed to raise awareness of fracking—but, this time, through a symbolic display.

Suspended from the 12-foot-tall small-scale oil rig was a list of chemicals involved in fracking operations that are injected into bedrock to break it up. At the foot of the rig were students, quietly reclining on the ground.

The protest then kicked into another gear as a student protester wielded a megaphone, chanting “leave the oil in the soil” and “hey hey, ho ho, Keystone XL has to go.”

The protest is the first of many events in UC Berkeley’s annual Earth Week festival, sponsored and organized by the ASUC Sustainability Team. The week—which lasts through Sunday—is designed to spread awareness on environmental issues and is filled with events that promote discussions on ecological issues and teach what it means to lead a sustainable lifestyle.

Founded at the beginning of this semester, Students Against Fracking focuses primarily on leading an educational campaign around campus. The organization will continue to work in solidarity with Fossil Free Cal, a campus group campaigning for the UC Board of Regents to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

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Kristy Drutman, a freshman and co-coordinator for Students Against Fracking, said the organization will begin to take a bigger step forward in their environmental campaign on campus by starting a petition. The petition would pressure Brown to approve a potential bill come November that would pause fracking in California to allow for further scientific research on the cost-effectiveness of fracking.

In addition, Fossil Free Cal is now looking to broaden student support, connect with local environmental groups and pass a resolution through the ASUC.

 

Read Next: Catch up on last week's most intriguing reads.

The Week of Student Sit-Ins

CIYJA

A sit-in at the DC office of Xavier Becerra. (Photo: CIYJA)

Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing—from established student unions, to emerging national networks, to ad hoc campaigns that don’t yet have a name. For recent dispatches, check out January 27, February 10, February 26, March 7, March 21 and April 8. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch.

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

1. As Congress Sits, LA Youth Storm the Capitol

This month, affiliates of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, including the Orange County Dream Team and the National Queer Trans Latino@ Alliance, rallied in DC as members sat down, and were arrested, at the congressional offices of Loretta Sanchez and Xavier Becerra. We entered with letters outlining demands that both leaders, as member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, make use of their political power to ask president Obama to stop all deportations by expanding deferred action for all. As a member of the NQTLA, I also advocated for members of the LGBTQ community who are in the process of deportation—for some, a death sentence in their countries of origin. Locally, we will continue organizing through #not1more and #migrantlivesmatter, while demanding Sanchez’s public support.

—Luis Ramirez

2. As Obama Talks Civil Rights, Students Rail on Hypocrisy

On April 10, as President Obama gave the keynote speech at the University of Texas–Austin’s annual Civil Rights Summit, the University Leadership Initiative, a United We Dream affiliate, organized more than 100 students and community members to gather in solidarity with the immigrant community. The group called out Obama, whose administration has overseen record deportations, for his hypocrisy in speaking on civil rights. Three leaders separated from the rally and moved toward the LBJ Library with the intention of delivering this message to the president. As guards told us that we were not allowed to continue, we peacefully sat at their feet, the crowd began sharing stories about family separation and we were arrested. Along with another ULI representative, the three of us had spent the previous night chained to the Martin Luther King Jr. statue on campus to stand with King’s dream.

—Emily Freeman, Alejandra Gomez and Patrick Fierro

3. EMU v. the Emergency State

In the summer of 2011, Eastern Michigan University president Sue Martin, at the behest of the university’s unelected regents, secretly signed into existence the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan, the receiver and privatizing agent of Detroit’s “lowest-performing” public schools. The EAA has fired school employees en masse, subjected them to at-will contracts and stripped working-class communities of color of their democratic powers. On April 14, as part of a now five-month escalation plan, the Coalition of People Against the EAA, composed of students, faculty and residents, launched a sit-in in at the president’s office, demanding that Martin remove her signature from the agreement. Thus far, the sit-in has been the site of a noise jam, teach-ins and a concert by DC punk artist Spoonboy. Our organizing will not cease until the inter-local agreement that created the EAA is dissolved.

—Coalition of People Against the EAA and Students For an Ethical and Participatory Education

4. USC v. the Retail Empire

For eight months, students from the University of Southern California have been calling on the university to terminate its contract with JanSport, whose parent company, VF Corporation, is responsible for the deaths of twenty-nine Bangladeshi garment workers and displays a continuous disregard for worker safety. Sixteen other universities have already cut ties with VF Corporation but USC’s administration has firmly refused to change course. On April 15, eighteen students occupied President Max Nikias’s office in protest of this decision, while a group of 100 students rallied outside. Instead of engaging in constructive dialogue with students, administrators called protesters’ parents, threatening expulsion and revocation of scholarships. After four hours, we marched out of the building, vowing to continue our fight.

—Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, USAS Local 13

5. Wash U v. Peabody Coal

Students at Washington University in St. Louis are entering the third week of a sit-in at our admissions office to pressure Chancellor Wrighton to sever ties with Peabody Coal. Peabody CEO Greg Boyce sits on the Wash U board of trustees, and in 2009, Peabody donated $5 million to launch the school’s “Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization.” We believe that the school’s close relationship with Peabody legitimizes its practices—which include contributing to climate change, exploiting workers and relocating indigenous Navajo and Hopi people at Black Mesa, Arizona. The occupation, which began on April 8, comes on the heels of the student-led Fossil Fuel Divestment Convergence at San Francisco State University, which brought together 200 student leaders from over 100 campuses nationwide.

—Leslie Salisbury and Brendan Ziebarth

6. #StandWithMonica

Since a wrongful arrest in May 2013, students at Arizona State University have been rallying to support the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Phoenix in demanding justice for Monica Jones, a student at the ASU School of Social Work and trans rights activist who was profiled by the police during a prostitution diversion program called Project Rose. Run by the School of Social Work in collaboration with the Phoenix Police Department, Project Rose creates a coercive environment by forcing those arrested to choose between a lengthy diversion program or a potential criminal record. ASU students have worked with SWOP Phoenix to gather hundreds of petition signatures demanding that the charges against Jones be dropped and Project Rose end its association with ASU. As Jones’s case moves forward, we will continue supporting the call to action put forth by SWOP Phoenix to stop profiling trans women of color and decriminalize sex work.

—ASU Students With SWOP Phoenix

7. #JusticeForCecily

On April 11, the trial of graduate student Cecily McMillan began in New York City criminal court. McMillan is facing seven years for felony assault of a police officer. Her supporters say that it was she who was sexually assaulted and brutally beaten into a seizure. The Justice for Cecily Team, activists from diverse backgrounds, ideologies and groups, including Occupy Wall Street and student organizers, is running court support—from social media and press outreach to fundraising and community events. The team has curated a website, Celly and ongoing event page for supporters to stay up-to-date as McMillan’s trial goes into its third week. Our overarching aim is to pack the courts with press and supporters to draw attention to this case and the underlying issues of police brutality, sexual assault and civil rights infringement that are common practices in the NYPD.

—Justice for Cecily Team

8. On Day of Silence, GSA Leader Stays Locked Up

Gay-Straight Alliance and immigrant youth activists have united behind GSA Network alum Yordy Cancino and all undocuqueer youth seeking asylum. Yordy, who worked to transform school culture in Los Angeles as GSA president at Animo Jackie Robinson High School, has been held in an ICE detention facility in San Diego since mid-March and faced a judge and potential deportation on GLSEN’s Day of Silence. More than 1,000 GSA leaders and alumni answered the call to action, contacting ICE and signing the #GSAs4Justice petition to free Yordy and all youth in detention. After several excuses from ICE, Yordy is still being detained.

—Mario Vasquez

9. With TRUST Act in Hand, Orange County Youth Blitz ICE

On April 7, Kareli Barrera was arrested by the Los Angeles sheriff’s department. After seeing a judge, she was set to be released, but the department held her to allow ICE to pick her up. While Barrera’s charges are not listed as crimes for which detention is authorized, on April 14, the department transferred her to ICE—a violation of California’s TRUST Act. Since then, Resistencia, Autonomia, Igualdad, lideraZgo, or RAIZ, the Orange County chapter of the Immigrant Youth Coalition, has bombarded ICE with calls and e-mails to demand it halt Barrera’s deportation. While the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit eventually granted Barrera an emergency stay of removal, she is still in detention in Orange County. This fight builds on RAIZ’s Keep Our Families Together campaign to end the police-ICE collaboration in Orange County and efforts resisting the high rates of undocuminor referral to ICE by the Orange County Probation Department.

—RAIZ

10. Napolitano’s Judgment Day

On April 9, 2014, a coalition of University of California–Berkeley law students, alumni and undergraduate students came together to protest Janet Napolitano’s human rights violations, her appointment as UC president and her appearance as a judge in the law school’s esteemed McBaine Moot Court Competition. Law students demanded her removal from the competition, which those responsible for the event rejected, insisting she contributed to “intellectual diversity.” In response, a small group of law students of color organized a rally before the start of the competition, disseminated information and dropped a banner reading, “Berkeley Law Students say NO 2 Napolitano.” Additionally, a group of five law students sat through the competition and disrupted Napolitano’s concluding comments by revealing a banner and chanting, “No to Napolitano!

—Monika Y. Langarica

11. Illinois’s Coming Out

Throughout April, undocumented youth and allies held Coming Out of the Shadows actions across Illinois. At Chicago’s Federal Plaza, the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Waubonsee Community College in Aurora and Bensenville, the message was clear: deportations need to end, and our universities need to create financial and academic resources for undocumented students. Universities were asked to improve opportunities for undocumented students by opening up and recruiting funding for in-house scholarships, training university counselors on best practices, assisting with post-graduation job placement and taking public stances on immigration legislation and discrimination.

—Rigo Padilla

12. I, Too, Am CU

In March 2014, students across the University of Colorado–Boulder, inspired by the spread of the #ITooAmHarvard campaign to other campuses, organized an I, Too, Am CU photoshoot and Tumblr. With Audre Lorde’s quote, “There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives,” as a unifying theme, the campaign accrued more than thirty student statements and videos, as well as widespread staff support via #WeWorkatCU. I, Too, Am CU welcomes participation from anyone at CU who has experienced marginalization and institutional oppression on campus—from testimonies on in-class and peer-to-peer discrimination, to talking back to Steven Hayward, after the conservative scholar made a series of inflammatory comments about CU students. Rather than representing a singular, or racialized, struggle, our campaign will continue to push for solidarity among marginalized groups.

—Tamara Williams Van Horn

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13. Restart OU

On April 17, a coalition of student activists won a majority of seats, and effective control, of the student government at Ohio University. Campaigning as “RESTART,” with the avowed intention of radically overhauling and democratizing student government, we began as an alliance of activists from a variety of student organizations connected to the Ohio University Student Union, which has been organizing around issues ranging from the school’s tuition hikes, to the university’s plan to build a $90 million cogeneration gas plant, to the culture of rape around campus. We draw inspiration from the student movement continentally—including Montreal, where the transformation of student unionism led to a one-year strike. Moving forward, we intend to mobilize the student body around the need for a more affordable tuition model, build student associations in every department and ultimately replace the representative model of student government with a participatory one.

—Ohio University Student Union

14. Who Rules Northeastern?

For the past year, students at Northeastern University have been campaigning alongside adjunct faculty in their fight for a union. On April 16, the Empower Adjuncts Community Coalition, a group of students, workers and community allies organized by the United Students Against Sweatshops visited the deans of five colleges on campus. These visits were in response to e-mails with anti-union rhetoric sent by the deans to adjunct faculty. While students played noisemakers and ate pizza in the offices, the deans were told that pizza was only for those who did not attempt to interfere with the democratic process of unionization—a tongue-in-cheek warning that they will be held accountable for attempting to intimidate adjuncts as their voting period begins. After the delegations, Northeastern agreed to stop sending out anti-union e-mails.

—Empower Adjuncts Community Coalition

15. How to Stop Street Harassment?

On April 5, the media literacy/activist project Fostering Activism & Alternatives Now!, or FAAN Mail, joined International Anti-Street Harassment Week, a global campaign to raise awareness about gender-based street harassment. We recognize that unwanted attention in public spaces is both a global and local problem. In Love Park, we soap-boxed, muraled and performed street theater that enabled people—including children and male allies—to reclaim public space, share their stories about street harassment and address this problem in creative ways.

—FAAN Mail

 

Read Next: Catch up on last week’s most intriguing reads.

What Are ‘Nation’ Interns Reading the Week of 4/18/2014?

Occupy Albany

An Occupy demonstrator in Albany protesting against greed and government collusion (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

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

What’s a Union For?” by Carla Murphy. Colorlines, April 16, 2014.

Carla Murphy argues compellingly that in order for unions to survive, they must organize beyond the workplace, providing outlets for members to confront the injustices that impact their communities—especially mass incarceration and police brutality. This insight is not entirely novel. Service sector unions like SEIU and Unite Here—in which immigrants, people of color and women predominate—have for years been committing union resources and organizing capacity to combating injustices outside the shop. In a review of veteran organizer Jane McAlevey’s new book Raising Expectations (And Raising Hell), Sam Gindin attributes McAlevey’s success during a Stamford, Connecticut unionization drive to her willingness to shift the focus from workplace grievances to housing justice—because that’s what concerned the workers most. Murphy’s piece—which cites the recent example of SEIU 1199’s mobilization against racist policing in New York City in response to the murder of a member’s son by the NYPD—offers an inspiring reminder of something we already know: that people’s connections to each other, the solidarities and shared grievances that form the foundation for powerful mass movements, exceed the confines of jobs and contracts. As one union member told Murphy, “A union is about fighting for democracy in the workplace but a union movement has to be about fighting for democracy in society.”

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

"A Star Player Accused, and a Flawed Rape Investigation," by Walt Bogdanich. The New York Times, April 16, 2014.

In early 2013, Florida State University freshman quarterback Jameis Winston was accused of rape. However, in a city and region obsessed with football, it took almost a year for police to collect key evidence. Gross negligence extended past the police department to university officials, who failed to investigate the accusations until after Winston's Heisman-winning, national championship season, despite the athletic department's early knowledge of the case. All credit to The New York Times for describing in careful detail every single misstep—and every step skipped altogether—by top officials in the community. Bogdanich's report reveals the disgustingly singular focus on football that is central to so many universities, where football teams generate loads of wealth and football coaches are the highest paid employees in the state. So often, football players and coaches are allowed to act with near impunity while their victims are derided and discredited. Something needs to change.

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

The inventor of the American suburban shopping mall was a socialist. Could his creation have been saved?” by Sam Wetherell. Jacobin, April 8, 2014.

This piece is just a short reflection on a trend that has begun to be widely reported—the death of malls—but it's an invitation to consider some interesting questions about public space and what we accept as a substitute for it. Malls, as the author recounts in his history of their original designers and their radical politics, were initially intended to be the opposite of the completely privatized spaces they are now. In the present day, courts have ruled that "First Amendment rights are not applicable within shopping malls," Wetherell says. And yet they have served several generations as one of the few indoor "public" spaces available: spaces where one can (at least in theory) sit down without buying anything. Wetherell contends that the original socialist conceptions of malls can help us imagine "massification without privatization," a way of realizing the positive aspects of a mall without its destructive, coercive ones. Now, as malls are being "killed" by online retail, seems like a good time to try.

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

"The Guardian and Washington Post Don't Deserve Pulitzers Just for Sparking a Debate," by Benjamin Wittes. The New Republic. April 15, 2014.

The New Republic brought up a good, though irreverent, question the other day: Does what eighteen people say about journalism in some Morningside Heights room really matter? Benjamin Wittes's article characterized the recent Pulitzer decisions—blasphemy!—as out-of-touch. His article, "The Guardian and Washington Post Don't Deserve Pulitzers Just for Sparking a Debate," says it all in the title. Background:The Guardian and Washington Post won Pulitzers for "sparking a debate" after publishing Snowden's revelations. Cited by Wittes is a 1999 Pulitzer-winning series analyzing mental health and homelessness in DC, which the journalist necessarily engineered on her hands and knees. In the words of Wittes, the 1999 series "passed a test much higher than the 'sparked a debate' test, a test that the Westboro Baptist Church and the Church of Scientology, I might add, pass with some regularity."

Sure, Wittes's comparison is unfair: We love and are indebted to Snowden for his courage. And we are indebted to the courage of the reporters in whose hands Snowden dropped the story of a decade. But, honestly and with respect, "sparking a debate" is a low standard for such a coveted award—especially when the Post got big things wrong in the stories the board honors. It reported that NSA has access to the servers of Internet companies—a fact it then changed in the story without running a correction.

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

The Radical Potential of the Food Justice Movement,” by Nancy Romer. Radical Teacher (University of Pittsburgh), Winter 2014.

Romer is on the governance board of the Brooklyn Food Coalition—a recipient of the 2014 Frederick Douglass Award. This essay highlights where workers throughout the food chain (farmers, burger flippers, waitresses, etc.) have been politicized and challenges foodie trends that feature “recipes without politics.” The piece is laden with nuanced takes on what a food movement entails and nuggets of interesting information.

She highlights a slew of groups, like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, the 100,000+ member Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective in India, Fast Food Forward, the Food Chain Workers Alliance and the Black Food Security Network. Context is provided by histories of USDA discrimination against black and Native farmers and ranchers, Haiti’s burning of Monsanto seed and the overlap of labor and food organizing. She touches on opportunities like the farm worker bills of rights and democratizing local government food budgets, and developments including anti-hunger hotlines and food pantry gardens.

For Romer, food is an entryway into experimenting with systemic challenges like climate change and democratic participation. School food programs politicize low-income parents. For Romer, food is an ends and a means to grow a multi-sector movement “led by the most oppressed and joined by allies.”

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

"TurboTax Maker Linked to ‘Grassroots’ Campaign Against Free, Simple Tax Filing," by Liz Day. ProPublica, April 14, 2014.

This Tax Day Eve story might not offer the most earth-shattering of revelations: a company surreptitiously lobbied against a proposal that would threaten its profits. What's interesting is the mismatch between what Day begins by calling "a remarkably obscure topic" and the effects of the efforts she tracks. The company managed to convince a wide range of groups that proposals for free government assistance with tax filing would hurt the poor—a matter most targets of this lobbying didn't know much about. I wonder if the theme being as notoriously mundane as tax filing contributed to the tendency not question the lobbyists' allegiances, and/or whether the ease with which people could be convinced suggests a default negative view of government plans. It's troubling either way.

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

"Segregation Now," by Nikole Hannah-Jones. ProPublica, April 16, 2014.

Nikole Hannah-Jones's extraordinary piece draws upon the experiences of three generations of one black family in Tuscaloosa, Alabama to illustrate the legal and political forces that have led to the desegregation and resegregation of this city's schools. Brown v. Board of Education, as significant and historic a decision as it was, did not lead to an overnight utopia of integrated schooling. The often painful, decades-long process did lead, however, to a South that eventually lowered the portion of black students attending virtually all-minority schools to just 25 percent. Those figures have begun to climb back up over the past decade and a half as desegregation orders lifted. Tuscaloosa's resegregation occurred through a tangle of economics, politics and backroom deals. There legalized segregation was not replaced merely with de facto segregation but with a political tool normally deployed in electoral politics: gerrymandering.

This piece looks specifically at the South, but its echoes can be felt everywhere, including here in New York state, whose public schools are the most segregated in the country. The tragedy of our country's regression can be summed up by the sentiments of the family's patriarch: "If integration was going to prove so brief, what, he wondered, had all the fighting been for?"

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

Suicide Prevention Sheds Light on Longstanding Taboo: Talking About Attempts,” by Benedict Carey.The New York Times, April 13 2014.

“You’re basically punished for talking about it, wherever you turn," the National Empowerment Center’s Leah Harris says of the pressure for suicide survivors to not speak about their experiences. It seems an obviously unfortunate paradox: Those who may have had or still have mental health issues, who have needed or maybe still need a helping hand, may be able to offer sympathy to others undergoing something similar, as well as provoke empathy for those foreign to the experience. But these people are silenced from speaking about something that 1 million Americans annually attempt to do: commit suicide. It seems a staggering figure at first, but is it really? I have friends and family who have attempted suicide (successfully or not), and don't think I'm an anomaly: an unfortunately high number of people I know deal with depression and sometimes-suicidal thoughts, and/or have friends, partners or family members who do. While some quoted in the article warn that offering a platform for suicide survivors to speak out may simply provoke more suicidal thoughts (if they face rejection in doing so, for example), one survivor, Dese’Rae L. Stage, has started a website, "Live Through This," that hosts photos and stories from a diverse group of survivors. Their stories—of suicide, and of life—are beautiful. I think this is an exciting undertaking for a society so plagued by mental illness, and sadness more generally, and yet so unable to speak honestly and vulnerably about it.

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

Tax Time: Why we pay,” by Jill Lepore.The New Yorker, November 26, 2012.

The New Yorker’s Jill Lepore reminds us that, from time to time, we would do well to desist from visceral criticism and revisit questions of first principal—questions like, Why do we pay taxes?The absurdities of our tax system are well-rehearsed talking points on the left: it’s hardly progressive, risibly cumbersome, perforated with loopholes and a full quarter of it is allocated to military spending. But, as the great jurist Oliver Holmes, Jr. memorably put it, “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

Calling attention to the flaws in our “broken tax system” is necessary, but let us broadcast with the same vigor and frequency another basic fact: that the federal government allocates nearly two-thirds of its budget to essentials like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, veterans’ benefits, the maintenance of railways and bridges, science and medical research, school meals, job training, housing assistance and disaster relief.

The left’s failure to counter the libertarian narrative—that “high” taxes are the problem to begin with—explains why the very government programs that enable civilized society are chronically underfunded. Today Americans pay less in taxes as a share of GDP than we have in decades—much less than almost every other high-income nation—and we still complain. If liberals hope to overcome public cynicism and make a compelling case for the broad-based, progressive income tax so indispensable to general welfare, then we must remind our fellow citizens not just of what’s wrong with our tax system, but what’s right with it, too.

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

"Free Your Mind, Win the World Cup?" by Andrew Helms.The Baffler, April 16, 2014.

In a recent post at The Baffler, Alex Helms shows that there's no escape from the onslaught of corporate gibberish, not even on the US Men's National Soccer Team. Helms looks at the philosophy behind comments made by the team's coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, exhorting his players "to mix things up" and "express [them]selves," and contrasts it with the highly disciplined and tactical ethos of European soccer training. But is the rigidity of old-world training really something we should aspire to? Somewhere between the old canards of military discipline and new-age idealism there must be a third way. (The Baffler's blog is also worth checking out, as they slowly post articles from their archive online—they peg old pieces to current events, so there's always something enlightening to read.)

 

Read Next: Why are black students facing corporal punishment in public schools?

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

Vanishing ice caps

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

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

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

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

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

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

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

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

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

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

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

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

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

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

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

The NCAA Makes Billions and Student Athletes Get None of It

Shabazz Napier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newark

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

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

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

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

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

—Erin Rose Ellison and Rachel Fabian

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

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

—Jelani Walker and Kristin Towkaniuk

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

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

—Dartmouth Action Collective

4. In Wake County, Jumpsuits Pack the School Board

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

—NC HEAT

5. #not1more x 80

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

—Maricela Cano

6. #USMFuture #UMaineFuture

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

—#USMFuture

7. LA Students—and Unionists Nationwide—Converge

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

—Hannah Nguyen

8. Michigan Builds a Student Power Network

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

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

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9. When Will Kentucky Stop Privatizing?

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

—UK United Students Against Sweatshops

10. Could College Athletes Be Recognized?

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

—College Athletes Players Association

 

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

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

Renaissance protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Foreclosed home

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Dustin Christensen focuses on Latin American politics and sports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

—Mara Kardas-Nelson focuses on health.

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

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

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

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—David Kortava focuses on sustainable development.

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

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

—Benjamin Pokross focuses on education and the arts.

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

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

 

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

Federal Bill Calls on Universities to Enact Anti-Harassment Policies

US Capitol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

SJP Northeastern

Northeastern chapter of SJP (Photo courtesy of Northeastern SJP)

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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