Posts tagged politics
Posts tagged politics
Featured in this week’s Harbinger!
This week, unions won remarkable victories in Chicago and Quebec against the right-wing agenda of gutting public education. In Quebec, the right-wing provincial government had imposed a huge increase in university tuition, almost doubling it. This prompted student unions to organize massive months-long strikes which ultimately brought down the province government. In response to this pressure, the new Parti Québécois government immediately repealed the tuition increase.
In Chicago, the Democrat mayor Rahm Emanuel has been attacking public education and the Chicago Teachers Union since taking office, attempting to extract extra unpaid work from teachers, privatize schools, increase class sizes, strip schools of libraries, art and music programs and further expand standardized testing. After fruitless negotiations, 90% of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to strike. Enjoying massive public support, the strike was a success; the teachers forced major concessions from the mayor and his school board.
By Liana Kallman
Though we, the people may like to pretend that it is we the people who make the decisions in our country, the implementation of our laws is in the hands of a select minority: the police. This means that the way a police officer chooses to understand and enforce the law is a key part of how our country is governed. This may sound like an overstatement of the job description of a police officer, but it really is the police force which chooses and defines how our laws are enforced or ignored. For this reason, the police are among the many groups that are to blame for the injustices perpetuated by our justice system, most notably the phenomenon of the mass incarceration of men of color.
This perversion of justice arises directly from the selective implementation of “stop and search” or “stop and frisk” policies. In the fourth amendment to the Constitution, civilians are granted “the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause…” The controversy lies in the interpretation of ‘probable cause’ for a search or seizure. While the Supreme Court did address the interpretation of this ambiguous phrase in the case United States v. Brignoni-Ponce (1975) by ruling that race can be used as a factor in deciding whether to stop and search or frisk an individual, the court left it up to the police to determine just how significant a factor. Judging by the statistics for stops and frisks in New York City last year, race is more than just a factor that goes along with “suspicious activity.” It is the deciding factor. Despite the fact that black and Hispanic people make up less than half of the population in New York City, eighty seven percent of all stops were performed on minorities. In fact, there were more stops performed on young black men in 2011 than actual young black men living in the city. Similar statistics can be found across the country; For example, in Volusia County, Florida only 5% of the drivers are minorities yet eighty percent of all stops and searches are performed on minorities. These statistics show an enormous racial bias in the way stop and searches are executed, leaving no doubt that racism against young men of color is a defining feature of our criminal justice system.
Recently, news has come from Iran that seventy-seven programs offered in thirty-six Iranian public universities have suddenly been closed to female students. The majority of these programs are in mathematics, health and physical sciences and other high tech fields, and women represented seventy percent of university enrollment in these programs (they represent sixty-six percent of all university students nation wide). In its response to the situation, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) points out it has taken American women three hundred and fifty years for enrollment in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields to reach parity with men, largely due to institutional and cultural bias. The AAUW fears that this will have a disastrous impact on Iranian women’s pursuit of STEM research.
Ellen, the SSU member who brought our attention to this article, had an initial response of “Whoa, I’m glad I don’t live in a country that subjugates women like that,” but immediately followed that up with an “Oy, hang on a minute…” Western women are fortunate to enjoy the same legal status as men in western countries, but women must still confront challenges that men don’t need to address in their daily lives. When we think about the plight of women in places like Iran, do we really have anything to complain about?
Famous atheist Christopher Hitchens ridiculed the story of sexual harassment in an elevator during an atheist conference written by Rebecca Watson. In an attempt at satire, Hitchens penned a letter from “Rebecca Watson” to our Middle Eastern sisters: “Stop whining will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and…yawn…don’t tell me again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.”
American women do enjoy certain legal freedoms which our sisters in some Middle East countries do not. We are indeed allowed to drive cars, we can leave the house unaccompanied and we can take part in STEM fields.
However, how many “woman driver” jokes did the average person, man or woman, grow up with? I certainly recall driving 2 accident-free hours to my grandfather’s house the day I got my driver’s license, backing in to his narrow garage stall without hitting anything, and still getting an ear full of “crazy woman driver” jokes from the old man who rented a room from him. “Why couldn’t Helen Keller drive?” Let me just say that if the punchline of that joke does not involve the fact that she was blind and lived in a time before automobiles were commonly available to the general public, the joke teller is looking to get cock-punched, even if he is 75 years old.
By Ellen Nelson
“America’s war on religion.” Religious conservatives, it seems, are using this term increasingly often. What exactly does it mean? Is the government shutting down churches? Are religious people being denied their rights as Americans? Are they prosecuted for praying? The answer to these questions is, of course, no; the “war on religion” that is being talked about so much, especially now that the election is in plain sight, is a much more enigmatic issue. First, we must determine what religion exactly is in this war. Who feels attacked and why? In the case of “America’s war on religion,” conservative Christians feel that their religious liberties are being taken away by legislation that allows homosexual people to serve in the military (and in some states, receive marriage equality), allows women to have contraception available to them in their healthcare plans and does not allow for religious teachings or practices within public schools. Despite what is known about social justice, women’s health, and the separation of church and state in our modern society, these Christians have a point; the old testament of the Bible, the scripture of Christianity, mentions the wrong in homosexuality, and that people should ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and teach the word of God everywhere. But is this all that there is to Christianity? What exactly is at stake in this war?
According to Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, a Christian is someone who is “of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to the religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.” So people who say that they are Christians follow the teachings of Jesus. Just what would those teachings be? Let’s take a brief, objective look at the life and message of the historical Jesus. Whether one believes he was the true Son of God or not, he was indeed a real person, confirmed by scholars, who had some important things to say.
Although there are discrepancies between the four gospels of the life of Jesus, certain teachings ring through to scholars as what was accurately said and done. We know for a fact that, above all else, Jesus wanted people to love their neighbors and enemies, that he had no tolerance for rich people and believed that religion and politics should not be mixed up with one another. In the Gospel of Mark, chapter ten, Jesus makes his feelings toward the wealthy quite clear, when a rich man asks him what he must do to go to heaven: “’You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor…Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’”
A surge of questions likely flows through people’s minds when they are handed a radical zine such as this one. The primary one: why? Why are you handing me this? Why should a student at the University of Michigan become involved? I am sure you have at least some inkling that things in this country are not as they should be. Even from just the occasional news story, it’s easy to see that our society is far from the “American Dream.” However, the wide array of societal problems can often seem alien to us here on campus. Here at Michigan, haven’t we “made it”? Aren’t we, “the leaders and the best” on our way to a bright future?
The short answer to these questions is no. Our futures, not just as students but as people, are threatened- to a degree perhaps unparalleled in the past 40 years. Both within the university and outside of it, young people face issues that challenge our right to a better future. However, while we face these great challenges we retain the right and responsibility to fight back.
To start with, let’s look at a few of the problems that confront us as students at Michigan. For many of us, a basic challenge is the ever-rising cost of tuition. Each year, the cost of being a Wolverine rises hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. In the past twenty years, in-state tuition has more than tripled (adjusted for inflation), moving education beyond the grasp of many and forcing most of us to take on crippling debt. To ensure that the University of Michigan, and college in general, remains affordable, something needs to be done to change this pattern of oppressive costs.
I’m unsure of how to describe the 2012 National Student Power Convergence. As I try to encapsulate the five vivid days I spent in Columbus I find myself writing long, rambling paragraphs. Yet each attempt at prose appears too trite or crude to describe the intense feelings of solidarity and love that I have emerged with. After 5 days of almost non-stop debate, discussion and learning I can only begin to describe some of my thoughts from the conference. I must also admit I am a painter and a revolutionary far more than a writer. With more time and distance I’m sure my thoughts will develop further, but for now I just want to try to lay down some general ideas.
I decided to attend the convergence without any extreme conviction. Several years of student activism had moderated my once lofty expectations of grandiose student projects; and while I agreed with the aim of the convergence, I was skeptical of what the results would be. However as the conference opened I gradually realized something dramatically different was happening. Somewhere around my 10th complex political discussion my earlier skepticism began to collapse. I found myself surround by 200 of the greatest and most passionate youth organizers I have ever met. Furthermore instead of embracing the individualized narrow solutions endorsed by mainstream liberalism, the vast majority of us saw and understood the connections between our different struggles, and targeted capitalism as our common enemy.
Beyond political discussion it was as though many of the rules that normally govern our interactions had fallen away, people engaged with one another without effort: making new friends, volunteering to help cook, clean, and generally assist the conference almost without a second thought. On a large scale I experienced what I had before found only in smaller communities: solidarity.
The conference didn’t seem so much like a group of different ecological, labor, education, civil rights and LGBTQ activists interacting; but rather of one vast group of revolutionaries, some specializing in one aspect of the struggle, others in another, all unified by a common purpose and learning from each other. The effect of this sense of common cause was incredible. While I have long academically connected the many separate struggles against our common oppressors, here for the first time I really had the opportunity to work closely with people from a huge variety of backgrounds.
The diversity of perspectives made the creation of democratic spaces an important feature of the convergence. A huge part of this process was the need for each of us to identify and check our individual privilege; being a white, strait, male this meant that I had to make a significant shift in the way I approached large group conversations. Instead of constantly talking, I started to work on limiting my verbal contributions until others had had their say, allowing new voices to join the conversation. Often the insights I had were voiced by other comrades, who added further perspectives. While at times I found this process personally frustrating, in general it created a more equitable and open space for conversation, ultimately engaging more people in the issues being discussed. I realize that to some people these are not particularly striking revelations, but I think many privileged people, myself included, often don’t consider the dynamics of the spaces they are fostering.
Another election season dawns, and yet again students like myself are urged to “make our voices heard” by selecting our preferred candidate. Many of us will undoubtedly be caught up in the fervor of rhetoric and promises, some perhaps even believing that this time things will be different. As a radical student activist it’s often difficult to view this bi-yearly charade as anything other than a perverse blend of distraction and manipulation. Seeing our fellow students fooled over and over again by the same shallow slogans and short-sighted policies, elections can be an exasperating process. However, we can hardly allow such a huge opportunity to engage with the general population to be routinely wasted. So the question then becomes how do we as radical students relate to elections, utilizing them for the cause of revolution without allowing them to corrupt our ideals?
First off, anyone who has examined the US political system can’t fail to notice its remarkable ability to represent the interests of the ruling class at the expense of the population in general. It is clear that our elections are bought, not won. With the demystification of Obama, an increasing number of students are awakening to this fact. Though they may still vote for Obama over any of the Republican field, many will do so more out of a lack of options than from any deep-seated belief in his abilities. As leftist students our alternative should not be a different face to vote for, or a begrudging support for the fabled “lesser of two evils,” but rather a move for political participation beyond voting.
I can still recall turning 18 and receiving a postcard from the government emblazoned with the slogan “your vote is your voice.” It struck me that the unacknowledged subtext of this was that I don’t have a voice outside of the ballot box. This is the ethos put forward by our society as a whole, that political participation means watching the news, choosing a candidate, and then disengaging until the next election cycle. This process is not democracy, but manufactured consent.
By now, most of the people reading this have heard of the European Crisis, the terrors of Sovereign Debt, and of the measures being taken to keep the European Union whole. However, this has been going on for so long that it may be good for us to overview the crisis, its causes, its effects, and its solutions in a compact form.
The European Union’s origins lie far back in the postwar era. The European Coal and Steel Community, an economic industrial union, was created in 1952. Shortly after, it was joined by the European Atomic Energy Community and the European Economic Union in 1957. These organizations had two purposes: first, to help rebuild Western Europe building upon and superseding the Marshall Plan, and second, to create strong enough economic ties between the nations to prevent another world war. The unstated political goal behind it, though, was to eventually make Western Europe a supranational power bloc, independent of both the Soviet Union and America.
Over time, the three economic unions merged into one collective body. The Maastricht Treaty established the European Union in 1993. The EU is a combination of supranational organizations (some elected by the people, some appointed by member governments) and international agreements between the different heads of state. The Lisbon Treaty, put into effect in 2009, gives more power to the Parliament and diminishes the effect of the Council of Ministers (the arm of the governments of Europe), and makes the European Central Bank (ECB) an EU institution. Moreover, Lisbon gives the European Council (not to be confused with the Council of Ministers) an official role as the policy-setting body that has no actual legislative power, but acts as a way for the different heads of government to be given an official capacity as a collective “head of state.” It has a single monetary policy, free travel, and universal economic laws.
In short, it’s complicated. The modern EU is not a ‘true’ federation, but a confederation, larger in economic power, but still politically similar to the government America had in the immediate post-revolution period. Due to the fact that interstate disputes and economic collapse were threatening to destroy the United States in the 1780s, the Articles of Confederation were abandoned for a stronger union, and now it seems that the EU may follow the same path and become the United States of Europe– or, just as likely, disintegrate.