Friday, April 25, 2008

The power of people: Thanks New Media

I could not share the video, so here is a link
I chose to share this jumbled video that portrays police repelling protestors because it demonstrates the power of people to spread news (and images) of their causes worldwide. The protestors are reacting to the rising cost of fuel in the face of the declining Icelandic krona. High fuel prices coupled with a poor economy equals truck drivers blockading off access to major roads with their trucks. I think this is a pretty effective protest because it makes a big statement without costing too much to those that wish to make it or causing damage. Its effectiveness is reflected in the fact that the Icelandic police have responded with an unprecedented show of force. However, in a country where half of the price of filling up at the pump is composed of government taxes a protest of this magnitude seems justified and necessary. The problem with the government’s response is that the public is not used to police handling protesters in this fashion. The man that recorded the video, Halldor Sigurgson, said, “This is the first time in a long time we have seen in Iceland violence against protestors…we are not used to violence against groups of people at all.”
This is why the video component is so important- it allows for coverage to be spread quickly and effectively worldwide building support for protestors. One no longer has to be on a news crew or working for a news agency to shape the news. I found this video on through their iReporter feature where literally anyone can be a reporter. This is something I feel nonviolent protestors need to be cognizant of and use to their advantage as these Icelandic protestors did.

Iraqi Factions at the Dinner Table - Wash your Hands!

When was the last time that you turned on the news and an aspect of the "war on terror" was not on it, with its graphic footage of army fatigues, blasts, and missing limbs. On the outside , it may seem that this is just the US and Iraq going at it, but one closer look exposes the inner conflict of Iraq - that is, between the Shi'ites and the Sunnis. The Shi'ites, the long-persecuted majority under Hussein, and the Sunnis are fighting a double battle...between themselves as well as the red, white, and blue.
According to Reuters from Helsinki, Finland will be hosting a conference this week for all of the Iraqi factions. This seminar is headed by the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), organized by the Former President Marti Ahtisaari, as well as two other American institutions. It will be modeled after last year's similar seminar in September during which, with 30 participants from mostly the warring Shi'ite and Sunni groups, a set of suggestions and political goals were created for future talks that could halt the violence in the Iraq.
While we have yet to see evident progress from last September's conference, this is exactly what is needed to solve this problem. While I have heard the argument that these groups are far beyond discussion, it is the most effective and plausible direction to go for peace. Not only will discussions such as these create the sense of trust and respect that needs to be fostered before any other goal, but it will present the opportunity for both factions to speak in a safe space and formulate a collective strategy on fixing the poverty and hate in their country. This may, consequently, lead to the end of this mad "war."
Can hate, vengeance, and feuding be so intense that diplomatic talks among citizens are out of the question? The situation in Iraq is similar to Sudan, where, according to scholars, the first thing needed is for the local groups to speak to and TRUST one another. The Shi'ites and Sunnis are, in essence, still sisters and brothers, both living in the same country, believing in the same God, and eating the same Iraqi deliciousness.
Let me present an image - all of the Iraqi people, singing together revolution-style, at the officials who have fashioned this feud. Maybe that's what is needed. Music and singing. A sense of brother/sisterhood. It has, no doubt, been forgotten. As in the 12 Principles, one must formulate organizational strength. The best organization for this situation is that of all the Iraqi people together.

Rock for Barack: Deadheads for Obama

On Monday, February 4th, surviving members of the Grateful Dead, Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, and Friends came together to play a benefit show for Barack Obama's campaign and get out the vote for the Super Tuesday primaries. Obama appeared before the band took stage. (check out the vid)
This is my first time being old enough to vote in a presidential election. I was feeling really excited about it for awhile, but then I felt apathetic. Now I am feeling excited again. I think Barack Obama is one of the few politicians I have ever liked. I just want to like him. Even though Concepcion Picciotto, the president's neighbor, told me that he was just like all the rest, I still want to like him. I even had a dream about Barack Obama in which I went to hear him speak and then afterwards he came over to hang out with me and some friends at my dorm room. I decided I wanted to support him after that. Now that I know that the Dead are for Obama, I support him for sure. Is that a bad reason to support a candidate? Actually, I really support Obama because he seems like the most peaceful candidate in the race. Admittedly, I could make a much better effort to be better informed, though.
Although the Grateful Dead family has given their support to different, liberal social issues over the years, they have never openly supported any politicians except Robert Kennedy. I think it is safe to generally characterize the Dead and Dead community on the whole as politically uninvolved. That is not to say that Dead members or Deadheads are apathetic. In fact, most Deadheads probably care a lot about issues like the environment, nuclear disarmament (the tune Morning Dew is about nuclear holocaust), peace, and legalization/decriminalization of marijuana.
Morning Dew:
The tune "Throwing Stones" is about politics. Check out the lyrics here.

Still, the Dead family has hardly ever publicly voiced any outright political support. Furthermore, Deadheads are quite diverse. Many people stereotype Deadheads and think tie-dye, patchouli, long hair or dreadlocks, potsmoking, acid-eating hippies, but they are wrong. Some Deadheads wear suits, some are rich, some are poor, some are junkies, some are clean and sober like me, some are liberal, some are conservative like Ann Coulter
Some Deadheads are doctors and lawyers. There was even a Deadhead who was a Theodore Roosevelt Scholar.

From what I've read and come to understand about Jerry Garcia, he had the mentality of make up your own mind. Do what you choose as long as you are not stepping on the toes of another. He was about music for the sake of music (or in order to reach some higher place) not anything else ie politics. I wonder what he would think about Deadheads for Obama. Would he agree with Phil, Bobby, and Mickey for publicly supporting Obama?

Is Barack Obama waking the Dead? After all, the living members have not performed together since 2004. This question reminds me of the Stephen Colbert video we watched in class: who will get the vote of the white male? What I want to know is who will get the Deadhead vote?

Because, let's face it, Facebook is our Life... Why can't it be everyone's life?

It's articles like these that should make us to seriously think about the liberties we take for granted in the United States. BBC is reporting that an Israeli soldier has been jailed for 19 days for posting a photo on Facebook. Although the military will not disclose the nature of the photos, they have warned other members of the military to be careful what they post on social networking sites. On the one hand, it is understandable that if a photo was overly offensive or disclosed secret information, that he should be reprimanded in some way. But jailing the soldier? It makes me think that they are trying to use this soldier as an example for other Israelis who have a Facebook or similar pages.

The Israeli Air Force has claimed that pictures posted by soldiers on social websites helped the enemy numerous times in the past year. I'm not saying I do not understand why the Israeli military is extremely upset, but what limits should they put on their soldiers. Photos and other information goes through extensive screening and only certain personel is allowed to post photos at all.

I guess I also want to point out the differences in responsibilities we as students have versus people in (any) military. We just embarrass ourselves when we post foolish pictures, but members of the military can compromise themselves as well as others. Where should the military draw the line? Surely, we do not want American soldiers posting pictures that would compromise their lives or the lives of others. But shouldn't they have the freedom to post what they wish? Is that not the point of free speech as it has evolved with the expansion of the internet and social sites? Is this idea of restriction of posting a question of censorship, safety, civil liberties or a combination of all? Just some food for thought, since I know each one of us spend plenty of time on the time drain that is Facebook.

One last question I would like to pose: How responsible are we to use discretion when posting photos, blogs, and other items on the internet? Or are the parameters constantly changing with the changing face of the internet?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Gold body suits, Hamburgers Made from Poo, and an Announcement to Think About!

So, maybe I'm biased (actually, I'm very biased), but the documentary we partially viewed, The Yesmen, provides a great insight into how blind the corporate world is to the injustices they inflict on other people. After viewing the rest of the movie, I received a better understanding of what the Yesmen do and just how and how far they push the proverbial envelope. The Yesmen are an excellent example of how people can use creative ways to challenge social and institutional injustices.

The portion we viewed in class included the Yesmen attending a conference where they presented the "manager leisure suit" in which managers can be anywhere in the world and can still control their sweatshops. Obviously, the idea comes across as completely ridiculous in the film. I think that this is in large part because the Yesmen tell us to a large extent the hoax they are going to play on the unsuspecting conference attendees. I wonder if we had no idea what was going to happen and we just saw the clip where the Yesmen give their speech, how would we react? Would we find it completely ridiculous, understand the absurdity of the concept they propose, or just mindlessly accept what they are preeching (basically, that we can make sweatshops even more inhumane)? My guess is somewhere in the middle. I personally do not believe I would understand all the implications of the statement they tried to make. However, I do think I would have picked up on the absurdity of the proposal. If you didn't know what the Yesmen's aim was, how do you think you would react?

The other main portion of the film was concerned with preparing for a conference in Australia where they would propose a recycable hamburger. That's right, taking recycling to a new and completely disgusting level. In their proposal the "WTO" explains how a system would extract meat from "human waste products" to make a new hamburger. These new recycled burgers would be sent to a country financial less prosperous than the United States. Okay, completely absurd. And the Yesmen go further to say that this system would continue so that a burger could be eaten up to 10 times.

Unfortunately, the Yesmen's hopes were shot when the conference they were supposed to present was cancelled due to decreased interest. While disappointed in the cancellation of the conference, they found another venue - a college campus - to hold their presentation. They started out by giving McDonald's hamburgers to all in attendence. After launching into their presentation, it was clear that most (if not all) of the members of the audience were apalled by the proposal of recycled hamburgers. The students rose many concerns - from ethical, to health issues, to disgust at this capitalist-fueled idea. People walked out of the auditorium, engaged the Yesmen in heated discussion, and even resorted to foul language to express their outrage. The Yesmen were extremely pleased with how the speach went. They hoped that the students would catch on quickly and dispute the concept. It's hopeful for our generation then, that we can more easily spot the absurdities in organizations like the WTO than some of our elders who seem immune to the wrong-doings of these organizations and corporations.

The film ends with a makeshift conference in Australia, after all. Telling the organizers of the conference that they would already be in Australia, the Yesmen pressured the organizers to create a new conference. However, instead of the burger proposal, the Yesmen decide to represent the WTO in a different light. They apologize to the attendees for the change in the program and then reveal the WTO’s newest plans. These plans include dismantling the WTO so that they can review the way their actions negatively affect many regions of the world. Obviously, this announcement comes as surprise to all of the attendees. After the conference, the announcement was also sent to 25,000 journalists around the world.

In perhaps the most drastic action of the Yesmen that I have heard of, they completely challenge the very essence of the WTO. Even though soon after the announcement, it was clear that the WTO would not be dismantling, the announcements surely stirred much thought about the nature of the WTO. I believe that it was quite the wake-up call to even the most heartless of corporate and international “bigwigs.” Many questions rose for me after watching this segment in the movie. Why does the WTO take some of the drastic actions it does towards underdeveloped countries? How do the members of the WTO come to terms with the ethical questions they face? And most of all, I wish to learn more about the WTO and how it operates in the face of ethical questions.

The fact that such a humorous concept for social action can evoke some very serious questions, shows that it is an effective means for rising social issues. Just another example of how social action comes in almost every form possible!

visit to see the Yesmen's parody site of the WTO

visit the Yesmen's site at

Is Zimbabwe the next Rwanda?

Tensions have been rising in the African nation while opposition to the longtime president Mugabe has become stronger. Last month elections were held between President Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai. While the election commission will not come out with the results, causing and uproar in its own right, BBC is reporting that “a top US envoy” says Tsvangirai was the clear winner of the election. Mugabe does not accept the outcome and believes that no clear winner was produced from the election and a run-off is likely.

Mugabe is receiving an enormous amount of international pressure to step down from office or at the very least sit for negotiations. The US and South Africa are at the forefront of the international pressure on Mugabe. To me the fact that these particular countries support the MDC is no surprise. The US, obviously a strong proponent of spreading democracy, and South Africa, repeatedly involved in attempting to broker peace in other African nations, both have interests in Zimbabwe, either political or moral.

Governments are not the only institutions that are concerned with the rising tensions in Zimbabwe. The Anglican church is also speaking out against violence happening in the country and about the dispute over the election and said according to BBC, "If nothing is done to help the people of Zimbabwe from their predicament, we shall soon be witnessing genocide similar to that experienced in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and other hotspots in Africa and elsewhere.” Their basis for worrying about violence is the reportedly 10 ten deaths, 3,000 displaced people and 500 injured people as a result of the elections. Human rights groups are already involved and say that displaced people are reporting they were tortured for voting the “wrong way.”

Stakes are even higher right now, because there is a ship from a Chinese company has been instructed by the Zimbabwe government to bring ammunition and other deadly weapons into the country. However, pressure from the international community and other countries in Africa may force the ship to turn back. Zimbabwe, a landlocked country, will need to bring the arms through another country on the coast, but many countries, including South Africa, are refusing to let the ship’s cargo pass through their countries.

After looking at the circumstances surrounding the problems in Zimbabwe, I can understand why some Anglican Church leaders may feel as if a major break out of violence would occur. However, I think that the potential “genocide” they are worried about seems a bit over-dramatic (of course in times like these, over-dramatic is usually necessary). I think that the Church leaders are using strong language to draw international attention.

I do not think, though, that genocide will result from the violence that has erupted. I believe this for many reasons. Firstly, the violence is not as wide-spread as it was in countries like Rwanda or Sierra Leon. Also, most importantly, I think that the early involvement of the international community will put any major violence to a halt. It seems that the world does not want another situation like the one in Sudan to erupt in Africa. More and more attention is being centered on the troubles in Africa, not just on Sudan, but Kenya and now Zimbabwe.

So, I do not think, as the Anglican leaders have said, that genocide will erupt – I am hopeful that the international community will put an end to the issues in Zimbabwe before they escalate to catastrophic levels. - An interview with Tsvangirai!

Fair Pay Restoration Act Allows Senators To Be Strategic Advocates for Justice

Since there has been a lot of buzz around campus about the notion of sexism and examining what actually constitutes sexism, I thought this specific issue should be discussed here. In a Women’s Studies class I took last semester I learned about the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company case, a case concerning a female employee of Goodyear who filed claims on the basis of sexual discrimination in the workplace. Lilly Ledbetter, a 19 year employee of Goodyear, filed a claim that she was consistently brushed over for raises, receiving lower rankings and a lower salary than her other employees due to her gender. So, Ledbetter sued Goodyear for gender discrimination claiming that the company was in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In court, Ledbetter was awarded more than $3.5 million, later reduced to $360,000 by a District judge. Goodyear then appealed the court’s decision, citing that Title VII has a 180 day limitation to file claims on the basis of discrimination. Going all the way to the Supreme Court, a 5-4 vote ruled that Ledbetter's claim was time-barred under the Title VII 180 day limitation.

You can find a more in-depth description of the case from the Washington Post Article, “Over Ginsburg's Dissent, Court Limits Bias Suits.”

Justice Ginsburg, along with numerous others, were appalled by the court’s reading of the Title VII filing limitations, claiming the decision of Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company worked to undermine women’s rights. Much dissent over the decision was based on the notion that the statute failed to address the reality of worker discrimination when the discrimination occurs in increments, making it impossible to see pay disparities within a 180-day period of first receiving a pay check. In Ms. Ledbetter’s case, her lack of knowledge regarding what others were paid, made it impossible for her to realize she was being discriminated against within a 180 day period of her first pay check.

But, whether or not you agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s findings, I thought it was interesting to look at the reactions and responses of women’s rights activists in Washington, DC… in this case, Senators. Upset by the decision in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire, Senators such as Edward Kennedy decided to sponsor a bill called the Fair Pay Restoration Act, also known as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The bill, which if passed would reverse the decision of Ledbetter v. Goodyear, was strategically introduced to the Senate a day after Equal Pay Day. The media attention due to the controversy of the court ruling combined with the significance of having a bill extending worker’s rights proposed to be passed on Equal Pay Day was a perfect example of the creative ability to promote your cause through non-violent means. Senator Kennedy also made sure his Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee released a report only a week earlier, which demonstrated the great economic risk that women face in the workforce due to statistics indicating that in the past year, women’s real wages decreased by 3 percent compared to the .5 % decrease for men’s wages.

Although the Senate failed to cut off debate on the bill and bring it to the floor for a vote, the strategic timing also stirred the attention of both democratic presidential candidates, convincing both Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama to take a short recess from their campaigns in order to vote for the bill.

Non-Violent Protest in Gaza

Recently, as has happened many times before, Hamas has shot rockets into Israel. Israel, in response has prohibited export and import to and from Gaza, and also electricity and water have been shut off. In order to enforce these sanctions, land inside of Gaza has been cut up by a large 25 ft. wall. Hamas (although many nations don't like to admit it) is the democratically elected authority in the Palestinian territory, and they lucky for both sides have chosen a more just and non-violent way of combating the cutting up of Gaza.

- Why are Palestinians opposed to the sprouting "security zones"?:

Although it is not well known, there is seemingly an underlying agenda for the IDF to seal off portions of Gaza's land other than national security. A law dating back to the time of Ottoman rule states that if a land is not occupied by its owner for a certain period of time, and somebody squats on that land for a certain period of time, then that land is then owned by the squatters due to neglect by the original owner. Although this law may have had good purpose or intention at the time of its creation, it is clearly unjust in the context it is used. Hypothetically, (but not really) if Israel splits a farm with a 25 ft concrete wall declaring the area a "security zone", this makes the reality concrete, (zingy pun) that the Palestinian farmer will not be able to see or tend to his land. Even if he manages to get around the wall or if there is not a wall but only a temporary barrier, history indicates that he or she is often discouraged by various means from revisiting their old properties. After the certain amount of time deemed by the law has passed, the cut off land is then officially confiscated by Israel due to "neglect" by the owners, and Israeli settlers are then free to buy the newly captured land.  

-Details on the confiscation Law
-Link - Palestinian shepherds resist expansion with non-violence 

Violent Response to Planned Non-Violent Resistance:

Hamas has planed to gather mass numbers of Gaza inhabitants to protest the creation of the wall. The plan was to simply march to the fence and protest with non-violent means (signs, chanting, etc.) This plan however was uncovered by the Israeli Defense force and the planned response seemed a bit radical. - Link to the story from Israeli Newspaper
- Some clips from the article:

Israel is already enforcing sterile buffer zones near the fence, especially in areas near Israeli settlements. Which is to say the IDF shoots anyone who attempts to approach the fence in those areas... the IDF has also carved up the area inside the Gaza Strip.

The army intends to prevent the marchers from advancing on the fence when they are still inside the Strip, using various means for crowd dispersal according to a ring system: The closer the marchers get to the fence, the harsher the response. The army plans to fire at open areas near the demonstrators with artillery that the Artillery Corps has been moving to the area over the past couple of days. If the marchers continue and cross into the next ring, they will face tear gas. If they persist, snipers could be ordered to aim for the marchers' legs as they approach the fence.

I wonder how accurate those artillery shells are trying to hit the "open areas" near a massive  number of demonstrators. How about if those snipers are having a bad day and aim a little higher than the legs? - Clearly these means of crowd dispersal are a very extreme response to a non-violent protest. I was sad to see that such warnings of extreme response had an adverse effect on the originally big plans for this protest. Originally there was a plan to form a 25 mile long human chain of 50,000 demonstrators to march on the fence. The actual numbers were reported to be only around 5,000 which was also a result of bad weather on the day that it was planned (Feb. 26th). I was also disappointed that I had never even heard about this until I was looking for something to write my blog on. This story should be big news especially because it is a NON-VIOLENT protest lead by the infamously violent terrorist group, Hamas. I can't remember the last time I heard about non-violent protest done by Palestinians in the news, but stories on Hamas firing rockets can't be missed. We hear about so many atrocities committed by both sides in the daily news, yet here is an one example of an effort at non-violence, and it is hardly covered, especially by American media. I wonder how many similar events have gone unnoticed. We have learned how media is an incredibly effective weapon  in non-violent campaigning, and the protesters in this case have been denied this incredibly effective weapon. Because of the lack of attention that this event received, I am sad to say that I can't consider this protest to have been successful. Maybe if the protesters had marched to the fence, and the IDF had made good on their threats then they would have received attention from the media. It's sad and ironic to think that such incredible violence and sacrifice is needed to have peace.

Video: See What They're Protesting Against- 

A Lack of Water in Dhaka

Living in one of the most developed nations in the world, we take for granted that certain luxuries are always at our fingertips. We never want for water, electricity, heat, etcetera. Maybe we need to remember more often that the same is not true in many other parts of the world. Just recently in Bangladesh, hundreds of Dhaka citizens took to the streets to protest a water shortage, defying a ban on protests.

Eighty-six percent of drinking water in Dhaka is provided by groundwater – a supply that has diminished by three meters per year for the past few years. The shortage of water is caused by a lack of power to pump the water. A city official said, “How can we pump enough water while there is no electricity to run the pumps?”

Currently, the demand for water greatly outweighs the supply, “The Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority is supplying 1.50 billion liters of water a day against a demand of 2.25 billion liters.” And that is just the city, in the rest of the country only forty percent of the population has access to electricity. Country provinces have staged protests in the past because of a lack of electricity to assist in irrigation and farming.

The question I am struggling to answer, however, is how effective a protest is against something that cannot be controlled. The citizens have not been wronged by their city officials; rather they are victim to a degree of bad luck. The falling water table rates and a lack of rainwater should be the real targets of protestors’ wrath.

But other than protest and show their discontent, citizens are limited in what they are able to do to right their situation. Forced to stand in long lines with empty water jugs for a commodity that is usually readily available, Bangladeshis are bound to feel frustrated and impatient. And with these feelings of discontent, what are Dhaka citizens supposed to do other than organize and show their frustration? Unfortunately, the city has banned protests as a form of expression. Thus not only are Bangladeshis without water, they are without their right to assembly and free speech – something we so frequently forget we have in the United States.

Therefore my conclusion is that citizens of Dhaka should have the right to protest, but that protesting in this situation may not be the most effective means of achieving their goals. City officials have enlisted the army to handle distribution of the limited amount of water until they can find a solution. Perhaps the answer is for officials to find alternate sources of water. At least now, thanks to the protestors, officials know that any efforts on their part to provide water will be well-received.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bridging the Cinematic and Cultural Divide

Since the partition of India relations between India and Pakistan have been tense – to say the least. Both countries claim ownership over Kashmir, a portion of land connected to both. The two countries have participated in peace talks for decades now and although they are continuing, the issue remains at an essential standstill. India and Pakistan are separated geographically, politically, and culturally – until recently when a Pakistani-made film was released in India.

A few weeks ago, the critically acclaimed Pakistani film, Khuda Ke Liye, was screened in India. It was the first Pakistani film seen in India in over four decades. It had received such enormous praise from the Goa International Film festival that an Indian film producer decided to launch the film in Delhi. Word spread slowly about the film, but soon crowds of people started flooding theaters in multiple Indian cities due to the rave reviews and hype it received.

The film, whose title means "In the Name of God," is about two brothers who embark upon very different paths; one becomes a religious extremist and the other becomes a victim of racial profiling in the US. Khuda Ke Liye tackles the conflict between Muslim fundamentalist and liberal thinking. This is especially interesting because popular thought in India holds that Pakistanis are old-school conservatives; this movie helps break that stereotype by proving that every culture has layers of complexities – even Pakistan. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit said “cross-border movies can help sweeten the bitterness in ways that politics has not been able to do till now.”

The lack of communication between the India and Pakistan has bred misunderstanding and ignorance in both countries about the other. One article claimed that Indian movie-goers were surprised that Pakistanis had nice houses. Cultural exchanges in the form of movies and pop culture can help to educate each population about the other. After all, misunderstanding can lead to unwanted and unnecessary hostility. If each culture begins to understand the other it may help create a forum for discussion. Up until now political diplomacy has not achieved its goals of a peaceful resolution, so perhaps that is not the only method of achieving them.

I believe that the decision to release a Pakistani movie in India was a momentous one. It adheres to nonviolence principles because it seeks to mend an embedded conflict through the means of education and cultural immersions rather than through military escapades. I believe that this seemingly minor event marks the beginning of a new chapter in Indian-Pakistani relations. Two more Pakistani movies are slated to be released in India and Bollywood actors and actresses say they would love to collaborate with producers, directors, and actors in Pakistan.

What showing this movie did was shatter the concept that these two cultures are distinct, separate, and unable to relate. Khuda Ke Liye represents progress and hope for future amiable Indian-Pakistani relations. As they say in the movies, hopefully "this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

The Torch Goes Down Under

Once again, the Olympic torch has brought protest and controversy with it as it travels around the world. Most recently, the torch made its stop in Canberra, Australia. Not surprisingly, there was a good deal of disruption as many Aussies made it known that they do not support China's human rights policies. As describe by CNN, protesters attempted to display a large laser-lit sign on the Harbour Bridge of Sydney. The glowing sign, which was removed by police before daybreak, read "Don't Torch Tibet". Other signs around the Sydney area were unveiled as well. The following video shows two individuals covering a Coca-Cola billboard with a look-a-like banner reading "compassion".


The banner, which was lowered by a few protestors who had gained access to the elevated billboard location also urged China to talk to the Dalai Lama. Those pictured hanging the sign have been detained by Australian authorities, and are expected to be charged (although if they are punished in the same manner as those responsible for the laser display, they should not face much more than a small fine).

Although they did commit illegal acts, I believe that the individuals responsible for the "Don't Torch Tibet" and "Compassion" signs were successful in their efforts. They did not harm anybody, and succeeded in expressing themselves in highly public locations. To add to their success, they managed to use their arrest as a chance to "mute the weapons of the enemy". In this case, the opposition was attempting to remove their signs from public view so as to not allow their ideas to spread. In reality, however, the arrests of these pro-Tibetan activists have already brought a great deal of media coverage. Within 24 hours of their acts, videoclips on Youtube and news stations have been broadcasting the messages of the protestors to millions across the world. The much publicized hanging of the anti-Chinese banners has brought a continued amount of attention to the pressing issue of Tibetan suppression by the hosts of this Summer's Olympics, and should be considered a success from a non-violent perspective.

P.S. - on an interesting side note, there was a verbal battle between Chinese and Australian officials during the press conference which announced the arrival of the torch. It looks like the Australian Olympic officials are capable of expressing themselves just as well as some of the citizens.

Annoyed by all the media attention?

Although the Colbert clip we watched made the election seem like it was all about the white male, CNN is pushing another agent of change this election day, single women. I am flattered that CNN choose to pinpoint single women from Pennsylvania as the group to impact the election (I am a single woman from Pennsylvania), I know that as voters, me and my fellow single Pennsylvanian females are just the next white males, Evangelicals, suburban Jews, Catholics, “lunch-bucket” Democrats, or youths, and our votes have no more swinging ability than the rest of these groups. Even though I know that my vote counts for no more than anyone else’s, except of course older, male, upper class, Hispanic Muslims a group that was left out of the barrage of media reports on the next swing voters, reading that article on why my vote mattered made me feel as special as I did when we watched the Barack Obama “Yes We Can” Video.
The logic works much the same way: although I was insulted that whoever made the video thought that black and white shots of Scarlet Johansson repeating “Yes, we can” without telling me “Yes, we can” what… would make me vote for a political candidate, I still felt drawn to Obama, his seemingly optimistic attitude, and fresh outlook on the Presidency. In the same vein, reading about why my vote mattered most or would be sought after more insulted me because I know it doesn’t matter most nor will it be sought after more, and the article was manufactured because its an interesting headline, and news agencies are running out of hot button issues to talk about. But, I felt special, more important, and more importantly more inclined to vote. This is why I do not mind the onslaught of news reports about every aspect of the election, because by keeping the election constantly in the public eye more citizens are reminded of the election, its meaning, and why they should vote. I hope this translates to more votes overall.
The same logic goes for why I was more than flattered that the article touted single women as the group candidates need to appeal to in order to win. Although John Edwards stated that his main priority as a white male is a jet ski, the article notices several issues that face single women in today’s world: they are paid less than their male peers, they are more likely to be without health coverage, they lack the dual income of their married peers, 20% of them are single moms. Although I do not have to deal with these issues currently, I will be out of college and trying to support myself while the next President is in Office and by touting single women as the important group, it perhaps makes candidates more inclined to develop programs that cater to my future needs.
The best and easiest way to nonviolently create change is to vote and I appreciate the role that the media is playing in this process even if I am tired of seeing pictures of Hilary or Barack when I go to

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sexy at Sixty?

April 10th marked the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state of Israel. On campus, the Georgetown Israeli Alliance held a "birthday party" of sorts on Copley Lawn to celebrate Jewish history and culture in a festive manner. I partook in the activities, helping myself to free falafel, hookah and music. I really enjoyed myself!

The next day an article came out in the Hoya that described a protest that occurred at the same time as the birthday party I was enjoying. About 30 demonstrators, the article reads, protested nonviolently in Red Square beside the festivities. A representative, Harald Fuller-Bennett (GRD ’09), stated that the reason for protest was the slogan that ran on the flyers advertising for the event on the lawn that read: "Israel: Sexy at Sixty." The organizers of the protest made a small, 8.5 by 11 inch postcard that they put beside GIA's flyers around campus a few days before the event. The card read: “Whatever you think about Israel, whatever you think about Palestine, is this sexy?” There were two pictures, one of a wounded Israeli soldier and one of a dead Palestinian child. Fuller-Bennett is cited as saying that he found GIA's slogan "offensive." The protest, which included participants sitting in Red Square wearing black shirts, tape across their mouths and some neck-scarves, remained completely nonviolent and non-confrontational. Fuller-Bennett cites the protest as a success, saying that people saw them in Red Square and that their message was clear - that there is a need to remember the countless people displaced by this conflict in the Middle East. The GIA are cited as saying they appreciated that those who were offended approached them, and a few days after people came forward, the "Sexy" slogan was removed.

I think that this was a really effective protest. We just discussed the Israel-Palestine issue in my Conflict Studies class and thought a lot about what exactly we could do, as American students, to engage ourselves in this seemingly never-ending and extremely violent conflict. We came to a sort of conclusion that a certain level of awareness of all sides of the issue is paramount. As American citizens, with Israel being a high-profile ally of the United States, we tend to only see a biased view of the conflict. But the very acknowledgment of pain and suffering on both sides of the issue and a sympathetic, delicate and open-minded approach to debates, discussions or celebrations having to do with the situation is incredibly important. I think that the Students for Justice in Palestine group did a great job of nonviolently, but powerfully reinforcing the importance of this sympathy and empathy for all those who are suffering from the violence. This does not mean, of course, that the GIA couldn't have a party - it was just a delicacy issue, I think, treating the situation with the seriousness and consideration it deserves.

One criticism I would have, maybe, would be the fact that I didn't know the protest was going on. I am almost ashamed to admit that it didn't even cross my mind to think about any sort of Palestinian opposition to the celebrations. But I still think that the non-confrontational and nonviolent approach, so as to not cause animosity or uproar, was a really powerful way to show that a symbolic nonviolent approach to a much larger, very violent situation can have an important effect of inspiring dialogue and reminding people of the darker side of an ever-present issue we may have learned to look beyond.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Two Pieces . . . just because I like them

Normally, I want my students to have complete control of the blog during the semester, but there are two gems that I just need to honor.

First, when you have three multimillionaire senators running for office, and any of them pointing fingers about who is elitist . . . well, our dear friend, Stephen Colbert, really made the point here.

Then, the candidate I really miss, made a delightful appearance on The Colbert Report last night. Most pundits agree that white men will decide the election. And Senator John Edwards is a white man whoose vote has REALLY be courted!

With both major Democratic candidates appearing on The Colbert Report, and with a SUPER super delegate also making an appearance, maybe Stephen Colbert is one of the most influential people of the year.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Striking teachers: the Pros and Cons of Nonviolence

When I analyze a nonviolent campaign, it is important for me to try to remain as unbiased as is humanly possible. This is the case because I have a natural predilection and preference for nonviolent means of affecting change. I must admit, sometimes this tunnel-vision impedes my ability to see all sides of an issue or campaign.

I had to work very hard to remain unbiased when I discovered an article in the New York Times covering a strike that is being staged by "350 teachers at Roman Catholic schools from New York City and its northern suburbs." The teachers will begin their strike on Thursday when the Pope arrives in New York. The teachers, however, are not protesting the Pope's arrival. Rather, the 350 teachers and the Lay Faculty Association to which they belong are striking for better wages and quality health care plans. According to Henry Kielkucki of the Lay Faculty Foundation, the movement is supposed to show people that the "Catholic diocese is not preaching what the pope is preaching.”

The Lay Faculty Foundation is a labor union which has observed that Catholic diocese teachers are making "$25,000 less than their public school counterparts." According to Mr. Kielkucki of the LFA, the pensions are insufficient and health care premiums are too steep. The union feels that it needs to make its voice heard. Therefore, the teachers are waiting until the Pope shows up before they express their discontent with the situation. The archdiocese have been trying to compromise, but the LFA has been persistent, refusing to make any concessions. It appears as if picket signs will remain until something concrete has been established.

For me, it would be easy for me to be completely content with the demonstration; teachers are ridiculously under-appreciated.

Nevertheless, I would not be thoroughly examining this nonviolent campaign if I looked simply at these facts, because the other fact of the matter is relatively saddening. Thousands of kids will not be able to interact with their favorite teachers. Thousands of kids will miss many days of instruction when the teachers begin striking. The Lay Faculty Association has been rigid with negotiations. In other words, the singularity of purpose of the striking teachers has adversely affected the lives of many individuals in the New York area.

Ultimately, one involved in a nonviolent campaign must seek justice first. Then, he/she must seek to preserve life at all costs through compromise. Granted, these teachers are not killing their students for higher wages. However, they are damaging their educational growth. And as a teacher, that should always be one's first priority.

How can teachers seek to improve their plights while at the same continuing to instruct their children?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Counterproductive Protest?

I was on my way to another day at Capitol Hill. On any given day, I can expect to see a few protesters on the street, telling anyone who will listen about the need to stop the War in Iraq or revoke Roe vs. Wade. But on April 10, I came across a protest that really caught my attention.

I mean, it is hard to miss a line of 100 dump trucks circling the U.S. Capitol honking their horns as obnoxiously as possible. The trucks held up traffic and exposed hundreds of tourists to excessive noise pollution. The truckers were protesting the raising costs of diesel fuel. They are upset because they are given a fixed amount from their respective companies to spend on gas, so when the prices keep rising, they have to make up for it out of their pockets.

I might just be bitter because the protest made it difficult to cross Constitution Avenue on Tuesday afternoon, and my ears are still ringing from all that honking. But I do not think this was the most effective example of nonviolent protest. I hate to think about all the gas the truck drivers wasted by circling the U.S. Capitol a number of times. I think it went against their argument that they were really concerned about the price of gas.

I think a better form of protest for their cause would have been to organize all the truckers to stop driving for a day, like they did in Syracuse. This would show that they were serious about their cause, and it would make more sense in terms of proving that conserving gas is important to them.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Will Some Athletes be Forced to Sit if they Stand Up for Tibet?

Athletes who support Tibetan freedom with flags, patches or any other form of expression risk being expelled from the Olympic Games in Beijing. Any such expression will be labeled as propaganda and athletes will face sanctions from the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, a Belgian, announced.

Athletes supporting Darfur could risk being stripped of a medal or disqualified as well.

This situation is really frustrating, and a clear attempt by the Chinese Government and the Olympics to try and quiet down protesters. Are the Olympics really more important than Tibetans and Darfurians? I really don't think so.

This applies to our class because it will be interesting to see how those willing to protest violate these rules, how they react to the opponents' strategy for consolidating control. This is obviously a messy situation. I really hope that something positive will come out of it rather than China just feeling like the world is against them, even if that is true. The Olympics seem to be concerned that the event is being politicized, but I think that is the only thing they could have expected. China is a controversial country. I imagine if the games were being help in America there could rightfully be similar protests around the world.

Some people are anticipating similar protests to what Tommie Smith and John Carlos did in 1968, demonstrating against racial discrimination in America. They gave the Black Power salute and were expelled from the games. But no one will forget that image and I think this is an opportunity to look beyond the games and take a stand for human rights. I wish I was good at some Olympic sport so I could protest!