Grappling with responses to Charlottesville & my August article roundup

I haven’t posted in a while. I had some wifi struggles, took a trip, and this past week I have been grappling with violence and hatred that I have been trying to sort through both personally and professionally. However, an article I came across earlier today was the push I needed to go beyond my tweets, Facebook posts, and Common Dreams articles, in an effort to engage in more online discussions about racism in the U.S. today.

Before Charlottesville, I planned to share an article roundup that began with: Through emergency apartment construction, an internet outage that jeopardized some deadlines, work challenges, financial worries, and car troubles, this past week and a half has reminded me that we learn from struggles and failures, rather than from success.

All of that remains true, and I’m still working on how to deal with that concept, especially because last weekend I returned to my college campus for the first time in more than two years, which forced me to confront a lot of my emotions and experiences from the most difficult period of my life.  However, in light of current events, thoughts about fierce debates over nationalism and white supremacy in the U.S. have taken priority in my mind, so that’s what I’m going to address in the rest of this post.

I came across this video on Facebook. My reaction to it was so detailed and complex that I decided against posting comments on someone else’s profile; instead, my blog seemed like a more productive space to respond to it and hopefully start a broader conversation.

Screen Shot 2017-08-19 at 20.34.42

Screenshot from YouTube user Red Pill Black’s video titled “I Don’t Care About Charlottesville, the KKK, or White Supremacy” (Click the photo to watch her full video)

A list of my reactions, in no particular order:

  • Nationalism and white supremacy are notable components of U.S. history, and significantly influenced the formation of our government as well as our institutions that perpetuate systemic racism—e.g., public schools, prisons, as the vlogger notes. Nationalism and white supremacy never disappeared from the U.S., but immediately before Trump’s political career kicked off, these ideologies seemed to gain more public support, partly tied to the economic crisis and its impact on white working and middle-class Americans.
  • The perpetual racism in the U.S. seemed to intensify leading up to the rise of Trump because (1) we had a black president for two terms, and (2) before, during and after the economic crisis, politicians and media figures alike told white people who were financially struggling that people of color were taking their tax dollars via government programs—often ignoring that many white Americans rely on these programs, from food stamps to public housing, and the recession disproportionately impacted communities and people of color.
  • This intensifying racism contributed to the formation of the Black Lives Matter movement (which this black vlogger is apparently also against). Although there has been violence at some BLM events, it’s worth noting that these events and this movement have come in response to violence against and systemic oppression of people of color. Dismissing the Charlottesville counter-protesters as “losers,” as this vlogger does, dismisses the violence and systemic racism that people of color have encountered in the U.S.
  • The growing threat of nationalism and white supremacism is not a false media narrative, as the vlogger suggests. The demonstrations in Charlottesville last weekend and the white nationalist/supremacist rallies across the country today illustrate that they and their ideologies significantly threaten people of color, and while it’s true that these racist individuals and groups were still organizing and demonstrating during the Obama years, and the decades beforehand, many nationalists and white supremacists have publicly stated that they feel empowered by President Donald Trump.
  • Trump’s accession to the presidency has not just motivated individuals to publicly proclaim racist views, it’s also a symptom of nationalism and white supremacy’s rise pre-Trump (which in addition to being partly triggered by the economic crisis, also intensified in response to the BLM movement). Trump gained supporters on the campaign trail by speaking to the (sometimes unconscious) racist views of many white Americans of all socioeconomic classes. Many white people who voted for Trump bought into his claims that he too was frustrated with the “swamp” of long-serving politicians and the influence money has on politics—in addition to arguments touted by white supremacists that people of color are not only taking money away from hard-working white people but also that they are negatively changing the culture of the US. As president, not only has Trump stacked the White House and agencies with “swamp” dwellers (long-time politicians, lobbyists, and corporate insiders), but he’s also  appointed agency leaders and advisers known for pushing racist and nationalist agendas—e.g., Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who couldn’t even get approved for a lesser role during the Reagan years because of accusations of racism, and Steve Bannon, an accused white nationalist who, until yesterday, served as the WH’s chief strategist. The nationalists and white supremacists cheered on Trump’s recent remarks about violence on “both sides” in Charlottesville—on their own social media and in interviews—and they have openly stated that they feel emboldened by Trump’s commentary as president. Thus, nationalists and white supremacists are a greater threat today than they were before the election because they, by their own admission, are emboldened by the Trump administration.
  • Although it is true that the news media often failed to cover the threats posed by racism and racist policies and institutions during the Obama years—and even before his two terms—and also often failed to adequately understand how much support Trump was garnering during his campaign (hence the “shock” when he won), it is foolish and ignorant of this vlogger to dismiss the threat of nationalism and white supremacism as a false media narrative. It is valid and reasonable to critique the news media’s coverage of race topics, but the thousands of people across the country protesting in favor of and in opposition to nationalism and white supremacy this week clearly illustrate that the news media is not merely making up these threats.
  • This vlogger also bases her conclusions that the racial war in the U.S. is “fake” and white supremacy is no longer a threat on only her first-hand experience. Based only on the outline she provides of her day (going to the gym, then buying a latte), it appears she may be wealthy enough to avoid some of the barriers and threats that many others—especially black women—in America face every day. As a white woman, I cannot fully comprehend what it is like to be a woman of color in America, but from my interactions with people of various races, as well as from studying racism, sexism, U.S. history, and U.S. politics, it seems that this vlogger is either ignoring or unaware of how her experiences differ from that of many other people—particularly women—of color. She doesn’t seem willing to consider that just because people of various races at her gym or local coffee shop appear to be getting along doesn’t necessarily mean that other people of color in the U.S. aren’t experiencing the full force of racism and white supremacy. I am especially intrigued by this vlogger’s apparent unwillingness to consider the potential limits of her perspective because although I disagree with many of her expressed political views, in the few videos I have seen she comes across as composed, thoughtful, and as though she has substantially engaged with history and current events.
  • Being concerned about high rates of black-on-black crime and being concerned about racist threats from white supremacy are not mutually exclusive. It makes sense that people target other people of their own race when they commit violent crimes because (1) often those who commit violent crimes target people they are near to and/or people they know personally, and (2) the nation’s long history of racist housing policies and “white flight” have led to segregation in communities across the country, so it is logical that statistically there is more black-on-black violent crime (and more white-on-white violent crime) than violent crimes across races. But just because violent crime is statistically more likely to occur between two people of the same race—and, as the vlogger points out, black people in the U.S. face many other threats and struggles beyond racist attacks—does not mean that we should dismiss threats posed by the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, white supremacists, and nationalists picking up their semi-automatic weapons and tiki torches to riot in the streets across the country in favor of white dominance.

Conclusion: Nationalism and white supremacism currently threaten our nation, and their rise especially threatens people of color, but it should concern all of us because silence is complicity; by not condemning racism, we enable it to continue and become partly responsible for it. As a white woman from a middle-class family, I recognize that I had I privileged upbringing and I feel it is my obligation try to learn from and advocate for reforms that improve the lives of people who have been oppressed by the systems that have given me my privileged status, in an effort to contribute to creating a more equitable and inclusive country. This rise of nationalism and white supremacy we’re seeing isn’t a narrative made up by the news media; the movement existed long before Trump was elected, but also it has intensified as a result of his campaign and election. This video worries me because it signals to her audience that people of color and white people alike don’t need to worry about nationalism and white supremacists, as if the systemic racism in the institutions she mentions isn’t a direct result of the culture of white superiority that influenced our country’s creation, and continues to influence our institutions and society. What’s baffling to me is that she acknowledges that systemic racism in schools and prisons keep people of color in a cycle of crime and poverty, but she is apparently unwilling to recognize that the way those institutions operate is a direct result of the same nationalism and white supremacism that’s currently being debated in our nation’s streets.

I encourage you to share this post/respond privately or publicly/send me related articles, books, videos, and documentaries. I am interested in exploring and understanding these topics more.

My recent articles—related and not to my comments above (read all my CD articles here)

Anti-Fracking Activists Celebrate Court Ruling Against Major New York State Pipeline

Al Gore Has Just One Small Bit of Advice for Trump: ‘Resign’

ACLU Will No Longer Defend Armed Demonstrations After Charlottesville

Despite Death in Charlottesville, Republicans Defend State Bills to Protect Drivers Who Hit Protesters

Public Support for Impeachment Grows Amid Speculation Trump Will Resign

Four Arrested for Toppling Confederate Statue, But No Neo-Nazis Arrested for Brutally Beating a Black Man in Charlottesville

Oregon Lauded as Progressive Model for Reproductive Healthcare Reform as Texas Passes Troubling Anti-Choice Measures

Ignoring Threat of Rising Seas, Trump Eliminates Flood Risk Standards for Taxpayer-Funded Infrastructure Projects

Weeks Before Charlottesville, Trump Cut Federal Funding for a Group Fighting White Supremacy

“Shame! Shame! Shame!”: New Yorkers Surround Trump Tower to Protest President’s Return Home

Democrats Demand Answers About FCC’s Apparent Favoritism Toward Conservative Local News Giant Sinclair Broadcast Group

Scientists and Environmentalists Condemn the Trump Administration’s “Assault on America’s Water Resources”

Analysis Shows Trump/GOP Sabotage to Blame for Coming Insurance Premium Hikes

Canada Builds Border Camp for Asylum Seekers Fleeing US

Pence’s Indiana ‘Cautionary Tale’ for Privatizing Infrastructure Projects

Trump DOJ’s Decision to Support Ohio Voter-Rolls Purge Program Confirms “Worst Fears” About Voting Rights

Medicare for All Supporters Are Ready to Hold Democrats to Account

Leaked Emails Show USDA Staff Were Told to ‘Avoid’ Term ‘Climate Change’ Under Trump

‘Brazen Attack on Media Freedom’: Critics Blast Israel’s Move to Ban Al Jazeera

“We’re Ready to Stop It Again”: KXL Opponents Flood Nebraska’s Capitol

Court Throws Out Blackwater Guards’ Sentences for 2007 Nisour Square Massacre

New Report Reveals Water Threats Posed by the “Dirty Three’s” Pipeline Routes

Trump’s War on Science Forces Federal Officials to Consider Polluters’ Demands

Asylum Seekers, Fleeing Trump’s Hostility, Overwhelm Quebec’s Refugee Resources

Responding to the Democratic Party’s 2018 Campaign Plan to Support Anti-Choice Candidates, Progressive Groups Release Pro-Choice Platform

Far-Reaching Bill Would Legalize Weed and Offer Reparations to Communities Impacted by the War on Drugs

Docs Reveal Monsanto’s Attempts to Influence Reports About the Dangers of Roundup

Sen. Bernie Sanders Introduces Bill Aimed at Ending ‘Tragic’ Youth Unemployment Crisis

“America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio Violated a Court Order to Stop Racially Profiling Latinos

Green Groups Celebrate as Court Orders EPA to Reinstate Obama-Era Methane Rule

Reproductive Rights Advocates Condemn Democrats’ Support of Anti-Choice Candidates

Climate Science Out, Coal In: EPA Exhibit Will Reflect Trump’s Deregulatory, Pro-Coal Agenda

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Corporatism, feminism & the health food movement

Food, Inc. is a documentary released in 2008.

Food, Inc. is a documentary released in 2008.

Last night, I finally got around to watching Food, Inc.

I have been tempted to hit ‘play’ nearly every time I have logged on to Netflix the past few months (which is actually not that many times thanks to my crazy college schedule). Finally, at the beginning of my winter break and still recovering from finals/the nasty cold that’s kept me in bed for a week, I decided to watch this documentary.

I grew excited the moment I saw the name Michael Pollan flash across the bottom of the screen — he’s one of my favorite foodie folks. I discovered him while transcribing an interview for “Food Fight: Feminists and Femivores,” a piece published by In These Times in June 2013.

Food, Inc. (2008) is a few years older than this article, and has been mentioned in conversations, articles and books that explore the health food trend among white middle-class Americans — including Emily Matchar’s “Is Michael Pollan a Sexist Pig?”, which is mentioned in the In These Times piece.

The film achieved a few things: it made me afraid to set foot in a supermarket or fast food restaurant ever again; it showed a rather comprehensive picture of the industrial world of American food and farming; and it reminded me how frequently the public has no idea how most food in the U.S. is produced. It also showed the financial struggles — those of the farmers, beholden to the major corporations, and those of the people shopping for the cheapest deals at supermarkets and fast food establishments.

Now that much of our food is engineered, according to Pollan, our bodies are hardwired to desire three things: salt, fat, and sugar. But talk to any white middle-class 20something or 30something and those are three things we’re taught to fear (at least, that’s been my experience attending a pricey private college in New York State). There is a portion of today’s American society that knows full well not to touch the cookies, canned cranberry sauce, and other ‘conventional’ temptations.

Personally, I try to limit my grocery shopping to the farmers’ market and a nearby co-op; I eat local, organic foods whenever possible. I grew up taking dance classes, and whenever I can work it into my hectic schedule, I attend yoga classes at a studio in town. Whenever I have a spare moment, I peruse a close friend’s food blog and carry my Whole Foods reusable shopping bag to pick up groceries. However, I am deeply intrigued by this recent cultural obsession with health, and how it’s so often contained to young, wealthy white women.

Matchar included a quote in her Salon piece that speaks to this trend:

“The return to domesticity by young, intelligent, educated women like you see around here is a reaction against a broken food system in America,” says Marcie Cohen Ferris, a professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an expert on food culture. “We’ve lost our connection to traditional handmade cuisine, kids could have shorter life spans than their parents [because of obesity and poor diet], there’s global warming. This new food culture is a response to an industrial model that’s not working.”

Matchar’s Salon piece is a fascinating look at feminism and the kitchen, and she makes the notable point that problematic eating habits and processed food entered the “normal” sphere in the U.S. far before feminism — hence her swipe at Pollan with the headline, since he’s been quoted as partly blaming feminism for the families of today eating poorly.

However, Matchar also writes, “The historically inaccurate blaming of feminism for today’s food failings implies that women were, are, and should be responsible for cooking and family health.”

Before I go any further, I should note that I am a rather vocal feminist with one too many horror stories from the kitchen. However, my investment in healthful eating and interest in the health food movement have motivated me to believe strongly that both men and women should understand how to cook healthful meals for themselves and their families. That means women are in part responsible for how they and their families eat. Unfortunately, this belief is often at odds with the financial realities of many Americans, which has led to my interest in how the health food movement so often excludes those with low incomes.

I have recently immersed myself in the concept of food justice and explored some of the activism that accompanies it. Part of my interest came from my work on a capstone class project called Just Ithaca, for which I wrote about holiday season food-related charity; part of my interest came from exposure to a program created by my local co-op of choice, GreenStar (about which I have also written). My more recent interest in how money fits with my convictions has caused me to carefully consider buzzwords, trends and movements, especially those that seem on the surface to align with what I believe. I have been considering what I want for the health food and food justice movements I’ve observed, and in some instances supported.

Yvonne Yen Liu captures my feelings toward it all quite well in the In These Times discussion: “We need a food justice movement that attacks patriarchy, class inequality and corporate control of the food system.”

That’s a movement I’d like to see.

Ithacans consider relaunching local chapter of national interfaith peace organization

By Jessica Corbett and Christian Araos

Jim Murphy called a meeting Oct. 29 to discuss the possibility of reestablishing an Ithaca chapter of FOR. (Photo by Jessica Corbett)

Jim Murphy called a meeting Oct. 29 to discuss the possibility of reestablishing an Ithaca chapter of FOR. (Photo by Jessica Corbett)

Fourteen people, including church-goers, college professors and community activists, gathered at the Unitarian Church of Ithaca Wednesday Oct. 29 to discuss the possibility of bringing the Fellowship of Reconciliation, or FOR, back to Ithaca.

Jim Murphy, who heads up the Veterans Fellowship of Reconciliation, is leading the effort to relaunch an Ithaca chapter of FOR, which is the nation’s oldest interfaith peace organization. He called the meeting Wednesday to see what role FOR’s greater organization could play if reintroduced.

Veterans’ outreach is what first brought Jim Murphy to FOR.

“I walked into a place where all they asked of me wasn’t religion; they asked me to be a pacifist, so right there we had people mentoring us on how to be a pacifist, and we were all combat vets for the most part,” he said. “I think FOR is accepting of everything, and it’s a good thing because we’re bonded on waging peace.”

The Veterans FOR serves Iraq and Afghanistan veterans through an emergency food plan set up with local Wegmans and GreenStar, as well as sending books to those who are in prison, Jim Murphy said.

Meeting attendees Wednesday night spoke to FOR’s trouble attracting young members, but acknowledged that Ithaca could be fertile ground for revitalizing the fellowship with politically active youth. Susan Murphy, a member of the Unitarian Church and part of the team working to bring FOR to Ithaca, said the meeting echoed FOR’s national concerns by identifying the lack of established venues for local youth to politically express themselves.

“It’s clear that communication in between the different and varying peace movements is a missing piece,” Susan Murphy also said. “Everybody is so busy doing their own thing that there hasn’t become a clear mechanism enabling them to talk to each other.”

Mary Heckler was heavily involved with the Hudson Valley FOR in Nyack, New York, before retiring to Ithaca, and formerly served as FOR’s event coordinator, volunteer coordinator and house manager. After the meeting, Hecker said FOR could wind up connecting various local organizations in order to address local and national issues.

“I think that what came out tonight about the racism and the drone work and the lack of communication within the town itself, within the community, college communities as well as everyday community, is lacking,” Heckler said.

Though their first meeting was in a Unitarian Church, FOR is an interfaith organization. However, there is heated internal debate regarding the acceptance of atheists and agnostics into the organization. Susan Murphy said during the recruitment process, the organization needs to be aware that many young adults identify as more “spiritual” than “religious.”

Click the photo above to view an interview with Susan and Jim Murphy following the Oct. 29 meeting.

Click the photo above to view an interview with Susan and Jim Murphy following the Oct. 29 meeting.

With its reemergence in the Ithaca area, the Murphys said FOR is looking to establish relationships with local chapters of other national and international organizations that focus on issues relating to war, race and the environment. One such organization is the Ithaca chapter of Amnesty International. Wayles Browne serves as the chapter’s treasurer and attended the meeting. He said he was delighted to see people of various faiths in attendance.

“Looking around the room, there were Catholics, there were Unitarians, other kinds of Protestants, there were Jewish people,” Browne said. “It is particularly an interreligious organization — it brings churches and other religious organizations together — and I think that’s great, but I don’t have much to contribute to that myself.”

In response to meeting attendees’ calls for improved communication among local faith and organizing groups, Jim Murphy created an online talking circle that allows community organizers to submit and receive emails about their various events and projects.

Browne said he was pleased with the email group and has already used it to send out notice about the Amnesty chapter’s annual fundraiser, which was Sunday afternoon. It is one of the first instances in which the attendees of what may be a new FOR chapter coordinated their efforts.

Click here to view a video interview with Susan and Jim Murphy.

Read this story on Ithaca Week.

[White, female] Chicago suburbanite attempts to calmly examine gun violence

Editorial Note: I considered holding off on this post in light of the recent SCOTUS rulings and other breaking news that is dominating news and social media sites today, but I ultimately decided it was time to release this piece, which has been a work in progress for a while now. 

Photo taken in Wicker Park, Chicago, Illinois — where much of this post was also crafted. (Joselito Tagarao / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Photo taken in Wicker Park, Chicago, Illinois — where much of this post was also crafted. (Photo by Joselito Tagarao / Flickr / Creative Commons)

It takes a lot to get me riled. When a gun-loving family member gets a little tipsy and starts tossing NRA and gun license cards across the table during holiday dinners, I try not to raise my voice while I explain that I hope I never have to even hold a gun. But sometimes I wonder if I haven’t been vocal enough about my opinions. As a journalist, I like to, in the words of Christaine Amanpour, “giv[e] each side a hearing” before passing judgment. When it comes to gun usage and gun violence, I have done some research for personal and professional reasons, but I have also grown up listening to the nightly news in Chicago. That is where I am coming from with this discussion.

Wednesday, the Chicago City Council unanimously approved Chicago Mayor Rahm’s proposed gun store law. It mandates videotaping of purchases in gun stores throughout the city and limits sales to one per customer per month. There is also a 24-hour waiting period to purchase rifles and shotguns, and a 72-hour waiting period to purchase handguns. The Illinois Rifle Association and many gun rights advocates have protested the new restrictions, claiming they will make it nearly impossible to sustain a gun stores in the city (ain’t that a shame). 

A few weeks ago, Emanuel and the Chicago Police Department released a report about illegal guns and violence in the city. According to the report, in the last year, “Chicago had the fewest murders since 1965, the lowest murder rate since 1966, and the lowest overall crime rate since 1972.”

This report came just days after a young man killed six people, as well as himself, and injured 13 others in Santa Barbara. Following that shooting, the Internet erupted into a storm: screaming matches on social media sites, news site comments sections, and even within some of the news coverage. Shorty before the attack, the gunman posted a video to YouTube and sent out a manifesto to news outlets. In both, he addressed his “loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires,” degraded women, and promised “retribution.” Even I found it unusually challenging to calmly approach some of his antics. This kid really struck my feminist nerve, but I’ll spare everyone that rant, for now.

The Santa Barbara shooting spurred debates spanning many interwoven topics. Among them: bullying, misogyny, mental illness, masculinity, power, privilege and gun violence. While I have passionate opinions about each topic, my city’s new restrictions and the recent report have allowed me to take a step back and examine one of the issues — gun violence — calmly and closely.

Despite recent improvements in reducing crime and violence, Chicago is still labeled by many as “the murder capital of America,” which is misleading in some senses. According to FBI statistics, the highest frequency of homicides actually occurs in Flint, Michigan. While I’ve spent some time examining the FBI data, for a more straightforward explanation of the numbers, read this. But as someone who grew up in the Chicagoland area and spent most nights watching the local news, I can understand why so many people use the murder capital term, because it’s true that Chicago can be very dangerous.

Each day I wake up to emails from the Chicago Tribune, which include updates about how many people were shot and killed overnight. I must admit, there are some Chicago neighborhoods I would be nervous to set foot in, and I have had a close call with gunshots — a few years ago, near Navy Pier. As a city and as a nation, we’ve still got a long way to go to reduce gun violence.

Key finding from the Mayor’s Office and Police Department’s report included:

— Violence in Chicago is fueled by people using illegal guns.

— Between 2009 and 2013, almost 60 percent of guns used to commit crimes in Chicago were first purchased outside of Illinois.

— Between 2009 and 2013, just four local dealers supplied nearly 20 percent of the guns recovered at Chicago crime scenes.

There are many solutions proposed in this joint report, including specific suggestions to reform gun laws.

At a federal level, U.S. Senators Kirk (R-IL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), with the support of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), are sponsoring the bipartisan Gun Trafficking Prevention Act, which would make “gun trafficking” a federal offense. In the Senate, the bill has been sent to the Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. The bill was also introduced in the House, by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY), and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

The Chicago report also suggests enhanced dealer regulations, including employee background checks and training in identifying traffickers, inventory audits, and crackdowns on license transfers (making sure a dealer can’t reopen in the same place or with most of the same employees after a business license is revoked).

The suggestions in the report are well thought out, but gun law reform isn’t enough, as Mason Johnson for CBS Chicago pointed out:

“Gun laws and anti-gang strategies aren’t solely what neighborhoods like Englewood need. It seems that individuals turn to gangs because, oftentimes, there’s a lack of resources in the community causing kids to turn to gangs for safety and shelter. How do you make up for a lack of safety and shelter? Or, as others might phrase it, how do you make up for a lack of jobs and education?”

Community building: peaceful programs that provide job training, education, safety and shelter. As for those folks like me, who hail from the suburbs and grew up in a neighborhood where I heard warnings of the city, frequently labeled a ‘scary place,’ what can I do?

Well, Mason Johnson had an important lesson for people like me:

“These neighborhoods are, well, just that… neighborhoods. They’re families and schools and stores and playgrounds. They’re not statistics. They’re not homicide rates. They’re not the violence that assaults them, nor are they ‘war zones.’”

I have recently been looking into the gun laws that were enacted following the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Specifically, I’ve learned about New York’s SAFE Act; the state was the first to pass legislation following the Sandy Hook shooting. While I’m sure anyone who was paying attention to the news post-shooting will recall the nationwide chatter and subsequent legislative action, the numbers caught me off-guard.

From Jan. 1 to Jan. 15, just weeks after Sandy Hook, state lawmakers introduced 190 gun-related bills at statehouses across the country. But more than a third of the bills (67, to be exact) weakened gun regulations. Now regardless of whether or not you support the Second Amendment or own weapons for hunting, or even personal safety, is weakening gun regulations really the solution?

[Please, respond and share your thoughts. I am eager to engage in productive discussions about these issues, but fair warning: I do not respond favorably to condescending tones or threats of gun violence.]

Remembering Michael Hastings

Image

Rolling Stone’s obituary for contributing editor Michael Hastings, who died in a fiery car accident in L.A. June 18, 2013. (Photo by Jessica Corbett, Aug. 1, 2013)

Michael Hastings was a fantastic, fearless journalist. He had a critical eye for detail and a passion for calling out corruption in the government, as well as the establishment media. Today is the first anniversary of his tragic death. He was 33 years old.

Yesterday, when I my Democracy Now! daily digest email arrived in my inbox, the subject line immediately caught my eye: “The Last Magazine”: One Year After Death, Michael Hastings’ Lost Novel Satirizes Corporate Media. I dropped what I was doing to watch the segment — Amy Goodman interviewing Hastings’ widow, Elise Jordan, about the “The Last Magazine,” a satirical novel penned by Hastings (but never before published), inspired by his time as Newsweek. I’m already itching to read it.

After watching the interview, I found myself browsing Hastings’ work. I stumbled upon an article from June 2012, which just so happens to be incredibly relevant to a bitter debate raging as of late: POW Bowe Bergdahl. Read the rest here.

Didion: the top of my summer reading list

9781590170731

It’s a short read, but a must-read book!

I’m back!

After a brief hiatus and a four-month stint in Europe (more on that here) I have returned to blogging for the summer.

I spent the second half of my junior year back in Ithaca, working on various projects, which included the creation of yet another blog! This one focuses on activist and advocacy journalism. It started as a class project, but I have decided to keep it updated, so if you’re into that kind of media be sure to check it out here.

For a little teaser of what’s to come on this site, I have been reading a lot of Joan Didion — specifically, Fixed Ideas and The Year of Magical Thinking.

As I wrote about Fixed Ideas in my Goodreads (confession: one of my favorite websites) review:

This should be required reading in American public schools. Anyone looking to begin to understand 9/11, as well as American domestic and foreign policy, would benefit from reading this short piece.

Thanks to the publication of this piece, Didion was inducted into the “Blame American First” crowd, which included anyone (especially journalists, actors, musicians and politicians) who raised legitimate questions or points about why the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center actually happened. Fixed Ideas is brief, but it touches on many important issues in post-9/11 America.

As someone who was very young at the time of the attacks, it was fascinating to read her observations of the emotional climate of various cities across the U.S., in contrast to the atmosphere of New York City. What I love about Didion — or one of the many things, I should say — is her ability to come at something, anything, on every level. I will discuss that more when I am able to put together a full post about The Year Of Magical Thinking, which is turning out to be one of the best books I have ever read. It’s just taking some time to finish reading and work out what I want to say about it, because the book is intense.

For now, I am back to ‘spring’/summer cleaning. The weather in Ithaca is finally warm. We’re all taking bets on how long that will last.

What do Gossip Girl and Hunter S. Thompson have in common?

This book by Hunter S. Thompson is a must-read for all political junkies.

This book by Hunter S. Thompson is a must-read for all political junkies.

This week I accomplished two of my summer goals: I completed my first internship and I finally gained access to my own Netflix account. One of these goals will help me further my career; it was an incredibly rewarding, challenging, and inspiring experience. The other is seen by most as a major distractor—a challenge to my productivity.

However, my last week with Netflix has taught me more than I expected. Or rather, it has served as a major reminder. You see, my internship was with a magazine that promotes justice movements, analyzes cultural phenomena, and highlights labor rights violations, but my focus on journalism is a bit broader, and also includes diplomacy and other political matters.

This week, I have watched various movies, but also many episodes of two shows: House of Cards and Gossip Girl. The former is new to me, and a Netflix original; the latter is one of my guilty pleasure favorites, and I have seen every episode. While the two shows have different focuses, different settings, and were created for different audiences, there are some striking similarities.

Now we get to the ‘reminder’ part—the knowledge these shows have bestowed upon me. Both shows involve abnormal amounts of wealth, manipulation, and duplicity. Both have characters that are ultracompetitive and constantly make morally questionable decisions. All of this has served as a reminder that I am venturing into a dangerous, competitive, shady environment. As I cover politics, I will no doubt encounter these intentions, these games, and these people.

All of this was also captured in a book I recently read: Hunter S. Thompson’s Better Than Sex, in which HST gives his one-of-a-kind gonzo-style account of the 1992 election. It includes memos from George Stephanopoulos, former President Bill Clinton, and CNN’s Ed Turner. He credits the idea behind the title to his friend Missy. Writing about the phrase, he said,

“And I had fallen for it. But so what? I am of the romantic sensibility, as they say, and I am easily swayed in that direction, which is dangerous…” (p. 221).

The idea behind the claim is basically that to the master game-players, who are the best of the best in their arena, politics is better—more enticing, more thrilling, more rewarding—than even sex. Many of his comments about politics—particularly U.S. politics—are spot on, or at the very least, thought-provoking:

“Politics is the art of controlling your environment.” (p. 64)

“Nixon was genetically dishonest and so is Bush [Sr.]. They both represent what Bobby Kennedy called ‘the dark underbelly of the American dream.’ ” (p. 105)

“They are politicians, nothing more. The truth is not in them, and they like it that way.” (p. 127)

“All governors love pretty girls. It’s the American way—unless you’re the President, and then it gets tricky. But some people never learn.” (p. 177-8)

“Politics is a very nasty business, win or lose, and you never really know whose side you’re on, especially when you win.” (p. 183)

Do I really want to venture into a world where all this game-playing occurs, when I know full well that the media often contributes to the over-publicized, crazy competitive sparring matches between career politicians that lead to a lack of legislative productivity? Well, as much as I must confess I crave a good game every now and then, what I really hope to do with my career is to promote cooperation and productivity at the political level—to push aside the games and focus on pressing issues and realistic solutions.

Most people would call it foolish and idealistic. Most people would call me crazy. So go ahead. I dare you. I promise I’ve already been called worse. But instead of name-calling, I commit myself to honest storytelling. I commit myself to promoting real progress. But to do so, I must dive into “the dark underbelly.” It’s fast and it’s dangerous.

HST’s book focused primarily on the 1992 presidential campaign and the election of Bill Clinton. Near the end, he said,

“Speed kills, they say, and speed is also very addictive. It gets you there faster, and fast is the only way to run if you want to be president of the United States. Buy the ticket, take the ride. Some will march on a road of bones, and others will be nailed up on telephone poles. That’s the way it works.” (p. 230)