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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Middlebury College President Admits to Investment in Arms Manufactures and Fossil Fuels

President Liebowitz sent an email concerning divestment to students, faculty and staff on Tuesday December 4, 2012. He announced that at least $33 million of the endowment is invested in fossil fuel companies and at least $7 million is invested in arms manufacturers.

Ron urges that we be “inclusive of all opinions.” To invest in fossil fuel companies is not an opinion. It is an act of violence against our planet. To invest in war is not an opinion. It is an act of violence against people.

Ron wants to consider “what the implications might be for the College, for faculty, staff, and individual students.” What we should consider is: what are the implications for our planet and its people — including but not limited to the College, faculty, staff and students — if we continue to invest in these companies?

Does our “fiduciary responsibility” take into account what we ought to be paying to clean up after these companies? Does it take into account the human costs? If it did, would we still invest in fossil fuel companies and arms manufacturers?

How many bullets can you buy with $7 million? How many bombs can you build? Is that 0.8% of the endowment so profitable that it is worth the price in human life to hold on to it? Knowing that it is such a relatively small amount of the endowment, it is unconscionable to not divest.

And so the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
–Martin Luther King Jr. “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top”

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Luaay Was Here

One year ago today, a backpacker and self-described “student of life” came to Middlebury College. He stayed for one week, until he was forced to leave by five officers for making students uncomfortable. During his visit, he spent most of his time in town or in the library translating medical articles into his native Serbo-Croatian. He engaged everyone he met inquisitively, eager to listen, ask questions and share his own perspective.

Regardless of his actions that made others uncomfortable, he also stood out. He was immediately identified as an ”outsider” and suspiciously questioned by some staff and students. We must ask ourselves: why? Why did Luaay, a tall black man with dreads, stand out so much on our campus? After his removal, accusations abounded that he was homeless, an accusation not only false but fundamentally reflective of a classist worldview. Luaay could be removed but the prevailing ideology of xenophobia and judgments steeped in race and class remain.

Let us take this day to engage and grapple with issues of race and class on campus.

Let us reflect on the exclusion that is fundamental to our elitist education.

Let this be a day of reflection on Love, Understanding, Anti-racism, Anti-classism, and (the former) Yugoslavia. LUAAY.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Why I Won't Vote — W.E.B. Du Bois

Originally Published in The Nation, 20 October 1956.

Since I was twenty-one in 1889, I have in theory followed the voting plan strongly advocated by Sidney Lens in The Nation of August 4, i.e., voting for a third party even when its chances were hopeless, if the main parties were unsatisfactory; or, in absence of a third choice, voting for the lesser of two evils. My action, however, had to be limited by the candidates’ attitude toward Negroes. Of my adult life, I have spent twenty-three years living and teaching in the South, where my voting choice was not asked. I was disfranchised by law or administration. In the North I lived in all thirty-two years, covering eight Presidential elections. In 1912 I wanted to support Theodore Roosevelt, but his Bull Moose convention dodged the Negro problem and I tried to help elect Wilson as a liberal Southerner. Under Wilson came the worst attempt at Jim Crow legislation and discrimination in civil service that we had experienced since the Civil War. In 1916 I took Hughes as the lesser of two evils. He promised Negroes nothing and kept his word. In 1920, I supported Harding because of his promise to liberate Haiti. In 1924, I voted for La Follette, although I knew he could not be elected. In 1928, Negroes faced absolute dilemma. Neither Hoover nor Smith wanted the Negro vote and both publicly insulted us. I voted for Norman Thomas and the Socialists, although the Socialists had attempted to Jim Crow Negro members in the South. In 1932 I voted for Franklin Roosevelt, since Hoover was unthinkable and Roosevelt’s attitude toward workers most realistic. I was again in the South from 1934 until 1944. Technically I could vote, but the election in which I could vote was a farce. The real election was the White Primary.

Retired “for age” in 1944, I returned to the North and found a party to my liking. In 1948, I voted the Progressive ticket for Henry Wallace and in 1952 for Vincent Hallinan.

In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no “two evils” exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say. There is no third party. On the Presidential ballot in a few states (seventeen in 1952), a “Socialist” Party will appear. Few will hear its appeal because it will have almost no opportunity to take part in the campaign and explain its platform. If a voter organizes or advocates a real third-party movement, he may be accused of seeking to overthrow this government by “force and violence.” Anything he advocates by way of significant reform will be called “Communist” and will of necessity be Communist in the sense that it must advocate such things as government ownership of the means of production; government in business; the limitation of private profit; social medicine, government housing and federal aid to education; the total abolition of race bias; and the welfare state. These things are on every Communist program; these things are the aim of socialism. Any American who advocates them today, no matter how sincerely, stands in danger of losing his job, surrendering his social status and perhaps landing in jail. The witnesses against him may be liars or insane or criminals. These witnesses need give no proof for their charges and may not even be known or appear in person. They may be in the pay of the United States Government. A.D.A.’s and “Liberals” are not third parties; they seek to act as tails to kites. But since the kites are self-propelled and radar-controlled, tails are quite superfluous and rather silly.
The present Administration is carrying on the greatest preparation for war in the history of mankind. Stevenson promises to maintain or increase this effort. The weight of our taxation is unbearable and rests mainly and deliberately on the poor. This Administration is dominated and directed by wealth and for the accumulation of wealth. It runs smoothly like a well-organized industry and should do so because industry runs it for the benefit of industry. Corporate wealth profits as never before in history. We turn over the national resources to private profit and have few funds left for education, health or housing. Our crime, especially juvenile crime, is increasing. Its increase is perfectly logical; for a generation we have been teaching our youth to kill, destroy, steal and rape in war; what can we expect in peace? We let men take wealth which is not theirs; if the seizure is “legal” we call it high profits and the profiteers help decide what is legal. If the theft is “illegal” the thief can fight it out in court, with excellent chances to win if he receives the accolade of the right newspapers. Gambling in home, church and on the stock market is increasing and all prices are rising. It costs three times his salary to elect a Senator and many millions to elect a President. This money comes from the very corporations which today are the government. This in a real democracy would be enough to turn the party responsible out of power. Yet this we cannot do.
The “other” party has surrendered all party differences in foreign affairs, and foreign affairs are our most important affairs today and take most of our taxes. Even in domestic affairs how does Stevenson differ from Eisenhower? He uses better English than Dulles, thank God! He has a sly humor, where Eisenhower has none. Beyond this Stevenson stands on the race question in the South not far from where his godfather Adlai stood sixty-three years ago, which reconciles him to the South. He has no clear policy on war or preparation for war; on water and flood control; on reduction of taxation; on the welfare state. He wavers on civil rights and his party blocked civil rights in the Senate until Douglas of Illinois admitted that the Democratic Senate would and could stop even the right of Senators to vote. Douglas had a right to complain. Three million voters sent him to the Senate to speak for them. His voice was drowned and his vote nullified by Eastland, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who was elected by 151,000 voters. This is the democracy in the United States which we peddle abroad.
Negroes hope to muster 400,000 votes in 1956. Where will they cast them? What have the Republicans done to enforce the education decision of the Supreme Court? What they advertised as fair employment was exactly nothing, and Nixon was just the man to explain it. What has the Administration done to rescue Negro workers, the most impoverished group in the nation, half of whom receive less than half the median wage of the nation, while the nation sends billions abroad to protect oil investments and help employ slave labor in the Union of South Africa and the Rhodesias? Very well, and will the party of Talmadge, Eastland and Ellender do better than the Republicans if the Negroes return them to office?
I have no advice for others in this election. Are you voting Democratic? Well and good; all I ask is why? Are you voting for Eisenhower and his smooth team of bright ghost writers? Again, why? Will your helpless vote either way support or restore democracy to America?
Is the refusal to vote in this phony election a counsel of despair? No, it is dogged hope. It is hope that if twenty-five million voters refrain from voting in 1956 because of their own accord and not because of a sly wink from Khrushchev, this might make the American people ask how much longer this dumb farce can proceed without even a whimper of protest.
Yet if we protest, off the nation goes to Russia and China. Fifty-five American ministers and philanthropists are asking the Soviet Union “to face manfully the doubts and promptings of their conscience.” Can not these do-gooders face their own consciences? Can they not see that American culture is rotting away: our honesty, our human sympathy; our literature, save what we import from abroad? Our only “review” of literature has wisely dropped “literature” from its name. Our manners are gone and the one thing we want is to be rich–to show off. Success is measured by income. University education is for income, not culture, and is partially supported by private industry. We are not training poets or musicians, but atomic engineers. Business is built on successful lying called advertising. We want money in vast amount, no matter how we get it. So we have it, and what then?
Is the answer the election of 1956? We can make a sick man President and set him to a job which would strain a man in robust health. So he dies, and what do we get to lead us? With Stevenson and Nixon, with Eisenhower and Eastland, we remain in the same mess. I will be no party to it and that will make little difference. You will take large part and bravely march to the polls, and that also will make no difference. Stop running Russia and giving Chinese advice when we cannot rule ourselves decently. Stop yelling about a democracy we do not have. Democracy is dead in the United States. Yet there is still nothing to replace real democracy. Drop the chains, then, that bind our brains. Drive the money-changers from the seats of the Cabinet and the halls of Congress. Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln,and when again we can hold a fair election on real issues, let’s vote, and not till then. Is this impossible? Then democracy in America is impossible.

Republished from Black Economic Development

P.S. The Gadfly lives

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Institution Strikes Back

Forest residents are likely aware that some individual(s) took it upon themselves to begin the re-decoration (de-institutionalization) of LoFo. In an email sent out to residents, Linda Schiffer made it clear: “It was the decision following the building’s renovation, to leave these walls just painted.  As blank as they are, that is the decision.” Who was involved in this decision at the time of renovation? Who was not involved?

I question the ease with which the original student art was painted over, and again how quickly it was repainted when a threat to this institutional decision materialized. LoFo as it exists now is a neutered space, deprived of the art that gave it character and made it a beloved student space. How much time and money was just spent to re-institutionalize LoFo back into a grey-washed space? And why? Because “the decision” has been made?

The act of re-decoration seems to be primarily a political act, organized against the institutionalization of the space. We must address this underlying message and not write it off as senseless dorm damage.

We must ask ourselves why this space exists – and for whom. Ultimately, we must begin a conversation about how we want our space to be used, including how it should look. It cannot be a decision made by administrators alone and handed down from the top. It must come as a dialogue between students, deans, and staff. That is, if we place any value on student input.

For the sake of full disclosure, here are two other pieces of art that were not included on the email to Forest residents:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Institutional Assault on Student Space

I would like to preface this post by stating outright that I am angry and frustrated. I have wanted to write on this topic, in which I am emotionally invested, for a long time but have been unable articulate my concerns ‘objectively’. So, what follows are my opinions, drawn from my experiences as a student volunteer in The Gamut Room.

What is student space? In one way or another, virtually every component of Middlebury College’s campus could be qualified as student space. I do not deny that all of our buildings, infrastructure and open spaces serve students, no matter how removed they appear to be. However, to equate space used to serve students with student space grossly undervalues the spatial dynamics at play. When examined critically these dynamics demonstrate that our campus is in fact more or less devoid of student spaces.

But space, and more significantly place, is important to human experience. Shouldn’t student space be important to ours as students? Humans are territorial beings. Look around and you will see that the way we organize our world is deeply connected to social, political and economic factors (to name but a few). Everywhere we go we participate in a complex and dynamic relationship with our physical environment. We relate to place, and depending on the nature of that relationship, we act in place.

Surely our institution understands the ways in which space and place shape and define our small community of intellectuals, artists, athletes, activists etc. Look no further than Old Chapel and you will find a geographer sitting in the president’s office. We live in a built environment crafted over hundreds of years to meet a specific set of criteria, to help us students achieve the ideals of liberal arts education espoused by our college on the hill. Certainly someone (in the administration?) must be thinking critically about how spatial relationships shape our community. This is not about marble floored libraries, state of the art athletics centers or a megalomaniacle science facility that dominates the rural landscape in ways those who dwell inside cannot comprehend. This is about how our institution structures students’ spatial relationships with campus places.

I define student space as space for which students are responsible. Ask yourself, was the person who vandalized your social house or dormitory last Saturday night responsible for the space they damaged? Were you? Am I responsible for my dirty dishes in the dining hall? Sure, the costs of irresponsible behaviors get passed on monetarily through tuition and fees but is that the only way to quantify their costs? Unfortunately, those are the only costs that really seem to matter in this community, because quite honestly, space doesn’t have a lot of meaning. I respect our scenic campus very much. I wouldn’t intentionally vandalize it because I value it and I value our community. In general, that is how I relate to all public space. I wouldn’t harm it, but I wouldn’t necessarily put myself in significant discomfort to protect it, whereas in my home, where I am responsible for space not only for myself but also for my family, I go to great lengths to prevent harm and stop harm once initiated. This is a no brainer. I relate to my home (space with layered meaning and responsibility) differently than I relate to public space.

To varying degrees, our campus is comprised of public space… but it doesn’t have to be. I do not suggest that we need more private spaces on this campus; that would be counter-productive to our objectives as students. A distinction must be made between shared space (on the public end of the spectrum) and student space. Dorm lounges could be considered a form of shared public space. In theory, they act as a communal room for a residence hall where people come together to study, relax and talk late into the night. But let’s face it, that model failed with the true commons system. Dorm lounges all look the same, smell the same and feel the same because they are all extensions of the same institution that controls them, Middlebury College. Lounges aren’t student spaces; they are college spaces for students. Therefore, I’ll let the aggressive dorm drunk take a shit in my college lounge because even though I might live next door, the lounge has no meaning to me. It is not a part of me, and I am not a part of it.

So, why don’t spaces with layered meaning under the protection of students exist on this campus? The college actively works to destroy them. Enter The Gamut Room. Controlled by students for students. One of the few places on campus where that statement holds true. I have been involved there for the better part of four years and every semester I’ve seen the space (and community) underachieve while overworked managers struggle to realize its limitless potential to be a place of positive community interaction. The Gamut Room has a rich history that stretches back over forty years. Murals cover the walls above cozy couches in the unique subterranean den. One step inside and you know this place is different, it has the character, authenticity, life and warmth possessed by places where thoughtful users shape their environment to meet their own needs. Yet last semester The Gamut Room made zero revenue and more often than naught, was empty, dark, uninhabited. Why? Why does The Gamut Room underachieve?

I have struggled to answer this question for years. Do students not yearn for a space that is their own? Are we truly satisfied with the spaces provided by the institution? Is it the drinking culture that swallows swarms of our peers each weekend? Our heavy workload that makes casual socialization nearly impossible? The design of our campus? The design of the room itself? The food we serve? Our reputation? In my search for answers I have blamed myself, my peers and fellow managers (Sam, Lizzie, Emmeline and Ryan, I am sorry if I held you responsible).

My anger and frustration reached boiling in the fall of 2010 when Tim Spears, Vice President for Administration at the college, sent an all school email requesting applications for a student run café in the space recently vacated by the Juice Bar. I couldn’t think let alone speak about the subject without muttering curses under my breath. Did they not know about The Gamut Room? Why would the college establish a student-managed café when one already existed? With a little extra support, couldn’t The Gamut Room fill the void left by the Juice Bar? My indignation only grew as details of Crossroads Café trickled my way.

Allow me to put this in perspective. I began my term as manager in the fall of 2009 with high hopes for the coming year. Those hopes were dashed the third week of the semester when the folks at CCAL told me I had to close the kitchen until it was licensed by a state health inspector. This movement toward greater regulation had been coming for a long time, but why wait until the third week of the semester to tell me? I’d already volunteered dozens of hours to plan events and staff the kitchen. As the conversation continued, I realized that none of them had any idea what it would take to qualify for a license. Thus began a four month long wild goose chase. I had no choice but to do it myself. Don’t get me wrong, I never could have gotten a license without the support of the college, but it could have been much easier had they been well informed or given me just a little bit of notice. That semester and the following j-term, I sacrificed academics, friendship and health to keep The Gamut Room afloat. So, perhaps you can understand my frustration when I learned that during the planning process of Crossroads Café, the management team assembled by the administration received substantial support from high level administrators and got paid, sometimes as much as forty hours per week, for their service to the college.

I was outraged. I didn’t understand. Sure, Crossroads is great. I can now say that I am glad it exists. Yet, I couldn’t fathom why the college would treat two student cafes so differently. What about Crossroads merits this level of support while The Gamut Room flounders in a perpetual state of asphyxiation in the basement of Gifford? My answer lies in a fundamental difference between the two spaces. Students manage The Gamut Room for students while students manage Crossroads Café for the college. Thus, Crossroads Café is not a true student space. In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense why the college would invest so much in Crossroads and so little in The Gamut Room. For many months I have harbored doubts about these convictions. Earlier this month, my doubts were extinguished.

As I mentioned above, The Gamut Room is on the edge of collapse with weak prospects for the future. Thus, several other students and I offered to take over management for j-term to inject new life into the space. Now here’s the kicker… on Monday the 9th of January, we received an email from JJ Boggs, Doug Adams and Matthew Biette notifying us we had to close the kitchen until further notice due to non-compliance with state health regulations. Fortunately, I dealt with this same regulation two years ago and learned from the state health inspector that compliance at the level proposed by CCAL was unnecessary for a kitchen of our nature. Had I been a first time manager, I might have spent months trying to satisfy this requirement. Instead, I fought back and for the time being, the issue is on hold. I want to make absolutely clear that I do not believe The Gamut Room deserves special privileges under the law. If it turns out that we need to send a dozen of our employees to a $200 eight hour training session to operate legally, we should, and we will. What I object to is the style with which this decree was delivered. One would think that the indefinite closure of a student café on campus would be worthy of an emergency meeting to help student volunteers surmount a formidable obstacle. Instead, it was only worthy of a vague email with no reference to the origin of concern. Would Crossroads Café receive the same treatment? It is my sincere hope that the lack of support given The Gamut Room during my time as a student is the result of honest oversight and not motivated by an institutional ideology that undervalues student efficacy. I will not speculate any further on this matter.

However, I will explain why I believe the college acts against its own interests by under-supporting student spaces like The Gamut Room. As we all know, we are in the midst of an epidemic that manifests itself in damaged property. I am talking about reckless social behavior that in worst-case scenarios ends in assault, the hospital or even death. And those are the costs we can quantify. I ask myself, what makes binge drinking and its associated damages socially acceptable? SPACE. Think about the spatial characteristics of the social spaces provided by the college. Do they demand respect and preservation? The basements of our social houses are designed to contain and minimize destruction while enabling destructive behavior, that is why they are barren and we only use them once or twice a week. Is containment and minimization the best way to prevent the kind of behavior the college is currently leading a crusade against? What we need are student spaces with value and meaning beyond the white on blue stamp of Middlebury College, where our relationship to the environment motivates and regulates behavior in line with our values as a community. I am talking about places where students are part of space, where they are invested, where they are willing to confront a friend in order to preserve something that has meaning to them. College policies and ideologies have left us living in a desert of institutional space. When The Gamut Room dies, will the fight be over?

No. The Gamut Room does not stand alone. Weybridge House, The Bike Room, Old Stone Mill and Middlebury Musicians Guild all have student spaces that unite, empower and teach. Given the popularity of these programs, it is clear that students want space to make their own. Yet, like The Gamut Room, these spaces frequently face resistance from the administration and struggle to thrive in a system that chronically undervalues their existence. Even if they appear safe from incorporation into institutional space we must be wary. The administration didn’t have any trouble evicting the Mountain Club from the attic of Adirondack House last spring even though the group, a mainstay of our institutional image, occupied the space since the 1970s. With actions like this (and the whitewashing of LoFo) the college has proven that they can destroy student space with near autonomous authority. If we value these spaces and their ability to create a better Middlebury experience, we must fight to protect them. Only we have the power to tell the administration what we want. The time has come to use our voice.

- arp

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy Friday the 13th

So today I received an email from the esteemed MCAB president regarding the sad state of the Middlebury Bunker. Google took the opportunity to make some recommendations as to what I may be interested in.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Brief Report on the Most Bothersome Internet Posts Today

A neo-columbian take on the eastern seaboard. Abhorrent and divisive? Yes.
But who knew that NJ had such contested internal politics? This map is both fascinating and disgusting.

Below you should find a Cartography final created by a Rutgers University
student majoring in Ethnic Studies and Political Communications.
He recently failed the semester.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Israel Brings Racist Discrimination Policies to U.S Capital

Courtesy of Mondoweiss, covering "The War of Ideas in the Middle East"

***Especially recommended reading for 1) soon-to-be Middlebury graduates looking forward to those burgeoning State Department job opportunities and 2) members of Middlebury Hillel, who continue to sponsor propaganda "Birthright Vacations" and stifle debate over the occupation. Enjoy!

Lawsuit fights hotel’s decision to bar Muslim employee from serving Israeli officials (UPDATED)

by Alex Kane on December 9, 2011

Mohamed Arafi is suing his employer for barring him from servicing an Israeli delegation staying at a Washington, D.C. hotel
Scroll down to see Max Blumenthal's thoughts on the case.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in town to address the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum, and Mohamed Arafi, a Moroccan-born U.S. citizen, was ready to work. An entire Israeli delegation, including Barak, was staying at Washington, D.C.’s high-end Mandarin Oriental Hotel, where Arafi has been a valet dry cleaner since late 2009. But when he showed up to work on December 10, 2010, he was told that he was barred from working the two floors where the Israelis were staying. The reason given, according to Arafi, was because he is Muslim, and the Israeli delegation did not want to be served by Muslims.
Now, Arafi and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) are fighting back in the form of legal action alleging employment discrimination by the hotel against Arafi. The recently filed case is currently in district court in Washington, D.C, and comes on the heels of an inconclusive Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling on the case.
The hotel is not backing down, and responded in a Nov. 28 filing (pdf) that they were following a national security directive from the State Department that barred Arafi and 11 other employees from serving the Israeli delegation.
Arafi says that the hotel has also punished him for speaking out by cutting his workweek from five days to two days, and that his work colleagues said demeaning things about Muslims to him after the incident became known to them.
“What they want me to do is just quit,” Arafi said in a phone interview. “I don’t want to run away…I want to stay there until I have my rights.” The company has denied Arafi’s charges.
The case could also be seen as a stark illustration of the consequences of Israeli-style “war on terror” attitudes towards Muslims.
The lawsuit describes what happened (pdf), according to Arafi, when the Israeli delegation came to the hotel:
Ms. Escander, [Arafi’s supervisor], stated to Boris [another employee], “Boris, Israel is here. You go up and get the dry cleaning for Mohamed.” Mr. Arafi was confused and asked for an explanation. Ms. Escander stated to Plaintiff, “You know the Israeli delegation is here. You cannot go on the 8th and 9th floor (to pick up or deliver laundry).” Plaintiff asked for further explanation. Ms. Escander stated, “You know how the Israelis are with Arabs and Muslims. It’s better if you just let Boris go.”

Democracy in America is a sick joke and the masses aren't laughing anymore.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Don't Ignore the Climate Talks: A Problem Greater Than Inaction

The COP17 Durban Climate Ministers are sending a clear message, if ever so politely: "Fuck you, Africa." Keep reading to find an article after the break featuring South African Professor Patrick Bond on the new privatization of soil, activist intimidation, and a Seattle '99 style walkout. 

But first you gotta ask- who let this guy crash the party?