Thursday, May 26, 2011

An enlightening evening with Angela Davis and Tim Wise

On Friday May 13, I went to my hometown of Oakland on an SSU Residential Life trip to see Angela Davis and Tim Wise in Conversation at the First Congregational Church. Upon arrival it was clear that the attendance would be in the hundreds, as there were throngs of people going into the church. It was a very diverse audience with a large number of African American people, which makes sense considering the subject matter was race. Angela Davis is a well known activist/communist/fugitive/retired professor whose recent work has focused on, among other things, how capitalism and the prison industrial complex relate to race. Tim Wise is a prominent antiracist speaker and writer who I first saw at SSU speaking about his piece titled "Between Barack and a Hard Place," and I have since read a lot of his online writings.

The conversation addressed many realities regarding race, many of which I have already developed some awareness of as someone interested in social justice. But it also helped to further open my eyes to both past and contemporary issues regarding race. They discussed several subtopics, including the influence of capitalism and private prisons in keeping racism alive, white animosity toward discussion of white privilege (the "I work hard, so why shouldn't I be able to keep my rewards" mentality), and a tendency among working class racially resentful whites to vote against their own interests to punish people of color they feel don't deserve the same interests. That last point addresses something which I have thought and worried about a lot lately, due to its negative effect on democracy serving the interests of the people. Despite the seriousness of the topic, the speakers were able humorously spice up their discussion often.

The evening was a very productive experience for me and the presenters offered a lot of hope for solving the modern-day issues of race being discussed. It also made it ever more obvious that you are never done learning about an issue. I would definitely recommend these kind of events to others, especially considering that while we have come a long way on race, we still have a long way to go, and we should never ignore the topic.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A lot of progress in disability advocacy efforts

In the past couple of weeks, I have made a lot of progress toward my yearlong goal to create a space for disabled students and their allies to form a support group and raise awareness. The first week in May was Disability Awareness Week, during which I both answered questions for a screening of my film "The Asperger's Difference," and got initiated into the disability honor society Delta Alpha Pi. During both events I shared with people my efforts on campus. Then on Thursday of that week, for the first time I held a meeting with several staff and students who are interested in helping and we starting discussing logistics of moving my efforts forward, particularly when to start, and whether or not to start an independent club or an outreach effort within DAP itself. Since then I have been able to hold regular meetings with the same people to discuss these issues, meeting with the newly elected officers of DAP during the most recent one and attending a presentation about club chartering right after that.

All of these recent developments are looking to be a lot more promising than the more occasional ones that have previously taken place. The people I have met with have really demonstrated an enthusiasm to help me out with my specific goals. The new leaders of DAP have expressed an interest in actively reaching out to all disabled students regardless of their year and grades, as well as allies, in order to create the sort of space that I would like to see. Several staff have offered to sponsor my efforts. I have laid out specifically what it is I am hoping to achieve to more and more people who have been very receptive. I have a very good feeling about the way things are going and I look forward to establishing an open support group for all students with disabilities and their allies in which we can raise awareness and work on projects toward achieving it. Although its been difficult at times, perseverance seems to be paying off.

Death of a terrorist-to celebrate or not to celebrate?

I was in the SSU Library on the evening of May 1 when I first heard the news that American forces had killed Osama bin Laden. Being from a progressive family that condemns war and violence, my reaction was not one of celebration, but of amazement and of uncertainty regarding the impact of bin Laden's death on the War on Terror. I know that apart from short-term backlash from terrorists, bin Laden's death and its long-term consequences are obviously good news, and bin Laden definitely deserved to be brought to justice after 9/11 and all the other mass murders he is responsible for. However, I personally feel that celebrating his death kind of brings the US down to his level (considering the way those who supported his actions celebrated on 9/11).

I realize many think there is no good reason not to celebrate and that some (such as President Obama) even think that those who don't like that bin Laden was killed should have their heads examined. Many of those who have celebrated are close to my age and thus have spent half their lives fearing terrorism, so in a way it offers some relief. My parents and I even have friends in New York who are just as progressive as we are, but as residents of the city hardest hit by 9/11, their gut reaction was to celebrate and not hold back on a moral basis. But before taking such a position it is important to put things in perspective. For instance, there are politicians and other officials in our own country who have orchestrated policies that have taken many more lives than bin Laden ever did, and yet most have not received any sort of criminal punishment. And since bin Laden was unarmed (as described here), I think there was less justification for killing him than there would have otherwise been, though the fact that capturing and trying him would have been a nightmare makes me more ambivalent on this issue. But as awful a person as bin Laden was, celebrating someone's killing (regardless of what it achieves) felt wrong, especially considering others were killed and that children were there. I concur with the sentiments in this article, which draws a comparison to the Passover Seder practice of dripping wine when mentioning the Ten Plagues to avoid celebrating the disasters that befell the Egyptian oppressors in the story of Exodus.

So yeah, the reaction to bin Laden's death is perfectly understandable, given all the circumstances. But as explained in this article, it does not make America great, and celebrating someone being killed should not be one of America's values, no matter how awful the person who died was.