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Documenting The Occupation: A Call For A New Media

2011 October 16

It has been twenty-four hours since the solidarity march left Duncan Plaza in front of the New Orleans City Hall and there is still no trace of local media coverage. The march was difficult to ignore, leaving as it did from the steps of City Hall, moving through the Central Business District, and targeting the locus of the city’s economic foundation, the French Quarter. Traffic was stopped on Canal Street, the center of New Orleans tourism, where hundreds of people left their shopping to watch, photograph, and video record the procession. Chants of “This is what democracy looks like!” “Banks got bailed out—we got sold out!” and “We are the 99%!” rang throughout the very heart of the city. Employees of local businesses left their work to raise their fists in solidarity. When the march passed a wedding in front of St. Louis Cathedral, a man in a tuxedo joined the ranks. Though the message of unity was heard by thousands of tourists, business owners, and passersby; though the march was recorded by hundreds of onlookers; and though the march was one of more than a thousand solidarity demonstrations worldwide, it failed to win the attention of a single news team.

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Triumph In Zuccotti Park!

2011 October 15

Apparently, “indefinitely” does not mean very long to Michael Bloomberg. Two days after the Mayor announced that Wall Street occupiers would be permitted to remain in Zuccotti Park indefinitely, he announced that they were to evacuate by the end of the week. The evacuation was allegedly intended to allow sanitation workers to clean the park of its rampant waste. However, with little waste visible and the promise of a police presence, it became distinctly clear to the occupiers just what waste Bloomberg intended to remove.

The evacuation was initiated by the park’s owners, Brookfield Properties, who had deemed the conditions in the park “unsanitary” and “unsafe.” Brookfield’s CEO, Richard Clark, had written to police commissioner Ray Kelly requesting police support for the dispersal of all varieties of unsightly rubbish. Fearing that the “temporary” evacuation might quickly become permanent, protesters promised peaceful resistance, planning to form a human chain around the perimeter of the park before its scheduled tidying at 7:00 am on Friday morning.

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Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? A Book Review

2011 October 14
Being born black in America is no easy thing to describe. I’ve been here nearly thirty years and I’m still not entirely sure what’s going on. If you’re interested in the subject, there is plenty of reading material. Fiction. Non-fiction. Poetry. Take your pick. Figuring out what it means to be black in America is one of America’s favorite pastimes. And there is not a single great black writer that I can think of who doesn’t take some time out of their personal struggles and ambitions to dedicate a few thousand words to the effort. My own small collection has names like James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Bell Hooks, and Amiri Baraka, to name a few. I’ve been pretty underwhelmed with contemporary writers’ takes on the subject and I’ve been waiting for someone with real gusto and talent to take up the challenge. And so, I was rather intrigued when the writer Touré announced he’d be publishing a book entitled Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What It Means to Be Black Now. I’ve been pretty ambivalent about Touré over the years. His first collection of writing, Never Drank the Kool-Aid, struck me as the work of a very talented writer writing about very interesting things, but not really challenging himself. One cannot fault his musical ear—I find him to be as astute a contemporary musical critic as there is right now, at least where hip hop and pop are concerned. He’s got a very good grasp of the minute workings of popular culture but also a sensitivity to historical precedents and patterns. At the same time, more often than not he and I are on the opposite sides of most social arguments. Despite that, I still try to catch his FuseTV show when I can and I follow him on Twitter, occasionally speaking up with a contrarian @reply when I have the chance to be heard above the din. I appreciate his voice and his conscience despite disagreeing with him so often. And so, indeed, out of a sense of solidarity, I knew I’d be buying Who’s Afraid Of Post-Blackness? even though also I knew I was going to have serious problems with his thesis.And indeed I did buy it. And indeed, I do have serious problems. read more…

Occupying Together and Dispelling the Apathy Myth

2011 October 12

Sitting in my holding cell after the Brooklyn Bridge arrests, I had ample time to think about what I would do when released. Like many protesters that day, I had not been fixing to get arrested, and was still wading into the Occupy Wall Street movement. We all entered that day with varying levels of commitment, but those arrests insured that 700 of us (the Brooklyn 700, as one of my holding cell-mates called us) left irreversibly involved in the eruption of a movement. That’s why all I could think about was returning to Liberty Plaza.

I was first made aware of Occupy Wall Street during the Troy Davis vigil a few weeks back. Many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters took a break from the occupation to join in the Davis march. After years of Iraq, Afghanistan, bailouts, the Patriot Act and Katrina, the Troy Davis execution was the straw that broke my complacency. For a moment, it seemed that public dissent would—had to—dictate the staying of a wrongful execution. Pressure from the populous must be powerful enough to overthrow a tyrannical wrongdoing. When the execution was carried through, we were shocked into the realization that if we do not do our best to change the system, we are complicit in its mistakes. read more…

Zooey Deschanel and the Appeal of the Girly Girl

2011 September 26

There’s been a lot of ink spilled lately about actress Zooey Deschanel. After all, she’s pretty much the indie girl idol right now, what with her whole “quirky” new prime time television show and her (actually pretty great) music with M. Ward and her billboards and tweets and general ubiquitousness. But as she becomes more and more famous, it becomes increasingly apparent to me that Zooey is one of those oddly polarizing characters who seem to divide women along party lines. Though she’s just one person, just one goofily twee actress, the various reactions to Zooey World™ have come to represent the schism apparent in modern feminism and subculture lady-hood. And I find this divide curious—maybe even a little threatening.

On one hand, you have the detractors—or, in colloquial-speak, the haters. This camp, which includes famous funny person Julie Klausner, views Zooey as the spokeswoman for a certain type of particularly saccharine adult girlishness. In an article republished on Jezebel, Klausner writes:

It’s like how we used to hide our interests around boys (“I hate math! It’s so hard!”). Now, instead, we’re singing the praises of Skittles Sours instead of emulating, say, Kathleen Turner? Barbara Stanwyck? Any female lead from the pre-awkward era who stuck out her tits and didn’t talk like Rocky from the Bullwinkle cartoons? You realize the Harajuku girls who danced behind Gwen Stefani, are like “seriously, bitches?” And then they go to book club.

It’s all to the same ends—women are trying to broadcast to men that we won’t bite their dicks off. It’s just that now, instead of lipstick, we’re wearing glittery lip gloss, or that shit you get in the drug store that tastes like Dr. Pepper.

The comments on this article are particularly telling. Hoards of Etsy-lovin’, bird jewelry-wearin’ feminists come out to deny one of Klausner’s main points—that this whole girly girl act is a thing we just put on for the men folk—using purely anecdotal and persona evidence. Now, I have to say I disagree with Klausner on this point as well. I don’t believe the candy-mouthed infant act is necessarily an attempt to get a boyfriend. I do, however, think it’s tied to certain ideals of what a woman should be that aren’t necessarily made for men, but are constructed around a world that is still defined and dominated by certain power dynamics.

The act that Zooey Deschanel appears to perform on a daily basis, the act that The New Girl presents as a way of life, is unabashedly child-like. Though there are plenty of narratives about the grown-up dude bro (see: The Hangover, Parts I & II) and plenty of people worried about the decline of manliness, I find myself far less concerned with the breakdown of the modern man. This is partially because the “fountain of youth” version of masculinity no longer means the man’s a scrub—it’s equally possible that the jeans-clad hipster type is a successful Zuckerberg-in-training, or something equally lauded by society. read more…

Heterosupremacists and the Protection of Inequality

2011 September 22

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” wrote Thomas Jefferson in our nation’s Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Well, apparently we could have used some elaboration. If we’d asked Jefferson himself, he would have had to concede that he was being quite literal when he wrote that all men are created equal, and that he really didn’t mean it anyhow because he rather enjoyed possessing human beings as he would a teapot, as long as they were of the right (or wrong, as it were) pigment. Since then, the people of the United States have worked diligently to disallow the inhuman indulgences of our forefathers and written instead new declarations of unassailable civil rights. Each individual cause has been a battle in the great war for equality, which is being slowly but steadily won by those who champion unqualified—which is to say, true—egalitarianism. Still, there are those who stand up daily to defend blatant injustice and the antique notion that some are greater in quality and more deserving under the law than others. Unfortunately, but perhaps expectedly, these advocates of evil comprise almost the entirety of the Republican presidential field.

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A Decade of Imprecision: Reflections on America and Islam

2011 September 11

Today marks the tenth anniversary of perhaps the most egregious, manipulative, and immeasurably dangerous linguistic crime in modern history: the equation of the words “Muslim” and “terrorist.” This irredeemable offense was perpetrated and perpetuated by both the United States government and the national media, who have advanced this heinous fallacy with humiliating regularity since September 11th, 2001 without any reduction in frequency or ignorance. If the horrific events in Oslo this summer taught the world any lesson at all, it should have been that the word “terrorist” must only be synonymous with “terrorist.” How soon this country forgot the work of its own Timothy McVeigh, who committed the most deadly terrorist attack on the United States prior to 2001, while being white, American, and Christian.

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A President of the United States Must Acknowledge Evolution as Scientific Fact

2011 August 22

In the 152 years since the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, there have been veritable mountains of evidence supporting the claims therein. In addition to the fossil record that Darwin cites, modern science has witnessed the development of radiocarbon dating (which is used to mark with staggering precision the age of organic matter) and molecular biology (which has allowed for the careful examination and comparison of genetic structures within organisms), the three of which together have collaborated to produce an overwhelming and irrefutable mass of substantiating evidence. No other scientific explanation for the progress of organic life ever offered has approached the elegance of Darwin’s theory. As evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins has said, “Evolution is as much a fact as the heat of the sun.” Acceptance of evolution as the method by which life on earth has and is perpetuated is compulsory for every thinking mind on our planet. Yet doubt regarding this fundamental scientific truth still permeates not only our citizenry, but our elected government. This detail, demonstrated almost weekly on the campaign trail, is not only disappointing, it is dangerous.

Over the last few months, an array of Republican presidential candidates has confessed skepticism about one of science’s most well established facts. Texas Governor Rick Perry told a South Carolina supporter last Friday that “God is how we got here. God may have done it in the blink of the eye or he may have done it over this long period of time, I don’t know. But I know how it got started.” This came just one day after he told a woman and her child in New Hampshire,

How old do I think the earth is? You know what, I don’t have any idea. I know it’s pretty old so it goes back a long, long way. I’m not sure anybody actually knows completely and absolutely how long…how old the earth is. Your mom was asking about evolution and it’s a theory that’s out there. It’s got some gaps in it. In Texas we teach both Creationism and evolution in our public schools, because I figure you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right. read more…

Rhetoric Has Real Consequences: Reflections on Oslo

2011 July 28

Like so many people around the world, I was shocked and deeply upset by the terrorist attacks in Oslo last week.  For me, my feelings were reminiscent of what I felt that crisp September morning my senior year in high school, when our futures changed and thousands of people died.  Even though the attacks of Anders Behring Breivik occured thousands of miles away in a country I have no personal connection with, I was deeply disturbed.  As we all learned more about Breivik and his deranged motivations for the murdering and wounding of more than 100 people, the influence of far-right bloggers and political groups on his thinking and bizarre beliefs has become startingly clear.  And it is all too familiar.

Free speech is an integral component of diverse, free, vibrant, and open societies.  But free speech also has its limits.  Speech is powerful: it can enliven and awaken the broad spectrum of human emotion; and it can encite action, both positive and profoundly destructive.  Some of the most despotic and destructive political regimes the world has seen gained their power not through military might, but through powerful rhetoric—words used to manipulate emotion and action.  The same could be said of many of our most valued advocates for social justice; anyone who has read or heard the speeches of Rev. Martin Luther King cannot deny the power of his words to move and motivate.  As a law student, as an advocate of civil rights and freedoms, I am loathe to put limits on free speech.  But there is a point in which speech can incite dangerous action. read more…

The Four Fails Of Bicycling in a Big City, Plus: The Win Made of Fail

2011 July 20

Some background: about a year ago, I threatened to be a more avid cyclist, a commuter. However, thanks to a pretty bad winter and a workplace that doesn’t really support cycling, I waved the white flag and continued my abusive relationship with the subway system of New York City, only using the bicycle sparingly. It was in an almost less conducive atmosphere, this particularly humid New York City summer, though, that I actually developed the habit of repeatedly going biking. Every other day, for more miles than I thought I’d be able to do, I get on the bicycle and scale the west side of Manhattan, from Houston Street to under the George Washington Bridge. Along the way, though, I’ve witnessed, and been a party to, many of the problems that come with the privilege of cycling in an already congested environment.

Yes, it is a privilege. The opportunity to ride a bicycle around a metropolitan area is not a right. It is a luxury, in fact. It demands not only the cost of the rental, upkeep, or purchase of a bicycle (a sturdy pair of wheels connected by gears and a seat can start at around $400), but a bit of safety and sanity as well. Anecdotal evidence supplied from anyone who has ever witnessed a moving vehicle in the city will tell you that they operate within not only their own laws, but by their own laws of physics. Bicyclists, too, have more recently acquired a reputation for unlawful behavior, which we hear more about these days. This, by my count, is for two reasons: New Yorkers generally feel free to walk in that little bit of space right off the street, which we now know as bike lanes, and thanks to decades of experience, we’re used to the cars. An abundance of cyclists, though, is a change that many in the city are not welcoming. Because of city cycling’s relatively recent surge in popularity, bikers are on much thinner ice than motorists. If the city decides the bike lanes were not a good idea, it’s as simple as laying down black paint on top of green paint for them to vanish. It’s as simple as cops being told to ticket cyclists as fervently as they go after parking violators. The city grants people a right to bike, and this could unravel at any moment.

Because of this uneasy situation, there is a fight over the future of the bicycle in New York City. The relationship between cyclists and the rest of the city needs to improve to keep things from backsliding. Unlike NYMag, though, which only seems to care about directing their massive klieg lights on the few people at the center of the debate, I’m interested in focusing on the problems on the street. It’s important to note, though, that these problems are not just the fault of stubborn drivers and sensitive pedestrians. The cyclists are as guilty as the rest of the populace, and I’ll be the first to admit it. Welcome to a special outside edition of Four Fails and a FTW: Cycles and The City.

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