Is This the Year We’ll Get a Congress That Looks Like America?

Published in Vitamin W on October 17, 2012, here. 

Congress doesn’t look much like America. There aren’t many women — just 17% of Congressmembers are female, in fact, and of those 90 congresswomen, just 24 are people of color. There aren’t many Hindus, amputees, lesbians, Latinas, or women veterans either.

But in this election cycle, more women are running for office than anytime in recent history. If 87 of the 163 women nominees win their elections, women will comprise 20% of Congress, the largest rate increase since 1992.

Furthermore, 2012’s nominees represent an unusually wide variety of backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, sexualities, and experiences.

Here’s a sample of just ten of this year’s 163 women nominees who aren’t your typical power-suit-and-pearls type. These women show a real diversity of thought, background, life story, and experience better represents the makeup of the United States.

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When Ads Preach Hatred

Published in Women’s Media Center on September 13, 2012, here. 

The author, shocked by an anti-Islam advertisement posted at her local train station, is more disturbed at how such sentiments take root in American soil – especially at a time when such hate statements have triggered extreme anti-American acts abroad.

This week marks 11 years since terrorist attacks brought down the World Trade Center towers. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Americans, vulnerable and blind-sided by the tragedy, were inundated with us-versus-them rhetoric, reinforced by the president and other elected officials. The language of hatred slated Western, Christian, and American against all that was non-Western, non-Christian, and not American. In the minds of many, fear of terrorists legitimized the Patriot Act, which institutionalized racial profiling, and excused the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.

More than a decade has passed, yet the deep hatred in the United States of those who practice Islam has not subsided. In fact, the radical right – which has increasingly become part of the GOP’s status quo – has held onto these beliefs both proudly and shamelessly.

Some weeks ago, I confronted startling evidence of this mindset as I disembarked from a Metro North train at the end of my weekday commute to and from New York City. Amid the familiar army of black and navy blue suits eager to join families for dinner, I noticed a stark, black advertisement with red, white, and blue type: “*19,250 DEADLY  ISLAMIC ATTACKS SINCE 9/11/01 *AND COUNTING. IT’S NOT ISLAMOPHOBIA, IT’S ISLMAOREALISM.”

According to Mother Jones magazine, the ad and others targeting New York and San Francisco commuters are sponsored by the anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller. She made headlines last year when she backed other ads castigating a proposed Islamic community center near ground zero, calling it a “mega mosque” and a “victory mosque” that celebrated 9/11. She rose to prominence with her anti-Muslim website “Atlas Shrugs,” named in honor of Ayn Rand (the late, iconic novelist whose economic philosophy inspires GOP vice-president nominee Paul Ryan). By mid-2010, Geller became a fixture on Fox News, commenting on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and the threat of Muslims and Shariah law in the United States. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers Geller’s organization, Stop Islamization of America, a hate group.

Combined with her seething hatred of Islam, Geller’s other claims make it hard to define her as anything other than a white supremacist. She is a birther who has described Obama as beholden to his “Islamic overlords,” and as one who wants jihad to be victorious in America. She has denied the existence of Serbian concentration camps in the 1990s and believes that black South Africans are engaging in genocide against white South Africans.

The anti-Islam ads, however, are not random outliers or radical statements. Instead, they represent a fear and hatred of Muslims and Islam that has been particularly rife of late.
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13 words advertising Anti-Islam: a summer of hate

I traipsed lazily off the metro-north train after my 63-minute commute from Manhattan one day last week, returning to the comforts of my small, quaint hometown. Amid the familiar army of black and navy blue suits eager to join their families for dinner, I noticed a stark, black advertisement with red, white, and blue type: *19,250 DEADLY ISLAMIC ATTACKS SINCE 9/11/01 *AND COUNTING. IT’S NOT ISLAMOPHOBIA, IT’S ISLMAOREALISM.”

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Since the billboard was first erected at the Katonah station, I have spent every morning and evening on the train gazing out the window as these billboards gradually litter the platforms of other train stations and subway stations. Who is sponsoring this? How is this legal? Why aren’t we up in arms? And finally, why am I not surprised?

Last Wednesday, August 15, Mother Jones magazine reported on these anti-Islam advertisements that have appeared on public transit in both New York and San Francisco. In addition to the ad I first saw at the Katonah station, the others imply that Muslims are “savages” and urge onlookers to “support Israel” and “defeat jihad.”

According to Mother Jones, the ads were sponsored by the anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller, who made headlines last year when she backed similar ads castigating a proposed Islamic community center near ground zero, calling it a “mega mosque” and a “victory mosque” that celebrated 9/11. She rose to prominence in the aftermath of 9/11 when she launched the anti-Muslim website, “Atlas Shrugs” in honor of her influencer, Ayn Rand. By mid-2010, she became a fixture on Fox News, commenting on foreign policy in the Middle East and the threat of Muslims and Shariah law in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League considers Geller’s organization ‘Stop Islamization of America’ a hate group.

Combined with her seething hatred of Islam, Geller’s other claims make it hard to define her as anything other than a white supremacist. She is a birther who has described Obama as beholden to his “Islamic overlords,” and that he wants jihad to be victorious in America. She has denied the existence of Serbian concentration camps in the 1990s. She believes that black South Africans are engaging in genocide against white South Africans, a popular justification that once helped legitimize apartheid, harking back to Charles Manning’s 1964 manifesto ‘In Defense of Apartheid.’

Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik cited Geller’s anti-Muslim rants in the manifesto he posted online just hours before killing 77 people at a left-wing youth camp last summer.

So the question becomes: how did this radical lunatic’s advertisements take some of the biggest advertising spaces visible to a huge cross-section of the city and suburbs of New York? How is this allowed?

Initially, the MTA rejected the “support Israel” and “defeat jihad” ad on the grounds of defamation towards a group on the basis of religion. Geller and her attorney sued the MTA, claiming that the ad referred to behavior, rather than to a group of people. They also cried the First Amendment. Ultimately, the ad did not violate the MTA and the San Francisco Muni’s ad policies, and here we are.

In a way, these ads are timely; they exemplify a summer of hate, a summer that has seen so many attacks against the way that Muslim people live, worship, and work.

Take, for instance, in July when Rep. Michele Bachmann and four other members of congress claimed that Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, is connected to a Muslim Brotherhood plot to infiltrate the U.S. government.

Also in July, Tea Party activists initiated a witch-hunt after Samar Ali, a former White House Fellow and current international director of Tennessee’s Department of Economic and Community Development. After her appointment, a vocal group of conservatives and Tea Party activists claimed that Ali is a sleeper agent. Similarly after Ali’s appointment, The Center for Security Policy said in a blog post: “it is reasonable to expect that the financial jihadists will soon be targeting the volunteer state for infiltration and influence operations.”

The most disturbing instance of anti-Islamic sentiment this summer did not come from the mouth of a prominent politician, but rather, from the barrel of a gun. Earlier this month, Wade Page, an army veteran with ties to white supremacist groups opened fire on a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, ruthlessly murdering six worshippers there. While Sikhism is a religion distinct from Islam, the sentiment – or perhaps, intention – is the same, as many Sikhs have been targeted alongside Muslims since 9/11: if you worship differently, dress differently, and have brown skin, then you are a terrorist, and you will be targeted. It’s modern-day McCarthyism, and it is broadcasted on a billboard in Katonah.

The reason I felt compelled to write in response to the advertisement, rather than in response to Michele Bachmann, for instance, is because of the ethereal power advertising has. It didn’t take a manifesto or an article, just the brilliance of a simple and hateful ad campaign: 13 words that hark back to our fear in the wake of September 11. 13 words that justified the Patriot Act, the use of torture at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. 13 words that will alienate children and influence the way their teachers teach them, that will alienate workers and the way employers hire them, that will alienate worshippers or burka-wearers or turban-wearers and the way that strangers treat them.

13 words that will prop up the Tea Party and influence public policy in this country.

13 words that will inspire others, out of hate, to violence.

Students Petition for Transparency in Commencement Speaker Selection Process

By Megan Reback

In one short week, a petition calling for more student input in choosing Connecticut College’s commencement speaker has garnered signatures from over 230 students and alumni of the college. The petition comes after an ongoing dialogue among students concerning the choice of speaker for this year’s commencement, Louis B. Susman.

On December 11, 2011, President Lee Higdon sent the campus community an announcement that Susman would be the keynote speaker: “I have known Lou Susman since we were both at Salomon Brothers in the early 1980s, and I have followed his career trajectory with interest. Before becoming an investment banker, he practiced law for 27 years in St. Louis, and he has been active in public service for decades.”

Currently, Susman is the United States’ ambassador to the United Kingdom, a prestigious position that is typically appointed to diplomats. As a longtime member of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) who was nicknamed “the vacuum cleaner” for his ability to compel wealthy individuals to donate to the DNC, Susman was appointed to the position after raising funds for President Obama’s election campaign.

While proponents of Susman’s appointment argue that his background in finance and law would adequately prepare him for the position, others are more critical of the decision. Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist at a watchdog group called Public Citizen said, “Clearly his appointment has nothing to do with anything but money.” Others describe the appointment as cronyism at its finest. Continue reading

Press Release: Connecticut College History Course historicizes 9/11 through the perspective of the New London community in a documentary, Historicizing 9/11: New London

Connecticut College History Course historicizes 9/11 through the perspective of the New London community in a documentary, Historicizing 9/11: New London

On Tuesday, May 8 at 7 pm, students at Connecticut College will make history. A project that began as a class assignment for students to interview New London residents about their experiences in 9/11 has evolved into the first-ever national documentary about the far-reaching impact of the terrorist attacks in the former whaling city.

Located over 200 miles away from New York City, New London seems removed from the onerous ruins and debris left by the attacks. Yet, Historicizing 9/11: New London reveals how ordinary people in New London from business owners to firemen remain haunted and confused by the terrorist attacks. Among those individuals interviewed are Vivian Torregrossa, the owner of a Lebanese restaurant, and Tracee Reiser, the Associate Dean for Community Learning at Connecticut College.

Recognizing that New London residents had a story to tell, members of Professor James Downs’ new course Historicizing 9/11 Internationally and Locally, interviewed dozens of residents of New London, and then began the arduous work of editing and producing a documentary.  “This project offers a rare opportunity for ordinary people’s lives to be captured in the archive,” says Downs, an associate professor in the History department. “Without this project, many of these people’s experiences, reactions, and history would be lost. The students have created a unique opportunity to leave a record of the present for the future.”

Thirty students completed this project, from conducting and transcribing interviews to editing and producing the full-length documentary to writing the press release and organizing the screening.

The film was sponsored by Connecticut College’s Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy. The event is open to the public and will take place in Silfen Auditorium on Tuesday, May 8 at 7 pm at Connecticut College. A brief reception will follow the event.

Occupying Homes and Hartford

This article was originally published by the College Voice on December 12, 2011, here. 

By Megan Reback
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Protesters at Occupy Hartford.

Several months ago when the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has spawned Occupy protests across the globe, critics predicted that activity would slow, particularly in Zuccotti Park, as winter neared.

Despite the mass arrests by police all over the world, and despite attempts by law enforcement to dismantle encampments, the movement has endured, taking on myriad faces.

In New York City, where the movement first began in September, protesters have adopted a new tactic that focuses on foreclosures, which have been rife since the housing bubble burst a few years ago.

Rather than taking to the streets, Occupy protesters have started occupying foreclosed homes, specifically the homes of people who are about to be evicted because of foreclosure. The movement has been dubbed “Occupy Our Homes,” and seeks to place blame on big banks for precarious and “shady” mortgage practices that encourage risky loans, allow highly speculative investing, take taxpayer money for bailouts and carry out illegal evictions.

As a result, a new mantra has arisen from this new offshoot of the movement: “Foreclose on banks, not people.” Continue reading

CC Dissent, At Crossroads, Discusses Student Loans

This post was originally published by the College Voice on November 21, 2011, here. 

By Megan Reback

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment in a series covering the Occupy Wall Street movement and its effects both on and off campus.

On Thursday, November 18, Connecticut College hosted a discussion by Psychology Professor Stuart Vyse called the “Failures and Pitfalls of the Occupy Wall Street Movement,”  which focused mainly on the student loan crisis. The event, which took place in the Charles Chu Room, was well attended by approximately thirty students, several professors and many representatives of CC Dissent, a new group on campus that supports the Occupy Wall Street movement and advocates for its causes on campus.

Professor Vyse was a deliberate choice for hosting the talk, as he recently authored the book Going Broke: Why Americans Can’t Hold On To Their Money and teaches a course on behavioral economics. He referred to the text throughout the lecture, discussing the ways in which people relate to money and debt.

According to Professor Vyse, our current society lives with the myth of the American Dream, whereby making money is entirely dependent on hard work and personal responsibility. “Money is central to who people are,” he said. “There are a lot of attributions made about people in respect to money and there’s also personal philosophies in life regarding how we talk about it.”

However, he went on, the Occupy Wall Street movement has pointed out that making money “is not just about hard work. If it were, then there would be a lot of people up on this hill [at Connecticut College] who aren’t here now.”

Another concern that the Occupy Wall Street movement has addressed is student loan debt, something that many students on the Connecticut College campus can relate to. With a comprehensive fee of $54,970, one of the top five most expensive colleges in the country (and therefore among the world’s most expensive institutions), many students must take out loans in order to attend. Professor Vyse pointed out that what it takes to “get up onto this hill,” to attend a private, elite, liberal arts college, does require a lot of money, and many students ultimately graduate with thousands of dollars of debt.

One of the main demands of the movement, which has been supported by several economists, the New York Times columnist David Brooks, as well as Professor Vyse himself, is student debt forgiveness. “Student loan debt should be potentially expugnable in bankruptcy proceedings. You will be indentured to bankruptcy and that is the problem. This is worth being angry about,” said Professor Vyse.

When corporations go bankrupt, which essentially means that their assets are no longer sufficient to cover their debt obligations, their remaining assets are liquidated in order to repay loans and bondholders. The case typically goes to bankruptcy court. However, as Professor Vyse points out, there is no equivalent for students drowning in overwhelming debt. They become indentured servants to that debt for years. Continue reading