Populist Rage and the Specter of Neo-Nazism in Greece, oder Mein Kampf mit der Politik

It is doubtful that anyone in America has heard about this, or frankly could give two shits if they had, but the European community has reacted with disgust at the recent results of the Greek parliamentary elections held on May 6, 2012 in which the Golden Dawn (a party advocating Neo-Nazism) received a startlingly high 7% of the vote.  Of course, the European community has reacted with disgust at these relatively high electoral numbers, with bloggers heaping shame on the Greek electorate for its perceived proto-fascist bent.  (Neni Panourgiapenned an article for Al Jazeera critical of the party’s frequent vigilante and racist ideology in which she identifies such a proto-fascist movement as a more general ‘European Problem’).

Ms. Panourgia’s article nicely documents the terrorist tactics employed by the Golden Dawn since the 1970’s, and identifies their racism and bigotry.  However, the article leaves unanswered its author’s most potent question, posed in the last third of her piece:

“Why would Greeks, who fought against totalitarianism in massive numbers and paid one of the heaviest tolls in Europe for their participation in the resistance against Nazi Germany, vote for this despicable, emetic, and deeply anti-political formation, even as a protest?”

This is a question that is not on its surface an easy one to answer, yet with some careful consideration, one can pose a partially satisfactory answer.  Being an amateur student of Western history, I for one am not surprised that the populist Golden Dawn party should see a surge in public support at a time when Greece and the rest of Europe are being driven ever closer to the brink of economic disaster.  The austerity programs which left millions of people unemployed and begging in the streets have been perceived as a massive failure by all but the financiers of the European monetary system (not to mention Germany and France, who were forced to shoulder heavy burdens in order to inject capital into the Greek economy and who saw their continued entanglement as an undesirable alternative to restrictive austerity whose principle effects would be felt only in Greece), and given the rise of serious talks of kicking Greece out of the Euro, one must expect a steep incline in populist anger to manifest itself in the polls.

A rise in public outrage is to be expected in times of economic decline—we’ve witnessed it in America in recent years with the Tea Party movement, and before that with the much more subdued xenophobia of Pat Buchanan’s failed presidential campaign.  Both of these domestic movements contained more than a hint of racial or other types of bias and short-sighted reactions, but even by the worst accounts they are not seriously comparable to Nazism.  However, given that it seems to be only natural for people to lash out at something—anything—in difficult times, one can’t help but wonder whether criticizing these movements on their face, as many in America have done with the Tea Party and Mr. Buchanan, and as Ms. Panourgia has more recently done with the Golden Dawn, is a constructive project.  Not surprisingly, such tongue-in-cheek criticisms—almost always made with a condescending tone from a privileged universalist position of multiculturalism, which always risks nothing but words—will be well received by the indoctrinated left, and conversely easily dismissed by those on the right who are consumed by populist rage.

Slajov Zizek, an intellectual hero of mine for some time, has written extensively on the subject of populist anger, dedicating an entire chapter to it in his 2008 book, In Defense of Lost Causes (IDLC).  Though he himself ultimately disagrees with the theoretical implications of populism for reasons too complicated to get into here, he nicely elucidates some of its more desirable practical qualities.  From a starting point, he describes populism as occupying a position that is:

“ultimately always sustained by ordinary people’s frustrated exasperation, by a cry of ‘I don’t know what’s going on, I just know I’ve had enough of it!  It can’t go on!  It must stop!’—an impatient outburst, a conviction that there must be somebody responsible for all the mess which is why an agent who is behind the scenes and explains it all is required.”  (IDLC, 282).

Zizek’s initial observation seems similar to the much rehashed critiques of populist movements levied by liberal-multiculturalists who esteem tolerance of otherness as the highest virtue; namely that such movements are the product of an infantile lashing out at the world, or an oversimplified view of a complex situation.  Anyone who has had any experience with the Tea Party or has studied the rise of Nazism after World War I can attest to the fact that these criticisms are undoubtedly well founded.  However, they fail to recognize the aborted revolutionary potential that is present within all populist movements from the rise of fascism in post-war Europe to the modern day reprisal of Nazism in Greece and elsewhere in the Eurozone.  The problem with populism, is that it correctly identifies an injustice (almost always capitalist excesses that have led to difficult economic times for the “average” citizen), but fails to recognize that the source of that injustice is systemic.  Rather than direct criticism at the system directly, populists movements almost always take for granted the fact that the system is inherently sound, moral, and good, preferring to single out a behind-the-scenes actor whose excessive qualities have poisoned the erstwhile harmonious structure.  Or, from Zizek:

“For a populist, the cause of the trouble is ultimately never the system as such, but the intruder who corrupted it (financial manipulators, not capitalists as such, etc.); not a fatal flaw inscribed into the structure as such, but an element that does not play its part within the structure properly.  For a Marxist, on the contrary (as for a Freudian), the pathological (the deviant misbehavior of some elements) is the symptom of the normal, an indicator of what is wrong in the very structure that is threatened with the ‘pathological’ outbursts…. This is why fascism definitely is a populism; its figure of the Jew is the equivalential point of the series of (heterogeneous, inconsistent even) threats experienced by individuals: the Jew is simultaneously too intellectual, dirty, sexually voracious, hard-working, financially exploitative  . . .” (IDLC, P 279).

The problem with populism is not that it is inherently “proto-fascist,”—far from it.  In many ways, the populist rage that is so easily condemned by self-described rational thinkers as childish outbursts of temperamental dilettante political actors is in actuality only slightly misguided.  If we are to single out one problem with populist rage, it is not, as its critics would allege, that it is too radical in its ideology and openness to brash or even violent political action.  On the contrary, the problem with populism is that it is not radical enough in its thinking and execution—it does not pursue the logic of its own presuppositions to their rational end.

 For example, in post WWI Germany, instead of directing anger toward central bankers and speculators, the National Socialists fixated on the figure of the Jew, upon whom all of the properties of the evil capitalists were transposed.  This was rather convenient for those who were in power at the time, as they ultimately had used all of the dirty capitalist tricks to consolidate wealth for themselves.  It would have been patently against their own interests to direct populist anger against the very system that ensured their survival, and so the Jew—a figure that had historically been mistrusted in European history—made a convenient scapegoat.  Modern populism is strikingly similar, except that the specter of illegal immigration has been transplanted in the place of the figure of the Jew.

It is for these reasons that the holier-than-though, let’s-all-just-talk-about-this, criticisms of the multiculturalist left are ultimately misguided.  Leaving behind the obvious fact that it is impossible to use reason to diffuse rage (be it justifiable or otherwise), the liberal multiculturalists completely overlook the positive aspects of populist political movements—namely, that they are essentially 85% correct in that they identify a serious problem, only they fail to look for solutions in the proper way.  One can’t help but wonder whether there is not some kernel of truth within modern populism that can be harnessed and put toward some more positive revolutionary purpose.  These movements at their most profound can be used as engines to affect positive change, or they can devolve into self-destructive forces of horrific proportions–begetting childish violence for its own sake. 

At a time when popular anger is on the rise, it would behoove those on the left to take notice of the revolutionary potential at its center, especially at such a key time in history.  Perhaps the biggest difference between our current situation and that which gave birth to National Socialism in the 1930′s is one of scale: in post WWI Germany, the state of economic inflation and the general destitution of the populace had gotten so bad that people had taken to burning their paper money for heat rather than spending it.  The situation in Greece has not yet become so dire, though it is fast approaching a tipping point.

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Dear Mr. President: An Open Letter to President Obama ~ Dave Imbriaco

Dear President Obama,

…….I am writing to you (and to any other American who wishes to share in this) because I, like many Americans, want to help our country get back on track.  Call it a cry for help or a public plea of a distressed citizen, but I digress.

…….My personal situation is hardly the worst it could be: I’m a graduate student living with my parents and partially self-funding my education with my own personal savings (I’m taking out loans for the rest).  On the other hand, I graduated in May of 2010 and have worked a total of only five months since then at a variety of jobs, always for $12 an hour or less.  Compared to other people my age, I consider myself to be incredibly lucky.  Think about that – lucky to have a supportive, loving family that has the means to keep me afloat while I struggle to get out on my own, barely holding down a poverty-wage job.  It’s heartbreaking and discouraging to know that so many others my age aren’t so fortunate, and I wonder how their futures will unfold.

…….Mr. President, I donated to your campaign, voted for you, and have defended your actions to the people that I encounter who disagree with or disapprove of them.  I, and many others like me, were swept up by your lofty rhetoric and cool demeanor.  I genuinely believed that your election would spell slow but steady improvement in our lives.  You campaigned on hope, but since your election Americans have only grown more hopeless.  Our situations are worse off now than when you took office, and as of now, I will be neither voting for you nor donating to your campaign in the next election because honestly, I and many others in my position – the very same people who put you in the oval office – feel betrayed by you.

…….I am very much aware that you did not create the enormous problems that our country currently faces.  You didn’t enact the policies over the past 30 years that triggered an economic collapse that some Cassandras knew was coming.  You aren’t responsible for the way wages have stagnated for 30 years while corporate profits have skyrocketed.  And of course I cannot blame you for the disgusting gridlock in Congress.  But your failure to make any credible attempt to rectify any of our problems has now made you complicit in them.

…….You are now two and a half years into your term and have been nothing but a disappointment.  The way you refused to fight for a public option in the health care debate.  The way you refused to expend any political capital to punish the people whose recklessness and greed caused the collapse (and how your administration, bafflingly so, is resistant to any attempt at holding those people accountable)! The way you cave to John Boehner and the Tea Party every single time a confrontation arises, be it the debt ceiling or the date of your supposed major address on jobs.  The way you allow blatant falsehoods about the economy and policy to circulate like the bubonic plague while refusing to provide your own narrative of what has happened in America.  The way you try to negotiate with those who have made clear their only goal is to bring you down.

…….You do not lead, you preside.  By the same token, you do not compromise, you capitulate.

…….In fact, your governing style (or lack thereof) is mind-boggling.  Mr. President, you refuse to stand up for your supporters while you try to reason with the unreasonable.  The opposition party has made it clear that they have absolutely no interest in working with you.  Don’t you remember when Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor that his primary political objective was to deny you a second term and to not solve our country’s problems?  I understand that good politics is about compromise, but when have any of your priorities not been sacrificed on the altar of bi-partisianship with nothing in return?  You just recently gave away the ability to regulate smog and got what in return?  That’s not a negotiated compromise, that is a giveaway – a sign not of strength, but of spinelessness.  You are actively abdicating your responsibility as President to be a leader.

…….Maybe I should have paid attention to the fact that you voted “present” more times than not in the Illinois legislature – a sign that you were afraid to do anything that might present an ounce of risk.  Maybe I should have thought twice when you tossed to the curb the man who married you and your wife, who was your “spiritual mentor” after a smear campaign comparable to John Kerry’s swift-boating.

…….Now, I have noticed how you stubbornly refuse to take positions beyond vague ovations of improving health care and appeals to a supposed American Exceptionalism.  At a time when the American people needed someone who would stand up for them, who would lead them and be unafraid to take a controversial position that he truly believes in, they mistakenly voted for someone who flees at the first sign of confrontation.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the man who said of the Wall Street banks (your campaign contributors) “I welcome their hatred” is rolling over in his grave.  Not only have you been an ineffective President, but also a failed Democrat – a party I was forced to abandon after years of active support when I felt that they turned on me.

…….I say with complete, unshakable honestly that I take absolutely no pleasure in doing this.  But with my firsthand experience and things I know about the current state of our economy, the trend is dismal, and reasons to be optimistic are harder and harder to find.  Your inability to successfully govern the country coupled with the undeclared war against the average American people by her own elites are causing America to crumble right beneath your feet.  I don’t even know for sure who’s side you’re really on anymore, the side of the people or the enemies of the people? Please be the president that I voted for in 2008. Otherwise, get out of the way.

………………………………………………………Sincerely in Frustration,

………………………………………………………Dave Imbriaco

______________________________

Photo courtesy of projectcensored.org

(http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/22-obamas-trilateral-commission-team/)

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Occupying the Brooklyn Bridge and the Power of Protest ~ Matthew D’Elia

Part I

I did not know what to expect when I decided to go to New York on Saturday to check out Occupy Wall Street. In fact, I had only opted to go after seeing the now famous footage of police brutality, courtesy of inspector Anthony Bologna aka “Tony Baloney”(video). I had originally planned to go with a couple of friends, but that did not pan out. For a moment I was hesitant to go by myself because I rarely travel to New York City, let alone get involved in a protest in which people have been beaten, pepper sprayed, and arrested. But I decided to go anyway. After walking out of the PATH Station at the World Trade Center I was immediately taken aback by the number of police officers stationed in the area. Apparently the police have occupied their own portions of Lower Manhattan where they are keeping vans, buses, equipment and personnel at the ready just in case the word comes in to start making mass arrests.

I wandered a bit until finally making it to Liberty Plaza Park (formerly known as Zucotti Park), where I continued to wander aimlessly, snapping a few pictures until I happened upon fellow Rutgers University students, Kristin Clark, Matt Cordeiro, and Joel Salvino, who were looking for a bathroom. Joel pointed out a ninety-five year old Marxist-Leninist who had been yelling at a few Ron Paul supporters. I wanted to know why this man was so insistent on being a Leninist as well as a Marxist, so I decided to have a chat with him while I waited for them to come back. Here I learned a valuable lesson: ninety-five year old men do not take shit from anyone. He formed his political beliefs in the 1930s and they seem to have not changed since.What made him a Marxist-Leninist was the idea that radical social change was only possible through a tightly structured organization with ideological cohesion,  a specific set of goals, a powerful leadership and the willingness to achieve their ends by any means necessary. Occupy Wall Street does not follow this model at all.

It is usually difficult to categorize or try to make sense of mass movements and protests that emerge seemingly out of nowhere. Occupy Wall Street is marked partially by a strange alliance of both Ron Paul supporters on the far right (Anarcho-Capitalists) and socialists, Marxists, and Anarcho-Syndicalists on the far left. Barring their consensus on the full expansion of civil liberties, the only agreement among the two sides is that greed and, to borrow a quip from the historian Thomas Bailey, the “international gangsterism” of the global finance industry and powerful states has crippled the global economy and propped up the power of a handful of elites at the expense of the majority.

Liberty Park is not only Occupy Wall Street’s staging ground, but has also become a temporary, indefinite home for the movement’s core group of organizers, including Zu, a former Rutgers student and resident of New Brunswick, who after getting laid off decided to sublet her apartment and move into the park. Most of the youth living in the park seem to be in a similar situation.  In order to accommodate themselves they have set up sleeping spaces, a kitchen of sorts, a medical station, and even a library.

As we began preparing for the 3:00pm march, there were whispers that we would be marching over the Brooklyn Bridge. At the time—and even now—I did not know whether this meant that we would be marching over the walkway or one of the traffic lanes. In any case, the march got underway without incident. We were positioned in the back because Zu had taken up the task of setting the pace from the back of the march. The senior citizens were to take up the vanguard. Ironically enough, there is a much higher chance of getting arrested in the rear of any given protest march, because from there it is much easier for the police to use the “kettling technique” to trap demonstrators. However, being positioned there actually prevented us from joining those on the traffic lanes and subsequent arrest.

The group of marchers was increasing in size as we moved north along Broadway towards the Brooklyn Bridge. This was easy to notice because in order to continue setting the pace from the back we had to keep moving behind all of the new people joining the march. People were getting really excited. There was a very energetic young woman (one of the organizers), who was running around starting up chants and trying to get everyone to close off the gaps between marchers. She accidentally stepped on the back of my shoe, causing my foot to fall out. She quickly said “Sorry, baby!” with real sincerity, and ran ahead to energize the rest of the group.

As we were approaching the bridge, I was still not sure if we were going to cross into the traffic lanes. The police had blocked traffic from travelling eastbound into Brooklyn, but had also formed a line to prevent protesters from entering. We were still at the very back of the march. The police were patrolling up and down the lane parallel to the walkway. It was not until we had travelled a few hundred yards up the bridge that we realized protesters had somehow made it down into the street. I had assumed that the police formed that line blocking protesters from entering the entire time; apparently that was not the case. A large number of protesters had stopped on the walkway to look, take pictures, and express solidarity with those who were fenced in on the street below. The police had already started making arrests, singling out specific individuals and grabbing them as the opportunity presented itself. After making our way a bit further up the bridge, past the penned in group, I heard a familiar shout. I squeezed over to the side to get a look and saw that energetic young woman, struggling and yelling as two police officers were dragging her away.

Those who were not trapped on the street or standing on the walkway to provide moral support made their way across the bridge into Brooklyn, where we rallied at Cadman Plaza Park, surrounding the William Jay Gaynor monument. Here the organizers passed along information regarding our fellow protesters on the bridge as well as advice on what to do next: who to call if a friend has been arrested, etc. Because Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are not permitted to use loudspeakers or megaphones, communication is done through a massive game of telephone. One person shouts the original message, and the surrounding crowd shouts it along to those standing out of earshot of the speaker.  I noticed that the same person never spoke twice. A different person conveyed each message.

While all this was happening, the police were slowly surrounding the park and making their way inside. According to them, we would not be arrested so long as we “did not break park regulations.” They conveniently failed to enumerate these regulations.

I would have loved to stay at Cadman Park, but I had a few obligations that night in New Brunswick. Joel and I decided to walk back across the bridge to get to the PATH station. As we started up the walkway, two police officers warned us that “protesters were blocking the path up ahead and not letting people through.” We snickered to ourselves, musing at how we could assume different identities by not walking with a large group of people.

The police were stationed throughout walkway, telling people that they had to keep moving to the other side of the bridge. Now there were buses (some of which were from MTA) lined up in the street below, outside of which arrested protesters were waiting to be loaded up and taken down to the station. Joel and I shouted down to one of the protesters asking, “how did you get down there!?” The response was “I don’t know, I was just following the group!” We then came upon the group of alledgedly obstructive protesters who, roughly twenty strong, were standing on one side of walkway in solidarity with those below. A few police officers were standing around them, telling them that they had to get off of the bridge. One man questioned the legality of forcing people off of a public walkway, to which an officer in a white shirt responded by grabbing the protester and threatening arrest. They said that we were allowed to be on the bridge, but that we “had to keep moving.” One of the officers began approaching me as I was trying to take a picture, so I quickly put down my camera and walked away.

As Joel and I walked to the train station, I could not help but mull over the greater significance of what happened and what my role was within these events. It was a shared role, of course. I am grateful to have had support from Matt, Kristen, Zu, and Joel. I feel like we are a part of what could become the largest social movement of our generation, but I do not yet know how to classify it.

Part II

History certainly verifies the power of protest, but despite this common technique, Occupy Wall Street is decidedly different from its predecessors in its organization and goals.

Solidarity, which with roughly ten million members would become the largest trade union in history, emerged  from a strike at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk, Poland, in 1980.  Solidarity used civil disobedience and nationwide strikes to demand workers’ rights and social change from a government whose legitimacy was founded upon notions of workers’ rights and social change. Though this movement was violently suppressed by the Communist government in 1981, they would remain underground throughout 1980s until finally reemerging in 1988-89 to successfully negotiate for democratic elections. This set into motion a chain of events leading to the Revolutions of 1989 in the Eastern Bloc and arguably the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Similarly, the Civil Rights movement demonstrates the efficacy of non-violent protest and civil disobedience in an American context. This movement exposed the inherent contradictions in a supposedly liberal, democratic state, which emphasized human equality in theory while in practice systematically marginalized the political power of a select group. In this case, the legal basis of the state itself had provided the means for its own criticism. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution could be used as effective tools to compel the U.S. government to concretely meet its theoretical obligation to guarantee political freedom for all citizens of the United States.

When compared to Solidarity and the Civil Rights movement, Occupy Wall Street lacks the means to make very specific demands because the enemy is not so clearly defined. For those living in the Eastern Bloc, information came from the Politburo and one could either accept it as fact or, as most did, reject it entirely. The goals of the Civil Rights movement were legitimized by the state itself.

Today’s issue is far more nuanced: the enemy is amorphous, and mainstream sources of information provide no basis from which this systematic oppression can be criticized.

Wall Street has become an institution fundamentally embedded within the political and economic structure in not only the US, but the entire world. So much so that its sudden failure carries with it the threat of global collapse through a process that practically nobody–let alone Wall Street bankers– truly understands. By creating specific demands that fit into the typical logic of American politics, the Occupy Wall Street movement would compromise its essence and surrender its claim to representing “the 99%.”

For example, demanding a specific tax increase on large corporations or a clearly defined fiscal policy on Wall Street–within the framework of mainstream economics–would do little curb their power over society.Wall Street and other corporate interests have gained such influence over the political and economic sphere that any such maneuver would require the support of these institutions to succeed. Having the power to convert and move its capital anywhere in the world in an instant, Wall Street could easily adapt to new economic circumstances. Large corporations, using the money they have already accumulated, could likewise send their productive potential outside of the country. In short, operating within the mainstream political, economic, and social paradigm would be self-defeating.

The failure of this paradigm  is apparent in its inability to predict the economic crisis of 2008, while Libertarians like Ron Paul and Marxists such as David Harvey had a sense that the system was untenable.

More importantly, creating narrow demands would undoubtedly alienate individuals who, although they support the revolutionary spirit of Occupy Wall Street, may see certain demands as being counterproductive to the overall intent of this movement. If the group’s demands do not receive something like unanimous consent, leaders would have to take the charge and set the agenda. Such an organization has certainly worked for movements in the past, but conditions in the present seem to belie this kind of structure.

Solidarity was lead by the personality of Lech Walesa and individuals such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were specific figures of inspiration within the Civil Rights Movement. These were all charismatic figures around whom personality cults formed and served as a source of inspiration and ideological cohesion.

Despite their effectiveness, Solidarity and the Civil Rights movement often did not represent “the 99%.” They represented certain classes of people who were clearly being oppressed within the legal framework of society. So they applied pragmatic political means, within the structure of their society, to achieve their ends. After taking power, Solidarity itself, as a political organization, succumbed to infighting among the leadership, causing its decline (Paradox of Change). Even Dr. King had to refrain from openly opposing the Vietnam War until after 1965, as doing so would have undermined support for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

Occupy Wall Street has no definitive leaders, just familiar faces.

This movement is not about playing politics with actors in a broken system. It has emerged as a result of the inability of so-called “leaders” to deliver on their promises and fix these errors. The masses of unemployed, underpaid, or indebted are sick of these political games and are seeking to build a new system in which they are free to use their vast creative potential and are not subject to all of the crap being shoveled by our political institutions. The only option is to try to create a movement that stands outside of this paradigm.

Occupy Wall Street should be seen as continuation of the Arab Spring, like the protests in Wisconsin, the demonstrations against austerity measures in London, and the protests in Greece and Spain in May. This is a global protest against the current organization of power: one that is suppressing the power of most individuals through exceedingly complicated mechanisms which are run by only a few. But this movement may be even more than just a reaction to thirty years of lying by global elites that is to be considered only within the context of recent history. Perhaps it is the enduring idea that those in power, whether they are political, bureaucratic, financial, or industrial elites, must be held accountable for their actions. An expansion of democracy beyond polls and voting booths, following through with principles established during the Enlightenment. In this regard, it may be more appropriate to consider this movement as a part of a tradition that dates back to the revolutions of 1688, 1776 and 1789.

_____________________________

Photos by Mr. Matthew D’Elia. All rights reserved by the artist.

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Occupy Wall Street (Day 13) Video and Photography ~ Dan Bracaglia

#Occupy Wall Street – Day 13

I avoided the enigma that is #OccupyWallStreet for nearly two weeks, despite it essentially taking place in my backyard. However, this past Friday I made my way down to Zuccotti Park around 2pm, to experience it for myself. Well, that is not completely true. I originally left work early on Friday, with a Canon 5D Mark II (with a 70-200mm 2.8 L lens) and Nikon D3s (with a 35mm f/1.4 lens) in hand (how’s that for democracy?!), at my boss’ suggestion, due to circulating  rumors that Radiohead would be performing in the park around 4pm. I was to shoot the show, if it happened, for Sound and Vision Magazine. Those rumors proved false—and that is probably for the best.

I ended up spending about 6 hours with “the movement,” on Friday, mingling about, talking to protesters, police officers, local shop owners, and bystanders alike. The day went a little something like this:

At 2pm I arrived in Zuccotti Park and found between 300-500 individuals present—most stood around one of two drum circles either dancing, playing instruments, or simply observing, while others were mulling around the makeshift sleeping areas, library, and media center.  Admittedly, the music coming from the circles was intoxicating.

By 4pm, the number of individuals in the park grew to somewhere around 3000, as a “General Assembly,” began to take place. The second and third image in this series are from that general assembly, which is a free-form open forum, in which anyone can address the crowd by shouting “Mic Check,” to which everyone in the park repeats back “Mic Check.” Messages are passed around the enormous crowd in a “telephone” like way—those standing nearest to you repeat the message back to you even louder, those who hear it then repeat it even louder to those even further away. It is by no means an ideal way to get information around, but worked surprisingly well.

By 5:00pm, the number of individuals in the park was probably somewhere between 4000 and 5000, excluding police officers. It was at this point I learned that the group was set to march down Broadway, 15 blocks, to One Police Plaza, in solidarity for those individuals who were allegedly beaten by police during a march the previous week.

By around 6pm, all 4000 to 5000 protestors had peacefully made it to One Police Plaza without any incident—their cheers upon entering the plaza were deafening. I stuck around there for another hour and a half before going back to my office.

You will notice several things in the images and audio slideshow that follow. First and foremost you will notice the immense diversity of those participating in this movement. That was by far what most impressed me. This is not a movement to support any cause in particular, in fact, I am not even sure you can call this a movement (however I will continue to as I don’t know any other name to call it).

The second thing you will notice is how dismayed, embarrassed and simply exhausted the NYPD looks in all of these images. All in all, I think the NYPD drew the short straw in all of this. Sure, a handful of police officers a week and a half ago may have abused their power and perhaps acted criminally, but in comparison to the number of times a day these protesters are marching, and the insane amount of man power it takes to keep everyone safe and traffic moving, the NYPD has beyond earned my respect. Every officer I encountered Friday was polite and courteous. In fact, I heard a protester use some pretty nasty language to a police officer who asked him to please stay off the street. The officer’s response? “Hey man, we are human too; we are just trying to keep you safe.”

I know 700 protestors were arrested Saturday for blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. There are conflicting reports from several individuals, that police tricked the protestors, saying at first it was OK for them to march on the bridge, and then arrested them all. I find this very hard to believe. Every officer I encountered Friday made it very, very clear that IF you were to block traffic in anyway, you WOULD be arrested, no questions asked. To those protestors who now have to deal with NYC municipal court, many of which I probably spoke with the day before, you have my condolences, however you have no one to blame but yourselves.

Speaking of the NYPD, other things you will notice from the audio slideshow are that a large number of police officers were equipped with video cameras and documenting the protest. I can only assume that this is the NYPD’s response to backlash from the protestors’ and journalists’ videos showing uncalled-for and illegal brutality some day’s prior. Either way, it is very interesting.

All in all, a lot has been said about #OccupyWallStreet in the past two weeks, some of it true, some if it not. If you are curious what this movement is all about, I would highly recommend taking an afternoon and experiencing it for yourself. Overall, I must say, I am impressed with the courage and passion of those core individuals who are so dedicated to this. What they aim to change, when it will happen, how it will happen, they don’t even know. But they aren’t going away anytime soon, and I think that is a very good thing.

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Alfa Art Gallery’s New Brunswick Salon ~ Call for Artists

New Brunswick Art Salon, Fall 2011 – Call for Artists

About the Exhibition

In the 18th and 19th century, Art Salons were the greatest annual or biannual art events in the Western world, celebrating the farthest advances in academia and the arts. The Alfa Art Gallery, in order to bridge talented and highly esteemed artists with the New Brunswick public, holds its own Art Salon exhibition biannually in the spring and fall.

Call for Entries

The Alfa Art Gallery would like to invite artists to submit work for the New Brunswick Art Salon, Fall ’11. There are two artist categories: newly emerging artists and professional artists. All submissions must be in by September 25. Artists will be notified if their work is accepted by September 30. The exhibition opening will be held on Friday, October 21.

Theme

For this exhibition, artists must submit works celebrating diversity or unity in a community.

Submission Requirements

All applicants must be associated with New Brunswick as a resident or as an artist who exhibits in New Jersey. Students and faculty members of Rutgers University and neighboring schools may enter. You must at least be pursuing an undergraduate career to participate. Degree does not need to be related to art.  There is no limit to the number of works entered.

To enter for consideration, please email the following to info@alfaart.org:

  • Images with title/dimensions
  • Resume/CV
  • Statement about your work
Or contact:
Jewel Lim, Event coordinator,

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Road Trip: To Sanity and Back ~ Matia Guardabascio

I have been struggling all week to write about the Rally to Restore Sanity, which Alex and I attended in Washington D.C. last Saturday. At first I thought I was just tired after having driven one thousand miles to D.C. from Boston and back. I had many conversations with people about the Rally, and was able to speak about it with ease. Why then could I not strap down my thoughts to some loose leaf? Why?

I spent the week pondering this simple question until finally, the answer dawned on me. Why can’t I think of one meaningful thing to say about the Rally? Because people don’t care about it. How can I write about something no one cares about? Or what’s more, why don’t people care? Could it be because the whole event was immediately buried by the media, practically the moment it was over? Could it be that the comparison to Woodstock, made by countless media outlets prior to the event, turned people off, or caused them to dismiss it as some crazy hippie gathering? Could it be that the event, which was also labeled as “entertainment” by those same countless media outlets, instead of as the political gathering that it was, caused people to dismiss it even further? Perhaps the answer is “all of the above”.

Let me be clear about one thing: I did not go to the Rally to be entertained; I went to be empowered. And I was.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me boogie on back to the beginning: Boston, the night of October 28th. I left work at my normal time and rode the train home as I usually do. When I got to the station in my town I ran over to my already packed car and drove directly to New Brunswick. Nothing like a four hour race to Jersey after a long day of work with Issac Brock, Jimi Hendrix, and the Eagles of Death Metal for company. I slept soundly that night after splitting a bottle of chianti with my hosts, who always put up with my silliness whenever I come to New Jersey.

The next day, a friend and former writer for the JVP met me at 8am. We visited the bank to exchange a bag of coins for cash, grabbed some pancakes at the Palace Diner, then hit the road by 9:30am. By the time we got to Baltimore, the party music was already bumping. We arrived at Alex G’s apartment around 1pm. The drive was shorter than I had anticipated. Somehow Alex managed to get us a serious hookup for parking. My little Masshole Jetta sat by itself in the half circle in front of his huge apartment building for the entire time we were in D.C. Thank you Alex.

After catching our breathe, resting our feet, and snacking to the tune of Nas for two hours, we set off on what would become a twelve hour drinking marathon. The only word to describe the nature of our situation during that time other than belligerent is excessive. Perhaps youth is cruel after all, or is it whiskey?

Regardless, youth is what got us out of bed the next day, armed with breakfast sandwiches, coffees, waters, cameras, film, and, of course, my press pass. While my driving buddy survived the twelve hour marathon, he did not make it to the Rally in time to meet up with Alex and I, so the two of us embarked on our mission to find a good spot at the Rally.

This endeavor proved to be most difficult. There were, literally, hundreds of thousands of people descending upon the National Mall for this Rally. When we realized that planting ourselves with a good view among the enthusiastic crowd was not going to work, we made our way outside the designated areas for the public attendees, and up toward the stage (which was about 5 blocks away). We took turns leading the way through the swarms of excited people; there were tons of young people, many in costume or carrying signs. I could say that young people made up the majority of the crowd, but I’d be lying to you. So in the interest of truth, I’ll tell you what I really saw. I saw babies– yes, infants– and their parents, and their grandparents, and their aunts, uncles, neighbors, their teachers, their preachers, and their future college professors. Every kind of person these babies will meet in their lives was at the Rally– except for Glen Beck, of course. I didn’t see him there, except on the giant TV screens when Jon and Stephen showed us what the platform of fear in the media looks like.

After forty-five minutes of weaving through the largest and most diverse collection of people I have ever seen or been a part of, Alex and I finally made it to the Press entrance. A press pass goes a long way, let me tell you. The security official inspected my pass and waved me to enter. I told him that my camera man (pointing to Alex) was also with me. The guard let us both through to the spacious, guarded press section, which came equipped with its private selection of portable potties! We were not only in great audio range of the stage, but our view was direct and close to it as well. We could actually see Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osborne perform together. We could really see Kareem Abdul Jabar come on stage to prove a point to Colbert on behalf of Jon Stewart: that he cannot make generalized statements about all Muslims hating Americans because it is simply false. We actually got to see Tony Bennett sing “God Bless America”; and we, or at least I, sang along with him.

Alex and I were lucky. We did not have to climb a tree, or climb on top of portable potties (even collapsed ones), or sit on each other’s shoulders to get a good view. We were not those people who tried to jump a guarded fence to find a better place to stand.

When Jon Stewart came out to make his speech, he thanked us all for coming out, and appeared to be humbled by the size of the crowd that had responded to his call. If I had to wager a guess as to how large the crowd was, I’d say there were at least a few hundred thousand in attendance. Still, that feels like a modest guess. After having been in that crowd, and having had a good enough view to see the magnitude of it, I would even go so far as to say that half a million people were there. Look at this shot, which was taken after the Rally had ended and we had walked several blocks away from the National Mall:

Rally5-1

Consider this: the crowd you see in this photo is only a fraction of the people who attended. This is just one boulevard going off in one direction away from the Rally.

As soon as Stewart started talking, the crowd quieted down immediately and gave him their utmost attention. The level of respect for the man that I witnessed among the crowd was grand. More than anything, it was uplifting to see, to witness in real life how one person can reach across generations, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and states, to peaceably unite an enormous group of people. There was an electricity in the air as he talked to us and grew more passionate. He talked about how every day in this country people find a way to take care of their responsibilities while working together; the only place this spirit of ‘working together’ does not occur is in government. He talked about how the outlet for people to express their grievances and their discontents with our government, the media, is the system that is broken. As Stewart talked to us, he moved around a lot on stage, gesturing with his hands as he grew more passionate. And while his passion was obvious, it was not overwhelming. It was just right, in fact. 

Not surprisingly, when I got back to Massachusetts, people had hardly heard anything about the Rally, only what they’d heard prior to the event taking place. The question about the Rally that I answered more than any other was some version of this: “Was it really like Woodstock where everyone was… you know… (puts pointer finger and thumb to mouth to mimic smoking a joint)?” My answer: “No. It wasn’t like that at all. Not even in the slightest. People were there for the cause, not for music or for drugs. The spirit and energy of the crowd alone made that obvious.” What can I say really? People were attentive, respectful, eager to listen, and generally speaking, in good spirits. They really were. And as a result I felt connected to the people around me, even though I quite obviously knew none of them (except for Alex of course). For the first time in my short life I experienced that feeling of connectedness on such a large scale. The feeling is non-replicable. 

But now reality settles in again. The media will (and did) treat the Rally as they see fit, not as it was. And while I felt inspired and empowered by Stewart and the atmosphere of the Rally, I find that at present, I have never felt more discouraged or powerless. Why the contradictory feelings, you might ask? Because here I am, sitting at my desk, writing this article, and I know that the connectedness is gone. Why is it gone? Because now, a week later, when the Rally has been successfully buried by the mass media, all I can feel is ignored. I feel belittled. And more so now than ever, I feel like change is neither imminent, nor possible.

Perhaps this is the great downfall of all political movements: what to do when the Rally is over. What do we do after we disperse and return home? How do we keep the spirit alive when our platform to do so, the media, refuses to acknowledge it, refuses to cover it, as if it never happened at all? A tree did fall in the forest. I was there to hear it. Hundreds of thousands of people were there to hear that tree fall. And yet, here we are, a week later, and no one knows that tree was there in the first place. It is a sad day for America when thousands of eager voices come together to be heard as one and someone turns the volume off.

_________________________

Original Publication Date: 11.08.2010

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Humorless Budget Report ~ Ben Kharakh

RUSA had a good grabber for their budget meeting: “Where does your money go?” I didn’t stick around long enough to find out the answer to that question. Instead, I left after becoming both overwhelmed and underwhelmed by the first hour of the event—overwhelmed by the amount of information thrown at me; and underwhelmed by the absence of tools to make sense of it all.

The meeting began with the presentation of a survey regarding what some number of students thought about the current fiscal situation. I say “some number” because the audience was never informed of how many people RUSA spoke to for its survey. I’m not interested, though, in what random students think about who’s responsible for the current state of affairs. I’d care if random students knew how to fix the problem, but then they wouldn’t even be random students; I’m pretty sure we’d all know the names of the people who figured out how to balance the budget and save us all money. But rather than get something resembling a way out, I was given what struck me as a deeply unsatisfying narrative.

I was told that the cost of tuition was going up, that the amount of financial aid was going down, and that banks were profiting from it all. Meanwhile, the Obama administration had passed a bill barring private lending institutions from making a buck off the whole shebang, with the government handling the distribution of funds instead.  So: there was a massive problem and the closest thing to a solution came from the government. My gripe with all this is that there’s no room for me in the narrative besides as being the victim. The whole thing struck me as very disempowering.

Unfortunately, most of the information I get, whether it be print, online, on TV, etc.,  is oriented around problems rather than solutions thereto. I can see the appeal of framing particular parties as “bad guys,”; and it certainly seemed like the audience was none too pleased with banks or the government. But none of that tells me how the banking and lending system works in the first place or what I or anyone else can do about it.

I never found out where my money actually goes— unless RUSA meant the bank (ha ha joke’s on me!)— because I left the meeting early. I was simply too dissatisfied to stick around for the whole thing. So, I went to an open mic at the Red Lion Café instead. I watched the show rather than performed in it, but I felt very excited nonetheless. As a philosophy major, I like having things spelled out for me; as a comedy nerd, I like jokes; as someone that likes a challenge, I’d like to synthesize the two; and as someone who enjoys his sanity, I see no other option.

Philosopher of language Ludwig Wittgenstein is rumored to have said that, “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes. ” I can see that for sure. Something makes you laugh, you explain what it was to someone else, and that explanation is the joke. If something strikes you as funny about something serious and you can explain what it was to someone else, then you’ve got some serious comedy on your hands— you’ve entered Bill Hicks/Maria Bamford/Louis CK territory.  And there’s more utility to that sort of comedy beyond the good PR it’ll bring.

The first hour of the RUSA meeting was full of charts and bad news. A few jokes would have made the whole thing not only more palatable but easier to cope with too.  The latter becomes even more apparent when the budget meeting is taken as only a part of all the problems facing America and the world today. If I read nothing but bad news on the web followed by hateful, angry comments and combine that with a sense of impending catastrophe, impotence, and general absurdity, I’d feel awful. But absurdity can be a source of laughter as much as it can be a source of despair. And I’d much rather be full of laughs than dread. Besides, people are a lot more eager to listen to you and share your message if it’s as funny as it is insightful.

I figure that if I’m going to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders, I’m going to need my sense of humor to lighten the load. But this sentiment, I would argue, is founded upon a misunderstanding of what it means to be a person. I alone don’t carry the weight of the world on my shoulders; all people carry that burden if a person is to carry it at all. And, by the looks of things, we could all use a few more laughs, which is good, because I got me a hankering to tell some jokes.

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JVP Speaks: Wikileaks & Transparency

In the wake of the latest Wikileaks disclosure, how much should we, as people, know? Is there such a thing as knowing too much? Or are some things best left unsaid?

Rebecca Zandstein: I cannot answer what we should “as people” know, but I strongly believe that as American citizens we should be extensively educated on matters that can allow us to become better political activists and voters. The government should not be hiding relevant information on wars, for example, since it relates to those that are representing us and whom we vote for. Information should be disclosed as long as it is not secret information relating to positions, strategies, and informants’ names. Otherwise, just like The Pentagon Papers allowed us to see the corruption within our government [officials]. WikiLeaks allows us to have more accurate body counts in Iraq and shows the public that Iraq is indeed a “bloodbath on every corner”.

Everyone chooses to live and see their own version of reality but in the end there is only one. The reality that the American government sets out for the public should not be masked in an attempt to make the public “safe” and “secure” in knowing untruths. As long as our national security is not at risk, there should not be such extreme restrictions on publications released for the public to become more educated.

Mike Stuzynsk: The problem with the stuff released by wikileaks is that it is shockingly bland.  Australia doesn’t think Iran is the devil–holy shit, no way!  It seems so me like these leaks are really a non-issue and the government is making a bigger deal about it than needs to be made.

Jhoany Benitez: There IS such a thing as knowing too much. Some things are irrelevant pieces of information. Curiosity is not always a good thing; it can lead to paranoia and losing trust. While it is good to know things, it is also a bad thing to know everything. Part of the beauty of life is its mystery.

Ben Kharakh: I endorse the idea of Wikileaks with the hope that the fact that we now know what’s going on will make people change for the better (as opposed to staying the same and just getting better at hiding information). Will this actually happen? On this issue I remain agnostic.

I also think, though, that power should not be focalized in such a manner that individuals are able to affect the lives of so many people so quickly. And in those instances when it’s unavoidable that people become this powerful, I’d prefer that their activity be as transparent as possible so that I know just exactly what’s going on with that power.

Some of the leaked info seemed private and some may argue that, as a result, the information is not inappropriate to know (and in this case I don’t mean people’s names, etc). I don’t buy the whole private/public dichotomy, nor the offline/online distinction. Private stuff is just public stuff we don’t want other people to know about (and I don’t mean your email passwords). And how one behaves in private, methinks, is indicative of how one behaves in public. Unfortunately, too often a lot of the behavior showcased in the cables is treated as gossip rather than a justification for improvement. Although, given that all the starlets the media harangues have yet to better themselves, maybe I’m naïve to expect the same of diplomats and leaders.

Lastly, I’m gonna paraphrase my friend Maximum Barkley (Barkley to the max!) and say that the success of Wikileaks is indicative of a failure on the part of contemporary journalism. The fourth estate, I would say, has dropped a ball in terms of being the party to get this sort of information. Sure, the press is writing article about this stuff, but it’s not the press that’s getting the stuff in the first place. They need to hit the pavement harder!

Brendan Kaplan: I think that as individuals that make up a larger body politic, complete with its own behavior, rationalization process, and mechanisms of action, it is important to understand what that body is doing.

In other words, we need to understand the processes being carried out by society through its aggregation and direction of our behavioral outputs. What is not necessary, however, is to release content beyond that which is not necessary to fully describe the process to which the content claims to be relevant.

In the case of the Wikileaks, it is important for the public to understand the types of practices that the United States carries out. If this could be done without releasing the names of specific dates, then it should be.

Additionally, Wikileaks would be able to take the moral high ground in any argument claiming, “We were vague… claiming that this foreign power is worried about that foreign power. Then the 1st power started arguing and claiming that we were only making it up. We were thus forced to release the details to back up what we are saying. If they had just accepted the truth in the first place instead of trying to lie about it, we would have spared that nasty details”

Basically, process is necessary to understand, and some content is required for individuals to understand process. If content is released that is not necessary to understand process, than that release is done so for publicity or political purposes.

Personally, I think Wikileaks walks a fine line between the two and has engaged in both. One thing is for certain right now though: Julian Assange is in way over his head and is part of something he can no longer control.

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JVP Speaks: What is Civic Duty?

Project Civility is in full swing at Rutgers, whether you noticed it or not. The initiative’s aim is to get people to ask questions about what it means to be part of a community, about how people should treat one another, and what can be done to improve the quality of people’s treatment of others. Of course, the whole initiative is voluntary rather than mandatory, which means that, chances are, one likely won’t be prompted to participate in Project Civility in one’s day to day. At the very least, I’ve yet to be prompted, so I figured that I’d prompt myself and my fellow JVPers to participate in Project Civility with this week’s question: Should America have a notion of civic duty if it doesn’t already? Why or why not? If so, what should it entail?

Alex Giannattasio: Civic duty is the moral imperative that members of society actively protect the rights of society as a whole. There are many ways to fulfill this duty, one of which, for instance, is voting. By collectively engaging in the democratic process, our society as a group agrees to work out its differences peacefully in exchange for giving everyone a voice. This in turn sets a baseline for the group’s peaceful coexistence to stand upon, thus preserving the basic rights of every individual.

But voting is not the only way to engage one’s civic duty. Voting takes such a small effort that the possible impact per person is diluted anywhere from hundreds to millions of times over. A more active way to meet one’s civic duty is to work in one’s local community to improve the quality of life of the most needy, and to just improve it in some valuable way. We as a nation are in fact living up to this now: community engagement in America is at very high levels, with 111 million Americans volunteering their time in the past 12 months and 60 million volunteering on a regular basis. The Future of American Power by Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Foreign Affairs, Vol. 89, No. 6, at 10. Community engagement bears a much bigger impact per person and improves the quality of the community in which you live. In the short term, this kind of civic participation can be much more valuable to a nation as a whole, because it translates into social improvement at an extremely efficient cost.

Michael Stuzynski: Americans have a sense of civic duty because after over 200 years people are still somewhat conscious of the concept of the Revolutionary War. The fact that people fought and died for your right to vote, among other things, is everywhere in culture, and is reiterated with every new war that our country fights. It’s less a sense of a duty and more a sense of a responsibility that is owed to the respectful remembrance of people from the past. But it’s also pretty cool that you can be responsible for firing the leader of the free world, and all of his oafish minions.

Jhoany Benitez: When I first read this question, I was immediately going to answer “Yes, definitely. It’s your right, so, why not? People in Cuba wish they could make a difference.” But then I opted to put some real thinking into my answer and ended up completely changing my mind. So my real answer is No. I think that the United States shouldn’t have a notion of civic duty. Why? Because people should not be forced to do something. Voting, to be exact. “It’s your right as a citizen!” Does this mean that I have to run out and vote—even if I don’t even know who I’m voting for? That’s why I changed my mind. Because I remembered hearing from friends who opted not to vote because they knew nothing about the people running.

Also, let’s say that you hate Republicans…but you don’t even know who’s running for either party. Does that mean that you’re going to vote for whoever’s representing the Democratic party even if you know nothing about them? This is where the notion of civic duty fails. I think it’s better to not vote than to shove down people’s throat the belief that it’s their “civic duty” to vote and have them vote blindly. So I say No to civic duty. Vote because you care, not because someone’s telling you to do so.

Dave Imbriaco: To me, civic duty is what is expected of a citizen in return for living within a system that allows them certain rights and freedoms – the RESPONSIBILITIES that come with those freedoms, if you will. There was a point in this country not too long ago when everyone who took high school social studies classes learn not only about how government works but how they must also actively participate in it. This seems to have all but died in our modern education, which is a tragedy of epic proportions. The mantra of a good social studies class went that it creates not only good students but good citizens. Also, it wouldn’t be called our “duty” if it was an easy thing to do. It sucks to choose between a giant douche and a turd sandwich, but you, as a citizen, still have the duty to make that choice because you live in a democracy. There are countless other ways you can get involved in a democracy but this is the most basic of all. /rambling.

Billal Ahmed: I find it interesting that while young people often have no problem condemning strict notions of what it means to be a good Muslim or Christian as a danger to global security, they hesitate to criticize civic duty for the same reasons. I have no problem with the idea of improving a nation through the idea of civic duty, whether through volunteering, teaching, building, etc. However, I blame civic duty for the prevalence of worrisome nationalism which inevitably begins to infringe on the rights of others. Civic duty easily leads to civic elitism, which reinforces the notion that a particular nation is special and requires extremely lamentable acts to be carried out in order to preserve that status. One could argue that civic duty is a fundamental motivation for the vigilante bands currently patrolling the United States border with Mexico. One could also argue that civic duty lead to the vengeance-fueled invasion of Afghanistan nine years ago with Operation Anaconda, which was blinded by passion and thus badly disorganized. Civic duty is excellent under the same conditions that religious zealotry can be considered excellent- when it is used to fuel the betterment of humanity rather than the suffering of others.

Brian Connolly: We pay taxes…so, we already all do have a notion of civic duty. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great outlet for people who have the time, energy, and willingness to help their fellow countrymen (and countrywomen, out). But, quite frankly, people have live’s to live. If you want to run a YMCA program for underprivileged youth–knock yourself out, you’ll probably feel great doing it. But in no way should America institute a mandatory system of community building exercises. That encroaches on the freedoms that we have. And, as an interesting reminder, historical precedents that include an overwhelmingly strong concept of national duty include Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. Just a thought.

Rebecca Zandstein: Civic duty, being the responsibilities of a citizen are demanded by America to some extent. Citizen’s are required to pay taxes and obey all laws of the state in which they live or are traveling to and the federal laws. Aside from the latter give or take a few citizens are expected to follow other rules that are not necessarily obligatory or concrete: like voting and being morally just to one another. While America does provide citizens with a code that they must follow I believe that the “unspoken law” should be followed as well due to the positive effects it can have on society and the individual(s). Civic duty allows individuals to participate in activities that many would literally die for the opportunity to do. Civic duty can assist others, whether below or above you in the hierarchy, in a manner that no one else might necessarily have the capability of. Regardless of the latter, America can only enforce a limited amount of written code/rules on its citizens despite that it might be tempted to enact the “unwritten code” onto its citizens as well. Unwritten civic duties are optional and those who view them as mandated have the benefit of, at a minimum, being viewed in a brighter light than other citizens.

Marlana Moore: There are certain attributes that make a person a good, admirable human being, regardless of nationality. When I think of civic duty, I think of those things I can do to be a good and responsible person in context to my identity as an American. Civic duty includes voting, obviously, but voting entails some other duties as well. In order to vote responsibly, you have to be aware of the candidates and know what they stand for. Similarly, being a responsible American involves knowing what your government is doing, and telling them what you think about it. I think if more Americans really took this attitude of their civic duty seriously, our government would not feel so removed from us, and we might instead feel that they are helping us.

Ben Kharakh: I think that America lacks both a cohesive and shared vision of what it means to be a good citizen and the means by which the virtues of good citizenry are to be cultivated. Rather than wait, however, for the government to improve or for people to start discussing what it means to be a “good American”, it’s up to those people who desire reform and deliberation to be the change they wish to see. That means asking one’s self, “What can I do to be a good citizen?”, which is the same as asking one’s self, “What can I do to be a good person?”

It’s important to be a good person for a number of reasons, one of which is that the way we treat others teaches them how to treat us, something that’s easier to discern on a micro scale with a family than on the macro scale with a nation. A nation, however, is just a family with a lot of people, which means that it simply takes longer for the treatment that we’ve taught others to come back around and affect us. But it will, it does, and we are seeing the affects of now more than ever. Not that this is anything new; we just didn’t have TV and Internet 2,000 years ago.

Who’s to blame for this? No one or everyone; take your pick. Personally, I find the question of, “Who’s responsible?” less useful than, “What do I do?” It’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot lately.

Brendan Kaplan: By “sense” I think what you mean is cohesive whole, picture, or gestalt.

Any position on the matter, even one devoid of commitment to civic duty is nonetheless a sense. We HAVE a sense… is it the right one?

I think the question really is then, what type of sense of civic duty should individual Americans have? How does this sense impact the greater country as a whole?

Things tend to function fractally, and that means the the number one thing you can do to change the country is to change yourself. To determine what type of country we should have, is to contemplate what type of people we should be. In short, by asking if there is a proper type of civic orientation, we are asking ourselves if we think that there is a proper way to act or not.

I am of the mindset that there is. I guess then, that I believe that we as individuals, and therefore collectively as a country, should maintain a set of behavioral standards. Our question further suggests that those personal standards that I think we should maintain are relevant to the way the nation functions as a whole.

OK, so what standards should these be?

I think it is very difficult to predict how any process will manifest in any specific situation. The content may be different for different people. For example, to become more well rounded, a really rich arrogant kid might be well served by working in a field for a week and being treated with little importance, while an illegal day-worker might truly benefit from being prodded to act arrogant and demand Pellegrino sent to his table. The content of the process of balance is different depending on the direction any particular actor is coming from.

Thus, by realizing that individuals can attain balance by acting in seemingly divergent ways, and considering that a cohesive national “feeling of duty” would necessarily account for these diverse methods of balance, a true and proper sense of civic duty would have to connect and encompass all of these facets.

Our duty must be then to translate the experiences of individuals within the country into content that others can understand as of the same process as their own. Civic duty isn’t about symmetrization, as in what I call ‘the new diversity’ whose maxim reads “Nobody can be discriminated against, therefore everyone has to be exactly the same [when measured against pre-approved factors such as income, education, wealth, aptitude]” Instead, civic duty is about recognizing the differences in the individual stories that become aggregated into cultures and nations, and elevating those differences as the welcome product of a highly specialized humanity that has evolved traditions and customs that allow it to live in a variety of situations.

Interaction between these different cultures must be facilitated in such a way as to not allow the willful destruction of a culture simply for the sake of its destruction.

Civic duty, then, is about communication, accountability, and rights. These days, accountability is so often lost as people are reluctant to suggest that an individual’s perspective might be flawed for fear of offending a cultural perspective. To compensate, these same people often become overly concerned with communication or rights, and end up as misguided activists, protesting anyone and anything in their paths.

A further revision then: Civic duty is about a mediation of communication, accountability (consequences/ resolutions), and rights. Those concerned about their civic duty engage in processes that further these three ideals.

Way to go JVP!!

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JVP Speaks: Are you going to vote?

Hello and welcome to JVP Speaks! In this soon-to-be-a-recurring-feature, contributors will kick-off a discussion on a particular topic by writing on a single prompt. This week the JVP asked itself: are you voting? Why or why not? Feel free to answer the question yourself, comment on any of our answers, and to generally get the ball rolling on this important topic! Here’s what we had to say: Jhoany Benetiz: I believe that this upcoming election is crucial. People are losing trust in our president and the Democratic Party, which I find very upsetting. I think that people need to learn to be patient and not expect drastic changes overnight. My family and I have been affected by the recession, so I totally understand why people are growing desperate and need things to improve. But, still, people should not lose hope like that. Obama’s doing what he can. I know that not everyone agrees with this. I constantly hear my professors urge us to vote on Tuesday and make a difference. But, unfortunately, I will not be voting. Why? Because I’m a permanent resident and only American citizens can vote. Isn’t that something? But I would vote if I could. Believe me! Brendan Kaplan: Yes, I will be voting. I’m more concerned with keeping my pulse on the local state of things rather than any of the other races. Also, I’m going to be voting in Princeton, my hometown community. I’ve heard a lot over the past few years about students needing to make a bigger difference in the political landscape of New Brunswick. I think that that is great, as long as one plans on staying in (or owning property in) this city. Aside from that, I think a more genuine way to give back to the community that more or less graciously provides us a place to study is through local community action rather that local community politics. True service can’t be put on a resume and should be undertaken as a means to an end, in this case hopefully a healthier community. Additionally, there are a number of issues that are important to me in good old P-town. My parents still live and own property there. There are also a number of changes happening downtown there, especially with the construction of the new hospital getting closer and closer to completion. I’m going to follow the progress there with a watchful eye, and hope everyone takes the time to lend their own personal expertise to their hometown races. We grew up there, we know the issues. Bilal Ahmed: This question does not entirely pertain to me because I am a Canadian citizen. However, I would advise people to register their dissent. I understand that voting sometimes appears to be a means of enabling a broken system, but I have watched enough news programs in the United States to know that most statistics are based on registered voters rather than eligible ones. The only way for your decision not to vote to have any effect on how party politics are conducted is to register before staying home on Election Day. I realize that some will argue that both parties are fundamentally flawed, but I have noticed that most objections to the American political process in this area of the country come from frustrations with the Democrat Party. They are labeled as spineless, cowardly, and unable to take a firm stance on issues such as Afghanistan. If I were able to vote in the 2010 election, I would register as a Democrat and remain at home in protest because of President Obama’s decision to escalate the war. I’d register in protest of the Afghan troop surge, as I believe it to be a political compromise that relegates bloodshed to an international theater rather than risking it in Congress. President Obama has decided to place life and human morality below American party politics, and in response I would register my disapproval. Matia Guardabascio: Yes. I will be voting in the election. I am voting because it is my civic duty to do so. I am voting because I want to make sure I did my part to help the country avoid the wrath of incompetent politicians. Voting in a state—Massachusetts— that is historically Democratic (except for Scott Brown), my voting day is less of a hot spot than most. Still, the gubernatorial race up here has been heated and I am anxious to cast my vote for a man who has done a good job as governor for the last four years. I am also anxious to remind Barney Frank that he will always win his district back home, in spite of the lies and propaganda spewing from the other side. And given the issues on the ballot this year (particularly the lowering of taxes), I feel obligated to go out and vote to make sure that the reasonable and responsible decision is made. Mike Stuzynski: I’m voting because, even though I have honestly lost faith in politics, a right un-exercised is a right lost. And my faith in politics will be restored only when everyone who voted for the bailout is no longer in office. Ask Alex G if he remembers how exciting it was last year when we found out that the House of Reps rejected it the first time. We had quite the celebration, and that was honestly the last time I really thought that the government was paying attention to my interests and wishes. The current health care law is a joke, but you’d only find that out if you read the entire thing (hint: it’s long). Listen to the media and they either criticize it for the wrong reasons (the asinine–but possibly true–notion that it’s an unconstitutional use of the commerce clause) or emphasize one or two talking points again and again. The bill failed to establish the goal of government run health care, but also did little to change the already highly structured and monopolistic private health insurance industry. Instead of using the natural force of private competition to drive costs of care down, the law allows insurance providers to divide up the market and keep prices artificially high. Because of all this, the law just does more harm than good. It’s like you sent your buddies out for beer, and they come back with a keg of O’Douls, and you still have to pay for it! Alex Draine: It was my intention to vote, but I will not be voting because the great state of New Jersey has failed to send me my absentee ballot in a timely fashion. Either that or the US postal service lost my application for an absentee ballot in its journey to Trenton. Dave Imbriaco: I plan on voting today and in every future election. Why? Because it’s the LEAST that a responsible citizen can do in a democracy. I know it’s a trite expression, but democracy is not a spectator sport. You can’t expect to have your interests represented in government if you don’t take the time one day a year to cast a ballot, and that is really the barest minimum that someone who considers themselves a responsible citizen can do. I would never expect for people to get as involved in politics as I do (doing what I do requires a bit of insanity), but I truly don’t understand why people don’t vote (well I do, I just tend to think their reasons for not doing so are stupid). It doesn’t matter if your choice is between a giant douche and a turd sandwich (credit: South Park), you still have a choice to make. If voting was always an easy thing to do, it wouldn’t be called a civic DUTY. You are lucky enough to be born in a country where you have the fucking chance to shape your own government, anyone who puts that down is an unappreciative asshole in my book. Moreso, it’s ESPECIALLY important that us young people get out to the polls. Do you all really expect our parents’ and grandparents’ to solve all the problems that they created? If the American youth doesn’t step up and assert themselves and demand their place in American politics, no one will give it to them and we’re fucked as a generation and a county. The day that I’m convinced that my vote doesn’t mean anything, you’ll find me on the front lines of the second revolution. Marlana Moore: I am going home to vote on Tuesday. My dad is running for council in my very small town, and he needs every vote he can get. I should have just voted by mail, but I forgot to get the ballot. I am not sure if my vote will matter all too much. In fact, I haven’t yet looked up the other candidates. The last two elections have been pretty big ones, and I guess I have seen the most aggressive campaigning in other states that are voting on senators. As a culture, we stress the gubernatorial and senatorial candidates so much more than local county positions even though that is the sphere where your vote has the most direct impact. But does anyone know who is on the Board of Freeholders, or even what they do? How about the County Sheriff? I don’t, and I think that I should. In Merchantville, I know that my vote will count, at least personally. I will probably continue to vote, just because I can. Rebecca Zandstein: I will be voting in the elections on November 2nd. I do not think I can complain about certain local legislation and actions being taken by our House representative if I did not at least vote. Voting is the minimum that is asked of us to do as out civic duty [as citizens]; voting is an easy way to go out and show that I care about what happens within my district. I do not approve of those who complain about budgets and taxes (cuts and increases) and free markets versus extensive restrictions on businesses when they did not even vote for a candidate who abides by their ideology. Furthermore, voting encourages education: one needs to know the core values behind each candidate and many times research is required for values that are not understood in depth. Educating oneself within society for the benefit of self and others is, in my opinion, a primary benefit to voting. Ben Kharakh: While I’m currently of the opinion that voting is less than the least that one can do, I also recognize that the government exists. A lot of times people get caught up in criticizing and theorizing without admitting that, hey, the world is a particular way right now. If you’re going to try to change anything in anyway, you’re better off taking the current state-of-affairs into consideration. So, I will vote. At first I was going to pick the candidates who seemed like they’d come closest to voting in the manner that I would vote, but they all fell short of that standard. And that’s based on websites designed with the purpose of making the candidates look good! So, rather than voting based on who I think will do the most good, I will vote based on who I think will do the least damage.

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