This Week's Show •

Black Lives On Campus

What does the second civil rights movement look like? Is a new struggle for equality, in feelings as well as rights, afoot on American campuses? It seemed possible this week when frustrated students toppled the president and ...

What does the second civil rights movement look like? Is a new struggle for equality, in feelings as well as rights, afoot on American campuses?

It seemed possible this week when frustrated students toppled the president and chancellor at the University of Missouri. We’re asking how the whole thing happened, and if it’s part of a new model for racial change. Our guest Daunasia Yancey, the Boston organizer who confronted Hillary Clinton on inequality this year, hopes so.

12189352_526606837496332_9141353326007512538_o (1)Martin Luther King wrote: “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” To many, the new activists at Mizzou and Yale — and, before this week, at UMich, UCLA and Arizona State — are living that lesson. They speak of pain, insecurity, and alienation in school — the stuff of Claudia Rankine’s poetry of microaggression and the polemic reporting of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Driven by recent history and the matter of black lives, the kids demand redress.

Others say the campus turn is risky. Our guest, the feisty blogger and professor Fredrik deBoer, worries that his liberal students are being illiberal in the name of sensitivity. There is a fear that big movements will start to focus on small, millennial things: Halloween costumes and misguided emails. A Yale senior screamed at her resident dean, and reasonable folks wondered “could life be so hard in the Ivy League?”

IMG_20151111_140844647 (1)Harvard students we interviewed this week say “yes.” One young man said he’s struggling to “sing the Lord’s song in a strange land.” He and hundreds of classmates gathered Wednesday to get recognition and testimony (but not much comfort) from Coates, the Atlantic writer we’re sampling in our program.

And we have two professors (pictured right), macro scholars on race and the law tasked with the micro events of student life. Ronald Sullivan and Stephanie Robinson are the first African American house masters (residential life deans) in Harvard’s long history. Many of their young charges are fed up, but Halloween passed without incident at Winthrop House.

So, tell us: What’s happening on your quad? What does the second civil rights movement feel like? And will the Ferguson spirit grow on campus or will it stall?

(Yale, above, in black and white courtesy of Philipp Arndt)

By the Way • October 5, 2014

Report: The People’s Climate March

The march announced itself by force of numbers, and by its feel. No one seemed angry. This is not to say that the marchers had been bought off, or didn't understand the long odds facing them, or even that they aren't angry. But they are taking a clever rhetorical detour around a problem.

 

By Max Larkin

NEW YORK, NY. — I traveled down to New York for the People’s Climate March, I admit, out of a sense of political curiosity. I care, but like many Americans I’ve found it hard to rate the climate over poverty or prison or the foreign-policy fires that break out from time to time. By chance a friend and I had joined an interfaith brigade, a subsection in the People’s Climate March had assembled on West 58th Street, in the shadow of The Shops at Columbus Circle and CNN HQ. It was around eleven o’clock.

At the front of the crowd, Rabbi Jay Michaelson stood at the stern of an ark-shaped float on the back of a truck, wearing a technicolor tallit. The ark was a new construction; organizers hoped it could be reused in other parades down the line. Right then it held ministers and kids, markers and tape; a few volunteers wore horse masks or had paper unicorn horns strapped to their heads, and signs that read: “We Missed the Boat Last Time,” etc., etc.

Michaelson blew a shofar after speeches and prayers made onstage; he’s newly a rabbi and comes from a career in activism. Even today, he said, he’s “more of a march-in-the-streets rabbi than a pray-in-the-pews rabbi.” He’s also a columnist on environment and politics for the Jewish Daily Forward.

Two days before Michaelson had written that the green movement needed to appeal to the mainstream to be successful. In the fight for gay rights, he had learned about the all-importance of political messaging. He spoke candidly:

It was market-tested to death. When that movement was about gay rights, it was a big loser. It didn’t work, and nobody was motivated. When it turned into ‘love is love’, ‘we just want what everybody else wants: family, love, connection’ — and faith leaders played a big part in that — that message worked. It wasn’t cynical. It’s not that that’s not true. It was true. But which side do you emphasize?

He looked out over the group: “Calling it the ‘People’s Climate March’ — it isn’t exactly a frame that reaches out.”

We paused while some of the Muslim delegation began silently to pray toward Central Park, backed by an inflatable mosque. The crowd — Buddhists with banners, little platoons of hippie Catholics, here and there anti-nuclear T-shirts, crafty, hand-painted signs — was very definitely “progressive”. How would a People’s Climate March look to people who would never think of attending?

Suddenly an organizer tapped me on the shoulder: “We need to get going, so would you—?” The Rabbi and I said a quick goodbye, I hopped off the boat, then we all were off. The ark seemed to drift away on a sea of shoulders.

The march followed the line of the park, passing a ‘climate vigil’ sat in cross-legged meditation on the grass. There was no overwhelming sound; the march had no sergeants. The signs read: “There is No Planet B”, “Don’t Frack With U.S.,” “Ashamed Republican” with an arrow pointing down at the man holding it. Children, long-haired teens, nuns, and expatriates walked unregimented, in drifting formations. An older woman wearing a paper bag as a hat — she had written “Recycle” on it in Sharpie — emerged as a swaggering presence nearby. (One of the amazing things about the movement is the respect it has for its grandmothers.)

We made the turn down Sixth Avenue, and marched into the heart of Manhattan. A family pushed their luggage across the street and through the crowd on a trolley. There was Fox News HQ; a building-side crawl reminded passersby of ISIS. Then we passed the banks, with all-glass facades that made them look all the emptier, the more forbidding.

Nobody threw a brick. A young man, in full Caledonian dress, blew a bagpipe; behind him people danced to a Brazilian drumline. The “Recycle” lady strutted along alone, between banks of public and parochial-school students. Bryant Park was quiet, bracketed by a police cordon. For those present, midtown Manhattan was transformed. Did anyone notice?

******

The movement’s answers may come from repurposing a history. In 2002 the administration of George W. Bush reintroduced a doctrine of preemptive war, or “anticipatory self-defense.” For obvious reasons that language has fallen into disuse (though we are now fighting a limited preemptive war against the jihadis of ISIS, who pose, it’s said, “no immediate threat” to the American people).

But let’s not let perfectly sound moral thinking be abandoned entirely, when it has only been misapplied. Preemption itself is not evil: in a risk-ridden and high-velocity world, it’s common sense. And finally we may have a problem worthy of its use — and hundreds of thousands of people are marching over it. We might, borrowing a phrase from the philosopher William James, consider the climate movement as the moral equivalent of preemptive war: brigades of clean-energy advocates, barge-stopping kayakers, arborists, aquaculturists, and architects, toiling and thinking and building as if the worst is still avoidable.

In his original essay, James predicted that we might civilize ourselves by putting the “barbarian virtues”, so popular with so many American men, to civic work: in football and Americorps and the Civilian Conservation Corps, where the struggle is against nature and privation, a cordial opponent or our own limits.

In 1977 Jimmy Carter pitched the nation on treating our energy dependency as an opportunity to rally and fight a common cause in this nature using this very rhetoric.

But maybe it would be best if the climate movement today proposed a grander kind of struggle. The enemy ought to be, beyond oil and even capitalism, a defect in national, or human, consciousness — the immature American wish to remain outside of history, our tendency to treat every small emergency as a fire to be managed, an opportunity to avoid the big ones.

******

After turning at one last barricade, the march continued on to Eleventh Avenue where it dried up uneventfully: no speech. It was an evanescent kind of civil action, like weather. It was a dazing kind of day, but by the time I left New York the next morning I was impressed.

The march announced itself by force of numbers, and by its feel. No one seemed angry. This is not to say that the marchers had been bought off, or didn’t understand the long odds facing them, or even that they aren’t angry. But they are taking a clever rhetorical detour around a problem.

I thought of Kurt Vonnegut’s terrifying poem of extinction, “Requiem”.

When the last living thing

has died on account of us,

how poetical it would be

if Earth could say,

in a voice floating up

perhaps

from the floor

of the Grand Canyon,

”It is done.”

People did not like it here.

If there was a common message to the march, it is this: “We do like it here, don’t we?” (And love is love, isn’t it?)

I hope that the marchers — especially the youngest among them — another generation tempered by war and peace that is bitter and uneven, can help the rest of us relearn our history, relearn that there is history beyond four-year cycles and Long Wars, and that the United States has a lot of making up to do.

We are finding it harder to ignore the consequences of our actions and self-aware, with the medium of the internet and the medium of the atmosphere as instructors. We have the fear of shame that would come from a world whose barrenness testified to our carelessness. And all we will need, in a sense, is prompting: if not from storm and drought, then from such marches as this one in September.

To do this the activists will need to be militant, but un-military — they will need, much of the time, to smile and be peaceable and commonsensical: to remind us how worthy all this is, Chris Hedges be damned.

In a tight huddle toward the end of the walking some twenty-two-year-old finished up a pep talk to others in his group: “Organize, organize, organize!” Everyone around him cheered, and even sighed. It’s the call that Stokely Carmichael made after a long march fifty years ago this summer, and it still sounds like the answer.

September 30, 2014

Hacking Climate Change

Can we hack our way toward solutions for climate change? While governments dither, Congress negates and the world warms, how about deploying private finance, atmospheric chemistry and every kind of ingenuity to tackle the problem that’s too big to solve?

Can we hack our way toward solutions for climate change? While governments dither, Congress negates and the world warms, how about deploying private finance, atmospheric chemistry and every kind of ingenuity to tackle the problem that’s too big to solve?

Political and economic change has been slow in coming for lots of reasons. ExxonMobil, Koch Industries, and Shell alone spend tens of millions of dollars per year lobbying to protect oil and gas concerns and to question the climate consensus.  The fault may lie, as Naomi Klein claims in her big new book, with a capitalist economy that favors short-term, non-disruptive fixes and that runs on fossil fuels.  But it may also lie in our brains: we might be hardwired to ignore complicated, slow-moving, author-less threats — and to choose problems like ISIS instead.

But there’s change in the wind. More than 300,000 people marched down 6th Avenue in New York to encourage world leaders to do something. Everyone from the Rockefellers to the World Council of Churches are divesting from fossil fuels (though Harvard President Drew Faust has declined). If we’re coming to realize that climate change is the ultimate big-tent issue, what kind of solutions should we be proposing? What’s the agenda of the new environmental movement?

We’re staying positive and summoning all hands on deck: scientists and engineers, activists and capitalists, pastors and atheists. What will it take to tackle carbon?

Podcast • August 16, 2010

Real India: Walking the Slum Side of Bangalore

Click to listen in on Chris’s slum tour with Brindge Adige. (54 minutes, 26 mb mp3) BANGALORE — Brinda Adige, a self-starting social activist, in yellow sari, is our guide to the slum side of ...

Click to listen in on Chris’s slum tour with Brindge Adige. (54 minutes, 26 mb mp3)

BANGALORE — Brinda Adige, a self-starting social activist, in yellow sari, is our guide to the slum side of Bangalore and the virtual canyon between the public squalor and private affluence that are both hallmarks of the New India.

We’re in Lakshman Rau Nagar, one of several Bangalore slum districts that sprouted in the shrubbery alongside the info-tech boom two decades ago. Starting from a bridge over a vast open cesspool of human wastes, Brinda is making our path through what feel like opposites: tight-knit anarchy, foul stenches, brilliant rainbows of paint and fabric, acres of rubble next to dense clusters of shanties next to hand-crafted houses being rewired and gaudily repainted and redecorated, as we pass, by the artisan-squatters who live here.

Perhaps 10,000 families of high-tech service workers call this home: barbers, maids, drivers, baby-tenders, security guards, prostitutes, boot-leggers of all kinds, with of course their aged parents and dependent kids who are everywhere on the street, among the dead rats and live goats. The social atmosphere feels relaxed and, to the extent we visitors are noticed at all, welcoming. Most people seem absorbed in their individual projects, house-painting, baby-nursing, cookery or bicycle repair. Here as elsewhere you notice that in India stark borders of wealth and social class are crossed without fear, as they wouldn’t be in America or perhaps most societies. We are greeted with “what is your name?” but never “what are you doing here?”

Brinda Adige, daughter of an Air Force officer and wife of a businessman, entered Lakshman Rau Nagar two years ago with the traditional Indian mat of “panchayat,” or local justice, when nobody else would address a flagrant case of wife-beating. More than a score of witnesses turned out to confirm the charge and enforce a separation. Many added, on their own, “But all our husbands beat us.” Brinda stayed on to open “the Office” as a permanent sort of clubhouse in the slum.

I think when I came here in the beginning, they thought I might have lost my way. Now they understand that I am no-nonsense. They also know that I am not afraid of anybody, whether it is the police or the local gangsters, or anybody who claims to be very powerful… When you ask me where’s the power, it’s the people, but they are not yet awakened. They are not yet informed, but they are ready. There is a silent revolution happening, and I’m happy to be part of it…

They call the Office the place where, if you have a problem, it will get sorted out. There will be a solution that we can find for it… but you have to be responsible for it… It’s only when the women come here that they realize that the question, the answer, the problem, the solution lies within them… If you put up with nonsense, you get nonsense all the time. If you put up with somebody subjugating you, well, then you continue to be subjugated…

We talk about everything under the sun… Why did you fall in love? What do you think about marrying? Why do you continue? What do you mean by being faithful? What do you decide when your husband is not faithful? Why did you vote for a certain politician? … The whole issue here is we learn from other people. You have something, she has something, she has shaped something… You cannot just come with a problem… You will take a vow to be part of the solution. So if you can do that, then you are part officially of this group.

Brinda Adige with Chris Lydon in the slum district ‘Lakshman Rau Nagar’ in Bangalore, July 2010.

“First I hit.  And if he still has his senses, then we talk.”

This is Kamakshi speaking, in front of a gleaming stand of fresh vegetables in front of her house in the Bangalore slum. She’s another of the local characters we won’t forget — not least because she embodies a sort of puzzle.

Among the immutable rules of Indian life seem to be that no public authority will take much responsibility for basic services — schools, utilities, safety, healthcare — for slum dwellers; and more narrowly that police will not concern themselves with what looks like strictly domestic violence. This, as Brinda Adige recounts, is where Kamakshi has found her role as the first and sometimes last guarantor of a woman’s right not to be abused — of a wife’s right not to be beaten. A recent example: There is a man who is beating up the lady of the house every day, and everybody knows it.  One day, he hits the woman hard, with an onion to the face. Kamakshi tells him: next time you go to the police, but first, you deal with me.  So she beats him up, and tells him to sit all day in disgrace in front of her vegetables. And he does.  ”Let’s call it substantive justice,” Brinda summed up our visit with Kamakshi. “She is not afraid of anyone.    Kamakshi goes to get justice.  She doesn’t leave till justice is done.”

Visitors like us can’t easily judge whether Kamakshi embodies vitality and hard-core decency in the outward disarray of an impoverished community.  Or is Kamakshi’s story really about the disarray itself and spectacular public neglect all around her?

Podcast • August 11, 2010

Real India: Confidence-building in the new "Women’s Work"

Click to listen in on Chris’s visit to the Ubuntu workshop in Ramanagar. (22 minutes, 11 mb mp3) RAMANAGAR — We drove out about 50 kilometers south and west of Bangalore to see a busted ...

Click to listen in on Chris’s visit to the Ubuntu workshop in Ramanagar. (22 minutes, 11 mb mp3)

RAMANAGAR — We drove out about 50 kilometers south and west of Bangalore to see a busted “silk city” and a social “silver bullet” in action. Vibha Pinglé, an Indian-American scholar and activist is our guide. Ubuntu-at-Work is her NGO, with roots in the US and other branches in South Africa. It opened its sewing workshop in Ramanagar less than a year ago, one of its far-flung experiments in green manufacturing and global design for a world market. The real inspiration in Ubuntu’s third-floor community space in Ramanagar is the conviction that women’s empowerment through training and sustainable work is the ready remedy for over-population, family inequities, hunger, hopelessness and poverty, for starters.

About a dozen graceful ladies in the collective are a glimpse of the proud poverty everywhere to be seen in India. At present, the women say, they are subsisting on cash incomes in the range of $2 dollars a day. Ubuntu’s commitment is to give them each a personal stake in the production of embroidered fashions from international designers for stores in Europe and the States. The second big promise is to give the women work at home, not factory, to sustain motherhood and family life at the same time.

You can hear a lot in this visit about the indirect ways even of silver bullets. Women speak, for example, of residual family pressures to stay at home; and of the habitual payment of bribes for government jobs, and the interest payments on loans required to finance the bribes. A lot of these women are paying loan-shark rates (5 percent per month!) for their own or their children’s education – even when they call it microfinance.

Yet my other big impression from a morning in the needlework collective is that the quiet confidence they’re after is palpably here now. There’s laughter and warmth among the women that smashes our equation of poverty with unhappiness. These feel like connected, resourceful, family folk, with long experience at making do – no matter that we call them impoverished. I left their workshop wondering: is this why people say: India will grow, but it will never have a social revolution?