OUT OF THE PICTURE

I think several generations of Yale activists have had the chance to gather in protest or at least reflect on the outrageousness of the university’s top decision-making body gathering beneath a portrait of the university’s namesake with a slave. Looks like the next generation will have to come up with a new rite of passage.

Yale is finally taking the goddamn thing down. But god forbid you should think that Yale’s leaders feel regret about leaving it hanging there the past few decades:

Since the portrait is confusing without the explanation [that Elihu Yale did not own slaves], I have decided it would be prudent to exchange that portrait of Elihu to another one in the University’s collection,” Lorimer said.

The quote, from Yale’s VP and Secretary, leaves you with the sense that Yale is taking down the portrait, which involves adjusting the moldings around the mantelpiece around the painting (the classic explanation of yesteryear for why the thing had to stay up), because it’s easier than putting up a plaque explaining that the man was not a slave owner. But it’s a portrait designed to honor Elihu Yale by painting a chained Black man at his feet. It honors him with the imagery of White supremacy – an ideology of which the colonial Governor and the university named for him have been no small beneficiaries.

It’s a painting that belongs in a museum. It has no place hanging over Yale’s president as he meets with the Yale Corporation to try to chart a course for the university. It never did. (That’s the difference between engaging and exulting the problematic)

To suggest that the racist graphic is being taken down to avert misunderstanding is to make abundantly clear that you don’t get it.

BLAST FROM THE PAST

Who knew that this site was one of the top Google hits for Paul Eastlund? Answer: Paul Eastlund knows.

Two and a half years ago (I know, weird – back when I was nineteen and I had my whole life ahead of me) I posted here about a troublingly unfunny counter-counter-counter-protest celebrated by the Cornell Review and linked approvingly by Jonah Goldberg. Basically, the protesters said we were violating people’s rights at Guantanamo, the counter-protesters said they deserved it, the counter-counter-protesters said the counter-protesters were racist, and the counter-counter-counter-protester stuck it to the counter-counter-protesters by saying racist things. Ironically. I made an attempt to lay the tableu out slightly more comprehensibly here.

At the time, Jonah Goldberg approvingly quoted a dispatch from Cornell Review Editor Paul Eastlund:

Nick is an uber-conservative who we’d never met before, but who hung out with us pretty much all day, and he is one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met…Occasionally he shouted things like “Support the Middle East Glass-Making Program” and “They don’t deserve 3 meals a day, they deserve a bullet to the head.” At one point, a few hecklers decided to pretend they were with us, and shouted “All Muslims are terrorists!” and “Kill all Muslims!” Before we could insist that we weren’t saying anything of the sort, Nick responded by shouting “All Muslims are terrorists!” and “Kill all Muslims!” They were dumbfounded. It was pretty hilarious.

Now flash forward two and a half years. We lost an election. We won a community benefits agreement. Paul Simon, twenty years later than Art Garfunkel, fell prey to a sense of personal contentment that’s robbed his music of its pathos. My bright college years have come to an end, and now I go to synagogue and get excitedly referred to as part of the “Under 40” crowd. And now, as I sit hunched over my laptop trying to figure out when Aaron Sorkin’s new show airs on the West Coast, I find an e-mail sent from far away harking back to long ago. From Paul Eastlund. He asked me to pass the following along (emphasis all mine):

I’ve clearly come across as the sort of person I would despise, so let me try to clarify.

First of all, your post is dead-on: the story, as quoted, is quite indefensible. A handful of staffers and I threw the page describing the counter-protest, containing that anecdote, together in a bit of a hurry. At some point later, I reread it, noticed that anecdote, and reworded it, although the page has been long since deleted. Anyway, it has been too long since the protest for me to remember anything with exactitude, but here’s my explanation of the ‘joke’ that you brought up.

We were irked by a display that dramatized injustice to seemingly innocent prisoners at Guantanamo (the actors portraying prisoners were well-groomed, mild-mannered academics who spoke perfect English and had no idea why they had been imprisoned) and implied quite directly that they should be released. We countered with signs that cited favorable facts and quotes about prisoner conditions in Guantanamo, as well as having one of us dress up in a TNT vest and hold up a sign saying “Death to America! Death to the Great Satan! Do you really want me going free?” Plenty of people reacted positively — not necessarily agreeing with us, but taking the time to debate us civilly — but some insisted that our display was racist. This irked us because the other Review leadership and I had, amidst some opposition, specifically worked to avoid giving the impression that we were advocating intolerance toward any religion or ethnicity. After having received that sort of complaint for the first day, we had deliberately cast non-Arabs in the “terrorist” role to further distance our message from any sword of religion- or ethnicity-based prejudiced.

Regardless, we continued to hear accusations. Nick’s response was along the lines of: “No, if we were going to single out Islam, it would be more like this” — and then he proceeded to demonstrate, briefly. The point was to contrast our display with the sentiments they were accusing us of espousing.

Anyway, that’s how the story was supposed to have come across. I realize that, in the version you quoted, it didn’t, and I apologize for that. I have to agree with you that it’s a bit of an alarming oddity that, written as it was, it was palatable to Jonah Goldberg and the many well-wishers who wrote to us before it got changed online.

I just wanted to send you this note clarifying, and apologizing for, how it was written before. I’ve always tried to steer clear of the uglier, race-baiting side of conservatism — in fact, I was so unpalatably “socially liberal” during my stint at the Cornell Review that a chunk of the staff mutinied and broke off to form the more conservative Cornell American, which focused almost exclusively on issues of race and homosexuality — and I was alarmed to find myself and the Review indicted on your site for precisely the sort of sentiment I spent much of my career in Cornell politics opposing, and that the Cornell Review in general no longer embodies.

Like you, my first thought upon reading this e-mail was: Someone reads this site who I’m not related to? And my second was: Is it possible that I’m related to Paul Eastlund.

Even with Paul’s account, the whole episode remains less than savory. And while they may not all have been “well-groomed, mild-mannered academics who spoke perfect English” there were indeed plenty of people at Camp X-Ray with “no idea why they had been imprisoned.” But that said, I appreciate Paul’s gracious e-mail and I’m glad to see him rebuke the account celebrated on The Corner. I hope he’s shared his e-mail as well with Jonah Goldberg, who to my knowledge has said nothing in the intervening couple years to suggest that he sees responding to an accusation of racism by yelling “Kill all Muslims!” as anything other than hilarious.

NOT ON OUR WATCH

Ever since the anti-war rallies in 2002, I’ve been somewhat anxious about the “Not in Our Name” slogan. I certainly agree that those who can do so safely have a moral responsibility to speak out against injustice whether or not the immediate impact of that speech is clear. But I think the “Not in Our Name” rhetoric has a way of shifting the focus away from using mass mobilization to avert catastrophe and towards insulating one’s self from future responsibility for catastrophe. I don’t think it’s a stretch to hear in chants of “Not in Our Name” a grudging resignation that war will be conducted in someone else’s. That the Iraq War took place, and continues, is a reality for which all of us with the privileges and burdens of American citizenship bear some measure of responsibility. So while I think it’s good and reasonable for Americans at home and abroad to share their opposition to the Bush administration, the eagerness with which some on the left have embraced “Don’t Blame Me – I Didn’t Vote For Him” bumper stickers and buttons seems to evince too much pride in personal purity and too little sense of personal responsibility.

This is why I was glad to see the Save Darfur Coalition take on the slogan “Not On Our Watch.” While I do believe that we have a particular responsibility to avert crimes perpetrated by our own government, I’m glad that a comparative lack of concern with allowing the Darfur genocide to be perpetrated in our names led the coalition to instead commit to stopping it from transpiring on our watch. “Not On Our Watch” acknowledges a common moral responsibility for the crimes which take place within communities large or small of which we are a part. When Americans take to the streets to avert a war with Iran, it would make a worthy slogan.

A fitting close to the strike today, with a roving band of musicians on the pickets and poetry in several languages on the Languages picket (I was even compelled to write up a quick sonnet during the picketing), followed by a sprawling march around campus to Helen Hadley Hall, where Chinese graduate employees are fighting discrimination from their landlord, and from there to Betts House, home of Yale’s Globalization Center. Today we called for global leadership from Yale in the form of a new commitment to human rights and global justice. And LWB-favorite Barbara Ehrenreich was there to share moving words on issues and the fight ahead.

This week we ratcheted up the pressure on Yale, brought the message to new audiences, mobilized and organized new people, and broke down Yale’s decade-long policy of non-engagement with the union representing the teachers who makes this university function. Now on to that meeting with Roland Betts…

Powerful picketing all afternoon today, including a thundering presence outside of the Yale Corporation’s meeting, complete with megaphone-enhanced trumpet. We had our strongest undergraduate turnout yet, marching down College Street chanting “My TA deserves fair pay” and joining our teachers in standing for educational excellence and equal opportunity at Yale. And Jesse Jackson certainly draws a crowd.

The biggest news of the day, though is Yale Corporation Senior Fellow Roland Betts’ agreement to meet with GESO, a historic concession from the body which has refused such meetings for over a decade. Just another way in which this strike has made visible the work and the workers which Yale refuses to see. Bringing Yale to the table is a crucial step in bringing Yale to the point of recognizing these workers, recognizing their work, and recognizing their union.

An energized rally today on the Green before folks set out for this afternoon’s rally in New York with strikers from Columbia’s CGEU, unionized graduate teachers from NYU preparing for a contract fight, and workers and allies from across the Northeast. I and fourteen other undergads will unfortunately be unable to attend, at this afternoon we’re being brought before Yale’s Executive Committee for consideration of disciplinary action over our sit-in in February. I hope the Committee will recognize the action we took as an act of conscience which used non-violent means with a long history at the university to pursue changes central to realizing Yale’s best values. I hope Yale can turn its time and energy now to furthering the work of realizing equal opportunity for undergraduates and graduate employees alike.

We had a great crowd of undergrads and prospective students at our ice cream social last night to discuss the strike and progressive activism on campus. The event was made that much more interesting by a protest outside by the Committee for Freedom (right-wing undergrads from the Party of the Right) with slogans like “GESO caused the tsunami.” Nice to know that at least some of the folks in the Committee for Freedom see public protest as legitimate. I think their failure, after a couple hours of tabling at the bazaar for prospective students, to recruit a single prospective student, or more than four current undergrads, to come make posters and protest us speaks nicely to the sentiment on campus.

This morning we revived Education in the Streets and, just as we did two years ago, set up classrooms on College Street in which graduate employees, undergrads, and community members taught classes on the issues at the center of the strike and of the social movement in this city. Scores of students turned out for classes on diversity, debt, contract negotiations, community benefits, and the challenges facing women in the sciences. Attending the latter was a particularly appropriate reason for me to miss my seminar on the Political Economy of Gender.

After moving words from John Wilhelm and others, we picketed a panel of Yale alumni in Battell Chapel including Roland Betts, Senior Fellow of the Yale Corporation. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, the doors were locked and Betts refused to come out and speak with us, valuing the discussions in our sections as little and fearing disucussion with the people who lead those sections as much, apparently, as President Levin.

Inspiring picketing today all over campus, including great conversations with other undergraduates and prospective students about what GESO is fighting for and what our stake is in it. Moving words this afternoon from union, community, and political allies, and from several of the men and women striking their teaching this week to defend their rights. As Dick Blumenthal said this morning, “GESO, I recognize you.”

Some thoughts on what yesterday was about:

Tuesday night, after four months since receiving the platform for real financial aid reform borne out of our hundreds of canvassing interviews and supported by over a thousand students, President Levin had a great opportunity to offer real solutions, or to take to heart the voices of students who had. And he blew it. He opened the under thirty minutes on financial aid by trying to discuss our platform and the parallel Yale College Council in terms which made clear just how empty his claim that he couldn’t respond until February 22 because he was carefully reviewing our proposal had been. He told students he wanted feedback on whether Yale should make some change on the student contribution or the family contribution, insisting that Yale “can’t lead on every dimension.” Not something one would hear Levin say if we were talking about different dimensions of, say, scientific research. Yale can and should lead on drawing a diverse group of students and on fostering a more equal and more integrated experience for those who are here. A choice between the student contribution and the family contribution is an impossible choice. And it’s a meaningless choice for those students working additional hours to pay what Yale expects from their parents as well. But when those students spoke up Tuesday night, Levin responded by making facial expressions roughly approximating Bush’s during the first debate while questioning their honesty and describing them all as extreme cases. He even went so far as to conjecture, with a shrug, that if there was a problem it only affected a couple hundred students. I’m not sure whether it was this baseless claim, or the implication that the quality of life of a couple hundred students could not be an urgent issue for the university, which angered more of us. So it should have come as no surprise to Levin that students left deeply disappointed and personally insulted.

Yesterday we demonstrated that we’re not willing to sit back and wait for President Levin to offer what he thinks is a sufficient proposal for change, and we’re not willing to settle for a proposal which makes modest change in either the student contribution or the family contribution. So fifteen of us showed up at the Admissions Office as a tour group was leaving and let Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw know that we didn’t plan to leave without a meaningful commitment from Levin to comprehensive reform. Dean Shaw told us we’d have to be out of the building by 5 PM, passed the message along to Levin, and then disappeared into selection committee. We never heard from Levin, despite enough phone calls from students inside and outside of the building, alumni, and parents that the phone began going directly to voicemail. Unfortunately, it appears Levin would rather arrest his students than talk to him.

Folks working in the office were by and large very friendly to us, with a few notable exceptions, and we had a number of productive conversations with some of them about our campaign. We weren’t able to communicate directly with any more prospective students, because the Admissions Office was soon locked to the public and tours were moved to the Visitor’s Center. Because this was signified only with a sign on the door to the Admission’s Office, our folks on the outside got ample opportunities to talk to somewhat confused visiting families about what we were fighting for, to generally very positive response by all accounts, before giving them directions to the new location. The Admissions Office made the peculiar decision to communicate with those families only by yelling at them through the window. The low point during the day in our interactions with others in the building was during the noontime rally outside when Phoebe opened and leaned out of a window to address the crowd and Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith physically yanked her back into the building (fortunately, the whole thing was caught on camera by Channel 8). Not long after that, they cut off all internet access in the building.

There are no words which can describe my admiration for the tremendous organizing undergrads, as well as folks from Local 34, Local 35, GESO, and the broader community did outside all day yesterday, in constantly shifting conditions and fairly unfavorable weather. Every time a door opened and we heard surging chants, I think each of us was moved and inspired. They did amazing work, talking to visiting families, sending a delegation to President Levin’s office in Betts House, finding Yale Corporation member Margaret Marshall on the way to a Master’s Tea and calling on her to come visit us, dropping into dining halls to share news, and standing outside yelling through the cold for hours.

One of their greatest accomplishments was keeping a powerful crowd outside for the nearly three hours over which Yale made gestures and having us arrested and then, presumably in hopes of waiting out the crowd and the cameras, chose to delay. It had been a full two hours (much of it spent singing, which inspired at least one administrator to turn up “We are the Champions” in his office) since the time we had been told that morning was closing when plainclothes police showed up in an unidentified van and Martha Highsmith had someone videotape her (despite some technical difficulties) reading to us from the Undergraduate Regulations. When we made clear that we still had no intention of leaving without a commitment from Levin to a financial aid policy which better reflects the best values of the university, the police told us were under arrest. We were taken in pairs into Jim Nondorf’s office, cited for simple trespass and led out, singing “Carry It On” and holding our citations, to a still strong crowd. There we shared some stories with each other and ate the pizza that they had been unable to get to us while we were inside before heading back to campus.

On the eve of the Yale Corporation’s meeting, right before the budget deadline, we mobilized a new breadth and depth of student support, leveraged new pressure, took our message to new audiences, and demonstrated the urgency of the issue. Now it’s time to keep building.

Real, real strong turnout at today’s protest on the eve of the Republican National Convention. Certainly much larger than either of the anti-war rallies I attended in New York a year and a half ago. There may have been little shared ground among the protesters beyond opposition to Bush, but that message came through loud and resoundingly clear, and is about as much information as the mainstream media can be expected to communicate anyway.

Speaking of which, the most telling moment for me may have been when thousands of us, in the middle of a protest easily several hundreds of thousands large, were causing a ruckus around the Fox News Headquarters. We looked up to the channel’s gigantic display overhead, and what was on Fox News? A discussion of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. That, ladies and gentlemen, is as concise a statement of the problems with the corporate media as any.

The question hanging over the protest was what, in the event of a Kerry victory, becomes of this several-hundred-thousand-strong group, some of whom chanted Kerry’s name and others of whom wore masks mocking his face. How do those of us who identify as the left, re-energized and validated by the devastation wrought by the sitting President, organize with the same extent of urgency and breadth of coalition to hold accountable his replacement?

Last summer, the New York Times magazine ran a cover story on “The New Hipublicans” – college Republican activists. The article, despite seeming to bend over backwards (likely cowed by the ever-present specter of “liberal media bias”) to paint the kids in as positive a light as possible, came under attack from all corners of the conservative press as another example of how out of touch the Times was when it came to conservatives. As I said at the time, if there was something leery and out of touch about the magazine’s coverage of conservative activists, it was an outgrowth of the Times‘ leery, out of touch approach to activists of any stripe, not to conservatives. One classic example would be the NYT cover story on the Howard Dean movement that so bugged me in December. Another would be today’s front-page piece on anachists, which introduces them by listing off protests at which they’ve been blamed for violence:

Self-described anarchists were blamed for inciting the violence in Seattle at a 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in which 500 people were arrested and several businesses damaged. They have been accused by the police of throwing rocks or threatening officers with liquid substances at demonstrations against the Republican convention in Philadelphia in 2000 and at an economic summit meeting in Miami last year. Now, as the Republican National Convention is about to begin in New York City, the police are bracing for the actions of this loosely aligned and often shadowy group of protesters, and consider them the great unknown factor in whether the demonstrations remain under control or veer toward violence and disorder.

No discussion, of course, of the role of New York City police in determining whether demonstrations veer towards violence and disorder. Instead we get this implication that civil disobedience is something to be ashamed of:

But even anarchists who are against violence are warning of trouble and admit that they are planning acts of civil disobedience…

And to top it off, a couple paragraphs for John Timoney, who oversaw the unfortunate violence of the police treatment of protesters in Philly and Miami, to blame it all on the activists without anybody to refute him.

Needless to say, a book like Starhawk’s Webs of Power gives a much more grounded, nuanced, relevant portrayal of anarchists and their relationships with other activists. Maybe someone at the Times should read it