Congressional Candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Taking on The Democratic Establishment

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One of the most exciting parts of making the first edition of feminist zine Cooties was speaking with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a long-time community organizer, entrepreneur, and candidate for United States Congress.  Running for office in New York’s 14th district, Alexandria is the Democratic candidate looking to raise the voices of working class Americans and bring about the change that is actually representative of what its residents want and deserve.  Having grown up in a working class family, her parents always reinforced the importance of compassion and hard work. When her father passed away during the financial crisis, these core values provided her with a strength that allowed for her to work her way through college while also supporting her family.  With so many cards stacked against her, she could have easily given up. Yet these experiences only drove her further to push for change, as she began to work directly with communities as an organizer and advocate. While all of this may have you sold, one of the most powerful aspects of her running is the fact that she refuses to take corporate money to fund her campaign. As voters, we can know that her words actually hold weight because she is not compromised by the influences of today’s political machines.  With a progressive platform that has been backed by PACs such as Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, Alexandria aims to successfully primary her opponent Joseph Crowley and take back representation for her community. She is an inspiration not only for believing in the type of progress we know will make this country great, but because she has overcome many societal barriers in getting here.  We were so excited to have Alexandria sit down with us to discuss some of the crucial issues of today’s world, and the ways we can enact policies that will make it a better one. 

 

Cooties: Where did your political passion first come from? 

Alexandria:  “I think it goes back to when I was a kid. I was born in the Bronx, and my dad had a small business here; he was always super invested in the community. When I was very young we had to move out of the Bronx because public schools in the late 80’s, early 90’s just weren’t an option for kids there. You’re basically set up to fail. So my whole family chipped in, and we had to move out of our community so that I would have a chance when it came to my education. The rest of my family stayed in the Bronx, so seeing the differences in our outcomes and the differences in opportunities that we were afforded woke me up very early to the forces that influence communities’ successes. So I’ve always been very interested and involved in my community. When I was in college I worked for the late Senator Kennedy in Massachusetts, and as much as I loved that experience, I felt like politics at that point was so overcome with money and power that there wasn’t a place for working people who came from working families like me. It seemed like you had to sell out in one way or another in order to be successful in that arena. So I stepped out of it; I wasn’t interested in it. I started doing more direct work with communities: I lived in West Africa for a little while; I worked at the National Hispanic Institute; I started doing early childhood education work. When the financial crisis hit, my father had passed away and my family financially was on the brink of foreclosure. I started waitressing to help my family make ends meat so that we wouldn’t lose our home. All of that brought me back to this idea that we just can’t afford to sit out no matter how bad things get. We just can’t give up on ourselves. Around that time the Bernie Sanders campaign started, and I started getting more involved with [it]. I helped organize the South Bronx, and that was the tipping point for me to get back into that arena again. After the election I hopped in a car with some friends and we started filming conversations with people from across the country. We went to Ohio; we went to Flint, Michigan; we went to Indiana; and ultimately we ended up at Standing Rock with the Water Protectors, meeting people there and talking with them about those issues.  When I got back, Brand New Congress gave me a call and told me I was nominated to run for office. That’s basically how this whole thing kicked off and got started.” 

Cooties:  Was that the defining moment that really pushed you to run? 

Alexandria: “Absolutely, yes. As much as I was supportive of grassroots campaigns, it seemed so overwhelming to start one on your own, when you’re virtually unknown, and especially when you’re on the younger side of being a candidate. You still don’t have those “in” votes, even if you have the knowledge and capacity and skill, it’s really just like any other industry. If you’re coming from a working class background, and you don’t have those inroads, and you don’t know those people, it’s decidedly more difficult. But when you do get that opportunity, when that opportunity does arrive, it can make the world of a difference. I knew that I was not going to run for office if it meant that I had to sacrifice my integrity. I wasn’t going to lie for it; I wasn’t going to take big money for it; I wasn’t going to do backroom deals for it. If I was going to run for office I was going to do it as transparently as possible. Which basically to me, seemed impossible until Brand New Congress called and said ‘Hey, if it’s done as a national group of candidates, then we can do it on our terms. And so that call was absolutely the tipping point for me.”

“It’s amazing to me that our entire country of working, middle-class people is almost exclusively being represented by homogenous millionaires and billionaires. Isn’t this supposed to be a democracy? And a representative democracy at that? And the fact that none of these people represent us is outrageous. In New York-14 alone, our district is 70% people of color. Never in American history has a person of color represented this district. It’s outrageous.”  

Cooties: This last election got very caught up in identity politics. Yet having a certain demographic doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to represent those interests. 

Alexandria: “Exactly, it is such a tricky thing. Just having a brown face represent us is not good enough. We need people with the right background. At the end of the day, if your representative is raking in millions of dollars in special interests, it doesn’t matter who they are, they’re going to be influenced to enact policy against the majority of their constituents.”

Cooties: What do you think about the gentrification that’s going on in the Bronx? 

Alexandria: “Just like the gentrification that’s going on in the rest of the boroughs, it’s extremely hard. I’m experiencing it myself; all working people in New York City are feeling the crushing pressure of gentrification. What’s even worse is that the pressure in real estate in New York City is almost entirely artificial in that, if you look at Manhattan, even though almost all the apartments are spoken for, about a half of them are vacant. Real estate in New York City is used as a mechanism to launder money and hide wealth; you have this global 1%, oligarchs from Russia, and China, and the Middle East, and in the United States as well, who buy second, third, fourth apartments in New York City to hide their assets. As a result, you have half of the apartments in Manhattan being empty. If you take a bus through Manhattan, you will be shocked by the amount of empty storefronts that now exist. Because the infrastructure situation has been so horrible in New York, I actually started taking the express bus. Our infrastructure, particularly in the Bronx, is a huge issue [because] we’re not getting the investment that we need from the State. [When] I began taking the bus I started looking. There are entire blocks in midtown Manhattan, prime global real-estate, that almost the entire block is empty with the exception of maybe a small ATM branch on the corner. The people that actually live here are experiencing so much pressure despite the fact that the majority of these apartments are empty. They’re being pushed out to build empty apartments; apartments that will stay vacant. And a lot of this is because again, on a local level, our politicians are being bribed by real estate development companies. My opponent is one of them; his third largest contributor is Tishman Real Estate, which is responsible for building many of the luxury condominiums and highrises in the city. But those people who buy these apartments don’t contribute to the city; they don’t work in the city; they don’t teach our children; they don’t protect us; they don’t put out our fires. Most of the time they are elsewhere, and our businesses can’t thrive on people who live in this city for two months out of the year. It just doesn’t add up. With the Bronx specifically, they’re trying to rezone Jerome Avenue, and this is a huge issue because Jerome Avenue is one of the main avenues in the Bronx, and it’s filled with small businesses. They’re trying to rezone it to pave the way for luxury condominiums; and my district is specific. New York-14 is one of the only districts that is comprised entirely of working class families. We’re one of the last strongholds that the city has left of second and third generation New York families, and no one is out here protecting them because all of our officials have been bought off. We can’t allow this to happen, we just cannot allow this to happen. 

Cooties: Having said that, what do you think are the best steps for achieving income equality, as well as gender, sexual, and racial equality? 

Alexandria: I think one of the main things, at least when it comes to the city, is that we need to start examining our policy so that we start incentivizing and creating a city where people have the opportunity to own the homes that they actually live in, so that that is something that is possible for a working person in New York City.  When it comes to equality in terms of people of color, we need to pay very close attention to criminal justice reform. When it comes to gender equity we need to start looking at things like paid parental leave, both paternity and maternity leave. There’s so many inequities when it comes to things like the wage gap, and the opportunities that women have in their careers; a lot of that is tied to traditional expectations around motherhood. Ultimately feminism is about women choosing the destiny that they want for themselves. If a woman wants to choose to stay at home with her children, that should be a choice that she can pursue. On the flipside, if a woman wants to choose an entirely different life for herself, we need to make that possible as well. Paid paternity leave, maternity leave, and parental leave in general is extremely important in terms of allowing all parents to make the life that makes them happy. That’s ultimately what policy should be about. Given the fact that we thankfully are at a level of technological advancement in the United States, we need to insure that our policies allow people to lead happy and productive lives. Not lives where they need to work 100 hours a week just to feed their children. 

Cooties: How do you think we can best strengthen the feminist movement during Trump’s administration? 

Alexandria: Well, this is such a tricky question. I think that a lot of the work that you’re doing is extremely important, because policy changes only after our culture changes. Policy is reflective of our cultural beliefs and values. For example, we can’t push for single-payer until we’ve made a cultural movement that has won over hearts and minds. Personally, I think the question is first, how are we challenging and expanding our ideas culturally in terms of gender equality? Then, how do we translate that into policy? For example, if you take things like parental leave, the cultural shift that needs to happen is that we need to change the idea just from the default of ‘women always need to take the burden of responsibility for the home entirely into themselves’ to ‘parents should be able to choose that for themselves.’ A couple should be able to choose how that responsibility is divvied up between the two of them. I think the beautiful thing about feminism is that it allows you to make that default choice if you want. You know, there are plenty of women out there who are fulfilled being mothers, and we need to allow them, and empower them to make that choice and not feel like they should be anything else. [On the other hand], we also need to make it possible for women and men who want to choose a more even distribution, or a different distribution as well. I think public policy should be reflective of expanding our options for our life. But primarily, we can only change policy after our culture has changed; after we’ve challenged those ideas in our greater culture. With gay marriage - that it happened so quickly - it was really one of the fastest and most dramatic movements that went from culture to policy in recent American history. When you compare that, for example, to interracial marriage, it took almost 50 years for the United States to reach a 50% cultural approval rate on whether interracial marriage was acceptable. It was only 1995 that we were able to cross that threshold. We were able to go from gay marriage being a fringe idea in the late 80’s, to hitting that tipping point of having someone like Ellen on television in the late 90’s. That broad acceptance in marriage equality was just so fast! That’s because our policy was influenced by a quick acceptance culturally. 

“I’m actually a Planned Parenthood baby. And the thing that’s ironic is that my mother is quite conservative - she’s an Evangelical Christian. But at the same time, Planned Parenthood is one of the only women’s clinics that provides services to low-income or any-income woman. They don’t close their doors. So when my mother thought that she was pregnant, she walked into a Planned Parenthood, and they were the ones that provided her with that initial prenatal care. So it’s just great to be able to benefit from that and tell people that story, and flip that frame that it’s some kind of factory. In the state of Texas where they defunded almost every women’s clinic, the maternal mortality rate doubled. And these are people who call themselves pro-life.”


Kill It At Its Source: Mass Shootings in America 

                                                                                                   Illustration by  Alex Medeiros

                                                                                                  Illustration by Alex Medeiros

It’s taken me a few days to gather my thoughts on just how upside down this country is.  With the Florida shooting that transpired on Wednesday, taking the lives of 17 people, some of them students and some teachers, there’s been yet another major outcry about gun control.  I’ve found myself both heartbroken and infuriated -- heartbroken by seeing the grief of a mother on CNN, screaming in agony into the camera about the pain of arranging a funeral for her 14 year old daughter, and infuriated by seeing the “thoughts and prayers” of Republican congressmen and women who are literally bought by the NRA.  The millions of dollars in donations which fueled their campaigns also helped fund the deaths of thousands of people each year, and yet they have the audacity to feign concern.  

We as a society have grown accustomed to hearing these stories; we care for a week or so and it’s on to the next mass shooting.  My biggest fear is that these deaths have become so commonplace that it no longer affects us in the ways it should.  Thankfully though, this time has seemed a bit different.  As I sat with my mom in the living room yesterday watching what seemed to be 24-hour news coverage of the shooting, we witnessed something one normally doesn’t see on the news. The footage of the aforementioned grief stricken mother had evoked tears in everyone on screen.  I myself was crying, and I instantly thought about how difficult it would be to hold it together on screen had I been there.  When the camera cut back to one of the reporters outside the school, she and the congressman being interviewed both broke down in tears.  As upsetting as it was to see them crying, it was in some ways refreshing to see people actually being affected by such a tragedy.  Every mass shooting is a tragedy, and so many of them don’t receive the same kind of coverage, though all are worthy of it.  Even more surprisingly, the shooter’s lawyer had to cut questioning short due to his inability to keep it together.  He too broke down in tears; the camera zoomed in on his face as he backed away from reporters, showing the tears in his eyes.  As a public defender he was assigned the case, and had no choice in the matter of defending him; but it’s unusual to see a lawyer break down and reveal a piece of the internal struggle that comes with having to defend an already-guilty, evil human being.  

All of the suffering seen on camera is poignant and undeniably significant, but sadly it isn’t what’s going to change legislation.  The only way this grief can evoke meaningful change is if we as a nation rise up and fight back against the wealthy elites funding our government.  In a society where polls have shown that up to 90% of Americans support background checks on the purchasing of guns, we still can’t seem to have legislation that reflects those beliefs.   As Ana Kasparian notes in a  TYT segment covering to the shooting, these rules are failing to actually be put into place.  A mass shooting had taken place at a church in Texas by a man who was dishonorably discharged from the military. Whenever a person is dishonorably discharged, the military is required to contact the FBI regarding this person, so that they are unable to pass a background check if or when they try to purchase a gun.  Yet after this shooting, it was revealed that for years the military had failed to report dishonorable discharges to the FBI. 

The NRA’s financial influence within our military industrial complex is rampant. Preventing certain people from purchasing guns is a safety issue, but restricting the ability to purchase a firearm is anathema to the NRA.  It uses its money and power to control the Republican Party and the conservative agenda. 

The NRA then uses Second Amendment propaganda to convince Americans that their right to own a gun is primary, connecting guns with that concept of freedom.  Their control of elected officials prevents gun safety legislation from ever moving forward. 

But Americans are not free if they have to live in fear everyday.  When they can’t send their children off to school without worrying whether or not they’ll return home, when they can’t go to a concert and enjoy live music without contemplating whether or not it’ll be their last living moments, when they can’t go to the movies without having to make note of the nearest exits, or when they fear going out in any public place, are they free?  What happened to that sense of liberty?  What happened to not having to fear for your life when you step outside of your house?  How come the 2nd Amendment is more important than that liberty?  That’s really what I do not understand.  If 20 first graders being gunned down in their school was not enough to change policy, let alone the mindsets of some “2nd Amendment defenders,” it’s obvious that the issue is not a matter of American lives being taken away, and it never will be.  It’s a matter of looking into who actually funds our government and who our representatives actually answer to; had they been beholden to the people, we would already have seen gun control legislation put into place by now.       

Almost any issue in America can be traced back to the private financing of elections; whether it’s the direct cause of an issue or the reason nothing has been done to change an issue, it all stems back to bought-off politicians.  People have become so disillusioned with politicians and the concept of our government being efficient and effective; it’s the reason we have Donald Trump as president. That kind of disillusionment creates the perfect environment for an authoritarian government to thrive.  With little voter turnout and engagement, we wind up with compromised politicians pretending to represent the interests of Americans while they answer to corporate overlords in boardrooms.  How are American voters supposed to compete with multimillion dollar campaign contributions from the NRA?  How are American voters supposed to compete with the Koch brothers? It’s simply impossible. With the top 1% of America’s elites owning more than the bottom half of America, it’s simply impossible for our voices to truly be heard.  Money is power, and it will overrule everything in a nation that has essentially become an oligarchy.  

Bernie Sanders shed much light on these kinds of disparities during the primaries, and at the time it seemed to have inspired many people to get involved and passionate about the political process.  But thanks to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats legally rigging the primaries with their monetary influence, many of those voters were disenfranchised; we ended up with two unpopular options only further encouraging people to stay home on Election Day.  

Cut to this exact moment, and we’re seeing the least popular president in history respond to this tragedy by stigmatizing mental illness and not even mentioning guns.  His response could not further reflect the extent to which he is out of touch with how most Americans actually feel about this issue.  He may have been pandering to “forgotten” white folks during the election, but as he currently sits in his ivory tower pretending to know how to be the President of the United States, he’s been dead wrong on essentially every issue.  Let’s be clear about this- a mentally unstable person is nowhere near as dangerous without a gun.  How can you tell the families of loved ones who have been shot to death that this issue isn’t about guns?  How is any mass shooting not about guns, when the only reason we’ve ever had to witness so many people die at once is because it was made possible by a gun. Furthermore, so many people in America struggle with all kinds of mental illness.  It doesn’t mean that a person is inherently dangerous or threatening to society and it’s time we nip that ignorance in the bud.  Demonizing mentally ill people only creates further division; what this country really needs is each other’s love and support.  There needs to be understanding and sympathy towards grieving families as we try to empathize with their position.  I would really ask any person who wholeheartedly believes in the 2nd Amendment to imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one to an AR 15.  Would you still love guns then?  Every single right given to us by the Constitution has its limitations and restrictions; it’s time we develop a 21st century approach to a right given at a time when rifles were the only thing to even exist.  Had the Founding Fathers been able to fathom a weapon that could be fired up to 100 times without reloading, I’m sure they would have included some disclaimers.  


Our politicians have failed the American people, and they do so every time someone dies at the hands of gun violence.  1,806 people have already died from gun violence just 6 weeks into 2018.  15,000+ people died from gun violence in 2017, and in 2016, there was more than one mass shooting a day, 383 over the course of 365 days.  Every single person that has lost their life to a gun has been failed in some way or another by our government.  Each one of those deaths was preventable.  How many more lives will be lost or ruined because of guns?  Enough is enough.  It’s time to elect politicians that represent us, who will fight for the policies we believe in and actually honor them when it comes time to vote on legislation.  We can’t become desensitized to the violence and the loss of life that happens far too often in this country.  If we take these feelings of frustration and sadness and channel them into fighting for the issues and representatives that matter, we can actually prevent more shootings in the long run.  Enough of the pandering politicians who are bought and paid for by the NRA and every other corporate institution in this country.  Our democracy and our lives depend on it.


Why The #MeToo Movement Encourages A Closer Look At Complicity 

                                   Artwork by   Alley Yochum

                                  Artwork by Alley Yochum

In recent weeks, the #MeToo movement has created this domino-effect, where more and more individuals are coming out about their experiences with sexual assault and harassment.  And while it may have garnered public attention from white Hollywood stars, the movement was actually founded years ago by black activist Tarana Burke. Fast-forward to 2017, and it’s served as the catalyst for what’s now being called ‘The Weinstein Effect,’ which has rippled through news outlets and public discourse.  Part of the reason the movement has garnered so much attention comes from the fact that many of the people involved are high-profile celebrities. Even though rape culture and its effects have been permeating society for as long as patriarchy has existed, there’s been steady progress in shining a light on these issues.  We’ve seen Anita Hill testify in front of the world over her experiences with (can you believe it?) Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  We’ve seen countless accusers come out against Bill Cosby and Donald Trump.  Yet there’s one solid difference between those events and the ones taking place now.  In the case of Cosby, Thomas or Trump, their accusers were previously unknown women who had stepped into the spotlight to share their story.  Now, these are women we’ve come to know and love, even if only in our own minds as their fans.  There’s something personal about it. It’s almost as if we’ve come to see these women as invincible, flawless, and without a care in the world.  They’re successful, wealthy women with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and careers. The revelations about what goes on behind closed doors in Hollywood may have been a well-known fact for those inside the elite social circles, but it came as a complete shock to anyone who wasn’t somehow connected to lifestyles of the rich and famous.  

It’s this sentiment of shock, dismay, and disappointment that got me feeling really down about sexism. That’s not to say that the movement hasn’t allowed for an amazing sense of solidarity amongst anyone who can claim “me too,’ because it definitely has.  But the fact that it takes A-list celebrities speaking out about sexual assault for people to care about it is an issue.  Why is it that Donald Trump faced a similar scandal in the most pivotal moment of the election season and he was still elected? Regardless of the fact that he lost the popular vote, he didn’t lose so badly that it kept our electoral system from declaring him president.  It’s kind of a cultural phenomenon that as a society we can be completely up in arms about this issue, having just voted an even higher-profile serial sexual assaulter into the White House. That disconnect then got me thinking about the ways in which we as a society are complicit in rape culture, sexism, misogyny, and the like. And this complicity has to in some ways be connected to the overall belief that women can be treated however men deem fit.  I’m not claiming to have definitive answers as to how; instead I wish to pose questions.  

One moment in particular stuck out to me.  Now, I’m not one of those femi-nazis that thinks it’s acceptable to generalize and say “all men do xyz.”  I’m also not one to hate on comedy; I personally believe satire is one of the most appealing ways to speak about political issues.  And every situation is nuanced; for the record these friends are among the closest people in my life.  It’s because they mean so much to me, and because they’re the nicest guys I know that I had this lightbulb moment about complicity.  I was hanging out with them one evening and we started watching one of Sam Hyde’s early videos.  If you don’t know him, he’s a comedian whose show, Million Dollar Extreme was picked up by Adult Swim but later canceled for some of the creators’ alleged involvement with the alt-right movement.  And while the creators maintain that the allegation was inaccurate, that fact alone indicates that much of the content I was watching was offensive on multiple levels. Hyde’s humor is apparently considered “post-ironic,” where he blurs the lines between himself and the offensive characters he portrays.  And although this is an actual field of comedy, it’s that blurring of lines that worries me the most.  As we sat there watching this video, said friends seemed to find it really funny.  Simultaneously, I’m having this thought process about how problematic some of the jokes were: this was the video that got Adult Swim to pick up their show? That surprised me, (although maybe it shouldn’t) but at the same time got me thinking about how many of those jokes could be overlooked.  As aforementioned, the trickiness over the situation, as with many, was that it is entirely a matter of the nuances.  Admittedly, I found some of the jokes funny.  As a fan of Tim & Eric and Eric Andre, I definitely saw the appeal. But I voiced the fact that I found some of it problematic and they agreed, especially when we came across a video of Hyde, claiming to be “in character” as he scrolls through images of overweight women and shames them for laughs.  That’s where the blurring of lines becomes a real issue.  Hyde posted the video with a minute and a half long disclaimer, saying “Love yourself. Now check out this parody comedy video that’s completely satire; it’s all ironic. It’s not meant to be making fun of fat people at all. Because we don’t agree with that. Goodbye.”  (Also worth pointing out: every individual he made fun of was a woman.  Hyde himself diminishes the inherent sexism that underlies the entire video.) Then, the video cuts to Hyde dressed in a regular tee-shirt, eating food, as he scrolls through and starts insulting fat women.  There’s a couple things about this kind of video that worry me: A) anyone could edit out the initial disclaimer and let this video float around the internet.  It’s not as if Sam Hyde is a widely known person; people may not even recognize him as a comedian.  To a lot of viewers this could be a regular joe schmo seriously insulting fat women on the internet, many of whom would find it hilarious and pass it on.  My second worry is: B) does the disclaimer even matter? What’s the real difference in telling people it’s a joke when there is essentially no indication that it is a joke in the first place?  He’s not in costume; he’s not portraying himself in any way that deviates from his regular self.  To me, the whole “post-ironic” label seems to just be an excuse for saying and doing whatever the hell you want and not wanting to take responsibility for it.  If he finds degrading women to be a way in which he can make other people laugh, he should own up to that fact.  He can claim he’s in character, but it doesn’t change the fact that his words are questionable and they have an impact.  He can claim that his intentions were for his viewers to laugh at him, as opposed to these women.  But are people actually laughing at him, or are they laughing at what he’s saying? Isn’t the comedic value inherently at these women’s expense? I wonder if any of them would care about his disclaimer. My guess is probably not. It hurts to have someone say awful things about you, especially if it’s for other people to laugh at.  

So why is it that so many people find this guy funny? Is Sam Hyde humor perpetuating complicity in the overall misogyny women face everyday?  To what extent are those who provide him with an audience complicit in the prejudice he’s (in)directly promoting?  (I’m looking at you, Adult Swim).  My gripe really isn’t with my male friends; in fact, I’m thankful that moment happened because they inspired me to write this.  Clearly not every person who finds Sam Hyde funny actually believes in the hatred he often uses as humor.  But what about the people who do? Is he not encouraging their thoughts and beliefs by packaging them with an apparently comedic bow? And while it isn’t necessarily fair to be putting Sam Hyde in the same vein as those who actually cross physical and social boundaries with women, it’s that kind of blatant disregard and disrespect for women that contributes to the overall culture of misogyny and subsequently rape culture.  But will we only care about these issues when they affect beautiful, famous women? Food for thought.

 

Why The Undiscussed DNC Case Still Matters  

                                                                                                                              Artwork by  Amy Krimm

                                                                                                                             Artwork by Amy Krimm

In these past seven and a half months, the United States has seen some of the most despicable agendas being pushed forward by The White House. It’s hard for our society to not devote all of its attention to the orange man-baby blob who sits in the oval office 2 weeks out of the month. (Vacation time must be taken into account, of course.) When he’s not defunding every beneficial government program fathomable, he’s condoning white supremacy or making disastrously dangerous comments to North Korea.  Every single day there’s something new that everyone is talking about.  And while these issues are without a doubt crucial for us to be aware of, it’s also important to be thinking critically about what information is being covered and what isn’t.  Since Trump decided to run for president he’s been the mainstream media’s wet dream- sensationalism, false claims, and all around horrible behaviors that we have not ever seen in a public official before.  Even for those giving him positive coverage, he’s been a walking, talking cash cow since he announced his run in 2015. That having been said though, it’s even more critical for us to be looking at what’s going on outside of Trump’s actions as well- and for a number of different reasons.  The obvious answer is that there are things going on in this country and abroad that don’t just disappear because Trump takes up all of the attention.  But with a more nuanced approach to absorbing news, one can see that everything going on is interrelated; there are elements of today’s happenings that we can devote our attention to that allow for us to get a clearer sense of why we are currently living under a fascistic government.  Nothing happens in a vacuum.  The stage had been set for our current administration long before Trump thought he could take a swing at politics. It’s been going on for decades.  And the manufacturing of consent, as Noam Chomsky likes to call it, is only possible through a process by which citizens willfully remain passive and uncritical consumers of content.  

On top of the media’s most recent obsession with Hillary Clinton’s resurfacing, as she sells another self-indulgent book, there’s a pretty telling example of the way in which our news is curated to fit certain agendas, and it’s the fact that the DNC corruption case has been severely underreported.  Admittedly, I had not been keeping up to date on the case simply because it was never being discussed anywhere.  About a week ago, when the case was dropped, my phone actually notified me of what had happened.  This was the first time I had seen anything about it in a long, long time.  It had almost seemed as if it had disappeared from relevancy entirely once the general election had picked up momentum.  Trump was elected, and it then seemed as if nothing else mattered.  But having picked myself up by the bootstraps and gotten back into the political sphere, I began to realize just how little attention was being given to anything related to what had actually happened last year when we ended up with the most disliked Democrat in the country on the Democratic ticket.  In the event that you haven’t heard any of this, which is entirely possible, let me fill you in- last year a Harvard law expert by the name of Jared Beck filed a class-action suit against the DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  Having filed the suit for residents in 45 states, his argument was that the DNC had misallocated contributions that had been given to the committee in support of Sanders.  The DNC’s defense lawyer Bruce Spiva argued that it would be impossible to determine which claims of fraud actually had standing and which didn’t.  On top of that, he argued that the DNC’s commitment to neutrality was a “political promise” that was not actually binding by law. He basically argued that at the end of the day, the DNC could choose whoever they wanted.  While that argument may legitimately be the case due to god-awful, corrupted rules in our election process, it doesn’t change the fact that that it in itself is extremely problematic and essentially goes against everything this country stands for when we say we live in a representative democracy.  If the DNC decides who wins the nomination- what’s the point of having an election in the first place? Is it all for show? Seriously vital questions were being raised by this case; fast forward to late August and a federal judge decides to dismiss it altogether. This was, of course, what the DNC had been trying to do since the case first started- they had initially filed a petition to have it dismissed in July of last year. They wanted to get it out of the way and buried because it undoubtedly made them look bad at a time when they needed voters’ trust and support. And while the case may have seemed like an impossible win for Beck, that had a lot to do with the fact that this was an extremely inconvenient issue for the Democratic establishment.  Politicians obviously would not speak out about it because they have financial and political obligations.  New outlets would rarely cover it for the same reasons.  It was a case in which a lot of people have fought for it to go away. And for the people like myself, who begrudgingly voted for Clinton out of fearing Trump, it seemed as though we were consistently undermined and unappreciated by the Democratic Party and the DNC in general.  According to The Chicago Tribune, the judge had this to say: "To the extent Plaintiffs wish to air their general grievances with the DNC or its candidate selection process, their redress is through the ballot box, the DNC's internal workings, or their right of free speech — not through the judiciary." What the hell kind of an explanation is that? How exactly are these fundamentally problematic elements of our election process supposed to be solved through the ballot box when the ballot box itself has been broken by said elements. So what has this situation left us with? An entire demographic of would-be voters feeling disillusioned about their political engagement and capacity for change, and a government that basically says there’s nothing they can do about it. Seems to be conveniently fitting the agenda of manufacturing consent.  

Maybe these problems’ solutions couldn’t have been attained through this case specifically, but the last time I checked the judicial system was put in place in order to be a check on the legislation we have in place, to be an impartial entity devoid of political biases and obligations.  Had this case gotten the media attention it deserved, perhaps there would be more of a societal push to see these issues taken to court through a different approach.  And if there had been a push to really look into why many democratic primary voters’ names were purged from voting lists (myself included) we would probably be looking at a legitimate case that could actually resolve some of these issues.  But now, in our current political climate, we seem to be caught in a sticky situation: if the judicial system takes a hands off approach to handling systemic corruption, and claims that the way to solve these problems is by participating in a voting process that is itself corrupt, how are we supposed to change things? And if that corrupted system is part of the reason we have Donald Trump as our president, how do we move forward in the fight against fascism, racism, sexism, hatred, bigotry and ignorance? There’s probably a multiplicity of answers that aren’t necessarily all that clear to us in the present moment.  But when we aim to gain an understanding of how our society really operates politically, economically, and culturally, and we don’t shy away from discussing it, that enlightenment is without a doubt a catalyst for positive transformations.


Post-College Depression Is A Thing 

It’s 3 in the afternoon and I’m currently sprawled out on my bed with Netflix paused, a half-eaten bowl of cereal next to me, and a pile of clothes sitting on my floor that need to be put away.  I just spent a solid 10 minutes crying for reasons that weren’t entirely clear to me.  I haven’t written anything personal in months.  I haven’t read any of the books that are sitting in my room waiting to be opened; the ones I was so eager to read once the craziness of senior year had left my life.  Now, that craziness that had stressed me out for months on end is long gone. I ended my college experience with the best set of grades I have ever gotten, and I’m finally free to give my time to all the things I had been looking forward to. One thing that I’ve always thought would be really beneficial to me in life is my love for learning. I’m always excited to pick something up and find out something new; gaining knowledge is one of the most empowering feelings. Since school has ended though, I’ve found myself unable to pick up any of those books. I’m nowhere near as engaged in the world of politics that had once captivated my interest so much that it made me want to devote my life to it. And now, ironically, at one of the most pivotal moments in the history of our country, I’m laying in bed watching Netflix.  

When you’re in college, you’re actively working towards career-oriented goals that your professors tell you will be beneficial.  When you’re in college, you’ve got the ‘hey, I’m in college’ excuse to be conveniently used for doing somewhat reckless things that you hope you’ll oneday look back on nostalgically.  When you’re in college, you know you’re living the best years of your life.  

And then you graduate.  And I know this is certainly not the case for some people, or even most people, because there’s those folks out there who have had a plan since they were five, or ten, or even just figured out exactly what they want to do by the time they picked their major.  The people who know their next step: no more school, graduate school, law school, medical school, etc.  But then there’s the people out there like me, who chose to earn the kind of degree that left one’s options somewhat open for whatever they’d decide to do.  Seemed like a solid plan in my freshman year of college, but I didn’t anticipate the fact that I wouldn’t necessarily have anything decided by the time graduation came.  

The point of me writing this is in no way to drum up some kind of pity party.  The point is that post-college depression is a thing, and I think it’s something that not a lot of people want to talk about or acknowledge.  Everyone seems to think that graduating college is an achievement to be really proud of; it’s a milestone that starts the next chapter in your life.  And while that’s most certainly true, it’s always put in such simplistic terms.  What about when the next chapter in your life is totally unclear? Do you go back to school or work towards building a career first? You’ve spent your entire life being a student and now there’s this pressure to join a workforce that, for some reason, seems to think that you, as a millennial, are to blame for society’s problems.  Hell, maybe society won’t even exist by the time you’ve figured yourself out because there’s two powerful man-babies who possess the power to blow up the world to smithereens.

Every young person is trying to figure out their identity.  In America especially, our career path and eventual vocation tend to be an even more integral part of our identities than anywhere else.  The rest of the world works to live; we live to work.  People ask ‘what are you?’ when they really mean ‘what do you do for a living?’  That kind of pressure gets to us, especially when a 2010 study found that only about 27% of us will actually end up in a job that was related to our majors. And even still, a lot of us end up working jobs to get by that don’t even require a degree.  It’s a really, really, scary time to be entering the real world and I think that the struggle a lot of college graduates are going through, myself included, should be acknowledged and discussed.  

Inauguration Weekend in Washington, D.C.

I know it’s late, but having made history as part of the largest protest in U.S. history I felt like I needed to gather my thoughts for a bit.  I especially wanted to write this to preserve the memories of what was one of the most incredible weekends of my life. And not like that is even the most important part, because at the end of the day all of the things I experienced are representative of just a tiny piece of what came together as millions making history.  But I do think that a lot of what Crystelle (my protest partner/photographer/best friend) and I saw proved to be very telling of the moment our country is currently in.  

We headed towards D.C. on Friday morning, and the ride was memorable for quite a few reasons.  When we hit the road we were feeling pretty excited. It was bittersweet; we were saddened by the orange baby blob that was about to come into power, but we were also excited to be a part of something as amazing as the Women’s March.  When the clock got closer and closer to noon, and we knew that we were experiencing the last moments of Obama’s presidency, the mood definitely shifted more towards sadness.  We turned on the inauguration, and as Trump was being sworn in around 12:05 it started to rain. It was as if the world was crying for us.  I’ll never forget that moment.  After listening to a wonderfully fascistic speech (which I can’t believe will actually go down in our history books?) we experienced yet another memorable moment; this one was more infuriating than sad.  Not even a half hour into Trump’s presidency Crystelle looks over to the car next to us and sees a man flashing her.  She tells me, and I look over to see this disgusting smirk on his face. I just need to ask: why are some men so obsessed with their penis? What makes them think that women are even remotely interested in seeing that, on a highway no less.  I mean obviously it has nothing to do with our interest; it’s about shock value and power.  Though the hubris is just astounding.  We flipped him off and he then left on the next exit. Immediately I thought to myself: “Okay, this is America now.”  Not only did we just transition into the most hateful leader the United States has probably ever seen (I’m thinking Jackson is a good runner-up), but we had just experienced the reality of that hatred right then and there.  As irritating as it was, it was pretty solid preparation for dealing with the sea of red hats we had to look at later on in the day.  

We checked into the hotel, relaxed for a minute and then decided to head into D.C. to check out if there were any protests going on.  When we got to the metro station it was fairly empty.  There were stupid little stands set up with Trump paraphernalia, and sprinklings of red white and blue attire.  It was the first of what we would come to realize as the ability to spot a Trump supporter from a mile away.  Waiting on the platform was fine until the train car pulled up, and since we were the last station on the line every passenger had to get out.  It was completely overwhelming; there were red hats on white faces everywhere. As New Yorkers admittedly living in a liberal bubble, it was really bizarre to see so many bigots at once.  And that’s not to say that every Trump supporter is a bigot, because I do believe there is a spectrum within that demographic.  But these were the loud and proud Trump-sters; these were the hardcore fans. The kind of people who said he could do anything and they would still vote for him. It was a shock.  And when we got to D.C. it was just as terrible.  The protests had dispersed, and even then the streets were still fairly empty.  But tensions were high.  

As we walked around somewhat aimlessly as we searched for a protest to join, there were both sides of morality walking all around each other.  We would see those with anti-Trump signs and give them a nod as if to say “thank you for being here.”  We also saw old white hillbilly bikers with Trump hats and flags. At some point that day I came to the realization that in those moments, D.C. had become a microcosm of the country.  Trump fans from middle America, liberals from the coasts, vice versa (because that does exist), the incredibly rich and the incredibly poor.  For all of the beautiful architecture and history that D.C. has, it also has a hell of a lot of poverty.  The gap between rich and poor may have been immense monetarily speaking but the two were practically right next to one another physically.  It was so upsetting to see so many homeless people on the side streets, just a minute’s walk away from grandiose buildings containing some of the richest people in the country. At the end of a run down block there were people stepping out of their swanky cars (with the help of a driver of course) in gowns and tuxedos as they made their way to the presidential balls. I wanted to spit on every single one of them. But it was telling to see so much of what makes America truly a melting pot all in one small district “upon a hill.”    

The highlight of the day though, was purely because we were in the right place at the right time.  When we were hanging around the outskirts of the parade, Crystelle overheard someone yell about Michael Moore; she grabbed my arm and we ran over to what was a golf cart pulling up nearby.  People began to flock to it and when I could make out what was happening we saw that it was in fact Michael Moore!

It was so awesome. There were Trump trolls booing him but way more people cheering him on. He got out of the cart and we followed him over to the gates until he went behind the barricade.  Soon after that we met this awesome protester Ryan, and we tagged along his plan for a few hours.  It was so refreshing to meet like-minded people surrounded by what felt like the enemy.  We headed back to the hotel soon after to get a fresh start for the march.  

Our second day in D.C. was much more promising than the first.  Where there had been empty stands and red hats the day before, there were now hundreds of pink ones with signs lined up to get on the metro. We had taken a taxi to the station, and our driver was telling us about how bad traffic had been not long before he picked us up.  I remember him saying something about women being a force to be reckoned with, that Trump hadn’t a clue what he was in for.  When we arrived at the station we realized exactly what he was talking about.  There had been an hour and a half-long wait just to get a metrocard.  Luckily though, Crystelle’s stealthy ways allowed us to cut the line and make it onto the platform within a half an hour.  When we got on the train, it was so jammed that protesters waiting at the next stations couldn’t even get on; they had to take the train further out in the opposite direction just to get in.  With the help of some D.C. locals who were on their way to march, we got off at a stop fairly close to the center of it.  It was especially amazing because the station was so flooded with people that we basically had our own rally right there in the station.  

Everywhere was so filled with protesters that we could essentially just start chanting anywhere.  And although we had to wait a while for the rally to end and the march to actually begin, all of the people we were surrounded by were amazing.  There was such a strong feeling of solidarity and love there; people could stand and talk to one another and never have to introduce themselves, or connect on social media, or network.  And that’s the beauty of it. People could float in and out of your life on that day, never to speak again but it was okay because it wasn’t about us as individuals.  It was about a movement of people coming together in that moment to make our voices heard.  

We marched through the streets of D.C. and saw some pretty amazing signs.  The chants were also incredible: “You’re orange, you’re gross, you lost the popular vote!”; “Her body, her choice! My body, my choice!”; “Obama cares Trump doesn’t!”; “This is an abomination to the Obama nation!”; “No Trump, no K.K.K., no fascist USA!”; “We will not go away, welcome to your first day!” At one point a man standing high above the crowd on a table started shouting: “Who run the world? Girls! Who run the world? Girls!”  It was so moving. Especially when I saw one man who held a sign that said “my daughter is watching you” as he held his young daughter on his shoulders.  

And that was one of the most beautiful parts of it: there were little girls, little boys, babies, and even some old men and women with walkers.  Can you even imagine? Barely being able to walk and making your way to this event to show your presence in this movement.  It was remarkable.  

Almost every single person I saw from the Trump side of things looked the same; they were either very blue collar or very wealthy. Either way, they were white as could be.  But as protesters we came in all different forms: brown, black, white, male, female, trans, old, young, disabled, straight, gay, you name it.  And that’s really what America is all about, right? Aren’t we supposed to be the melting pot of humanity? Where anyone from anywhere can dream of a better life and come to this country to make one for themselves?  To fight the tribal instincts of existence and look out for those who may not look exactly like us?  That hasn’t necessarily been America in practice by any means, but it is the America that we are constantly striving to be.  It has always been a bumpy road but the majority of Americans really are progressive in their beliefs; Bernie’s movement was in every way larger, and more populist than Trump’s movement ever was or will be.  And the seeds of what he planted are growing into the most amazing political revolution.     

On our way back from the protests we met one of the nicest human beings I’ve ever encountered.  We were trying to save money so instead of taking a cab back from the station, we decided to see if there was a bus route that would take us back to the hotel.  We asked the bus driver and he offered to drop us off nearby even though it wasn’t a part of his route.  When we were talking to him we mentioned that we were from Long Island; he said he met some of the nicest people there when he first came to America, and that he hoped to eventually buy a house there.  I’m not sure where he was originally from, but he was clearly an immigrant who had come to this country for better opportunities.  When he dropped us off I thought about how sad it is that the new president would want to ban someone like him from entering the country, even though he was a kind-hearted, friendly, compassionate person who came here to work hard and contribute to society.  I thought about how sad it is for the people like that bus driver who had not yet come to America. All of the lost opportunities and potential.  How can the country be made “great again” if we strip it of all the things that already make it great?  That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of things to work on because America is extremely far from perfect.  But talking to that bus driver was a glimpse into the reality of what makes America exceptional.  

Our third day in D.C. was way more low-key, but it was also extraordinary because we ended up shutting down the Lincoln Memorial through protest.  Crystelle and I made our way to D.C. to sight-see and check out some art.  When we got to the Lincoln Memorial there was a solid mix of red and pink hats; Friday’s atmosphere of awkwardness had returned.  As we were about to head over to the Korean War Memorial we heard people beginning to chant.  It was basically a flash mob of protesters.  The Trump supporters seemed to have disappeared because they were clearly outnumbered; I looked around and saw almost everyone chanting.  After about 15 minutes of protesting the cops came and kicked everyone out.  Considering we were given the right to “peaceably assemble” and “petition the Government” by the First Amendment, I have no idea why we were actually kicked out. It was so clearly a violation of our rights. The chants then became: “Whose monument? Our monument!”  

And although it was infuriating to be removed from an area where we had every right to be, the upside was that we kind of ruined a visit for everyone. If nobody could see the memorial, at least some of those people were Trump supporters.  It was so cool to feel like we made history a second time, right in front of the statue of America’s most iconic president.  The rest of the sight-seeing was honestly kind of morbid; it was raining and it looked as though the statues were crying.  It was yet again a striking moment. All of the symbols of our history were now dripping wet with the sadness of a wrecked democracy.  

It was only a matter of time before the one we had slipped out of our hands entirely.  It had been falling away for quite some time, and Trump has now put a bright orange face on its end.  But democracies grow out of injustice, and I really do believe that we can make an even better one out of the fight against Trumpism.  America was founded by fighting against a corrupt government; if we could have achieved such greatness then, who’s to say what we can achieve now?

 

 

The American Dream Just Became A Nightmare

                                                       11/10/16

                                         .......President-elect Orange Baby Blob

                                        .......President-elect Orange Baby Blob

I guess the first thing I can say is that I’m sad to be writing this.  I had planned out some things I wanted to say for a Hillary presidency, and now I’m heart-broken, depressed, and incredibly anxious for the future of this country.  But after a day of depression, I've picked myself up and tried to look critically at why this has happened, and what we can do to change the course history will take after this terrifying time.  Like most people I didn’t expect Trump to actually pull out a win, but unlike a majority of those people I did not write it off as impossible.  The writing on the wall was there, but the mainstream media and poll aggregators missed this outcome by an unprecedented amount.  And when we look into some of the possible reasons as to why, we can see that this was a problem that started long before Trump became the president, even long before he became the nominee.  

To start with, the mainstream media is living in a bubble of wealth and ignorance about the actual opinions of the American people.  Their collusion with Washington elites, their cushy salaries, and their entire atmosphere of being surrounded by those with similar opinions has left journalism in a scarily vulnerable place.  Were CNN reporters doing on-the-ground reporting at Trump rallies?  Are they doing on-the-ground reporting at all?  You see the injustices currently going on in North Dakota; have they covered it any time besides when they have a celebrity to discuss it and ensure their ratings?  No.  When Trump would come on to speak, or when they would host a debate, would any of the pundits really challenge him?  Absolutely not, because if he refused to come back to their show, or refuse to show up for a debate (he decided to “keep them in suspense”), their ratings would plummet.  They are, at their very core, a corporation.  They are looking to maximize profit more than anything; and if truth and factual evidence are not going to help their ratings, then they will avoid them at all costs.  And if the unabashedly racist, incompetent, sexist imbecile that is Donald Trump makes their ratings sky-rocket, then they will follow his every move.  This is political punditry being masked as journalism and it’s so dangerous that it has paved the way for the constituencies across America to be misinformed to such a severe extent, that they will elect a man who is everything that’s wrong with the world today.

Obama ran on change, and while he may have brought a lot of social and economic improvement, he left a lot of middle America behind.  Now, that’s not to say that the angry white men who have been facing economic hardship in past years are not clear examples of white privilege.  They are in every way, very clear examples of it.  The struggles that they are now facing because of globalism and the outsourcing of labor are valid reasons to be angry, but what they fail to realize is that people of color have been facing, and are still facing economic hardships since the abolishment of slavery.  At the heart of America’s issues today is the fact that the 1% is rigging the system in their own favor; and now, blue-collar white men are also being disenfranchised.  Yet Trump has tapped into this anger and scapegoated it straight towards those people of color, as opposed to the corporations who have actually outsourced their jobs.  Why? Because he is one of those people.  “Don’t blame me for your job being outsourced to Indonesia or Mexico or China, blame the Mexican immigrant who snuck over the border in hopes of a life half as good as yours.”  He didn’t literally say that, but he founded the base of his campaign off this basic principle. The ignorance is real, the white privilege is real, the bigotry is real, but some Trump supporters are not the result of malicious intent.  If we want to move beyond this impending 4-year disaster, we have to remember that division among us can’t be summed up by one factor; it’s not that 50% of us are racist bigots. (Actually, only about 50% of the population even voted.)  But it's that many of us are angry enough at the system to willingly up-end it for whatever reasons we specifically have.  Whether that reason was the belief that Trump could legitimately fix the country, or the belief that "sure, he's an incompetent man-baby but let's set fire to the government," it doesn’t change the fact that America is fucking done with the status quo.  So while a solid portion of Trump supporters really are the “basket of deplorables” that represent the "last hoorah" of white supremacy, there is also a significant amount of people who voted for Trump that didn’t like him all that much either.  They know that the system is rigged against them, they know money is corrupting politics, but their lack of facts due to non-existent journalism leaves them heading in the direction of a demagogue as opposed to a democratically populist leader like, say... Bernie fucking Sanders.    

But the establishment media wanted nothing more than to maintain this status quo, which is why they fought tooth and nail to make sure Hillary Clinton would be portrayed in a positive light.  Why would they want any sort of change?  “I make $10million+ a year and Sanders would raise my taxes, so we cannot give him coverage.  If people know his platform, maybe they’ll actually vote for him.  Trump would be a disaster sure, but he’d never win after we just elected the first black president. We’re way beyond that! So even though the wind is blowing towards populism on both sides of aisle, let’s back the establishment candidate with the most flawed political history to date.”  They didn’t say this either, and they never will, but it’s exactly what happened.  And their failures didn’t end there; not only did they ignore the will of the people but they also failed to pick up on the fact that the American public saw this as clear as day, and actually became more and more likely to screw up the system in whatever way they could.  Their obvious bias not only pushed more undecided/independent voters towards Trump, but it also helped facilitate the overall lack of enthusiasm and low voter turnout that brought this outcome.   When the DNC, Obama administration, and the mainstream media did everything in their power to maintain the status quo, they fought for the candidate that clearly represented incremental change and compromise.  And the Democratic Party’s abandonment of working-class citizens, who chose the corporatist route to serve their own self interests, still acted under the guise of fighting for a middle class that has essentially disappeared.  

So, having analyzed just some of the potential causes of this disaster, what the fuck do we do moving forward?  For starters, we block the mainstream media out.  They’ve failed us in essentially every way possible.  Secondly, we make sure we are participating in political activism in any way that we can.  The Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s liberation movement, all social progress we have made, was the result of organized protests, marches, etc.  We are going to be living in an atmosphere just as much in need of change as it was in the 1960’s.  We can’t lose sight of the victories we can accomplish because it is actually the perfect time to start.  The Democrats have clearly fallen on their asses, and it’s time to kick them while they’re down.  Let's reorganize the DNC from the bottom up, so that we can have a progressive agenda that is actually looking out for the well being of Americans.  The overall losses that the Democrats have just faced was a complete massacre; the Republicans have an upper-hand that gives them a majority in literally every branch of government.  The DNC we have today has failed miserably.  None of them should be able to keep their jobs, because this is one of the worst defeats we've ever seen.  We can implement a new, progressive, truly Democratic Party if we march and create grass-roots organizing.  Thirdly, we need to primary the establishment democrats in Congress, and fight for the midterm election to bring more progressive seats.  In two years we can bring a stronger buffer to whatever the hell Trump’s administration will be doing, which will help minimize the effects of his last two years.  And lastly, we make sure that the Democratic nominee in 2020 is not using PACs and donor money to fund their campaign.  The heart of Bernie Sanders’ movement was that he was running on the support of the people, and if we can achieve a nominee who is truly looking out for the people of this country, then we can take back the White House, win at least one majority in Congress, and solidify a progressive revolution.  None of this will be easy, and it will take a lot of time, effort, and devotion.  But the preservation of this country is relying on us, and we have to answer the call.  

 

 Accurate depiction of the baby blob.

Accurate depiction of the baby blob.

First Presidential Debate: A Sick & Unfunny Joke 

Monday night was the first of three presidential debates that will take place over the next 5 weeks.  But, I don’t have to tell you that because you are most likely one of the 118 million people that tuned in to see the two candidates go head-to-head.  When this election season first started over fifteen months ago, there were six Democrats in the race, along with seventeen Republicans.  Funnily enough, we’ve now narrowed it down to arguably the two most unpopular people in the entire lot.  (Democracy, amiright?)  The most troubling part of this entire election is the way in which mainstream television news outlets discuss Donald Trump.  First off, let me start by pointing out that TV news is the main source of news for 57% Americans.  Now considering that in recent years, only about 60% of Americans actually participate in the presidential election, it’s safe to assume that a good chunk of voters get their information from TV news.  CNN, MSNBC, and Fox have massive amounts of influence on the minds of voters.  So when I see post-debate commentators discussing the pros and cons of each side’s arguments, or where one made a solid dig at the other, I can’t help but feel completely hopeless for the state of this country.  Why is the national discourse portraying Trump as if he is even a legitimate player in this game?  The debate shouldn’t be up for debate.  Here’s why.

It was almost inevitable that the debate would be lacking substance, because at least half (probably more if you count his interruptions) of the speaking time was given to someone who has very little to actually give to the conversation.  Much of what Trump had to say consisted of awkward phrases, blatant lies, or deflections from his own faults.  When I was watching the debate, I couldn’t help but think back to the exciting times of the primary season, when Bernie and Hillary would debate their asses off.  It was extremely substantive, full of important issues, and for the most part, pretty factual.  As much as I despise Hillary Clinton, there’s no doubt she is incredibly intelligent.  Bernie gave her a run for her money (literally, too) by presenting cold hard facts to bring to the forefront of the conversation.  Fast forward to Monday night, and I’m watching this orange blob on my TV screen talking about how he has a “winning temperament.”  Said blob also declared that profiting from the 2008 housing crisis was “called business.”  What’s so frustrating to me is the fact that he is so incredibly out of touch with the harsh reality that millions have to face every day: when you’re poor, debt can actually ruin your life.  But when you’re Donald Trump, you can be millions of dollars in debt, file for bankruptcy 6 times, and still pretend that you’re a billionaire.  Of course, it helps if you can get away with not paying your taxes.    

Which brings me to my personal favorite moment of the debate: when Clinton called him the fuck out on his tax returns.  She slams him: “So you gotta ask yourself -- why won't he release his tax returns? And I think there may be a couple of reasons. First, maybe he is not as rich as he says he has. Second, maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be. Third, we don't know all of his business dealings but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about six hundred and fifty million dollars to Wall Street and foreign banks.”  Even though Trump is a scapegoating, bigoted, racist, sexist baby, some people actually like him for those things.  But the fact that he won’t release his tax returns is a single fact that can sum up why no one should vote for him.  While we can only speculate, it’s pretty safe to say that he won’t release them because there are things he does not want people to know. Maybe he hasn’t paid them at all, maybe he skipped a few years, maybe he only paid some of what he owed.  Regardless, he obviously holds very little regard for contributing his fair share to the Federal Government.  Why on earth should he be allowed to run a branch of the system he refuses to pay into?  This is typical Trump in action, looking solely towards his own concerns and glory.  

Glory is one of the most dangerous aspects of a leader.  Machiavelli, a realist who firmly believed that violence, cruelty, and complete power were necessary aspects of leadership even warned against the dangers of glory.  For all of the unpleasant parts of ruling could only be acceptable if they were done out of necessity as opposed to personal gain.  In other words, don’t just do things for the hell of it (ie: run for president when you have absolutely no political experience and have not actually achieved anything other than a synthetic business in which you stamp your name on different products).  Although in an entirely different historical context, Machiavelli’s thoughts on glory clearly still hold weight.  For rulers (as Trump has proven he could potentially be) are bound to fail if they seek power only in the name of glory.  Gore Vidal had devoted many of his literary works to the fact that the United States has become a modern day empire.  And like any empire, its fall will come eventually.  Who better to lead us to it than Mr. Trump?  I can’t help but think that his presidency would be a running start to the beginning of the end.  So unless we’d like to witness a complete disintegration of the fabric of our country, a total regression of all the social progress we’ve made, and a huge loss for the fight against income inequality, Monday night’s debate isn’t up for debate.  

 

 

 John Oliver & Keegan-Michael Key spoofing predatory car loans.

John Oliver & Keegan-Michael Key spoofing predatory car loans.

Subprime Lending: Auto Edition

A couple of weeks ago, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver spent a significant amount of its 30 minute program discussing how the automobile industry has taken to the same predatory tactic that crashed the housing market in 2008: subprime lending.  It's always astounding to me the lengths people will go to make money, especially when they already know the outcome will be detrimental to the economy.  This segment is proof that we really place no value on the past or its mistakes, because people will always be willing to make money at the expense of others.  And there's a special place in hell for those who doll out loans like they're candy.  Under the guise of appearing helpful, what they're actually doing is planting a seed that could end up destroying whatever economic stability a person has left.  By allowing them to obtain a car they can't actually afford, they then end up hitting them with impossibly high interest rates that create a vicious cycle of debt.  As Oliver points out in the segment, almost 25% of all auto loans in the country are subprime.  This will, of course, have a terrible long-term effect on the economy.  Aside from the fact that the bubble is on its way to bursting, there are now thousands of people with massive amounts of debt.  How then, can these people contribute to any market?  How can they afford to buy anything when they have now become the prime victims in this rigged economy?  

The phrase "it's expensive to be poor" couldn't be more accurately applied to this topic.  Oliver points out the story of a woman who ended up taking a loan of about $8000, with a 29% interest rate.  If she had paid off the loan, she would have ended up spending over $13,000 on a car that was only worth $3,000.  Meanwhile someone who has money at their disposal would only pay for the market price of a car.  If that isn't criminal I don't know what is.

Another disturbing part of the piece is the fact that these companies can repossess your car even if a payment is only a few days late.  But before they can leave you completely stranded, they can annoy the shit out of you.  Many of the cars come with a beeper installed, and if your payment is late it will go off incessantly to remind you.  As if the stress of your rapidly increasing debt wasn't enough.  Psychologically speaking, this is just plain cruel.  Especially considering the fact that the car was loaned by a company that knew damn well the person would have a hard time making their payments.  In the even that they do decide to repossess your car, they can sell it to someone else.  Oliver's research team went so far into it that they followed the repossessions of a single car from one of these dealerships.  It was sold, and resold a total of ten times over the course of a few years.  That's at least 10 people who were driven thousands of dollars into debt from one car.  Because even if they take the car back, it turns out they can still claim you owe them money.  

The only grain of positivity in this story is the fact that the auto industry makes up a much smaller portion of America's overall economy than the housing market.  But that doesn't mean that this isn't still a serious issue. With the whole "buy here pay here" dealership industry expanding, the tendency for loans to become even more malicious significantly increases.  This then makes people more likely to default on their loan, their credit scores all together.  Although this is just one economic sector, it sheds light on the main issue at hand.  We have created a country in which its citizens are enslaved by debt.  Forget about democracy, forget about the American Dream of upward mobility.  Subprime lending is powerful people's way of ensuring that those at bottom end up staying there.                 

Float in Düsseldorf, Germany

America's Collective Amnesia

One could argue many reasons for the rise of Donald Trump.  Yes, the Washington establishment on both sides of the aisle are corrupted by campaign finance laws that essentially equate money to speech.  Yes, we still have not recovered as much as we would have liked from the economic crash of 2008, and are still very resentful of the fact that the bailout was given to Wall Street and not Main Street.  Yes, we are living during a time with the highest wealth disparity since the Gilded Age despite the fact that we are the richest country in the history of the world.  All of the factors of today’s political climate have culminated to create the perfect storm for a populist candidate.  Now, I wish I could be writing this about how Bernie Sanders rose from the ashes of Occupy Wall Street to become the Democratic candidate of this upcoming election.  Unfortunately it seems as though the Clinton powerhouse has successfully bought the spot, whether it be through the significantly shrunken number of polling stations or the corporate media casting everyone who isn’t Hillary Clinton in a flawed and negative light.  While these are issues entirely significant in themselves, my immediate fears pertain to the eerily similar characteristics between Donald Trump and Hitler, and more specifically what these similarities mean for our collective memory, or lack thereof.   

Well, for starters, Hitler rose to power out of a democracy.  He didn’t gain his position by force but through the manipulation and persuasion of the people to elect him into office.  At a time when Germany’s national pride had taken a dive, and the Treaty of Versailles had stripped the country of much of its power, territory, and spirit, Hitler used this to his advantage.  He saw in the German people a need to be led.  And his leadership had more than just Germany in mind; he wanted the entire world.  The amount of narcissism that is required to believe you can defeat/rule over the world is one that I would reserve for only a few people.  Donald Trump is one of them.  Of course, because Trump doesn’t actually speak about any sort of clearly defined policies, and contradicts himself within minutes, it’s hard to know whether or not his race-baiting, fear-mongering tactics are purely for the votes or because he actually means it.  But the counter argument to that defense is: why should we take the chance?  When Hitler was running for office, his critics said similar things to what has been said of Trump.  “He doesn’t actually mean what he says, he just wants to win,” or, “We needn’t worry because other politicians will be able to control him.”  The past was sorely mistaken, so why aren’t we learning from that mistake?  

The only way we can learn how to tackle the future is to learn from the past, something that I think America doesn’t quite know how to do.  As a country, we have adamantly worked to forget our history, particularly regarding the aspects that do not sit well with us.  Government officials in Texas have fought for a version of elementary school textbooks that portray slavery as a “side issue” of the Civil War.  There’s also been a push to defund arts and humanities within higher education, with the claim that these pathways don’t solidify a career.  Both the beginning and final stages of education in America have been threatened with the loss of understanding history.  This probably has a lot to do with the fact that our country was founded upon certain ideologies that don’t hold up today.  The southern economy isn’t reliant on cotton anymore, but could we have become a world power if we hadn’t succeeded at the expense of millions of enslaved people?  Could we have even inhabited North American territory without slaughtering the people who already lived here?  The answer to both of those questions is “probably not.”  Our country was founded at the expense of people of color, yet we also claim to be the greatest democracy in the history of the world. That massively significant contradiction is at the root of why we feel the need to forget our history.  Although the context may be different, post WWI Germany also had a history they wanted to forget.  When we distance ourselves from the past, we are damned to make the same mistakes.  Although Nazism isn’t directly a part of American history, it is a history that has touched almost all countries’ histories in some way or another.  So we would be just plain foolish to ignore the ways in which our current dissatisfaction with government could potentially lead to a new fascist uprising.  But the rise of Donald Trump proves that we most certainly are.         

    

Jon Snow being a badass.

Battle of The Bastards

I arrived a little late in the "Game" of Thrones, but after having the show completely consume my life for the past two weeks, I felt compelled to write about what I thought was the best episode of the entire series.  Perhaps the best episode of any show ever.  And it was certainly one of the most expensive since it had a $10 million budget.  Watching the most loved and probably the most hated characters of the show (the former being Jon Snow and the latter being Ramsay "Bolton") face off in a battle to the death was the most necessary altercation in order for justice to be served.  Ramsay is almost entirely the antithesis of Jon.   While Jon stands for honor, bravery, and altruism, Ramsay represents deception, cowardice, and selfishness.  The point is most clearly defined when the two confront one another for the first time.  When Jon offers to nix the battle in place of a one-on-one fight, Ramsay declines because he knows that he has a larger army on his side.  Jon's reply sums up just how different the two really are: "Would your men want to fight for you, when they hear you wouldn't fight for them?"  It's the perfect response, and actually gets Ramsay unusually flustered. 

And the episode just gets more and more intense from there.  It perfectly depicts the brutality of medieval warfare while poignantly displaying the kind of bravery required to be a part of the Westeros world.  The camera follows Jon Snow's experience throughout the entire battle, with a tight lens evoking all kinds of anxiety within the audience.  Horses, arrows, men with axes and swords, all lunging into the frame from unseen angles.  We are only able to see what's directly in Jon's view.  When I was viewing this cinematic masterpiece for the first time, the pieces started coming together.  Watching a man survive that kind of battle could only be at the hands of destiny.  Then I started to think about how much destiny has played a role in the entire show.  When Melisandre looks over Jon's dead body at the beginning of Season 6, she claims to have seen him in the flames fighting at Winterfell.  He was destined to be there.  The camera then rack focuses onto Ser Daavos, who ends up being the one to suggest Jon's resurrection.  Season 5 began with the flashback of a witch revealing to Cersei the tragedies also destined to come her way.  All of which have come true.  Hodor personifies the significance of destiny, as the only words he is able to speak are the direct result of envisioning his own death by "holding the door" years later.  During the battle, every arrow, every sword, every horse lunging towards Jon is somehow deflected, either by his own fighting or purely by chance.  We see him almost smothered to death by being trampled; his suffocating is so claustrophobic it's painful to watch.  He breaks free and fights his way to the surface of what's become a sea of men struggling to survive.   Despite being centimeters away from death at every moment, Jon survives.  Whatever his destiny may be, his journey wasn't meant to end there.  He was meant to take back Winterfell.

And this too, could only have happened at the hands of Stark children.  The Boltons betrayed The Starks by setting them up for the Red Wedding, in which Robb Stark, his wife Talisa and mother Catelyn are brutally murdered.  Exactly 3 seasons later, the massacre is avenged and the Starks regain Winterfell from those who stole it.  The very first episode of the show portrays the patriarch of the Stark family, Ned, as the main character of the series.  His death in episode 9 acts as the catalyst for all of the events to follow, and the initial breakdown of the Stark family.  Exactly 5 seasons later, the Battle of the Basterds acts as vengeance for this tragedy too.  The Bolton defeat, and particularly Ramsay's death, must be Sansa Stark's doing, since she received the bulk of Ramsay's abuse and was forced to live in her own home under the control of the people who took it.  She saves the surviving men in Jon's army when she has the Knights of the Vale charge in and defeat the remaining Bolton soldiers.  When Jon is beating Ramsay almost to the point of death, he sees Sansa watching and realizes this isn't his life to take; it has to be Sansa.  And what better way for Ramsay to die than by the viciousness of his hounds?  Throughout the show he's used them to brutally murder anyone who gets in his way.  Sansa knows that it's only fitting he die the way he's made others suffer.  While Ramsey speaks his last words and Sansa watches his face torn off, the Starks have finally won back their home.  All of this is summed up in the shot where the Bolton flags are torn down and replaced by the Stark's dire wolf emblem.  Throughout the show characters have consistently claimed that the Stark family is dead and gone, despite them being the rightful rulers of the North.  The Battle of the Basterds brought the Stark family back to life, and destiny kept Jon Snow alive to do it.          

 Citizens are getting the short end of the stick. 

Citizens are getting the short end of the stick. 

Bernie's Message Is Still More Important Than Ever

Like many Bernie Sanders supporters, I can't help but feel slightly discouraged about the future.  Not only for the future of progressive ideals, but for the future of the country in general.  During the primary season, Bernie's candidacy brought a lot of passion, positivity and most importantly, a future to believe in.  That was, after all, the slogan of his campaign.  We were all Feeling The Bern, a Bern that had reinvigorated the country into believing that change for the better was actually possible.  After the unfortunate results of New York, followed by a disappointing loss in California, I for one lost a lot of faith in the idea that change was truly possible.  Not that we aren't ready for it, because I believe we definitely are.  But Bernie's loss made me realize that his victory would never have happened in the first place, because a corrupt system will do everything in its power to keep it that way, even if it means undermining the principles this country was founded on.  How could it have been that the results for California were significantly different from the polls leading up their primaries?  A day before Californians went to cast their vote, polls were saying Clinton was up by 2 points.  Well within the margin of error, there was no telling who would actually take the cake.  Fast-forward 24 hours and Clinton suddenly kills it with a 7.7 point win.  It just doesn't seem plausible to me; especially considering the fact that the election has now come to be considered a complete unpopularity contest.  How come all of Clinton's flaws, flaws that existed this entire time, are only now being considered a problem when she's become the only option we have?  (Because let's face it, the Trump alternative really isn't an option at all.)  We had an even better option than Hillary, and when we had him, the mainstream media could barely seem to give him the time of day.  Once they realized he wasn't going away, they took to tearing him down in every way they could.  What was it about Bernie that was just so threatening to the mainstream media?  Maybe it was the fact that he was telling the truth.  But the truth is only a bad thing when there's something to hide.  Bernie brought the major issue this country is facing to the forefront of the conversation: massive income inequality and the corrupt tactics that created it.  

While it's completely impossible to forget Bernie and the importance he had on the political climate over the past year, it's definitely easy to feel hopeless.  We can't just replace Bernie with Hillary, as the past 10 months have shown us just how different the two really are.  We know that the top of Clinton's agenda isn't the same as Sanders.  We know that often times the two were on opposing sides when it came to corporate influence in government.  But it's precisely for this reason that we cannot lose hope, because the system needs changing now more than ever.  What's really concerned me is the fact that I've seen essentially no discussion of David Sirota's article that came out a few days ago.  Even when I posted about it on Facebook, no one engaged.  You can check it out for yourself above, but I can also summarize it here.  Basically, the congress members who are on the financial committees of the Senate have been receiving "more favorable debt terms," as in lower interest rates and bigger loans.  Of course, these are the people in government who are supposed to be the watch dogs for Wall Street's behavior.  How likely will they be to actually keep bankers in check when these same bankers are giving them special perks?  Corporations and government have gotten way too close for comfort, and it's going to bite us in the ass pretty soon.  The banks are bigger now that they were in 2008, so it's only a matter of time before all of this blows up in our faces.  The clock is ticking and the only way to stop it is by voting in leaders who are actually looking to do something about it.  But before we can do that, we need to be staying engaged in the world of politics.  Even at a time when the most genuine candidate we've ever seen was shut down by the powers that be.  The corruption that sparked Occupy Wall Street, and eventually Bernie's movement, hasn't gone away.  It's happening every day, and it's getting worse.  So when articles like Sirota's reveal more and more of the corrupt tendencies of our government, we need to pay attention.