Cover Image for May/June Issue

Essential, Disposable and Replaceable

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Visibility and Vulnerability in the Age of COVID-19

While diseases don’t discriminate, social responses to pandemics do. The disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on African Americans in Chicago, the Navajo in the Southwest and the incarcerated across the country highlights the way marginalization contributes to tragically different outcomes from the same disease. But even in these stories, we are glimpsing only one set of measurements—the infection and death rates. These are horrifying, but the impact of this crisis goes far beyond those who get sick. The politics of what we measure, who we see on the news and whose experience of the disease dominates cultural discussions is not just an intellectual curiosity but a practice that keeps some lives and some struggles invisible. Continue reading

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Blurs and Erases

We find ourselves at an interesting moment. Pivotal, in fact. As we collectively attempt to navigate uncharted waters, I am constantly thinking about how prepared I am. For a large portion of my life, lockdown was my reality. This in no way suggests that our current shelter-in-place order is comparable to the physical lockdown currently being experienced by two million-plus incarcerated men and women across this country, because it’s not. However, there is something that lockdown and shelter-in-place have in common: it forces us, and allows us, to be still. Continue reading

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A Student’s Perspective on COVID-19

On January 21, 2020, the first case of COVID-19 within the US was confirmed. During the first few days of the University of Illinois spring break, it was announced that all courses would transition to online-only learning by March 23, 2020. Then, Governor J. B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order through at least April 7, 2020, which has since been extended through the end of May.

This transition to full online education applies to all three University campuses, in Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield, impacting over 44,000 students and over 10,000 academic and administrative staff members.

Since the ongoing pandemic swept across the world, day-to-day life as we know it has changed drastically. Even menial tasks, such as going to the grocery store or post office, have been altered. What’s more, mental health and financial issues are contributing their own burdens; college students are no exception. Continue reading

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Is the Addition of a Larger Police Presence to Urbana Schools a Human Rights Violation?

On February 4, 2019, I was in class at Urbana High School when a student came in and said there were students fighting in the hall and a teacher had been knocked out. My teacher quickly locked the door and we waited until all students were released from classes at 1:20 p.m. We watched in anticipation as police cars from across the county, fire department vehicles, and ambulances lined up outside our school. I knew that I was safe, but I did not know what was happening outside my classroom. Later we would learn that a fight had broken out in the lunchroom and moved into the hallway, and that several students and a parent had been arrested.

In the aftermath of the fight there was a greater emphasis put on ensuring student and staff safety. In an effort to do this, and to quiet the nerves of anxious parents, the Urbana School Board voted to employ two full-time police officers, who would be allowed to display their weapons while inside the Middle and High Schools. I find this both a gross mistake and a violation of human rights. Continue reading

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Pro-Business Bias and Conservative Extremism at the Supreme Court

Supreme Court Evolution, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

As recent books and law review articles have confirmed, the Supreme Court has been moving to the right since the Nixon Administration. Abetted by Republican politicians, anti-abortion advocates and organizations, and conservative legal entities like the Federalist Society, this rightward trend has led to legal decisions that have undermined prior gains in overcoming racial and gender discrimination and in protecting the environment and labor rights made under the 1950s and ‘60s Warren Court. The rightward drift has been an important factor in the rise in inequality in the US and in creating a less democratic society. With the election of Donald Trump, however, the rightward drift of the Court is now secure enough that the even more ambitious goal of reversing the egalitarian and social solidarity policies and programs of the New Deal is now possible. Worse, with the addition of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, the Court’s present conservative majority has evidenced a willingness to support the most heinous elements of Trump’s white nationalist agenda and his proto-fascist drive to remove himself from constitutionally defined checks and balances. Continue reading

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How to Squander a Research Library

Main Library bookstacks

The University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign is the largest publicly supported research library in the country; and as far as all university libraries go, only Harvard is bigger. The library holdings are regularly used as an incentive to recruit talented faculty, and scholars come from all over the country and beyond to use the rich rare collections. But, unfortunately, this amazing institution has been in decline for some years.

Neo-liberal ideology has permeated our society, and even though libraries are mostly government or non-profit agencies that focus on the public good, they are also being run on corporate models which emphasize public relations and the bottom line. The U of I Library is no different. Continue reading

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Struggles against Global Aquaculture: Ongoing Conflict between Coastal Communities and Fishmeal Factories in The Gambia

Protest in Sanyang, 2018

In June, 2018, I protested alongside locals to plead with the Gambian government to mitigate the ongoing conflict between a fishmeal factory and Sanyang village residents. The Nassim factory processes sardinella into feed stock, a flour-type material, for the Chinese aquaculture (fish farming) industry. The protest demonstrates how the global aquaculture food chain negatively impacts local and poor communities, while simultaneously feeding global and more wealthy communities cheaply. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the United States is the leading importer of seafood products worldwide. Its imports make up about 90 percent of seafood consumption, of which about half is farm-raised, mostly from China and Vietnam. Young men and women led the protest in Sanyang, along with women gardeners who claim that their plants have been impacted by pests from the factory. The protest led to a short-term closure of the factory in late 2018 by the Gambian National Environmental Agency (NEA). Yet the fishmeal factory resumed operations soon after, when the ban was lifted. Sanyang is not the only coastal village battling Chinese-owned/affiliated fishmeal factories in The Gambia. In Gunjur, there is the Chinese-owned Golden Lead, and the Mauritanian-Chinese JXYG is in Kartong Village. Residents of all three coastal communities claim livelihood and environmental destruction caused by operations of the factories. Gunjur and Sanyang residents especially continue to protest against the factories. Continue reading

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The Pandemic and Pro Wrestling

In the November, 2019 Public i, I wrote about one of the earliest gig economies: professional wrestling. There, independent pro wrestler David Starr discussed the incredibly imbalanced power dynamics of the corporate wrestling scene in America.

While watching corporations and states favor profits over science and labor in their plans to reopen during the COVID-19 crisis, I was reminded of a quote from our interview: “When your number-one priority is maximizing profit over taking care of your people … that’s when you get this idea that the people at the top … can collect tens of millions of dollars in bonuses but they can’t seem to write paychecks that afford somebody the ability to live.”

His remark perfectly sums up the dynamics of how the largest corporate pro-wrestling entity in America—World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)—is handling the pandemic. Continue reading

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Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center Offers Digital Venue Space and Community with its Sounds Like Community Web Series

The UC-IMC has always been a popular venue space for performances of all kinds, from spoken word poetry to live music, to art shows, plays and much more. But when the pandemic struck, the IMC Board of Directors was forced to close the building to the public.

This however did not stop members of the IMC’s Programming Committee. They were determined to continue to offer a space for performers and local artists to thrive and for community to happen, even if that space was digital.

Sounds Like Community, a weekly community night Wednesdays at 7 pm, was the result of this process. Running for over eight weeks at the time of this writing, SLC has since served as an excellent source of exactly what it was meant to be. It provides a space for us to come together weekly even though we’re all apart, a place to share with one another the talents, skills and discussions that make us all human. And you can be a part of it! Every Wednesday at 7 pm, until the IMC re-opens, Sounds Like Community will be there. Go to www.ucimc.org/slc to check out past shows and get info on what’s next for the series.

Janelle Pleasure performs for Sounds Like Community on Wednesday, May 13

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Support the Eastern Illinois Foodbank

With so many unemployed, the demands on our local food bank are greater than ever. The Editorial Collective of the Public i urges you to help those in need by donating to the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, 2405 N. Shore Dr., Urbana, Il, 61802; eifoodbank.org.

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Urbana Civilian Police Review Board Under the Spotlight After Violent Arrest

For the past seven Urbana City Council meetings, residents have lined up to deliver what has amounted to several hours of criticism and dozens of misconduct allegations against the Urbana Police Department. Sparked by the violent arrest of an Urbana resident captured on video by vigilant civilians, this incident has brought the most prolific and persistent public presence to City Council in years.

A common theme recited by many: where does our Civilian Police Review Board stand in this picture? Unfortunately, unless someone who was physically present manages to file a complaint, Urbana Police Chief Bryant Seraphin claims that the civilian board has no power to review the incident.

The Urbana Civilian Police Review board, frequently shortened to “CPRB”, was created in 2007 thanks to local grassroots efforts. Unfortunately, the ordinance ultimately passed by City Council was not exactly what the founders had in mind. Much of the investigative and disciplinary powers of the board were stripped away from the initial proposal, leaving the CPRB in a state that some residents have called a “rubber stamp” for the police department. Continue reading

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GEO Open Letter Concerning Student Healthcare Access Passes 200 Signatures

On Wednesday, May 12, the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) Local #6300 AFT/IFT/AFL-CIO representing graduate employees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign sent an open letter to university administrators with over 200 signatures. In addition to being signed by the Campus Faculty Association and the Non-Tenure Faculty Coalition, about half the 200 individual signers were faculty at UIUC.

The letter calls on the administration to cover summer healthcare costs for all employees and revoke the planned 33 percent insurance premiums hike set to impact graduate and undergraduate students this fall. The delivery of the open letter comes on the heels of a car rally on May 1 and a call-in event on April 24 during which the GEO phone-banked the offices of the administration calling for the same demands to be met.

On May 1st, the GEO organized a car rally calling on the university administration to provide summer health care for graduate workers and drop plans to increase student health insurance premiums by 33% this fall. Photo by Ben Joseph Lash

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Public Speaks Out About Use of Force by Urbana Police–Council Reviews Police Investigation

 

On April 10, Urbana police responded to a call on East Colorado Avenue about an armed man and possible shot fired. Police arrived, frisked an uninvolved youth, and then focused on a man and woman they suspected were involved. After the police apprehended the male suspect, an officer initiated physical restraint with the young woman and a violent skirmish ensued, which was captured on video from above at a nearby apartment building. The video covers a span of six minutes, during which the woman is seen struggling as a police officer punches the resident in her head, strikes her in the ribs with his knee, sits on her with a rifle pushed into her back, handcuffs her and then hyperextends her arms. The person who videotaped the event, Gregory Hugger, posted it that day; the video has been viewed by over 34,000 people and has received 1,800 comments. Police allegedly visited Mr. Hugger’s home later and asked him to take his video down, but he refused. Weeks later, after the police released extensive, edited body camera footage, Linda Kwon released this close-up video, in which the woman can be heard saying “You just punched me! I hope you have body cameras on!” It also shows the woman being arrested by multiple officers who hobble her legs and place a spit hood over her head in the squad car. The resident was taken directly to the county jail and charged with four felony counts for resisting arrest and aggravated battery to police officers, and faces up to 12 years in prison.

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Party for Socialism and Liberation, Champaign-Urbana, Launches Free Grocery Delivery Service

The Public i has received this press release from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Champaign-Urbana, detailing its new, free grocery delivery service. The program is designed to help those affected by the pandemic get access to essential goods. While the program will operate based on reimbursements, no one will be turned away for an inability to pay the the full price for their groceries. We’ve published their press release in its entirety below.


GROCERY DELIVERY SERVICE

Please pass this info on to those struggling to obtain groceries during the pandemic.

This delivery service is intended to serve people who have difficulties obtaining groceries during the pandemic. Some people that may be facing such difficulties are

  • Those with immune-deficiency issues who want to avoid public interaction
  • Those with disabilities who find it difficult to travel to stores
  • Those taking care of children who are home from school
  • Those who lack consistent access to cars or other transportation
  • Those living with individuals who are at elevated risk of contracting COVID

This list is not exhaustive and no explanation is required for those who want to use this service.

At this time, we are delivering groceries on Fridays and Saturdays, with a maximum of 10 orders per day. You can fill out the grocery order form at https://forms.gle/GULL5DysqYjbw7rZA

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Champaign County Bailout Coalition Plans Noise Demonstration Rally

The Public i has received this press release from the Champaign County Bailout Coalition. We have published the statement in its entirety below. To download a copy of this statement, click here.

Champaign County Bailout Coalition Noise Demonstration Rally Demanding Decarceration of Jails during COVID-19 Pandemic 

Champaign County Bailout Coalition is holding a noise demonstration rally at Canaday Park to keep pressure on Champaign County officials to release as many people as possible and help contain the spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

This demonstration follows more than a month of community phone calls and an open letter to the offices of Sheriff Dustin Heuerman, State’s Attorney Julia Reitz, and Presiding Judge Thomas Difanis, demanding that they take measures to release as many people as possible from the local jails and minimize the number of people incarcerated at a time when the Center for Disease Control recommends social distancing practices to protect public health.

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GEO Drive to Survive Rally

The Public i has received this press release from the Graduate Employees’ Organization. We have published it in its entirety below.

———————————————————————————————————-

GEObanner.png

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

April 30, 2020

CONTACT:

Owen MacDonald

913-944-2676

ojmacdonald@gmail.com

GRADUATE WORKERS’ DRIVE TO SURVIVE MAY DAY RALLY  FOR HEALTHCARE

GEO demands the University administration to cover summer health insurance.

URBANA-CHAMPAIGN — The Graduate Employees’ Organization , Local 6300 AFT/IFT, is organizing a socially distanced car rally this Friday, May 1 at 12:00 p.m. to convey two demands to the University Administration. Members and allies will meet in Parking Lot A of Orchard Downs before processing in cars, on foot, and on bikes to two visible campus locations. With members facing financial instability in tandem with the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, GEO is demanding that the University of Illinois Board of Trustees cover summer health insurance premiums for graduate students who do not hold waiver-granting appointments over that period.

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COVID-19 testing is available at Frances Nelson

COVID-19 testing is available at Frances Nelson Health Center, 819 Bloomington Road, Champaign.

Symptomatic patients can get tested at Frances Nelson from 7:30 am – 5:15 pm, Monday through Friday. For an appointment, call our COVID-19 Care Line at (217) 403-5402.

For more information check out our website at www.promisehealth.org, call (217) 403-5401 or email info@promisehealth.org.

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Comment from ACLU to Urbana City Council Regarding Aleyah Lewis’ Arrest

Champaign County ACLU appreciates the city of Urbana’s commitment to community-centered policing and to maintaining a well-trained professional police force that is held to the highest standards. We are concerned about the lack of professionalism during the April 10 arrest of Aleyah Lewis. Urbana officers are professionals who know how to use verbal techniques to de-escalate stressful situations, yet failed to do so. Instead, Urbana officers, the trained professionals in this interaction, rushed toward Ms. Lewis to arrest her, triggering a physical altercation.

De-escalation is especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each interaction police officers have with community members carries a risk of infection—both for the officer and the community member. Officers should use every tool at their disposal to avoid taking individuals into custody.

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The Fight of Our Lives: Info On Unionizing from UE

The Fight of Our Lives

While employers are getting trillions of dollars in bailout money to offset the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, many workers are deemed essential and forced to continue working in unsafe conditions with little or no protection.

Workers are fighting for and winning personal protective equipment, additional sick leave, hazard pay, and in some cases forcing their employers to temporarily suspend work until it is safe to return.

Both union and non-union workers around the country are realizing their power by walking off the job when their lives and safety are put at risk, going public about the lack of personal protective equipment, and forcing employers to take their demands seriously.

What actions make sense will differ from workplace to workplace, but all workers have the right to work without fearing for their safety or their families safety.

To get answers to these question, visit the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America at https://www.ueunion.org/fight.

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