Books To Prisoners Fall Book Sale
October 21, 2017
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Independent Media Center
202 S. Broadway
All proceeds go to provide free, donated books to incarcerated people in Illinois.
Follow on Facebook.
Books To Prisoners Fall Book Sale
October 21, 2017
10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Independent Media Center
202 S. Broadway
All proceeds go to provide free, donated books to incarcerated people in Illinois.
Follow on Facebook.
On September 7, 2017, a Parkland College student, Oluwatobi Mordi, also known as Toby, was assaulted and falsely accused of impersonation [of a student] by Parkland Police. Toby was in the cafeteria awaiting his ride home when two officers approached him. Without any justification or probable cause, the officers asked for proof of Toby’s identification. Toby complied and gave the officers proof of his identification in the form of his Parkland ID. Despite this fact, the officers falsely accused him of impersonating a student and then, without reading him his Miranda Rights, proceeded to assault him, causing a violent scene in the cafeteria, which ended with the police beating Toby with a club repeatedly and arresting him. This is another example of exacerbated disciplinary action at Parkland College and the criminalization of black youth. This institution chose to use excessive police force on a young Black student who was simply minding his own business, waiting for his ride after class at a public institution that he pays tuition to attend. Toby’s case is a clear example of being stopped while Black which is a constant issue for Black community members in the Champaign area.
This is not an isolated incident, Parkland College has a history of creating an unwelcoming environment for Black staff and students. This can be shown by looking through comments by former Black students on the Parkland Police Facebook page. Additionally, Parkland College recently laid off minority faculty last year and has a pending suit against a Black professor. This shows their disregard for Black employees as well as Black students.
As a student body, we should feel welcomed and not surveilled by an institution we pay money to attend. We, as tuition paying students, should not be harassed by police for our racial or ethnic identity while the administration willfully ignores it. Parkland College is choosing to criminalize Mordi. As a student body, this cannot stand. As a community dedicated to social justice, this cannot stand.
During this time we also want to uplift and support Toby through donations towards his legal funds. Please donate here: https://www.youcaring.com/tobymordi-948551.
Last year, on July 4, 2016, Bryton Mellot was arrested by Urbana police for burning a US flag and posting the photos on Facebook. The protest was in response to the mass shooting in June at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. His post went viral, and the case eventually made it to NPR, ABC News, and CNN. The charges against him were dropped, and the ACLU filed a civil suit on Mellot’s behalf in federal court. In September, a settlement was reached awarding $15,000 to Mellott, with the Urbana police admitting no guilt. After the original incident, the Public i published a statement in solidarity with Mellott and his right to free speech. Here we are honored to publish the first public interview granted by Mellott after his settlement.
Your original July post apparently hit a nerve among many people. Were you surprised that it went viral? Why do you think that happened?
I was actually pretty surprised that it had gone viral, I didn’t expect it to have an impact reaching further than the community I had built around myself in Chambana. But at that point I was still friends with many of the people I had attended high school with, so I would guess that this is how it ended up being spread so far. While there wasn’t really an “intended audience” for my post, it was understandably more upsetting to the people following me who had never left the mildly racist comfort of Mendota, Illinois.
How has Trump’s election made a difference? Have you seen over the last year that patriotism/nationalism/white supremacy/homophobia have gotten measurably worse?
I think that Trump’s election has caused an increase in events of intolerance towards marginalized communities, but I don’t think this is because people are any more bigoted than they always have been. Trump gave them permission to bring their intolerance out of the closet and onto the streets, and I think it’s crucial that we crush this intolerance while we can all see it (or at least beat it back into the closet where its impact is minimized).
Why did you settle the lawsuit and not take it any further? Do you feel like the $15,000 was fair? Do you think this will cause the Urbana police to think twice next time?
Throughout the process of filing a lawsuit, I was operating under the advice of the ACLU. It was my understanding that taking the lawsuit any further wouldn’t guarantee any sort of ruling in my favor or consequence for the Urbana Police Department. At that point, it became a matter of bringing an immediate monetary penalty to the police department responsible for my arrest. To be completely honest, I have no idea whether or not the $15,000 was fair. I think very often in cases of police brutality/rights violations, the victim is already in a position of poverty and an ideological victory isn’t the most pressing concern for them. You can’t survive by eating “justice,” and the sentencing of a corrupt individual will never pay your bills. I think police departments use this to their advantage because they can provide immediate financial relief to the victim or their families by putting them in a position where they’re made to feel okay with surrendering their personal beliefs, letting the department off the hook. I think if we really want any police department to think twice next time they want to subjugate an individual, we need to focus on defunding them and creating a situation in which monetary awards are handed to the victim in conjunction with sentencing that matches the crime the officer has committed.
State, national, and international news media have brought us a daily barrage of tragic or infuriating news stories. And national rhetoric increasingly features voices of nativism, racism, and hatred. In the face of all of this, it is easy to lose focus on the unsung hard work done by ordinary people to combat hate and make our nation and our community more just and welcoming. Thankfully, the 4th Annual Welcome Awards Ceremony and Celebration, held on Saturday, September 23 at the Muslim American Society Center in Urbana, was a welcome reminder of the many efforts within our own community to make Champaign-Urbana a more welcoming and diverse place. It was a testament to the fact that it is our diversity, hospitality, kindness, and commitment to justice that make America great.
The Annual Welcome Awards were a part of 2017 Welcoming Week, a national week of events that brought together immigrants and U.S.-born residents in a spirit of better understanding and unity. The Awards Ceremony, the culmination of Welcome Week, was co-sponsored by the Cities of Champaign and Urbana, the CU Immigration Forum, the Muslim American Society of Urbana-Champaign, and the Urbana Free Library. Four individuals and two local organizations were honored for their contributions to creating a welcoming Champaign-Urbana.
Nancy M. Ramirez Blancas, a U of I student at the forefront of activism around issues such as the Student ACCESS Bill (allowing financial aid for undocumented students) and support for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students like herself, was awarded the Student Leadership Award. Karyl Wackerlin, a local professional photographer who uses her camera to find and spread joy across the globe during mission trips, was awarded the Human Rights Award for work creating, organizing, and documenting (in word and film) mission trips to the God’s Littlest Angels orphanage in Haiti. Samuel Smith received the Humanitarian Relief Award for his leadership in the building of a clean water well in the Koyagbema community of Kenama, Sierra Leone, near a school operated by the Sierra Leone YMCA. Finally, the Distinguished Leadership Service Award went to Charles Larenas for over a decade of work as director of the Summer Migrant Education Program, a summer educational program at Parkland that provides high-quality and comprehensive educational programs for migrant children.
In addition to the individuals honored, two local organizations also received a Community Impact Award. The Immigration Project, a nonprofit organization providing immigration legal assistance to the 100,000 immigrants residing in Central and Southern Illinois, was honored for its efforts to help the immigrant community. The Education Justice Project (EJP), a college-in-prison program, was also honored for addressing the increasing threats facing immigrants today under the new administration of the United States through its Ripple Effect program, helping incarcerated people facing immigration and those who get deported.
Although the awards were the centerpiece of the afternoon, those in attendance were also treated to international food, music, and dancing. Refreshments were provided by local businesses Rick’s Bakery, the Red Herring Restaurant, and Ortelia’s Healthy Choices Catering. Urbana Free Library sponsored children’s activities, and the Angola Capoeira Center treated those in attendance to a demonstration of the Afro-Brazilian art form capoeira, a hybrid of dance and martial arts. In the spirit of celebrating international connections in Champaign-Urbana, Champaign Mayor Deborah Feinen and City Council Member Beck also honored a visiting Haitian delegation from Kenscoff, Haiti by giving them a key to the city of Champaign.
The Welcome Awards provided an opportunity to celebrate efforts to make Champaign-Urbana a welcoming place, and, just as important, it recognized the contributions of immigrants, refugees, and international residents to our community. Each of these winners showed the impact one individual can make toward a better and more just community. In light of so much national news that highlights divisions, the Welcome Awards served to remind us all of the hard work done everyday in our community to bring people together. In spite of rhetoric that maligns immigrants and refugees, the event honored the positive and necessary contributions of immigrants to our community and the nation. As Susan Ogwal, one of the afternoon’s emcees stated at the close of the ceremony, the 4th Annual Welcome Awards Ceremony and Celebration reminded us all that hospitality, kindness, and diversity of voices – “this is what makes this country great.”
Bio: David has lived in Champaign since 2013. He writes about immigration issues and has been involved with various community groups, including the CU Immigration Forum, CU SURJ, and Sanctuary For the People.
On Wednesday, Oct. 4, the Graduate Employees’ Organization held a rally for a fair contract. The union had been without a contract for 50 days.
On Wednesday, September 13, 2017, Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders introduced a single-payer/expanded and improved Medicare for All health care bill (Senate Bill 1804) in the U.S. Senate. At a press conference that day, Senator Sanders stated, “The American people want to know what we are going to do to fix a dysfunctional health care system that costs twice as much per person as [that of] any other country in the world and still leaves 28 million people uninsured and an even larger number under-insured because of the high cost of deductibles, co-pays, and other out-of-pocket expenses.” Sanders continued, “the crisis we are facing today in health care is not really about health care, it is a political crisis which speaks to the incredible power of the insurance companies, the drug companies, and all of those who make billions of dollars off of the current system. Over the years these entities have done everything they possibly can to prevent us from having lower-priced prescription drugs and universal health care.”
From a Fringe Movement to a People’s Movement
Although Senator Sanders has introduced a single-payer health care bill in the U.S. Senate every year since he was elected in 2007, until a few days before the September 13 press conference, not one U.S. Senator would co-sponsor his bill. As of September 13 there were 16 co-sponsors. What changed? One explanation is that, because Bernie Sanders brought up the topic during the 2016 Democratic Party presidential debates with his opponent Hillary Clinton, who steadfastly opposes single payer, that more people became aware of the issue. Others contend that the only reason Sanders suddenly had 16 co-sponsors–over 1/3 of Senate Democrats–is because of the tremendous grassroots organizing and activism during 2017. This phenomenon caught almost every corporate media pundit and politician off guard. Most of them thought the single-payer issue had vanished after the Democratic primary. Most of the 2017 activism came from organizations that have been fighting for single-payer Medicare for All for years, like Healthcare NOW, Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), National Labor Campaign for Single Payer, the Green Party, and the National Nurses Union. But other, more recently formed organizations like Our Revolution and Health over Profit also added to the momentum of the “health care is a human right” movement.
What Sanders’ Single-Payer Medicare for All Bill Will Do
Sanders’ Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act will give everybody living in the U.S., including undocumented immigrants, an enhanced version of Medicare with no out-of-pocket expenses for health care needs, generic drugs, and dental, vision, and hearing aid coverage. It will eliminate all insurance premiums, co-pays, deductibles, non-coverage of procedures, and restrictive doctor and hospital choices currently mandated by corporate health insurance companies, and end lifetime spending caps that currently cause over one million people in the U.S. each year to declare bankruptcy and/or lose their homes in foreclosure due to medical debts. In essence, Sander’s healthcare bill will more or less eliminate corporate health insurance companies, and give the federal government the power to negotiate health care and pharmaceutical drug prices as a single payer, resulting in significantly lower costs. Under Sander’s bill, nobody will be denied healthcare or the drugs they need, a system that has successfully existed in every advanced industrialized country in the world except the U.S. for decades–since the late 1940s, for most of these counties.
To finance health care coverage for every U.S. resident, Sanders’ bill proposes a 6% tax on employers and a 1 to 4% payroll tax on employees, based on their income level, as well as a 1% tax on the richest 1% of Americans (billionaires) and a 1% tax on large banks and financial institutions. A 2013 study provided by Healthcare NOW has shown that even with a 10% tax on a self-employed person, who has to pay both the 6% employer and the 4% employee tax, those who earn less than $400,000 per year as an individual will save money and receive better coverage than they currently do with corporate health insurance.
The Battle Has Just Begun
Although the introduction of Sanders’ health care bill in the U.S. Senate is a major step forward, the campaign to get it passed into law will not happen overnight. There are very powerful corporate special interests that make tens of billions of dollars every year off the suffering of the American people that will fight this bill with every resource they have. Corporate health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, and corporate hospital chains will pour billions of dollars into television, radio, newspaper and billboard advertising to try to convince Americans that Medicare for All is not the solution. Corporate media pundits on all of the corporate-owned (or corporate-financed, in the case of PBS and NPR) television and radio stations, newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, small town corporate-owned newspapers, and even so called “liberal” and “progressive” outlets like The Nation, The Atlantic, and others will have one supposed “expert” after another that will join in the same scripted chorus, saying that “Medicare for All will not work,” that it is “too expensive,” that “there will be long waiting lines for healthcare,” and other lies and distortions. In some cases the “expert” interviewed or the writer of a new article will proclaim that they are personally in favor of Medicare for All, and then will devote the entire article/interview to creating confusion and doubt as to its viability. This was recently done by Joshua Holland in The Nation magazine, and we will probably see an explosion in the number of such writers/commentators, since defending the corporate agenda is always more advantagous for a journalist’s career and financial well-being than speaking the truth and advocating what is in the best interests of ordinary people. They will all propagate the same corporate party line, that only corporate health care or taxpayer-subsidized corporate health care as with the ACA (Obamacare), will work. The decades-long success of universal health care in Canada, the U.K., Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, and dozens of other countries proves otherwise.
No person in a country with a single-payer fully funded public health care system is denied the health care they need–unlike in the U.S. where 40,000-plus people die every year from treatable illnesses–nor are they forced into bankruptcy and/or losing their homes in foreclosure because of medical debt, as happens here in the U.S..
We cannot allow corporate special interests and their bought-and-paid-for politicians and media pundits to divide, distract, deceive, distort the truth, and lie to us in an effort to prevent us from getting what we desperately need: UNIVERSAL PUBLIC HEALTH CARE, a.k.a. Single-Payer Medicare for All. As of this writing, Illinois U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (217-492-4062) and Tammy Duckworth (217-528-6124) have refused to co-sponsor Senator Bernie Sanders’ healthcare bill. Call them and DEMAND that they co-sponsor Sanders’ bill (Senate Bill 1804).
David Johnson hosts the World Labor Hour radio program, which broadcasts and webcasts live worldwide every Saturday morning from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on WRFU – Radio Free Urbana , 104.5 FM and at www.wrfu.net.
by Ken Salo, Zsuzsa Gille and Efadul Huq
[Editor’s note: the Public i requested contributions on this important conference from both organizers and academic attendees; these perspectives have been integrated into this article.]
On September 8-10, delegates from grassroots movements-in-resistance to evictions in Cape Town and Chicago gathered in Urbana-Champaign. This encounter was the latest phase of a two-year project to construct trans-local solidarities through building networks of shared local praxis. Convened by UIUC’s Humanities Without Walls – Insurgent Midwest project, about 10 delegates from three grassroots organizations—the Housing Assembly and Pathways to Free Education from Cape Town, South Africa, and the Chicago-based Autonomous Tenants Union—gathered to recommit to their shared vision for creating a more humane urbanism, to share organizing experiences, to express solidarity with the different struggles and to formulate common projects and future actions.
Before moving on to share the diverse issues, themes and perspectives that this gathering produced, we would like to say a few words about the title of our project. Its central aim is to provoke a series of insurgent epistemological encounters between active and activist scholars who are differently situated in struggles for more humane socio-spatial changes; between those with academic and those with territorialized commitments; and between ethnographic knowledge and the experiential worldviews of subaltern actors. Moreover, we use the language of insurgency not only in its usual meaning of forceful intervention but to suggest a clearing of different pathways for radically destabilizing authorized forms of power, knowledge and territorial organization. These clearings, we argue, are the sites where activists envision, experiment and construct their desired new socio-spatial relations out of the ruins of older realties rooted in relations of unequal exchange.
Transnational Dialogue for a Humane Urbanism
At the public symposium, the room was packed, with many only able to stand for both the kick-off event on Saturday evening and the all-day Sunday session. The talks were thought-provoking and the discussions passionate.
Scholars usually only study activists and their organizations, and it is unusual and frowned upon to give them a more active role than that of a research subject. Here the goal of the faculty, mostly in UIUC’s Urban and Regional Planning Department, was to understand the similarities and links among cities’ recent experiences with urban development, the privatization of public space, the mortgage crisis, and the attendant evictions and disenfranchisement of residents on the margins of society. Prior research and activist experience has shown the benefits of two types of collaboration: that between grassroots groups focused on different single issues, mostly labor and housing, and that between organizations in different countries. These cross-sectional and transnational ties are becoming ever denser, but they have not actually been documented and analyzed by scholars who equally see the need for political solutions to urban inequalities.
The task was thus to understand what forms of resistance and community organization work in similar situations in different parts of the world, and not just with the goal of learning from each other but also to explore how transnational alliances among these movements and organizations might help their cause. It is to the credit of the University of Illinois that its Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities funded this collaboration through the Global Midwest program.
The presentations by activists actually revealed even broader and richer synergies among issues than previously expected. The Autonomous Tenant Union, for example, mobilizes against multiple displacements—not just exclusion from low-rental housing due to gentrification and evictions, but also against deportations. Johnae Strong, representing the Grassroots Education Movement and Black Youth Project 100 in Chicago, told how organizing on one issue inevitably made activists “stumble” onto another and recognize the need to articulate their connections. For example, Black Lives Matter and the sanctuary cities movement both shed light on state violence and thus reveal the urgent need for safe spaces. However, as more and more public schools are shut down in South Chicago and as this same area is lacking a trauma center, one quickly recognizes how the state withholds its protective shield from certain undesirable citizens. While thus connecting racial inequality, health care and education, seemingly separate policy arenas, community organizers (that much ridiculed term in the 2008 elections) are finally allowed a glimpse of the Right’s long-term and broad vision for the city. Interestingly a Palestinian activist found many similarities between Palestine and “Chiraq” [using a controversial term that mashes up ‘Chicago’ and ‘Iraq’ to indicate a veritable war zone in parts of the city].
Lest one thinks this sounds like some conspiracy theory, we need to heed urban sociologist Michael Goldman, who came down from the University of Minnesota. He explained how the many seemingly unique and contradictory tendencies in big cities are tied together by the strategic maneuvering of finance capital, whose ever more sophisticated investment practices dictate what gets built where, quite independently of not only what is needed but also of what there is a market demand for. Building luxury apartments is not more profitable than building low-cost housing, but the former can more easily be securitized into globally circulating bonds. Thus even if these buildings are not even half filled, they still bring in billions in profits.
This of course raised the question of the time horizon of these movements. Are they forever stuck in reactive rear-guard action and caught up in protecting their communities in small battles day-in and day-out, or can they take a step back, allowing them to see the forest from the trees and articulate alternative visions?
Most did indeed articulate alternatives, but for some this was a concrete political strategy, while for others a whole new way of looking. The Autonomous Tenant Union argued against collaborating with elected officials or indeed even with the liberal cultural elite, and claimed that if it were up to them they would move directly to call for expropriation of private housing. Others stressed education and exploring indigenous ways of being and new ways of connecting class and race inequalities.
Field Notes on a Local Convergence of Grassroots Movements in Insurgent Motion
Grassroots movements of poor people are resisting their brutal evictions from public and private urban land and shelter in ways distinct from liberal struggles for individual citizenship rights. Despite the different realities of living in the peripheries and centers of our historically unequal, diverse and urbanizing world-system, emerging practices of collective resistance possess familiar features as responses to the devastating social problems wrought by new, global rounds of capital “accumulation by dispossession.”
A key common characteristic is territorial rootedness in spaces reclaimed through disruptive, insurgent and often illegal occupations of public and private land and housing. These occupations, often episodic, sometimes endure as collective “takeovers,” or the taking back and transformation of formally authorized places into informal and unauthorized territories for asserting new subjectivities, socio-political actions and reciprocal social relations.
A second common characteristic is autonomy from neoliberal corporate state formation, its political parties, labor and religious allies. This autonomy rests on reviving popular democratic cultures of decision making via self-organized people’s assemblies, and increasing the capacity for producing independent means of material subsistence. This model seeks self-sufficiency, usually via waste reuse and recycling, and producers’ familiarity and involvement with all phases of production.
A third common feature is increasing the capacity for self-educating and training members, families and children through active, performative and democratic education practices that build on lived experiences of resistance practices. The educational space is the whole occupied territory, and every resident is trained as an organizer and teacher; campaign slogans include “each one teach one” and “everyone an organizer.”
A fourth feature is the role of women and extended families as the mainstay of movement activities to extend existing networks of care, health and well-being beyond their biological families. Groups of families often shelter under the same roof, working community herb and produce gardens in Cape Town’s occupied territories.
These brief observations are not conclusions and represent only tentative aspirations, flows and movements in worlds that are constantly in motion. Nevertheless they are a barometer from which we can sense the profoundly humane quality of the social bonds among supposedly dehumanized activists forced to occupy territories from where, we think, the anti-systemic solidarities necessary to transform our present exploitative world will most likely arise.
To find out more about the project, go to insurgentmidwest.wordpress.com/.
Ken Salo is an activist scholar who works to support struggles of racially oppressed, exploited and excluded poor people for dignified livelihoods in the urban peripheries of segregated Cape Town, Champaign and Chicago.
Zsuzsa Gille is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Global Studies Program at UIUC.
On February 21, 2007, the University of Illinois got rid of the Chief Illiniwek mascot.
On August 24, 2017, they got rid of the “war chant.”
The “war chant,” separate from but related to the so-called “3-in-1,” was created during the 1980-1981 basketball season by Beth Nuss, leader of the pep band saxophone section. At the time, “the NCAA allowed the pep bands to play quick ‘vamps’ whenever the home team was on offense. At this one particular game, our band director had been distracted in conversation with someone… Illinois suddenly got the ball and the game was pretty exciting. I turned to the sax section [and] asked the alto saxophones to play the simple melody and made up a harmony for the tenor saxophones to play along with.” Thus “began our first ‘war chant.’”
As Nuss says explicitly, the war chant “was not an original melody. It was something I recalled hearing back in my youth… I had no recollection of where the melody came from; it just came to me.” In other words, it came from Nuss’s store of cultural memory; it was among the collective cultural representations she imbibed while growing up. “It was made up by ear from thoughts that came to me from something I could vaguely remember from an old movie or perhaps an old cartoon.”
In fact, it was from an old cartoon. Captain Kangaroo included a black-and-white cartoon called “Adventures of Pow Wow,” which was introduced by the song “Pow Wow the Indian Boy.” One episode, “The Magic Spigot,” for example, features, besides Pow Wow, Chief Kick-a-Shin, and is set in Wahoo Valley.
You can’t get more fake Indian than that.
What became the “war chant” was part of a shared cultural memory from 1950s and 1960s America, so that it is not surprising that it caught on when the pep band played it. “We played it again my senior year,” Nuss says. “The crowd response was good.”
You cannot draw a straighter, more direct line than this from a white caricature of native Americans to the music and dance associated with the Chief Illiniwek mascot. The “war chant” was literally a cartoon.
Fans, however, either don’t know or don’t care where the “war chant” originated. Nuss certainly does not. Disappointed to see the “war chant” banned, she did not want to see Chief Illiniwek done away with either.
“It is a subject that goes deep to my heart. Only those who have been involved in things such as Illini athletics, the band, cheerleaders, … truly understand the traditions and pride of the Illini. It’s something I cannot explain. This is why there is such a passion revolving around this subject. To some outsiders, it’s ‘just a stupid mascot,’ and they scream for us to move on already. To those of us who understand, … upholding the great traditions, this runs deep within us.”
Talk about cultural memory. Doing away with the “war chant” brought back to life, zombie-like, all the barely repressed feelings and memories about getting rid of the Chief Illiniwek mascot 10 years ago. The same old arguments, claims, jeers, snark, criticisms were heard yet again, and again.
None of this is, however, any longer funny, or cute. Not after Trump, not after Charlottesville.
In many ways, “Illini Nation” resembles Trump Nation, the base he plays to. Both are exclusive rather than inclusive. Trump Nation may be populist, but the dark side of populism is its authoritarian tendency. While in some respects inclusive – and overwhelmingly white – it simultaneously excludes other people – disproportionately minorities.
Like Trump Nation, not everyone is included in Illini Nation. Fans like Nuss say, in effect, if you don’t get it, then you’re not one of us, you’re not really part of Illini Nation.
Those who support Chief Illiniwek and the war chant claim to be honoring native Americans, that Chief Illiniwek is a positive symbol. Yet the online comments to the News-Gazette’s coverage of the “war chant” issue include explicitly racist anti-native American posts, plus racist anti-Chinese ones.
Both Illini Nation and Trump Nation appeal to “tradition,” even if fake, unhistorical, or invented. After Charlottesville, News-Gazette sportswriter Loren Tate wrote, “As we see all over the country, right or wrong, people are passionate about their traditions. Can’t blame them.” If this isn’t a racist dog whistle, I don’t know what is.
When it comes to the Chief Illiniwek mascot and the war chant, the News-Gazette practices what I call “push journalism,” entirely analogous to “push polling.” Not content with reporting, the paper manufactures “news.” After the war chant was banned on August 25, every day until mid-September the paper ran at least one story, editorial, or column, plus hundreds of online comments and numerous letters to the editor.
The paper is run by jocks. Managing editor Jim Rossow: former sportswriter. News editor Jeff D’Alessio: former sports writer. Forty-year sports columnist Loren Tate. Opinions editor writer Jim Dey.
Yet there are huge gaps in the paper’s sports coverage.
In the ugly spat between Trump and the NFL players taking a knee to protest police brutality, photos of owner Shahid Khan, a University alum, linking arms with Jacksonville Jaguars players appeared in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, but not in the News-Gazette.
Trump tweets about the “beautiful hits” football players sustain. But it’s left up to homeboy George Will to discuss chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and to compare football to bear baiting. “The Puritans banned bear baiting … not because it gave pain to bears but because it gave pleasure to Puritans.” They “understood that there are degrading enjoyments. Football is becoming one.”
Politics infuse sports. Those running the paper know it, but they are in such deep denial that they cannot and will not acknowledge it.
The News Gazette is the mouthpiece of Illini Nation. It disserves the broader C/U community, which is a lot more diverse. Complicit in aiding and abetting racism, the paper makes things worse instead of better.
All too many Americans cannot – or refuse to – deal with history. They cannot, they refuse to engage the past, work through it, come to resolution, and move on. They refuse to learn from the past, to come to terms with it. They’re stuck. Thus, they condemn themselves to reliving, reenacting it again … and again and again: Confederate monuments to slavery; Burns and Novick’s Vietnam paean resurrecting and reliving the war but not resolving it, drawing lessons from it, or moving on; lamenting no more halftime reenactments of Indians and white settlers.
With the Chief Illiniwek mascot, and now the war chant, there is no resolution, no closure. There is only indefinite deferral, reproducing the same old tired arguments. Like Mickey Mouse, the sorcerer’s apprentice, vainly mopping up the floor over and over in that other 1950s cartoon, Fantasia.
We can now see that UI made a grave mistake in 2007 by not rapidly replacing the Chief mascot. For Illini Nation still thinks the mascot is real. But it is all about anthropomorphism, about making a person out of an inanimate mascot. “Of course, you love him. You created him,” Charlene Teters observed years ago. In In Whose Honor? Indian activist Michael Haney performs a native drum piece followed by the “war chant”: “That’s Hollywood.”
But getting people to see the Noble Savage mascot as a stereotype, getting people to hear the war chant as fake Hollywood music – that’s been the whole problem all along, hasn’t it?
A much longer version of this article, with references, is available online
Since opening on campus in 1884 as a women’s residence hall, the YWCA of the University of Illinois has served as an organization on a mission to promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. We recognize the powerful potential of young women to harness their skills and abilities to effect change in the community and beyond. Being on campus allows us to mobilize students and assist them in learning how to navigate the societal, political, and professional spheres.
Our goal is to develop the next generation of women leaders who will come to situations fully aware of their power to effect positive change. We take our history of being the oldest continuously operating, student-affiliated YWCA seriously. Everything we do reflects the responsibility and promise of that legacy. It is imperative that we realize how important it is to not only pass the baton to the next generation, but also to train them to run well. This is an active process, and we can all be a part in some way, but be a part we must to ensure that the struggle for social justice is always advancing.
The YWCA of the University of Illinois is excited to continue our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women this upcoming school year. Through various programs and events, we are inviting students and the community to engage in discussions and causes related to social justice.
As with past years, this year we are again implementing our Women in Leadership (WIL) program: an intensive, two-semester leadership and project management internship. Structured as a group consulting project, the internship allows undergraduate women to work directly with local human services agencies to learn about the nonprofit sector, identify organizational challenges, and research, propose and implement solutions over the course of a school year. The YWCA supplements interns’ work with additional training focusing on professional development, leadership skills and building a working team, all of which are applied to team projects.
Interns are guided through this process by mentors drawn from Urbana-Champaign’s excellent professional and graduate student pools. Past WIL teams have worked with the Champaign-Urbana Area Project, MakerGirl, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. We are proud that this program continues to grow with each passing year and provides students with beneficial leadership experience and the community with skillful individuals that are passionate to help.
October will see the kick-off of our annual Community Read, working with the Asian American Cultural Center around the powerful and insightful book When the Emperor Was Divine, by Julie Otsuka. The Community Read is a multi-week literature and arts program that invites University of Illinois students and the greater Urbana-Champaign community to learn about and explore the experiences of girls of color through reading, dialogue and creative expression. Participants come together weekly for conversations and arts and cultural events around the stories that resonate with them most. Through these, readers build relationships across social identity and a greater appreciation for the diverse individuals and groups living in Urbana-Champaign.
Throughout the series, the YWCA encourages participants to explore intersectional dialogue skills and social justice. This fall’s book choice details the experiences of a family with the Japanese internment camps set up by the U.S. government following Pearl Harbor. We chose this book because it challenges us to think more deeply about the lives of Japanese Americans, our own American history and today’s politically charged atmosphere of xenophobia and fear.
The events we will be holding in conjunction with the Big Read include one of the first screenings of Matthew Hashiguchi’s documentary Good Luck Soup. In this film, we join Matthew on a journey to discover his family’s experiences as Japanese Americans within the Black and White surroundings of the Midwest. Along the way, we will learn of his life and the lives of his grandmother and family members. For them, what does it mean to be Japanese American? And how has that identity and experience changed over time? We will also be hosting book discussions, a family-centered craft event, and closing the series with keynote speakers: author Karen Su and internment survivor Yuki Llewellyn. The Champaign Public Library and Urbana Free Library will serve as host spaces for this Read.
Along with these events, we will be continuously working on advocating for the causes closest to us – one of them being the abuse-to-prison pipeline. An issue that overwhelmingly affects girls of color, the proverbial pipeline reinforces punishing victims of abuse by criminalizing their behavioral reactions from the trauma they have experienced. This includes suspending students for truancy, arresting runaway youth, and punishing the sexually exploited instead of their abusers. Unfortunately, the trauma is inadequately – if at all – addressed in the criminal justice system, leading to a continuous cycle. As a local organization, we feel it necessary to confront this issue in our own community. We are hoping to shed light on this issue in order to improve the quality of our community response, and connect girls who have experienced trauma with the resources that they need.
As the year moves along, the YWCA will provide more opportunities to engage the community and address social justice issues. To stay updated on what we are doing, subscribe to our newsletters, take a look at our website at ywcauofi.org, or connect with us through social media. We welcome all men and women to join with us in any way you can, to pay it forward, to envision and work towards a world that values everyone’s contribution regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. We all have something to contribute.
Andrea Rundell is the Executive Director of the YWCA of the University of Illinois, and is unabashedly in love with the mission of “eliminating racism and empowering women.” She has been there for four years now, so she thinks she’s getting the hang of it.
Communities in Charlottesville, Va., are reeling from a murderous Nazi and white supremacist march on their town—one that stole the life of anti-Nazi protester Heather Heyer and wounded many more. I spoke with Lisa Woolfork, a member of Charlottesville’s Black Lives Matter chapter, about what solidarity and anti-racist organizing looks like in this moment.
She explained that Charlottesville’s Black Lives Matter chapter formed in June as “committed Black folks coming together from a variety of walks of life, to stand up for preservation of Black lives, to stand up and make sure Black issues are not forgotten.” Woolfork, who is an associate professor at the University of Virginia (UVA), underscored that she is proud of everyone in her community who rallied together to resist organized white supremacists. “This is what community defense looks like,” she said. “You say, ‘Not here, not in my town.’”
Sarah Lazare: How are you, your community and Black Lives Matter holding up after a harrowing few days?
Lisa Woolfork: I believe we are resilient. All the actions that took place that day were about defending Charlottesville as a community, standing up for our city, and saying no to the racists who wanted to invade and take over. I feel we did that very successfully. It was wonderful to stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with a variety of people. It was Black folks joining in with folks from many different walks of life. I was moved by that.
At the vigil last night for Heather Heyer, the woman who was murdered, I saw it again. The same resolve for Black self-determination. For what Black Lives Matter stands for. To stand up and to say, “You might come armed—our community is willing to stand up against that.” The alt-right comes armed with assault weapons. They came to do damage. This was about the liberation of Black lives as well as criticizing white supremacy.
White supremacists are not just marching in the street, but they seem to be endorsed at the highest levels. What Charlottesville let the world see is that there is a connection between racist ideas and racist action. The reason the alt-right came to Charlottesville is that they were terrified to lose their Civil War participation trophy, their confederate monument to Robert E. Lee—who fought to maintain a white-supremacist republic. That’s why the alt-right was here. Principles of white supremacy and Black subjection still appeal to them.
Sarah: How can people across the country and the world show solidarity right now?
Lisa: There are a variety of ways people can stand up. Support Black Lives Matter—not just in Charlottesville, but all around the country. Get tapped into local organizations. Have uncomfortable and difficult conversations that can open the door to greater understanding. Be willing to be uncomfortable. Don’t just go along with racism and casual white supremacy. That just normalizes white supremacy.
There is a reason white supremacy is the air we breathe in this country. White supremacy is not just the Nazis and alt-right. It’s also very casual and subtle. It’s saying things like, “You’re pretty for a Black girl.”
Trump cannot reprimand that alt-right, because they are his base. There were a lot of people out there with “Make America Great Again” hats. The rise of Trump has coincided with a spike in hate crimes during the first months of his presidency. After he was confirmed by electoral college, there were tons of acts and incidents that very day. This is something we might want to think about.
I’ve never heard of a sore winner. They won [the election], and they are acting as if they lost. They are beating people in the streets. If you won, why are you beating up Muslims and immigrants? They are the party of the aggrieved white people, and we saw them marching through our streets and our city, throwing up Nazi gang signs. They were right near the library where I take my kids, right across the street where my son gets his hair cut.
Sarah: What do you want people to know about what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend?
Lisa: This is what community defense looks like. You say, “Not here, not in my town.” You come out, speak out. That’s what Charlottesville Black Lives Matter came out to do. We are pleased we were able to do that and fortify our community, fortify ourselves, stand up against this violent tide of white hatred that should not be allowed to go unchecked.
I believe that can happen in overt and covert ways. All across the country, there were solidarity rallies: in New York, Atlanta. People all over the country stood in solidarity with Charlottesville. This is the opportunity and this is the time. If not now, when?
Sarah: What is your response to people who say we should just ignore fascists?
Lisa: I believe that claim is problematic. The alt-right is not out there because they want attention; they are out there because they want to promote white supremacy. They have tons of followers on Instagram, Facebook, Reddit. They have a strong social media presence. They have a global following. They are everywhere. They are trying to maintain white supremacy. That’s what they’re fighting for. To say they are out there for attention is to treat them like they’re naughty toddlers, not dangerous terrorists.
It’s a tacit and silent endorsement of white supremacy to say it can be tolerated or that everyone has a right to their opinions. It belies the fact that racist thought and racist action are connected. The symbol of Lee is a magnet for racists and white supremacists. We are inviting them by maintaining that negative hatred at the center of our city. We create hospitable conditions for them.
Sarah: Is there anything you want our readers to know about what local organizing looks like from here?
Lisa: As we move forward, we have a lot of issues we are working to promote. We want awareness of some of the inequities and issues of injustice in our city. Nearly 80 percent of stop-and-frisks in Charlottesville are of African Americans, even though we only comprise 19 percent of the population. We want people to pay attention to the court case about the Confederate monument. We call on Charlottesville city council to remove confederate monuments from public spaces, so we’re a less hospitable place for Nazis, white supremacists and racists. There is the case of a missing transgender women, whose disappearances are overlooked nationally.
I would advise people to look forward, look within, and look locally. What can you do to challenge white supremacy in your daily life? We have to stop believing white supremacy is someone else’s problem. Because we live in America, which has white supremacy at its base, it lurks in all of us. Challenge things, ask questions, intervene if you see someone harmed.
Look locally. See what’s happening right in your town where you can help. What is the poverty rate in your city? How is public education? Do you have a public education system that fails Black and Brown students? What kind of steps can you take to remedy that? What about hunger? How does that work in your town? The problems with Charlottesville are problems with every city in America.
Sarah: What is your response to politicians and pundits who are demonizing people who are resisting fascism?
Lisa: I believe there should be a diversity of tactics in order to fight white supremacy. I believe that these fascists came to invade our town and to terrorize. They came with weapons, with bats. They create a false equivalency when they say Nazis are equal to anti-racist activists. By demonizing the anti-fascists, it makes fascism look as if it’s a viable social position. There were people out there Saturday in khaki pants and white polo shirts who marched to where I teach at UVA and shouted, “Death to the Jews, we will not be replaced.”
I am of the belief that everyone out there in the spirit of community defense was acting in robust and muscular love. Love for humanity and justice, against the tide of white supremacy and all sorts of things being normalized.
This article was originally published at In These Times on Aug. 14, 2017. It is reprinted with permission.