Countering Disinformation to Build a Just Society

We have heard a lot about disinformation during this past year, but learning more about how information is manipulated, distorted and deployed to shape social debates can help you recognize when you are being targeted in a disinformation campaign. It can also help you understand the disproportionate impact this problem has on communities of color and social justice movements. Continue reading

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White Nationalism in our Own Front Yards

One resident collected three bags of white nationalist flyers from her neighborhood

This past summer residents of West Champaign awoke to find their neighborhoods had been leafletted with an insulting anti-immigrant flyer bearing the imprint of the New Jersey European Heritage Association (NJEHA), a group designated as a white nationalist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. These weren’t a few scattered copies, but hundreds of flyers packaged in ziplocked bags weighted down with pebbles to keep them from blowing away. The leaflet characterized all immigrants as “criminal invaders,” and provided a phone number it claimed was to ICE deportations, as well as the web address for the NJEHA. One neighbor gathered more than seventy for the trash and another consigned a bundle to a backyard firepit, but in the weeks that followed more appeared in front yards, tucked inside the pockets of merchandise apparel at stores, or arranged among the produce in grocery stores. Continue reading

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“It’s Scary Having a Fifteen-Year-Old Son”: Community Voices on Gun Violence in C-U

In the midst of the global pandemic, Champaign-Urbana has its own local epidemic: gun violence. As of July 20, police had received 95 reports in 2020 of shooting incidents in Champaign alone. This is more than double the total for all of 2019. Twenty-seven people had been shot and several killed. A survey by CU Public Health found that, after mental health, gun violence ranked as the second highest public health priority in four zip codes: 61820, 61821, 61801 and 61802. Since the vast majority of these incidents involve young Black men, many white people seemingly don’t feel this is their problem.

As an organization that addresses the issue of mass incarceration and criminalization of youth, FirstFollowers has begun to tackle gun violence. We believe it is a problem for the whole community, and that all members of the community should feel the importance of bringing this violence to a halt. In our work, we try to avoid making pronouncements on the issue, but rather choose to highlight the voices of those directly impacted. We follow a saying popularized among formerly incarcerated people across the country: “Those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, but often farthest from the resources needed to solve the problem.” So our approach to gun violence is to insert the voices of those impacted and then support them in their struggle to access resources needed to address the issue. Continue reading

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Separating Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism

The author was part of this group of young American Jews protesting Israel’s occupation outside an American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) meeting in 2017

The morning after the 2016 presidential election, I woke up wondering if I was still white. I am Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish, and had always felt confident in the safety my light skin afforded me. That day, for the first time, I understood that safety to be conditional. Trump’s victory demonstrated a surging of white supremacy, and with it a definition of whiteness that excluded me.

The past four years have been a terrifying time to be Jewish. Violent racists and neo-Nazis have poured forth as the president tacitly endorses the alt-right. Hate crimes against Jews have risen dramatically, and Nazis have marched openly in the streets. My grandmother called to tell me that she, for the first time since the Holocaust, feared we would find ourselves in camps. We were no longer among the safe. Continue reading

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Polish Women Take to the Streets

Polish women marching against attempts to further restrict access to abortion. The sign reads “Women’s Strike”

Following an October 22 Polish Supreme Court decision cutting off the main route to legal abortion in the country, Polish women, and many supportive men and children, took to the streets in the biggest mass mobilization in Poland in 40 years. The law in force since 1993—already the strictest in Europe except for Malta’s, which bans abortion altogether—allows termination of pregnancy in three cases: danger to the mother’s life or health; suspicion that the pregnancy resulted from a crime (e.g., rape or incest); or severe disability or incurable disease of the fetus. The court ruled this third reason, which accounted for 98 percent of the 1100 legal abortions performed in Poland last year, unconstitutional.

Demonstration organizers expected a similar turnout to the large “black protests”—in which women wearing black predominated—of four years ago (referenced in my article on the right-wing government’s consolidation of power in the February 2018 Public i), which forced the defeat in parliament at that time of a proposed law to only allow abortion to save the life of the mother. But the protests at the end of October were several times larger still: over 400,000 in more than 400 cities and towns across Poland. Crowds chanted “Sex is not a crime, pregnancy is not a punishment, if I want an abortion I will have it!” A push for abortion “coming outs” brought women to microphones and megaphones to publicly attest to how having one—usually illegally, or performed abroad—had brought relief and improved their lives. Remarkable was the support of other groups that one would never have expected, like farmers and taxi drivers, who used their tractors and taxis to help block or inhibit traffic, and soccer fans—although organized soccer “hooligans” joined other right-wing toughs to attack protesters, confronted in some cases by Polish Antifa. Two journalists from the liberal national daily Gazeta Wyborcza were also assaulted by right-wingers. Continue reading

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Urbana Police Chief Finally Admits Misconduct in Aleyah Lewis Arrest


Urbana Police Chief Bryant Seraphin

It has been more than seven months since the violent arrest of Urbana resident Aleyah Lewis. Tens of thousands of people have watched the videos of Urbana Police Officers throwing Lewis to the ground, pinning her, punching her in the head, and kneeing her in the ribs. Hundreds of concerned residents have spoken about the incident, amounting to probably 40 hours of public input at Urbana City Council meetings.

The Urbana Police Department (UPD) issued press releases, they issued a Use of Force Review report, and they gave a great big presentation at the April 27 City Council meeting. Mayor Marlin pushed her own propaganda as often as possible, and then she spent over $20,000 of taxpayer money to have the Chicago firm Hillard Heintze (a consulting firm the City brought in to perform a review of the incident—see the article by myself and others in the September 2020 issue of the Public i) issue its own brand of propaganda. They told us from every angle, at every opportunity, that UPD had done everything correctly, and that our concerns were not real. The public is wrong, because we don’t understand police stuff. Continue reading

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“The Big Scary ‘S’ Word” is Coming for your Children


Did you know that Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx had a correspondence; that Helen Keller was a socialist, as was Francis Bellamy, who authored the Pledge of Allegiance; that North Dakota practices public banking; and that in the 1840s in Ripon, Wisconsin, socialists founded the Republican Party?

The information above and much more is offered in a stimulating new documentary currently on the festival circuit, The Big Scary “S” Word, which ends with a young participant at a political conference declaring in revelation, “Together we can accomplish anything.” The 88-minute film, directed by Yael Bridge, dashes through an overview of socialism in American history, the wreck of capitalism, and the current rise in socialism as a political movement. The ambitious film leaves sympathetic viewers reinforced and hopeful. Continue reading

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What I Learned While being the Poet Laureate for the City of Urbana . . .

As poet laureate Reger coordinated the “poets on a park bench” series, produced by and available through Urbana Public Television. Here he interviews local poet Anne Namatsi

I learned that the people of Urbana truly appreciated the emphasis on poetry in their public lives.  They felt it improved their town in a tangible way.

I learned that many poets live in this community who don’t always interact with each other, though they should, which is why a Poet Laureate should exist, to bring these groups together in some fashion. Continue reading

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The UCIMC Disinformation Defense Campaign

IMC working groups, projects, and partners are working to fight the tide of disinformation. We have just received a grant and extensive educational materials from MediaJustice to do this work. We will focus on racialized disinformation: disinformation campaigns that specifically target communities of color. We are establishing a team of community leaders to respond to disinformation such as fake news discrediting the election results, belittling of communities through false rumors about COVID, or spreading other misleading or damaging messages. If you’d like to find out about resources or get involved in the IMC’s response to disinformation, email

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Indymedia at 20


It was twenty years ago, September 24, 2000, when a dozen people crammed into my apartment on Carle Park. We began dreaming about the Independent Media Center that now graces the heart of Urbana, nurturing new friendships, growing new projects, and flowing with art, music, writing, radio, making, biking, and organizing. When we passed the hat at our first meeting, designating ten percent of everything collected as our “endowment,” we knew we wanted to create long-haul organizing infrastructure for our community. Greg Brown, a developmentally disabled homeless man, had just been strangled by Champaign Police behind a dumpster on White Street—and the News-Gazette just reprinted the police report. Ameren Power Company had left a toxic waste dump at 5th and Hill Streets in Champaign that had caused a circle of cancer in this historically African American neighborhood. Lincoln Mobile Home Park, a peaceful neighborhood that Vietnamese refugees, Latino families, and disabled and poor residents called home, had been  demolished with help from the city to make room for luxury student apartment complexes. From the beginning, our IMC’s focus was on investigating unreported stories, amplifying unheard voices, and reframing the debate with the goal of redistributing power and resources. Continue reading

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The University and its Workers during the Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has affected universities all over the country and the world. Different institutions have chosen different approaches, from keeping all courses online and discouraging students from returning (Smith College, Harvard University, etc.) to a full opening of residential services and face-to-face courses (University of Notre Dame, Purdue University). Some of the latter group have had to shift course or impose new restrictions in the face of advancing case numbers. All these decisions have sparked a range of responses from students, faculty, workers, and community members who share public spaces with the students returning to campus towns.  A variety of needs and concerns have been voiced in these discussions.  Often, those who do much of the work of providing residential and dining services to students, cleaning classroom buildings, and staffing offices are the least heard in planning and charting the course of safety in these pandemic times. Continue reading

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COVID-19: Local Responses and Lessons for the Future

The Public i asked Professor Weissman, in light of his involvement with helping doctors with statistics, for his thoughts on the local response to COVID-19 and any lessons learned from it for the future.

First, I think it’s more important to start with the big lessons for right now.

The spread of the virus depends on both the policies of institutions (the state, the University, the county, and, God help us, the US government) and the choices of individuals. Right now, many of us are exhausted with distancing measures and even with masks, so many are starting to revert to comfortable old habits. This is a terrible idea for two reasons: Continue reading

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Governor Pritzker has the Power to Halt All Utility Shutoffs by Signing an Executive Order

Robin Brown’s utilities in Champaign were shut off by Ameren Illinois on September 18, 2020, in the midst of our historical COVID-19 pandemic. When asked about how utility shutoffs affected her, Brown said “I’ve had to give away and separate my children.” Brown had to find an in-person job to bring her family back together. Although she finally had her service restored on October 1 after paying her bill with her first paycheck, she is still struggling to reunite with her children, worried about the COVID risk factors.

In August, the Carbondale municipal government shut off water service for Georgia de la Garza, a board member of the progressive activist organization Our Illinois Revolution, while she was at the height of a COVID fever. Quarantined, de la Garza was also extremely weak, and could not use her shower to help bring her temperature down. After a couple of hours of trying to pay her water bill on Carbondale’s failed online website, and repeatedly calling the city, whose representative refused to take her credit card information over the phone, she reached out for help from a friend who works on the Jackson County Board. In thirty minutes she heard water running from her faucet. “I called my friend to thank her, crying, [and] told her how horrifying it must be for folks who couldn’t pay.” de la Garza said. “It really set me back.” Continue reading

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The Proposed Constitutional Amendment on the Ballot for a “Fair Tax”

Right now, the Illinois State Constitution forbids progressive taxation on income. In other words, it forbids doing what the IRS does on your federal income tax—taxing you at a rate that depends on your income.

On your federal income tax, of course, you are supposed to pay more if you earn more, but on top of that, if you earn more you pay at a higher rate. That is what “tax brackets” are about. The portion of reported income you pay in taxes goes up as you earn more. Illinois, however, is not allowed to do that. The Constitution now says there must be one and the same rate for all, regardless of income—in other words, the Constitution requires a “flat tax.” At the moment everyone in Illinois is supposed to pay 4.95 percent of their reported income, after a small deduction.  Whether you report $5,000 in income after deductions, or $5,000,000, you pay 4.95 percent. Continue reading

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What Educational Values and Beliefs Underpin a Decision to have Armed School Resource Officers?

This article was previously published in Smile Politely

On December 17, 2019, the Urbana Board of Education (BOE) signed an intergovernmental agreement to approve funding of two full-time armed police officers (called School Resource Officers, or SROs)—one at the middle school and one at the high school. The yearly cost to the school district is $321,300.

To date, the BOE has not collected any evidence that this presence returns any value for students. According to Section 8B of the contract, the SRO Program is to be formally evaluated two years after being implemented, and then every year thereafter. Furthermore, the BOE does not have any planned method to formally evaluate the SRO program’s effectiveness. There are no measures for assessing the effectiveness of the program, nor have there been any indicated plans to disseminate findings to the public. Continue reading

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Black Lives Matter in the Middle East

Afro-Iraqis from the Movement for Freedom Party, pictured in 2018

George Floyd’s murder horrified people of the Middle East just as it did many in the US and, just as in America, the outrage that followed exposed cultural fault lines, forced uncomfortable introspection, and was sometimes exploited for political purposes.

Erasure and Exploitation

Throughout the Persian Gulf there are populations of Afro-Arabs who arrived centuries ago, yet are often mistaken for migrants or otherwise discounted. After Floyd’s killing the Persian Gulf local social media was filled with criticism of US racism (Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al Zaidi tweeted support for Black Lives Matter (BLM) “as a fellow victim of US imperialism”), but some wondered how their compatriots could be so oblivious to local racism. In Iraq, more than 400,000 identify as Afro-Iraqis, yet Iraqi education pays little attention to Iraq’s history of African enslavement, or to the Zanj Rebellion of the ninth century, one of the most successful slave revolts in human history. The 2008 election of Barack Obama inspired Afro-Iraqi Jalal Diab to organize the Iraqi Movement for Freedom Party to address discrimination. Diab was assassinated in 2013, but the Floyd killing revived calls for Afro-Iraqis to renew their commitment to ending discrimination. Continue reading

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The Decline of African Languages at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois used to be one of the best universities for learning African languages. Emeritus professor of Linguistics Eyamba Bokamba would always say, “here in Illinois we offer African languages from A to Z, Arabic to Zulu.” Unfortunately, African languages offerings have been declining steadily in the past decade. As an instructor for Wolof and student of Swahili at the U of I, I was concerned and undertook an ethnographic study among students and instructors of Wolof and Swahili at Illinois to understand what led to the decline of African languages such as Lingala, Isizulu, Bambana, etc. I interviewed current Wolof and Swahili students to understand their motivations for taking African language classes. I also interviewed a former African-language instructor and two administrative personnel to understand the structural difficulties faced in keeping African languages. Finally, I observed Swahili classes to gauge student engagement.

Continue reading

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UCIMC 20th Anniversary Events

Celebrating 20 Years!

On September 26, 2020, it will be 20 years since Urbana-Champaign IMC was launched from a living room in Urbana, where a small group began collectivizing equipment and passing the hat for an “endowment.” 20 years later we own and manage a 30,000-square-foot community arts center (which we converted from an old post office building), continue to publish a monthly newspaper (the Public i), house a low power radio station (WRFU Radio Free Urbana), and have long-term relationships with Books to Prisoners and a local Makerspace.

Our building is a venue for emerging artists and a community organizing space. And this year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we started “Sounds like Community” a weekly showcase of artists and organizers.

Due to the pandemic, we had to transform our major anniversary gathering into virtual events!

UCIMC’s 20th Anniversary Kick-Off Event:

Wednesday, September 30th, 7 pm–8:30 pm via zoom

“Independent Media: Where we’ve come from and why we need it more than ever!”
with panelists Sarah Lazare, Tanya Parker, and Sascha Meinrath, and moderator Danielle Chynoweth

Wednesday, September 30th, 7pm-8:30pm via zoom (see after 5pm for the link) or tune your radio to WRFU 104.5 FM (if you live nearby)

Event 2: Wednesday, October 28th, 2020; 7 pm–8:30 pm (Urbana Illinois time zone)
20th Anniversary Panel: “Abolition and Grassroots Organizing” Carol Ammons, James Kilgore, and Malkia Cyril.
Via zoom and on WRFU 104.5FM

Event 3: Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020; 7 pm–8:30 pm (Urbana Illinois time zone)
“Stories from the IMC: A Video Project”: Excerpts from interviews with the people who have been a part of the UC-IMC’s cultural, political and social life.
Via zoom and on WRFU 104.5FM


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Disruptive Shift Changes for UIUC Custodial Staff

Jenni Walkup is a public anthropology MA student at American University who lives in Champaign. She works in education and writes about movements and social change. She’s very good at Bananagrams.

In August, 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Illinois instituted major shift changes for its approximately 300 custodial staff, disrupting the lives of many of its most vital workers. Building service workers were given less than a week’s notice to transition to sometimes drastically new schedules.

For example, Kevin Williams is a single father of a teenage son and a seven-year employee of the Building Services Department. Williams had built his life around working the 4 am early shift. Before leaving campus at 12:30 pm, he had cleaned three floors, scrubbed eight restrooms, and removed 200 gallons of waste. He finished in time to arrive at his second job, peer mentoring, or his third job, providing lawn care, by 1:00 pm. Just this year, Williams earned his dream job: coaching high school basketball in the evenings. Now, with the university eliminating his shift, he has had to quit two jobs and rearrange his life around a new schedule. “It’s like, kick me in the face and then [ask me to] trust fall for [you],” says Williams. Continue reading

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SEIU Statement Regarding the Changes in the Building Services Department at UIUC

Building service workers were already concerned with changing conditions in May, 2019

The University decided in mid-spring that it would reopen for the 2020 fall semester, a decision that would require drastic, “emergency” changes in our department and to the working conditions of SEIU members. Management didn’t notify union leadership until July 15, when it announced the changes during a labor-management phone conference that had been scheduled for other issues. Continue reading

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