Being the Unreasonable: Educating Highly Marginalized Girls to Change the World 

SwaTaleem Logo—from a version designed by children

Seema is a 12-year-old Dalit girl from Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. In the social hierarchy, Dalits in India belong to the lowest strata, often devoid of education and job opportunities, and have compromised rights. On one hot day, rather than being in class studying, she was clinging to a pillar crying before her parents, urging them not to take her home and not to have her married. She wanted to go to school and she wanted to study.

In American middle schools, most 12-year-old girls are looking forward to high school. Most cannot picture leaving school before even starting high school, let alone being married before that time. Yet in many parts of the world, girls struggle to get an education and even go beyond secondary education. Seema is one of those, and she is not alone. Continue reading

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Anti-Austerity Protesters in Ecuador Win Some Concessions, But Unlikely to Prevent Further Unrest or Repression

The government of Ecuador reached an agreement on October 13 with leaders of the protests that had rocked the country for the previous two weeks. The deal, which included the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), is a retreat for the government of President Lenín Moreno and a victory for the protesters.

Jubilant crowds took to the streets, chanting in celebration. But the agreement doesn’t resolve the underlying problems. Moreno is not likely to finish the remaining year and a half of his presidential term without a recurrence of serious unrest. Continue reading

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Bolton is Out! But Imperialist Aggression Against Iran is Still In

On September 10, National Security Advisor John Bolton was fired from his post at the White House. With one of the staunchest advocates for US imperialism now out of the Trump administration, some were optimistic that the warmongering and the sanctions placed on countries like China, Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea would deescalate.

These pundits were quickly disappointed, however. In the wake of a recent attack on Saudi oil fields, the Trump administration locked arms with Saudi and United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials in declaring Iran to be responsible for the attacks. Though it has failed to cite any evidence for these claims, the administration is now sending missile defense systems and 3000 US troops to Saudi Arabia and the UAE at the request of these nations. At a press conference that day, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford refused to rule out a military strike against Iran. “Despite repeated calls from President Trump to begin diplomatic talks,” Esper said, “Iranian aggression continues to increase.” The US has maintained “great restraint” in its relations with Iran, “in the hopes the Iranian leadership would choose peace and reverse Iran’s steep decline into isolation and economic collapse.” The military assistance to Saudi Arabia and the UAE was a measure designed “to prevent further escalation,” Esper claimed. Continue reading

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An Early Gig Economy: Pro Wrestling

Wrestler and organizer David Starr at a rally for more rights and better conditions for wrestling talent

By now, almost everybody knows that professional wrestling is a “worked” sport—requiring wrestlers to advance storylines, choreograph matches and implement predetermined outcomes set by the industry’s bookers and writers. Yet the in-ring entertainment provided by these men and women can hardly be derided as “fake,” as the experiences of many wrestlers would attest. Stories of chemical dependency, early deaths, careers cut short due to injury, financial instability and more show how these workers have given their bodies to an entertainment sport that has been an incredibly imbalanced labor market.

As critiques multiply lambasting the app-based gig economy for its denial of basic worker protections, similar attention is due one of the nation’s first gig economies—professional wrestling—and the challenges that are building there against the status quo. Continue reading

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Fifth Annual Black Rose Anarchist Federation Convention Held in Urbana

 

Over a weekend in late July, delegates and officers of Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation (BRRN) gathered at the Channing Murray Foundation for BRRN’s Fifth Annual Convention.  Delegates came from across the country for three days of discussion, debate, decision making, internal housekeeping, and camaraderie. Though the convention itself was for BRRN members only, BRRN hosted a public event titled “Anarchism and Black Struggle” at the Independent Media Center, featuring a panel of Black anarchist organizers from Sudan, Little Rock, Miami, and Providence, followed by a comedy show featuring the comedy duo Kadeems’ Hard Koolaide.  

BRRN is a young organization, founded in 2013 by several anarchist groups with the broad goal of reviving an organized, mass, working-class-based anarchist movement in the United States. This was in contrast to some of the more individualistic, subculture “scene” orientations to anarchism that seemed overly prevalent in some areas of North America. BRRN’s membership growth is intentionally slow and steady, to better address the needs of every member; and most of us are longtime organizers in our communities.  Continue reading

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Many Successes in a Year of Existential Crises for the IMC

Residents packed Urbana City Council in support of the IMC on July 1, 2019

Congratulations! As a community, the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center (IMC) was able to overcome the fiscal crisis that surfaced at the beginning of this year. We have each other to thank: our board members, working groups, volunteers and community members. 

Overcoming financial crisis

In February, after becoming aware that we had been spending more than we took in each month for three years, the recently elected IMC board realized its only sustainable option was to lay off staff and go back to its origins as an all-volunteer organization, until financial stability could be regained. Since then, the board and other volunteers have put in hundreds and hundreds of hours, working to fill rental vacancies, address deferred maintenance on the building, minimize general costs, and rethink our leadership structure. As a result, we are proud to say that we have been revenue-positive since March. In addition, we are now in a position to hire an Executive Director, who can work with the board on the next phase of the IMC’s growth. Stay tuned to www.ucimc.org for the announcement, and please share the word that we are hiring. Continue reading

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Is a Woman a Person?

2016 Protest at the Supreme Court against restrictive abortion laws

In a 1980 article about the proposed Human Life Amendment (HLA) to the U.S. Constitution, journalist Ellen Goodman asked, “is a woman a person?” The HLA would have granted constitutional personhood to every fertilized human ovum. Few people back then believed that legal abortion was in peril. Their complacency allowed the political debate to be dominated by the question “is a fetus a person?,” rather than that of how pregnancy affects women’s health and lives.

Since President Trump’s election, seven states have passed bans on abortion, and the Supreme Court has two new justices. For the first time in forty-six years, people are finally realizing the Court could overturn Roe v. Wade, making abortion illegal in many states.

We simply cannot rely on the Courts to protect reproductive choice. Voters have to make the issue a priority in congressional and legislative races. Even if the Supreme Court never overturns Roe v. Wade, for millions of women the damage has already been done. It can only get worse. Continue reading

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Emma Scott Bridgewater: Lived Experience Marked by Race and Discrimination

Erma Scott, ca. 1930. Courtesy of Cassandra B. Woolfolk, Ronald and Cecil Bridgewater. The Illio, University of Illinois Yearbook, 1937. Courtesy of University of Illinois Archives

I met Mrs. Erma Pauline Scott Bridgewater (1913-2013) in Spring, 2009, during my research visits to Bethel A.M.E. Church. She led a life of service, racial work, and local activism in Champaign, being, arguably, the most interviewed and celebrated local Black woman of the late 1900s. Born on November 24, 1913, her parents were Raymond Mack Scott (1892-1957) and Sarah Pauline Wilson Scott (1892-1991). Erma was the oldest child, but her brother Raymond (1916-1965) soon followed. Both siblings attended an otherwise all-white school, Lincoln School. Mr. and Mrs. Scott advocated for the use of the Champaign High School swimming pool for their children, but “separate but equal” prevailed, and the Scott children could swim after school only. Nevertheless, Erma became, and remained, an avid swimmer.

The family settled on 109 Ells Avenue in Champaign, a predominantly white neighborhood, owning their house. A faithful congregant, Raymond was a choir and Baraca Bible Class (for men) member at Bethel; he played the saxophone and led the band “Mack Scott and his Footwarmers.” Known to enjoy cigars, Raymond was a messenger for the University of Illinois, a common occupation for Black men then. Sarah moved to Champaign from Old Shawneetown in 1911, after her father had passed; she followed her mother, who had relocated here to work as a cook, a frequent position for Black women. Sarah was a member of the women’s Philathea Bible Class. Continue reading

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FirstSteps Community House

Renovating FirstSteps Community House

“Our community needs a transitional house … we’re gonna reach out and help people get employment, help them bond back with their families and be able to give back to the community.”

— Casandis Hunt, peer mentor at FirstFollowers, talking about the impending opening of FirstSteps Community House, a residence in Champaign for people returning home from prison.

“Experts who have studied our current corrections programs agree that every individual leaving prison needs three key things—employment, housing and healthcare. In fact, without the most basic of human needs—a roof over a head—justice-involved individuals struggle to reintegrate, at great cost to Illinois’ public safety and to the fabric of our communities.”

Re-Entry Housing Issues in Illinois, 2019 report by Illinois Justice Project and Metropolitan Planning Council.

In the summer of 2016, a group of peer mentors from FirstFollowers, including Casandis Hunt, attended the annual Champaign-Urbana Days celebration in Douglass Park. While most people showed up ready for barbecue and connecting with old friends and family, we arrived with a stack of surveys. We knew that the majority of those attending C-U Days would be Black people who had been touched by incarceration in one way or another. As an emerging organization trying to advance the rights and interests of formerly incarcerated people, we wanted to hear from the community about how well they thought the needs of people coming home from prison were being met.

Most of the answers we got from our survey told us things we already knew—that people with felony convictions had a hard time getting employment, that incarceration had a negative impact on families, that landlords were not very welcoming to people with a criminal background. But one statistic shocked us thoroughly: 85 percent of those we surveyed believed that authorities should provide transitional housing for people when they were released from incarceration. This statistic launched us on a mission. We wanted to delve deeper into this issue. Continue reading

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It Happens Again: Noose Found in UIUC Dorm

Reprinted with permission from Drums!, a Black webspace, created by Black Students for Revolution.

A noose was found hanging within the Allen Hall dorms at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) Saturday night, continuing a long tradition of racist imagery at the midwestern campus.  The noose was found by Black undergraduate students and spread on social media throughout the weekend, while the University administration has yet to inform the student body about the incident or its investigation. Continue reading

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