Currently women workers are leading the march of labor in this country. Although it is lost amid the headlines of the #MeToo movement, this movement’s call for an end to sexual harassment and assault is at its core a demand for safe and equitable workplaces.
But while #MeToo has garnered the most media coverage, it is not the only cause that has women workers marching.
Starting last February, teachers in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Colorado went on strike for better wages, smaller class sizes, and adequate resources for their classrooms.
In September, hotel workers represented by the labor union UNITE HERE in Chicago went out on strike. By October, they were joined by hotel workers in eight other U.S. cities, from Boston to Honolulu, in the largest strike of hotel workers in U.S. history.
Urbana has lost one of its most distinguished citizens, Willeta Mae Hassell Donaldson. She passed away on February 2. Willeta, who worked at the University of Illinois in the Office of Admissions and the School of Social Work, also served on the city of Urbana’s Human Rights Commission, sometimes as chair. But her most lasting contribution to our community was, without doubt, her pushing the Urbana School District to desegregate its schools.
In 1963, the state of Illinois’ legislature amended the school code “prohibiting school boards from erecting, purchasing, or acquiring buildings for school purposes that would promote segregation based on color, race, or nationality.” While segregation was not a problem in Urbana’s high school or junior high (now called middle school), it was an issue when it came to the elementary schools. Almost all of the African American residents in the North End went to J. W. Hays school, since renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School. A coincidence of factors—including an influx of African American children from Southern states, where they had not been well prepared for schooling, a dissertation by a U of I student showing that Hays students were underperforming compared with students in the other schools, and the above change in the Illinois school code—led a number of African Americans to demand that the school board desegregate Urbana’s schools. Among those people were Willeta and her husband Carlos Donaldson, Paul and Shirley Hursey, Evelyn Underwood, and Jo Ann Jackson. They became known as the Ellis Six because they all lived on that street in the North End. It was Willeta who made the presentation for desegregation to the school board.
Students interview residents to establish the political, social, and economic context of the proposed project before beginning the design process.
How do you teach a group of college students to think outside their own experience when creating infrastructure designs for rural, alternatively developed societies? You take them to the community to live, work, eat, and learn from their clients. The first three are no challenge for students enrolled in the International Water Project, a year-long course that teaches multidisciplinary groups how to perform Contextual Engineering while planning infrastructure in communities markedly different from Champaign-Urbana. But the fourth—opening their minds to value insights from community members with no more than a sixth grade education and no reliable access to water, food, or money—is the transformational part of the experience.
Over the 2018/19 winter break, faculty and a small group of undergraduate and graduate students from the UIUC Colleges of Engineering, Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and Liberal Arts and Studies traveled to Clarinaro, an agricultural community of less than 1,000 people in the mountains of Honduras. This marked the sixth year of the course and the sixth community it has supported. After eight days in the community the students returned with elevation data, water quality samples, and soils information, as well as an understanding of the community’s vision, needs, capabilities, and internal politics. Most importantly, they learned that there is no such thing as a merely “technical” problem when you are planning infrastructure for a community.
I never thought I would live to see the U.S. turn into the illiberal, authoritarian, populist, white-nationalist country it has already increasingly become in early 2019.
Illiberalism Turns Liberal Democracy on its Head
“Liberal democracy” is characterized in theory by free elections, the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of civil liberties, including property, although in practice it falls short. Yet “illiberal democracy,” or illiberalism, attacks liberal democracy head on, and turns its norms, standards, and practices on their head. What has already become a classic case, and one of the original instances of current Republican illiberalism, was the refusal to consider Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, in 2016. This was not “normal,” certainly not the liberal democratic norm. Republicans did indeed “steal” the seat. But it was not technically illegal, that is, justiciable.
by Ashanti Barber
I take a deep breath to calm myself because you are the example
Of the ignorance and or anger of which this world has more than ample
I inhale and remember who I am as well as you
A black middle class woman versus the man who bleeds red white and blue
But blood that was spilt came from brown people too
Yet I exhale remaining seated while you do you
Clenching your fists and pacing as you refuse to drop
The conversation where the topic is obviously too hot
Too hard headed to be taught
Although I yearn to teach
The rhetoric is hateful despite my attempt to beseech you to drop it
This hot topic just made you my foe
And this is the way that the country goes
Back and forth with 2 party hate
A system that long ago obliterated
Our chance of unity
So soon we will see how quickly words become actions
How party lines puts us into factions
warring on opposite sides for the same thing
The right to live freely and be treated as a human being
But all I’m seeing
Is another white man
Telling me how he has a right to belittle who I am
And used code words like “ inner city”
To invoke pity
From the other rural bystanders
The slander neither hidden nor regretted
Because your white privilege alone means that you have been vetted
And everything you say is instantly true
My very being is a contradiction to
Everything you thought was impossible.
Yes, I continue to sit patiently while you stand
Pacing back and forth clenching’ your hands
Demonstrating to all that you truly can be
Exactly who I was afraid you were, the epitome
Ashanti is a poet and writer whose goal is to integrate the voice of the Black woman into 21st-century art and literature. Her book Woven: Perspectives of a Black Woman showcases poems written from her teenage years to early adulthood. Samples of readings and the publication are available on her website www.mytruenorthartistry.com.
Unofficial Dean of African American Students Albert R. Lee
The African American community in Urbana-Champaign and the University of Illinois community gathered this fall on several occasions to celebrate the life and contributions of an outstanding African American man: Albert R. Lee (1874-1948). Lee was the son of a slave, a church congregant in Bethel A.M.E. Church and the second African American employed by the University of Illinois, joining in 1895 as messenger in the President’s Office, and retiring in 1947 as Chief Clerk. Over years of service Lee made himself indispensable to the University, as he extended his tasks beyond clerical duties by counseling African American students and making right many classroom instances of racism. He is thus remembered as the unofficial dean of black students. A figure who resonated with diverse audiences, Mr. Lee held multiple other memberships: he was a registered Republican, an active Freemason, a local member of the N.A.A.C.P., and Sunday School District Superintendent. Lee worked cautiously toward closing the gap between an overwhelmingly white campus and local African Americans and out-of-state black folks wishing to get a college education at a school which, despite not offering them suitable (or any) housing accommodations or even access to campus restaurants, granted them admission and the promise of a future “without discrimination.” Continue reading
Manufactured homeowners taking action in support of affordable and healthy communities, economic and racial justice
In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Frank Rolfe and Dave Reynolds discovered a lucrative new area of real estate investment, manufactured home communities (MHCs), and made millions by buying out older mom-and-pop operations and putting new profit-oriented practices into place. Soon after that they offered their first weekend business seminar to share their techniques: Mobile Home University. For $2000, potential investors could learn how to turn someone’s neighborhood into a profit stream by raising rent, adding new charges for utilities and services, simplifying operations by closing recreation rooms and laundromats, and filling empty lots with rental trailers—in some cases castoffs purchased from FEMA.
For investors, the strategy generates an impressive new revenue stream; but for the residents the experience has been dehumanizing, as neighborhoods are turned into someone else’s investment zone. And now that model has come to Champaign County. Continue reading
On the day Manuel went to have his electronic monitor cut off, he was feeling “uneasy” about being picked up by agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It only took minutes for the sheriff’s deputy at the county jail to remove the clunky black box from his leg.
When a friend who was supposed to give him a ride did not show up, Manuel started walking with his wife and one-year-old son to get away from the jail. As they walked west down Main Street toward the Schnucks in downtown Urbana, he sensed that “something was going to happen.” When they got to Poplar Street, he noticed a parked minivan. Two men got out and approached them. Speaking in Spanish, one of them identified himself as an immigration officer, and told him he was under arrest. The man called him by his name and carried his mugshot. According to Manuel, they did not have a warrant. He was placed in handcuffs and put inside the van. Continue reading
If you’ve read Robert Caro’s biographies of Lyndon Johnson, you know what it’s like to be kidnapped by a historian who’s also a great story teller. The reading lamp burns late.
I’ve just finished a new book on Illinois history that will do the same thing for you. Continue reading