Monthly Archives: November 2011

3 posts

Reflection on Occupy Wall Street

Written by: Katherine Scheidt

I received at text message at 1:09am on November 15th informing me that Occupy Wall Street was being raided by the NYPD. My response was simply “Why?”

Around 1 am, police began a raid on Zuccoti Park, ordering protesters to gather their belongings and leave. Activists were told that they could return after the park was cleaned, but without tents, sleeping bags and other tools necessary to the movement.

A timeline from the Occupy wall street website details the raid in shocking detail:

Understandably, the Occupy Wall Street movement has started to take it’s toll on New York City and Zuccoti Park.

Mayor Bloomberg cited health and fire hazards as reasons for the raid, and took full responsibility for the raid stating, “Make no mistake — the final decision to act was mine.” Bloomberg’s concerns are legitimate, but was the execution of the raid really appropriate?

Protesters were arrested, sprayed with pepper spray and reportedly tear gassed. During the raid shouts of “No Violence,” “This is what a police state looks like,” and “Shame on you” were heard.

Questions to ask:

Why did NYC feel the need to start the raid at 1 am?

Why were journalists kept blocks away?

Why was it necessary for police to come in full riot gear?

I feel like the necessary clearing of the park could have been done in a more peaceful way. If a peaceful order to evict was given, many protesters would have relocated without a struggle. It doesn’t seem necessary to go in with intent to use force.

It’s nearly impossible to avoid drawing parallels between the violence against protesters in the 1960’s and this morning’s raid. Although the amount of violence does not compare, police force was still used against peaceful protesters trying to speak out against the system.

Even now that a judge has ruled to allow protesters and their tents back into the park, the future of the Occupy Wall Street movement is still uncertain. We will see if protesters continue their physical occupation or if the movement evolves into rhetoric rather than tents and sleeping bags.

Morale remains high as protesters cheer “We are unstoppable, another world is possible.” I’m hopeful that despite the violence, these cheers prove true.

Climate Change

Written by: Connor Stangler

We are in serious trouble.

Unemployment worries me. The national debt troubles me. Poverty disturbs me. But the prospect of a gradual apocalypse, of an indiscriminate global crisis does not seem to frighten me like it should. The climate change crisis does not lack in significance, but I can’t seem to grant it as much as it deserves. Why?

In the December 2010 issue of The Atlantic, journalist James Fallows wrote about the “inevitability of coal” as a, if not the, solution to our aggravated global climate crisis. For someone as comfortably unaware of this problem as I am, the first few pages of this article will leave you gasping for increasingly precious oxygen.

The problem is not a lack of solutions. Brilliant scientists, wealthy corporations, and even innovative citizens have conceptualized creative means to curb the destructive human effect on the environment. But these solutions are at best piecemeal. What we lack is a sense of scale. The vastness of climate change escapes the reach of our mental faculties — for now.

Fallows explains that though controversy surrounds the connection between the build up of greenhouse gases and subsequent climate change, enough anxiety centers on the problem of “positive feedback,” which means the warmer the Earth gets now, the faster it will get hotter in the future. For example, as the polar ice caps melt, there will be less white ice surface to reflect the sun’s rays and more blue water to absorb them. Thus, the warming process will accelerate. The effects will include severe heat waves, more frequent and deadlier hurricanes, longer droughts, and rising sea levels, endangering such coastal cities as Miami, New York, and Shanghai.

We are environmentally disoriented. At times we seem content with plugging the holes in the damn even when we know the flood is coming. We hope that an incoherent mix of solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear power plants, and biofuels can stall our fate. Granted, not one of these energy forms alone will save our planet. But it is also not just a matter of turning off an unnecessary light. Legislators and innovators talk of a more comprehensive, coordinated solution to the crisis. We certainly need something like it, but are we ready for that?

Before we can appreciate the severity of the circumstances, this country’s citizens need a fundamental overhaul of the way it thinks about the problem. I cannot grasp the immensity of the problem because 1) my mind cannot conceive of a figure like 37 billion and 2) my sequestered existence in northern Missouri does not allow me to see the immediate effects of such a phenomenon. It seems pretty hot in the summer, but because I do not witness the melting of glaciers, I put “fixing the environment” on tomorrow’s to-do list. Until the Netherlands no longer exists or water starts making its way up to the Empire State Building’s doorstep, I will remain insufficiently cognizant of the problem.

In order to reach a level of cognizance that will ensure the future safety of the ecosystem, I will have to alter the way I think about climate change. I will need to begin to comprehend the scale of the damage and its effects. This is not just a matter of acknowledging the statistics or filling the blogs and the nightly news programs with frightening stories of cataclysm. It will require a break from my default setting. My normal mindset encourages me to pass the responsibility to future generations. But future America is not home to infinitely more sensible or far-sighted people. They will be just as greedy and complacent as we are today. If they are any more aware than us, it will be because they will witness the first globally destructive consequences.

This change will not come in a thirty-minute orientation session. It will require a tangible education as well as a more abstract alteration of our consciousness. It will be much harder than any political obstacle we may confront. We may find climate change to be one of the most scientifically and mentally defining crises of this century.

We the People Would Appreciate Green Beans

Written by: Eric Blair

My college diet is not exactly wholesome. Especially now that I’m off campus, general nutrition has taken a backseat to low prices and easy access. Ravioli has always been a favorite cheap food of mine – it takes two minutes to heat up and less than five minutes to eat. It’s simple and routine; just enough to satisfy me until I have time for a full meal. But the last time I went to chow down before diving into the pit of despair and anger that is math homework, things did not go as planned. I opened my can of ravioli to find it full of green beans.

I generally loath any food I deem fit for rabbits, but green beans have always held a special place on my palette. This might be because I normally lather them in salt and bacon, but I think it’s because I appreciate healthy alternatives every once and a while. Perhaps someone pure of heart at Bon Italia recognized this desire and decided to subtly inject some variety into my sustenance. More likely, someone screwed up somewhere along the assembly line. Still, I was happy to have unintentionally escaped the banality – to have encountered something fresh and different, something actually better for me.

Recently, our government decided to do something ostensibly courageous. On their website, they put up a petitions page entitled “We the People.” Anyone could start their own “We the People” petition, and if they got enough people to electronically sign their petition by a certain date, their petition would be reviewed by the Administration, an official response would be issued, and the appropriate policy-makers would be notified (presumably so that they could take action).

I suspect that not many people found this all that inspiring. What possible difference could it make? Though I am usually cautiously optimistic when it comes to politics, occasionally I play the part of the political romantic. This was one of those times. I was much more excited about it than most: what an excellent opportunity to interact with our government via technology! What a great way to make yourself heard! The White House apparently shared my enthusiasm:

“The right to petition our government is guaranteed in the First Amendment to our Constitution. Throughout our nation’s history, petitions have served as a way for Americans to organize around issues that matter to them, and tell their representatives in government where they stand. Petitions have played an important role in many of the changes throughout our history, from ending slavery to guaranteeing women the right to vote.

The We the People platform on gives Americans a new way to create, share, and sign petitions that communicate your views about your government’s actions and policies.”

This sounded like a good deal to me. I didn’t create any petitions of my own, but I signed many of the more popular ones: end federal funding for Boy Scouts, decriminalize marijuana, eliminate “In God We Trust” from our currency, and eliminate “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. These were all gaining a large volume of signatories (in fact, out of the top ten most signed petitions, half of them related in some fashion to decriminalizing marijuana). Wonderful! Now I would receive thoughtful, well-reasoned responses; and maybe, just maybe, this would all translate into some simple policy decisions.

I received my official responses, and I was ready and eager to read, “Of course! You’re absolutely right! Marijuana is significantly and demonstrably less harmful than other legal drugs like cigarettes!” or “Wow! Damn straight! ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘Under God’ are some of the most blatant violations of the separation of church and state in our history!” I craved something fresh, something different. Instead, what I got were the same tired, canned, ready-made responses which I had heard many times before. I received a whole bunch of the usual ravioli.

Each response was simple, routine, and just enough to satiate my initial desires. Not a single response left me stunned or contemplative. The supposed rich history of petitions to which the White House alluded earlier seemed rather vapid. The cynicism which lied dormant in me throughout the entire process reared its ugly head and wrote off the entire thing as a massive waste of time and energy. My fellow petitioners shared my frustration, and quickly started a petition that called on the government to take their other petitions seriously.

The responses to the “We the People” petitions were predictable and stale. I think we the people deserve more, and I think our government lost out on an excellent opportunity to put technology to good use in our political system. I hold out hope that eventually we’ll receive some actual, substantive responses to our concerns and not just something to pacify us. Perhaps we’ll get our own healthy surprise someday, even if only accidentally.