Tag Archive: activism

  1. What’s the (Political) Weather with Bill Ayers


    Bill Ayers was once known for setting off bombs during his time with the revolutionary communist group, the Weather Underground, in protest against the U.S. government. Since then he’s become an established academic in the field of education theory. The divisive public figure visited campus on Monday to debate market-based school reform with the YPU, and sat down with WKND to talk politics and activism in America.

    Q: What are the biggest problems in the American education system?

    A: The biggest problem we’re facing in education mirrors the problems we’re facing in society — inequality, unequal access and a sense of despair among masses of people that their lives can be meaningful and purposeful. What we’re facing in education is a well-funded, corporate movement that is doing nothing to alleviate problems facing children of color and children of the poor. The corporate school reform movement is doubling down on all the features that have created the failing schools in the first place — an obsession with standardized testing and an obsession with obedience and conformity, rather than initiative, creativity and imagination.

    They have a sense that control is a way to get poor kids to learn rather than experience and a breadth of opportunities. I feel like we’re in a very backwards moment in schools right now. In spite of the fact that the corporate school reformers have had the big megaphone, much money and bipartisan support for 25 years, they still don’t have buy-in from parents, communities or educators.

    Q: What do you mean by “buy-in”?

    A: Across the country there’s a growing movement of parents involved in what’s called the opt-out movement. In New York state last spring, the largest civil disobedience in the history of history of the U.S. happened when 20% of parents kept their kids home rather than allow them to take standardized tests … I think people have had it. They feel that the privileged don’t do this to their kids, so why do the rest of us have to play this high-stakes, relentless game? People are fed up with it, and they should be.

    Q: In an interview with the media outlet “Truthout” you said, “We’re living in the darkest times for teachers that I’ve ever seen in my life.” Could you expand?

    A: What I mean is that teachers have come to represent all the problems of urban education in common discourse. It’s not only untrue and deeply unfair, but it drives people away from the profession. The assumption that teachers are causing the failure in urban schools is patently false and demonstrably false. It’s absurd. Any time a politician says, “We need to get the lazy, incompetent teachers out of the classroom,” everyone nods dully. But that’s the wrong frame [of mind].

    Q: I want to make a transition to talk explicitly about politics. How would you define your political views?

    A: As an educator, I’ve spent my whole life opposing labels. I’ve resisted any notion that you can sum me up with some of my politics in an easy way. If you were to insist on labeling me, when it comes to economics, I’m a socialist. When it comes to government, I’m a bit of an anarchist. When it comes to [the] First Amendment I’m a fundamentalist. I think labels are weak and lazy, and they don’t capture the complexity of what it means to be a First Amendment fundamentalist that is also a socialist, anarchist and communist. But I am all of those things. At 18 I thought of myself as an anarchist communist, and I still am, but that doesn’t tell you where I land.

    I’ve been very active not only in education reform but also in the peace movement. I think we live in a war nation and a militaristic nation. You can see it everywhere, except that we’ve become so accustomed to it. You don’t see it because you’re in it. All the pseudo-patriotism, the marching of military people in sporting events, the ROTC in high schools — this is all a terrible, terrible development for our country. The fact that you spend a trillion dollars on the military and pretend we cannot fund schools is a catastrophe.

    Q: What is your response to allegations that you committed terrorism?

    A: It’s not true. It’s interesting how that word gets bandied about in a way that covers a multitude of charges and sins. The kid who killed people in Charleston — the FBI couldn’t figure out how to charge him as a terrorist, but his act was pure terrorism. What we [Weather Underground] did was to destroy government property, commit acts of extreme vandalism without terrorizing anyone. We were trying to raise a screaming alarm about a terrorist war. Six-thousand people a week were being killed by our government, with no end in sight. How do you interrupt that? You go to demonstrations, you write letters, you get arrested, you create civil disobedience, you build a nonviolent peace movement. We did all of that and the war went on. What we did was to raise a screaming alarm. Our rhetoric was excessive, as was the rhetoric of many people. It was no different from what the Catholic Left or the Black Panthers were doing.

    While I regret many things in my life, I regret nothing about what I did to oppose the government’s genocide in Vietnam. That was a war of terror. John McCain and John Kerry committed acts of terrorism. John Kerry even came back and told the Senate “We commit war crimes every day as an act of policy, not choice.” That was a true reading of what was going on. How do you stop your country from committing genocide? No one really knows. That whole narrative blew up because no one could figure out how to run against Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton started it all by saying we don’t know who this guy is and he has sketchy friends (myself). I like to think that his association with me got him elected.

    Q: What do you think of President Obama’s term in office? In what ways has it disappointed you?

    A: Great men don’t change history; great movements change history. Barack Obama is exactly who he said he was when he ran for president. He said, “I’m a moderate, middle-of-the-road, pragmatic politician.” I did know him back then, and his record in Illinois reflects this. The right wing looked at him through 2008 and today as a secret Muslim and secret socialist with black nationalist tendencies, and the left saw him as winking in my direction. He wasn’t, and his record shows that. Many liberals were disappointed, but I’m neither a liberal nor disappointed.

    Q: What issues do you see with the American Left?

    A: I don’t see much of a left. I see the Democratic Party as one of the two greatest war parties that ever existed in history. Even calling them parties is in many ways misdirecting; they’re collections of factions that align and realign. What they all agree is that Wall Street should be mainly unfettered because that’s where wealth and prosperity come from. And they all agree that the Pentagon should call the shots when it comes to policy around war and resources.

    Q: What about with new left social movements?

    A: When it comes to movements, like Black Lives Matter or the queer rights movement, I think the difficult challenge is to create … a large social movement that can fundamentally transform society. Learning to talk together like this is a revolutionary act. I think that the Black Lives Matter people in conversation with [the] feminist movement in conversation with the queer upsurge are very hopeful. If you look at Black Lives Matter in Chicago, or Black Youth Project 100 or We Charge Genocide, they very much are composed of all kinds of people, but they’re driven by an ideology that is queer-informed black liberation. I think that’s a very hopeful thing. The queer movement has been so exciting because they’ve shown people a different way to organize, not hierarchical but much more horizontal. And the Black Lives Matter people take that very seriously. In Black Lives Matter, leadership is much more diffuse and the organization is leaderful, not leaderless.

    Q: Could you use one word to describe Republican presidential debates?

    A: Comical or tragic. Comatragic. It’s a rabid racist statement to the bottom.

    Q: One word to describe Donald trump?

    A: Megalomaniac.

    Q: Would you like to see Bernie Sanders as a new left candidate?

    A: I think it’s great that Bernie Sanders is exciting people. William Sapphire said the other day that Bernie Sanders is no more a socialist than George Bush, and he had a point. If by socialism you mean public works and social security, the whole government is socialist in that sense, but they’re not really socialist in asking to end exploitation of capitalism or share the wealth.

    Socialism is a common view, and the fact that Bernie Sanders is speaking about wage inequality and war and peace is good. I don’t think he’s clear on questions of race and racism. I don’t think he’s bringing that to the table nor excites a base that could be important to him.

    Q: Movements advocating fossil fuel divestment have arisen on many campuses. In April, 19 students at Yale were arrested after holding a sit-in that advocated divestment. What are your thoughts on fossil fuel divestment and what would you say to the Yale administration?

    A: I’m not close enough to it to be an interventionist, but I’m very supportive from afar of these students. There’s really a clash of ideas [as to] what the university should be. In this clash, there are always forces that say it’s an institution that has to raise money and have good business practices. Then there are these students, who tend to think the main things to emphasize about the university are intellectual freedom and high moral standing. If you want to be intellectually free and have moral standing, then investment in the war industry, the fossil fuel industry and apartheid is unjust. The world knows it’s unjust.

    How can Yale be a fair player or good place for students to be if it’s entangled with the worst aspects of our country? It’s easy to side with students, because there’s an expression wanting a free and moral space of learning. Students don’t want a business that’s invested in the bottom line and don’t think [Yale] should cash in on slave labor to make a nice building. If I said to the Yale administration, “If you could make extra money by investing in modern-day slavery, would you do it?” They would say, “Absolutely not.” Where do we draw the line? What won’t they invest in? I would like the university to be more moral, more honest, and more forthright, as well as a freer space for inquiry without being bothered by mobile oil or the rest of it.

    Q: What is your advice to students interested in grassroots activism?

    A: I’m at the point in my life where I want to follow them rather than advise them. I don’t feel like I’m a wise elder. I’m so perfectly happy to go to Black Lives Matter protests and sit in the back and follow the kids. What I do know is that if you want to lead a politically engaged life, a moral life, or be an honest intellectual, you have to follow a certain rhythm. You have to be willing to open your eyes, not once or twice, but constantly, and try to make sense of everything in front of you. Since we live in an infinite and expanding world, you can never open your eyes enough. We should be astonished at the beauty of the world but also at the injustices. We should be outraged, and then we should act. The one thing I do regret about the 60s and 70s and my participation is the failure to rethink. If you go out and act, you have to judge what you learned from that and go back to the beginning.

  2. Are you DOWN?

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    On Wednesday evening around half past nine, students began to arrive at the Native American Cultural Center. As they settled into place — shaking off the rain, dropping their bags and taking their seats around the long conference table — the group began to catch up on the usual things: the events of the week, how (not) prepared they were finals, events they were excited about.

    In many ways, this was just a routine meeting of a Yale student group. But judging from the handful of students who had arrived early, it was clear this was a particularly active crowd. Those who weren’t wearing shirts from other student organizations had political stickers embellishing their laptops, or orange badges pinned to their backpacks in support of Fossil Free Yale. Despite their extensive involvement in other movements, the students present did have one thing in common: They were all DOWN.

    DOWN, short for “Defining Our World Now,” is at once a publication and a movement of its own. As an online weekly written by and for students of color at Yale, it covers many topics — from police brutality to the need for an Asian American Studies department at Yale. But beyond that, it brings together activists and journalists in a forum that, prior to this year, never existed.

    With her back to the table, Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Spenst ’18 wrote the unifying title on the board in big dry-erase letters: DOWN, with a downward-pointing arrow traveling through the “O.”

    “That’s our new logo,” she said, satisfied.

    Defining Yale Differently

    DOWN has a multifaceted mission, but according to Eshe Sherley ’16, co-managing editor and one of the magazine’s creators, it addresses a need that has long existed in Yale’s communities of color.

    “Students were saying, ‘We don’t have a space to talk about our issues, we don’t have a space to discuss what it’s like to be a person of color at Yale,’” Sherley told me. “It was really born from listening to that and saying, ‘Well, maybe we should create that space.’”

    For that reason, Sherley said, she sees herself as a facilitator, rather than a founder, of DOWN.

    Still, despite her efforts to minimize her role in the magazine’s creation, it was Sherley’s vision for a publication like DOWN that encouraged her former English professor, Briallen Hopper, to connect her with other writers on campus.

    “When she mentioned she was applying for funding to start a magazine by and for students of color, I was thrilled,” Hopper said. “This forum is one that has been needed for a very long time, and it’s been marvelous to see it come to fruition.”

    Hopper, who taught both Sherley and Spenst in different years, said she knew Spenst would be a good match for Sherley’s publication, and, after reading Spenst’s essays on race, knew she needed to connect the two.

    All it took was one meeting for Sherley to offer Spenst the position of editor in chief.

    “It just made sense,” said Sherley. “Our model is much more collaborative than the usual top-down structure. And kind of by accident, having a freshman as editor in chief makes that more true.”

    Building Bridges

    When Karléh Wilson ’16 came to Yale as a freshman, she decided not to attend Cultural Connections, the pre-orientation program available for freshman students of color. Concerned that she might have to choose between her racial identities as both an African American and Creek Indian , Wilson felt uncomfortable, and unsure whether anyone would understand her mixed racial identity.

    “I didn’t know who would accept the fact that I was black Creek and not just black,” Wilson said.

    Upon her arrival at Yale, Wilson mostly stuck to the friendships she had formed within the varsity track team. It was only later, when she overheard two students talking about being Native American, that she discovered the community of the NACC.

    For Wilson, who now writes for DOWN, the publication’s most important function is bringing together different cultural communities within Yale. She sees the necessity of a publication that extends beyond the bounds of any one cultural house.

    “Whenever I speak about my experiences [within DOWN], people are giving weight to everything I say,” Wilson said. “It’s not taken as a stereotype — it’s taken as Karléh’s experiences.”

    For DOWN’s other writers and editors, the magazine’s intersectionality — its willingness to address issues at the intersection of race, class and gender, rather than treating those identifiers separately — is one of its biggest strengths.

    Sebastian Medina-Tayac ’16, who serves alongside Sherley as a managing editor of DOWN, pointed to the  diversity of the magazine’s staff as proof of its commitment to connecting communities of color at Yale.

    “You can’t get anywhere without that unity,” said Medina-Tayac. “If we put our voices together, we allow ourselves not to identify just as black or Latino or Native, but as DOWN. You can be white and ‘DOWN with it.’ It’s deeply tied to the recognition of how all of our issues are similar.”

    A part of DOWN’s desire for unity, Medina-Tayac said, is born from a similar movement among campus activists: to amplify student voices by bridging gaps that separate marginalized groups.

    Unite Yale, the organization this movement gave rise to, is, according to its Facebook page, “a coalition of student groups organizing to build student power and solidarity.” Many of DOWN’s board members, including Medina-Tayac, were involved in the formation of Unite Yale. They point to it as one sign of an increasingly intersectional and cooperative activist community on campus.

    “This year, a lot of people who care about activism really came together, became friends and started inviting each other every time there’s an activist thing to go to,” said Wilson. “We all have different political ideologies, but any activist movement needs publication to tell people why they should care about it. Now we have that platform to write about why we care, and why others should, too.”

    Making a Statement

    DOWN intends to be a forum for articles of several genres, including opinion pieces, personal essays and reported journalism. By bringing together disparate styles and topics, the magazine will not only be a place for discussion and sharing, but will also become a source for local social justice news.

    Establishing this common ground — somewhere between activism and hard journalism — has been an organic process, even though DOWN is still finding its balance.

    “We’re still sort of trying to figure out what it means to occupy that space,” Sherley said. “We don’t want to be preachy. No one wants to read that, and we all actually have very different views.”

    In fact, the desire for an alternative news source on campus, especially one that pays attention to race issues at Yale and in New Haven, was one of the major motivations for starting DOWN. Members of DOWN’s staff perceived a gap in the coverage of issues that matter to them.

    “Unfortunately, because a lot of publications on campus are primarily white, the people who decide the publications’ content aren’t attuned to issues that affect people of color,” said Sarah Bruley ’17.

    DOWN attempts to address the whiteness of Yale’s publications scene in its statement of purpose. Due to “the lack of inclusivity and respect for writers of color and the issues about which they are passionate,” Sherley and Medina-Tayac write, “many students of color [at Yale] choose not to write at all.”

    Beyond the desire for a publication that covers the topics students of color care about, Medina-Tayac emphasized the role of DOWN in removing the barriers that currently discourage students of color from engaging in campus journalism.

    Medina-Tayac, who wrote for the News as a sophomore, said that, as is the case with many older Yale institutions, publications like the News tend to lack diversity — racial and otherwise. Socioeconomic status, for example, often determines which extracurricular activities a student is able to pursue.

    From personal experience, said Medina-Tayac, the commitment that an organization like the News demands of its members can deter students who need to carve out time for a student job.

    “I don’t blame writers of color for not being able to write as much for the existing publications,” he said. “What DOWN really came out of is the need for students of color to write. And now we’re writing by our own effort.”

    A New Generation of Student Writers

    For DOWN, the future depends heavily on the magazine’s ability to encourage and teach its writers.

    More than just ensuring that students of color have a forum where their voices can be heard, Medina-Tayac said that DOWN’s biggest job is mentorship.

    “A lot of these students come from more difficult public school backgrounds, where writing might not be emphasized. So by saying we accept anything, we really do a huge service to aspiring writers on our campus,” said Medina-Tayac. “When I edit, I’m teaching. The privilege I have of coming from the [News] is that I can share that with our writers.”

    DOWN’s young leaders stand to gain the most from this emphasis on mentorship. Of the dozen members of the Executive Board, half are freshmen.

    “A week ago, I would have said I want to see more contributors, more articles, building our audience, that kind of stuff,” said Sherley. “But right now, I want us to become the editing resource our students of color need us to be. That’s the resource I hope DOWN becomes, and I hope it’s sustainable, so we can come back five years from now and see it’s still working.”

    As for its freshmen leadership, editors like Oscar Garcia-Ruiz ’18 are optimistic about the future of the magazine, but emphasize that the magazine should stay true to its roots.

    In addition to wanting the magazine to become a recognized presence, Garcia-Ruiz “[wants] to see it stay a close, tight-knit group of people.”

    DOWN is also a third thing. In addition to being both a publication and an integral part of the activist movements on campus, it is a society of friends.

    The project has taken a lot of work, but for Medina-Tayac it’s well worth it. “There are lots of late nights editing,” he said, smiling. “It’s been a big year.”

  3. What We Talk About When We Talk About Activism

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    Barbara Smith is a black feminist, scholar, writer and sociopolitical powerhouse who has spent decades advocating for marginalized communities. Yesterday she came to Yale to give a master’s tea in Pierson College, where she touched on issues of activism and intersectionality. WKND sat down with Ms. Smith to talk history, race relations, and LGBTQ issues in America.

    Q: In some of your past interviews, you mention how exposure to Black female literature greatly impacted your academic, political and social work. Could you explain more about that?

    A: After attending Mount Holyoke College, I entered graduate school. My motivation for going to grad school was that I wanted to teach African-American literature, which was virtually not taught in universities in those days. Not even in historically Black colleges and universities. One of the first courses that I took was a seminar in Women’s literature. And just like African-American literature and studies, Women’s studies and literature was barely available. The person who taught the course was obviously innovative, but there were no women of color in the entire syllabus. Later, I had found out that Alice Walker was teaching a course on Black Women’s Literature at Wellesley College because I was a subscriber to Ms. Magazine. So I wrote to Alice Walker and asked if I could audit her course. That was the opportunity to be exposed to more Black women writers. People mostly associate me with helping to establish Black women’s studies in the U.S. and to build [the] Black feminist movement in the U.S. during the 1960s and 1970s. I went to become the co-founder of the Kitchen Table Press, a major publisher of stories by women of color.

    Q: What about your activism during the Civil Rights Movement? And the changes and issues within it? What were your feelings at that moment?

    A: It was exciting to come of age during the most dynamic periods — socially and politically — in U.S. history. As Black people living in the North [Ms. Smith was born in Cleveland], it was all impacting us. Especially the focus on Selma in the spring of 1965. I had graduated from high school with my twin sister, Beverly. We were anticipating going to college, but due to my age I was fully aware of the activism in the South. We were also paying attention to what was going on there because our family had moved from Georgia. When we began building the black women’s movement, we were exhilarated to find and work with other people who also thought that Black women were of value, were capable and that there was no need for us to be afterthoughts. There was a lot of sexism in the Civil Rights Movement and even more in the Black Power and Black Nationalist movements. For very alert, young Black women, that wasn’t working for us.

    Q: What were the results of challenging those movements’ sexism?

    A: We experienced a large amount of pushback, defamation and marginalization from the mainstream. There were people who were so radical about confronting racism, yet they saw us as race traitors for talking about sexism. We worked on a variety of women’s health issues, particularly sterilization abuse, which mostly affects Black, Latina and indigenous women. And women who had cognitive disabilities. The state thought they could control their reproductive capacities and rights. We also brought attention to violence towards women. And you can still see that attention to violence against women in newspapers right now, with what’s going on in these campus fraternities. The more things change, the more these issues are out in the open.

    Q: Has there been any radical change in feminist thought and advocacy since the 1960s and 1970s, from your perspective?

    A: There have always been different strains of politics. Everyone who says that they’re a feminist doesn’t necessarily believe the same things and have the same values as another person. There are mainstream and bourgeois feminists whose major concern is that they need to get paid the same as a man, they need to have as much power as a man and do things that men do. And then there are people who say that we need to look at the intersection of race, gender, class, sexual orientation and gender identity, then figure out how our politics are based on those things. I was one of the first people who began to talk about an intersectional perspective and how we understand our political and personal lives. I was a part of an organization, the Combahee River Collective, and we wrote a statement in 1977 that was one of the first, strongest and most analytical articulations of intersectional politics. A lot of people use the word, but not many know where it came from.

    Q: This mainstream brand of feminism, as you call it, could be seen as not enough.

    A: It’s still quite popular. We have that term “lean in,” and the book which became a mega-bestseller for Sheryl Sandberg. That is a way of understanding what women’s position is that doesn’t necessarily have depth. What if you are simultaneously a person of color, a woman and you don’t have economic or class privilege? This conversation occurred at this year’s Academy Awards when Patricia Arquette — an actor I love — talked about pay equity. But she went on to say that White women had done so much for people of color and gay people, so it was time they help them in return. Hello! Has she never thought that there are people who are simultaneously [all of] those things? It made no sense. Besides, pay equity mostly affects women who don’t earn a lot of money. It’s not people who are the top of the pay pyramids most affected by pay equity. The vast majority of people who make minimum wage are women, and that’s where pay equity hits.

    Some people are articulating these narrow thoughts of feminism, as opposed to a deeper understanding of feminism and politics from an intersectional perspective. But I will say that it’s much more acceptable for women of color to be out as feminists now than back then. Now, Beyoncé can perform at the music awards and have “feminist” in sky-high letters behind her and still be the queen of us all. I think she’s made statements about her understanding of feminism and I think that she has more depth than some of the other manifestations we’ve been talking about. That’s interesting and unique. And the fact that “Selma” was directed by a black woman [Ava DuVernay] — that was powerful. In her film, the women are visible. There were women portrayed in that film that I didn’t even know about. Like the local women from Selma — I didn’t know about them.

    Q: And what of activism today? Are we more active now, or more apathetic?

    A: The majority of people of my generation were not involved in making dynamic political and social change. People who have that level of commitment and courage have never been the majority. So, don’t think that in the 1960s and 1970s that on an entire campus like Yale’s everybody was out supporting the Black Panthers or something. As far as today, I feel encouraged and impressed that the demonstrations around the verdicts in Ferguson and Long Island are happening. They seem more inclusive, when before there were such strict lines and lanes. People are more willing to be more accepting of diversity. Although I do know that the women who started “Black Lives Matter” feel that their work has been appropriated and have spoken out about that. But as someone who is an elder, I feel very inspired by young people speaking out. And people working across generations. I don’t know about the nuts and bolts of what could be done better. I’ve heard from younger activists that there needs to be more specific demands. Like, what besides “Don’t Shoot” or “Black Lives Matter”? What else are you demanding from the power structure?

    Q: You’ve never shied away from presenting yourself as not just a Black feminist, but as a lesbian Black feminist. What sort of positive changes have you seen in regard to LGBTQ support, and what else can be improved upon?

    A: One change I’ve seen is how President Obama and his views have evolved. Of course, I heard that he was never opposed to lesbian and gay marriage, but, politically, he couldn’t come out with that. That the first black president is also the first president of any race to openly support gay, lesbian and transgender people is wonderful. And then we see in “Empire,” my favorite show these days, a character is gay and his mother is fiercely supportive of him. I see the changes. For me, being visibly out in this country during the 1970s — well, I’ve paid a lot of dues for that. But I’ve seen results.

    One of the things that can be improved upon, I would say, is that we should see the intersectionality in LGBTQ issues. When you look at class, race, gender in relation to LGBTQ identity you begin to see the complexity of what true freedom and justice look like. There was a report issued from the Center of American Progress late last year. It looks at housing discrimination, employment discrimination, poverty, health care discrimination, and on and on. it’s a nuanced and thoroughly researched document about what besides and above marriage we need to be concerned about. We need to understand that the LGBTQ community isn’t just about White, affluent, gay men on TV or in magazines. They’re a part of the community, too, but their experience does not subsume those of us who have multiple identities. The fact is that trans women of color are the most likely to be living poverty, to be incarcerated, to be the subject of hate crimes including murders. Marriages aren’t going to solve hate crimes, transphobia and homophobia. There’s more to LGBTQ freedom than marriage. We must continue to keep plugging away. Still it’s remarkable for me, coming out a few years after Stonewall, that a majority of the states now have marriage equality. We weren’t even thinking about that then. We were trying to stop Anita Bryant!

  4. The Politics of Pop Music: Slava Vakarchuk

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    Slava Vakarchuk is a modern ‘renaissance man.’ Frequently called Ukraine’s #1 pop star, he is the lead singer and front-man of Okean Elzy, Ukraine’s most successful post-Soviet rock band. He has also had political influence in his country, participating in both the Orange Revolution of 2004 and 2013-14’s Maidan Movement. He has worked as a goodwill ambassador for the UN’s Development Programme, and served in the Ukrainian parliament briefly from 2007-08 (he resigned because of qualms with the political system). He also has a Ph.D in theoretical physic, and donated his earnings to charity after winning the Ukrainian “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”

    In between stadium concerts for his band’s world tour, Vakarchuk visited campus to lead the discussion “Physics, Revolution, and Rock & Roll: Reflections on Today’s Ukraine.” WKND caught him for a few minutes before he jetted off: presumably to perform to another sold-out crowd, write another album, or save the world.

    Q: What made you pursue rock music professionally, since you also have a background in physics and politics?

    A: When I was 19 and a student, I just kind of popped up in a recording room. And that was it — I got hooked. While I was a physics student, I began singing, but I wasn’t thinking, just yet, of treating it as a career. It was as I was doing my Ph.D work that we started to get more success. But I decided to continue with my work, and I got my Ph.D; by the time I finally got it, I was already famous, and then I stopped. I don’t know if I’d say I needed the physics — well, that’s not true. I think it has helped me to think. I think that training does help me think through matters logically.

    Q: If you were already famous, what made you decide to go back and follow through with that degree?

    A: It made me uneasy! The idea of not completing something I’d started — that’s who I am. I finish things out, and I follow through. I wasn’t going to leave something undone.

    Q: What kind of political power do you find in music?

    A: You know, I don’t try to spin out political messages with my music. Some of our fans have extremely different views on politics than I do, and they still like listening to our music. Other people feel just the same way about politics as I do, and they’ve never heard one of our songs. These things don’t have to go together. But I will say that most of our listeners seem to care about what’s going on in our country, and I’ll connect that back to what’s happening with our society more generally. It’s important to me to be engaged politically, but that’s more related to who I am as a person. You can be political and make political statements without being a politician, and that’s especially true of celebrities. When I make good music, I’m making myself happy. The songs themselves aren’t sending these same political messages that I talk about outside of my music. I find both of those things to be important to me, extremely important to me. But they are different, and they should be.

    Q: So Okean Elzy has been together for 20 years. Over that time, what have been the biggest changes in Ukrainian music and politics that you all have witnessed or experienced?

    A: When we started, the music scene lined up with the Soviet scene. We as a band have definitely evolved: We got more experimental for a while, had an album with dance elements, sort of ‘cleaned up’ our sound for a couple of albums, and most recently we’ve gone for a more ‘natural’ sound. It’s always an exploration, I think. And then [regarding changes in] politics: Well, it goes to the leadership. For years — if you look at the years of our band, and the political leaders at that very same time, you can see it: Ukraine has not had the best leadership, to put it mildly [laughs]. As we talked about earlier today, Ukraine is like the Israelites and we’ve been wandering in the desert for years. There’s almost a generational turnover that hasn’t quite materialized yet. But, as I said, it’s up to Ukrainian society to deal with this. Getting frustrated is not the answer, without individual action. And, with the Maidan, that’s what’s been happening: people taking action.

    Q: Related to that action — you mentioned, earlier today, the daily violence going on in Ukraine. How do you think that physical violence has changed the way Ukrainians feel about their nation and civic engagement?

    A: I think it’s really defined three camps: people who care a little, people who care a lot, and people who don’t care at all. And that last camp has gotten so much smaller, necessarily. Of course, some people will always be indifferent, but there are far fewer of them now. And then the number of those people who really care, who are standing up and making noise and trying to make change, that number is really growing.

    Q: And that’s a good thing, yes?

    A: Yes, certainly, of course. There is no other way for a country to change, except through those people. You know, it’s interesting, and I think hard for some other nations to understand: what we’re going through now, you guys went through 250 years ago. It’s a revolution towards our independence.

    Q: If it were up to you, what would you say ought to be the next step in creating positive political change in Ukraine?

    A: There needs to be movements from the bottom-up and the top-down. You need society to make an effort to change itself, and you need strong, authoritative leaders who will really make things happen even when there’s resistance. I think the first way — bottom-up — has already started happening. When you see something like the Maidan, you see [the bottom up movement]. And that came from a place of being pushed, you know? That was after a series of decisions — and, like I said, reporters ask me all the time to logically explain why those decisions were made, and I honestly can’t do it — and it just brought this disappointment to the surface, and that disappointment evolved into something more like frustration, and has caused people to really make changes they want to see. We’ve been improving the way we engage with politics. Society has been improving itself. The second way, top-down, is tougher. I think we have a ways to go, there. It’s harder to achieve. And, honestly, I’m not sure I can say for sure what the very next step is, for us to get to that kind of authority.

    Q: You spoke earlier about Western engagement, and said something a little controversial: You don’t think the West has any obligation whatsoever to engage in, or even care about, the Ukraine crisis.

    A: Yeah, I know that’s not always the most expected or popular stance. But it’s important to me: I don’t expect anything from anybody. It would be, as I said, humiliating to travel the world and almost, you know, beg for help, or whine. I so strongly believe that any change that has to happen in Ukraine must come from within Ukraine itself. I got to where I am on my own — no European Union, no American weapons, no NATO. People in Ukraine have been waiting for a “messiah” figure to come and fix everything, and to them I say, “Make your own contribution.” No one can or should fix things for you but you. It’s possible, I say, to make happen whatever it is that you want to make happen. But you have to do it. You can’t just wait for someone else to come do it for you. Help yourself first. Now, as I also said — and this is cynical, but here you are — helping Ukraine is helpful to everyone. “Tipping point” really is a great phrase for it. The powers that are pushing up against each other in Ukraine affect many nations and societies. So, in that sense, it’s worth getting engaged: Get engaged for yourself, not for other people.

    Q: So what, then, has made you get so engaged in politics over time?

    A: I feel I’m paying my dues to my country; and it’s not because I have to, it’s because I want to. It’s the place where I was born and raised and I want the best for it.

  5. KATHLEEN CLEAVER: A Black Panther Turned Bulldog

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    Unapologetic in her efforts to abolish systematic injustice, Kathleen Cleaver ’84 LAW ’89 has long been a leader in radical political circles. As a Barnard college student, she became inspired to join in the work of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a youth-dominated initiative that became one of the key civil rights organizations during the 1960’s. In 1967, she met and married Eldridge Cleaver, one of the first leaders of the Black Panther Party.  Attracted to their Black Power ideology, Cleaver then joined the Black Panther ranks and moved to San Francisco, committed to eradicating the injustices that she continued to witness. Targeted by the FBI for their involvement with the Panthers, both Cleavers fled the United States. Eldridge Cleaver fled first to Cuba, which Kathleen thought would be her eventual stopping point. Unforeseen circumstances led them both to Algeria, where they would spend four years in exile, leading the international section of the Black Panther Party. At the age of 32, Cleaver decided to re-enroll as an undergraduate at Yale, with the goal of attending law school upon receiving her degree. At the age of 34, Cleaver attended Yale Law School. Since then, she has dedicated herself to teaching, as a lecturer at Emory Law School, a public policy professor at Sarah Lawrence College and an African-American Studies Professor at Yale College. The exhibit “The Bulldog and Panther: The May Day Rally and Yale” honoring the work of the Black Panthers in New Haven is currently displayed at Sterling Memorial Library and will be up until Friday May 16. She spoke to WEEKEND about growing up in activist communities and navigating elitist spaces. 

    Q. To start off and get a little bit of background on your upbringing, tell me about your family and your life growing up. 

    A. I was born in Texas and also lived in Alabama and North Carolina. My parents were both college-educated and civil rights activists in their own right, so I grew up in an environment that contributed to my own consciousness of justice. As a child, I grew up traveling with my parents because my father was in the Foreign Service. I knew the South because I had lived there, but did not have ties to the rest of the United States. I lived in India, the Philippines and West Africa. My father’s work was designing projects to elevate peasant farmers, projects dependent on the support of the country. When the president of the Philippines was killed, support for the project was withdrawn and we had to move. Being abroad I was able to see firsthand and understand that no necessity existed for the white supremacist regime that existed in the United States.

    Q. You mention that your parents were civil rights activists themselves. How did that impact your own decision to enter the movement?

    A. Well, first, my mother was a schoolteacher and protested segregated schools during the pre-Brown era, but this was in the 1930s before World War II and before there was hysteria surrounding possible involvement in communist movements. Activity eventually shifted to younger people.

    In 1963, I saw high school girls my age protesting against the denial of the right to vote for blacks in Georgia. They were getting arrested for their nonviolent demonstrations and went to jail singing Freedom songs. I was so inspired by their bravery; they attracted me to the idea of nonviolent resistance and following up the resistance of the students who did sit-ins at lunch counters, protesting the denial of the right to be seated at lunch counters.  Back then you could shop in the five- and ten-cent stores, and order food to go, but not sit down at the counter and eat it. Students challenged the system, and sat down in the seats anyway, in a series of actions across the South. They became the basis of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), the organization I eventually joined in 1966.

    SNCC is difficult to capture in history because it did not have a ‘figurehead’ to write about, but gained the highest respect from activists, from black youth, from the students across the country. Do you know about James Forman?

    Q. No, I don’t think I know who he is.

    A. Exactly. He was the executive director of SNCC, but that organization functioned on a different plane to the one which the news media understood. It ran differently. It was a movement of people generating mass mobilization, but there was no figurehead. Being a leader under this arrangement has a different type of commitment — one for all, all for one — the stakes were higher, anyone might get shot, or arrested, or injured. You could be killed.

    Q. You were in Algeria for four years. Can you talk a little about your experience there?

    A.Eldridge was a fugitive, which is why we were there in the first place. We were leading the international section of the Black Panther Party, leading solidarity committees. Algeria was one of the only places in Africa with extensive access to the press. It was an outpost and facilitator of solidarity for the Black Panther Party.

    Q. How have you navigated elitist spaces (Yale, Yale Law) and manipulated them for the empowerment of your community?

    A. My experience at Yale probably did not mold me as it might have done an 18-year-old; I came to Yale when I was 36. I had more ties to the faculty than a typical undergraduate student might, and I also had more ties to the local community since my two children were attending New Haven public school while I went to college. Yale was a different place when I was here: there was more a carryover from the politics of the ’70s. Income inequality was not as extreme as it is today. Today the students seem to be either from more wealthy or far below wealth, [there aren’t] as many middle class kids as there used to be.

    It was the ’80s, when Reagan announced he was a candidate for President he did it in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Why did he do that, when he was the Governor of California?  What had happened in Philadelphia, Mississippi — it was the murder of the three civil rights workers — Andrew Goodman, James Cheney and Mickey Schwerner. To announce his candidacy there was to align himself with the white supremacist attitudes of Philadelphia, Mississippi. He took an anti-civil rights stance.  I wanted to finish my college education so I could apply to law school, I wanted to do what I had seen Charles Garry — the San Francisco attorney who defended the Black Panthers — do. He was a brilliant, charismatic and highly effective criminal defense attorney. I wanted to know what he knew, and I came to Yale to be able to finish my B.A. and enroll in law school, which I did at Yale.

    Q. For those interested in furthering the causes that you and the Panthers had worked towards advancing, what advice would you give? Do you think that it’s possible to have a movement like that re-emerge? 

    A. I am not sure if such a movement could happen during this time. The Black Panthers were a product of their time. During the emergence of the Panthers, the Vietnam War was happening, and that caused great social unrest. It is hard to start a movement when everyone involved is either imprisoned or has been assassinated. The Panthers have been demonized. I am not sure if there are enough young people who would be aware enough to start such an initiative. Young people today are not being educated in public schools. The prison industrial complex is trapping them. These things happen in waves, so we’ll just have to wait. But I’d like to end on a positive note: I would like to see a day in which the political climate of intimidation and repression dissolves into one rectifying injustice and enhancing social well-being.

  6. Resisting War

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    While Yale students toiled away during the last days of midterms, concerned simultaneously with overdue papers and last-minute spring break planning, WEEKEND met up with three individuals with very different concerns. Joan Cavanagh, Paula Panzarella and Frank Panzarella, three peace activists living in New Haven, talked to us about their history as anti-war protesters, their weekly Sunday Vigil near Broadway and how they see the future of peace activism in the country.

    Q. What was your first act of protest or activism?

    PP. I think my first activism in New Haven was in the 60s, at the time of the Black Panthers.

    FP. We’ve been activists for a long time.

    JC. We’ve been alive for a long time!

    FP. My first activism was against the bombing of Cambodia.

    JC. I think my first activism was against the bombing of Cambodia in 1973, in Maryland. In Connecticut, there were movements in the 80s against the US government’s involvement in Central America, supporting the regime in El Salvador, and then the anti-apartheid movement at Yale.

    Q. Could you talk more about that movement?

    FP. Yeah. In 1986, we built shanties in the Beinecke Plaza, and they stayed there for two years. They were occupied by Yale students.

    CV. It was a call for divestment of Yale funds in South Africa. We were also involved in the anti-nuclear weapons movement, especially against Trident.

    Q. When did the Sunday Vigil start?

    JC. 1999. There had been vigils all over town, since the beginning of the first Gulf War. After the war ended, sanctions were imposed against Iraq, and people continued to vigil against them, because the sanctions were killing people, denying medical care and necessary food supplies. There were also continual aerial bombings, and we were protesting that. But in 1999, there was the invasion of Kosovo, and the Connecticut Peace Coalition formed at that time, specifically to oppose this invasion. And there were branches in Hartford, Middletown and New Haven. The organization, as a statewide entity, was short lived. It dissolved right after the war in Kosovo ended.

    However, the vigils continued. We decided the location on Broadway, Elm and Park Street, was a very good place to talk about the devastation of the sanctions on Iraq. So we continued with that theme predominantly, because we were aware that war had not ended. The vigil continued from then on.

    Of course, then Bush came into power, and then there was 9/11, and the invasion of Afghanistan, and we continued to oppose that invasion. We also continued to talk about the build-up to the war against Iraq, almost immediately after 2001.

    Q. Was it more controversial to oppose the entry into Afghanistan in 2001 because the invasion had been in response to 9/11?

    JC. There were negative responses and positive responses to our stance. The war was totally about something other than the planes crashing into the World Trade Center. It was used as an excuse, and a lot of people understood that. I mean at that moment, after 9/11, for about a week, the world looked as us with sympathy and empathy, because people across the world have been bombed. They have experienced it and they knew what it felt like. So we were part of the universal community that was appalled by what had happened. And there were vigils and people who did not talk to each other normally were talking to each other, and there was a historic opportunity to really stand in solidarity with the world. Instead, the war-mongering government decided to completely squander that opportunity and start another war.

    FP. The government also conflated it to Iraq, and tried to whip up the most hysterical anti-foreigner feeling that had been seen in years. I mean, even during the first Gulf War, it wasn’t easy because there was so much visceral hatred against anybody who looked vaguely Arab or was from the Middle East. There was really horrible stuff going on, people being beaten up and assaulted. There were a lot of things that we experienced at the time that were horrendous. When 9/11 happened, it was totally exploited by Bush and his cronies, who purposefully made it seem as if it was all one big thing, it was all the same people. Then the same hysteria appeared as in the first Gulf War, and I think the anti-Arab, anti-Middle Eastern bashing only got worse. Of course, there were people who agreed with what we were saying.

    JC. The opposition to the Iraq War of 2003 was immense. There was a huge demonstration in D.C., the largest one ever, I believe.

    PP. All over the world, there were demonstrations. It was in the winter, the beginning of 2003.

    JC. I remember coming home from the demonstration on March 20th and turning on the TV. The bombing had started.

    Q. Were you ever prevented from protesting by the government?

    JC. Well, there were demonstrations in D.C. and then there were also demonstrations in New York. And the ones in New York were particularly challenging because the police put up barricades all over the city. You couldn’t get from Point A to Point B easily, it was very difficult, and the cops were harassing people all over town. I saw less of that in D.C.

    In 2004, there was a huge protest near the Republican National Convention in New York. The war was now being fought but there were a lot of people on the streets. And a group of us from War Resisters, gathered at the site of the former World Trade Center. All we were planning to do was march from there to the site of the Republican National Convention. However, we were arrested, and stayed in jail for 24 hours. They had no reason to arrest us; we had done nothing wrong. I think 1,600 people were arrested, and some held up to 48 hours. Clearly, that was an attempt to preempt protest.

    Q. Throughout the past 10 years, has the membership of the vigil group been consistent, or do people come and go?

    JC. I think during the height of the Gulf War, we had many, many more people. Usually when things heat up in some areas, we have more people. Right now, we are down to three or five people at the weekly vigil.

    Q. Your website’s mission statement contains a specific section about drone warfare. When did that issue become important to you?

    JC. I think it really came into prominence, in my consciousness anyway, towards the end of the Bush administration. They started talking about drone warfare and it was being used in Afghanistan, but then it started widening, and the Obama administration has just escalated it beyond belief. It has become the new mode of warfare. In the last two years, we have done a lot of leafleting about it, because it is something that the American people are either unaware of, or do not want to know about. It’s become our new anonymous way of killing people by remote control. To me it’s the ultimate refinement in the kind of wars that the United States is prepared to fight all over the world. I do not mean refinement in a good way.

    FP. But I think, to me, it started back in Clinton’s time because in those times it wasn’t the technical drones, but it was cruise missiles that were being used from hundreds of miles away. And they could be shot wherever, killing many innocent people.

    JC. Historically, less and less Americans feel the need to be concerned with these wars, and I think it is because of this refinement. To me, it started with Nixon’s secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. As I said, thousands of people were protesting Vietnam because people that we all knew were coming home in boxes. Nixon comes into office, and he changed everything. They slowly took away the ground troops and started bombing.

    FP. They carpet-bombed Cambodia.

    JC. Withdrawal of the ground troops, and then the Paris Peace Accord, made people think that the war was over. It was not. But it became more and more remote from the American experience. Then the draft ended and Americans needed to care even less. Drone warfare is also very cost-effective. They are trying to reduce the cost of war, and this is what we get.

    Q. You talked about increasing apathy within Americans regarding wars abroad. Do you think there are reasons to that besides fewer casualties?

    JC. I think the understanding that you can make a difference through protest is waning. However, these wars are having a tremendous impact on society. Veterans who come back might be living through injuries they wouldn’t have lived through during Vietnam, but the psychological injuries, the mental toll, is insane. In addition, there are people who were exposed to depleted uranium, and that is giving rise to birth defects among the children of returning soldiers.

    FP. And there is the whole psychotic gun culture it has helped amplify within this country. So many veterans are killing themselves; the suicide rate is huge.

    But in another way, I think the culture of protest has shifted to the Internet. Protestors use the Internet to oppose a lot of these things, and have created their own culture. It has burst out in a lot of major events in the world, like Tunisia, Egypt. People are looking for new ways to resist.

    PP. The Occupy Movement really broke through the no-protest culture that was pretty much settled. Occupy took a lot of people’s imagination and bloomed all over the country. It didn’t last but a lot of the connections were being made, of economy, of the war, of no jobs for returning soldiers, no jobs for college students, heavy student loans, etc. There was a lot of flow between people with anti-war sentiments and people who were working for civil rights within this country. I think if this interview had taken place last March, we would not have said that the activism culture within the US has died, because there was one protest going on right at the Green.

    Q. Are you optimistic about the future of activism?

    PP. People are always going to be active. You can’t keep pushing people down.

    FP. Well, I have a different take on that. On the cosmic side, I am an optimist, because the world will survive even if humans don’t. On the human scale, I am not so sure, because I think Mother Nature can take only so much abuse, and we are reaching a point where what we have done to the planet is so egregious that it could be pretty dangerous. My hopes lie in the little kernels of resistance that we see, like Portugal this week, like Egypt, the Occupy movement. I think there are a lot of very bright young people out there who can do a lot. I am astonished at how creative they can be. I also think more countries are resisting the way American foreign policy treats them.

    Q. What would you say that you stand for at the end of the day, as peace activists?

    JC. I think everybody should have the right to live without fear. I think that we have no business killing people for an idea. I think we have no business targeting people for assassinations. I think we should not be fighting wars anywhere. I think we should be working to develop the Marxist system that asks “from everybody according to their abilities, to everybody according to their needs.”

    PP. And also a society with fairness, everybody having the right to a home, to healthcare, to education.

    FP. Yeah, that’s good enough for now.

  7. Come Together, Right Now (Over Yale)

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    Last April, members of two Yale-based activist groups, Students Unite Now (SUN) and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO), marched together as part of a citywide labor rights march. In the now long-lost April sun, they clung to large signs, shouted at the top of their lungs and, in the words of SUN member Yoni Greenwood ’15, helped Yale employees earn “some of their most successful contract negotiations” over the summer.

    SUN and GESO are both at the core of Yale activism. It shows. When interviewed, members of both groups speak to similar themes: the need to bring a larger number of voices to the table with the University, the dangers of blind faith in the whims of Yale administrators and the reconsideration of the University’s relationship with the city of New Haven.

    If you’ve heard of SUN at all, it’s from their vocal involvement — and opposition to the University — in the recent presidential search process. Their efforts began with a bang, featuring campuswide emails and protests during committee meetings, and ended with a whisper, when SUN members learned, through the same campuswide email received by every other Yale student, that Provost Peter Salovey had been appointed. Salovey’s selection by the Yale Corporation caught SUN before the organization had a chance to deliver its petition to open the search.

    “We really had the rug pulled out from us,” admitted SUN leader Sarah Cox ’15. “But that’s really telling. We were succeeding in asking the questions we weren’t supposed to ask.”

    GESO, on the other hand, made its name long ago, having been founded in 1992 to address graduate concerns and, since then, consistently demanding that Yale graduate students be allowed to unionize. The group has embraced tactics ranging from on-campus demonstrations to reporting Yale to the National Labor Relations Board back in 2002.

    Their demands have yet to be met, and they are not abandoning their mission anytime soon. As GESO members Brais Outes-León GRD ’13, a sixth-year Ph.D. candidate in Spanish points out, the organization’s members believe that “the amount of teaching we do is ignored.”

    He pauses.

    “I’ve had to teach a class every day of the week. That’s something the administration doesn’t put forward enough.”

    To that end, Yale’s graduate students have worked together to draw attention to their concerns, in much the same way that members of SUN have.

    This Friday, members of the two organizations will cross paths. The ending of SUN’s first ever all-member meeting coincides with the plenary session of a much larger symposium GESO is organizing over this weekend, titled “The Changing University” and focusing on the ways in which Yale and other institutions can rework themselves to better help the public.

    The problems discussed at the event concern both groups and many SUN members said they plan to attend. But while these two on-campus activist organizations share interests, they resist being described as mirror images. GESO identifies with an academic approach, where SUN is still consolidating its interests into a whole and defining its strategies. And while the groups may come closer to working together, they remain conscious of staying true to their own distinct identities.

    * * *

    As I interviewed Avani Mehta ’15, a visibly enthusiastic member of SUN dressed in a late-era Beatles tee, one phrase stuck out: “Nobody knows what to expect.”

    Mehta has reason to be excited. She and other SUN members eagerly anticipate their largest meeting to date, which will be held today.

    “There’s going to be something really powerful about having that many people in one room,” Mehta said.

    So far, SUN has done pretty well without such a meeting. The group grew out of a set of Yalies who had worked together around the campaign of Ward 1 Alderwoman Sarah Eidelson ’12 in the fall of 2011. Her election effort proved to be a rallying point for undergraduate activists scattered around campus who, after her victory, saw something they could channel into other projects.

    “The question became,” Cox explained, “what are we going to do with that energy?”

    Identifying an answer was difficult, considering that SUN was born out of the ashes of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee (UOC), a similar student group that became defunct just around the time that Eidelson began gathering support.

    The UOC’s successes included orchestrating a series of protests in 2008 that pressured Yale into taking its investments out of HEI, a hotel corporation accused of mistreating its workers. But three years after that campaign, during Cox’s sophomore year, “UOC sort of didn’t really exist,” she explained.

    Why the extinction? According to Ward 1 Democratic Committee Co-Chair Ben Crosby ’14, who had been part of the UOC and is now active in SUN, “there was a distinct set of people who UOC members were talking to”.

    When those people didn’t respond, the action died. Right before that summer, the University announced its plans to increase the student income contribution in financial aid packages. Where the UOC may have protested successfully, students instead saw no organized stand against the policy shift, even once they retuned to campus, Mehta said.

    “When we organize, we win,” she added. “But then we have to sustain that.”

    Recent events have given SUN a chance to act, bringing students to advocate for transparency in the Yale Corporation about the University’s next president and the election of Democrat Chris Murphy to the Connecticut Senate seat once occupied by Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67.

    But as SUN works to consolidate its progress and seize new opportunities to rile up its base, GESO has already accumulated its strength and very clearly defined its identity.

    The organization’s latest conference is “predicated on the idea that academics need to come together,” said Kate Irving GRD ’15, the current GESO chair.

    Outes-León said that the conference provides an opportunity for any attendee to develop a stake in determining — and improving — the universities’ missions.

    “The university would be better if it included more constituencies,” he said. In his view, this symposium is a “positive step to engage the community.”

    To that end, it will include panels on “Academia and the Public Good,” “The University and Its Surrounding Community” and “Work and Careers at the University.”

    (Also, an after-party — the event is run by students, after all.)

    For GESO, talking about these issues is part of placing graduate student concerns on the administration’s docket.

    “We’re very invested in this discussion,” Outes-León said. “We would like to be more at the center and to have more of a say.”

    This has historically been a challenge. GESO members often see their cause and academic ideals more broadly, as easy targets for University stakeholders less interested in conceptions of Yale’s mission, and as pragmatic when it comes to issues such as its budget.

    Recalling how he was drawn to the cause, Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said he “observed … certain tendencies to diminish creative and imaginative space in favor of more corporate interests.”

    What those interests undermine is any chance that GESO’s constituency will see the changes it hopes for. The organization’s belief that the odds are stacked against it is key to its history, its narratives and its contemporary perception of what it can achieve. After two decades of GESO activism, the University shows no sign of coming to closer to accepting GESO as the equivalent of a labor union for graduate students teaching on campus.

    A News report on a February 2011 GESO rally noted that in December 2010, for instance, the group invited Graduate School Dean Thomas Pollard to visit its headquarters. He declined to meet with the organization, pointing that the University does not recognize it as a union, a position it has yet to substantially alter.

    The fight, then, is less to attain a goal than to maintain, and solidify, GESO’s standing. The group works with a number of advocacy organizations around New Haven and has also established ties with graduate student groups at the University of California and other peer institutions. “We’re less interested in the concrete outcome than the process,” Irving said.

    Unlike their undergrad counterpart, they’ve been honing their craft and their pitch for a long time now — they know how to explain themselves.

    And they think long-term, not in response to new developments. For SUN, the presidential search became a raison d’être this past semester. When I asked GESO members whether their symposium was timed to correspond with Salovey’s appointment or the search process, they laughed and said that the event was in planning long before that controversy began.

    “It’s one piece of an ongoing conversation,” Irving said.

    * * *

    Where the groups differ in their approaches, they also differ in their views of each other, and themselves.

    Fueled by academic idealism, GESO has clear goals. When asked about similarities between her group’s mission and that of SUN, Irving pointed out that she doesn’t know SUN’s mission statement and thus can’t compare the two. I offered to give her a summary —and then realized that the undergraduates haven’t decided on one yet.

    As Greenberg was quick to remind me, the lifestyle and concerns of a graduate student aren’t always the same as those of an undergrad. “There’s a unity of purpose in academia that’s very different from the liberal arts approach,” he said.

    One symptom of that is the fact that, in Irving’s words, the challenge for GESO isn’t making the conversation happen among potential supporters — that already exists — “the challenge is making the space.” On this front, the members of SUN, who are still working to make Yale College students take on the role of activists, look up to their graduate partners.

    Mehta spoke of less undergraduate enthusiasm for the same sort of discussion. “It’s not that it’s hard [to get students interested], but that it requires a lot of work. We’re asking students to think about Yale in a different way, which is not traditional.”

    According to Cox, GESO’s expertise can be a model for SUN: “These are scholars, people who think about these issues professionally.”

    That dedication and perceived professionalism has made GESO effective. SUN supporter Kenneth Reveiz ’12, who stayed in New Haven after graduation to work as a school teacher and found an organization called the People’s Art’s Collective, explained that, over its long history, GESO has developed a “solid organizational structure through trial and error.” Part of this has to do with GESO members’ ability to tie their academic interests to their activism work. For Yale undergrads without the same specificity of focus, balance and commitment are more difficult.

    “We have limited time,” says Cox, “We are principally students. It’s hard to fit organizing in with everything else”.

    And yet the members of SUN do, because for them, the act of protest, of organized advocacy, is necessary.

    What will the future of SUN look like? Cox answered, “I don’t know. I don’t think it’s anything that any one or two or three people know.”

    But the hope is that if those two, three or 30 people have a chance to organize and create something, they can build the same strength that a group like GESO has found, on their own terms.