November 2, 2007

Trick or Treat comes early for DC Votes

On a clear, windy morning in downtown Washington DC, the members of DC Votes changed into their halloween costumes a few hours earlier than most trick or treaters in the city. Near the corner of G St. and 41st, just a few blocks away from the White House, the DC Votes crew set up shop in front of Sen. John McCain's office building and put on hippo costumes. No, no, you read that right, hippos. They were there protesting John McCain's filibuster of legislation S. 1257, which would, if passed through the Senate, provide the District with a voting member in the House of Representatives for the first time, well, ever.
"Stop the hippo-crisy!" their signs read, as they paced outside of McCain's office building, turning heads on G St. as they chanted "hippos follow hypocrites!" and "we want democracy, not hypocrisy!" The DC Votes workers' basis for calling McCain a hypocrite seems fairly legitimate. He has supported continuously to send troops to Iraq to spread democracy in a foreign country, while he denies the most basic aspect of democracy, the right to vote, for DC residents. "He voted against even talking about DC voting rights in the Senate," said Kevin Kiger, a DC Votes worker and a District resident.
According to the DC Votes workers this is the first of many protest to come where, hippo costumes or not, other senators will be called out for their stance against DC's right to vote.

Political Debate the American Way

While we often discuss our opinions on political debate within our Dissident Media class, I thought it would be interesting to see what other American University students felt about the upcoming election, political debate, and blogging as a political outlet.

I surveyed thirty students, slightly more girls than boys, which coincides with the ratio at American University. The age range was 18-21, all citizens of age to vote. All of these students had watched a presidential debate on television before, while only eleven follow these debates moderately or closely. Even so, results and news stories that result from these debates greatly affect students; only six people said the presidential debates have absolutely no influence on their ballot in November. The lack of interest in political debates might have to do with young people's perceptions of politicians; only five students feel the majority of candidates are relatable to the average American and not just acting fake in order to get good publicity for their campaign. Opinions were split exactly down the middle over whether the current format for political debate was too structured. It is possible that these students were not informed enough to answer this question though, seeing as barely any regularly follow presidential debates. The general consensus seems to be, at least within this batch of randomly selected American University Students, that young people just aren’t that emerged in the presidential race. Just sixteen of these students were registered to vote, barely more than half. The main problems seems to be the absence of a candidate that enthralls and inspires America’s youth, the kind of candidate that would make young adults follow the election.

Upon drawing this conclusion, just for interest’s sake, I wanted to see if our blog could have any impact on the political views of these students. However, my findings were dismal. Only eight students had ever visited a political blog before. In fact, a total of only seventeen students had ever browsed through any type of blog on the internet. The top three media outlets these students receive political information from are newspapers, mainstream television news (CNN, Fox), and additional television programs such as The Colbert Report or talk shows. Most students showed little interest when I explained my survey and considerable confusion at a blog as a class assignment.

I am not sure what it takes to get young adults more involved in the political process. We seem to be under ideal circumstances at American University; we live in our nation’s capital that is filled to the brim with internship opportunities and attend a private university with amazing government and international relations programs. If students do not have the time to participate in the election here, I can only imagine how my survey would have gone over at another school.

Planetary Emergency

Have a boat? If not, you're going to need it, we're in a "planetary emergency" according to former Vice President Al Gore. With the ice-caps melting and the potential of mass flooding, there is going to be a serious global problem if we don't act soon. These are some of messages presented by the former Vice-President at his countless speeches, tours, concerts, books not to mention his Academy Award-winning film An Inconvenient Truth. This past weekend, the Nobel Peace Prize committee awarded Mr. Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

"for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change"

Ok great - Gore loves trees, we get it, but what does this really mean? I decided to attend the Beyond An Inconvenient Truth event hosted by the Alpha Kappa Psi Business Fraternity and the Climate Project (TCP), a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing awareness on the climate crisis. After seeing Gore’s film, I was interested to see what additional information the event could provide and how this information could be applied to today’s political debate. Experts from the organization, Chester and Donna Joy served as experts in the field of environmental policy and answered a series of questions following their presentation. They provided AU students with tips on how they can be a part of the movement, and how seem

ingly small changes in daily habits could have a global effect. Here's their top ten ways to stop global warming: 

  1. Change a light Replacing one regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb will save 150 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
  2. Drive less
Walk, bike, carpool or take mass transit more often.  You’ll save one pound of carbon dioxide for every mile you don’t drive!
  3. Recycle more
You can save 2.400 pounds of carbon dioxide per year by recycling just half of your household waste.
  4. Check your tires
Keeping your tires inflated properly can improve gas mileage by more than 3%.
Every gallon of gasoline saved keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere!
  5. Use less hot water
It takes a lot of energy to heat water.  Use less hot water by installing a low flow showerhead (350 pounds of CO2 saved per year) and washing your clothes in cold or warm water (500 pounds saved per year).
  6. Avoid products with a lot of packaging
You can save 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide if you cut down your garbage by 10%.
  7. Adjust your thermostat
Moving your thermostat just 2 degrees in winter and up 2 degrees in summer you could save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year with this simple adjustment.
  8. Plant a tree
A single tree will absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime.
  9. Turn off electronic devices
Simply turning off your television, DVD player, stereo, and computer when you’re not using them will save you thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide a year.
  10. Spread the word!

This event showed the true value Al Gore has brought to the movement, and countless others that have contributed to stopping global warming. Almost everything you see is turning Green. Top companies are picking up on the importance of this social cause and have changed their policies to adapt. Take a look at GE’s Ecomagination, a site purely dedicated to educating its visitors to the importance of energy conservation. Even our Facebook profiles proclaim our environmental awareness, I am Green. It's time for the presidential candidates to take action and firmly present a plan on how to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and prevent further global warming. Who know's, if the candidates don't act fast it wouldn't be surprising to see Al Gore jump into the race, he already has 200,000+ supporters dedicated to making him the next president. 

Students for Sensible Drug Policy

For the second year now American University has had their own Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) club which has been actively working with other chapters and the national office alike to eliminate the ridiculous restrictions set on drugs and even push for the possible legalization of drugs. Students for Sensible Drug Policy is an international grassroots network of students who are concerned about the impact drug abuse has on our communities, but who also know that the War on Drugs is failing our generation and our society, alike.

Being so close to the national SSDP office I have had ample time to talk with all the faculty members about various aspects of their political work. Micah, the field director for SSDP, told me about some of SSDP's more impressive and recent changes to the political sphere. For instance, Congress passed the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty in 1998 which would insure that any students who were caught with drugs or had drug related offenses could lose all their financial aid for something as small as one single joint. SSDP mobilized 125 student governments to voice their opposition to the unjust policy, and lobbied Congress. As a result, the penalty no longer applies to those who are convicted of drug crimes while they are not in college and receiving financial aid. In other words, if a high school student or a person taking time off from school is convicted, their aid will not be affected when they return to school.

However, according to Kris Krane, the director of SSDP's national office, this small victory is not the victory he wanted. Krane hopes that by the end of this year with all the congressional meetings that the Higher Education Act Aid Elimination Penalty will be completely repealed so despite and aforementioned trouble with drugs the student will still have the opportunity and ability to remain in college if they like.

Legislation like this is not productive for our country either for the individual or the collective. In a society that is becoming increasingly dependent on the benefits of a college education and maybe even graduate school there seems to be little or no justification for taking away anyone's financial aid. Especially over something like them smoking a joint when the convicted rapist sitting next to them in class is still eligible for their financial aid benefits. By taking away an individual's right to education by taking away their means of educating themselves (the money) society is not only punishing them but dooming them to an entirely different life based on one 'bad' decision.

Many times, as a club member, people ask me what is the difference between SSDP and NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and surprisingly enough I found out from Micah that many people ask him similar questions. "When SSDP works on marijuana policy reform, it is part of an effort to attack drug prohibition in its entirety. This is because SSDP is concerned with the government's prohibitionist approach to many drugs, and not just marijuana. In addition to lobbying for changes in marijuana policy, SSDP chapters work toward such goals as repealing the law that automatically denies financial aid to college students with drug convictions, and stopping high schools from implementing random student drug testing. Our main objective is to work on drug policies that particularly affect youth and students, whether those policies involve marijuana, alcohol, or other substances." -Micah & Kris

As awareness begins to arise around SSDP in both the AU community and nationally I can only hope that everyone who is interested can get involved and help change the current policies aligned with all sorts of substances.

Last night, AU’s School of Communication hosted an environmental awareness lecture and film screening with Cathy Malani of the Human Society of the United States. Malani, who was promoted to head of the investigation department, travels the world working to protect animals via shooting, editing and producing muckraking short films and public service announcements that she posts on the Humane Society’s website. Prior to last night’s speech, Malani was traveling around southern California rescuing animals from recent wildfires and led a bust in a cockfighting ring in San Diego.
“The recent Michael Vic case has rightfully brought animal abuse out of the shadows,” Malani said.
Apart from her domestic animal rescues, Malani has participated in raising awareness for numerous foreign animal abuse cases, including the slaughtering of baby seals in the Harp Seal Nursery at the annual spring hunt on Canada’s East Coast.
“When seals are first born, they have white fur,” Malani said. “Canada recently passed legislation that prevented hunters from slaughtering seals before they develop gray hair. It typically takes 12 days into the seal’s life for this to happen.”
The Humane Society rents out boats to capture the slaughter of the seals on film to craft public service announcements for their website. This past March at the hunt, Malani and her crew ran into legal troubles when they were accused of breaching rules stipulated in their filming permits.

“The hunters do not like to be filmed on the water whatsoever,” Malani said. “At times, they tried to crash their large boats into ours, so we had to violate our permits for our safety and to navigate around the ice.”
The filming permits were instantly revoked and some crew members were arrested. Malani explained that the Humane Society’s contributions towards raising awareness of the slaughtering have lead to a decline in the number of seals killed. Last year’s hunt, Malani said, left 325,000 seals killed, yet this year, the number dropped to 275,000.
“Canada will never make the hunt illegal. There is a huge fishing community up there. They have been doing it for decades and it is their right.”

Instead, Malani states, the Humane Society is not focusing on ending the hunt, but rather urging consumers to boycott goods containing seal skin.
“We are not telling people to stop doing anything,” Malani said. “We are just suggesting that there are alternatives.”
The Humane Society’s short films chronicling the brutal nature of seal slaughtering in Canada speak enough for themselves, Malani suggested. The videos have had widespread impact in spreading awareness of the cruel slaughtering tactics Canadian sealers, including in Greenland, where the government banned imports of Canadian seal skins, citing fears of inhumane slaughtering, Malani said.
Apart from her work with seals in Canada, Malani has documented the cruel tactics of horse slaughter houses in Mexico as well as the brutality of factory farming. When asked how she copes with witnessing animal cruelty first hand on a regular basis, Malani explained that despite how disturbing it is, she knows that what she is doing with the Humane Society is essential to preserving animal rights.
“It’s difficult,” Malani said. “I am there to get the images and bring about change. It’s really tough at times, but knowing that these images can have an impact on the future and initiate change provides me with solace.”
I was glad I attended the lecture because it was, not only deeply engaging, but also refreshing to feel passionate for a cause that hasn’t been relentlessly rehashed during political debates lately.

Being Emo about Dissident Media

After taking a substantial amount of this class already, I feel inspired. So many people have done so much for the nation, and it was done all through the power of word. I’ve never seen dissident media as anything powerful before… I almost felt bad for dissident publications because of the fact that hardly anyone reads them. Now, I know they make a difference.

I wish I had taken this class during my internship last fall semester. I worked at a dissident publication called Hispanic Link News Service right here in D.C. The publication wrote news and opinion stories on politics involving the Hispanic community.

I always saw it as work. Hardly ever was I happy or proud to be a part of the dissident media force. I never thought it was fun, mainly because I was apathetic towards politics. Also, I never thought anyone would read what I had to write… who actually follows a small newspaper whose headquarters was in a crowded apartment room off of Logan Circle? I knew of no one.

I felt like I was going against my people for a while. Being a Hispanic myself, I felt like a traitor; I never did any of my work with any gusto for the Latino people, and I don’t know how much damage I did by not feeling anything meaningful and being an activist.

Looking back on the internship, I did some amazing things. Within the first week, I had already gone to an immigration rally. So many people with so much passion for what they want in the world… and I failed miserably in that department. There was so much activism in the air, so much excitement, and I feel like my apathy towards the entire internship brought the whole cause down, even if it was just a little bit.

People fight for things, and people die fighting for things. And I was the loser that didn’t care.

But now, I do. I realize the struggle that. minority groups have to go through to get what they want done. Their voice is through word, and the Hispanic voice was through me last year.

It’s so depressing thinking about how small the newspaper was, but they had such big hearts and such deep hope, that they’re probably better than most mainstream publications. What they speak has volumes, and that volume will hopefully be turned up louder very soon.