Contrivers' Review Featured http://www.contrivers.org/articles/featured/ Main site feed Copyright Contrivers' Review 2017 http://www.rssboard.org/rss-specification python-feedgen en Sat, 23 Sep 2017 01:58:11 +0000 Unionizing and Fighting for Social Justice at Purdue University, an Activist’s Account http://www.contrivers.org/articles/39/unionizing-Mitch-Daniels-social-justice-Purdue-University/ Wesley Bishop describes the history of union and social-justice activism at Purdue University and the current fight for union representation for graduate students at Purdue. <p></p> <h3 id="part-i-scarcity-consciousness">Part I: Scarcity Consciousness</h3> <p>In one of my earliest labor history courses, the professor explained to the class how economics directly impacted the way in which people think not just about themselves but also about society at large. We were in the midst of a longer discussion about economic depressions and how some psychologists now argued that prolonged exposure to material scarcity produced a kind of “scarcity consciousness.” </p> <p>The reasoning goes that as food, shelter, and clothing are increasingly difficult to come by, individuals become increasingly preoccupied with securing these materials on a day to day basis. This radically alters one’s consciousness, as it prevents people from concerning themselves with larger questions of self worth, higher ideals, and larger issues in politics, culture, and society. Empathy, justice, and creative expression go by the wayside, and a focus on oneself at all costs becomes not a sign of moral failing but a necessity. </p> <p>Abraham Maslow is lurking in that understanding, but the professor argued that there was a tendency to use Maslow’s work to only understand the individual, particularly the individual sense of self actualization. What about an entire society? Or, more potently, what about different segments of society? What happens when you artificially cut resources to one group, make that group focus on the acquisition of future resources, and then task that group with profound decision making issues? These questions are at the forefront for every scholar who researches and writes in the fields of labor history and working class studies. Thinking along these lines forces us to contemplate how unequal allocation of resources affects groups of people, and in turn how that impacts social conditions and forms of political organization like democracy. </p> <p>Although many labor historians and working class scholars typically focus on low wage earners, the same phenomenon can be seen in any occupation. It is a condition that as a graduate student and aspiring labor historian I have thought much about. With increased cuts to higher education, low living standards for graduate students during their formative training years, a publish-or-perish mandate taken to new extremes in the last 20 years, and a near continuous mantra of “there are no jobs!”, one cannot help but wonder what impact such artificial scarcity is having on a generation of thinkers, researchers, and educators. Likewise, it is a concern that begs the question&ndash; what is to be done? The answer for many graduate students across the United States has been to form graduate student unions. This is not a simple matter. The struggle to form a union is a struggle to address basic needs like a living wage without losing sight of higher ideals like academic freedom, shared governance of the university, as well as issues of social justice on campus.</p> <p>In March 2016, at a regular meeting of the Purdue Graduate Student Government (PGSG), graduate student workers and graduate student representatives of Purdue University announced formally that they were pursuing the possibility of unionizing as a workforce.</p> <p>The issue had been years in the making. As efforts to unionize began, I was told by two professors that years earlier, when graduate students had threatened to unionize, administrators agreed to provide better health insurance. Although that seemed to settle the issue, little was done to address the underlying problems of graduate student labor—low wages, exploitative working conditions, and precarity. However, if the students at the PGSG meeting had hoped for relative unity among students and a warm welcoming from university administrators, they were soon disappointed.</p> <p>At that PGSG meeting, Andrew Zeller, the president of the graduate student government, openly stated that although he did not directly oppose the push for a union, neither would he openly endorse it. His largest concern? That a union would interfere with what he saw as an already good working relationship with university administrators. “I think we’ve had a very positive relationship with university administrators,” <a href="http://www.jconline.com/story/news/college/2016/03/29/purdue-hr-grad-student-union-unnecessary/82376974/">Zeller told a local newspaper</a>, “and I don’t necessarily think that a union is necessary to reach the goal that we want to reach.”</p> <p>Administrators agreed. Trent Klingerman, director of employee relations in human resources, quickly argued that efforts to unionize were unwise, because they would hinder the university’s ability to “communicate” with graduate student workers. As <a href="http://www.jconline.com/story/news/college/2016/03/29/purdue-hr-grad-student-union-unnecessary/82376974/">he told</a> one media outlet at the time of the unionizing announcement, “I don’t think (a union is) necessary. It doesn’t take that to get my attention, and it doesn’t take that to get most administrators&rsquo; attention on campus.” Supporters of unionization, like myself, began to see the parameters of the fight. We had an uphill battle, with little formal support.</p> <p>At this point I should state, for the sake of transparency, that I am far from a nonpartisan reporter in all of this. A student organizer openly identified with the movement to unionize, I study as my primary field American labor history and social reform. Furthermore, for the past three years I have been a member of the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/purduesocialjusticecoalition/">Purdue Social Justice Coalition</a> (PSJC), a social justice and civil rights group that has tackled issues ranging from sexual assault on campus, to racism and white supremacy, to economic exploitation. In my previous work with the PSJC, we had found the university administration resistant to change but also found that progressive policies could be affected through our organizing.</p> <p>In September 2015, PSJC had been part of a successful effort to push Purdue University into establishing a rape crisis center. The effort argued that Purdue was one of the only major universities in the country not to have a specific center dedicated to education, prevention, and assistance for the issue of sexual assault and relationship violence. Instead, the campus had a far-flung “network” of resources, which included a Crisis Center run by the community and which was more of a phone service across town, nearly 45 minutes by bus.</p> <p>Marching, gathering signatures for a petition, organizing speakers, and speaking to the press had all been used by the campaign, which included a number of people, organizations, and activists in the greater Lafayette area. Although we never found the exact date, many of the activists found through research that the attempt to create a specific crisis center on Purdue’s campus dated as far back as the 1970s.</p> <p>The university’s consistent response? Such a thing was simply not needed. Some administrators claimed that not many students at Purdue experienced sexual assault. In fact, early on we had even been told that really “only” 2-5 people experienced sexual assault every year at Purdue. With such a “low” number did it really make sense, we were asked by university officials, to dedicate resources to an entire center?</p> <p>This line became untenable when the American Association of Universities finally released <a href="https://www.aau.edu/key-issues/aau-climate-survey-sexual-assault-and-sexual-misconduct-2015">a new study</a> on the rate of sexual assault. The number of people actually sexually assaulted on Purdue’s campus? More like 22% of all women. That was, of course, keeping in mind that the crime of sexual assault is often drastically underreported.</p> <p>Suddenly the line that some administrators had been peddling, that Purdue was a magical place free of the concerns found in the rest of our society, became indefensible. Shortly after the report was released, the university announced that the Center for Advocacy, Response and Education (CARE) would be established. The president’s office personally sent an email to the student body admitting the issue of sexual assault was in fact a problem on campus. The entire episode was a multifaceted lesson. Coalitions of various groups on and off campus, over several years, and through protest and direct action could produce positive change.</p> <p>In late October of the same year, the Social Justice Coalition saw another victory when it, along with United Students Against Sweatshops, convinced Purdue to become the twenty-second school in the country to cut ties with JanSport for violations of worker’s rights around the world. Again, the action had been years in the making. In the 1990s student activists at Purdue had forced the university to join the Workers’ Rights Consortium (an independent organization that monitors working conditions in industries like clothing manufacturing). In that fight students had engaged in a several day hunger strike, again showing the power of direct action to create change. This was known to everyone working on the campaign with JanSport in 2015, and I will never forget messaging my friend Dana Smith (the lead organizer for the project) to see what we needed to put on the PSJC’s facebook page for the coming months. “Uh… we won,” she told me. I looked at the message confused. </p> <p>Dana is a brilliant and dedicated activist who has since gone on to work as an organizer with Service Employees International Union (SEIU), but surely she and the students she was organizing hadn’t already convinced Purdue to cut a multi-million dollar contract with JanSport? They had. Two major victories in the span of an academic year. It isn’t difficult to see how my friends and I in the PSJC felt confident. It was with that confidence that we began discussing a consistent issue on campus— exploitation of graduate student workers, low pay, and the virtual non-existence of real legal protection.</p> <p>As I told the reporter covering the graduate student government meeting, I didn’t think student government was the best place to advocate for collective rights as a unified workforce. A union would best serve that cause. “Where we go from here is going to largely depend on how graduate students respond,” I said. I was cautious, but optimistic.</p> <p>Why unionize though? It was a question we received early on from professors, administrators, and the general public. Two of my good friends in the history department told me shortly after the early planning had begun that their respective advisers had cautioned against a union.“Why?” I asked. One friend was told by their adviser that graduate students were “journeymen” in the profession, our position was temporary, and that unions were for far more exploited workforces. This, of course, ignored the history of organized labor where actual journeymen in trade crafts had often organized and created some of the earliest and most well respected unions in history. It also spoke to a larger conceptual problem.</p> <p>Graduate students are often viewed as privileged people in the United States because the academy still retains an image of power, leisure, and comfort compared to the rest of society. However, even a quick perusal of publications like <em>The Chronicle of Higher Education</em> show that such a state (if it had ever existed) is not the reality. Increasing adjunctification of faculty, decreasing tenure track positions, and a larger push toward neoliberalism in the university has revealed that the academy is very much a part of the “real world.” Therefore, issues of economics, like wages and worker protections, are as much an issue in a philosophy department as they are in a McDonald’s kitchen.</p> <p>For example, when I began my studies at Purdue University I was lucky enough to come in on a Ross Fellowship. One of the highest paid members of my cohort, I only made about $16,500 a year with guaranteed summer pay. Most of my friends and colleagues came in somewhere above $13,000 and had no guaranteed payment over summer. This was particularly devastating for international graduate students who, due to visa restrictions, could not supplement their income with outside employment.</p> <p>To put this all in perspective, to be at the poverty level in Indiana one would have to make around $11,000 a year. This is where the Federal government provides such benefits as SNAP, Medicaid, and TANF. Placed just slightly above the poverty level, graduate student workers are often ineligible for many government programs. We can often make as low as $6.25 an hour, far below the “living wage” marker, and are then expected to somehow make ends meet via our own ingenuity. None of this is hidden information to administrators.</p> <p>I have personally seen associate deans (whose salaries are often in the six figures), when told about the hardship of making ends meet, tell graduate students in earnest about food pantries run by local churches in the area. In essence, the dean suggested that the charity of others was the best way to address the problems of systematically impoverished workers. Not surprisingly, soup kitchens are not a stable way to get one through graduate school. So, graduate students are forced to find additional sources of income. One such way is to seek out and secure additional appointments at the university. </p> <p>My friends and their advisers who say we are “journeymen” understand the problem. They get it. But what can they do? One of their advisers said that being associated with a unionizing effort has consequences, both for future employment as well as current funding at an institution not exactly heralded as a progressive bastion of forward thinking politics. As one of my friends reminded me, “Keep in mind who Purdue’s president is.”</p> <h3 id="part-ii-the-boss">Part II: The Boss</h3> <p>Mitchell Elias Daniels, Jr. has had a long career in both politics and the private sector. In 2013 he was made president of Purdue University by our Board of Trustees. But before that he worked in a range of offices, from Senator Rich Lugar’s chief of staff, to George W. Bush’s director of the Office of Management and Budget. In between these appointments, he was a corporate lawyer for Eli Lilly, one of the nation’s major pharmaceutical companies, working in a number of different executive positions there from 1990-2000. However, the height of his political power came in 2005 when he was elected Indiana’s forty-ninth governor. Serving two terms, he lived up to his reputation of being anti-worker, anti-union, and pro-corporate power. In 2012 he signed a “right to work” bill, limiting the effectiveness of organized labor to collectively bargain, unionize, and negotiate contracts.</p> <p>National publications roundly criticized the legislation when it was passed. <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/02/us/indiana-becomes-right-to-work-state.html">The New York Times</a> argued that the legislation, aside from limiting worker’s rights, was also a contradiction of what Daniels had previously stated in some public forums.</p> <blockquote> <p>Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who had once said that he did not wish to add a “right to work” provision to the state’s labor laws, signed a bill on Wednesday doing just that. The legislation, which bars union contracts from requiring non-union members to pay fees for representation, makes Indiana the first state in more than a decade to enact right to work legislation and the only one in the Midwestern manufacturing belt to have such a law.</p> </blockquote> <p>In <a href="https://www.thenation.com/article/anti-labor-zealot-mitch-daniels-give-gop-sotu-response/">The Nation</a>, John Nichols also noted Daniels’ lack of honesty concerning these “right to work” laws. While seeking reelection, Daniels appeared before Teamsters Local 135, promising that he wouldn’t push the “right-to-work” issue. Yet, despite what Daniels had stated previously to some constituents, this “betrayal” was largely a reflection of what he had always felt about organized workers.</p> <p>As Daniels stated in his 2012 book <em>Keeping the Republic</em>, </p> <blockquote> <p>With unionism comes political power, and with that power, still more of an upending of the original relationship between the people and those who work for them. In a now-familiar cycle of corruption, dues are forcibly withheld from the pay of public employees and funneled into union coffers. After the cost of the union’s bureaucracies are covered, much of the rest is poured into political activity.</p> </blockquote> <p>Daniels continues by explaining that the mission of curtailing and limiting labor unions, specifically public sector ones, is a partisan issue. One which hampers Democratic opponents and helps the Republican Party. Furthermore, he identifies what he sees as one of the worst culprits in modern American union thuggery— teachers. “In Indiana,” he wrote, “the average public school teacher out earns the average private-sector worker by 22 percent; when benefits are counted, the gap widens significantly. This, of course, is for a 186-day work year, compared to the private-sector norm of 240 days.”</p> <p>The message from both his book and actions as governor is clear. Unions are corrupt political hacks, and the workers who make up their ranks, lazy and overpaid. Therefore, it is better to limit their power to collectively organize, negotiate contracts, and push for better pay and benefits. These are not subtle messages, and everyone I have spoken to at Purdue knows where the “boss” stands on efforts to challenge him, especially on issues like the unionization and the economic standing of graduate students.</p> <p>Ironically, Daniels only has his position in the university due to the very type of political machinations that he condemns in organized labor. As governor he appointed many of the members of Purdue’s Board of Trustees, who are now all but beholden to him, his agenda, and his position of power. With his power secured Daniels has been able to pursue a host of neoliberal policies, negotiate his own contracts (the irony is not lost on those wanting a union), and completely ignore the concerns of students, staff, and faculty when it serves his purposes. Attacks on faculty oversight, shared governance and academic freedom surfaced again recently when Purdue University announced its purchase of the online, for-profit <a href="http://www.chronicle.com/article/Purdue-s-Purchase-of-Kaplan/239931?cid=rclink">Kaplan University</a>, which has abysmal graduation rates and a <a href="http://www.chronicle.com/article/There-s-a-Reason-the/239954?cid=wcontentlist_hp_5">history of misleading, predatory, recruiting practices</a>. The deal has <a href="https://academeblog.org/2017/05/03/mitch-daniels-wants-to-sell-the-soul-of-public-education-purdue-faculty-must-stop-him/">rightly been criticized</a> for violating long-held academic principles and for channeling “public financial means to a private, for-profit entity with no public oversight, draining resources from public colleges and universities devoted to academic excellence and the public good, not the bottom line.”</p> <p>Unionizing is perilous, and done at a high risk at Purdue University. Like an all-seeing-eye from a Tolkien novel, Daniels brings his past political positions to bear on the university. The Kaplan deal Daniels negotiated is only the most recent example of the broader impulse to treat higher education as a corporation. </p> <p>Around the time of the announcement to form a graduate student union, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, responding to criticism of low pay, announced that graduate student workers would see a pay increase. Where would these new funds come from? “Right sizing” departments, cutting back, and reallocating resources, of course. The department of English, Purdue’s largest program in the CLA, was specifically marked for “right sizing.” Spreading that money to other departments, and raising our salaries (we are set to make a whopping $1700 next year in the history department), I saw how quickly solidarity could evaporate.</p> <p>My friends and colleagues in English, rightfully angry at the assault, saw many of their colleagues across the university make peace with the reallocation. At precisely the moment we needed to be unified, we were divided by the administration.</p> <p>In contrast to the top down corporate structure favored by Daniels and other adherents of neoliberalism, a healthy, dynamic academy is built on the idea that academics govern their own institutions, and the effort toward graduate student unionization is part of creating that academy. I’m worried our generation is being trained with that ever present “scarcity consciousness.” I can easily see a future where we, as the next generation of academics, are so convinced that things like tenure, the liberal arts, and faculty governance are so “economically impossible” that we simply let them slip away to the neoliberal administrators who promise us “fiscal stability.” As upholding values like academic freedom come more and more to be seen as untenable in the given economic and political environment, those in the most precarious positions&ndash;graduate students and adjuncts&ndash;will increasingly find the university to be a hostile place. </p> <p>This may sound alarmist, but one need go no further than my friend Ti’Air Riggins to see this rise in hostility and lack of protection for graduate students precariously employed in academe. A PhD student in biomedical engineering, she is a combination of scientist, activist, and advocate for the rights of those who are oppressed in society. In 2015 she was Miss Indiana, and used her position to advocate for survivors of sexual assault. Aside from being a leading voice for the need of a rape crisis center on campus, she has also been outspoken about racism, using social media to criticize racism in the sciences, the academy, and society in general.</p> <p>“Being told you [were] needed to fill the quota of the college of engineering PhD program, not for merit. #BoilersofPurdue #BlackAtPurdue,” she tweeted during one protest on Purdue’s campus.</p> <p>She continued, “When you have a GPA above a 3, have passed the 1st part of your candidacy process and still being told u shouldn’t pursue a PhD #BlackAtPurdue.”</p> <p>These tweets were in relation to a series of protests PSJC and other groups held last year to denounce white supremacy. Through persistence these actions have produced changes like the establishment of a police advisory board on campus that advises on issues of racism, discrimination, and community safety. But involvement in these campaigns come with a cost. For her participation and use of social media Ti’Air was threatened with formal retaliation by her department and adviser.</p> <p>“Are you sure you want to go public with this?” I ask her over coffee as we discussed the need for a union.</p> <p>“Yes,” she said. She explains her original adviser, thankfully, left for another job. Plus, she says she can no longer in good conscience be quiet about efforts to silence her. She produces the document she was forced to sign. There, on Purdue University letterhead, is a document threatening Ti’Air that if she continues tweeting about her experiences of racism at Purdue that she will be kicked out of the program.</p> <p>“Ms. Ti’Air Riggins,” the letter begins, “This letter is to inform you that you are now on disciplinary probation for inappropriate and unprofessional use of social media…We now warn you that any further use of social media by you in an inappropriate and unprofessional manner…will result in [the]…immediate termination of your participation in the graduate program of the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering.”</p> <p>We both agree that the document can hardly be legal, but such concerns are of little consequence to graduate student workers, who due to their precarious situation, can see funding dry up unexpectedly. We also agree that her case is the perfect example of why we need a union at Purdue University. The offices on campus, supposedly dedicated to “protecting” us, are often little more than HR departments for the employer. They may be able to help, but ultimately their loyalty is to the institution that signs their checks. The only way we will ever have full protection is if we have an independent organization dedicated solely to the material well-being of us as workers, led by the workers themselves.</p> <p>As we continue discussing the need of a union for graduate student workers in Purdue’s science labs, Ti’Air tells me that it is the height of hypocrisy that neo-fascist groups on campus are protected with free speech, but that people like her are silenced. I agree. It highlights that the threat is real for retaliation, but convinces me that only through solidarity are we going to change anything. Ti’Air’s mention oft neo-fascists is in reference to a flyering campaign that happened on Purdue’s campus just last semester. On November 30, 2016 white supremacist propaganda was found throughout the university. On the signs were faces of Aryan people with messages of “Free Yourself from Cultural Marxism,” “We Have a Right to Exist,” and “Defending Your People is a Social Duty.”</p> <p>The flyers produced widespread outrage, and immediately a community meeting was called to discuss what could be done to combat the appearance of white supremacist propaganda on campus. As this community meeting was being called, <a href="http://www.indystar.com/story/news/college/2016/11/30/white-supremacy-posters-placed-around-purdue/94667550/">local media reached out to Mitch Daniels</a> to give a statement, hopefully denouncing the posters. No such statement came. Instead, Daniels simply said, “Reading the dozen or so words on the posters in question, it’s not at all clear what they mean. But if one looks behind them, as I did, to the organization’s website, there are views expressed there that are obviously inconsistent with the values and principles we believe in here at Purdue. This is a transparent effort to bait people into overreacting, thereby giving a minuscule fringe group attention it does not deserve, and that we decline to do.”</p> <p>The tired old argument that fascists have free speech, and therefore can advocate ethnic cleansing, genocide, and violence against minorities quickly emerged from campus critics of social justice activism. ‘If we don’t give free speech to fascists,’ the reasoning went, ‘then who will also lose their free speech?’</p> <p>People like, Ti’Air already have. That’s who.</p> <p>We are already in the nightmare free speech absolutists tell us about. We, at Purdue University, have created a perfect environment to encourage reactionary rhetoric. Fascism is tolerated, but scientists who speak honestly about racism are threatened. Likewise, students who want to exercise their basic right to organize into a union have to fear about their employment.</p> <p>Democracies do not thrive in such an environment, so after Mitch Daniels refused to denounce the fascist posters, a group, now established as Occupy Purdue, called for an occupation of the primary administration building, Hovde Hall. Amongst the demands of students, community members, and faculty were that Daniels issue a strong statement denouncing white supremacy. Also included in those demands were calls for a mandatory class, which would educate students on the history and legacy of white supremacy and the anti-racist movement. Finally, those parties demanded that Purdue University reinstate the position of the Chief Diversity Officer, a position that was terminated under Daniels and the current administration a few years ago. </p> <p>The occupation lasted for over 90 days and trained a new group of activists; by the end of it a significant amount of the occupation was being run by undergraduates who were taking part in their first occupation. The occupation sent a strong signal to the campus that fascism would not be left unchecked. Efforts like this occupation, the hunger strike for worker’s rights in the 1990s, and the efforts to establish a rape crisis center dating back decades are the products of considerable amounts of energy and time, often stretched out over years. Occupy Purdue will be pursuing a visible and active anti-fascist movement on campus next year. The protest and demands may seem like pie-in-the-sky idealism, and therefore easy to dismiss. However, dismissing them as idealistic misses the way in which such efforts also negate the effects of scarcity by prioritizing higher level values. This work stands as testament to the stubborn and persistent belief in justice.</p> <p>“Man,” my friend Enosh says, “my mom always said you had this kind of privilege in academia. It was a belief that since I was brown and Muslim I would be protected in the academy as opposed to working in the private sector.” I nod my head in understanding. Enosh and I were sitting on the floor of Hovde Hall discussing the possibility of a graduate student union. We agree the efforts have stalled since our initial announcement the year before. So many people, not afraid to engage in activism, are now busy fighting open white supremacy, xenophobic executive orders, and blatant apathy from our university leaders. In the face of these other challenges, how do we continue to push for a union?</p> <p>“Labor organizing,” he tells me as we watch administrators walk quickly past, avoiding eye contact, “is just as much about liberating our consciousness as it is about economic rights.”</p> <p>A graduate student union, aside from helping remedy low pay, lack of benefits, and violation of legal and civil rights, is also the first step in the process of us, as graduate students, taking leadership positions in the academy. Eventually, as academics, we are expected to edit journals, head committees, and govern organizations central to our fields. We will be integral to holding the line on core principles like faculty governance and academic freedom. We will be responsible for ensuring that the ideas, innovations, and contributions of our generation is not limited by the artificial scarcity imposed those who wish to treat the university as just another corporation. What better way to start that process than by having us, in our very first actions as academics, be responsible for representing our own labor, negotiating our own contracts, and viewing ourselves as integral parts to higher education?</p> <p>Will we eventually succeed? As a historian, I am unqualified to predict the future. Yet, I cannot help but look to the past and see the way campaigns often take years to come to fruition. Just this year, Yale graduate students succeeded in unionizing. It was a movement stretching back some thirty years. Corey Robin, now a professor at CUNY, but who in the 1990s was a graduate student organizer at Yale, argued then as now that unions do not only “belong to the wretched of the earth.” As academics in training, we too have a right to a union.</p> <p>What we can see, then, is that what began in one decade can be the beginning of a future success in another. Every time I walk past CARE or notice the absence of JanSport material in Purdue’s stores, I am reminded of that.</p> <p>Like I told the reporter, “Where we go from here is going to largely depend on how graduate students respond.” These struggles are not won overnight, and I may very well not be at Purdue to see a union come to fruition, let alone resolutions to the long legacy of white supremacy on campus. However, I can lend my voice and time to try and make them a reality. It is why I remain cautious, but ultimately optimistic.</p> editors@contrivers.org (Wesley Bishop) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/39/unionizing-Mitch-Daniels-social-justice-Purdue-University/ Academia Thu, 14 Sep 2017 09:10:25 +0000 Ponzi Schemes, Bastards of Neoliberalism, and Social-Justice Intelligence: An Interview with Jessica Lawless on Union Organizing in Academe and Other Topics http://www.contrivers.org/articles/38/ponzi-schemes-bastards-of-neoliberalism-and-social-justice-intelligence-an-interview-with-jessica-lawless-on-union-organizing-in-academe-and-other-topics/ In a wide ranging interview, Jessica Lawless discusses her transition from adjunct professor to labor organizer, the labor movement in the era of Trump, and the difficult process of linking activism in higher education with a far-reaching movement for social justice. <h3 id="introduction">Introduction</h3> <p>The neoliberal restructuring of the university has created a laundry list of what are now familiar problems including the adjunctification of the faculty, skyrocketing tuition and student loan debt, administrative bloat, and sterilization of the intellectual and learning environments. In some ways, the university is now the institution that conservative policy makers in the 1980s hoped it would become. Yet, the right continues to demonize higher education as a bastion of progressive ideology—it’s delusional to think it was ever that at all—and the left continues to blithely spout the civic and economic virtues of higher education while ignoring the fact that today universities are financed like Ponzi schemes, as Jessica Lawless states in the following interview. Lawless is a former adjunct professor, an artist, and union organizer, and she offers compelling and challenging insights into the state of higher education, its role in society, the value of a degree, and how adjunct organizing fits, or fails to fit, into larger movements for social justice. Lawless has a broad perspective and does not pull any punches in her critiques of higher education. </p> <p>She convincingly argues that academics need to get beyond lamenting the loss of their privileged place in society and begin to understand the connections as well as differences between groups like adjunct faculty, food service workers, and Black Lives Matter activists. This is a necessary step in organizing to address the problems of neoliberalism of which the academy is only a small part.</p> <h3 id="interview">Interview</h3> <p><strong>Pete Sinnott</strong>: I know that you’ve discussed this in <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2014/03/07/two-adjuncts-discuss-their-career-realities">other interviews</a>, but could your briefly talk about your background, particularly how your perspective on higher education has changed as you transitioned from being a graduate student, to adjunct professor, to organizer?</p> <p><strong>Jessica Lawless</strong>: Discussing my background is the same as discussing how my perspective on and relationship to higher education has changed. For example, when I wrote from the location of an adjunct professor I would list out my degrees, publications, places I exhibited and presented. I would firmly locate myself in the elite world of academia to prove I had the right credentials to speak with authority. Before I had those credentials, I had other ones but they weren’t valued in academia. </p> <p>I started grad school at 33, an age that I thought was young in relation to the many female mentors I had at different times in my life who had earned their degrees much later. I started grad school and learned about these mythical creatures that didn’t exist in my former worlds, people who went to college right after high school to grad school right after college, who had PhDs before they were 30. Most of my friends and communities were trying to make it to 30 alive. I lived in Seattle during the 90s so deaths from drug overdoses were all too common. And it wasn’t just ODs. Zolah committed suicide at 22, Mia was raped and murdered at 27. Rebekah died at 33 from a brain tumor she started dealing with at 29. Ray crashed his bicycle on his way to his girlfriend’s house after a night at the bar where we all hung out. Flesh eating disease from shooting up, HIV/AIDS, death or suicide from being in violent relationships. There was a pallor of grief, a focus on survival, and a need to numb the ever present pain of constant loss. My credentials were heroin use and homelessness due to domestic violence. My credentials were also being a co-founder of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_Alive">Home Alive</a>, a feminist self-defense organization we <a href="http://www.teachhomealive.org/about/history/">started in the wake of Mia’s rape and murder</a>. An instructor from another feminist self-defense organization (that offered classes we couldn’t afford and had proprietary techniques) clandestinely held free classes for us. In turn we passed on the skills to our community of musicians and artists for no cost. Because I belonged to many communities based on my experiences, gender, sexuality, ethnic identity, and politics, I also worked with another collective member, Zoë Bermet, to develop classes for women living in shelters. </p> <p>As is typical of collective organizing, we had internal conflicts along the lines of sexual orientation, race, and political values. I became curious about the way we used the term “community” to specifically denote the predominantly white and straight 90s Seattle music scene when many of us belonged to other communities of equal personal importance. This curiosity, and the need to get away from the drugs and violence, lead me to a cultural studies program to study what I learned was post-colonial and post-structuralist theory addressing concepts of Imagined Communities, The Subaltern, Situated Knowledges, and ways popular culture and media both reinforce and create heterosexist, white supremacist, neoliberal tropes of normalcy. I realized I was there to learn how to bring theory to my praxis while my colleagues were trying to figure out how to merge praxis with theory. For most of my colleagues, that was teaching, but at the time I didn’t want to be a professor. I wanted to continue working in the arts, making art, and teach a course or two at a Community College. I had no idea that meant being an adjunct professor. I was simply used to piecing jobs together to be able to prioritize art and activism. The gig economy is not a new concept for artists. In 1999 I was looking for a way to get out of precarious gig work. I thought earning a degree would lead to knowledge and skills more broadly valued and therefore more broadly financially secure. Despite my anti-capitalist politics, I created a Horatio Alger story to bring to life: Former homeless woman, survivor of addiction and domestic violence finds middle class security through education. </p> <p>I graduated in September, 2001, just as Al Qaeda attacked the World Trade Center and attempted to attack the Pentagon. Just like during the Great Recession, advertised jobs would be defunded before interviews could take place. I was literally on my way out the door to a job interview at a public museum when I got a call explaining they just learned funds were being redirected to Homeland Security and the job no longer existed. More than one small private museum asked me to write a grant &ndash; for free!—  and that would fund the position they wanted to give me. It was absurd. I pieced together various part time and temp jobs as I always had, earning the same hourly wage I did before I had a graduate degree and exorbitant student debt. Middle class security and health care for my chronic illness continued to be out of reach. In 2001 I thought it was my own failings, not the sound of the final nail being hammered into the coffin of higher education as a path out of poverty.</p> <p>At the same time I loved the new knowledge I had. I made a <a href="http://www.alternativelibraries.org/index.php?lvl=author_see&amp;id=667">video</a> for my MA thesis project that was being distributed by AK Press. That led to making a <a href="https://vimeo.com/22720909">video with a friend</a>, a comedy about trans men as a counter to films such as Boys Don’t Cry and Southern Comfort. My degree helped me to center creative practices again. This was at the same time that MFAs in Studio Art were proliferating in Los Angeles and LA was becoming one of the largest art markets in the world. The professionalization of art meant an MFA was a necessity to teach and gain access to the culturally elite art world. Another result of the glut of MFA degrees was that queer, feminist artists who had alternative art practices became a darling of that elite art world. This destroyed the historical grassroots nature of those art communities along with any grounded politics in those practices. The politics were just a performance, both literally and figuratively, for spaces coded as white and wealthy. Sarah Schulman named the process of losing a generation of gay male artists to HIV/Aids and the queer culture they created in 1970’s NY as “Gentrification of the mind.” I believe the assimilationist machinations of the art world and the inevitable loss of the 1990s queer culture that politicized me to be another type of gentrification, perhaps a part of the process that has depoliticized the term “queer” and allows us to understand marriage, a conservative value, as radical. </p> <p>I had rejected the need for an MFA long before. But in the era of the LA MFA, many people I knew and respected had them or were earning them. Furthering the case for the depoliticization of queer culture, I applied and, by the skin of my teeth, got into one of the fancy LA MFA programs. It was an indoctrination into elite academia, and I bought into it more than I expected. I needed consistent health care and a reprieve from $12-15/hr post-911 jobs. I was ready for class privilege, not just access. My Horatio Alger story shifted in critical ways: Former survivor of domestic violence becomes professor. Gone was my acknowledgement of the heroin addiction or the desire to teach at a community college. This was where earning my grad degrees went south. </p> <p>I graduated in 2006. Three years later with $85,000 in student debt, having been in a sabbatical replacement position, visiting professor positions, and teaching adjunct courses all while on the academic job market, I had to supplement it all with freelance gigs editing gay porn and working as a home health care aide. Similar to my job search post-911, I applied to tenure track positions and was met with very collegial letters letting me know the position had been defunded, the program was being shut down, or “We received applications from more qualified candidates than ever before, sorry you aren’t one to get an interview.” I attended College Art Association conferences, took advantage of any workshops and mentoring for the job market. I was told my materials were strong, my letters of interest pithy, just keep trying. It became clear MFAs were a Madoff level Ponzi scheme. Eight years later, when I became a union organizer at art schools—a complicated and difficult process pragmatically and emotionally— the Ponzi scheme had been cemented through the administrative university, adjunctification of the professoriate, and staggering debt for students.</p> <p>When I started working for SEIU Local 1021 in the Bay Area in 2014 I was part of an organizing team that won union elections at five private nonprofit colleges in less than a year, an unheard of number in that short a time in any industry. Two of the colleges were Catholic, one was a women’s college, and two were art schools. Because of my education and life experience, I assumed the Catholic colleges would be a nightmare and the art schools would live up to their social justice mission. As he who shall not be named would say, “Wrong!” </p> <p>The two art schools put up the biggest boss fights. They were the last to reach a first contract, which took over two full years after the faculty voted to have a union. San Francisco Art Institute proudly houses a Diego Rivera mural and the <a href="http://www.rachelschreiber.com/research.html">Dean of Faculty</a> fighting the union is published in “work [that] explores themes of gender, activism, and labor through historical texts and visual projects.” At California College of the Arts, the president is focused on ensuring that school is a feeder into the tech industry at the expense of the fine arts and crafts department, creating an elite vocational tech school. The lawyer for that college was a sexist, condescending stereotype that actually told the adjunct faculty bargaining team, “Go fuck yourselves,” during negotiations. <a href="https://www.ccad.edu/dr-melanie-corn-named-ccads-next-president">The former provost fighting the union election</a> was a former drag king who “Primarily [studied] Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, the Guerrilla Girls, looking at the ways in which they were using political tactics and design to bring that kind of artwork out in the public sphere.” <a href="http://www.artpractical.com/column/tammy_rae_carland/">The current provost</a> who took up the fight was instrumental in the Riot Grrrl and Queercore movements and helped create a queer visual vernacular in art. The women in positions of power involved in the art school union campaigns were feminist and/or queer and have areas of focus and education similar to my own. I imagine they never thought they would be fighting unions and standing on the wrong side of social justice history. </p> <p>It’s infuriating and deeply perplexing to understand how they justify throwing a whole lot of other women and queers under the bus. There are plenty of academics serving as department chairs, deans, and other administrative positions who use the security of tenure to publicly support adjunct faculty unions instead of fight them. Many of these folks signed an <a href="https://justiceatcca.org">open letter</a> encouraging their colleagues at CCA to do the right thing. Regardless of their solidarity, I now understand that “Higher Education is dead.” There is nothing idealistic to believe in any longer. Institutionally, most schools have become a system for laundering federal and private student loan money in order to make a few people wealthy while the rest go into debilitating debt. In other words, bastions of neoliberalism. Or maybe more accurately, bastards of neoliberalism.</p> <p><strong>PS</strong>: If higher education is dead, what drives you to continue keep fighting whether it&rsquo;s by union organizing or creating an archive of this struggle through the site <a href="https://culturalcapitaldoesntpaytherent.com/about/">”Cultural Capital Doesn&rsquo;t Pay the Rent”</a>? Does graduate study still have a value beyond either cold hard cash or cultural capital? I don’t mean this cynically and I’m not suggesting that advanced degrees in the arts and humanities have no value. I’m wondering what you think about a) the intrinsic value of an advanced degree and b) if that value still exists when so many graduate programs operate as ponzi schemes.</p> <p><strong>JL</strong>: Part of what I loved about teaching was advising students on how to get to where they wanted to in higher education, especially when I taught at a community college in New Mexico. Most of the CC students were first generation college students. They were from minority racial, ethnic, and indigenous groups. Many had been in the military, one of the very limited options for young people in New Mexico to have an income. All of them were incredibly open and fascinated by the queer/feminist/of color culture and knowledge I brought to the classroom. I witnessed and contributed to many situations where education was the path out of poverty for an individual. At the same time students there often enrolled because getting a Lottery scholarship from the state Lottery funds as well as receiving student loans were the only ways to have an income in an extremely impoverished state. For these students, education was a path into debt and deeper poverty. </p> <p>From the time I began teaching to the time I left and became an organizer I came to understand there was no intrinsic value in education, and potentially never was. There are plenty of arguments illuminating the long history of higher education as a way to keep white supremacist, hetero- and cissexist, patriarchal power structures in place. Once an institution only for “landowning men of letters” the social and civil rights struggles to make higher education a more inclusive system in the U.S. and Western Europe has only lasted a very brief period in the overall timeline. In my view, the adjunctification of the professoriate and the unbearable weight of debt necessary to earn any degree, is a backlash against people of color, cis and trans women, queers, poor and working class folks, Dreamers, and others who kicked down the doors of the ivory tower for a few short generations. </p> <p>During that time the Christian Right implemented a long game that began with gaining seats on local school boards. In three decades they won the White House with the appointment of Devos to Secretary of Education and Falwell Jr to special advisor on Higher Education. Without taking into account the need to fight the Christian Right agenda of hate, xenophobia, predatory lending schemes, and concerns bigger than education in and of itself, our strategies will only contribute to keeping higher education a luxury for those who already have systemic privileges.</p> <p><strong>PS</strong>: You and other artists and organizers that you have worked with see adjunct organizing as part of a broader struggle. How would you describe this broader struggle and how is education justice connected to other struggles for social justice?  In what ways are activists and organizers in higher education forming alliances beyond the college campus? What could organizers being doing better to form these alliances?
</p> <p><strong>JL</strong>: When I was struggling economically and emotionally with my academic career and feeling like I had personally failed, what helped me see the systemic failings I was caught in the midst of was a group of adjunct faculty activists with a few tenured allies who were equally pissed and equally willing to be public about our personal struggles. It was lifesaving. It was another example of how organizing is the best way to fight back. </p> <p>Inside of that experience, I found myself connecting with people who were becoming activists for the first time because they had been personally affected by the adjunctification of higher education, which is great in terms of becoming an activist. Despite being very intelligent people, there was a social justice intelligence to learn that wasn’t occurring at the same time. White educated people, some who owned homes, all who had graduate degrees, were comparing their situation to slavery, to prostitution, to indentured servitude. It was more than troubling. Challenges to these comparisons would result in mob-mentality social media responses demanding a right to victimization, especially straight, white, cisgendered men who were experiencing the system failing them for the first time. To be frank, it was tedious. It was not a movement I could jump into with both feet even though the allegiances I found were significant in my own journey to where I am now.</p> <p>Almost none of us experience pure oppression and pure privilege. There is a skill in being able to navigate the complexities of being both privileged and disadvantaged within a system. There is a skill in recognizing where one has institutional power and where one is being oppressed by institutional power. I’ve spent decades building those skills in many different arenas. My <a href="https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/resolutions-3">academic</a> and <a href="https://www.jessicalawless.net">art</a> work address these concepts. It’s how I organize. It’s what “Cultural Capital doesn’t Pay the Rent” means. It also reflects the reality that my partner is a food service worker, he’s been a cook on college campuses for the last six years. We were already living the nightmare of the new economy as a couple trying to make it on food service and adjunct professor wages. </p> <p>When I became a paid organizer for SEIU on the higher ed campaign, I looked for openings to bring an intersectional perspective to the organizing. One opening occurred when SEIU was also behind the Fight for 15 campaign, an aspirational campaign to raise local and national minimum wages to $15/hour. A lot of this began with food service workers, fast food specifically. In the Bay Area we focused on building relationships between food service workers and adjunct professors, making education the common denominator. One group was told it was their fault they made so little, just get an education and you can make more money. The other group was told it was their fault they made so little, they should have studied something else, even though they got all the education one could get in a given field. We produced art and created relationships through rallies and events that made clear no one but a few were doing well under neoliberal capitalism and labor unions were one of the tools for intervention.</p> <p>At the same time, the Black Lives Matter movement was building momentum. The always too many black cis and trans people being murdered by the state hit a tipping point and made it into mainstream media. The students on the campuses where we were organizing adjunct faculty were out in the streets getting arrested. Alicia Bell, a staff member at the college where I was assigned was involved in creating the fantastic <a href="https://ww2.kqed.org/news/2014/12/10/black-brunch-organizers-put-protest-on-the-menu/">Black brunches</a> and eventually being a part of the group that <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G76v_ilDzM">shut down the Bay Bridge</a>. It was obvious adjunct faculty couldn’t ask students and staff to support their movement without supporting the students and staff. Standing in solidarity was important to building relationships and building a union chapter centering social justice.</p> <p>Getting involved in racial justice organizing should be a key component of faculty organizing. There is a reason why the majority of faculty, contingent or not, are white: institutional racism in education. In higher ed we don’t necessarily think about mass incarceration having an impact on our work. However, <a href="http://atlantablackstar.com/2015/03/18/if-youve-ever-heard-someone-say-the-school-to-prison-pipeline-isnt-a-real-problem-show-them-this/">the school to prison pipeline</a> is one of the reasons faculty are predominantly white. Youth of color end up in the criminal justice system despite the rhetoric to “stay in school.” In <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School-to-prison_pipeline">school there are Zero Tolerance policies and armed police</a>. A small infraction can result in expulsion or imprisonment and the beginning of a byzantine nightmare that traps someone in the incarceration system instead of the education system. As I wrote elsewhere:</p> <blockquote> <p>Terrence Crutcher, one of the more recent Black citizens killed by police, was coming home from a music class at Tulsa Community College when he was murdered. Four days earlier he had been asked to become a mentor to younger students struggling to get it together. Because he was real, and struggling at 40, but doing what he needed to do for himself. His car broke down on his way home from class and he was killed by police. He was some adjunct professor’s student. I am sure of that. Music classes at a community college? He was one of our students. We cannot let this happen to our students. Job security is not such a sweet win if our students are being mowed down by police.</p> </blockquote> <p>Maybe Terrance Crutcher was on his way to being a professor of Ethnomusicology. I promise you there was a time in my life that no one could imagine me as a professor. In fact I think a lot of people may be surprised now to find out that I used to be one. Despite my struggles, the barriers to middle class security—the barriers that being queer, female, mixed ethnicities may present or not—I have race and class privileges in a white supremacist culture that Crutcher did not have. It’s not a given that my intelligence is what defines the difference in the possibilities we each had in life; it is a given that race and class did. </p> <p><strong>PS</strong>: In addition to the ongoing neoliberal restructuring of the university—state disinvestment, adjunctification of the faculty, administrative bloat etc—Iowa and Missouri are considering bills to eliminate tenure at state institutions, and a far right group has created a watchlist of “anti-american” professors. How do you think these new attacks from the extreme right will affect efforts to organize adjuncts? For instance, do you think that this new pressure will make tenured faculty and administration more or less amenable to unionizing efforts or will it have no effect at all? In addition, Since the election and first weeks of the new administration, what has been your mindset and the mindset of other education organizers and activists that you’ve talked to? </p> <p><strong>JL</strong>: Well, I am in California so it’s taken longer for the reality of what’s happening nationally to sink in. Besides being more buffered from the immediate effects of attacks on academic freedom, there are massive well orchestrated organizing campaigns going on to address all of the horrors coming down on us daily. The union organizing in higher education &ndash; students, T/TT faculty, and contingent faculty&ndash; as I am experiencing it, has not yet contended with the relationship between the inevitable so called right-to-work laws and the inevitable attacks on academic freedom. However, I experience this from the position of union staff. This is very different than being inside of the academy forming a new union or organizing within an existing union. One tactic inside of unions (not union chapters but the organization of the union with paid staff like myself) is potential campaigns that build “wall-to wall” worksites in the private sector as exist in the public sector. For example at state schools there are faculty union chapters, support staff union chapters, food service workers union chapters, maintenance workers union chapters, etc. This builds power across campus if the groups are organized by the same union or are able to work in solidarity across different unions.</p> <p>For this to be effective it means breaking down internal hierarchies between students, faculty, and staff. It means not only understanding the different stakes between faculty ranks, but the different stakes for all the campus workers and for undergraduate and graduate students. Beyond understanding, it also means taking collective action that may not be about one’s own self-interest but would benefit the campus community as a whole. I’m honestly not sure most faculty are ready to do this. It means being able to understand oneself as a worker who needs protections. That concept is one of the biggest barriers in organizing faculty of all ranks.</p> <p>For unions to be an effective structure that can fight the erosion of academic freedom on college campuses, union members have to be active in educating their colleagues about why choosing the option of being a fee payer will add to the attacks on academia. Members will also have to be active in learning about the funding structures that are behind their jobs. As an example, if a school has more than 25% Latinx students it can be designated an “Hispanic Serving Institution” and receive federal funds even if it is a private college. If a significant part of those students have an undocumented member of their family or are undocumented, and Sanctuary City laws are repealed, a city not only loses major funding but enrollment of Latinx students could also drop and the school would lose a significant source of funding. That funding loss will play out on adjunct faculty, dining hall workers, maintenance crews, support staff, scholarships, and on and on. It will certainly not play out in the loss of senior administration positions. </p> <p>The same scenario can be played out with the travel ban/“Muslim ban” and the billions of dollars of higher education funding generated by international students. This means faculty need to do more than feel bad about what their students might be experiencing and find concrete ways to be involved in the fight against the repeal of Sanctuary Cities and the Travel Ban.</p> <p>Betsy DeVos is dangerous stupidity. If you aren’t familiar with the <a href="http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-1620-amway-5-realities-multi-billion-dollar-scam.html">Amway scam</a> her in-laws made their billions on, please get familiar. It’s one of the original Ponzi schemes and will ensure this concept is not metaphorical but concrete when it comes to education as a whole, not only arts and humanities degrees. “Earn this degree and then earn this salary!” But instead there is no market and one owes more than they can ever pay back. It’s horrifically frightening. Then add in her brother is <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Prince">Erik Prince</a>, founder of <a href="http://www.corpwatch.org/section.php?id=210">Blackwater</a>. Of course her lack of experience in higher education is not going to be a problem since <a href="https://www.engadget.com/2017/02/02/who-is-jerry-falwell-jr-and-why-is-he-reforming-higher-educatio/">Jerry Falwell, Jr</a> has been appointed special advisor on higher education…It’s right about here that I check out every time. I start getting lightheaded having to revisit the intense hatred of women and gays of the Moral Majority that I fought as a young queer feminist. While I was out in the streets protesting Falwell and Helms and the like, holding up posters made by <a href="https://robbieconal.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage?page=1">Robbie Conal</a>, my partner who is ten years younger than me was still under the influence of his evangelical family. He was home schooled and in Christian grade school with moral majority-like curricula. When he went to a public school for the first time it was also the first time he learned about the Vietnam war. To this day he is angry it took until he was in high school to learn about the atrocities committed by the U.S. military. My heart aches for the generations that are about to be so painfully miseducated.</p> <p>What all this means in terms of organizing in higher ed is that we have to be able to have a really broad and long view. Unions are going to be weakened. It doesn’t matter what college administrations do or don’t do. Or even what one’s union does or doesn’t do. What matters is what we do as union members, as potential union members, as higher ed activists with or without unions. The fight is on.</p> <h2 id="related-articles">Related Articles</h2> <p><a href="http://www.contrivers.org/articles/8/Yasmin-Nair-Class-Shock-Adjunct-Crisis/"><em>Class Shock: Affect, Mobility, and the Adjunct Crisis</em> by Yasmin Nair</a></p> <p><a href="http://www.contrivers.org/articles/13/"><em>The Indefensible Situation of Adjunct Laborers: An Interview with Documentary Filmmaker Bradley Rettelle</em></a></p> <p><a href="http://www.contrivers.org/articles/29/Watson-OBryan-Interview-Adjuncts-SEIU-WUSTL/"><em>Organizing Adjunct Labor: An Interview with Michael O’Bryan</em></a></p> editors@contrivers.org (Jessica Lawless) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/38/ponzi-schemes-bastards-of-neoliberalism-and-social-justice-intelligence-an-interview-with-jessica-lawless-on-union-organizing-in-academe-and-other-topics/ Academia Interviews Tue, 18 Apr 2017 16:45:07 +0000 The Roots of Authoritarianism in Turkish Neoliberalism http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/37/cihan-tubal-fall-of-the-turkish-model-neoliberalism-and-authoritarianism-book-review/ In his review of Cihan Tuğal’s *The Fall of the Turkish Model* Emre Erol examines how and why Turkey has transitioned from neoliberal democracy to authoritarianism. <p>Turkey has long been a source of interest for those who study the development of the modern state and capitalism in the non-Western world. The processes of capitalist incorporation and the modern state formation brought the end of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of nation states such as the Republic of Turkey in the Middle East. This great metamorphosis of the early twentieth century sparked the attention of many prominent intellectuals from different ends of the political spectrum, including Marxists like Trotsky and Luxemburg<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup> almost a century ago during the revolutionary period of change between 1900s–1930s. Since 2002, a similar process of transformation is taking place in Turkey with the rise of the AKP (the Justice and Development Party). Once more Turkey’s change is attracting much attention and is perplexing us as it unfolds with ensuing chapters of power struggles. </p> <p>Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the leader of the AKP, was initially welcomed as a progressive Islamist who could ‘prove’ to the world that Islam, capitalism, liberalism, and democratic values can coexist and thrive. Those who were critical of or disillusioned by the previous westernizing, modernizing, corporatist, and secular power block, the Kemalists, welcomed the AKP as a progressive social force as it mobilized the masses who were disenfranchised by the previous regime or contested its pattern of modernization. His movement was the first Islamic movement in the region to openly embrace capitalism and advocate liberal values. When the AKP entered the political arena, the only viable electoral alternative was a relatively more statist and protectionist Kemalism, which was less desirable for global capital compared to Erdoğan’s movement. Erdoğan found national and international fame swiftly as he claimed his first electoral victory in 2002. The AKP was promoted as a role model for struggling regimes of the Middle East. His power grew exponentially and uninterruptedly after that initial victory. He has outlasted his rivals through several political challenges including a court case to close down his party in 2008, the Arab Spring-like Gezi revolt, an alleged corruption scandal in 2013, and a failed coup attempt which took place during the time of the writing of this review in 2016. </p> <p>Today, Erdoğan and his movement evoke as much fascination as fear. It has concentrated unprecedented power, eroded rule of law, engaged in international crises, promoted unsustainable and environmentally destructive growth driven by construction, Islamized public space, and undermined an already problematic secularism in Turkey. But how did a political party that evoked so much hope for progress and democratization in 2002 run aground in the most terrible ways? Its Syrian policy bankrupted, it became practically and legally authoritarian and now it’s in the process of creating a one-party state and amending the constitution for a ‘Turkish-style’ presidency. How did so many people fail to see this refutation of democracy? What did the left say during his ascension to power? What did the liberals and the conservatives say? How could the EU or the Obama administration remain pro-AKP for so long? Did the AKP and/or Erdoğan change at one point or did he always have such an agenda? Whether or not Erdoğan’s movement always had an authoritarian, Muslim nationalist feature that only surfaced with subsequent challenges is still at the heart of debates surrounding the AKP. Cihan Tuğal’s new book, <em>The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism</em>,is a welcome and refreshing look into those questions. His study is very user-friendly for a readership that is not directly familiar with Turkey or the Middle East. It focuses on the political economic aspects of this story through a Gramscian lens. </p> <p>Cihan Tuğal works on Islamic mobilization in Turkey, Egypt, and Iran. His research focuses on socioeconomic change, mobilization, and the role of religion in sociopolitical projects. His 2009 book <em>Passive Revolution: Absorbing the Islamic Challenge to Capitalism</em> was a pioneering study on the rise of the AKP and the transformation of Islamist ideology in general. In this book, Tuğal argues that the Islamists of Turkey absorbed and internalized the discourses of their ideological enemies in a process of passive revolution. This passive revolution helped them become the new historic bloc<sup id="fnref:2"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:2" rel="footnote">2</a></sup> without a violent revolution. The political structures and the ‘rules of the game’ are transformed without strong social processes. This argument is used to explain how the AKP, unlike many other Islamists in the Middle East, accepted a form of capitalism and democracy that eventually brought it major success. </p> <p>The AKP’s economic liberalization coupled with its rhetorical dedication to political liberalism turned Erdoğan’s party and style into a ‘role model’ for successful liberalization of the Middle East and ‘rendering Islam governable.’<sup id="fnref:3"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:3" rel="footnote">3</a></sup> Tuğal defines this ‘Turkish model’ as an:</p> <blockquote> <p>Islamic Americanism with a revolutionary rhetoric, backed by liberals and some leftists in its half-hearted fight against the remnants of authoritarian secularism. Islamic neoliberalism in Turkey brought about an uneven (but still real) cultural, political, and economic inclusion of disadvantaged strata into established institutions without the need for revolutionary mobilization. Turkish Islamists had found a formula that could absorb the shock of the Iranian revolution.<sup id="fnref:4"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:4" rel="footnote">4</a></sup> </p> </blockquote> <p>The formula proved popular at home and abroad, and this popularity glossed over the internal contradictions of its logic and its authoritarianism, according to Tuğal, until the Gezi revolt in June 2013. From then onward the contradictions of Islamic liberalism—its authoritarian tendencies, its intra-elite struggles and its reckless neoliberal drive of growth—became obvious discontents. It felt like the AKP lost some sort of a rhetorical immunity from criticism that it enjoyed whilst the facades of ‘democratization’ and ‘growth’ were sustained. Tuğal does not delve into this in depth, but this demise was also a consequence of the AKP’s crumbling foreign policy that increasingly isolated Erdoğan. </p> <p>Many scholarly studies broadly agree on these basic facts concerning the fate of the AKP. The big debate emerges from the questions ‘why and when’ the demise began. Tuğal’s genuine contributions start precisely with the ‘end’ of the hopes for Islamic liberalism, as he puts it, and his answer to the question ‘why.’ He looks at political economy instead of civil society or cultural explanations, and he consequently sees authoritarianism from the very beginning of the AKP, unlike others who often see authoritarianism emerging during different times of the AKP’s tenure. He argues that AKP’s Islamist passive revolution, which absorbed the bottom-up energies of Islamism in Turkey ‘generated by 1968, the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the challenge of radical Islam,’<sup id="fnref:5"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:5" rel="footnote">5</a></sup> was doomed to fail and he asks if this tells us anything new about the nature of passive revolutions as such. </p> <p>The AKP’s model is doomed to fail, according to Tuğal, not because of its leader’s much criticized persona or the sociological background of the movement’s constituency, but because of ‘the neoliberal-liberal democratic model’ that it pursued.<sup id="fnref:6"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:6" rel="footnote">6</a></sup> This is an interesting argument since that very model was what promoted ‘AKP cheerleading’, as Tuğal occasionally puts it, by the actors that pursued a new hegemonic order in the Middle East. In the first half of his book, Tuğal spends much of his energy, very productively, convincing the reader about why the AKP’s authoritarianism and its model’s flaws were overlooked by the global actors until 2013. He argues that the flaws were there since the beginning but they were ignored. The AKP’s demise is linked to the crisis of world capitalism’s hegemonic order lead by the US. </p> <p>During the Arab uprisings, or the Arab Spring, which preceded the Gezi revolt, the AKP’s internal contradictions still had not surfaced, and it appeared to many commentators and decision makers that the AKP’s ‘Turkish model’ could be exported to countries like Tunisia, Egypt, or Iran. That was indeed a very fascinating yet short interval of time. Tuğal engages with a comparative analysis of these countries’ moments of transformation after the Arab Spring and argues that despite their potential for economic liberalization, the Turkish model or an Islamic passive revolution, could not have been adopted in these countries primarily because the Turkish model was uniquely conditional to Turkey. His comparisons (chapters 3 to 5) serve to make this point stronger by distinguishing particular differences between these three countries’ liberalization processes as opposed to Turkey where a combination of factors made the rise of the AKP possible. Tuğal’s insightful summaries of Egyptian, Iranian, and Tunisian attempts of transformation provide new perspectives for scholars interested in these countries. </p> <p>One could naturally ask how the AKP could sustain the level of popularity it has had and gain electoral victories with the kind of authoritarianism and neoliberal economic agenda that Tuğal accurately argues are damaging<sup id="fnref:7"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:7" rel="footnote">7</a></sup>to the very classes of people who support the movement. This question has been puzzling those who study contemporary Turkey, and it’s the same question that puzzled Gramsci while he was writing the <em>Prison Notebooks</em>. Tuğal’s book does not deal with this question head-on (unlike his previous book <em>Passive Revolution</em>), but it occasionally bumps into it as he describes the AKP as a ‘good consent builder’ and a benefactor of certain segments of society. However, the political economy framework falls short of analyzing how the AKP could have been such a good consent builder at home for so many years given its poor human development index performance.<sup id="fnref:8"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:8" rel="footnote">8</a></sup> The AKP’s antagonistic but successful mobilization of its own constituency needs as much attention as its ability to convince global actors. </p> <p>Whatever reputation the Turkish model had in May 2013 was gone by the end of the summer of the same year. The Gezi Park protests of May, which started initially as an environmentalist reaction to the AKP’s destructive construction driven growth, turned into the Gezi revolt by the end of August 2013. The protests soon attracted large segments of people who were unhappy with various aspects of the AKP’s rule since 2002. Thousands took to the streets in the urban centers across Turkey, and a brief commune was established in Taksim square, the ground zero of the protests. Leftists, nationalists, Kurdish activists, LGBT groups, feminists, and many others, sometimes with conflicting political agendas, united under their opposition to neoliberalism, the AKP, political Islam, and a broad call for pluralism. Erdoğan’s disastrous and violent handling of the situation exposed the inner contradictions and limits of the AKP’s model both at home and abroad. </p> <p>The Turkish Islamists’ most powerful political tool, consent building through a pro-democratic and pro-capitalist discourse, bankrupted as Gezi Park protesters were crushed by disproportionate state violence for months. Tuğal’s book presents a very good analysis of why and how a particular group, the urban middle classes, came to be the first group to show collective discontent against the AKP’s policies during the Gezi revolt of 2013. It is a valuable addition to the field of study given the scholarly confusion the Gezi revolt created as to its nature and constituency. In this book, Tuğal builds on his previous writing<sup id="fnref:9"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:9" rel="footnote">9</a></sup> on the topic, expands it and accurately defines the Gezi movement as a predominantly middle class one that is essentially anti-commodification. The Gezi revolt becomes a litmus paper or truth test for the AKP’s rhetorical dedication to democracy and pluralism. Thus, it also shows the world the limits of a neoliberal economic model, just like other contemporary protests in places like the United States, Greece, Egypt, Spain, Israel, or Brazil. Tuğal speculates that if Gezi, the end of the Turkish model as he describes it, could be the beginning of a new leftist trajectory in politics. </p> <p>The feeling that one gets at the end of this book is that the AKP’s earlier ‘days of promise’ were contingent upon the hegemonic hopes of the global north to create a new lebensraum for capital in the region. The AKP’s performance appeared like a success while simultaneously causing asymmetric development and discontent, winners and losers, only to release these internal tensions once it was ‘stretched’ too much during the attempt to export the Turkish model. It makes one wonder how this particular Islamic passive revolution figures as compared to other examples in history such as the Meiji restoration, the Italian Risorgimento, or the Mexican Revolution. Tuğal provokes us to think in new ways and offers some insightful paths to follow for researchers of contemporary Turkey and neoliberalism. His book is a fresh read in the abundance of books on the AKP and the Arab Uprisings. This is primarily due to his focus on political economy and (neo)Gramscian approach instead of the often-preferred theories on culture and identity. </p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>For example: Leon Trotsky, ‘The Young Turks,’ accessed August 10, 2016, https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1909/01/1909-turks.htm (Original Kievskaya Mysl, No.3, 3 January 1909 and Rosa Luxemburg, ‘Social Democracy and the National Struggles in Turkey,’ August 10, 2016, https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1896/10/10.htm (Original: Sächsische Arbeiter-Zeitung, 8–10 October 1986.)  &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:2"> <p>A form of a dominant network with particular configurations of material capabilities, discourses and institutions. A historic bloc lies at the heart of Gramscian theory and forms the basis of consent for a particular social order that is dominated by a particular class. It produces and re-produces the hegemony of this dominant class.  &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:2" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 2 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:3"> <p>Cihan Tuğal, The Fall of the Turkish Model: How the Arab Uprisings Brought Down Islamic Liberalism (Verso, 2016), 8.  &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:3" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 3 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:4"> <p>Tuğal, <em>The Fall of the Turkish Model</em>, 3–4.  &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:4" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 4 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:5"> <p>Tuğal, <em>The Fall of the Turkish Model</em>, 27.  &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:5" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 5 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:6"> <p>Tuğal, <em>The Fall of the Turkish Model</em>, 19.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:6" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 6 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:7"> <p>Tuğal’s third chapter, “The Paths of Economic Liberalization,” is a great, thought-provoking chapter where he discusses Turkey’s scores in economic development and the Human Development Index in relation to Tunisia, Egypt and Iran. It provides a valuable insight into the performance of the AKP’s economic policies and the damages of these policies.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:7" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 7 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:8"> <p>For a very good study on this topic, which is also briefly referred to in Tuğal´s book, see: Ayşe Buğra and Osman Savaşkan, <em>New Capitalism in Turkey: The Relationship between Politics, Religion and Business</em>, (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2014).&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:8" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 8 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> <li id="fn:9"> <p>Cihan Tuğal, ‘“Resistance everywhere”: the Gezi revolt in global perspective’ New Perspectives on Turkey, no. 49 (2013): 157–172.&#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:9" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 9 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (Erol Emre) http://www.contrivers.org/reviews/37/cihan-tubal-fall-of-the-turkish-model-neoliberalism-and-authoritarianism-book-review/ Europe Turkey Sun, 26 Mar 2017 09:46:11 +0000 Seven Rules to Consolidate Whiteness in the US http://www.contrivers.org/articles/36/How-to-Consolidate-Racism-US/ How liberal politics reinforces racism in seven simple rules. <p>Adapted from Jacques Rancière&rsquo;s &lsquo;Sept Règles&rsquo;.<sup id="fnref:1"><a class="footnote-ref" href="#fn:1" rel="footnote">1</a></sup></p> <h3 id="1-talk-incessantly-about-donald-trump-and-his-racist-policies">1) TALK INCESSANTLY ABOUT DONALD TRUMP AND HIS RACIST POLICIES.</h3> <p>The only subject of conversation since the election is THIS apocalyptic nightmare. It is important to talk about it today and tomorrow, so that the main frame of what is seen and what is not seen is established. Read your Facebook feed, share articles produced by Slate and Salon, and center all conversation within a discourse driven by the agenda of Trump administration.</p> <h3 id="2-show-your-indignation-that-trump-is-doing-this-or-that">2) SHOW YOUR INDIGNATION THAT TRUMP IS DOING THIS OR THAT.</h3> <p>Your anger achieves a triple effect:</p> <p>a) Makes racism banal by restricting it to one person.</p> <p>Watch with delight Jon Oliver&rsquo;s and Trevor Noah&rsquo;s shows. Because Trump is the angry target of ridicule and laughter, you feel good and laugh. You feel angry. Now you are doing something. Trump embodies everything that is bad. Aid in making racism ubiquitous by ignoring the structures and discourses that produce THIS one person and his administration.</p> <p>b) Disavows whiteness by taking pleasure in denouncing Trump.</p> <p>Meet your white liberal friend and complain about Trump’s racism and xenophobia. What Trump is doing is truly reprehensible. Feel the frisson of pleasure from the position of non-risk that only whiteness allows you. Enjoy the scandal of the Trump administration’s anti-Black, anti-immigrant racism that can only come through denunciation.</p> <p>c) Reproduces white supremacy through discussions about professionalism and empiricism.</p> <p>Re-watch Jon Oliver&rsquo;s show. Denounce conservative news as empirically false and categorize Trump as an exceptionally &ldquo;crazy&rdquo; and inarticulate president. You know the truth. Conservatives are liars. &ldquo;Fake news&rdquo; is factually untrue. Facts are irrefutable. Catch them with their lies. Once you have this valuable method you can show why Trump is unfit. He is crazy. It is evident. There is evidence. Facts and science cannot be racist, misogynistic, or classist. Neither can <em>The New Yorker</em>.</p> <p>Re-watch Trevor Noah&rsquo;s show. Feel shame about your president. By the way, shame can feel good. He, unlike Hillary Clinton and Benjamin Netanyahu, is not a “professional” and can barely speak. Center professionalism at the heart of your critique, and in the process consolidate elitist hierarchies about who speaks in public. Put white professionalism at the heart of your anger. Update CV.         </p> <h3 id="3-talk-about-seriously-addressing-the-question-of-immigrants">3) TALK ABOUT &ldquo;SERIOUSLY &ldquo;ADDRESSING THE QUESTION OF IMMIGRANTS.</h3> <p>Meet your white friend. Tell them that you really hate Trump but that something needs to be done about immigration. Tell them that you believe we are “all immigrants” after all—except, oh yeah, indigenous people and the whole pipeline thing—and that something needs to be done. You sometimes believe the immigrant is a problem. Other times you love talking about immigrants as good, honest, hardworking people. There are “good” immigrants! And the children! Erase any histories of immigration and whiteness associated with it, primarily your role in benefiting from the immigrant scare. Consolidate the figure of &ldquo;the immigrant.” Demonstrate to racists that you can not come up with a solution to address it. Sign petition for sanctuary status in your town or city.</p> <h3 id="4-insist-that-racism-has-a-real-base-because-it-is-a-problem-of-globalization-and-lack-of-jobs">4) INSIST THAT RACISM HAS A REAL BASE BECAUSE IT IS A PROBLEM OF GLOBALIZATION AND LACK OF JOBS.</h3> <p>Read <em>The Economist</em> and <em>The New York Times</em>. They are factual. They are right, you say, white nationalism is caused by white people living in poverty because of globalization. What do you do? Instead of thinking about how global exchanges of commodities and poverty benefit rich people, talk about how white racism is rooted in poverty and ignorance.</p> <h3 id="5-insist-that-racism-derives-from-the-lower-classes-or-better-that-is-the-problem-of-the-white-working-class-that-needs-to-be-helped">5) INSIST THAT RACISM DERIVES FROM THE LOWER CLASSES, OR BETTER, THAT IS THE PROBLEM OF THE WHITE WORKING CLASS THAT NEEDS TO BE HELPED.</h3> <p>You know what happened during the last elections. Ignorant people were ignorant but you have the right solution. You are going to educate them and help them overcome their racist impulses. This rule is helpful because it shows that the so-called &ldquo;anti-racists&rdquo; have the same reflexes as racists. They locate the problem with a category of people: the white working class. Consolidate the rooted alliances between liberal &ldquo;anti-racists&rdquo; and racists by turning discussions back to saving the white working class from itself. Boycott Walmart.</p> <h3 id="6-call-for-politicians-to-denounce-racism-without-any-ambiguity">6) CALL FOR POLITICIANS TO DENOUNCE RACISM WITHOUT ANY AMBIGUITY.</h3> <p>Call on Democratic politicians to denounce Trump. Make Trump the honest voice, the one that tells the truth, by distinguishing him from the “real” and “normal” Republicans and Democrats. Help produce a right-wing that is the only force that can tell it &ldquo;like it is&rdquo; by exposing the motives of “real” politicians. Consolidate that distinction by asking good politicians to denounce racism because a denunciation of racism equates to its eradication. </p> <p>It is important that Trump and Steve Bannon become exceptions to the consensus, the ones that are victims of a larger liberal conspiracy. That will give them the certificate of anti-racists that will allow them to put racist legislation in practice.</p> <h3 id="7-ask-for-tougher-legislation-to-ban-racists">7) ASK FOR TOUGHER LEGISLATION TO BAN RACISTS.</h3> <p>Your anger about racism has reached the boiling point. Ask for punishments to ban racist speech. Consolidate racists as martyrs of liberty. Feel angry when actual people take risks and punch Nazis. They violate the decorum. They are extremists. The good fight is the one from a position of safety and control, when you can express your so-called &ldquo;anti-racism&rdquo; by distancing yourself from anything that is effective in anti-racist work.</p> <p>How can you spread white nationalism in the US?  Simply, denounce its vision at the rhetorical level so that racists become martyrs. Show that only the clean racists can help us save from dirty racists.</p> <div class="footnote"> <hr /> <ol> <li id="fn:1"> <p>Jacques Rancière, &ldquo;<a href="http://www.bok.net/pajol/debat/presse/lemonde/ranciere.html">Sept règles pour aider à la diffusion des idées racistes en France</a>&rdquo;, Le Monde, March 21, 1997. &#160;<a class="footnote-backref" href="#fnref:1" rev="footnote" title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the text">&#8617;</a></p> </li> </ol> </div> editors@contrivers.org (The Anti-Racist Collective) http://www.contrivers.org/articles/36/How-to-Consolidate-Racism-US/ Work Sun, 26 Mar 2017 09:20:37 +0000