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I don’t think I’ve written about the choice to run for GSA executive board here at all. As many of my more regular readers are undoubtedly aware, I do fancy myself a bit of a public intellectual and I think that civic involvement is both my right and my duty. I think I’ve found a situation that I can address from my perspective and my power, and add something to with my skills and knowledge. I want to make clear here that what I write in this blog is not the official line of our coalition, but rather my reasons for being a part of it.

One of the things that excites me most about the election is the very real possibility that we stand on the cusp of change. This is a critical time for public higher education, and it is also a critical time for the SUNY system, with Albany crumbling and funding drying up from the public sector. I don’t think I’m the only UB graduate student who’s alarmed by these developments — far from it. In fact, this isn’t an issue that is limited to people who are supposed to be “left-wing intellectuals” anymore. The public university is a critical site for scientific research, too — the kind of scientific research that needs to take place without being beholden to shareholders, for example.

Many newly-minted Ph.D.s and others with terminal degrees are being siphoned off to universities abroad. Now, I don’t think there’s a problem with finding a job in another country — I have fantasies about pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Copenhagen — but if U.S. institutions can’t keep Americans here, the American university system is going to go hollow. But more immediately than that, current graduate students are suffering because all kinds of resources are drying up. These are only some of the complaints and concerns I hear from graduate students. I also think that, if we combine our forces and present a united front, we might have a shot at getting listened to.

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I’ve decided to pull out of the MSA race.  This was a hard decision for me (it was a hard decision to enter the race to begin with) and it’s something that I’ve been wracked with doubt over for the entire…week and a half…I was committed to running.  I believe that by presenting myself as a qualified candidate with strong ideas and strong ideals is doing a disservice to voters, after all.  I would only be serving for two MSA sessions.  Since the end result would be the installation of an arbitrary MSA representative in my stead by LSA Student Government, my running is harmful to the overall functioning of MSA.

However, this isn’t to say that I’m any less committed to the ideas I began this project on.  I will be assisting the Defend Affirmative Action Party with their campaign, and I plan to bring a resolution regarding the Creative Commons license for Ph.D. candidates to MSA before the end of the semester.  I remain committed to encouraging others to run in my stead — we need another write-in candidate for DAAP, or run as a write-in by yourself.  I’d be more than happy to endorse anyone who stands for lowering the cost of higher education and increasing access across the board.

I just think it is contradictory for someone who is running for the reform of student government to be putting hir seat back into the hands of an established student government group.  It is doing a major disservice to voters.

I’m not happy about this decision, but I also wasn’t entirely comfortable running for MSA.  I’m pretty frustrated with the whole situation at the moment, but I think it’s important that I withdrew from the race.  Nevertheless, I will still be speaking tomorrow in Angell Hall Auditorium D at the public hearing, which begins at 6:oo PM.  If you’re available, I’d love to see you come out.  I promise it won’t be one to miss.

Many people who know me were surprised to learn that I am running for MSA. They were more surprised to find I am running with the Defend Affirmative Action Party. I think it’s worth knowing why, because my run is based mostly on the symbolic significance of my presence in the race and any contention for an MSA position.

I believe that MSA elections have historically been ignored due to a lack of candidates who distinguish themselves in the eyes of the student body as new, unique, and interested in actually doing something with their positions. It might come as a surprise to some, since I am a graduating senior, that I care very much about what MSA does. In fact, I hope to introduce very specific resolutions before the Assembly in the short period I am seated, with eyes on creating a more egalitarian campus. In some ways, I feel as though being elected will mean I have extra responsibility to my constituents to work on the projects they put me in office to work on.

My primary goal in MSA will be the passage of a resolution putting pressure on Rackham to allow graduate students filing Ph.D.s to license their works under a Creative Commons license instead of a traditional copyright license. Creative Commons was developed by Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig to better serve the needs of a digital community of thinkers, writers, and artists. I believe that this is an important step that students themselves can take to address the rising costs of education.

Currently, Ph.D. candidates are required to file their dissertation with UMI Dissertation Services, which is a division of ProQuest. ProQuest automatically licenses the dissertations under a conservative copyright, which is all rights reserved. Ostensibly, this is so newly minted Ph.D.s can make money on their hard work. In reality, the only people who make money in this system are really ProQuest, while also increasing the costs of re-printing dissertations. If I wanted to include your copyrighted dissertation in my anthology, I would be paying an absurd amount of money, mostly to ProQuest, in order to do so.

Creative Commons, on the other hand, is a some rights reserved license. Creators get to pick how much redistribution and reuse others get when they choose their license. The version of the license that makes the most sense for academics is the noncommerical attribution license – essentially it says that you are free to take my work, adapt it or reprint it, so long as you aren’t going to be using it to make money and so long as you attribute what’s mine to me. In an academic world that relies increasingly on digital publishing, Creative Commons makes more sense. And, in the long term, it will help drive down the costs of textbooks and maintaining library subscription services to academic journals.

Ph.D. candidates at the University of California at Berkeley have already set this precedent. Two dissertations were filed this year under Creative Commons licenses, and we have a chance to put our institution and our intellectual production in the vanguard of a new legal precedent for intellectual property. It just makes sense. It’s easy, it’s free, it’s practical, and the more scholars who take part, the less expensive education will become.

Above and beyond the work that I intend to do in the few weeks I would work in MSA, I believe my very presence sends an important message to everyone at U-M. First, that people who care can and should take part in student government. Second, that minority students at U-M deserve to and can have their own voices heard across campus. And third, that we are in fact living in a new progressive era, when service and clear thinking are valued above partisanship and identity politics.

I am running with DAAP as a gesture against the identity politics of the past, in hopes of taking steps toward the alliance politics of the future. Briefly, I think that identity politics, by virtue of its creation of monolithic identity groups, drives people apart. It alienates people with hybrid identities, and erases the important, unique experiences of the individual. We cannot afford that kind of thinking: we need the strength and expertise of each person and their specific experience.

I want to show that there is another way forward for progressives who care about diversity and social justice. It is time for us to start thinking of our movement as an alliance. In an alliance, we already know that there will be differences, disagreements, and negotiation. A progressive alliance has shared overarching goals: peace, justice, diversity, community service, and democracy are foremost amongst others. Yet we’re all individuals, with our own unique identities and styles and perspectives and strategies for success. There is no reason for us to stay isolated because of that. There is no reason we should be unable to stand together, and I am committed to serving in that spirit.

I am a long-shot candidate with big ideas. I am an idealist. I am a true progressive. I am also ready to give back to the university that has made me into who I am today, and I am ready to test the waters of public service. At the very least, I stand for change, and change deserves a chance.

After watching Obama’s brilliant acceptance speech last night, the guests were poised to go home when they  heard a strange rumbling in the distance.  “Come out here,” they said, and we did.  It sounded kind of like what I would imagine a very distant volcanic eruption might sound like.  It was thunderous, and it was coming from the Diag.  This is what it looked like when we got there:

In moments, friends and strangers ran up to us, exchanged hugs and hollers of “yes we can!”  It became a solidarity greeting for the night — in the street we yelled to one another and high fived drivers of cars that couldn’t budge for the people packed onto the roadway.  Drivers honked and cheered.  The sheer energy of the gathering was self-sustaining.  As time passed more people joined the crowd, and even though some broke off to go their separate ways, it seemed that at every turn more knots of people attached themselves to the crowd.

The happy mob, as I have been calling it all day, made its way all over campus.  There were musicians playing and we paused in the Law Quad to sing the national anthem.  (I can’t wait to see everyone’s pictures — if you have some, post a link to your Flickr stream in the comments and I’ll feature my favorites soon.)  I have never seen so many people have so much energy all together, for such a long period of time.  We joined the crowd around 11:30 and headed home at 2:30, and the happy mob was still wandering through the streets, chanting and playing music.

I think I said it to at least a dozen people and two dozen more said it to me: I’ve never in my young life been proud to be an American, but there we were, singing the national anthem at the top of our lungs, arms over each others’ shoulders and getting all misty-eyed about it.

Last night was for celebrating, today is for a sober look at the next four years.  One of the chants I heard, though, was “yes we did.”  I don’t think we can really say “yes we did,” not now.  We may have elected the first black man President of the United States, but what does that really mean?  It’s a huge step for the visibility of race relations in this country, but there are some major hangups I have with saying that we did already, when clearly we have just taken the first step in a long journey.

  • Black people are still black; the oppressed are still the oppressed. Just because an exception to the rule has broken through the proverbial glass ceiling, it doesn’t take away my status as a minority citizen of the United States.  Don’t get me wrong, I think President-Elect Obama is a step in the right direction, and a huge step at that, but we need to keep in perspective that millions of Americans still suffer racial profiling, discrimination, disenfranchisement, oppression, and invisibility due to their minority social identities.
  • Now is not the time to fuck up. Obama is now faced with the horrifying task of unifying this divided country, getting the economy back on the right track, wrapping up wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and at the same time keep the voters who wavered in his favor this year happy so we can see another four years (at least) of people who aren’t total assholes in the halls of power.  I think it’s fair to say these clinchers are giving the “liberal” side a chance to prove their ability, which is something that is pretty rare in this day and age.
  • Complete the Court while we still can. The U.S. Supreme Court could really use a Sandra Day O’Connor version 2.0.  I’m just saying.
  • Don’t ignore the internet. The internet put the Democrats in power in a big way.  It’s important to show that this digital revolution in political life in this country isn’t just a flash in the pan.  There is huge potential to harness this power — so long as the government can ensure that it is both free and secure — and see to it that the change that Obama is all about is a lasting one.
  • Voter turnout was ridiculous, but we need to streamline the voting process. See my previous post about long lines being the new poll tax.  Again, change is all well and good, but lasting change is what we really want.

That said, I think last night’s victory for the Obama campaign sends a clear message: yes, we can take care of all these problems.  Yes, we can make a unified America that isn’t afraid of half of its citizens, reclaims its respect abroad and doesn’t leave people disenfranchised and screwed over for health care.  And I have my fingers, toes and eyes crossed that we will.

This is fucking real.  This is our year.  This just happened.

That really is my America.  Like, no sarcasm.  All seriousness.

It only took me an hour to get through the entire voting process.  Down at my polling place, there was a carnival atmosphere: at least a dozen of my friends were there around when I was there, and we had sparklers and candy and there were high-fives for everyone.  We hung out with the Democratic voter assistance volunteers (one of whom was in all of my philosophy classes last year) and drank coffee and talked about the election.  Spirits are high.  People are counting on this.

But in Ypsilanti Township, people are waiting three or four hours to vote.  In Miami-Dade, people are waiting upwards of five.  It is excruciatingly clear that we are privileged.  Not only did I only have to spend an hour at my polling place, I had the option to hang out and meet other voters.  Economically underpivileged people, especially people who work bit jobs for hourly wages, don’t have that kind of luxury.  Especially when you consider that wait times are considerably longer in underprivileged areas, you can’t help but think — this isn’t an explicit poll tax, but it might as well be.  If I were working 60 hours a week and living paycheck-to-paycheck, I couldn’t spend three hours waiting to cast my ballot.  If I were making just enough money to make rent and were living on food stamps, I would honestly probably choose making my money over voting.  And even if I had the chance to plan ahead and sock a little extra away for November (some people still can’t do that), my employer might not be so cool with me taking off.  I’m enormously privileged as a college student living in an upper middle-class community that 1) I can take time out of my day to vote and 2) there are plenty of volunteers in my area to staff my polling place.

I am not-so-secretly ashamed of myself for not volunteering in Ypsi Township.

I’m also really excited that people are using the internet to give voting social capital.  While the white oval “I Voted” sticker that is on my messenger bag is pretty cool, it’s nowhere near as exciting to get involved on Facebook.  Logging in this morning, I was presented with a running count of every Facebook member who has voted.  I changed my status to the automated message from the Causes application (I was recruited by a friend, and have recruited two so far).  The sheer numbers — nearly a million people used the Causes application to change their statuses simultaneoulsy at midnight, over 2 million have reported voting already — is something that makes it thrilling, not to mention unifying.

This is cool and everything, but how can we better use social networking tools to galvanize young people?  I kind of wonder how many people would have gotten their hands dirty with this on Facebook if it weren’t such an important election to us?  I hope we immediately start working on ways to motivate people in the future.  Social capital is remarkably valuable, and also remarkably easy to come by on the internet.  So long as you have a critical mass of users who are participating, others start paying attention.

And using online social capital to get out the vote is one thing, but it still doesn’t answer a fundamental question: how do we reenfranchise the disenfranchised?  What about the voters in Ypsi Township, in Detroit, in Miami-Dade County?

I think that a lot of my time since my last post — a good two weeks, I’m now coming to realize — has been spent parsing the vast quantity of information that has been thrown at me in that time.  In the past two weeks, we’ve seen Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates, an economic meltdown, and a failure of the U.S. government to address that economic meltdown.  The other day Victor said, “I hate saying this, but I think your people — people under 25 — are the only real innocents in this.  You’re also the most fucked.”

Young people spend an awful lot of time blaming older, supposedly wiser people for fucking up.  It’s still amazing to me how little people in my age bracket know about the economic meltdown, what is being done about it, what it means for them, and why they should care.  It’s still amazing to me how easily we get numbed to the information that gets thrown at us on a daily basis.  It’s still amazing to me how little so many people around me seem to really care.

I’m not talking about registering to vote or going to Obama rallies.  It has yet to be seen whether the Obama phenomenon is an isolated event or the beginning of a long-term change.  I’m still convinced that if McCain won the election, everyone would be bummed but nobody would be in the streets throwing Molotov cocktails at riot squads.  Maybe the fact that we won’t be rioting is for the best, but being bummed out about perpetuating this nasty status quo?  I don’t think that’s for the best.

I don’t honestly believe people of my generation are any more or less apathetic than of my parents’ generation.  I’m not deluded into thinking that the old footage you see of marches and protests in the ’60s were footage of most of America.  Though the protests were widespread, what does widespread really mean?  Geographically?  People have been feeling powerless for a while now, and it’s not our fault we’d rather plug into our computers or Xboxes.

It’s hard work changing the status quo.  It takes a lot of energy and willpower to care about a system that is essentially designed to disenfranchise pretty much everybody I associate myself with.  Changing that system?  A Herculean effort.

But there’s dissatisfaction.  There’s disgust.  There’s a feeling of being backhanded by the rest of the world and then left to nurse the wounds alone with our inner turmoil.  There’s anger.  Where does it go?  Where should we send it?  Who really cares?

I like to keep in mind, whenever considering political candidates, that everyone has a price.  People can be bought out, and we aren’t doing the buying.  A question I think we should be asking ourselves: how can we turn into producers of political capital the way that the weathy and the enfranchised are?  How do we enfranchise ourselves in a system designed to keep people quiet?  What ways do the guardians of the status quo expect us to strike?  And can we devise a way to strike that is entirely unexpected?

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