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Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category



Educated Hope and the Promise of Democracy

May26

by: Henry A. Giroux on May 26th, 2015 | No Comments »

The following is a commencement speech given by Professor Henry A. Giroux at Chapman University to the class of 2015 at Chapman University on May 24th, 2015.

I am very moved and humbled to accept an honorary degree on this important occasion today, and to be with all of you in sharing this wonderful achievement of graduating from Chapman University. As a father who struggled to put three boys through higher education, I think it is appropriate that I should begin by first acknowledging those parents and family members, whose support throughout the years helped to make it possible for you to achieve this tremendous milestone in your life. And as Stephen Colbert said to a graduating class at Northwestern University, “If you don’t thank them now, you’ll have plenty of time to thank them tomorrow when you move back in with them.” Just kidding, I hope.

I am especially honored to be in the presence of so many of you who have chosen education as a field of study. I can think of no generation for whom education is more important than it is for yours at this particular time in history. At a time when the public good is under attack and there seems to be a growing apathy toward the social contract, or any other civic minded investment in public values and the larger common good, education has to be seen as more than a credential or a pathway to a job. It has to be viewed as crucial to understanding and overcoming the current crisis of agency, politics, and democracy faced by many young people today. One of the challenges your generation faces is the need to reclaim the role that education has historically played in developing critical literacies and civic capacities. At the heart of such a challenge is the question of what education should accomplish in a democracy. What work does your generation have to do to create the economic, political, and ethical conditions necessary to endow young people with the capacities to think, question, doubt, imagine the unimaginable, and defend education as essential for inspiring and energizing the citizens necessary for the existence of a robust democracy?

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I Arrived At The White House… And Didn’t Go Inside.

May25

by: Katie Loncke on May 25th, 2015 | No Comments »

1. Black Excellence and Achievement

Mama’s antidote to being born a black boy on parole in Central Mississippi is not for us to seek freedom; it’s to insist on excellence at all times.

Kiese Laymon, How to Slowly Kill Yourself
and Others in America: A Remembrance

[Some people burdened by racism] achieve themselves to death trying to dodge the build up of erasure.

Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric

Buddhist Peace Fellowship outside the White House.

One of three Buddhist Peace Fellowship banners outside the White House, above, following the closing of the U.S. Buddhist Leadership Conference, May 14, 2015.

When my father was a boy in the early 1950s, he was selected for a scholarship, plucking him out of the black projects of New Haven, Connecticut, and shipping him off to an elite prep school, where he became a proverbial fly in the buttermilk of white students, white teachers, and white ideas.

As he tried to settle in, my father was startled to learn that students’ academic rankings were posted publicly, following periodic exams, with the highest achiever’s name at the top of the list.

Determined to see his name rise, my father began to break school rules. Nighttimes, after lights-out, he would smuggle his coursework into his bunk, along with a flashlight. Clandestine study under the covers.

And sure enough, his name ascended. All the way to the top.

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Hyper-Masculinity, Twin Peaks, & Gendered Violence

May25

by: on May 25th, 2015 | No Comments »

The front lobby of a Twin Peaks restaurant in Orlando, Florida.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Ricky Brigante.

While is it common knowledge that dogs, in particular male dogs, urine scent mark their territories, human males often mark their territories in other forms more noxious and poisonous than urine. We witnessed the deadly effects of turf battles recently in Waco, Texas between rival motorcycle clubs (gangs) in the parking lot, outdoor patio, and inside the local Twin Peaks Restaurant.

While male dogs and human males “spray” to restrict others from their claimed territories, for dogs, the stimulus stems from innate genetically-programmed instincts. For human males, who are significantly less controlled by biologically-mandated reflexes, on the other hand, the motivational incentives come from the socially manufactured gender roles inculcated and enforced within us to maintain our physical and psychological domains. In dogs, the impetus for what I am calling “turfing,” is essentialized. In human males, it is largely socialized. Humans contain the capacity for higher levels of reason to mediate and even override any dispositional factors that might be involved.

Preeminent scholar and social theorist Judith Butler addressed what she refers to as the “performativity” of gender roles in that these roles are basically involuntary reiterations or reenactment of established norms of expression, acts that one performs as an actor performs a script that was created before the actor ever took the stage. The continued transmission of gender roles require actors to play their designated parts so that they become actualized and reproduced in the guise of reality, and in the guise of the “natural” and the “normal.”

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Imaginings Roll Out!

May25

by: on May 25th, 2015 | No Comments »

Over the next six weeks, the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (where I have the honor of serving as Chief Policy Wonk) Cultural Agents will host Imaginings in 15 different towns and cities across the nation. Most of these vibrant, art-infused, highly participatory community dialogues have their own event pages on Facebook other or other sites; click the links to learn where and when. (And scroll down to read about the 2014 Imaginings to whet your appetite for more).

As a new people-powered department, we knew we wanted to engage a broad public in collectively envisioning culture shift. In 2013, when we dreamed up Imaginings as the centerpiece of the USDAC’s local community work, we tapped into a powerful shared realization: everything created must first be imagined. It’s a radical and essential act to imagine a more just, vibrant, and creative society; and even more so to act together, making our shared dreams real.

Across the cultural landscape, powerful dreamers everywhere are tapping into this same deep truth. Just two quick examples: the young organizers who formed Dream Defenders in 2013 to “develop the next generation of radical leaders to realize and exercise our independent collective power” chose a fierce and evocative name for their work. Earlier this spring, when Black Lives Matter called for voices to “help imagine a world where black life is valued by everyone, our rights are upheld, and the beauty and power that is our blackness is celebrated,” they called their action “In a world where Black Lives Matter, I imagine…..”

In every part of the country, in every condition and culture, countless people are imagining the world we want to inhabit. Here at the nation’s first people-powered department, we are doing our part. The Harrisonburg, VA, and Fort Lauderdale, FL Imaginings have already taken place. Look for-on-the ground accounts as Imaginings unfold in the USDAC blog.

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Turning Again: Been Down in the South

May22

by: Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on May 22nd, 2015 | 2 Comments »

In 1961, when the Congress for Racial Equality planned a ‘freedom ride’ through the South to test the integration of interstate transit, they were experimenting in nonviolent direct action — a radical commitment to do what is right whether others deem it convenient, timely, or even legal.

As Black Lives Matter campaigns have arisen in the wake of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Freddie Gray’s deaths, many who are unsettled by their militancy have pointed to the nonviolence of the Freedom Riders and others in America’s Civil Rights Movement. Nonviolence sounds like a favorable alternative when Baltimore is burning.

But nonviolent direct action is never convenient; Mother’s Day 1961 was interrupted by images of a bus burning in Anniston, Alabama, when Freedom Riders were attacked by the Ku Klux Klan with the permission (if not collusion) of local authorities. For all of their commitment to nonviolence, the Freedom Rider’s direct action still unleashed a storm of fire.

When we pay attention, there’s a fire at the heart of our shared life in America. The question Baltimore is forcing us to consider is whether we will be consumed by these flames or saved from them?

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Urban Grassroots Mobilization in central-Eastern European Cities

May21

by: Kerstin Jacobsson on May 21st, 2015 | No Comments »

This article is part of the openMovements series on Open Democracy inviting leading social scientists to share their research results and perspectives on contemporary social struggles.

In recent years, we have seen the rise of mass protests in central and eastern Europe and most notably in south eastern Europe. In Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, for instance, people have taken to the streets to manifest their disappointments with corrupt and unresponsive political elites and a societal development benefiting the few rather than the many. The protests have contained a mix of transnationally inspired anti-neoliberal and anti-austerity critiques and disillusion with domestic political leaders and parties.

A building facade in Metelkova, Slovenia.

Collective action mobilized without the involvement of an organization, is the most frequent kind of civic activism in former Soviet countries. One product of these is Metelkova, an autonomous social center in Slovenia. Credit: Demotix/ Ferdinando Piezzi.

Other forms of grassroots mobilization, however, tend to go unnoticed. An equally important sign of the transformation of post-socialist civil societies as the street protests is the rise and development of urban grassroots activism in the cities across the eastern European region. This type of local, often small-scale and low-key form of activism, related mostly to everyday life problem-solving, easily escapes the attention of the media as well as the lens of social movement researchers who tend to focus either on NGOs and advocacy-organizations capable of the effective lobbying of policy-makers or on more traditional protest events, such as mass demonstrations.

Even so, the protest-event analysis carried out by Ondrej Cisar in the Czech Republic and Slovakia suggest that local ‘self-organized’ civic activism, i.e. collective action mobilized without the involvement of an organization, is the most frequent kind of civic activism in these countries. This form of activism is based on ‘many events, no organizations, and few participants’.

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Social Contexts of Youth Bullying

May20

by: on May 20th, 2015 | No Comments »

Scantily-clad women serve food to men inside Twin Peaks restaurant.

It's no wonder that discrimination and abuse are still so prevalent. In a cycle that must be broken, restaurants like Twin Peaks, that feature barely-dressed attractive female servers, are a product of, and contribute to our male-centric culture. Credit: CreativeCommons / Ricky Brigante.

While studying a number of bullying prevention programs, I find that, while providing good overall theoretical and conceptual foundations and strategies for prevention and reduction of incidents, some crucial components are still missing. We must also discuss and examine the social and cultural contexts wherein bullying attitudes and behaviors often stem. We must find ways not only to understand and to actually engage in correcting these larger social and cultural contexts.

I contend that we must not view bullying and harassment as simply youth problems and behaviors, but rather, investigate the contexts in which bullying “trickles down” from the larger society and is reproduced within the schools. Young people, through the process of social learning, often acquire bullying and harassing attitudes and behaviors, and they also often learn the socially sanctioned targets for their aggressive behaviors.

The developmental and educational psychologist, Albert Bandura, proposed that young people learn primarily through observation, and that one’s culture transmits social mores and what Bandura called “complex competencies” through social modeling. As he noted, the root meaning of the word “teach” is “to show.”

Society presents many role models, from very positive and affirming to very negative, biased, aggressive, and destructive. Modeling, he asserted, is composed of more than concrete actions, which he referred to as “response mimicry,” but also involves abstract concepts, “abstract modeling,” such as following rules, taking on values and beliefs, making moral and ethical judgments.

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American Exceptionalism

May20

by: Jeffrey Vogel on May 20th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Exceptionalism is a neutral word as it can reference something exceptionally good or exceptionally bad — human beings, and their respective nations, have clearly shown themselves to be capable of both.

The notion of American Exceptionalism has been regularly referenced by President Obama — most significantly in his West Point commencement address last year where he said that “I believe in American Exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.” He also said that “The United States is the one indispensable nation.” This blind and exclusive nationalism is the rationale that all imperial powers use to justify their military adventures and is especially dangerous when employed by our nation, the only military superpower on the planet.

The psychologist Erich Fromm’s thoughts on this exclusive nationalism remain very timely:

Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. “Patriotism” is its cult. It should hardly be necessary to say, that by “patriotism” I mean that attitude which puts the own nation above the principles of truth and justice; not the loving interest in one’s own nation, which is the concern with nation’s spiritual as much as with its material welfare – never with its power over other nations. Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one’s country which is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.”

– Erich Fromm in “The Sane Society” (1955)


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The Mark of Cain. It’s Not What You Think It Is.

May19

by: Norman Allen on May 19th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

Stained glass Cain and Abel.

In condemning Dzhokar Tsarnaev to death, we would do well to remember Cain and Abel. Even after murdering his brother, Cain is shown unthinkable mercy and protection from God. Above, stained glass from the Genesis story in Fairford Parish Church, England. Credit: CreativeCommons / Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Dzhokar Tsarnaev’s death sentence, handed down on May 15, serves as the grand finale to a year of public discussion about capital punishment. The Supreme Court is considering the potential cruelty of lethal injections, and Kelly Renee Gissendaner lives under a stay of execution in Georgia, prompted by fears of another “botched execution,” like the one experienced by Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma last spring. It seems a good time to step back and revisit what the Bible’s authors have to say about that book’s first murderer, and the consequences of his actions.

I found the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4, remembering from my Sunday School days that God punishes the murderer with the “Mark of Cain,” a sort of brand that ensures Cain will spend the rest of his days as an outcast. I quickly learned, though, that my memory — or my Sunday School teacher — had it totally wrong.

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Field Office Annals, Part Two: Engagement, Vision, and Play

May18

by: on May 18th, 2015 | No Comments »

This is the second in a two-part series based on interviews with two founding Cultural Agents in the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (where I hold the title of Chief Policy Wonk).(To stay current on everything this great project is doing, enlist as a Citizen Artist: it’s fun and free.)

Jess Solomon in Washington, DC, and Dave Loewenstein in Lawrence, KS, are the first two USDAC Cultural Agents to open Field Offices, USDAC outposts that serve as focal points for local cultural organizing and connecting-points for participation in National Actions. (See part one of this series to learn why they started Field Offices and what they’ve been up to ever since.)

One of the USDAC’s foundational ideas is that the local and national feed and support each other. For example, through local Imaginings, communities generate visions of the futures they desire, and those help to shape policy and program ideas emerging from the National Cabinet. Those can then be tested at the community level, with local experiences making national policy stronger, and vice versa. In this model, policy is rooted in lived local knowledge, not abstract ideas or expert credentials.

Obviously, this works best with a strong local network. Imaginings are part of that, and so are National Actions like the People’s State of The Union, with thousands of community members across the nation taking part. The network of Field Offices is just starting to add a layer, with Dave and Jess showing the way. They’ve already learned a great deal about how to engage people, how to self-organize, and what not to do, and they are happy to share.

When we spoke last month, I asked them what drew people in their communities to the USDAC.


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