Cambridge Biotech’s Unknown Costs

Anyone living in the area around Kendall Square and Central Square could tell you that Cambridge is changing. The growth of biotechnology in the city – making Cambridge one of the world’s most important biotech research centers – has brought unparalleled development at its southern edge. In addition to the 12 different academic institutions dedicated to life sciences, technology and entrepreneurship that already call Cambridge home, a range of both well-established pharmaceutical companies and startups have set up office and lab space in this area. Many have praised the presence of these institutions for advancing the life sciences in Cambridge. In a 2012 video produced by the city of Cambridge, a variety of public figures, including the presidents of Harvard and M.I.T., acclaimed the limitless opportunity for economic growth and development that the city’s reputation as a haven for life science research will bring.

Unfortunately, this expansive growth has come at a cost. For too many low-income residents of American cities, development has become a code word for gentrification that pushes them out of their communities and brings wealthier residents in. Here in Cambridge, the residents at risk live in a swath of the city between Central Square and MIT known as Area 4.

Fearing for the future of the neighborhood’s affordability and socio-economic diversity, members of the Cambridge Residents Alliance (CRA) have long fought against the consequences of the sort of development extolled by the city. The group, which defines itself as “a network of individuals and households dedicated to preserving and improving the quality of life for all Cambridge residents,” has lately focused on MIT’s expansion. CRA’s organizational platform cites this expansion as one of the primary reasons that Cambridge residents are being priced out of the city.

CRA board member and longtime Cambridge resident Charles Teague is one of the group’s most vocal critics of MIT’s development plans. Most recently, he accused Cambridge mayor Henrietta Davis and two city councilors of violating Massachusetts state open meeting law to favor MIT during an April 8th council meeting.

In a morning meeting with me in Dennis Carlone’s city council campaign office, Teague described how an influx of graduate students and biotechnology workers has driven up rents and housing prices, such that neighborhoods that once offered secure, affordable housing for families are now too expensive for their residents. Graduate students live together and so can often afford to pay more for multi-room apartments which would otherwise house lower to middle-income families. Moreover, high-salary biotech employees can afford to live in newly-constructed luxury high-rises that do not serve the housing needs of local residents and further contribute to pricing them out. The effects of demographic changes these rising prices are hard to ignore. According to the 2011 Cambridge Statistical Profile, the number of families in the area has been in steady decline in recent decades – with the 2010 percentage of the Cambridge’s population that is comprised by children is only 42% of what it was in 1950.

Those that are able to stay in the area face declining conditions in their neighborhoods. With the Red Line at capacity, Teague argues that development will bring in thousands of new daily car trips, adding traffic to the already congested city streets. An increase in luxury high-rises and office buildings is already leading to decreased sunlight and open space. And if the loss of these simple pleasures were not enough to break the spirits of those who are left behind, then the potential for the loss of culturally affirming neighborhood establishments like the Middle East restaurant and nightclub to commercial development likely will be. With rising real estate prices, owners of institutions like the Middle East are increasingly tempted to sell their space to biotech companies and real estate developers. Thus, once vibrant neighborhoods become “bedroom communities” for the people moving in – reflecting only their need for a place to live and their investment in life science research.

CRA members see no likely end to recently observed trends in development; according to Teague, there are plans to build more in Cambridge in the coming decade than has been built in the last fifty years. However, they refuse to give up hope that the development can be done in a way that is inclusive to Cambridge residents of all socioeconomic backgrounds. They believe that the City Council is in need of a master plan for equitability in future development, and feel that one could be devised if only the Council and relevant city departments worked in conjunction with the Cambridge Housing Authority and local neighborhood and tenant organizations to do so. The CRA has long held an organized set of demands stemming from its positions on socially just housing and development plans. With the recent election of Dennis Carlone, the candidate they endorsed for city council, they hope to see some of their demands met.

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Perspective Supports the UPASS, Gender-Neutral Housing, Legalize Harvard, and the Beyond the Bottle Campaign

UPASS

UPASS

The UPASS program would give Harvard the opportunity to partner with the MBTA to provide T passes to every student, enabling students to go anywhere in Boston for free and generating $5.8 million in additional revenue for the MBTA. Recently, due to its “big dig debt,” the MBTA enacted fare hikes and service cuts that have disproportionately harmed already marginalized demographics — low-income people, people of color, young people, and the elderly. The extra funds from the UPASS program would help fund the MBTA’s debt and prevent future fare hikes and service cuts. This revenue could also be used to create a discounted monthly Youth Pass for Boston children and teenagers, a measure that is particularly important because 27% of Boston students have missed days of school because they could not afford the T fare. While Harvard and other universities do not pay taxes to Cambridge, Boston, and other local municipalities, our community benefits a great deal from municipal services, so it makes sense for us to help fund these services as well. Perspective Magazine has consistently supported efforts to achieve greater transit justice in the Boston area, and we believe that Harvard’s involvement in the UPASS program is an important step to ensuring that affordable public transportation is not a privilege, but a right.

 

Gender-Neutral Housing

Gender_Neutral_Housing

It is important to note that the proposed gender-neutral housing policy would give students the choice to live with individuals of the opposite gender, not force them to do so. A more inclusive housing system would provide students who identify as LGBTQ+ or outside the gender binary with comfortable living situations. It would give freshmen the opportunity to choose whether or not they want to live with someone of the opposite gender by checking a box on their housing application. Instead of having pilot programs, all upperclassman houses would have permanent gender-neutral housing, helping establish a campus climate of equality and acceptance. Perspective Magazine officially endorsed gender-neutral housing last year and continues to do so to make sure that every Harvard student feels welcome on our campus.

 

Legalize Harvard 

legalize harvard

Like millions of other undocumented students across the country, the undocumented community at Harvard is overlooked by students and administrators alike. These students were brought to the United States as children by no fault of their own and consider this country their true home. Harvard currently graduates approximately ten undocumented students per year, yet, because of our broken immigration system, they are denied the right to vote and face obstacles when applying for jobs or graduate school. If immigration reform fails to pass this year, the forty undocumented students currently at Harvard will be left with no legal avenue to adjust their immigration status. In 2010, Harvard publicly came out in support of the DREAM Act, however, the current comprehensive immigration reform bill is stuck in the House of Representatives and is at risk of not passing this year. We are calling on Harvard to join hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the country in advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. As a liberal arts institution with the mission “to remove restraints on students’ full participation,” Harvard has an obligation to advocate on behalf of its undocumented students and we urge Harvard’s administration to put more pressure on our politicians to pass this bill by officially endorsing comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship.

 

Beyond the Bottle Campaign

beyond the bottle

Bans on the sale of bottled water are spreading across the nation, and it is time for Harvard to fully endorse an effort with the potential to make a real impact on campus sustainability. There’s little excuse to promote a product that requires 17 million barrels of oil yearly for production and costs 1,900 times as much as the clean, Cambridge tap water that Harvard already has access to. Furthermore, bottled water is an inherently wasteful product. For every liter of bottled water that is prepared for sale, three more liters of water have to be produced. The sale of water bottles produces an excessive amount of solid waste as well. The Harvard School of Public Health currently has a ban on the sale of bottled water and has eliminated an estimated 1000 plastic bottles per week from the waste stream. This adds up to over 52,000 plastic bottles a year, and is enough plastic to fill two entire landfills. Waste reductions on this scale are dire, especially considering that Massachusetts landfills are already full to the point where waste is starting to be shipped to North Carolina. Harvard can have a great impact on this sustainability movement by fully supporting the Beyond the Bottle Campaign and banning the sale of water bottles on Harvard’s campus.

 

 

 

 

 

Scare Campaigns Won’t Deter Young Americans From Enrolling In Obamacare

By Anne Johnson
affordable-care-act

As of Oct. 1, millions of Americans can now sign up for affordable healthcare insurance. On the first day of open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges, more than 4.7 million people visited the federal exchange site, HealthCare.gov, and more than 190,000 made calls to the healthcare hotline.

For the first time, the 17 million young Americans living without health insurance have an opportunity to explore the marketplace exchanges and purchase affordable health care.  It’s no secret that the success of the Affordable Care Act is in part dependent on Millennials taking part in the exchanges. But some groups are employing scare tactics and misinformation targeted at convincing Millennials to opt out.

As of now, these efforts have been criticized by numerous media outlets and officials for their ridiculous take on the “dangers” of healthcare enrollment, but it’s important that young Americans continue to be educated on the positive tenets of the new healthcare marketplace.

When it comes to scare tactics, the conservative Generation Opportunity is leading the charge.

The group—which is based in Virginia and has been “catfishing” young people on social media—has expanded their Opt-Out campaign to include a commercial depicting a frightening version of Uncle Sam invading a woman’s privacy during a visit to the gynecologist. And this week, Evan Feinberg, former Congressional candidate and president of the Koch-funded organization, placed an op-ed in a handful of newspapers across the country urging Millennials to opt-out of health care exchanges. Feinberg claimed that participating in health exchanges will result in generational redistribution.

That is simply untrue. Health insurance is just like other types of insurance: An individual pays a monthly premium, and then everyone’s premium is pooled together to help pay for individuals’ care. If this is what he meant by generational redistribution, the private market produces the same result.

What’s more, they say “opting-out” will save you money. “You might have to pay a fine, but that’s going to be cheaper for you and better for you,” Feinberg told Yahoo! News. But even the group’s spokesperson can’t get that math to work, as The Atlantic discovered.

Here at Generation Progress, we’ve taken a different approach—clarity.

Along with a coalition of partner groups, we are coordinating large-scale efforts both on the ground and through online platforms to educate and engage young Americans on what the ACA will really mean. Because of the Affordable Care Act, millions of uninsured young Americans have more, and more affordable, options.  Young people under 26 can now stay on their parents’ plans. Those who work multiple part-time jobs that don’t offer employer provided health insurance can now browse the marketplace and choose an affordable option that best fits their needs. And the exchange marketplace is providing young people with access to better and more cost-effective healthcare options.

It’s important for young Americans to get more accurate and comprehensive information about the healthcare exchange marketplace from reliable sources in the health sector such as Planned Parenthood, Doctors for America and Enroll America.

The healthcare exchanges are a smart option for Millennials. They provide more options and more access for uninsured young Americans.

To make coverage more affordable, there are federal subsidies in place.  Any American with annual gross income less than 400 percent of the federal poverty limit, or $44,680, is eligible for subsidies they would not get from a private plan. Some Millennials may even qualify for no-cost coverage under Medicaid. A catastrophic plan is also available for individuals under 30 at a lower cost than some plans in the private market, providing preventative care with three primary care visits and no out-of-pocket costs.

We know that scare tactics simply won’t work. Young Americans are smart enough to see beyond these illogical campaigns, and we overwhelming understand the value of having access to affordable health insurance for every American.

Anne Johnson is the executive director of Generation Progress. You can #GetCovered or learn more at Healthcare.gov.

Insomnia Cookies Picketing Continues

By Sidni Frederick

Insomnia Cookies workers turned IWW members

The Insomnia Cookies storefront on Mount Auburn Street has recently seen a series of picket lines led by fired Insomnia Cookies workers and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The demonstrations began on Sunday, August 18th, the morning after four members of the Insomnia night shift finalized their decision to go on strike, and have continued up until as recently as the night of Saturday the 21st. Marchers walked in circles in front of the storefront bearing signs, flags and rattles made from soda cans to make noise. Chants like “no justice, no cookies” and “Insomnia Cookies, hey, hey, how much money did you lose today” were heard for blocks as the strikers and their supporters discouraged passersby from patronizing the popular sweet shop. Those who chose to cross the picket line were met with an uproar of boos and heckles upon entering and exiting the establishment.

The four night shift workers – Chris Helali, Jonathan Peña, Niko Stapczynski, and Luke Robinson – decided to strike after putting up with poor working conditions ranging from the denial of state mandated breaks to receiving pay below the minimum wage. After serving all the customers in the store, the four of them put protest signs up in the windows and closed shop. The regional manager for Insomnia Cookies arrived on scene within hours of the closing, and the men were promptly fired. All four joined the IWW after Helali reached out to the union with news of their decision to go on strike, and they have been demonstrating with them ever since. The fired workers and IWW members are supported in their efforts by student groups like Harvard University’s Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) and Boston University’s Student Labor Action Project (SLAP). Together, they hope to draw attention to the low wages and unfair working conditions experienced by Insomnia Cookies employees, as well as to their current campaign to unionize all Insomnia Cookies workers. For any interested parties, strike updates and information on ways to get involved can be found on the IWW’s main website and http://www.perspy.com/.

Press Release: “Out of the Shadows” Immigration Speak-Out on April 27th

UNDERGRADUATES FROM HARVARD WILL GATHER AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY ON APRIL 27TH TO SPEAK OUT FOR COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM AND RECOGNITION OF THE ORIGINAL DREAMERS.

Boston, MA–

This Saturday April 27th at 5:30pm, the student advocacy group Act on a DREAM at Harvard College will be rallying on Widener’s steps to bring awareness to the undocumented student community at Harvard College in an Immigration Speak Out called “Out of the Shadows.”

The purpose of the speak out is to share the stories of undocumented students at Harvard and to collect signatures for the passage of a fair and humane comprehensive immigration reform bill.

The Immigration Speak out will be the culmination of an image campaign on Harvard College’s campus for which Act on a Dream has placed various images of students with the caption, “I could be undocumented,” highlighting the diversity among the undocumented student population. Renowned law professor Deborah Anker of Harvard Law School will speak on the importance of immigration reform along with various other speakers from the Harvard and Boston community. Following these speakers, Act on a Dream members and undocumented students at the college will share the stories and struggles of undocumented students at Harvard. This Speak-Out will have a special emphasis on the contributions of the parents of these students, the “Original DREAMERS.”
This event will mark an important moment for the undocumented Harvard community and will hopefully bring attention to aspects of Comprehensive Immigration Reform that has not been given enough attention by politicians or the media. Act on a Dream hopes to collect signatures from students and spectators to advocate for the passage of a fair and humane Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, which will then be sent to legislators in Washington, D.C.

Act on a DREAM at Harvard College, a student organization dedicated to engaging youth in ensuring equality for all immigrants, is proud to host this historic event which will hopefully bring the reality of being an immigrant out of the shadows and bring Comprehensive Immigration Reform into the light.

For Media Requests, please contact Andrea Ortiz at andreaortiz@college.harvard.edu

It’s time for Open (Gender-Inclusive) Housing

By the Perspective Staff

With the stress of blocking and housing day out of the way, students are starting to choose roommates for next year. For many, living options are unfortunately constrained by considerations of gender. The college’s current limits on gender-neutral housing reinforce the gender binary and rely on the patriarchal and heteronormative assumptions that one should be closest friends with individuals of the same gender and attracted to individuals of the opposite gender. They also discriminate against trans* and gender-nonconforming students. Moreover, these limits deny students the right to decide their living situations as responsible adults. Thus, we urge Harvard College to enact an open (also called “gender-neutral” or “gender-inclusive”) housing policy that allows sophomores, juniors, and seniors to choose roommates of any gender and enables first-years to indicate on their housing forms the gender(s) with which they prefer to live.

Currently seven of the upperclass houses require students to live with roommates of the same gender. A limited number of students may apply for mixed-gender suites, but the College requires that bedroom occupants be of the same gender, with locks installed on every bedroom door. Since installing locks on walk-through bedrooms would violate Massachusetts state fire code regulations, the college’s policy prevents many suites from becoming open living spaces. A pilot program provides for open housing in five of the upperclass houses as well as the Dudley Co-Op; these houses do not require locks on bedroom doors. This pilot program has thus far been successful, but students are at the mercy of the housing lottery to determine whether they can participate.

To be clear about our terminology, we will use the World Health Organization definitions for sex and gender. While “sex” refers to the “biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women,” while “gender” refers to the “socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women” and has more to do with the individual’s self-identification.

Harvard is falling behind our peer institutions on this issue. UPenn has offered gender-neutral housing to all students in all years for all room types since 2005, stipulating only that students under age 18 seeking co-gendered housing receive parental consent. At Columbia, co-gendered living is known as open housing and is available in all upperclass residential houses. Yale has a gender-neutral housing policy for juniors and seniors, and The Yale College Council has been working for over a year to extend this policy to sophomores.

But why is open housing necessary on our campus?

For students who identify as LGBTQ+ or outside the gender binary, mandatory same-gender living situations can be extremely uncomfortable. Unnecessary stress and anxiety can come from being forced to live in close quarters with individuals with whom one is not comfortable on the basis of gender. On a campus that is becoming increasingly aware of preferred gender pronouns and institutionally recognizing gender and sexual minorities, it is important to recognize the needs of students who identify as trans* or gender non-conforming. The current policy accommodates the needs of trans* students and students with “gender-based needs,” but this term is ambiguous. What qualifies as a gender-based need? For students who begin transitioning after their first year, what living options currently exist?

Opponents of open housing claim that couples will be the first to opt into this program, and that college-aged couples cannot be allowed to live together because they will likely break up and then be forced to remain in the same living situation. This argument relies on the heteronormative assumption that all couples are straight; it’s currently possible for queer couples to cohabitate in same-sex rooming situations, and no one has complained about the possibility. Furthermore, students ought to decide for themselves whether they wish to live with their sexual or romantic partners; it is condescending and paternalistic for the college to make these decisions for us.

Moreover, the College’s worries about specifically heterosexual cohabitation, merited or not, should not prevent other students from pursuing a living situation in which they feel comfortable and accepted. The simple truth is that men and women can be close but platonic friends interested in living together. The assumption that a locked door is needed between all individuals of different sexes implies an inherent tension or antagonism that is not real. In fact, female Yale students living in the open housing system reported “feeling less vulnerable having men in their suite” and that open housing could make men allies of women rather than threats.

Students are emerging adults capable of making our own decisions concerning what living situations will be most conducive to a healthy and enjoyable undergraduate experience. Our rooms are not only places of academic study but also of relaxation and socialization. It is only fair for students to expect to be able to design their living arrangements in a way that promotes all of these ends. Besides, many students – both couples and good friends – currently unofficially live in each other’s rooms, so enacting an open housing policy would simply legitimize what is already a common practice.

For centuries, Harvard has been at the vanguard of higher education. Yet the university’s lackadaisical approach towards achieving total open housing is pathetic when compared to the advancements made by its peer institutions. A lack of open housing could potentially drive prospective applicants away from pursuing a Harvard education.

So what would implementation of open housing look like? For freshmen, it would likely mean the simple adjustment of adding the option of open housing in the form of a check box, next to one for same-sex housing. For upperclassmen, it would mean the extension of open housing to all of the houses and locations in which Harvard undergrads currently live. No one would be forced to participate in this system, but the option would be widely available to anyone who opted. This would help to promote a community in which all self-identifications are welcomed and equal and would create both the immediate environment and the larger culture in which each individual feels at home.

This statement is endorsed by the following Harvard student groups:

BAGELS

Harvard College Democrats

Harvard College International Women’s Rights Collective

Harvard College GLOW

Harvard College Progressive Jewish Alliance

Harvard Student Labor Action Movement

Harvard Sustained Dialogue

Harvard Queer Students and Allies

Manifesta Magazine

Trans Task Force

The Double-Meaning of Religious Progress: Catholics at Harvard

by Kate Aoki

People of faith have always faced the challenge of deciding when progress means adhering to tradition and when it means adapting to a changing world. These individual choices, taken together, affect and shape larger religious communities.

Recently, the Catholic community gathered together to watch as their new leader was chosen. On March 13, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was selected as Pope. A Pope of many firsts – the first to choose the papal name of Francis, the first Jesuit, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere – he is now expected to guide Catholics around the world in the wake of Benedict XVI’s resignation. Like his predecessor, Pope Francis is elderly and conservative, leaving many who had hoped for big changes in the Church less than optimistic.

I grew up in an Irish Catholic suburban town in Massachusetts. I was one of the only Protestant kids at school; from my Catholic friends and classmates I heard all about the process of confirmation and Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes, i.e. study sessions on Catholic doctrine. Many of my friends at Harvard – including two of my three roommates – are also Catholic. Because of these connections, while I am not Catholic, I feel invested in the developments in the Catholic community here on campus.

Like the global Catholic community, Harvard’s Catholic community is facing major changes in leadership. Catholics at Harvard have organized themselves into various groups. The largest and most inclusive is the Catholic Student Association (CSA), which has about 200 members. Next in prominence are the Knights of Columbus and the Daughters of Isabella, the gender-exclusive and conservative offshoots of the CSA, each with about 25 members. Many black Catholic students on campus also belong to the Black Christian Fellowship.

The CSA runs a variety of student activities meant to connect Catholic students and offer them a forum for discussing their faith. It helps to organize small Bible study groups and the Student Mass at St. Paul’s Church. It also hosts weekly study breaks, several Spaghetti Suppers each semester, and periodic interfaith events that bring together various Christian student groups.

The Knights and Daughters often participate in CSA events in addition to hosting their own. Both organizations stress tradition, family values, and charity. They distinguish themselves mainly by emphasizing conservative ideals. For instance, the Knights’ website includes links to the St. Paul Pro-Life Committee, the Heritage Foundation, and the Family Research Council, while the Daughters periodically gather to protest at abortion clinics.

In the past few years, the Knights and Daughters have asserted their control over the CSA, pushing moderate and liberal Catholics to leave the organization. This shift has been both cultural and political. The atmosphere of the CSA has changed so that if a member questions a religious tenet or Biblical passage in a way that challenges a traditional interpretation or Church practice, that person faces isolation from the group. A CSA member who asked to be granted anonymity told me, “I sometimes feel like my concerns about church policies would not be respected if I brought them up, and even questioning them at all would make me ostracized.”

Many factors have caused this shift. For one, St. Paul’s Church, which is closely affiliated with the CSA, has played an increasingly large role in the politics of the student organization. St. Paul’s is a conservative congregation; its pastor, Father Michael E. Drea, and the four missionaries it is hosting this year support the traditional beliefs of the Knights and Daughters. Student leadership has played an even greater role in causing these changes within the CSA. This past December, the CSA held an election for its board positions. Over the course of the semester, many moderate and liberal Catholics had stopped participating in CSA events, while the Knights and Daughters ran an aggressive email campaign in favor of their candidates. In the end, all six board positions, including the presidency, went to members of the Knights or Daughters.

The change in the organization’s leadership has bolstered the resolve of the more conservative wing of the CSA and has limited and stifled meaningful religious debate and conversations about faith and doubt. This narrowness has also alienated many formerly committed members. One of my roommates, who was highly dedicated to the CSA – helping to run weekly events and community-wide gatherings – has now decided to pull away from the organization, as have handfuls of my other Catholic friends at Harvard.

All of them express regret at feeling isolated from the CSA. While they still attend church, they feel that there are no places on campus where they can discuss their faith with others who are also working to negotiate their religious beliefs in the context of the many challenges of college life.

It is important to recognize that all groups experience fluctuations as power changes hands. However, the ideological shift of the CSA stands to have lasting consequences because recruiting techniques are changing so that only the more fundamentalist believers are seriously pursued by the CSA.

I do not mean to blame any individuals or a single organization for this decline in student participation in Catholic groups on campus. I only mean to stress the importance of discussion, friendly opposition, and diversity of belief in all organizations, perhaps especially in religious ones. Without the room to debate and question, what is the purpose of religious discussion? Such debate is crucial to the health and vigor of faith, for in today’s world, isolating belief from conversation limits personal growth, lessens the power of that belief, and works to sever the connection between that belief and actual life. This issue is particularly complicated because it is not only an internal issue; factors outside the CSA, including church leadership, are exacerbating the problem. However, the CSA is above all a student group and ought to be chiefly built and shaped by the Harvard community.

Times of change provide excellent opportunities for growth. In this moment of adjustment for the Catholic community worldwide, Harvard students have the chance to introduce into conversation questions of faith and expression of belief on campus. By setting a precedent of tolerance, communication, and understanding, this can have a major impact on the long-term trajectory of religious groups at Harvard.

Idle No More: An Interview with Jeremy Wood

By Rachel Sandalow-Ash

Hailing from Vancouver, Canada, Jeremy Wood (Metis) works as a progressive organizer in Boston. Additionally, he is working to organize social media for Idle No More – Boston, a local group acting as part of an international protest movement striving to promote indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice.

Can you give readers a bit of background? How did Idle No More start?

Well it started about 500 years ago…

You mean at the start of colonization?

Well, yes. It’s important to dispel a misconception that’s been too common in the media that this came out of nowhere. Settlers like to believe that colonialism, sad as it was, has ended, and that Indians are, at best, part of the great tapestry of America. We’ve resisted from the start. This is the continuation of a long history.

But more immediately, First Nations people in Canada have watched an increasing number of legislative attempts be made and passed that would further infringe upon the sovereignty of indigenous people.

A couple of months ago, the Conservative government put forward Bill C35 that would remove federal protection and oversight of waterways and in doing so absolve the legal duty of developers to consult with First Nations. In the past, damming of rivers has literally drowned entire indigenous communities. Others are forced to watch poison pour out of the kitchen sink. Now the main worries are contamination from pipelines – including the Keystone pipeline – and oil tanker routes.

On December 4th a group of Chiefs, representatives of the Assembly of First Nations, went to the House of Commons to protest this bill, and they were barred from entry. In response, Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation began a hunger strike demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. At the same time, four indigenous women in Saskatchewan began holding a series of teach-in’s they called, on their facebook page, “Idle no More.” And everything else has exploded from there. There have been flash mobs and road blockades, a common and conceptualized form of direct action used to block access from a society that believes it has domination over indigenous communities. It’s important to remember that while some of these actions are new thanks to Idle No More, many of them are decades old. They’re an expression of indigenous people forcing recognition of their existence and their borders. And the federal parties now at least say they’re taking indigenous interests seriously.

Of course, the name of the movement is somewhat misleading. Indigenous communities were not idle before ‘Idle No More’. Indigenous peoples across Turtle Island [North America] have always stood up in their traditional territories, working to block the advances of colonialism and rapacious resource capitalism. I want to make special mention of the community of Unistoten back where I come from, in British Columbia, who have been camped out resisting the theft of their land for several years, despite threats from the Canadian police, legal system, and military. Idle no More didn’t come out of nowhere.

What are the short- and long-term goals of Idle No More?

In the short term we want bill C35 and the whole gamut of recent legislative attacks on sovereignty to be taken off the table. In the longer term, we want treaty rights – that is, rights guaranteed by treaties between the Canadian government and the First Nations – to be protected by the federal government, which claims to uphold the rule of law. Real rule of law would require the federal adoption of treaty constitutionalism, which is the recognition that Canadian sovereignty and jurisdiction only exist as a result of treaty making and that Canadian law is constitutionally dependent on treaty terms and obligations.

It’s important to remember as well that many indigenous communities never entered into treaty making processes, either because the settler state never came to the table with them or because they rejected the legitimacy of the endeavor. Many of the peoples back where I come from fall into this category. As such, Canadian law recognizes these peoples as possessing un-ceded title and rights that must be respected by the federal government.

On the other hand, while we can talk about wider change at the federal level, the most important goal for many communities is the protection of their water and land on a local level. Our territories feed us, spiritually and as settlers too often forget, physically. They must continue too. Our environmentalism isn’t some white people chief Seattle fantasy. We are fighting for the lives of our children.

How has Idle No More, as a protest movement, interacted with existing political structures and institutions?

It’s really too soon to say. Idle No More has inspired large outpourings of solidarity, but it has also illuminated a lot of the vitriolic racism that still permeates Canadian and American settler societies; it’s brought out the cowboys. It has shaken up dominant party politics. The official “left-wing” party in Canada – the New Democrats – have sided with the [conservative] government against Idle No More, which has shown that the left, just as much as the right, continues to prioritize the colonial project.

Idle No More has also shaken up politics within indigenous communities, as grassroots and traditional leaders have taken the helm rather than the elected tribal council leaders, many of whom have toed a more cautious line. It’s always been tough to say whether the tribal councils have truly represented the people. Both Canada and the U.S. – the latter through the Indian Reorganization Act – have established systems mandating that every indigenous group follow virtually the same political structure; in doing so they have erased hundreds of political traditions. These mandates have made it so that if indigenous people want to participate in governments, they must do so in accordance with a colonialist system. And this system allows the federal government to play a huge role in selecting the people who get elected to tribal council positions, and determining where money ends up in election campaigns. For instance, on the Pine Ridge Lakota reservation in South Dakota, the elected chief gained his support from a few communities that had been bolstered by American dollars against the wishes of most people.

What we’ve seen in Idle No More are thousands of indigenous people rising up and demanding that their chiefs, especially the national representation of the Assembly of First Nations, get up and start speaking out. We don’t just want our chiefs negotiating mining rights in Ottawa; we also want them fighting mining projects and the political cowardice that is allowing the ecocide of our territories. Some elected leaders, Chief Spence and others, have been fantastic, while some have been otherwise.

How have you become involved with Idle No More?

I’m originally from Vancouver, and I began to see amazing work being done by my friends and communities from home, and my aunt has been organizing solidarity actions in Montreal. But organizing an indigenous movement in Boston is generally hard because even though there are about 5,000 indigenous people in this city from all walks of life, indigenous presence is pretty invisible here. So I started a Facebook page for Idle No More – Boston, and within hours it had hundreds of likes, and people have just come out of the woodwork. We’ve had a round dance in Faneuil Hall, a flash mob at Copley, and a protest at the state house in coordination with people around the US and Canada.

How would you describe the role of ‘solidarity’ in a movement such as this one?

The international solidarity in Idle No Mode is newly manifest, not newly created – people have always had common struggles. But this solidarity is certainly exciting.

Solidarity coming from non-indigenous people is complicated, since there is always the danger of oppressed people’s struggles being co-opted. There’s a whole history, going back to the Boston Tea Party, of people using indigenous people to achieve their own goals; many elements of the contemporary environmental movement fall into this pattern. I might agree with some of the aims of that movement, but red face is still red face.

That being said, if settlers come with humility and listen to the voices of indigenous communities, and acknowledge that this is not everyone’s fight, equally, that could be really, really valuable. And not all actions of solidarity consist of explicit activism. A while ago, I heard a speech by a Wampanoag guy, who said “Kai, that means Hello. If you’re going to live here [the Boston area], you should learn the language.” I would encourage people to find relationships, where they can, with indigenous communities in this area. Don’t tokenize, but learn history, learn what laws are out there, and who is helping to reshape them. Especially in Boston, a place where indigenous presence is too often only felt in Thanksgiving pageants. An effort to learn about contemporary, local indigenous struggles, lives, and communities is a radical act. Where you take that knowledge is up to you.

I Can’t with Chris Christie

By Keyanna Wigglesworth

On the night of October 28, 2012, I rejoiced along with all Harvard undergraduates upon receiving an email with the subject line: Storm Update; Classes Canceled. Here in Cambridge the storm did not seem like a big deal, and compared to other areas along the east coast, Harvard was not significantly affected by Hurricane Sandy. While the university experienced minor power failures and endured wind gusts that damaged one of the floors of Holyoke Center, 125 people across the Mid-Atlantic, the Southeast, and the Caribbean lost their lives.

Hurricane Sandy was responsible for nearly $62 billion in damage and other losses, making it the second-costliest storm in United States history. One of the most heavily-impacted areas was New Jersey, my home state. In addition to 12 deaths, the Garden State experienced 80 mph winds and 20% higher-than-normal tides that knocked down trees and power lines, annihilated the vibrant boardwalk business industry, and caused at least $29.4 billion in overall damage. In stark contrast to the abysmal government response to Hurricane Katrina, politicians responded promptly to Hurricane Sandy, restoring many people’s faith in government. On the Wednesday before Election Day, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) and President Obama (D) toured storm damage throughout New Jersey together, promising victims relief and lauding each other’s efforts to help the state cope.

Although he had endorsed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney—and even gave the keynote address at the Republican National Convention – Christie showed vehement support for the president in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. When asked about President Obama’s handling of the storm crisis, Christie said, “Obama has been incredibly supportive and helpful to our state and not once did he bring up the election.” Like the president, Christie was determined to keep the days leading up to the election centered on the victims of his state rather than “presidential politics.”

Even after the election, Christie maintained his dedication to alleviating the storm’s damage. When Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH), canceled a vote on an aid bill for Hurricane Sandy victims, the outspoken governor condemned Boehner’s decision as “disappointing and disgusting.” Along with several other New York and New Jersey lawmakers, he successfully pressured congressional Republicans to join with Democrats to pass a $9.7 billion aid bill covering insurance claims filed by people whose homes were destroyed by the storm. Moreover, in late January, Christie signed emergency regulations that significantly lowered flood insurance premiums and established stricter building foundation requirements, making it easier for New Jerseyans to rebuild their homes and businesses.

Christie served New Jersey exceptionally well during a time of crisis, and his actions in the aftermath of the storm certainly boosted his popularity. Currently, he enjoys a 74% approval rating, with more than half of Democrats and more than 75% of Independents favoring him. While I have no problem admiring Christie’s response to Hurricane Sandy, I cannot help but think about the kind of governor he was before the storm struck.

Before Hurricane Sandy, New Jerseyans did not think so highly of Chris Christie, for the governor had proposed—and enacted—Draconian budget cuts to public schools and health services throughout his first term in office

During his statewide campaign to balance New Jersey’s budget on the backs of the working poor and middle-income families, Christie vetoed a bill that would have given $7.5 million to women’s health clinics; he also cut medical services for seniors by $21 million. In lieu of raising taxes on millionaires, Christie proposed a $45 million tax hike on hospitals. He closed the Garret W. Hagedorn Psychiatric Hospital in Lebanon, NJ, giving the mentally ill no other health care option besides the emergency room.

Christie’s state budget cut $820 million from the public school system, subjecting urban and suburban school districts to larger class sizes, fewer class choices, and fewer extracurricular activities. In response to Christie’s defunding, students throughout New Jersey held protests outside of their high school buildings with signs reading “No more budget cuts” and “We love our teachers.” In fact, Superior Court judge Peter Doyne found that Christie’s massive cuts violated the New Jersey state constitution because they robbed 1.4 million students of the opportunity to receive a “thorough and efficient” education.

At the same time, Christie strongly supports charter schools, which have a very mixed record in terms of student achievement. A recent Stanford study shows that charter school students in the city of Newark, New Jersey perform better than students in traditional public schools. However, the study also noted that students of charter schools in rural areas perform poorly in math and reading, refuting the idea of charter schools’ guaranteed efficacy. In fact, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford found that 17% of charters performed better than traditional public schools, while more than double that number—37%—performed worse, and the rest performed at about the same level. Furthermore, charter schools tend to focus even more on preparing their students for high-stakes standardized tests than public schools do. Although standardized testing can, at times, yield useful information, its results make sweeping generalizations about student bodies, do not address the individual needs of many students, and fail to highlight the day-to-day improvement and impact of teachers. While I am not completely opposed to charter schools, New Jersey’s public education issues cannot be resolved by simply underfunding, and eventually eliminating, traditional public schools to make room for more charters.

Moreover, Governor Christie’s indifference towards the needs of students pales in comparison to his hatred for teachers and public employees. The superintendent of Perth Amboy schools, John Rodecker noted that the spending cuts had “result[ed] in people losing their jobs,” as many schools could no longer afford to employ their full teaching staff. Christie regularly demonizes teachers, and it is true that some are inadequate. I actually approved of the governor’s tenure reform because it reestablished the importance of keeping teachers accountable for their effectiveness in the classroom. However, equating teacher ‘effectiveness’ with student test scores is deeply troubling. The immense pressure and stress that accompanies standardized testing already exacerbates students’ capacities to perform well. The same anxiety of standardized testing is intensified when it comes to ELL students, special needs students, and students who come from unstable homes. Teachers are not necessarily the primary reason for low test scores. Instead of ostracizing educators, Christie should focus on improving the social services that impact students outside of the classroom as a means of improving their academic performance.

In addition to blaming teachers for their students’ failures, Governor Christie also advocated for the dismantling of collective bargaining rights for teachers and public employees. Charter-school teachers, of course, are nonunionized, so it is no surprise that Christie strongly supports charters.

Last November, Christie supported another assault on collective bargaining rights by threatening to dismantle the Camden Police Department in an effort to balance the budget. By eliminating the union-negotiated police contract, veteran officers would be replaced with younger inexperienced cops, augmenting the potential for civil unrest in an already volatile city. When asked about the dangerous effects of busting the police union, Christie said, “The taxpayers of New Jersey aren’t going [to] pay anymore for Camden’s excesses.”

Again, Christie did an outstanding job in regards to Hurricane Sandy and New Jerseyans should absolutely consider that when casting their ballots in November. On the other hand, it is critical that we also remember the abysmal storm that struck New Jersey public schools, workers’ unions, and health services when Christie came into office.

Review of “12th & Delaware”

By Brianna Suslovic

“12th & Delaware” is a story of choice: choice between abortion and pregnancy, between a pregnancy care center and an abortion clinic, between what one priest calls “darkness and light.” This HBO documentary by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, which premiered in 2010, chronicles the interactions that occur on the corner of 12th and Delaware Streets in Fort Pierce, Florida. On one side of the intersection is A Woman’s World, an abortion clinic. On the other side of the intersection is the Pregnancy Care Center, which describes itself as a “Christ-centered ministry dedicated to serving those who are in a crisis pregnancy, as well as educating the community on the sanctity of life, marriage, and family.” The documentary effectively localizes the nationwide debate on abortion, brings personal stories and opinions to the table, and gets inside the minds and morals of both sides in this tiny Florida town.

The film begins in the street, with a tiny grandmother holding a sign proclaiming in all capitals: “THOU SHALT NOT KILL.” She tries to engage with the women entering the abortion clinic, calling them mothers and telling them that God made them pregnant for a reason. This scene is haunting – even as this protester adamantly tries to get the women to turn around, she does it in a nurturing way. She asks the women entering the clinic if they’d like to hold small doll-like fetus figures, telling them that these figures are the same size as the fetuses growing inside them.

In 1991, A Woman’s World opened and began providing abortions in addition to other women’s healthcare services. Eight years later, when property across the street became available, a group of pro-life Christians jumped on it, turning it into a Pregnancy Care Center. The care center does not offer abortions, but it does offer counseling and ultrasounds for pregnant women. Unfortunately, most of the counseling that these women receive is biased against abortion, warning its clients about the dangers – mental and physical –  of abortion. Many of these dangers have been disproven with more recent and thorough research.

12th and Delaware takes the fly-on-the-wall perspective inside the Pregnancy Care Center and A Woman’s World, filming interactions between clients and employees at both places. The primary counselor at the Pregnancy Care Center is Anne, a staunchly Catholic woman who sits with a 19-year-old in one of the film’s early scenes, trying to convince the girl that she’ll regret getting a second abortion. Anne also gives a 15-year-old pregnant girl a ten-week fetus figurine to hold, referring to the plastic figurine with male pronouns, humanizing an inanimate (and perhaps inaccurate) representation of the cells growing in her uterus. Anne is also shown making calls to check-in with clients who have come in earlier, checking their progress and trying to get them to delay or reconsider having an abortion. Meanwhile, across the street is Candace, one of the primary operators of A Woman’s World. Candace speaks with a 46-year-old woman who has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, just come out of a divorce, is in a new relationship, and is doubtful of her ability to raise a child as she ages. Candace asks the client if this is something that she is choosing, reassuring her that this is her choice. Candace comforts another woman who can only speak in broken English as she explains that her partner doesn’t use protection consistently. Candace encourages this woman to stand up for herself in the bedroom, and she also reassures this woman that she is not a killer for seeking abortion treatment.

I stumbled upon this film while browsing the Harvard-funded HBOGO site a few weeks ago, and I was immediately captivated by the highly personal nature of a debate that’s so often nationalized and generalized. This debate is more relevant now than ever before, especially after the discourse sparked by recent elections. Remember Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican candidate for Senate who claimed that, according to his doctor friends, in cases of “legitimate rape,” the female body naturally would prevent pregnancy? (Two questions: What qualifies as “legitimate” rape? And what doctors is he talking to, and why are they telling him such lies?) Although Roe v. Wade has provided legal protection for abortion on a national scale, laws restricting abortion rights are particularly prevalent, and anti-choice activists will only continue fighting. According to the Guttmacher Institute, states continue to introduce provisions that require counseling, waiting periods, heartbeat-listening, ultrasounds, parental consent, and in-person doctor prescriptions. The Institute reports that between 2005 and 2011, the number of state-level anti-abortion provisions enacted per year nearly tripled, from 34 to 92.

Although this film serves as a cinéma vérité (observational cinema) look at the abortion debate in one small town, it also sends a powerful message. Since the film lacks a true “agenda” or opinionated commentary, its content speaks for itself. Viewers can easily see the absurdity of the situation when anti-abortion advocates at the Pregnancy Care Center joke that “the new strategy is lock ‘em in until they decide to keep the baby”; when an abortion provider conceals his head with a sheet to protect his identity from the potentially violent protesters who continually harass him; and when a priest proclaims in his sermon that abortion is akin to “ritualized blood sacrifice,” while the reproductive rights movement is like a “diabolical religion.”

This priest and his followers declare that their pro-life movement is fighting the “powers of darkness,” otherwise known as the pro-choice movement. However, it is clear that A Woman’s World and similar organizations such as Planned Parenthood in fact work to enlighten women by conveying important information about reproductive and sexual health. These organizations show women hope after rape and sexual assault, enable them to end socially and financially limiting pregnancies, and allow them to stay healthy through routine reproductive health care. The film never takes a side, and yet, it says so much about the anti-intellectualism and darkness that is often present in pro-life argument and practice. For example, one of the staunch anti-abortion protesters is a middle-aged man whose tactics involve shouting belligerently at women entering the clinic, women who are already emotionally vulnerable. How could this ever be an effective way to get these women to see his viewpoint on the issue?

12th & Delaware is a film that doesn’t answer all the questions – it allows for dialogue and productive discourse on the issues that the directors are able to capture. I found myself captivated by the film for this exact reason; no one was telling me what to think or why to think it, and yet, I was still able to arrive at my own conclusions about the anti-abortion movement in the United States. This film was personal and powerful. Through its lack of commentary, it speaks in clear tones amidst the cacophony of opinions on abortion in America.