Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Obama's War Doctrine Or "ISIS Is The New Black"

President Obama’s demeanor was calm, cool, and calculated as he walked up to the podium with an air of authority and assurity on September 10th. However, as he began to speak his skin began to whiten, his voice became more privileged, and he started to sound more like a Texas Oilman than a community organizer from Chicago. His tone was eerily reminiscent of those who’d gone before him: Bush 1, Clinton, and W (pronounced “dub-ya”). We all knew what he was going to say, that the US military was going to war with “ISIL” (or “ISIS” or the “Islamic State” or whatever the hell they call themselves these days), but what we didn’t know was the extent to which the “greatest military in the history of the world” would engage.

First off, I am sure everyone and their mother noticed that President Obama did not say that “we are going to war.” Why? Because according to his tone and rhetoric we are going to do something substantially less. We are only participating in “targeted air strikes” and a “sustained counter terrorism strategy… like we have been doing in Yemen and Somalia for years.” I had to stop.

“Wait, what? Did he really just hold up Yemen and Somalia as shining examples of the New American War?” (More on this later)

President Obama is a very deft politician and knows how to sell a red plan and make it look blue. He was not so foolish as to attempt to tell the American people that he was putting “boots on the ground” in Iraq again, but he did very slyly change the way that Presidents sell war policy in the public eye. No longer do we live in the era of “speak softly and carry a big stick.” We are now living in the Age of the Obama’s Doctrine: Modern Warfare.
If I may, I would like to outline this new X-Box-like destruction philosophy to examine each of its components for their import on global stability.

The 21st Century War Machine

Both Bush Presidents and Clinton have all gone on national TV to announce aerial campaigns in the Middle East, but none of their strategies contained the air power now available to the US military. In his speech President Obama reassured Americans that he would not put Americans in harms way in this campaign because the military would employ strategies similar to those “in Yemen and Somalia that we have been doing for years.” He glossed over those two campaigns but let’s evaluate them a little, shall we? What has happened in Somalia and Yemen in the past few years that they should be held up as shining examples of New American Warfare? Well, first off they have been conducted via drone.


Though fighter jets are still researched, produced, and used, our military has not had to put “boots on the ground” in Yemen and Somalia because they have been able to put robots in the sky. While the Politicians would have you believe that these robot-led campaigns are quick, precise, and surgical, they hide the fact that they are illegal, imprecise, and messy. Civilian casualties are not rare in these operations. As a matter of fact, they are so frequent that they have their own designation: collateral damage. Even an American citizen, Anwar Al-Awlaki, was killed on foreign soil without the benefit of a trial, which is guaranteed in the US Constitution. Furthermore, Congress, those who are supposed to represent you, have no say in these policies. The Patriot Act gave explicit powers for the President to hunt down Al-Qaeda after 9/11 but those (ill advised) privileges have evolved into an accountability-free pass for the President to kill whomever he/she deems a threat.
All that to say that President Obama’s tone seemed to indicate that these “targeted air strikes” were less than significant. “It’s no big deal. At least we’re not sending in the infantry. So, trust me,” he seemed to be implying. No, we do not trust you, Mr. President, because yours and W’s Death-By-Terminator strategy is just as brutal as your ground game. Maybe even more so because they cause you to dismiss the deaths of innocents as an acceptable side effect, no matter how numerous they are.


Secondly, Mr. Obama claimed that he was going to (ironically) increase ground support. (I don’t want to gloss over the fact that sending in troops, no matter their role, is technically putting “boots on the ground,” but for the sake of brevity I am going to have to let it be.) Mr. Obama lauded his efforts so far in the current crISIS by claiming that the couple of hundred strategy staff that he sent to Iraq so far had already given them and the Iraqi and Kurdish armies a significant strategic advantage. Now he is going to send 475 more to train “moderate Syrian rebel forces” in the ways of Modern Warfare. Where are they going to do this? Saudi Arabia, a country with ties to “state-funded terrorism”. And who are they training? Some of the same moderate Syrian rebels that have now (as I am sure some will in the future) allied themselves with ISIS. (By the way, in case you have forgotten Osama Bin Laden’s original reason for declaring jihad on the US was due to the presence of US military personnel in the Holy Land a.k.a Saudi Arabia.) It is not even eerie how similar this situation is to the past CIA training of the Mujahadeen, Taliban, and Al-Qaeda; it is history repeating itself.


Thirdly, Mr. Obama mentioned that he would employ a “sustained counter-terrorism strategy”. What does this actually mean? In actuality your guess is as good as mine. The White House released a statement that basically reduced this broad definition to include i) cutting off funds to ii) strengthening allied defenses to iii) stemming the flow of fighters to and from the battlefield internationally. What they did not say is the other components that they will most definitely be using including, but not limited to, their spying apparatus in the NSA, their CIA assets in the regions, and their aforementioned drone capabilities.


Lastly, the President pointed out that the campaign against ISIS would have humanitarian goals. What? Really, what? I applaud the effort of any government who would open its borders to a flood of refugees or would use its wealth to provide for those seeking refuge from violence, but a supply drop every now and then to remote areas does not whitewash the civilian casualties that will inevitably result from this so-called “sustained counter-terrorism strategy”. In other words, the few you save with MRIs do not justify the thousands you kill with drone missiles.

World War Always

A few days after President Obama’s address Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to the Middle East to try to drum up support from “regional allies.” Why? Because otherwise the campaign would look very Crusade-y. The President referenced a collation of friendly nations who would ally themselves (without naming any names), but he knew he needed Arab nations to participate as well. Otherwise the coalition would look a little too pasty in the faces of soldiers from France, Poland, Italy, Denmark, Canada, and Australia walking around Arrakis. Britain, America’s closest ally, along with Germany, decided that they would not participate. Iran also decided to join the party. (Wrap your head around that for a minute: Iran and the US are allies in this campaign). Mr. Kerry’s attempt to gain the cooperation of more Arab states is simply a legitimization tactic aimed at not making this an East vs. West conflict. He succeeded in part by gaining the support of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq (not Turkey), but they did not specify the extent of their commitment. (UPDATE: Since writing this piece Mr. Kerry also has succeeded in drumming up the support of some 40 or so countries in a Monday [9/15] meeting in Paris, some of which have committed to support roles and others [Saudi Arabia and U.A.E. included] to active engagement such as air strikes.)

Every war is world war three these days. The Internet has made it possible to share information, and consequently emotional reactions to information, at the speed of light. Therefore, a Nigerian problem becomes an American problem; an Egyptian problem becomes an Israeli problem; and a Russian problem becomes a French problem all at the same time. Not all of these consequences are bad, but they do define a new world order that has not been set in stone by the willing engagement and sanction of the People of Earth. What used to happen in wartime situations is that country X would encounter problem Y and then seek solution Z, possibly with the help of allies A, B, and C. Now, information travels so fast that both traditional allies and enemies receive the same information about what happens to country X as fast as country X itself. Therefore, the whole world is instantly demanded to take sides. In a world where one to three countries have all the gold, and therefore make all the rules, this is a very dangerous situation. Because country X’s problems become the world’s problems.

The problem is that country X in our situation, the US, is not the moral leader of the world it fancies itself to be. In fact, it is the polar opposite. The US military is the part, parcel, and cause, directly and indirectly, of a lot of the suffering that goes on in the world today. Hell, the guns, tanks, and mortars that ISIS is using have “Property of the US Government” written on the side of them. Therefore, what role does the US military have in setting the world to rights when it is their presence and toys that have destabilized the world in the first place?

“BREAKING NEWS: Such and such happened. What is the US response? Stay tuned to fine out.” (God, I hate the fucking sensationalist say-anything-to-turn-a-profit-on-advertising mass media.)

I think Mr. Obama’s approach is a bit wiser than his predecessors, but it still reeks of imperialism. In his address he spoke of America’s “responsibility to lead”. Where did this responsibility come from? Did the world hold a referendum that I didn’t know about where they voted the US as their sovereign? No, but that doesn’t stop our government from basing their emotional reaction to world events as a personal attack on their credibility as the world “peace keepers”. In reality, the United States has wrought more destruction upon the world than any people group in history, but the modern communication systems have made sharing information so fast and easy that every world problem becomes a US problem in real-time.

President Obama’s speech to the nation was clear: the US military will not put infantry on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Instead it will simply use its arsenal of space age fighter jets and drones to blow shit up; send “military advisors” to continue to convince these Eastern peoples that thinking like a US trained soldier is the way to peace and prosperity (by the way, what do you want to bet these some of those “advisors” are actually “Call Of Duty”-esque Special Ops soldiers with covert missions?); maintain a “sustained counter-terrorism strategy”, which is code for using a lot of high-tech gear that will most likely result in scores of civilian causalities; and provide humanitarian aid. I cannot even buy into that last one enough to be snarky about it.

What he was not clear about is that the US and the world have moved into a new realm of international conflict. Countries don’t fight countries anymore. Now, you either get with the Business-Civilization Program of development (BCP) for the Earth or you go on a terrorist watch list and are subject to the full wrath and power of the US military. President Obama said it himself, “if you threaten America you will find no safe haven.” The scary part is that I am threatening America just by disagreeing with the BCP by writing this post. Am I now a terrorist? Do I now have no safe haven? There was a time when such questions were laughable. These days, not such much.

In an era where Presidents can kill even citizens with impunity and robots and the Police stand as a ready military against any voice of dissent, no one is safe. Sure, today the target is ISIL. Tomorrow, who knows? What is for certain is that wars are no longer fought eye to eye on battlefields. From September 10th, 2014 until the American military machine is dismantled, wars will be a matter of westernized business-nations allying and mobilizing almost instantly against any person or group that threatens the stability of the New World Order. It’s not dystopian fiction anymore, people. We are living it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Empathy and Solidarity: What I Learned From Doctor Who

Picture with me a battle scene on a planet light generations away. Explosions rock the ground beneath your feet as you stumble around trying to find your comrades while the smoke burns your eyes out. Tears tear from your eyes like melting plastic. Imagine the hatred you would feel if you saw your kin being slaughtered by stray bullets and mortars. Imagine you are immersed in the battle, storming the beaches of the great devil. All of this in the name of obtaining a paradise. 

As you are running through the smoke screen fog you hear someone yell out in a foreign accent. "Don't shoot! I have it. I have what you are looking for." It's not much, that sphere-like thing that you and your comrades died and were maimed to procure. It's being held by a strange man in a suit. However, you don't have too much time to think about him because opposite you on the other side of the clearing, running to the same sounds in the same battle but from the other side, is a battalion of your enemies with firearms locked, loaded, itching for revenge, and pointed in your direction.

The scene tenses instantly as it reaches its breaking point.

Then you hear the voice of the man with the orb. Unlike the scowling ash sooted and graven faces of your enemies this man looks clean, smart, and a little nerdy. He doesn't seem quite as tense. As a matter of fact, the sight of his quirky form kind of relieved the tension… slightly. He is holding the orb high and confirming everyone's suspicions. Yes, he indeed does possess that mostly holy grail of objects. 

Legends had been told from the east to west about the great orb that could bring you and your people out of the darkness of this perennial war. You and your friends had traveled thousands of miles and left families and homes in search of this sphere so that the world could finally be put to rights and your people could have their revenge over their bitter rivals. 

Little did you know, the people in the uniforms opposite you in the battlefield clearing have a similar legend about a great object of war that would bring the war to an end and destroy the heathens across the world. They had come to this very spot in search of that holy relic.

Currently, however this squirrely man was holding it high in the air carelessly as if he were the angel of death come to rob you of your hope. Both armies trained their guns on him in the time it took him to lift it. 

"Good, now you're getting it."

Surprisingly, the stranger knew our language. He explained that he was some sort of field medic who had crash landed here in a time machine (!) You had never heard such non-sense, but he seemed to know things. He knew that your great ancestors sought a holy weapon to put an end to this war and bring peace to Battlefield Earth. He also knew that you were continuously thwarted by clans from the other side of the world who had come to destroy your homes. Then he told another story to the unclean soldiers and they seemed too to be similarly surprised at his knowledge of their culture. 

He said he knew what we sought-- the end of the war. As if awakening from a daze every soldier on the field remembered where they were and who they were there with and raised their guns at each other in unison. At which point, the squirrely little man, to the sound of a communal gasp of surprise 100 strong, dropped the orb to a cry…

"Look, it will end the war."

As everyone on the field fought back the urge to fire they looked and saw a blue light escape the orb like wisps of smoke to permeate the air like incense on an altar. As the light touched the singed leaves of countless plants they slowly turned green, stood upright, and reached for the sun instinctively like a newborn babe at its mother's breast. Then smoke began to change colors into the most purest of white before collapsing as water to soak the parched ground to give it a nutricious color. The sky began to turn from yellow, red, black, and gray to the cleanest and most pristine of baby blues. The moisture unfurled on the canvas of the sky and collapsed in your tear ducts. Joyous rain fell from your eyes to water the new ground. 

"It's an Eden terraform module", the suited man, now looking calm and regal, quietly whispered over the prairie "It wasn't a weapon you both had been looking for your entire lives and your parent's lives and your grandparent's lives. It was a terraform. When activated it sends carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen in the air to purify it. Really, it's clean. Take your helmets off. Give us a smell." 

You take your helmet off and breath in the first non-recycled air on your planet in 200 years. You start to weep along with a solider on the opposite side. You put your gun down, walk over, and embrace him. In that moment the sun shown on the good and the evil… which turned out to only be a matter of perspective. 

The Doctor, he said his name was "the Doctor", later told us, as we removed our uniforms and began to lie down in the grass to rub our naked skin in it, that our two peoples had originally been one of distant cousins before being put at odds by a traitorous General centuries ago who tried to withhold the orb from the people. He owned a gun store and business was bad. He traversed long terrain to sow deceit among the tribes about each others desire to wipe the other out and of a holy weapon that could destroy them all. He died as Governor of the planet and they had been fighting ever since.

In reality, the orb was a gift from time traveling strangers who left a note. It said:

This is a rough one. You and I both know it's against the rules, but just this once. 

Allons-y, D

This brief little story is a generalized synopsis of a Doctor Who episode I saw a few years ago. It wasn't until I watched the newest episode that I realized that I had learned a great life lesson from the Doctor: empathy and perspective. 

Each person in this story is seeing the world from a certain perspective. Each figure is enacting their own story, some of which has been told to them and some of which has been established by personal experience. Each person is also interacting with another perspective. Each army (let's call them X and Y) has been told an overarching story in which they are the valiant heroes who are being oppressed by the evil fiend from elsewhere. (It's strange that they never interact with each other other than the battlefield, but no one had ever had time or reason to question their motives.) They simply received their marching orders, warred, and died like their ancestors before them. 

Neither army knew that their stories were so similar because they had never been given the chance to talk. They always had guns pointed at each other and no one can talk or listen honestly when they fear for their lives. However, this particular time there was a third perspective: a traveler's. 

This traveler did not have the emotional attachment (baggage) of either group. He wasn't from their world. So, when he inquired of each people for their histories he realized that they were essentially telling him the same story from both sides of the line. The traveler also can read with clear eyes. In the legends of the armies they spoke of the prophet (the gun store owner) who identified who they were, who the enemy was, and how they should live. They didn't speak of a man who had a good deal of stock tied up in a guns business who needed to sow descent to build his empire. Only an outsider could put that story together. 

But the Doctor did not chide them for their ignorance or belittle them for their tragic history. He simply brought the truth into the light and watched it literally change the world around them. What started as a holy conquest of right and wrong from two perspectives grew into a peaceful cooperative effort to rebuild a world torn down by hatred. It took seeing the world through a stranger's eyes to see that the opposing sides were actually working toward the same goal, but they had been deceived by someone seeking their own enrichment at the cost of generations, as to how to get there. 

I learned what solidarity means from the Doctor. Solidarity is not support for another's cause. It is the ability to see with another's eyes and empathize with their story. Very few people are malicious for maliciousness' sake. They are most often acting a part within a story that was handed down to them by generations. In some cases leading actors in cultural stories tend toward hatred and bigotry instead of empathy and understanding. Solidarity is recognizing that life is difficult and it is difficult to survive on this planet, but we are all in it together. 

This law does not originate with humans and neither does it find its fulfillment. Empathy and solidarity do not limit themselves to an ideology, makeup, or even species. True empathy is recognizing that everyone and everything is enacting the story of the universe. Untold and countless unique causes has brought everything to the point in time which we occupy. Enlightenment comes when the human (and I only designate human for now because other species don't have the capacity to read the word yet) pulls back the veil of their ego and realizes that everything in the world and universe comprise a biosphere where everything is dependent on everything else for sustenance and meaning. 

Not only does this produce a profound sense of completeness, but it also unlocks the experience of (literal) universal joy. No longer is man the center of the universe for whom everything is made, but we are a part of a universal process… and that process is sacred. Recognizing this place in the universe open us up to empathize with all creatures because they are enacting the same story we are…just from different places with a different story and language. 

The Doctor, in being able to show armies X and Y their common history and ultimate goal, was the central cause of their disarming and commitment to peace. I wonder what it would take for humans to realize our place in the Universe. I wonder what it would take to convince generations of tribes of humans that they are not the center of the universe for whom everything was made, but an integral part of a cosmic drama whose only antecedent is meaning itself. If everything came from nothing then everything was born equally at the same time, composed of stardust just like everything else. 

Is this humility not the stuff that "truth" is made of? Because if a creature sees its environment and its fellow creatures as fragile fingerprints in the cosmic drama and can appreciate from experience that life is difficult…really difficult…then we can move to help each other--human, animal, and environment alike--because we know what its like to need help ourselves. Seeing the need for help in another person's eyes is the root of empathy; moving to help is the flower of solidarity. 

The Doctor put that bud in the lapel in my coat. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Philly Fast Food Workers Strike (A Report)

It was hot in Philadelphia on this Thursday afternoon (9/3/2014), the day of the second major nationwide fast food workers strike. The air was moist and the effort taxing, but the tough conditions did not stop workers, allied organizations, and supporters from shutting down a broad swath of center city traffic to draw attention their their demands: a citywide $15/hr. minimum wage and the right to form a union. 

The crowd of around 150 gathered at a McDonald's on North Broad Street, which if you are not familiar with Philadelphia urban geography stretches directly north from City Hall, to rally before marching south to another McDonald's location at the corner of 10th & Arch Sts. Many organizations showed up to stand in solidarity with fast food workers nationwide call to action including, but not limited to, SEIU Healthcare PA, CWA local 1300, the Green Party, Clergymen, and several Socialist groups including 15Now, Phight for 15, and the DSA. I even ran into a self-professed Republican proud to show his support. 

Several workers spoke out including Sonia*, a mother who works two jobs who decided to strike today. She came to this decision because she said that she cannot afford her rent and enough food for her family. Jesse, another striking worker, proclaimed that he decided to participate because he believes that a $15/hr. minimum wage and a union are "fair and just" demands." "This is serious business," he went on to say "because you can't tell the landlord that you don't have enough money."

Justin, a volunteer organizer with 15Now and President of CWA Local 13000, told me that he and his Local showed up because they believe that the growing movement of restaurant industry workers is "a fight for all workers." He continued, "Fifteen dollars an hour is the bare minimum to provide for a family. I'm here to help the workers organize their own power in an offensive against the bosses." 

While this brouhaha raged outside I decided to go in to the McDonald's to ask the workers still on duty what they thought. As I approached the counter I was asked by a tense looking gentleman if he could help me. I told him who I was, who I represented, and that I just wanted to ask if any of the workers had an opinion. I figured they did since they were gathered around the counter like they were watching history unfold on a wall sized screen. He directed me to the manager who told me that he didn't have an opinion. He further directed me to another man who turned out to be the designated liaison from a PR agency (Tierney) who was hired by McDonald's to keep the workers silent. He told me that the inside of the restaurant was private property and that I was not allowed to ask questions inside. He took my email and assured me that he would email a statement from McDonald's. The statement (printed below for your enjoyment [1]) attempted to redirect the conversation away from the justice of a raised minimum wage to the effect on the business owner. They even tried to blame Obamacare! 

Anyhoo, back to the action. 

As the peaceful march proceeded down Broad Street drums echoed off the buildings from a local youth drumline demanding that the protesters be heard. Directly in front of them a woman danced with her children in the street, proud to be representing their future. Chants also rang off of buildings and in the ears of passer-bys such as "We shall not be moved"; "The workers, united, will never be defeated"; "Can't survive on 7.25!"; and a call and response:

"What do we want?!" 
"15 and a Union!" 
"When do we want it?!"

Despite the large police presence the crowd remained peaceful. Upon arrival at the second McDonald's location another rally was set up that lasted around a half an hour. As it died down a local priest made a request for folks to sit down in the street. Traffic was blocked going west on Arch, which (again if you are not from Philadelphia) is a pretty busy intersection around noontime. Keeping the energy up was an older man with a guitar. He sang a few traditional labor movement songs including "This Little Light Of Mine", "We Shall Not Be Moved", and "Solidarity Forever". While these timeless anthems did not ring with the same potency of some performances (everyone was hot and tired by this point) they did provide a certain sense of historical continuity with movements past. Also providing a sense of continuum was the police response. While they were not violent they did end up arresting 11 people including striking workers, supporters, and even a local Union President.

I spoke to Officer Steve Glenn, the Captain of the Civil Affairs Unit, afterwards and he told me that the protestors were arrested for obstructing a highway, a summary offense which would result in immediate release with a citation, provided that they were carrying IDs, for complying with police action. What they didn't say was that they had posted a little more than a half dozen mounted police around the corner. "Well, that's a bit much," I thought.  

By the end of the action the crowd was less energetic because they had spent the better part of two hours chanting, marching, singing, dancing, drumming, and sitting down to take a stand for justice. As the protestors were taken away via police bus (!) the crowd dissipated to fight another day. The irony of this action is that just one block away a newly renovated Dilworth Plaza, one of the concrete parks surrounding City Hall, was being unveiled and celebrated with colorful balloons, drum circles, and shiny new program pamphlets. What's so ironic about that? Three years ago Dilworth Plaza was the camp site of Occupy Philly, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street--the Populist uprising that in some ways ignited the current fires of dialogue surrounding economic equality in the US, until it was dismantled to construct this new 1% playground that now occupies the space. While Mayor Michael Nutter was congratulating himself on a job well done (in his mind anyway) 11 protestors were being hauled off in a bus usually reserved for criminals. Why? Because, by their own admission, they can't make enough money to feed and clothe their families. What are Philadelphia's priorities? 

*Names have been changed to protect identities

[1] At McDonald’s we respect everyone’s rights to peacefully protest.  The topic of minimum wage goes well beyond McDonald’s- it affects our country’s entire workforce. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees support paying our valued employees fair wages aligned with a competitive marketplace. We believe that any minimum wage increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on owners of small and medium-sized businesses – like the ones who own and operate the majority of our restaurants – is manageable.  Additionally, we believe that any increase needs to be considered in a broad context, one that considers, for example, the impact of the Affordable Care Act and its definition of “full time” employment, as well as the treatment, from a tax perspective, of investments made by businesses owners.

It’s important to know approximately 90% of our U.S. restaurants are independently owned and operated by franchisees who set wages according to job level and local and federal laws. McDonald’s does not determine wages set by our more than 3,000 U.S. franchisees.  - McDonald's Corporation

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Are You A Terrorist? or The Church Of The Capitalist Police State Of America

What the hell is a "terrorist"?

I went online to try to get at least a broad definition of what constitutes a "terrorist" and the best I could come up with was something to the effect of "someone or some group that uses violent means on a—sometimes civilian—population in order to utilize fear in the spread of some ideology or crusade. Then I went to a real world context and tried to remember how "terrorists" have been presented to me in the media and in my own social interactions. I figured maybe I could find some common denominator there.

The media was the easy one. Every station or outlet already has some well-defined political leaning and cannot see the greater context of socio-political events because they are an essential part of it; no one notices something cultural until someone draws attention to it. (That's how we figure out our paradigms.) By and large the right and left wing organizations will both call lots of people terrorists whether they be ISIS soldiers in Iraq; "extremists" from Pakistan; Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. Sometimes though you will have some talking head on a 24 hour news channel who will get so riled up by a guest or off their own ego (I'm looking at you O'Reily and Hannity) that they call anyone they disagree with a "terrorist."

When Occupy Wall Street was filling parks from the Shore to the Bay they were deemed terrorists by the right-wing media; The Tea Party has more than once been labeled a "terrorist organization" on MSNBC. They spew shit at each other like they are both ends of the Human Centipede. Apparently to cable news networks a "terrorist" is defined as a politically or socially motivated group or individual who engages in some form of public display to make a point or demand a change, whether it be rallies and protests or jihad and suicide bombings. Now I hope I don't have to point out the quite sizable distance between a protest and a suicide bombing, but it needs to be considered that pundits of both sides of a very influential form of media get away with lumping social activists in with jihadis.

What surprises me most is the trickle down name-calling. I hope that I have presented a good enough case to convince you of the conniving nature of the cable news narrative so that you understand just how much of a population control experiment it is. Our cultural paradigm has such a thick skin that we cannot see past the source of our angst.

I recently wrote a piece about the conflict in Gaza and how I could not believe the depths of morality that a government can sink to in purposefully wiping out civilians in its expansion effort. I also noted in that piece that the Israel/Palestine conflict has colonial roots and how it was only after a western occupation—aka at the barrel of a western tank—that the Israeli government was able to even establish a state. The US has then been propping up that occupation for more than half a century. So, according to the US narrative Israel is the good guy, right?

Now if we go back to the beginning of this piece we can figure out who in this scenario fits the description of terrorist. Israel is this situation a) is a group, b) that is politically and/or religiously motivated, c) uses violence in the forms of a relentless air and ground assaults, d) uses that violence on civilians, and e) uses fear of its superior arms to intimidate the occupants of the world's largest prison cell.  Sure, Hamas fits most of that same description, but they are barely able to put up a fight in the first place. They are so desperate that they have even taken to firing from civilian areas to keep Goliath off the scent. That's shameful, but I also understand because I can see that a true Gazan defense or assault is a joke. In case you weren't aware Gaza doesn't have a military. The only resistance at all to a massacre by a western devil are these men with rockets. If your husband or wife was buried under rubble 100 ft. deep then you might reconsider whom you support too. Either way Hamas is no match for the mighty Israel sitting tight inside their iron dome with Netanyahu on his iron throne with his iron will bringing iron obedience. So, who are the terrorists?

Would you not resist such an occupation? I bet you would and I even have a good ol' fashioned anecdote to illustrate my point: Cliven Bundy. Here we have an old white man who wears a cowboy hat and stirrups, waves an American flag while refusing to acknowledge its referents existence, and talks about race relations like he lives in the eighteenth century. This man grazed his cattle on public land for decades without paying the mandated grazing fees. He figured if he didn't acknowledge the existence of the federal government then he didn't owe it any money. (If only we all lived in such a fantasy world.) Now when he refused the pay the fees federal officers planned to come to his ranch to confiscate his cattle as payment. This story got out on right wing television and consequently the Internet. When it got to Fox News there was a torrent of support flooding in from all over the country (and magnified by the mouths of the talking heads) from self-proclaimed resistors who would be willing to take up arms to keep the federal government off their "friend's" land. The feds showed up and so did the "freedom fighters". The government backed down and the white dissidents celebrated their manly show of strength, but what they failed to realize is that they had become the very thing they always claimed to detest— extremists. Who were the terrorists in this situation?

Now think about Afghanistan. The entire justification of the war was to neutralize Al-Qaeda and Taliban networks. Who was in that terrorist network? Men (by and large) who had been leading a tribal life for centuries and succeeding until this western style government-at-the-edge-of-a-sword oligarchy came in to their land to demand allegiance. When they resisted they became part of a wider population of people who have been faced with a choice: assimilate or die. When they declined our offer of western "enlightenment"  (through the mouths of marionettes) then they instantly become part of the enemy. Who are the great enemy? The terrorists. Oh, and they are Muslim too? Perfect! That'll make a great headline. "The Islamic Extremists Strike Again!" it'll say on the Cooper Blitzer O'Hannity Report.

The definition of "terrorist" that we have been fed by the media doesn't seem to incorporate the seismic shift in power that results when an invading army or a central government invades a relatively unarmed country. What once was your land isn't anymore. Now someone else claims to own it and he has a gun pointed at you if you disagree. It was ok for Cliven Bundy and his bunch to raise arms against the federal government of the United States of America; it is apparently not ok to be a poor brown farmer whose only choice is "give up the way you have lived for centuries and live like us. If you don't we'll kill you, your family, and your village and spin it as "collateral damage" on the evening news." Between the Afghan oppressed and the privileged horse riding, gun-totting, NRA card-carrying, living-in-a-dream-world conservative cattle rancher who is the real extremist?

It seems to me that the real terrorists are those who use their overwhelming force to intimidate populations into submission and using fear as the balancing factor of dissent. This is consistent in Israel, Syria, Egypt, and the good ol' United States of America. That's right folks we have a whole branch of order bringers right here at home that are state sponsored and funded —the police.

They maintain an order that is defined by them (often times in conflict with the actual law), is profitable, and based on fear. Modern police tactics are more military than protection these days. And why wouldn't they want to be? They are supplied with military surpluses such as riot gear and tanks and are dressed up like they are auditioning for RoboCop. It's a basic principle of bored humans that if you have a toy you want to play with it. So they use their power and ability to circumvent the law to harass and imprison entire people groups for offenses no more harmful than drinking a beer. Yet the means used to arrest and incarnate this person more often than not looks more like a UFC match than a civil restraint. And they get away with it with impunity. So they cruise through the streets in their new air-conditioned American made pigmobiles like a possessed wolf sniffing out his kill. Why do they hide in darkness to surprise you? Because they want you to be afraid.

"That's right, you've heard the stories! You know all those stories about black and brown boys and men being viciously beaten and sometimes killed by an army designed to make you afraid of it… and we got away with it. So watch your back."

Signed sincerely, The Undercurrent Of Every Police Interaction You Have Ever Had.

That's what you get to do when you are police: you get to go to work, put on battle armor, and cruise the streets in fast fancy cars to search for prey to try out your new toys out on. And god help anyone who makes them mad because they have a blank check and will write your name in at any time. That's a real base of fear and it is all courtesy of the Church of the Capitalist Police State. Like the Afghan farmer if you disagree with the new order then you can get ready to have hell and all its army descend on your house, kick your door in, and black bag you down to a dark alley where you will never been seen again. That's fear; that's power; that's terrorism.

The eternal civilized conflict is pitted between an invading force against a person who stands their ground. That's the way it has been and that's the way it always will be and if you resist you will be given a scarlet letter—a red crescent— to inform the watching world what you have been labeled as—a terrorist.

PS- I wonder how long it will take for this post to get me on that terror watch list? Am I the millionth-and-first customer? Do I win the prize? My picture in the cross hairs of a flying robot of death?

Addendum: I do want to acknowledge that there are people in this world—truly evil people—who indeed terrorize peoples, villages, cities, and countries with the reckless abandon that is nothing short of the possession of the devil himself. I acknowledge that these people exist and deserve the name and to be treated as such. I just don't think that every Muslim or farmer who resists central control of his families land should be lumped into the same category. There is a sizable gap between a resistor and a terrorist. The reason for so much hate in the world—especially in the American narrative—is the failure to notice the distinction. Great change is hindered by blind obedience to dogma. My thesis is simple: be wise and discern your enemy and so that you learn to recognize friend from foe.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Israel/Gaza: #NotInMyName Or An American Perspective On The Gazan Massacre

Let me start by establishing my angle. I am not an Israeli, I am not Jewish, and I am not Palestinian. Though I am not directly linked to any of the groups involved in this current war, I am a hardworking American citizen whose tax dollars in part funded the Goliath known as the IDF. With that said I will say here at the outset that I intend to shame Israel for its current slaughter of Palestinian civilians while at the same time calling my own government to account for its unilateral support of this evil. I do not intend on justifying Hamas or their actions, but I would ask you to consider one question no matter who and/or where you are: if your families' livelihood, home, drinkable water, power, and access to food were being systematically demolished by a foreign invader would you too not put up a fight, even if they outmatched your military might a thousand to one? 

One holocaust is not justification for another. 

Let me begin with history. I am not a scholar on mid-twentieth century world politics, but am familiar enough with the general outline of post-WW2 events to understand the main events of the so-called "reconstruction". It was during this time that Israel was established as a state in the middle of a settled land. The victors of the War decided that they would give the Jews this land because it was currently under British occupation anyway. In this way they could guarantee that Israel could defend itself in the event of another major clash of civilizations. What is rarely talked about in the media is that evil already pervaded this region even before Israel was established--it was colonized. Lest we forget the conquering kings did not just lie in Germany. Britain, the US, France and a host of other Anglo descendants. They had been carving out lands, setting up artificial borders (defined by western sensibilities), and propping up marionette warlords for centuries. It was these original foreign invaders who decided that Israel should have a state in that area. The local population was not consulted; they were thrown into exile. 

In the time that followed the new marionette warlords--under the auspice of democracy--built up an empire with American aid. Nowadays Israel is tauted as an oasis in the midst of chaos because it is a "democracy" and capitalist, which is code for America's pet project in the Middle East. The problem is that is was western influence that burned the desert down in the first place. The same thing is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan: tribal peoples existed in relative peace, warring only with each other when necessary, until propped up western-friendly governments came in at gunpoint to demand allegiance to a central oligarchy. Would you not fight back if this happened in your city? If Mexico decided that they were going to take Texas (back, for the record) and started building settlements across the border the full weight of the American military would meet them head on and probably take some of their land for the trouble. Why is it any different in Palestine? 

When the US Federal government came in to enforce laws that had been broken for decades by a man in Nevada, armed militias intimidated Federal officers into backing down. So, self-determination is ok if you are white, wear a cowboy hat, and saunter around in stirrups waving an American flag, but if you are a poor oppressed people who have been kicked out of your home by an invading giant with overwhelming force then you are an infidel deserving of death? This is propaganda at its finest. And if you are reading this with anger and disdain I would ask: where are you getting your news? From pro-Israel funded media conglomerates or from the wails of children and innocent civilians crying out in the night for relief?

And this is all propped up by American might. Israel and the US have such a cozy relationship that they will both turn a blind eye to atrocities committed by each other. Though it really wouldn't matter if Israel disagreed with the US-though it is worth noting that this offensive in Gaza comes shortly after the US sought to make a deal with Israel's mortal enemy Iran on its nuclear program--if the US disagreed with Israel the political fallout would be devastating. Why? Because the pro-Israel lobby provides so much of the funds for election campaigns. It is atrocious how much influence Israel-friendly dollars have on foreign policy. 

No one should support this. Pro-Israel supporters with ties to the region I can understand. I think they are deceived and have been lied to by a corrupt and bloodthirsty government who has linked a national identity to a ethnic heritage, but I can at least understand the deception. Non-Jewish Americans--especially on the conservative side--are even more deceived however. They have zero reason to justify this massacre. They gain nothing by sending their tax dollars to fund machines of death in the Middle East. They have simply been convinced by right wing media and corrupt politicians such as Lindsey Graham, Bob Corker, and John McCain that they have some stake in the conflict. No! They don't! All the United States of America risks is its "influence in the region" which we have no business being in anyway. What right do rich white men from Arizona, South Carolina, and Tennessee have to direct the future of a people who have inhabited a region for thousands of years? None. They don't even have a right to dictate the future of the soil they are occupying, yet they still lord their influence like a divine right here at the site of the old Massacres and now--by proxy--the new. 

Now I would like to address those who argue that such sentiments are "anti-Semitic". Non-sense. And if anyone confuses racial hatred and bigotry with righteous indignation of a war machine on automatic then those same people are going to end up causing an actual rise in anti-Semitism with their ignorance. People like me who accuse Israeli government members, soldiers in the IDF, US gov't officials who prop up these warlords, and their supporters of being criminals and war profiteers are not accusing any person of Jewish heritage as being such. We are accusing those responsible with their hands in their wallets and their fingers on their triggers. However, as Howard Zinn said you cannot be neutral on a moving train. Anyone who supports these war crimes should not only be ashamed of themselves but should look into the eyes of those babies with their heads blown off (literally) whether they be Israeli, Jewish, American, or any other. Bolivia has and they have designated Israel a terrorist state. 

What then shall we do? The massacre must stop. Protests have erupted all over the world and will continue to do so, but they must be escalated, especially here in the US. Recently, in New York City a brave bunch of individuals of Jewish heritage under the name of "IfNotNow" delivered letters to the heads of major Jewish organizations demanding the end of the occupation. The action then resulted in a sit-in after they read the names of the dead. Some of these folks, like most people who take a stand for justice by sitting down, were arrested. However, their action was poignant, self-sacrificial, and to the point. We need more people who can commit themselves to direct action and escalate until our message of dissent resonates through city, corporate, and congressional halls. 

Secondly, we must continue to share the story. Mass media has been covering the story in an incredibly propogandic and one-sided manner. They may have even deceived some of you reading this story. Just yesterday I saw a story out of Israel about an owl who died as a result of Hamas rocket fire while ignoring the more than a thousand deaths of Palestinians most of whom were innocent civilians. Thankfully, we have alternative on-the-ground sources from outlets such as Facebook, twitter, and other social media platforms; we have petitions that can be filed through WhiteHouse.Gov that we can sign and share (one of which is available here); we can blitz the phone lines of our (supposed) representatives and demand that the federal government cease its unilateral support of this massacre (phone lines available here and here); we can occupy offices of Congresspeople (locations available in last two links); and we can chain ourselves to the government fences to symbolize the constrains of living in a walled up warzone. There is no limit to how we can creatively engage those here at home who make the decisions to send our hard earned tax dollars to fund massacre; we just need to commit ourselves to action and hop to it. This slaughter is being done in your name. No more.


If you are in Philadelphia there is a rally on Friday August 1st @ 4pm at Love Park and there is also a bus leaving Saturday August 2nd to head to DC for a mass protest in support of Gaza. Be silent no more; its time to get involved.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Virtual Agora: Why Digital Democracy Is A Vital Next Step In Human Organization

Thesis: Virtual direct democracy can be and already has become an effective tool to combat the top down hierarchies of the corporate/political oligarchy of the 21st century civilization machine. By utilizing open source and free platforms organizers can remove many of the stumbling blocks of participation that result from the capitalist condition and can horizontally create and develop organic resistance and alternatives. 

About Me: My name is Larry Swetman. I am an artist, writer, and self-labeled radical who lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. I have spent the past few years organizing in the Global People's Movement from within its Occupy offshoot. I worked primarily out of Philly, but also spent a good amount of time organizing nationally and internationally with InterOccupy. I was of the first volunteers that helped the craft and develop the process with InterOccupy which was used to organize many events from regional/national/global solidarity actions, the 2012 Occupy National Gathering, and most recently Occupy Sandy . 

My Aim: I want to empower you. I am not sharing these experiences for any sort of validation or glory. I want to show you that anyone can use these systems and processes to organize in their own communities so that we can have our toolboxes ready to fight back against the oligarchy-behemoth before it swallows us whole. After all, genocide is marching west through Gaza as I post this; how shall we respond?


Before we get into the processes we need to evaluate what the tools are. We primarily use three tools: a phone, email, and maestro. The first two are self-explanatory; The third may be new to you. The maestro conference call system is a tool that allows us to thread together multiple phone lines and structure a conversation in a way that reflects the principles that formed the backbone of the general assemblies of the worldwide protest camps. 

It allows a facilitator (or more, if desired) and tech assistant (again, and more if necessary depending on the volume of the call) to structure the conversation. A digital interface allows the facilitator and TA to a) see the names and hands (more on the latter later) of the people who have called in (though some choose to remain anonymous), b) mute and unmute specific microphones so that folks don't talk over each other, c) break the call down into subgroups so that specific conversations can be had without taking up all of the space of the call. The interface also has many other minute options that make conversations easier to structure such as timers, notification sounds, and a staff chat so that the organizers of the call can share information such as "Hey, caller X is having difficulty hearing can you take them into a private subgroup and help them fix their problem?" 

Additionally, there is also a participation dashboard that callers with access to a computer can see information posted by the facilitators of the call such as agenda, graphs, links, phone lists, sign ups etc. Lastly, when folks sign up for the calls they enter their email address. Maestro makes it possible to gather these emails en masse so that follow up information such as call notes can be sent with ease. 

The entire purpose of the system is to streamline access and level the ground on which organization happens. 


The keen observer may have picked up on the potential for the facilitator and TA to dictate the terms of the call. After all, they have the mute capabilities, the responsibility to call on folks, and the general power to direct the flow of conversation. The keen observer would be right to question this power which is why we worked very hard on the process by which these happen. We wanted to make sure that the facilitator and TA were empowering conversations, not dictating them.

The processes were modeled on the structure of the General Assemblies which were prevalent in almost of all of the global protest camps from the past few years. At the beginning of the call the facilitator explains a technical feature by which numbers on the telephone key pad of the user correlates to a designation on the interface on which the facilitator works. Generally, they correspond as follows:

1- "Raise hand" to get put on "stack" (or a list that is ordered according to progressive principles, meaning that traditionally marginalized voices are given priority over typically dominant groups).

2- "Twinkles" which means that someone wants to show support for what someone is saying. Typically, the facilitator will tell the speaker when someone or multiple people are showing support. Also, in a similar vein the 2 is used for a "yes" vote in a poll or vote.

3- "Down Twinkles" which means the someone wants to express that they do not like what someone is saying. Again, the facilitator will usually tell the group when such feelings are expressed. The 3 is also generally used as a "no" vote in a poll or vote.

4- "Direct Response": One must remember that the goal of these calls is a conversation. However, when the facilitator is given the authority to structure the conversation they need to know when someone needs to speak directly to what is being addressed or has a new idea. Otherwise, the conversations would be muddled at best and incoherent at worst. New ideas usually use the number 1, but when someone needs to address something someone just said then they press 4 and go to the top of the stack (or list). Though, again, progressive principles are followed. If someone is speaking often then the facilitator may put them farther down on the direct response list so that others can be heard as well. 

5- "Technical Difficulties" or "Point of Process": The 5 is mostly used when someone either is having trouble with some technical aspect of the call such as not being able to hear or their buttons not registering on the interface. Some groups also use this number to give the facilitator feedback on keeping to process above. For example, if the community is having a discussion about X and someone on the call starts talking about Y then someone may press 5 to express that Y is off topic at which point it is the responsibility of the facilitator to bring the conversation back to its original point and continue through the stack. The facilitator will usually address 5's as soon as they come up. 

These five buttons and six designations are designed to empower the group to maintain power over the flow of conversation while allowing the facilitator and TA to moderate it. The facilitator will usually refrain from offering points in the discussion and if they must put themselves at the bottom of the stack. The experienced facilitator is usually very cautious in their role because of the inherent power to direct the flow of conversation. 


The prima facie reason for structuring calls this way is to make them as horizontal as possible. The Global People's Movement--it seems to me--is built around the idea that those in power have built up a hierarchy of power that systematically permeates throughout our civilization and society that makes participation in movements difficult. By using telephones and the internet we are effectively removing a lot of the barriers to participation that a lot of people face. When someone does not have to travel then they are a) more likely to participate and b) do not have to take much time out of their already busy lives. If the stated goals of the People's Movement are to include the everyday person then the hardships of those people must be presupposed. In the capitalist world the everyday person works 1/3 of their lives and sleeps another 1/3 which only leaves them 1/3 for their passions, desires, and projects. Lay on top of that the constant strain of working for ends meat (and sometimes less) and the population is automatically divided into those with the privilege to participate and those without. Calls can remove this barrier at least in some capacity, at least in initial exposure.

Secondly, civilization has been segregated by the oligarchy into many different--sometimes conflicting--subgroups based on anything from race, class, and creed to nationality or religion. A lot of these designations are interpreted and assumed visually. By removing the visual component it is a lot harder to segregate a group; you cannot divide what you cannot see. Even gender can be a grey area when all a facilitator has to go is a name and a voice. Therefore, by holding conversations in the virtual agora the capacity exists to temporarily remove the illusions that the powerful have created to divide us. 

Why is access and equality so important in this setting? Because only mass participation and cooperation can foil the plots of the oligarchy. The global wealth empire is based on the fact that people are different and therefore should be treated different. While it is true that every person is as unique as a snowflake in a superstorm, it is also true that the Earth is a biosphere in which we are all a part. We all have a responsibility to act in a manner befitting the continuing evolution of the human race. Harmony can only be achieved through cooperation and sustainability. However, civilization is structured into divisions with certain privileges granted to some and oppressions to others. To overcome these sets of have's and have not's a system must to devised to break down the dividing wall of hostility and level the playing field for all those affected--namely everyone. 

The virtual agora has the capacity--assuming the painstaking and vigilant work of evolving the processes to meet the needs of all involved--to make cooperation accessible to everyone with access to a phone. That last piece is always going to be a stumbling block; how do we make the process accessible to everyone? But that is a problem that can only be solved by the willing participation of those with the capacity to use their privilege to address it. 

So what?

This technology is in its infancy. There can come a day when technologies can be made to make access to virtual democratic platforms very cheap and more efficient. When that day comes then perhaps true participatory democracy will be possible. In the meantime, we can use what we have now to theorize, plan, and execute plans to beckon that day. People are struggling more and more everyday and have been for centuries under the weight of Empire. War, famine, greed, and poverty. By using tools like virtual agoras we can in some small way effect the world around us by practicing the world we want to see in real time. You never know, the ideas in the mind of a few may produce a vision for the many to rally around, but they will need access. Currently, such ideas are usually limited to the rich, connected, and elite. They then exert their power from the top until their venom trickles down to where we small fish fry. 

However, when access and equality are addressed and the willing have an avenue by which to participate democracy is possible. Again, this technology is in its infancy, but we all have to crawl before we can walk. The virtual agoras can be a help in taking our first steps… if we use them. They are there; they are free. We just need to use them. If you are tired of a world run by the musings and whims of the rich and powerful and have an idea to fix it--let it breathe. Give others a chance to listen, critique, and be inspired. Gather with like minds in a space committed to access and equality and debate how to fight back. For only when we fight back do things change. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

An Open Letter To The University of Pennsylvania

Dear Most Honored Faculty of the University of Pennsylvania,

My name is Larry Swetman. I am an artist, writer, and revolutionary who is interested in attending your school for a degree and certificate in secondary education, but have reached somewhat of a stumbling block. I am writing this letter to you in the hopes that I can make three things clear: 1) that the very education that is the backbone of an ivy league pedigree cannot be based on tally marks of a transcript, 2) that upholding this educational standard should have more to do with wisdom than rules, and 3) that I am more than qualified and would make a welcome addition to your program.

Before I begin my thesis, however, I think it may be best for me to give you a brief background of who I am and how I came to write you this letter. I will be brief for I am sure that you all have much to do, but I will continue in the hopes that your desire to change the world is as symptomatic as mine. (For why else would we all endeavor to teach?)

I grew up very poor, the son of a single mother in Atlanta, GA. I will spare you the shades of the story, but suffice it to say it was a long hard road to reach any sort of educational plateau; it's hard to help your kid with his homework when you both are standing in a breadline. However, fortune favors the tenacious and I was given the chance to go to College.

I decided to go to a Christian Liberal Arts College because I was given a new life when I entered the Church. The life I lived prior to becoming a Christian was wrought with environments saturated with the anger that only flows from desperation. When I entered the Church, though, I heard stories of love and community and thought to myself, "Yeah, this is the way out of hell." Consequently, I undertook a journey to obtain a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies. Again, I will spare you the minutia of my collegiate story, but suffice to say it was here that I learned how to think, question, and rebel.

I was never satisfied with the neatly packaged ideas that were presented to me; I needed to know why things were/are the way they were/are. Consequently, after obtaining my degree I left the Church on a somewhat transcendental (some may call it spiritual) quest of self-discovery. I immersed myself in philosophy, history, quantum theory, astrophysics, economics, art, sociology, political theory, and a myriad of other subjects until I realized that everything I had been taught was a systematic normalization of the individual based on castes of privilege and oppression. I did not take this knowledge lying down; I took it to the streets.

A few years into College I started to become radicalized. My Alma Mater is a beacon for the conservative cause to the point that they would stand by Governmental-Administrative human rights abuses in the name of divine directive. I started to speak out, write and distribute pamphlets, and protest. It was Desmond Tutu who said that to see injustice and do nothing is to side with the oppressor.

Fast forward to 2011. I had done some time in Seminary before my (self-described) enlightenment and moved to Philadelphia. It was here that I first started to Occupy.

From September 19th, 2011—2 days into the US movement—I committed myself to fighting back. I started by going to Zuccotti Park to set up camp at Occupy Wall Street. I arrived the day that the police violence started and decided to come home and hopefully help set up the movement in Philly. I was there from day 1 of Occupy Philly when we were just a couple of people on a Facebook page trying to kindle a flame. Eventually, it erupted into a fire. Once again I will save you the time of the entire story, but suffice it to say that I was intimately involved from organizing rallies and protests to leading marches; starting a Free university; forming a communication infrastructure to keep the global movement connected; planning national gatherings; occupying bank lobbies; meeting with Governors and Congresspeople to demand certain reforms; speaking on panels from Johns Hopkins to Villanova Universities; and organizing disaster relief when the American Red Cross and FEMA could not get their acts together in New Jersey. And that was just a sampling of the work I did. The papers I have written about my experiences in the social justice movement since then would take up far too much space for this particular letter.

Point being: I have learned more about history, government, economics, geography, sociology, and anthropology in the streets and in self-study over the past three years than I was ever even exposed to as another brick in the wall of the education system.

That last comment finally brings me to the point of my prose: I want to attend your school but do not meet the requirements as laid out by your admissions process. A few of you have even looked over my transcripts (thank you) and evaluated what I would need in order to meet those pre-reqs: basic world history and US; economics; geography; government; anthropology; and sociology courses. So then, what shall I do? Go to a local community College and rack up more debt to take these courses so I meet the prerequisites? Why?

For the last year or so I have been supplementing my real work—as I have laid out above—with working at a teashop in South Philly. I work for $9/hr to pay the bills. I have also recently gotten engaged to a beautiful woman and am trying to start a family. To start that family I have tried to seek self-betterment by going back to school to teach. I have always had a passion to teach and if there is anywhere on the East Coast of the US that needs bright, driven, and inspired teachers who are willing to sacrifice to make the system better, it's Philadelphia. So, I have come to you to obtain the learning necessary to teach the next generation, but, again, I have hit a wall.

I do not have the time or the money to take these courses. In addition to working and starting a family I also maintain my own personal work in the form of writing and making art for my online presence, a necessity in this day and age ( If I were to add to that workload a full year and a half of superfluous classes I would also be adding to financial strain and stress of my marriage for what? So, that I meet requirements on paper? Do I not already meet the requirements? Have I not passed these courses outside of the context of a traditional classroom?

What can I learn of the method of history when my presupposition is already to apply a historical exegesis that takes authorial intent and socio-political context into account? Should I relay the history of the Mujahedeen and how the unification efforts of what we call "Afghanistan" are simply tribal conflicts of resistors who do not want a national government with territorial lines drawn by western oppressors? Shall I connect this story to the CIA funded rise of the Taliban and how it relates to rise of "terrorism"? Shall I write you an essay on how modern terror tactics on derived from early '70s American-backed-and-state-sanctioned terror in Latin America? What more World or US history should I know before I am qualified to teach? How about the genocide of the Native peoples of what we call the "United States?" None of that stuff is taught. I had to learn it on my own, but since I didn't pay for it to be on my transcripts there is no way for you to know.

How about economics? Should we talk about John Locke's theory of private property about how it has inspired the current hierarchical models of authority based on ownership? Can we talk about capitalism and how it has failed the global economy? How about how the world produces more than enough food to feed every person but the supply chain is too broken to work on such levels? How about climate change and the rise of CO2 levels pre-and post-industrial revolution? We could talk about alternatives that aren't in the textbooks as well. In my time working in disaster relief in New Jersey and New York, we developed systems of mutual-aid that brought people and resources to those in need without the use of capital. How about talking about such alternatives? What about how unregulated price manipulators are the reasons for such soaring healthcare costs in the US despite a drop in quality? These are economic issues not taught in textbooks.

How about government? Though I have taken a community College class on American government, I was never taught about the actual political process. How about Citizen's United or McCutcheon? Will the classes teach me how the political process is manipulated by the richest individuals, corporations, and unions to pick the winners before the people ever have a chance to speak? How about the revolving door of staffers to lobbyists that keeps the Oligarchy in tact? I have learned more about government sitting in handcuffs in the back of police paddy wagons than I was ever taught in GOV101.

I could go on from sociology to anthropology talking about the systematic oppression of people of color in this country and its historical connection to slavery, but I will come to the end.

Though I grew up poor my mother tried to instill in me a sense of the so-called "American Dream." "Larry," she used to say, "if you work hard you can be anything you want to be." My experience in the world and seeing those around me has taught that this is a lie. The only reason it is called the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it. Stumbling blocks and inhibitions to progress line the road to the Dream like roadside bombs, waiting for you to slip up and touch them. For then debt can shackle you to normalcy; exhaustion can pacify your dissent; and you can work, consume, sleep, wake up and do it all over again for minimum wage your whole life while the elites fly high on Wall St. and in DC.

However, I am still a fool; I am still a dreamer. I still believe that academia offers a way out of the mire for everyone who is given the opportunity. My mother grew up as a poor orphan and to this day struggles, choosing sometimes between buying her food and getting her medicine. But I still believe there is a better way. I believe that people can make wise choices and though those choices may diverge from the norm they set precedent and consequently slowly change the status quo. How many times has the road less traveled made the difference?

I think I have made a pretty good case that I deserve to be in your program. Sure, I could go to those classes, pay those fees, and get those grades, but for what? I would lose time with my family and be farther in debt—for what? Basically, to make it easier on you all to know that I am qualified to be in your program. I can assure I am. I have stood toe to toe with Governors in their own offices and shamed them into admitting their historical, sociological, and governmental inadequacies; I have been beaten on the streets on Philadelphia and New York by Police Departments designed to maintain systems of oppression at the cost of our communities; and—most importantly to me—I have risen from depths of poverty to do so.

I think what my mama was trying to tell me when she tried to instill that Dream in me was that where there is an opportunity…take it. I need an opportunity. If you all find that I deserve one I can assure you that not only will I graduate your program, but will shine in it. Who knows, I might be able to instill the values of an American Dream—truly believing them—to the next generation and they might change the world.

In all humility I thank you for taking the time to read my story though it's not done yet; there are several chapters to be written. I write this in the hopes that the next one will be entitled…

My Years at UPENN.

Larry Reginald Swetman