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Why the president should take Introduction to Economics

in Columns/Opinions/Uncategorized by

One of President Trump’s favorite activities is bragging about how great his administration has been for the economy. While the economy is currently on an overall upswing, Trump has no business taking credit for all of the gains he and his administration claim were due solely to their takeover of the executive branch.  In addition, these gains aren’t nearly as great as he makes them out to be, and anyone who has taken Introduction to Economics would quickly realize these claims are not entirely grounded in fact.

In September, Trump tweeted that “virtually no President has accomplished what we have accomplished in the first 9 months,” describing the economy—his economy—to be “roaring.”  

Claiming that the, at the time, nine month duration of his presidency saw the highest stock market growth in history, Trump hit a wall. Market Watch claims the best nine-month period for stock market growth was actually between April and December 2009, when the S&P soared 46.7 percent.  

Additionally, according to MarketWatch, “the market was better than it is now about 46 percent of the time while Bill Clinton was president, 34 percent under Barack Obama, and 14 percent under George W. Bush.”

Over the summer, Trump announced that “we have our most jobs ever in our country” and that “we have the highest employment numbers we’ve ever had in the history of our country.” Both of these claims are meaningless due to the fact that population has more than doubled in size since 1950.

Instead of expounding statistics that can be explained away by population growth, economists would rather consider the ratio of employment to population.

As the population continues to increase, the labor force does as well. However, the labor force is actually growing more slowly than it in the recent past due to the lack of baby boomers in the workforce. According to the Washington Post, “In 2016 the labor force participation rate for Americans ages 25 to 54 hovered around 81 percent, but it peaked in 1997 at 84 percent. Economists frequently analyze this rate as an indicator of the health of the job market. The higher the number, the healthier the market.”

There are many nuances the Trump administration chooses to ignore when referencing statistics related to employment. For example, one could choose to analyze the labor force participation rate for people ages 25 to 54, which measures the number of people who are both employed and unemployed against the entire U.S. population. There is also an overall labor force participation rate. This includes all Americans ages 16 and up while also incorporating both people who might be unemployed while in school and people aging out of the labor force.

Recently, Vice President Pence has been taking his cues from Trump, regurgitating his boss’ statements, and claiming the transfer of power to their leadership to be the cause of some unprecedented economic upswing.

During a speech at the Tax Foundation on Nov. 16, Pence, as evidence for his braggart statements about the Trump administration’s supposed great economic success, claimed that “there are more Americans working today than ever before in American history.”  

The American economy has been recovering from the Great Recession since 2009, yet Trump and Pence enjoy publicizing the idea that their administration has single handedly turned it all around.  Additionally, instead of acknowledging the Federal Reserve’s role in getting the economy out of the recession, spurring the highest period of economic growth in history, Trump chooses to criticize the organization and its leader. During the campaign, Trump claimed that “the Fed [created] a ‘very false economy,’” whatever that means. However, now that this “false economy” is having some success, he is now claiming it to be his own, taking credit for the effects of Fed policies and those of the Obama administration which he relentlessly mocked and attempted to refute.

There are two possible scenarios at play here. The first is that Trump, despite his continuous boasts about being an expert in the field of business, needs to brush up on his Economics 001 and should enroll in an introductory course at a local university; DC has plenty of options. The second, and admittedly more likely, option considering our President’s impeccable and proven track record as a liar, is that he comprehends the basic economic concepts that his statements clearly violate, and is operating under the impression that the American public does not, that he believes only a very small percentage of the words coming out of his mouth, and refuses to admit otherwise.

Anti-pipeline candidates elected with help from Sunrise

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Sunrise lead a successful effort to elect opponents of the Mariner East II pipeline, currently under construction, to township boards in Chester County. Four officials who won last Tuesday’s municipal elections promise they will enforce local ordinances designed to protect community members from the dangers of a high-pressure natural gas pipeline.

The pipeline connects the Marcellus Shale formations of Western Pennsylvania, an area rich in natural gas, to a shipping terminal in Marcus Hook, a town nine miles from Swarthmore. Petroleum manufacturer and distribution company Sunoco intends to export much of the natural gas to Europe.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission approved the pipeline in 2014, but there is currently a lawsuit being reviewed by an intermediate appeals court in Harrisburg arguing that local townships can assert zoning control. The Commission has banned drilling in West Goshen Township until a hearing regarding the site of a valve scheduled for April of next year. Sunoco started construction on the valve earlier this year, but a judge halted construction, arguing the property was not covered by an earlier agreement.

Sunoco’s parent company, Energy Transfer Partners, announced Wednesday that completion of the project would be pushed to the second quarter of 2018 despite the fact that 99 percent of the pipeline will be in the ground by the end of 2017, according to Stateimpact NPR. The delays are due to regulatory disputes with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection over the practice of horizontal drilling. The project has ninety reported drilling fluid spills in forty locations, NPR said. In one case, the company had four spillages in less than a week at its East Goshen drilling operation, and the DEP must decide whether the company has violated soil erosion permits.

If the pipeline can be held up by the courts, costs may be high enough to justify scrapping the project. In the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, for example, the government halted construction on federal land when it angered the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The resulting delays cost the owner of the pipeline, Energy Transfer Partners, $450 million.

“Now that we’ve elected township supervisors that are committed to enforcing the ordinance, it should be able to hold up the pipeline,” said Jeremy Seitz-Brown ’18, a leader of Sunrise. “The more these things can be delayed, eventually people can want out.”

Sunrise, founded this year, is an extension of a previous group at the College called  Mountain Justice. The group focuses on divestment, grassroots organizing, and anti-pipeline activism to pursue the broader goal of stopping climate change. The group drove nine students to knock on doors the Saturday before the election in West Goshen and Uwchlan townships, where there were four anti-pipeline candidates running. Sunrise partnered with Food and Water Action, a political advocacy group supporting clean water and sustainable energy, which spent $40,000 on the election, Philly.com reported. The election saw anti-pipeline majorities on the Board of Supervisors for each township.

“We talked to voters that were very supportive but needed that extra push, needed someone to contact them to get them to the polls,” said Seitz-Brown. “It feels good when you know you’re the difference.”

Construction on the entire pipeline was held up in August by an emergency order blocking horizontal drilling practices used by Sunoco after it contaminated residents’ water wells. In one case this summer, 15 households in Chester County were without water for weeks after Sunoco punctured an aquifer, said Stateimpact NPR.  The company reached a settlement with environmental organizations requiring it to better notify residents, improve its geological evaluation techniques, and offer to test the wells of nearby residents.

Olivia Robbins ’21 emphasized the importance of prioritizing environmental concerns in policy.

“The environment ought to be weighed most heavily because it will have the longest lasting impact,” she said. “The economic concerns that develop out of environmental travesties end up being far greater than the economic incentive.”

The closest the pipeline runs to the college is about three and a half miles. Its impact zone, which is identified as a 1,300-foot radius around the pipeline, includes 105,419 people and a total of 40 public and private schools. Middletown High School in Dauphin County is only seven feet away from the pipeline, making an emergency evacuation almost impossible should there be a leakage. It also crosses through four environmental justice areas dominated by poor and minority communities, reported Fractracker.

“The first thing you need to think about is who the economic benefits are going to be allocated to,” said Robbins. “ I care a lot if Chester, which is a pretty impoverished area in general and one of the most under-resourced school systems, didn’t get a huge economic benefit. From my understanding of the pipeline, it’s not.”

Chester County Charter School for the Arts is located 419 feet from the pipeline, enrolls 98 percent Black and Hispanic students, and will likely receive little tax benefit from the pipeline. Philly.com reported the terminal at Marcus Hook will contribute an additional $4.8 million in property taxes next year, raising property taxes for the site to $7.1 million. While Chichester schools will receive $5 million, only an additional $700,000 will go to Delaware County, a county with a tax revenue of $353 million making little impact on other school districts.

FracTracker Alliance, an anti-oil and gas research organization, reported 4,215 pipeline failures since 2010 resulting in 100 reported fatalities and 470 injuries. The property damage exceeded $3.4 billion.

Although the election itself happened in Chester County, this victory is one for Delaware County residents as well. With the pipeline currently held up in court until April, and opponents of the pipeline pledging to enforce local zoning laws, the completion date looks to be far away.

Record Swattie Turnout Helps Democrats Win Local Elections

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On Nov. 7, Democrats came out victorious as Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden won two seats on the Delaware County Council. This was the first time in over 30 years that Democrats have secured seats on the Council, which has historically been Republican dominated. Many community members were involved in helping campaign for the Democrat candidates as signs that read “Zidek Madden Vote Nov 7th: Bring Sanity Back” were dispersed throughout the County. The Swarthmore College Democrats parallelled these efforts by campaigning on campus to students; their efforts were rewarded when Swarthmore College student voter turnout was the highest ever for a local election.

Taylor Morgan ’19, president of Swat Dems, was approached by the County Democrats and candidates after their win and thanked for the student turnout.

“I heard from the people at the polling place, and also at a victory party at the Inn later that night, from the County Democrats and the candidates, that this year was the most significant turnout of Swarthmore students for local elections. All the candidates came up to me at the victory party that night and were thrilled at the engagement and involvement of Swarthmore students canvassing, voting, and in other ways supporting their candidacy,” said Morgan.

Swat Dems’ efforts started way before election day and extended past the college campus. According to Morgan, the organization’s strategy was to provide information about the election, both about the campaigns of the different candidates, and on the logistics of the voting process, in order to actually help students to go out and vote on Nov. 7.

Before the election, Swat Dems worked to enable students not only to vote, but also be involved in the campaigning process.

“I brought in two canvassing trainers to campus and hosted about 19 students who got trained to do paid canvassing. Secondly, we had a ‘Get Out the Vote’ operation which consisted of phone banking; canvassing around campus; dorm storming, which consisted of putting voter day information under the doors; tabling in Sharples to sign people up to drive shuttles; and to volunteer for campaigns,” said Morgan.

On the day of the election, Swat Dems were joined by the Sunrise Group and the Swarthmore Conservative Society to coordinate efforts to get people out to vote. President of Swat Conservatives Gilbert Guerra ’19 said that his group abstained from endorsing specific candidates but still believed it was important to get out and vote.

We joined in the Get Out the Vote effort by advertising it on our social media accounts and by tabling on the day of the election,” said Guerra.

Swat Dems also tried to incentivize students to go vote through food trucks.

“I researched two Black-owned businesses in the area, and I found two food trucks with the help of Andy Rosen, who is the chair of Swarthmore’s Farmer’s Market called Plum Pit Bistro and Catering, and The Sweetest Rose Cupcake Company. So we incentivized students to go vote through food catering. We encouraged students to get on the volunteer shuttles behind the food trucks before or after they were getting their food. And I think this really channeled a lot of students to get in the car and go down the street to vote,” said Morgan.

Morgan was also able to get community members to volunteer as drivers through connections from previous local campaign work.

“I was able to secure 17 local drivers who functioned as volunteer shuttles throughout the day, who used their personal time and vehicles to just drive Swarthmore students back and forth from the polling places,” said Morgan.

Morgan was hesitant to call the Democrats gaining seats a victory but is still optimistic about the future.

“I’m hesitant to call it a win because that implies that the challenge leading up to Tuesday is over, but on the contrary it has just begun. Delaware County, the college, and the community members have been facing complete obstruction and this is due to the Republican Machine. But now, we actually have people who recognize a lot of community needs and crises that are happening locally, that are at the table, and they can at least impart change that has for so long been obstructed. So to me, the ‘win’ means that there is a more likely chance that people will be able to access these changes, not necessarily that these changes will come,” said Morgan.

Morgan described the ‘Republican machine’ as a product of gerrymandering, which is the manipulation of district boundaries to provide advantage to one political party.

“Our district is the most gerrymandered district in the country. This is largely due to the regime of Republican machine in Delaware county. In college courses, Delaware County is held up as an example of what gerrymandering is and the dangers of it. And so the people that were elected, named Brian Zidek and Kevin Madden, have come out publicly against gerrymandering and have actually supported legislation that works at dismantling it. Also, Delaware County has the only for-profit prison in the state of Pennsylvania, and this is due to [Republican backing over the years],” said Morgan.

Peter Foggo ’21, a Democrat, decided to partake in local politics because of this Republican machine that Morgan described.

“I decided to participate in the local elections mainly because Delaware County has historically been controlled by Republican officials, but after the outrage following the most recent presidential election, I think that a lot of people in Delaware County realized that change was not only needed, but a realistic goal,” said Foggo.

Yasmeen Namazie ’19 echoed the importance of local politics bringing change to greater political platforms.

“I went out and voted because I understand the significance of local elections and their power in informing federal policy outcomes. After the Trump election, the Republican stronghold in the Senate and House has created a shortage in Democratic influence. As a Democrat, I want Democrats in local leadership to regain the House in 2018 and reverse the draconian policies implemented by the Trump administration: reinstate DACA, fund Planned Parenthood, repeal the travel ban, etc,” said Namazie.

Morgan hopes that this recent success will motivate students to get more involved in future democratic processes.

“To the group as a whole, I think that precisely because there was such a clear link between student engagement and victory, maybe students will be more likely to be involved in the future. And maybe, exactly this will kind of change the way students see the significance and effect of local politics,” said Morgan.

One year later, an ode to the immigrant

in Columns/Opinions by

I have never been more acutely aware of the color of my skin, the home country of my immigrant parents, or the gender I identify with, as I was on Election Day of last year. Growing up in an all-white town, surrounded by symbols of wealth and privilege, I had spent the bulk of my adolescence attempting to refute the notion that I was brown. As the only Sikh student at my high school, I wanted to flee the stereotypes which colored the lenses of the the students around me. Growing up in the US as a second generation Indian, I wanted to be white more than anything. I dressed like the white girls at my school, hiding behind my sleeping bag of a North Face parka and covering my brown ankles with white high-top Converse sneakers, spending late nights studying at Starbucks, and emphasizing how I was born south of Chicago—not in India, unlike the rest of my family—at every opportunity I got. The students of color at my high school were few and far in between; the handful of Indian students were mostly male and probably just as fearful of acknowledging their brown skin as I was.

I realized, slowly, that I could cheat on my faith, in a way that my turbaned brother and father could not. Dressed in my white-girl camouflage, I could slide through the halls without drawing attention to myself as a Sikh woman of color; my brother couldn’t, and still cannot, fill up his car’s gas tank without being spit at by a white man as he was told to go back to where he came from. It was easy for me to pretend that I was independent of the immigrant identity of my family members.

It took me years to embrace my culture, faith, and origins with pride. I now feel ashamed of myself and how embarrassed I once used to be during school-wide events, hoping desperately that my turbaned father would not attend and that my mother, with her moderate Indian accent, would not speak up. It pains me deeply to think that I once found the people who I idolize and worship the most so humiliating to my existence. Coming to Swarthmore and finding a community of both international and domestic students who not only took pride in where they came from and what they looked like, but also actively promoted greater opportunity and advancement for the communities and groups that they represented, I gained a greater appreciation for the immigrant story. I started listening more carefully to the stories of my own parents, who left India and arrived to the US with the equivalent of seven US dollars; the retellings of my mother, who worked three jobs at a time under the table to make extra cash; the narrative of my brother, whose turban was ripped off from his head in middle school, who would go on to preach the values of patience, tolerance, and kindness to me when I’d angrily tell him to fight back with the same level of vitriol.

In the wake of the election, with anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiment at all time highs given Trump’s condonation, I learned to find solidarity between myself and other women of color. I looked to my father, who escaped from the corruption of India’s democracy in progress to come to a country where democratic institutions, values, and principles are still, to this day, upheld, and found solace in the company of other first and second generation students. He reminded me to not lose faith in the American democracy, or in the institutions that would serve to counteract the potential damage an incompetent and unfit president could inflict. With this being said, he and I both recognize that the US is currently exhibiting the lowest degree of social mobility in all of American history and some of the highest levels of economic inequality in the world; in the wake of Donald Trump’s victory one year ago, it is near impossible to have blind faith in free markets and democratic institutions, the most fundamental underpinnings of American society.

However, this past Election Day, one year after what I considered to be the D-Day of American democracy, Hoboken, New Jersey elected its first Sikh mayor, Ravi Bhalla. Prince William County, Virginia, elected its first openly transgender state legislator, Danica Roem. Helena, Montana elected its first black mayor, Wilmot Collins, a refugee from Liberia. A refugee from Vietnam, Kathy Tran, became the first Asian-American woman elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates, and the House of Delegates also elected its first two Latina female members, Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala. The elections of 2017 show us that when constituents mobilize at a grassroots level, collectively organize, turn out to the polls, and demand change, we create a government that starts to look more like the diverse America that I have come to be so proud of, where individual identities and differences are celebrated. I was disheartened to find that so many of my peers had ignored their civic responsibility by choosing not to vote this past Tuesday, assuming the election was unimportant and didn’t deserve their attention. This lethargy and complacency was precisely what led to poor voter turnout on behalf of Democrat voters in 2016, and contributed to an ultimate Trump victory. There is true and tremendous promise in the future of the American democracy, but—like my conservatives across the aisle have preached for years—we must pull ourselves up by the bootstraps to create it.

 

Mueller Monday: A new national pastime?

in Opinions/Words of Wagner by

This Monday, Paul Manafort was indicted on twelved counts, including conspiracy against the United States. This, of course, is part of the investigation led by special prosecutor Robert Mueller into potential collusion between Donald Trump and the Russian government to influence the election in favor of the Republican candidate. The indictment along with George Papadopoulos pleading guilty to lying to the FBI signal that Robert Mueller’s investigation is gaining steam, a good sign for those, including myself, who think that it is likely that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to take down former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

My own reaction to speculation from news sources that an indictment was coming on Monday morning made me feel like the question of “who is getting indicted” better fit on the title of a game show. It felt fun, despite the fact that the very sovereignty of the United States is at stake in the investigation. After making a few great jokes on Twitter, including one encouraging Special Prosecutor Mueller to release indictments on days that were more fit for popping bottles of champagne, I wonder if my reaction to the news is problematic for the democratic institutions and norms that I hold dear, especially since it can be argued that making light of Donald Trump contributed to his election. I remember laughing incredibly hard at Trump while watching one of the presidential debates in LPAC, and I shudder at how naive we all were. In laughing off then-candidate Trump, we underestimated Trump’s insidious potential. Could we be laughing away the very freedom to vote a president out of office by joking about the investigation that we hope will take him down?

Or, is laughing at Trump and company flounder in the face of the serious allegations they face a kind of retribution for the stupidity of this presidency? Or is it useful as a coping method in these troubled and uncertain times? Or is Sarah Huckabee Sanders just too roastable for us to not make fun of her blatant lies and even worse metaphors for tax reform?

To answer these questions, I want to start with the fact that there is no good metaphor for tax reform. I almost feel bad for making fun of Huckabee Sanders until I remember that she chooses to peddle the daily lies coming out of the Trump administration despite being qualified for several other jobs, like director of communications for Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated or as a press director for Satan. Laughing at the fools running our country makes it hurt less, and helps the anger not overcome my rational senses. Sending pointed tweets at the press secretary makes me feel better when I want to scream into an abyss.

The Trump circus deserves to be ridiculed, because honestly, they suck. They’re bad people with bad political views who are actively trying to make this country worse for poor people and marginalized group in order to appeal to a mythical silent majority and improve profits for CEOs and pharma bros. I realized that my initial fear regarding using humor to attack the Trump administration was too cautious, now that Trump holds the most powerful position in the world, the only way out is down. While America certainly has a lot left to lose, Trump can be taken down from the tallest tower. Laughing at him makes him angry, and an angry Trump is even easier to take down. As the investigation ramps up, the Trump family will likely keep their inner circle tighter as their world crumbles around them. In the meantime, laughing at them will be the best medicine.

Using humor in the face of the monstrosity that is the Republican president will show the Grand Old Party that the American people do not take their president seriously, which will  make it even harder for them to get their agenda through Congress. As long as moderate Republicans think that the President is to laughable to be associated with, their agenda will continue screeching to a halt in one of the world’s most revered legislative bodies. Making jokes about the president will distract him from advancing his poisonous agenda, and can bring us the joy we deserve after surviving every painful day of a Trump presidency.

I’m looking forward to the next Mueller Monday. I have several drafts of Tweets for each potential indictee, because all eight of my active Twitter followers and I deserve a good laugh.

Stephen Walt: Foreign policy-wise, Trump is much of the same

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Phi Beta Kappa lecturer and foreign policy expert Stephen Walt offered harsh criticism of the American foreign policy establishment last Thursday, Oct. 26. In his talk, titled “Where is U.S. Foreign Policy Headed?” Walt argued that foreign policy under president Trump is still commandeered by the pre-existing bipartisan foreign policy establishment; the administration now pursues long-standing, already flawed policies in an erratic and incompetent manner pursued by Trump.

Walt is a professor of International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He authored three books, including The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, which created a media storm. The New York Times called it “ruthlessly realistic,” while others accused it of anti-semitism.  

In his talk, Walt argued that the foreign policy establishment — or the ‘blob,’ as he refers to it — is to blame for decades of failure in global affairs. He referenced the US policy of ‘liberal hegemony,’ defining it as a foreign policy that actively tries to promote the basic principles and ideals of liberal democracy. The policy assumes the US is an indispensable nation, and that it should try to use its power to spread democracy, whether peacefully or by force.

Walt outlined changes in international power dynamics over the past thirty years. China’s power has steadily increased, the relationship between the US and Russia is at its worst since the Cold War, and the Middle East is in turmoil largely due to US efforts at regime change.

According to Walt, the election of Donald Trump, whose policies represent a repudiation of the grand strategy pursued since the Cold War, proves that the American people want change. However, the change in his foreign policy is in how Trump himself acts, not in policy.

Walt blames the establishment for the state of US foreign policy. Although Trump ran on the premise that foreign policy in the US is “a complete and total disaster,” he doesn’t follow through on the policies he supported during the election. McMaster replaced Flynn, Trump said in an interview that NATO is no longer obsolete, he ordered a cruise missile strike in Syria After Assad uses chemical weapons, and he announced 5,000 more troops will be deployed to Afghanistan. According to Walt, these are many of the same actions Hillary Clinton would have taken if she was president.

“In a competition between Donald and the establishment, the establishment is winning,” he said.

Apart from criticizing the policies in place, Walt also listed the policies the US should pursue. The US should reduce or eliminate its military role in Eastern Europe, since Russia isn’t an existential threat to either the EU or the US. Trump should take a harder line with China to prevent it from becoming a regional hegemon and let Russia take the lead in Syria. The US shouldn’t have special relationships with any Middle Eastern powers, and should refrain from pursuing nation-building experiments.

Student reactions to these ideas were mixed.

“[Walt] underestimates Russia’s willingness to take risks given the threat it perceives from NATO and its declining global influence,” said Irina Bukharin ’18. “Although Professor Walt’s views most likely differed from the average Swattie’s, it was really encouraging to see so many people come out to hear his views.”

Frank Kenny ’20 was also unsure about one of Walt’s stances.

“I was surprised to hear him argue for a more interventionist approach when it comes to foreign policy dealing with China,” Kenny said.

Associate Professor of Political Science Dominic Tierney offered a different analysis of post-Cold War US policy. He questioned Walt’s harsh criticism of the establishment, considering the failure of Trump’s anti-establishment agenda. The Trump administration and all its missteps don’t seem to endear Walt to the establishment, like they do with many Americans.

“Instead, [Walt] seems to be sticking to his guns,” said Tierney. “While I think a lot of people look at the Trump administration and think that the establishment is looking better every day, by comparison to some of the blunders that we’ve seen.”

The failure of US foreign policy over the past thirty years, said Tierney, doesn’t have it’s roots in the establishment, although they have blundered.

“If you look at the bigger story of American foreign policy, it’s actually been fairly successful over the centuries and even since WWII, so I’m not sure that the American establishment is the fundamental problem here … that suspicion has been reinforced by the trump administration because it is explicitly anti-establishment and has made very serious mistakes,” he said.

According to Tierney, the deeper reason for these foreign policy gaffes is that America has no one to challenge its power like it did during the Cold War.

“Countries the with kind of power that the US has had since the end of the Cold War in history have rarely acted in restrained and measured ways,” he said.

Despite having controversial views, Walt filled the room with students engaged in

meaningful deliberation, and encouraged reexamining widely-accepted points of view.

Group of indigenous students speak on protests of injustice

in Op-Eds/Open Letter/Opinions by

Swarthmore is often referred to as a bubble, separate from the outside world, but for many marginalized groups this campus is simply an incubator. Swarthmore is not immune to issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, colonialism and the preference of funds over people’s wellbeing. This institution mirrors America in this regard. Indigenous students at this college wish to demonstrate that we do in fact have a presence on this campus, and that our voices, indigenous voices, need to be recognized. Our existence is meaningful and our pain did not stop in 1776 with the ousting of the british,  colonization did not end in 1825 when the Western hemisphere was freed from ‘colonial’ rule, our suffering did not end with the trail of tears, our oppression did not end when we were made citizens. Settler-colonialism itself has no end. After 525 years we still feel the pain of Columbus and we still feel the weight of America on our backs. So we burn the flag.

Let us quickly outline the fact that this was not the first chosen route to have our needs met. Swarthmore College has unfortunately time and again invalidated our existence and without apology, upheld settler-colonialism. The student group associated with indigeneity on campus was granted a student space after long negotiations with members of administration. We met opposition in that administrators said they did not want to give a space to a group that is not consistently active. In fact they’re right, Indigenous students on this campus have never been consistently active as an identity group and seem to have not existed on this campus until the 1990s. The irony of this, of course, is that we have been historically barred from opportunities that give one access to Swarthmore and  Swarthmore has historically chosen not to recruit and admit Native American and more broadly indigenous students. In fact, we have almost always made up less one percent of each incoming class. Is this because Native students simply do not apply? Maybe, but blatant racism, stereotyping and prejudice in the admissions office has also been demonstrated.We have not forgotten that in November of 2014 – less than three years ago – Swarthmore’s Director of Admissions JT Duck said that Native high school students are “not academically qualified for Swarthmore”.

Indigenous students at Swarthmore also considered the fact that many Native students may not want to apply to the college because the institution makes no effort to ensure that we have a place here, as Admissions so freely admitted a few years ago.  Within the past few weeks the space that we fought to have was vandalized, and the bias incident report never resolved. Then on Columbus Day, an administrator accused us, the indigenous students, of stealing space in the same way land and life was taken from us. Anyone would be enraged by one of these events, in combination we remain resolved in our protest of this country, this system, and this institution. There is a clear trend of this institution neglecting Indigenous students, and it is up to Swarthmore College to change it.

One aspect of this is having an advocate of our own. In Spring of 2016 Native students met with President Valerie Smith asking, once again, to prioritize hiring a Native American staff or faculty member. We also asked that admissions pay more attention to recruiting and admitting Native students. The freshman class of 2021 has only one Indigenous identifying student and there have been no efforts made to hire a single culturally indigenous faculty or staff member that we have been made aware of. Our voices, yet again, have been left for the wind.

In the greater world, indigenous folks regularly work exponentially harder than those in power for our voices to be heard. We often represent a small portion of national populations, but it is important to remember that these numbers that many use to deem us as insignificant are the result of a genocide, that the systems that count us for their census were built on top of our lands, and in opposition to our existence. Burning a nation’s flag is a demonstration born out of frustration. When respectability politics do not allow your voice to be heard, you must take action to ensure that your voice is heard. Historically when people of color make our voices heard, we are seen as aggressive. So be it. We hope that our actions will be met largely with understanding, but when they are met with discomfort, our hope is then that you will think critically about what established values told you to be uncomfortable with this type of protest, and why we would oppose them. Ruminate on the gap between our lived experiences.

For many indigenous people the first step is recognition in any regard. We need to be recognized as human beings, as cultures that still exist, that we are a vast array of people and histories and we are also in solidarity with each other. We want our history to be recognized, our history that is separate from any US history. Our history is many histories, they are indigenous stories of trial and turmoil and beauty and success. We face genocide and yet we survive. The US history is a colonial history, a history of slavery and racism, it’s a history of genocide and a history of propaganda. The legitimacy of the United States is not a given, Manifest Destiny is not real, and the American Flag can be burned.

We burn the American flag not just for ourselves, but for our ancestors who died because of that flag. We burn it for our indigenous siblings across the globe and for all of the people across the globe exploited by the United States and other Western imperialist states, caught in between their wars. We burn the flag for our kinfolk here on these lands we love, the other marginalized groups we are offering our solidarity to, hoping they offer it in return. We burn this flag because we want you to know it’s not just you who is angry and fighting against this broader oppressive apparatus: we are too.

We hope if nothing else, that this act will help you question your country, your school, your identity, and the hegemony we all live under. We hope you will examine how your life may contribute to the colonization of these lands. And we remind you that any group that wishes to take a position of neutrality on indigenous people, anyone who is not recognizing our existence,  or not including us in your conversations or on your syllabi – those groups are complicit in an on-going genocide. A genocide we stand against, a genocide that is led by the state represented by the United States flag.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Phoenix’s editorial policies state that letters and opinion pieces represent the views of their writers and not those of the Phoenix staff or Editorial Board. The Phoenix reserves the right to edit all pieces submitted for print publication for length clarity, and factual accuracy.

In light of that policy, the Editorial Board has the obligation to assume that the statement by the author of this op-ed that “Swarthmore’s Director of Admissions JT Duck said that Native high school students are “not academically qualified for Swarthmore”” is in reference to the 2014 Daily Gazette article “NASA Panel Brings Critical Discussion of Diversity.” If so, the Editorial Board has the obligation to point out a discrepancy between the statement by the author of this op-ed and the content of the Daily Gazette article, which can be read in full at the following link: http://daily.swarthmore.edu/2014/11/20/nasa-panel-brings-critical-discussion-of-diversity/

From the heart of a Las Vegas local

in Columns/Opinions/Swat Global by

I am studying abroad in Cape Town right now, but my heart is in Las Vegas. My mind can’t decide whether to cry or dissociate, pretending that one of the worst mass shootings in the history of the United States did not just happen in my hometown.  Maybe as a coping mechanism, but also out of necessity to feel closer to people back home, I can’t help but scroll through Facebook posts to ensure that my friends and family are okay and to read how people are responding to the tragedy. Yet, this only makes dissociation even more impossible and makes both tears and rage bubble up inside of me as I witness the way some non-Las Vegas locals are minimizing or misrepresenting the horrors that have occurred.

While I am scrolling through Facebook, searching for hope and reassurance, I can’t help but read posts discussing how this Las Vegas tragedy is “just another example” of the need for gun policy changes. People are posting how ashamed they are at how divided America has become and how the shooting is proof that the country “cannot be reunited.” Around me, I hear other college students discussing how shocking it was that the shooter was “anti-Trump.” When people ask me directly how I am responding to the events, they hardly listen to my response before quickly changing topic, comparing the shooting to the hurricane in Puerto Rico or to human rights issues in India. Instead of talking about the families who lost people they loved, people are talking about how all the bad events as a collective serve as proof that the world is coming to an end.

As a fellow student at a social justice-oriented liberal arts college, I feel it necessary to admit I completely understand why other Swatties and college friends are posting about and addressing the Las Vegas massacre in this way. It is part of a larger problem that is often too painful to acknowledge. When tragedies such as these occur, it is impossible to figure out how to react to an attack of such magnitude. Therefore, people respond through politically aggressive social media posts. Instead of conceptualizing the lives lost, it seems more productive to use the event as evidence that a political party is wrong or as an example that policies need to be changed.

This makes sense; the view that policy change should happen in light of an event that hurt so many is entirely practical. The problem, however, is when the tragedy itself becomes a political game where support and grief for the victims are lost in the equation.

No one means to discount the humanity behind trauma. Everyone posting about or discussing the Las Vegas shooting is doing so with good intentions. It is because everyone wants to help that I feel the need to point out the impact of taking the humanity out of a tragedy.

At least in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, there are so many more productive and empathetic methods of helping a community than using their suffering for political gain. Instead of posting about your disappointment in society, share a Facebook post letting the families and friends affected know that you stand with them in solidarity. Restrain from comparing two disasters with one another because each community is affected by an event differently and has different methods of coping. Reach out to anyone you can from a community through donations or kind words. Practice active listening to show you truly care about how they are coping with an event and how you may be able to play an active role in supporting them. Only after a community begins a healing process should the political implications be more broadly discussed and acted upon to create a better functioning society. What good is a political policy in ensuring security if society can not first come together to practice the compassion and empathy needed to follow that policy in the first place?

As for my home in Las Vegas, I can say I have never been more proud to be a Las Vegas local. The community is resilient, looking out for one another and practicing empathy in ways often not discussed. The day after the shooting, people waited for hours to donate blood to the victims. When a charity requested 80 air mattresses for family members with friends in the hospital, the donation request was fulfilled within hours. A donation fund website was created almost immediately to support those affected and vigils have been held for the community to stand together in solidarity.

These acts give me faith that the world is not coming to an end and that society is not as divided as we are often made to believe. They remind me that compassion and community values are still a large component of societal ideals. However, a large part of this reassurance stems from remembering during events like these, that the first response must always be unification for healing before politicalization for change.

 

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