Protesters push for affordable housing before State of the District address

Citizens are questioning whether the Mayor has done enough to make housing accessible for D.C. residents

*This story was originally handed in as an in-class assignment on March 19, 2019.

WASHINGTON – Protesters rallied outside the venue for Mayor Muriel Bowser’s annual State of the District address on Monday evening to demand that affordable housing be prioritized in Washington.

The State of the District was hosted at the University of the District of Columbia’s Theater of the Art in Van Ness. Protesters began arriving around 4:30 p.m., carrying signs that read “Black Homes Matter,” “Develop, Don’t Displace,” and “Public Housing is a Human Right.”

As Bowser’s State of the District address began, protesters formed a circle and started to march, chanting “no housing, no peace,” and “free D.C.,” while several onlookers remained outside the venue to watch.

“We’re here today to let the mayor know she hasn’t kept her promises,” said Berlin Dean, a protester who arrived at the rally carrying a sign emblazoned with the hashtag “#PutPeopleFirst.”

“Public housing (in Washington) is essentially deteriorating, eroding,” Dean said. “The message is for her to respond to the needs of the people, housing is what we’re after,” said Dean.

“This budget is unacceptable, some of the elements are progressive, but this budget is totally unacceptable,” said Sabiyha Prince, the membership and political education coordinator for Empower DC, one of the main activist groups that organized the rally.

The protests come after recent reports from DC Fiscal Policy Institute, which found that Washington consistently invests $100 million in the Housing Protection Trust, a fund for subsidized housing, but is producing only two-thirds as many units as it did four years ago.

According to Prince, the protesters that gathered came from several community organizations in a grassroots effort to show the mayor that public housing policy matters to Washingtonians.

Allen Stith, a Washington police officer standing watch over the entrance of the event, said that “the protest hasn’t affected the people attending the State of the District” in a negative way. 

“We’re always for people exercising their First Amendment rights,” said Stith.

As the protest ended, activist Shealia Tyson took the megaphone to express her frustration with the state of public housing in Washington:
“I can’t live in D.C.; I have to move. To the mayor, those of us who live in this city, native Washingtonians, we want to stay in the city,” said Tyson, adding that the rising costs of living in the District make it inaccessible for people.

“The mayor’s housing policy is the worst I’ve ever seen,” said Tyson, adding that the rising costs of living in the District make it inaccessible for people like her.

Bowser addressed the issue of public housing in her speech:

“We know the number one issue on the minds of Washingtonians is affordable housing. Rising housing costs have created new challenges for homeowners and renters alike, particularly for those on a fixed income and those who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Bowser.

Protesters were removed by Washington police officers after interrupting the address.

Representatives the mayor’s office did not respond to several requests for comment about Washington’s current housing policy, or the protests that occurred during her address.

Burn out, leadership and the art of rebuilding

Ian Enright discusses entrepreneurship and teamwork in audio production.

An interview with Ian Enright, CEO of Goat Rodeo

*This story was originally handed in for an in-class assignment on April 8, 2019.

WASHINGTON – Ian Enright, CEO of the Goat Rodeo creative audio agency, said that the greatest learning experience of his career was the moment he believed his company was going to fail.

Enright, a “Navy brat,” grew up bouncing from place to place until his family situated in Virginia Beach. After attending college in Virginia, Enright moved to Washington and got the idea to start an audio production agency right as podcasts were becoming popular.

“Originally, the plan was to create an audio network just like everybody else was doing: create shows, get advertisers, scale, then dollars, right?” said Enright. But about two years in, that plan changed.

Ian Enright, chief executive officer and co-founder of Goat Rodeo, sits at his desk in his company’s headquarters in Washington. He is passionate about audio storytelling and engaging with podcasters both locally and around the country.
(Photo by Braeden Waddell)

After the co-founder and chief creative officer of Goat Rodeo, Carlisle Sargent, left the startup in 2017, Enright said he felt like all his work had “gone back to nothing.”

“I was doubting whether or not, like, I’d be able to afford rent in D.C. with Goat Rodeo,” Enright said. He said he had to reassess what it meant to be a leader as the company tried to rebuild.

 “I think there’s a really damaging culture with like, the hustle and grind and that kind of Instagram entrepreneur side, everybody has to project this image of like, they’re crushing it, they’re nailing it,” said Enright. At the time Sargent left Goat Rodeo, the company was not growing as fast as he had hoped.

Enright was forced to recognize where he could personally improve to better the company without blaming himself for the things he could not change.

“The mentality of ‘a leader being the best’ was actually really detrimental overall … your brain just hits this fatigue point,” said Enright. He explained that he would overwork himself by trying to have a hand in every part of Goat Rodeo.

In his new role directing both the business and creative aspects of the company, Enright said that learning to take that step back allowed him to focus on restructuring Goat Rodeo to promote “passion projects” in audio and assist podcast producers.

According to Enright, this new plan not only helped Goat Rodeo recover and grow to make a profit, but also allowed the company to engage with content that is personally fulfilling.

“Part of your growth as a company is to recognize that the creative side is beyond your voice, it takes on something larger,” said Enright.

“A lot of what Goat Rodeo is making its bet on is that there are more talented storytellers outside of audio right now than inside. … Our job is to find the people who are being overlooked,” Enright said.

Pierce McManus, who works with Goat Rodeo to produce the “Perfect Liars Club” podcast, said that “Ian is the textbook definition of grace under pressure.”

“His presence adds a certain degree of confidence, whether he’s running sound, or helping promote the show, or just doing his job, that it’s, you know, going to be handled with a certain level of integrity, skill and professionalism,” said McManus.

Megan Rummler, founder of ADECIBEL Media and an independent audio producer that records with Goat Rodeo, said that a recent conversation with Enright helped her reimagine the focus for her podcast.

“It’s really easy to drown in all the details and effort that you’ve put forward in making every episode. … He reminded me, he kind of pulled me out of my own mind meld in the sense that he elevated our conversation to remind me to keep the listener in mind,” said Rummler.

Bishop Sand, a former member of the Goat Rodeo team, said that working with Enright gave him the freedom to really experiment with audio production while still knowing he had someone to rely on.

“What he, honestly, did for me was very empowering, and I can’t really boil it down into a single conversation or a sentence,” said Sand.

“He would always encourage me to make something new and push the boundaries. … Yeah, I think empowering is the best way to describe it,” Sand said. 

Sand left Goat Rodeo in February to work with The Washington Post, and another member of the team departed because she is expecting a baby. With two members leaving, Enright said the company is once again in a “rebuild phase,” but he remains optimistic.

As the company looks to rebuild and continue expanding, Enright said he will continue to grow this new understanding of what leadership means to him. “The best qualities I can represent is figuring out how I can ask for help when I need it,” said Enright.

Eggzactly what we needed

Community members gathered on the day before Easter to celebrate and engage with their neighborhood

The National Community Church celebrates its 18th annual Easter Eggstravaganza event

*This story was originally handed in for an in-class assignment May 3, 2019.

For nearly two decades, the Easter Eggstravaganza event hosted has provided Washingtonians with a chance to come together to celebrate with massive easter egg hunts, music, dancing and a petting zoo at Lincoln Park in Capitol Hill.

Hosted by the National Community Church in Southeast Washington on Saturday, April 20, the event is much more than just a chance for families to come together: it’s about the stories. Volunteers were tasked not only with facilitating the various games and craft stations, but also to “spread joy” and make a difference in at least one participant’s day.

Joel Schmidgall, who lead the event at Lincoln Park, said that event started in 2001 with a community easter egg hunt that brought in around a hundred attendees. Now, they expect thousands of visitors, from church members to members of the community and even passersby who decide to stop in to enjoy the celebration.

“We feel a calling to bless,” said Schmidgall. “If people come together, if there are smiles on people’s faces, if neighbors are meeting neighbors … I think that’s our heart in this whole thing. We want to be unifiers, we want to be bridge builders.”

Schmidgall said that in a city like Washington, during times of intense national political polarization, it is important to collect stories. This aspect of the event is key for the pastor, who says that sharing stories and experiencing joy through giving back to their community is what makes Eggstravaganza meaningful to the community.

“Kids will come up to you and say “I just wanted to say thank you,” said Schmidgall. “Those are the moments when you realize: ‘okay, I’m making a small difference,’ and one of goals is just to make somebody’s day.”

Throughout the day, the Schmidgall took the time to speak to several individuals, both current and former members of his church. He emphasized that collecting stories is about getting to interact with his community, and to see growth and provide help when it is needed.

“An event like this opens up a door to step in and have an encouraging conversation with somebody,” said Schmidgall.

Before joining in the clean up, Schmidgall encouraged another volunteer to share her favorite story.”

Lincoln Park, where the event took place, is located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in Washington’s Ward 6.

Aside from being one of the sites hosting the annual Easter Eggstravanza, the park has a rich history.

Other Eggstravaganza celebrations were held throughout Washington and Virginia at Langdon Park, Springfield, Gainesville and Arlandria.

To see photos from the event, check out the Easter Eggstravaganza photo gallery and look at the National Community Church website. For more information on the event, check out Pastor Schmidgall’s full interview.

Overdose deaths in Washington overwhelmingly linked to synthetic opioids

The third wave of the opioid epidemic shows steady rise in overdose deaths.

*This story was originally handed in for an in-class assignment on May 2, 2019.

Dr. Randi Abramson, the chief medical officer at Bread for the City, says opioid users in Washington talk about fentanyl all the time. Users tell her, and other doctors, that their friends are dying and that they are afraid. People who have been safely using heroin for decades are now fearful that their opioids could be tainted with fentanyl, marking a new and deadly phase of the national opioid epidemic.

Described by health professionals and historians as the third wave of the opioid crisis, overdoses involving fentanyl – a highly potent synthetic opioid – now account for about 81 percent of current opioid-related overdose deaths in the District of Columbia as of November 2018, according to a report by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

That same report said that the annual number of opioid-related overdose deaths in Washington more than tripled between 2014 and 2017, from 83 to 279. In the last four years, 337 people in Washington have died from fentanyl overdose.

Doctors like Abramson at Bread for the City, a nonprofit organization that offers services for opioid users in Washington, said that the recent flood of fentanyl into the District is creating a trauma within the community. Abramson said the fear is “visible,” in meetings with her patients, and that they wonder if they could be next.

“Before, they weren’t scared,” Abramson said.

Fentanyl is not a new drug, but according to Dr. Stephanie Peglow, who works with the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, its role in recent overdose deaths across the United States can be attributed to its potency, its cheap manufacturing costs and the difficulty in its detection.

In an interview, Peglow said that fentanyl is a highly potent opioid with fast-acting pain-relieving effects. Because it packs a more powerful effect in a smaller dose, it is often used as a cutting agent with heroin. This makes fentanyl useful for traffickers that want to reduce the volume of shipments without impacting the potency of their product.

“If you used to need a very large suitcase of heroin that would supply, let’s say, a thousand people, you could now supply those a thousand people with the same effect with a handbag size, or smaller, of fentanyl,” said Peglow.

According to Peglow, the problem with mixing fentanyl and heroin is not only that it increases in the number of opioids entering vulnerable communities, but also that it is virtually impossible to detect without proper testing equipment.

“Even the most trained user of opioids cannot detect the difference between fentanyl and heroin until it’s used. … It’s white and powdery, and it’s indistinguishable,” said Peglow. “Not only are they not aware if they’re taking fentanyl, they’re not aware how much fentanyl is in it.”

Matthew Pembleton, a historian and professor at American University who has written for the D.C. Policy Center on the history of opioid use in the District, said that the opioid crisis in Washington has a “much different character” than other parts of the United States.

“You’ve got this population of older black men who have been heroin users, steady heroin users for a long time … but had settled into, like, a rough equilibrium. It seems like most of them are working, most of them are housed. Then all of a sudden, you’ve got fentanyl, and they’re not prepared for it,” said Pembleton.

In fact, 82 percent of all overdose deaths in Washington are African-Americans, according to the 2018 medical examiner’s report. The deaths primarily occurred in the eastern part of the city, with Wards 5, 7 and 8 seeing the highest rates of overdoses.

Opioid overdoses in the District more than tripled between 2014 and 2017

“It’s not a white rural thing anymore, it’s very much something that’s happening to people of color and in cities,” said Pembleton.

Former user Jennifer Dorsey said that the main issue that must be addressed is addiction itself.

Dorsey was 16 when she went to a recovery center for alcohol and drug misuse. Although she said that she did not stop using immediately after her rehabilitation, the experience “planted a seed” that helped her on her road to recovery.

“We were really a broken family as a result of my addiction,” Dorsey said.

At the time that she was still using, Dorsey that she was lucky that opioids were not more readily accessible. She used them “when they were available,” but said that opioids were not available “in the way that they are now.”

Dorsey said that her time in residential treatment inspired her to not only overcome her addiction and “get clean,” but also to begin working at recovery centers to show users that anyone has the ability to recover. Dorsey is now the regional clinical director for Kolmac Outpatient Recovery Centers’ office in Washington, as well as the organization’s offices in Maryland cities Gaithersburg and Silver Spring.

In order to effectively address the opioid epidemic in Washington, nonprofit organizations like Bread for the City have implemented programs such as syringe exchanges and addiction recovery services. They are in the process of introducing a system to provide fentanyl testing strips to heroin users that are patients at their medical clinic to reduce overdoses.

Vanessa Peter, leader of Bread for the City’s syringe exchange, said an important facet of their initiative is developing a familiarity with clients who utilize clean needles and addiction recovery resources provided by the nonprofit.

By building a familiarity with their regular patients, Peter said Bread for the City emphasizes the intersection between medical issues and social stability.

Washington’s city government is addressing the epidemic through education and awareness, but also through increased policing.

Mayor Muriel Bowser has proposed a program aimed to halve opioid overdose deaths in Washington by 2020, with language citing the necessity of “effective law enforcement strategies” in combating opioid, and specifically fentanyl, overdoses.

Abramson at Bread for the City remains unconvinced:

“This is definitely a healthcare issue, it’s not a criminal issue. … It’s not locking people up, there are not laws we need to change this: you’re never going to change this through the legal system.”

The Fight For Moses Cemetery: Photo Essay

*This story was originally handed in for an in-class assignment Feb. 8, 2019.

On Wednesday, Feb. 6, three people were charged with disorderly conduct after refusing to stop protesting during a public meeting at the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC). Protests were organized by members of the Macedonia Baptist Church and the Bethesda African Cemetery Coalition to fight for the memorialization of Moses Cemetery, a historically black cemetery located on River Road. 

Protesters are calling an end to the “desecration” of the site, which was paved over and made into a parking lot in the early 20th century and is potentially a spot for development of an affordable housing project lead by the HOC. 

HOC released a statement in response to the protest: 

“During the community forum, 11 individuals spoke in support of the Macedonia Baptist Church extending the community forum to nearly one hour of the two hours allotted for the Commission’s affordable housing agenda. The Commission asserted that it is not and has never been HOC’s objective to have people removed from Commission meetings in response to protests. However, as protesters continued to disrupt the meeting, HOC requested they be removed from the room by County Police after completion of the community forum and in order to conduct agency business.” 

The full text of the response can be found on their website.

Protesters gathered at the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission to attend a public forum on Wednesday, Feb. 6 at 4 p.m. They were fighting to memorialize Moses Cemetery, a historically black cemetery on River Road. The site was paved into a parking lot in the early 20th century, and possible development plans have been proposed to create an affordable housing unit on top of the burial ground. Protesters carried knitted tombstones ascribed with the names of people known to be buried at the site.

From left to right: Reverend Segun Adebayo of Macedonia Baptist Church, Lynn Pekkanen, Mayor Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset, Mary Rooker, and Marsha Coleman-Adebayo. 
Back: Commission Chair Jackie Simon

As members of HOC entered the hall, protesters marched to the front of the room and knelt, holding their knitted tombstones above their head while others drowned out the committee proceedings singing gospel music. 

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, head of the Macedonia Baptist Church’s social justice ministry, leads chants of “shame” and “justice” while questioning the HOC’s opening statements asking for respect from the protesters. She argued that HOC had gone behind the backs of church members to create a plan that would exclude community members from having a voice in the memorialization process.

From left to right: Commissioner Roy Priest, Commissoner Fran Kelleher, Commission Vice Chair Richard Nelson Jr., Commission Chair Jackie Nelson, and Commissioner Linda Croom.

Members of HOC look on while the public forum began. Protestors were allowed 3 minutes to speak, often going over their allotted time to demand justice and respect from the Commission. 

The oral testimonies given in opposition of HOC’s development plans lasted over an hour. After they were finished, the protesters joined together to say a prayer. Moments later, the Montgomery County Police gave them a 10 minute warning to clear the area.

With 30 seconds left before the 10 minutes were up, Montgomery County Police Sgt. Chris Hackley checked his watch as the tension in the room mounted. As protesters filed out, they cried out well wishes to those who stayed behind.

Officer Hackley read out a statement ordering protesters to leave, otherwise he would be forced to remove them from the public forum. Macedonia Baptist Church pastor Segun Adebayo, Mayor Jeffrey Slavin, and Lucile Perez refused to leaved; they were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

Pastor Adebayo stopped to speak to the crowd of onlookers waiting outide of HOC’s town hall. After asking for his coat, and shouting out to the crowd, Adebayo was lead by Officer Hackley into a back room with Perez and Slavin to be charged.

After receiving their charges, Adebayo, Slavin, and Perez joined up with the remaining protesters. “These kinds of arrests lead to progress,” Slavin said upon being released. “We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.” “People are still making decisions about our community with consulting the people who live in those communities,” Coleman-Adebayo said. “Next month we will continue this process until HOC decides that it is going to stop desecrating Moses African Cemetery. The air outside HoC was electric, and spirits were high: the fight for Moses Cemetery is far from over.

Public Spaces, Private Neighborhoods

Today’s topic: The differences in Urban planning in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Medellín, Colombia. I swear, it’s actually quite interesting, so bear with me!

Today’s topic: The differences in Urban planning in São Paulo, Brazil, and Medellín, Colombia. I swear, it’s actually quite interesting, so bear with me!

I got the idea for this piece after listening to a particularly powerful episode of the 99% Invisible podcast called Post-Narco Urbanism (which I strongly suggest you check out).

In the episode, journalist Luis Gallo discusses the changing role of public spaces in Medellín throughout its recent history. Gallo grew up during the era where Pablo Escobar was at the height of his power and when the murder rate in Medellín, the cocaine and murder capital of the world at that time, was 400 out of 100,000, or 1 in 250 people.

The primary argument presented in the episode is that Medellín’s murder rate was vastly reduced from its peak in 1991 at least in part due to a progressive style of urban planning, called Social Urbanism. During the 1980’s several communities cropped up around the outskirts of the city, existing in a limbo where they were both residents of Medellín but also completely excluded from the heart of the city; a trip downtown from one of these “comunas” could take more than an hour.

Drug cartels “exploited the geographic fragmentation of the city” by recruiting “young people who felt disconnected” from the rest of Medellín while living in the comunas.

After the violence peaked in 1991, the municipal government of Medellín undertook drastic measures to combat the cartels, not through more policing, but through urban planning— this was the beginning of their experiment in Social Urbanism.

By creating a metro system and a set of cable cars and outdoor escalators to connect the comunas to the wider city, they aimed to reduce the overall rate of violence– today, the murder rate in Medellín has declined by 90%, and sociologists featured in the episode attribute a large portion of that change to the fostering of a more inclusive and interconnected city.

While listening to the episode, I was reminded a lot of paper I read for one of my classes titled: “Fortified Enclaves: The New Urban Segregation” by Teresa P. R. Caldeira.

The paper outlines the way in which Urban spaces in São Paulo, Brazil, have been redefined by private neighborhoods guarded by private security forces and surrounded by concrete walls topped with barbed wire. The supposed idea behind this style of development was, ostensibly, to decrease crime and fear in public spaces throughout the city. Caldeira argues that the new style of urban development in São Paulo is one that is designed to separate and exclude poor, vulnerable populations by designating them as threats, rather than victims, of urban violence.

“In a city of walls and enclaves such as São Paulo, public space undergoes a deep transformation. Felt as more dangerous, fractured by the new voids and enclaves, broken in its old alignments, privatized with chains closing streets, armed guards, guard dogs, guardhouses, walled parks, public space in São Paulo is increasingly abandoned to those who do not have a chance of living, working,and shopping in the new private, internalized, and fortified enclaves” (Caldeira 319).

She concludes that the modernist approach, or ” new urban form generated by the private enclaves,” has abandoned Social Urbanist ideas promoting connection and integration for members of São Paulo’s favelas, effectively creating private spaces out of areas that were once public.

“The devices which have been maintained are those that destroy modern public space and social life (socially dead streets transformed into highways, sculptural buildings separated by voids and disregarding street alignments, enclaves turned inside); the devices transformed or abandoned are those intended to create equality, transparency, and a new public sphere (glass fasades, uniformity of design, absence of material delimitations such as walls and fences)” (Caldeira 318).

Interestingly, both cities have technically achieved the reduction in crime that they were hoping to achieve (although Colombia Reports released an article on July 23rd that says the homicide rate in Medellín has spiked in 2018).

This is the data for Medellín’s homicide rate from 1975-2015:


And this is the data for the homicide rate in São Paulo from 1997-2017:

Brasil Homicide rate

To me, this brings up the question of whether an end goal is more important than the process through which it is achieved. I think you could argue that lowering the homicide rate is theoretically a good goal no matter what method you choose; however, I think it is equally important to both reach a goal and to reach it in a manageable and reproducible way.

I believe that it is of equal importance that we ask ourselves just what kind of social system exists where young people feel disconnected and abandoned by the state to the point that gangs and cartels become support systems. In Sao Paulo it seems that the driving force behind redeveloping the city was to further isolate and exclude the people that had already been marginalized, while in Medellín the goal was to reduce those divisions. In the simplest of analyses both had equal success in reducing homicide rates, but there are real and measurable psychological and social impacts that come from these two different attitudes, uniting or dividing.

Something I found particularly interesting in juxtaposing these two countries on a more macrosocial scale was the difference in factors such as happiness and mental illness.

Colombia was ranked in 2017 as “the second happiest country in the world” according to Gallup, despite surviving a consistent armed conflict and an uptick in gang and cartel violence. In the Post-Narco Urbanism episode above, Luis Gallo explained that the reclamation of public spaces and the reduction in fear and anxiety were visible throughout Medellín.

Brazil, on the other hand, is found to be a “world leader in anxiety and depression rates.” These kinds of disorders can be viewed through a public health lens as a testament to the stress of living in a society where, as Teresa Caldeira says in her paper, sidewalks, parks, and other public spaces have become “highly segregated” to the point that there is a literal spatial divide that between the rich and the poor (Caldeira 304).

I admit that I was too lazy to sift through the search results for these factors directly in Medellín and in Sao Paulo. However, I felt that, since Medellín is the third largest city in Colombia and Sau Paulo is the largest city in Brazil, the data collected in those surveys and studies likely represented their populations with relative accuracy

I am left wondering whether the different styles of urban development practiced in Medellín and São Paulo had different effects on feelings of safety, inclusion, and happiness in their respective populations.

Ultimately, on a moral basis, I think it is clear that development styles aiming to reduce socioeconomic divides and promote inclusion and legitimization of communities has real value. In this particular juxtaposition, there can be no question that the short-term and long-lasting effects of Social Urbanism in Medellín prove that creating cities designed to foster connection between their populations can have visible and tangible benefits.

“Violent Animals” and an “Infestation” of Migrants; Dehumanizing Rhetoric from the Trump Administration.

Welcome to the shitshow. Today I’m gonna point out some stuff that is really, really obvious but still warrants explanation and conversation nonetheless.

As you may have heard, the latest antics of the U.S. government and our Border Patrol officers have included locking children in cages, pulling screaming and crying infants from their families while having a good ol’ laugh, drugging detained youth to sedate them at government contracted “treatment facilities,” and chasing down an SUV of migrants leading to a high-speed chase, crash, and the deaths of 5 people.

Mainstream media recently picked up on this ever-darkening story when reports of ICE losing track of 1500 children came to light, and since then a plethora of information regarding the practice of family separation, assembly line justice, and “zero tolerance” border control have been published. The White House released a nice little comeback to let us know that this wasn’t true and that they knew perfectly well where “most” of the lost children were, which doesn’t really appear to help their case much, does it? 

Just a couple weeks before that, Trump and the White House released statements calling members of the gang MS-13 “Violent animals;” you know, the gang that was started due to xenophobia and racism toward Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles and made internationally notorious by Bill Clinton’s mass deportations to stem gang violence?

Now let me say here that on a basic, rhetorical level I kind of see where a right-wing politician would be able to get away with calling gang members whose motto is “rape, control, kill” animals; U.S. politicians seem to be fond of ignoring the enormous systems of inequality that we helped create, forcing  young men out of public spaces and into gangs to survive.

That being said, it is undeniable that gangs utilize brutal and ruthless methods of subjugation in Central American and Mexican communities, destroying lives and sending people fleeing to escape endemic violence. While I disagree in calling them “animals” (massive displays of violence are entirely and obviously a human thing to do, take a history class), I can at least see why on a rhetorical basis the word would be powerful and could be imagined in a situation where dehumanization was not the end goal. I tried to give the White House statement the benefit of the doubt.

But alas, I should’ve known better.

The confusion for me begins here, in that the Trump administration believes MS-13, a gang created and exported to Central America by U.S. policies and attitudes, are “violent animals,” but Trump also says that “illegal immigrants” who are fleeing that violence are going to “pour into and infest our country.” As I said before, this is all pretty obvious stuff, but I find it really hard to believe that the Trump Administration actually cares about MS-13’s violence if they’re also going to detain and deport people fleeing from gang violence and persecution in their home countries.

The problem with using dehumanizing rhetoric to characterize both perpetrators of violence and victims of said violence is that it makes it abundantly clear that the reason you’re worried isn’t the actually the violence: it’s the fact that they’re not white.

We don’t use words like “invade” and “infest” to talk about people white people from Europe who come to the U.S.. We have developed in our contemporary lexicon a word to define refugees and migrants as “illegal aliens” that utterly strips them of their humanity and makes them nothing but a legal definition that can be swept away and ignored while crisis after crisis threatens people’s lives. This rhetoric is saved for people who have fled their homes, leaving behind their livelihoods, their extended families and friends, and the lives they knew, in search of a place where they could be safe; but since they’re latinxs, it’s okay, right?

I don’t think so. I think the situation we’re in is shameful and disgusting.

To be quite frank, I think that it’s pretty rich for people who lock children in cages and tear refugee families apart, while threatening to deny them the already horrifyingly inefficient brand of justice they are even allowed, to go around banging pans together screaming “MS-13 are violent animals.”

So, how can you get involved?

You can donate money to local organizations that provide legal services for undocumented immigrants– just make sure you verify that they’re legitimate first.

You can also protest ICE, and for the Mainers reading this, yes, they’re shutting down highways all the way up by you.

Honestly, this whole situation is infuriating and painful for any reasonable person to watch, but this harsh immigration policy stuff has been going on for a long ass time, it’s time to step up and make it stop.

I wrote a paper about gang violence and media coverage in Cold War and Contemporary Latin America last semester, which you can check out here: Percepticide and Violence Against Journalists: An Analysis of Cold War and Contemporary Methods of Silencing.

If you want more info about the development of these issues, I’d suggest you check out The Daily, a podcast from the NYT with a couple excellent episodes covering recent events and highlighting the humans behind the rhetoric. In particular, “Father and Son, Forced Apart at the Border” and “What Migrants Are Fleeing” are both emotional and riveting accounts of the pain that people are going through.

If you’d want to listen to a story about the history of crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border, check out Malcolm Gladwell’s episode of Revisionist History, General Chapman’s Last Stand.

Thanks for reading, and be good to each other out there.

Fake News, Frustration, and Media Effects

Hey everyone!

This week I’m giving a brief overview of my experiences and classwork relating to media effects and will focus particularly on Fake News. I haven’t added much on how to spot false media, but there are plenty of articles out there that do this pretty well.

During my second semester at American University, the topic of Fake News came up more and more regularly in classes across the academic spectrum; you know the situation must be getting pretty dire when you find yourself discussing current events in your Finite Mathematics class.

Beyond the expected manipulation and slimy rhetoric of the American political scene, Fake News refuses to be defined by a single category such as propaganda or media bias, which just leads to frustration and polarization such that CNN viewers and Fox viewers viciously accuse each other of being easily swayed by the inaccurate reporting of their respective news source. According to a Monmouth Poll, as of April this year 3 out of 4 Americans “believe that traditional major TV and newspaper media outlets report ‘fake news.'”

This enormous application of an almost impossible to define term results in general confusion and anger as people become more and more hostile about information that does not fully encapsulate their beliefs. Every news article’s facebook comment thread has turned into a place where vitriol is spewed and people say stuff they’d never say if they weren’t behind their laptops– or maybe they would.

We seem to be utterly sure that the sources we follow are telling the truth, while others are reporting lies and inaccuracies, forcing ourselves into tinier and tinier bubbles or “walled gardens” where we block out anything that does not perfectly compliment our worldview. This, plus the added effect of constant information overload through TV and mobile devices, creates a climate where the impossibility to sift through all the articles, videos, and posts that appear on our newsfeeds plays a role in further polarizing us.

For my classwork, I wanted to look deeper into the way in which we observe and respond to media, and to highlight both the process through which stories come to be formed and how a society can be shaped by the media it consumes.

In my Writing 101 Course, I decided to look at the application of “post-truth” rhetoric and how information can be manipulated through a literary analysis of Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein, Or the Modern Prometheus. I was drawn to her creation of a multilayered narrative and wanted to make a connection to the way in which contemporary news corporations have to choose how to present the information they receive. You can check out that paper here.

I also hope to be a part of the discussion about the ways through which media actually can reshape the conscience and ideologies of a society. One of the most interesting problems we face with media effects today is that everyone thinks they are immune to media influence– this is called the Third-Person Effect (Yeah, it’s a Wikipedia link, I’m lazy).

The point here is that while people tend to believe that they are less likely to be influenced by media than others, everyone is susceptible, and being aware of that is the first step to media literacy– no one is immune. I wrote an analysis of Social Learning Theory, a psychological theory of behavior, and hyper-masculinity as a specific media effect, which you can take a look at here.

Thanks for reading everyone, I am trying to fit a lot in at once so I can avoid barraging you with blog posts every week! If you’re interested in discussing anything I’ve written always feel to get in touch!

Summer 2018 Update

Hey everyone!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here on my WordPress site, I kinda dropped the ball on my idea for a regular blog while I was in Argentina. I have decided to give this site another whirl, what with the whole summer ahead of me and a renewed inspiration to make things happen (for now at least, I’m sure in 2 weeks I’ll be exhausted all over again).

Since I am staying in D.C. this summer to intern at the National Peace Corps Association, I decided I would try posting content again to practice maintaining a presence on social media, a place to post ideas and stories while I continue studying Journalism at American University. I am hoping that by publishing personal content regularly through this site, I can both add something new and interesting to my resumé while also pushing myself to try new things.

I want to share some of the coolest and most interesting stuff I found out during my first year at college by posting research papers I wrote (and received decent grades on, so I know that they are at least coherent!) during my first two semesters at American. I will also be working on new content, so don’t think I’ll just be dumping a bunch of PDFs on you guys, that wouldn’t be very interesting.

In this first post, I’m sharing an essay I wrote in my first semester at AU for a class focused on the history of the discourses surrounding diseases in the Western World. For my research paper in this class, I decided to create a discussion on the “medical discourse” used by the 1976-1983 right-wing dictatorship in Argentina to dehumanize leftists and civilians by comparing them to infectious cells in a sick body.

This research has really stuck with me, and this essay remains one of my favorite pieces of work I’ve ever written. It is chilling to see the reshaping of perspective throughout an entire country, how dehumanizing narratives can incite and justify unimaginable physical and psychological violence. This paper inspired other content that I have produced throughout my first and second semester, such as an essay for my Spanish class on dehumanization similar to this one, and a second essay delving into the concept of “percepticide.”

You can find the original text that really drove me to explore the “medical discourse” and psychological responses to terror in Argentina during the Dirty War in the article by Marcelo Suárez-Orozco titled: “The Heritage of Enduring a ‘Dirty War’: Psychosocial Aspects of Terror in Argentina, 1976-1988” which should be available on ResearchGate (you may have to create an account . . . however, if you’re interested, send me a message and I’ll try to help out)!

If you’d like to read the research paper I wrote, I’m attaching it here as a PDF. This work is certainly not finished, and if you’d like to make suggestions for improving it or have ideas for more information to back it up, get in touch with me; I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Thanks so much, and I’ll be posting more content soon, probably something I’ve been working on more recently!