Maginnis Speech on Iraq Protested at GVSU

Retired Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, a former military analyst for Fox News and policy advisor at the religious right Family Research Council, spoke Tuesday at GVSU. During his speech, Maginnis made a number of outlandish claims including that Iran attended North Korea’s recent nuclear test. These statements were reminiscent of his fabrications in the media before the Iraq War. Outside of the lecture, the local group ACTIVATE distributed information about Maginnis’ background and his lies about Iraq.


On Tuesday, several members of the local group ACTIVATE passed out information outside of a speech given by retired Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis. The information outlined Maginnis’ history of fabricating information to support the war in Iraq, as well as his involvement in the religious right and his promotion of discrimination. The event was held on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus, and was put on by International Relations Organization, the GVSU Armed Forces Association, the Middle Eastern Studies Department, and the Student Life Fund. After discovering people were passing out information critical of Maginnis, a member of the International Relations Organization approached one activist and attempted to tell him that the information on the fliers was wrong. Upon questioning about what information was wrong, he replied that Maginnis was on CNN as well as Fox News. This person then returned to the building, only to return a few moments later to hassle the group more. He demanded to know who the leader of ACTIVATE was. When told there were no leaders and decisions were based on consensus, the man called the group “communists” and told everyone entering the building that the information they received was from “protesters”

Inside of the event Maginnis was greeted by a sympathetic crowd. His presentation began with a discussion of the war on terror, following which he made a jump into the War in Iraq with little explanation of how the two were connected. Throughout the speech, Maginnis made a variety of outlandish claims reminiscent of his claims made prior to the war in Iraq. Some examples of these claims are as follows:

  • He claimed that the Military Commissions Act grants all those subjected to it that same provisions of civil court.
  • He claimed we have “reason to believe that Iran will use nuclear weapons.”

  • He claimed that Iran wants a nuclear holocaust so that it can bring about the 12th imam.
  • He stated he thinks that Iranians were at the North Korean test of their nuclear weapon.
  • He admitted that the point of the war on terrorism is to impose a different way of life on people.
  • He advocated that the now Shite leader of the insurgency should have been rounded up and “taken some where” prior to his rise to a leadership position.
  • He made the absurd claim that anti-US sentiment is fueled by other countries’ hatred of our riches.

His discussion about detainees at Guantanamo Bay was also interesting, claiming that they were mostly picked off of the battle field. He also told of how you can smell the ocean from the cells. This was followed by a mildly offensive story about a man went in weighing 100 lbs, and now weighs 400 lbs because he loves the food and treatment so much. Maginnis reiterated his claim that interrogation of prisoners is not abusive, citing one prisoner that gave them information in return for a Twix bar and a copy of a Martha Stewart magazine. However, Maginnis’ claims about Guantanomo were contradictory as well. He claimed that everyone in the prison is a killer and an enemy that can’t be in society, while a few sentences later he bragged about how many inmates the US has released, and claimed that the US would let more go, but no countries want to take them.

Following the presentation, there was a Q and A section. During this a member of ACTIVATE pointed out Maginnis’ lie about people being charged under the Military commissions act being granted the same provisions as a civil court. In response to this Maginnis simply talked about how nice it is at Guantanamo Bay. The Grand Valley newspaper, the Lanthorn, ran an article in their Thursday edition on Magginnis’ visit. They cited many of his outlandish claims, but despite two letters to the editors, a press advisory from Media Mouse, and a group willing to talk to them, they failed to provide any other view on Maginnis’ claims. In fact, they reduced opposition to Maginnis to a “small group of protestors.”

Iraq Occupation Advocate, Religious Right Organizer to Speak at GVSU on Iraq

Robert Maginnis, a former military analyst with Fox News and a member of Donald Rumsfeld’s Military Analyst Group, is speaking at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) on Tuesday on the “Future of Iraq.” Maginnis is a former head of the religious right Family Research Council and advocates for the continuation of the United States’ occupation of Iraq.

On Tuesday, November14, Retired Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis will speak at Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Allendale campus on “the Future of Iraq.” The event, which takes place from 5:00pm to 7:00pm at the Cook-DeWitt Center, is touted as a lecture by a “foreign affairs analyst” who will talk about the current situation in Iraq and the future of the country and US soldiers stationed there. There is no mention of the fact that Maginnis served as a part of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Military Analyst Group, was a former Fox News military analyst, is well-connected to the religious right, has a history of making false statements about Iraq, and has supported interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Bay. According to information gleaned from GVSU’s website, the lecture is being sponsored by the International Relations Organization, the GVSU Armed Forces Association, the Middle Eastern Studies Department, and the Student Life Fund.

During the time that Maginnis was a military analyst with Fox News, he made a variety of baseless and misleading claims according to the media monitoring organization Media Matters. In December of 2002, Maginnis asserted that chemical warfare was going to be a large component of the Iraq War as the Iraqi military was “going to have … almost booby-trapped use of some chemicals in some built-up areas where civilians are going to be casualties” and in January of 2003 claimed that the Iraqi military would have “smallpox material that’s been weaponized” hidden in residential areas. On February 3, 2003, Maginnis claimed that the United Nations’ weapons inspections failed to find weapons because the teams may have been “infiltrated” by Iraqis and that information got to “the wrong people” who then cleaned up sites before the inspectors arrived. Just before the war started, Maginnis along with Bill O’Reilly on the O’Reilley Factor agreed that weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) would be found in Iraq within a month of the invasion. Maginnis has continued making similar statements since the invasion of Iraq and has argued that in Iraq the United States is killing terrorists “over there and not over here” echoing the common Republican justification for the occupation of Iraq that asserts that it is necessary to fight “terrorists” in Iraq rather than on the streets of the United States and has used al-Qaida and insurgent interchangeably. On CNN in October, Maginnis argued that the plan for winning the Iraq War is “very simple” as the United States just has to “kill the enemy.” In that same interview, Maginnis described Iraq as being a central component of “the War on Terror” as “the people that bombed us in New York City at the Twin Towers” have chosen to fight the United States in Iraq. Of these “jihadists,” Maginnis says that “we’ve killed a lot of them, but we haven’t killed, clearly, enough.”

Beyond supporting the occupation of Iraq, Maginnis has also supported the detention and interrogation of “terrorists” at Guantanamo Bay. In September on MSNBC, Maginnis explained that interrogators behave professionally, that new intelligence is coming out of there all of the time, and that he personally witnessed interrogators giving prisoners candy to get them to talk. Maginnis has asserted that prisoners at Guantanamo do not need to be held in accordance to the Geneva Convention because they legal prisoners of war because they do not abide by the rules of war. Moreover, Maginnis argued that prisoners “try to kill us everyday” and that keeping them there keeps them “off the streets.”

In addition to his role in the military, Maginnis also has a long history of involvement with the religious right that continues to this day. In the 1990s Maginnis served as Vice President of Policy at the Family Research Council, which is one of the major religious right lobbying organizations. During that time, Maginnis opposed allowing homosexuals in the military—a position that he still holds—and also blamed the “radical feminist views embraced by the modern military” for making the military a “liberal Petri dish.” Maginnis favors excluding gays outright from military service because he claims that it undermines the “cohesion” of military units, despite research showing that gays can serve without compromising military objectives. Maginnis helped create the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, arguing that if gays could not be excluded from the military that they should not be allowed to serve openly. His exclusionary and discriminatory views have not been restricted to gays, as Maginnis has also argued that women should not be allowed to serve, that the military should think carefully before allowing Muslims to serve at West Point, and that Wiccans should be excluded. Maginnis has asserted that women should not be allowed to serve because they allegedly lack the strength of men and because military service undermines their value as the “bearers and nurturers of future generations,” two arguments that reflect the patriarchal views held by the religious right with whom he is closely aligned. He has also suggested that Muslims should not be allowed to attend West Point, with Maginnis arguing in October of this year that the military should be selective when admitting Muslims, questioned the decision to build religious facilities for Muslims at West Point, and questioned the loyalty of Muslims in the military. Maginnis asserted that Muslims might place the ideas in the Koran, specifically the “coming Caliphate—the domination of Islam across the world—and your [a Muslim’s] personal obligation to it,” above the goals of the military and suggested that Islam was inherently extreme by stating that cadets would have to be moderate or “not faithful to the tenets of Islam.” As part of a religious right boycott of the Army in the late 1990s, Maginnis wrote a paper arguing that Wiccans in the military threatened unit cohesion, morale, and efficiency and that consequently their religious rights should be limited. It is worth noting that Maginnis consistently uses the “unit cohesion” justification when seeking to exclude groups or to justify positions advocated by the religious right.

Presentation Explores Immigration and NAFTA

On Friday, a presentation at Grand Valley State University explored the myths and realities of immigration from Mexico to the United States. The presentation focused on NAFTA and the effects that it has had on Mexico as a root cause of immigration to the United States.

On Friday, a presentation at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) by Noemí Peregrino González of Borderlinks and Celeste Escobar of the Mexico Solidarity Network explored the myths and realities of immigration from Mexico. The presentation was conducted by Noemi Peregrino Gonzalez, a resident of the United States-Mexico border region, and was translated by Celeste Escobar. Around twenty-five students listened to Gonzalez speak about her experiences living and working on the border and the larger context in which immigration from Mexico to the United States takes place.

Gonzalez began by explaining that migration is a part of human history and is so important that it was made a human right in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She conducted an activity with audience members to show that, with the exception of indigenous people, the United States is a nation of immigrants and that at some point in history families made the decision to migrate to the United States. She made a distinction between natural migration when one chooses to move and is able to move freely without papers and violent or forced immigration when one either has to move because they have no choice or in which people displace others in the process. Gonzalez also reminded the audience that the United States has a history of forced migration with slavery and the genocide of the indigenous population on the land claimed by the United States. Forced migration is what the United States is experiencing from Mexico, with Mexicans crossing in dangerous deserts and scaling border fences because they have no options due to economic policies imposed on their country at the behest of multinational corporations and the fact that there are no legal channels for migration into the United States.

Gonzalez explained that while there has always been migration from Mexico to the United States, it has increased since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994. NAFTA was made by two advanced, industrialized countries (the United States and Canada) and Mexico, a “third world” and poor nation, and as such favors the United States and the interests of multinational corporations. Despite these inequities, Mexico went along with the agreement out of a combination of corruption and the willingness of the country’s president at the time to “sell out” Mexico in addition to promises of improvements in Mexico’s economic situation. The agreement promised Mexico improved living standards, economic sustainability, a guarantee that Mexican wealth and resources would stay in Mexico, and an end to migration from Mexico to the United States. After twelve years, none of these promises have been accomplished and migration has tripled due to the displacement of farmers after the Mexican government agreed to modify its constitution to rewrite land ownership rules. Farmers were further hurt when protective tariffs to guard against the dumping of United States corn onto the Mexican market were abolished immediately rather than gradually as promised. These policies have forced farmers to the boarder region where they have to find work in low paying, dangerous, and environmentally destructive factories known as maquilladoras that produce for export. In the town where Gonzalez lives, she explained that out of 83 maquiladoras, only five pay $75 per week and the rest pay below that amount, resulting in widespread poverty. Moreover, workers are prevented from unionizing by a combination of multinational corporations who threaten to move jobs to China if border region workers “start acting like Zapatistas” and by company unions that represent the interests of the factories’ owners.

While there are difficulties in organizing in Mexico, Gonzalez and Escobar explained that there are many people in Mexico resisting the impact of NAFTA and neoliberal globalization. They cited the Zapatista movement, the popular movement in Oaxaca, and the organizing by students and peasants as examples, but stressed the importance of similar organizing taking place on the United States’ side of the border. Gonzalez likened immigration to a tree, arguing that it does not work to trim it and ignore the roots if you want to stop it from growing, just as United States immigration policy will not be effective if it ignores the root causes of immigration. The enforcement only solutions advocated by bills such as HR 4437 and the construction of more fences will only result in continued immigration and more deaths along the border according to Gonzalez. Escobar stressed that Republican politicians are using anti-immigration propaganda as a means of scape-goating and winning elections even as immigrants make a variety of contributions to the United States, including paying taxes and social security. She explained that people should vote for politicians that do not advocate for punitive immigration policies, although the suggestion will be difficult for those in Grand Rapids and Michigan given that Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow has voted for the further militarization of the border (her Republican challenger is also anti-immigrant), area Representatives Vern Ehlers and Pete Hoekstra supported HR 4437 and recent measures militarizing the border, and Democratic candidate for governor Jennifer Granholm (along with Dick DeVos) has supported the militarization of the border. In light of these votes, a better strategy would be to take Escobar’s advice to get involved in local organizations such as GVSU’s Students Against Sweatshops or those listed in the Progressive Directory of Western Michigan and work on issues of immigration and neoliberalism from outside the political system.

MCRI Financial Backer Ward Connerly Speaks on Affirmative Action Panel

Yesterday at Grand Valley State University (GVSU), a panel discussion was held on affirmative action featuring the primary funder of the anti-affirmative action Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI), Ward Connerly.

Ward Connerly, the California businessman who has organized anti-affirmative action measures around the country and who has primarily funded the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) or Proposal 2, spoke Wednesday at a panel discussion on affirmative action at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) in his second Grand Rapids appearance. The panel also featured three other panelists including national renown, conservative commentator and Fox News contributor Linda Chavez, NAACP Washington bureau director Hillary Shelton, and attorney for the Racial Justice Project of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Mark Fancher. The panel was attended by a couple hundred GVSU students, faculty, and community members, with panelists drawing frequent applause for their statements. The moderator of the event—Jennifer Moss of WOOD TV 8—set the context for the panel by reading the ballot language and describing the issue as “one of the most contentious issues” on the ballot, an interesting statement given the lack of coverage of the MCRI in the corporate media. Moss went on to share a recent poll on the MCRI showing that the ballot proposal is very much still an open issue, with 44% of voters opposing it, 41% supporting, and 15% undecided.

The panel was structured so that each panelist received a 2 minute opening statement, followed by a series of four questions posed by the moderator, and then questions submitted by the audience and chosen by the moderator. Hillary Shelton of the NAACP opened the discussion by explaining that affirmative action is a tool for equal opportunity and that it is not about granting “preferences” as the rhetoric of MCRI’s supporters asserted, but rather that it was about eliminating the “preferences of the good ole boy network” and giving opportunities and access to people of color and women who have been systematically denied opportunities because of their race and/or gender. Ward Connerly responded that while race is a contentious issue in the United States, that we need to work towards a society that is “colorblind” and in which the government does not consider race. He argued that the government currently does this and treats people differently based on race and that such actions are “morally wrong.” Mark Fancher of the ACLU responded that all affirmative action programs would be banned with the passage of Proposal 2 and pointed out that many opponents of affirmative action regularly engage in it, citing the judicial appointment of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the racial make-up of President George W. Bush’s cabinet. Fancher also stressed that the proposal is an amendment to the constitution and that it will be permanent if passed. Conservative commentator Linda Chavez explained how she participated in the civil rights movement before the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act because of the United States’ 200 year failure to live up to its ideals, but asserted that with the passage of this act, failure was overcome and now everyone can be judged equally based on merit.

In the questions that followed the opening remarks, the panelists addressed a number of frequently raised issues surrounding both affirmative action generally and the MCRI specifically. The panelists addressed the “successes” and “failures” of affirmative action. Shelton argued that affirmative action’s biggest success has been granting of opportunity where it does not exist in areas such as universities and corporate America. Fancher echoed Shelton in explaining that it has granted opportunity to those previously denied, but he said affirmative action’s weakness is that there is still an under representation of people of color and women in many key areas and that the conditions of racism that necessitated the creation of affirmative action programs still exist. Shelton explained that the right—exemplified by people like Connerly and Chavez—have distorted affirmative action by talking about quotas, which are illegal and “preferences,” which affirmative action seeks to eliminate, and have shifted the dialogue away from the conditions that justify affirmative action. Even the conservatives Connerly and Chavez stated that affirmative action has been successful in breaking down barriers to equal treatment, although they differed in concluding that affirmative action has outlived its usefulness. It was also during this time that Connerly articulated an oft-repeated assertion during the debate that eliminating affirmative action will get rid of the “resentment” towards people of color that are—in his argument—constantly second-guessed at universities as being there only because of affirmative action.

Connerly also spoke about how he believed that currently, unqualified students are consistently being admitted into universities where they are “unable to compete” and consequently are failing out of college. He bemoaned the fact that because of the admission processes that he described (it is very much debatable as to whether these exist and there was no substantive discussion of them), “historically black universities” are suffering, as they are unable to enroll students who are choosing other universities that they may not be prepared for. Of course, any perceived lack of preparedness would no doubt be due to a history of structural racism and inadequate allotment of resources for urban school districts, but there was no serious discussion of this issue. Instead, Linda Chavez stated that there has been a failure to address educational inferiority based on race due to public policy and said that proponents of affirmative action are admitting “unqualified” students into the universities as a means of addressing this. Fancher described the idea the false concern of Proposal 2 supporters over students of color and their alleged inability to compete as paternalistic and stressed that the MCRI is a measure simply designed to put students in the “right” schools, emphasizing the fact that Connerly was essentially telling students of color that they should “go back to black schools where you belong.” Shelton asserted that the policies were the “politics of relegation” and that the proponents of Proposal 2 only want students of color in areas where they approve—such as athletics or music programs—but that they will try to stop them when they move into other areas.

Unfortunately, while the panel was focusing on the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, none of the panelists were from Michigan and consequently did not have much insight into the specific effects that Proposal 2 will have on the state if passed. Despite this, there was considerable discussion over what forms of affirmative action Proposal 2 bans, with opponents of the MCRI arguing that it will ban all forms of affirmative action including public health programs. The debate over what will be banned under Proposal 2 became quite contentious at times, with Shelton and Fancher arguing that public health programs targeted specifically to communities of color or women could be potential targets of lawsuits and Connerly arguing that the MCRI will only apply to the areas of public education, public contracting, and public employment. In order to address this question, the panelists looked to the Connerly supported Proposition 209 in California that ended affirmative action in the 1990s. Hillary Shelton described how after the passage of Proposition 209 there was a decrease of African Americans and other populations of color in California’s universities and that there has been a lack of outreach towards people of color and women. Similarly, Fancher explained that this year the University of California system has the lowest number of black students since 1973, that women in the construction field have dropped by 33%, and that there has been a 39% drop in tenured African American faculty. Connerly argued that there are more black students in the University of California system now than before Proposition 209 and that they are now at more appropriate schools where they are “qualified” to be, but there was no specific discussion of these numbers. Connerly also went on to state that it is “ludicrous to say that school don’t want blacks” as there is significant competition among all universities for black students and that the “mindless blather about diversity” coming from proponents of affirmative action is just a rhetorical cover for treating people differently based on race. Of course, Connerly offered no proof to support this claim.

During the panel, an audience submitted questions that brought up issues concerning who will benefit from the passage of the MCRI. Mark Fancher stated that the only one who stands to benefit from the MCRI is Ward Connerly, who was selected by a group of white male funders to be a national spokesperson for the anti-affirmative action movement and is paid each year to promote this view. He pointed out that corporations, universities, Michigan’s gubernatorial candidates, and most others have come out in opposition to the MCRI. Connerly said that he did not know who will benefit financially but rejected and dismissed attacks by Fancher and said that he is disappointed that the debate has degenerated into personal attacks. Connerly chose to ignore questions about who is funding and supporting his work, thereby sidestepping the fact that conservative foundations have funded Connerly. $5.1 million in funding was awarded to Connerly’s American Civil Rights Institute from 1997 to 2005. Nor was there any discussion of the fact that white supremacist groups are supporting and campaigning in support of the MCRI and the questions that their support raises about the true goals of the initiative. During the debate Connerly also failed to address Fancher’s point that many petition signatures were gather fraudulently—including many in Grand Rapids—a claim that has been backed up by the Michigan Civil Rights Commission who issued a report stating that the MCRI “is based upon a massive campaign of fraud and deceit.”

Students Against Sweatshops Holds Sweat-Free Campus Fashion Show at GVSU

fashion show photo

Grand Valley State University’s (GVSU) Students Against Sweatshops (SAS) held a Sweat-Free Fashion Show September 14 on campus, in solidarity with the United Students Against Sweatshops’ national day of action. The fashion show highlighted the sweatshop conditions that GVSU’s apparel is made under and raised awareness about the group’s Sweat-Free Campus campaign. The Designated Supplier Program (DSP) that SAS is working for would ensure that all campus apparel be purchased from brands that manufacture their garments in factories that pay a living wage and don’t participate in practices of union-busting. The details of the program have recently been reworked by USAS, and GVSU’s administration must approve the new program before the DSP can be implemented at the university.

Performance Artist Gives Lecture on History of Hip-Hop and its Ongoing Socio-Political Relevance

On Tuesday, performance artists Toyia Taylor gave a lecture at Grand Valley State University about the history of hip-hop and its current state. Following the lecture, a lively discussion on the current state of hip-hop and how it can be improved was held.

On Tuesday, New York City-based performance artist Toyia Taylor gave a lecture at Grand Valley State University about the history and origins of hip-hop in the United States and the current state of hip-hop. The lecture, which was attended by over fifty students, many of whom identified themselves as “hip-hop heads,” was well received and resulted in a lengthy discussion about how hip-hop has strayed from its roots, how contemporary hip-hop has shifted both in terms of technique and subject matter, and how contemporary hip-hop can be reinvigorated as a means of moving away from the hyper commercialized state that it is in currently.

Taylor began with a historical overview of hip-hop, arguing that in order for people to improve the current state of hip-hop—which Taylor argued was absolutely necessary—that people needed to be familiar with its history. A show of hands solicited by Taylor revealed that few of the people attending the event were familiar with the history of hip-hop, revealing that if an audience of those most interested in the art form were not too familiar, that the majority of those considering themselves fans of hip-hop (especially of the commercial variety), likely are not. Taylor described how the origins of hip-hop can be traced to the decision to build the Cross Bronx Expressway (CBE) in 1953 and the demolishment of entire neighborhoods and displacement of some 60,000 residents in the Bronx. While numerous local businesses were closed and those who where able to leave, people that were generally of European descent and were able to take advantage of the $200 offered as compensation by the city, low-income African-Americans and people of Caribbean descent were housed in high-rise apartment projects located in traditionally white neighborhoods. As is generally expected in such situations, the white residents did not welcome the influx of displaced people of color and gangs formed due to assaults by whites and unemployment skyrocketed. The early gangs, bearing names such as the Ghetto Brothers, dominated the neighborhood for years until the gang leaders got together and initiated a plan to end the gang wars centering on an improvement of the community. Following a 1971 gang summit, the Ghetto Brothers, one of the largest gangs with over 1,000 members, started a Latin funk band and out of that emerged a movement of artists “spinning” records and doing call-and-response chants in the neighborhoods. The new art form, which was the origin of contemporary hip-hop, had its roots in giving a voice to people who were traditionally disenfranchised and whereas gangs used to run the streets neighborhoods came to be dominated by hip-hop “crews” that hosted street parties and developed the “four elements” of hip-hop—break dancing, djaying, rhyming, and graffiti—out of which modern hip-hop emerged.

For Taylor, contemporary hip-hop is in its current state due in large part to its commercialization and the role that large corporations such as Clear Channel play in governing radio airplay and the role of record labels in stifling innovation and how those two forces have exerted control over hip-hop. Taylor described how much of contemporary hip-hop, which she described as “pop-hop,” is produced solely with the intent to succeed commercially and gain airplay on corporate radio stations, some of which play so-called “hit” songs as many as sixteen times in one day. Taylor described how one of hip-hop’s early artists, Afrika Bambaattaa, had reservations about the recording of his music and concerns that the energy and feeling that it contained would be diminished when it became a packaged consumer good. This theme was touched on several times during the discussion when members of the audience described how many contemporary artists simply chose to adhere to a formula that they believe will sell records and eschew innovation and ignore the message that they are conveying. Many people raised the question of whether or not it was a case of corporations determining what people should hear or corporations responding to what consumers want, as the fact that many contemporary records, despite all of their problems, are still selling well. In supporting the notion that is a matter of corporations determining what people want to hear, multiple people raised the prospect that the popular hip-hop projects an image of African-Americans males as gangster “brutes” or uncivilized “others” that is satisfying to white audiences and can be used to justify ongoing racism. There was also some discussion about how conscious political hip-hop records (KRS-One, Public Enemy) used to sell and that while artists like Dead Prez, Mos Def, or Talib Kweli are not selling or receiving airplay it has more to do with corporations than a lack of interest in the music, as artists such as U2, who have always been a “conscious” band, sell millions of records.

To Taylor and those attending the lecture, it was clear that the discussion and the state of hip-hop is an incredibly important topic. Taylor described how hip-hop is not simply a form of music and that while there are some debates over whether or not it qualifies as a culture, it is important to the lives of millions of youth living in the United States for whom hip-hop provides a daily soundtrack to their lives and a form of ongoing communication. To that end, while much of contemporary commercial hip-hop may be stale sand easily dismissed, there are numerous efforts to reinvigorate hip-hop. Early hip-hop artist Afrika Bambaataa has made calls for those involved in hip-hop to organize against corporate radio’s promotion of violence and misogyny, while hip-hop journalist Davey D has been promoting independent hip-hop and integrating politics back into the music, organizations such as New York’s REACH have been organizing in their communities, and national events such as the National Hip-Hop Political Convention have taken place to promote “hip-hop activism” and social change via hip-hop.

Making Theory Meaningful–Abolishing Theory

Reprinted from Freedom Toast (April 2003)

“There are no revolutionary thoughts, only revolutionary actions” (1, 2)

As university students, especially students in the humanities, much of our education consists of the study of various theories and theory has become one of the major topics of study at the university, transcending lines separating the disciplines to the point where it is not common to see Foucault’s discussions cited in anthropological studies, historical studies, in literary criticism, and in sociological studies. The use of theory in academic studies outside of the disciplines traditionally associated with theory has certainly contributed different perspectives and allowing for new insights; however, theory has simultaneously been reduced from its previous position as a catalyst for revolutionary change in society, instead becoming an easy way for intellectuals to satisfy their academic ego without affecting the world. Theory, which once enjoyed a close relationship with revolutionary movements, has become little more than an intellectual pursuit of what remains, for the majority of people, an abstract discourse with little bearing on the reality experienced by most people. Within this context, it is not unsurprising that students who have been exposed to various revolutionary theories have completely neglected the very essence of the theories they purport to study–the desire to transform society. In recent years, the reduction of theory has paralleled a decline in student activism, where students have become content to “study” conditions in society without doing anything to change society. They “study” growing poverty which comes during a time of unprecedented concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, the destruction of the natural environment, and the continued perfection of forms of domination and social control–all of which seem to exist on an abstract level for many. Increasingly, students are content to identify these problems and ignore solutions—the sociology major identifies the causes of poverty and does nothing to combat them, the psychology major examines the mental conditions in society which come as a result of the insanity of capitalism and hierarchy without trying to address the core problems, the history major identifies the historical origins of these problems and does nothing about them, the biology major does not work to alter the systemic causes of environmental degradation, and the political science major studies how to perfect forms of control rather than working towards genuine democracy. Just as academic study has become completely separated from society, casting aside any type of serious effort at affecting society, theory has experienced a similar decline–becoming something that is confined to academic books and discourse, rather than being a catalyst for social change.

Now that theory has largely become the province of academics and students, existing only within the context of the university, theory has become increasingly useless. Theory’s existence is meaningful only if it becomes a catalyst for change, if it is simply a subject of study, effectively breaking off any hope of “praxis,” theory must be abolished (3). In the late 19th century, revolutionary theory was closely linked with movements to transform society, including theories such as socialism and communism (4). The same was true of anarchism, in that the theory existed both in theoretical discourse and among a movement of people that sought to transform society, not simply writing about and discussing problems without attempting to change them. In the 1960s, after decades of revolutionary theory becoming increasingly separated from any attempt to change society, especially within the Marxist canon, the theorists of the Situationist International, based in France, made it their project to create a revolutionary theory which would not exist simply for academics, but rather to be a catalyst for action. For the situationists, theory was not just for academics, but rather it existed to “transform the world and change life” in a revolutionary manner (5). Situationist writings were a call to Marxists, anarchists, and other “revolutionaries” to be revolutionary–a challenge to rediscover what was truly revolutionary about those theories–the desire to change society. While it is beyond the scope of this essay to evaluate the extent to which the situationists call for a unity between theory and praxis was heeded by revolutionaries, the situationists were elaborating on a critique set forth by other marxists, who had become fed up with the absorption of Marxism by academia and parliamentary parties (6). However, in the post-May 1968 intellectual milieu, theory in France has once again reverted to inconsequential ramblings with little bearing on the world outside of academia.

Perhaps the most prominent example of the deterioration of theory is the whole “postmodern” project, a theoretical body that claims to be revolutionary, yet functions as little more than a testament to the present poverty of theory. Postmodernism makes no attempt to be accessible to the general population; instead, it is steeped in rhetorical blabbering and exists almost exclusively within the confines of academia. Where postmodernism has any influence beyond academia, it tends to be found within pseudo-intellectuals and nihilists who have little interest in any unity between theory and practice. Moreover, postmodernism is often described as a form of Marxist theory, citing its roots in Marxism, and it very well may–but in reality, it provides little more than cover for intellectuals who do not want to change society in any concrete manner, yet want to be associated with Marxism. This lack of enthusiasm for changing society is most certainly not a legitimate legacy of Marxism, and instead of cultivating a revolutionary theory derived from Marxism–which would entail working towards revolutionary change, postmodernism makes no effort to create a better world. Instead, postmodernism promotes a type of intellectual fatalism in which there is a fascination with the absolute power of television, consumerism, capitalism, and hierarchy, yet there is no genuine attempt to abolish the aforementioned forms of domination. This follows from the fact that postmodernism’s rejection of any type of “absolute truth” can be used as a convenient way to dismiss revolutionary movements, as revolutionary movements that proclaim a better way to live are really little more than false proclamations of truth. Postmodernism represents the most perfected form of a theory made entirely irrelevant to revolutionary struggles.

While postmodernism may be the heir of Marxism (7), Marxism still exists as a somewhat popular form of theory within academic and “activist” circles. In its present state, Marxism is a theory that has outlived its usefulness, as it has become so diluted that there is little point in dragging its dead corpse along. Marxism, once explicitly linked with class struggle and movements for a revolutionary reconstruction of society, has become a philosophy of inaction. Marxism has become “safe” for academics and “activists,” as it has been completely confined to books that do little more than gather dust on bookshelves, while to be a Marxist one need not make a serious effort to change society, as such an effort would certainly be seen as abnormal by one’s comrades. Moreover, Marxism has become a theory to which elitist intellectuals and “activists” can cling, as much of the twentieth century development of Marxism has centered around the idea of “vanguard” groups and the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” under the absurd claim that “professional” revolutionaries must lead the masses in the revolution and in any post-revolutionary period–assertions which are a complete bastardization of the democratic and libertarian tendencies within Marxism (8). Marxism has become a cult-like religion devoted to the study of Marxist texts, which have become akin to the dogma of the Christian church. This cult-like reading of Marxist texts and the ensuing arguments over minute details of theoretical writings nearly 150 years old, run contrary to Marx’s intentions. Marxists would do well to remember Marx’s rejection of “personality cults (9),” as well as his statement, “Je ne suis pas Marxiste” and instead of focusing on his words as dogma, they should focus on revolutionary movements (10). Indeed, it is also true that much of the problem with Marxism, especially in the United States, is that Marxists have allowed its legacy to be shaped by critics from the right and academics, both of whom have rendered Marxism a theory that exists only within a specific historical context. Moreover, the conditions that led to the development of Marxism, the intensified production and exploitation of the industrial revolution, has been removed as capitalism has become rationalized, which is of course not true, but such an interpretation have nonetheless become quite common (11). Marxism has lost its revolutionary potential–it has been reduced to a “theoretical lens” which can be applied to history or literature, in order to construct “Marxist Interpretations” of history and literature or a “badge” which one can wear–completely eliminating its previous relationship with class struggle and revolutionary movements (12).

Anarchism, historically the “alternative” to Marxism, although few ever saw it as such due both to the misunderstanding of those on the “left” as well as outright distortions by mainstream society and history, has experienced a decline similar to Marxism. Anarchism no longer has any ties to revolutionary struggles, beyond the participation of anarchists within larger movements. The lasting legacy of anarchism is bomb throwing and violence–the involvement of anarchists in the struggle for the 8-hour day, the involvement of anarchists such as Emma Goldman and Voltairine De Cleyre in the development of feminism in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the development of militant trade unions in Europe during the same period, and the struggle of anarchists in Spain against the fascism of Franco and the collectivization and organization of Spanish industry along libertarian lines in the 1930s, have all been ignored by history books. Anarchism, unlike Marxism, has been almost completely neglected by academics and instead it has been made irrelevant to the majority of people by the actions of people on the “left” who have dismissed anarchism as being an absurd quest for utopia, by historians and governments who have dismissed it as violence, and by anarchists themselves who have made little more than token attempts at outreach outside traditional “left” circles. Indeed, if people have any knowledge of contemporary anarchist activity, it is only in relationship to the use of the black bloc tactic at protests, which effectively replaces the legacy of bomb throwing with that of window smashing. There have been few serious attempts to make anarchism revolutionary; instead, most anarchists have remained within the ghettos of the punk scene, the middle-class, and the so-called “dropout” culture (13). While there have been interesting projects coming out of the anarchist milieu in the past ten years, including the development of infoshops to share information across the world, the development of the Independent Media Centers on the internet, the non-hierarchical forms of organization that have been used in the movement against capitalist globalization, and numerous theoretical journals–anarchism, like Marxism, is not currently a revolutionary movement.

Both Marxism and anarchism, as they currently exist, are not revolutionary–just as there is no theory that is innately revolutionary. Theory is kept within the small ghettos of academia, published in journals nobody reads, and dominated by people who are not serious about bringing about the revolutionary changes that must be at the core of all theory. As university students, we play a key role in the system that reproduces theory as a means of intellectual masturbation while removing its revolutionary potential. If we recognize this role, we can confront and abolish theory as theory, instead making theory something revolutionary—by making it a catalyst and component of action. Theory can no longer afford to be an irrelevant academic sideshow to reality; instead, it must intertwined with genuine and serious efforts aimed at the revolutionary transformation of society. Let us take theory out of the books and reclaim it from the intellectuals, let us bring theory into our hearts and minds as inspiration for revolutionary action–let us abolish theory!


(1) By theory I mean the revolutionary theories found on the “left”, the most common of which is Marxism.

(2) Graffiti painted on the walls of Nanterre University during the events leading up to the revolt/insurrection during May and June of

1968 in France—cited in Angelo Quattrocchi and Tom Narin, The Beginning of the End, (Verso, 1998), 49.

(2) “Praxis” is a word that seems to have been forgotten by the majority of people who consider themselves theorists or proponents of theory, an increasingly fatalistic tone taken by many “theorists” who argue that any attempts to radically change the world are destined to fail because of complete and total domination of power. Many theorists have, rather than confronting power, been increasingly interested in simply observing the complexity of power without making any substantive effort at challenging it.

(4) This was of course before they were bastardized by the authoritarians, and later, by a dogmatic adherence to the writings of Marx, along with an almost cult-like fascination with everything Marx ever did, where once directly linked to mass movements designed to transform society.

(5) “On the Poverty of Student Life” in Situationist International Anthology, ed. and trans. Ken Knabb, (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1995), 337.

(6) I am thinking specifically of the critiques of Stalinism and the calls for a more democratic marxism in journals such as Socialisme ou Barbarie, journals that had much wider circulations than the writings of the situationists. These journals were more interested in the spread of revolutionary Marxism than inconsequential academic debates. Furthermore, the use of “marxist” with a lowercase “m” is to show that these theorists were more interested in marxism as a way of transforming society than the cult-like worship of Marx that is common among “Marxists.”

(7) According to some academics postmodernism is the heir to Marxism, although postmodernism really has little in common with Marx. See Arthur Marwick, The New Nature of History: Knowledge, Evidence, Language, (Lyceum, 2001), 241. This association of postmodernism with Marxism is quite common among critics of postmodernism coming from a “right-wing” perspective while many on the “left-wing” find that postmodernism offers a convenient tie to Marxism without requiring one to actually do anything to change the world.

(8) See: V.I. Lenin, State and Revolution, (International Publishers, 1943) for a development of the idea that revolutions can be led by the few and that “dictatorships” can be instituted in the post-revolutionary period. Also see, Friedrich Engels, “On Authority,” in The Marx-Engels Reader 2nd Edition, ed. Robert C. Tucker (W.W. Norton, 1978), 730-733, for an early defense of consolidating power in the hands of the few.

(9) Karl Marx, “Against Personality Cults,” in The Marx-Engels Reader 2nd Edition, ed. Robert C. Tucker (W.W. Norton, 1978), 521.

(10) “Engels to Eduard Bernstein in Zurich,” 1882,

(11) Of course, anyone who opens their eyes can see that such assertions are absolute rubbish. Exploitation is still, and will always be, an essential component of capitalist production. Moreover, the absurd notion that we live in a “classless” society, therefore rendering Marx’s class analysis useless, is ridiculous.

(12) This is not to say that there are not many “activists” and groups around the world that call themselves Marxist. However, the majority of these “activists” and groups make no serious attempt to make Marxism a theory for revolutionary change. There is more to being a Marxist than being able to provide citations for his famous quotes or using his writings to simply interpret the world or works of literature. Most “Marxists” would do well to remember the following: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it,” something which most “Marxists” are all to eager to forget. Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach” in The Marx-Engels Reader 2nd Edition, ed. Robert C. Tucker (W.W. Norton, 1978), 145.

(13) This is not to say that anarchism has not been growing in popularity in the past few years, and indeed it has, but there has not been a large-scale movement to appeal to people outside of circles traditionally sympathetic to anarchism.

From Classroom Radicals to Transforming Society: An Imperative Shift

Reprinted from Freedom Toast (April 2003)

“Our dreams are their nightmares” (1)

As we contemplate our futures after the university, it is important that those of us who have an interest in changing society do not completely ignore what it was learned during our time at the university. The lessons learned in our classes—the systemic problems that need to be changed, the techniques for changing these problems learned in our activism, and our idealism all must be retained if we are to have any effect on the world around us (2). For the majority of students, graduate school or a “nine-to-five” career are the two choices offered by society, both of which integrate the student into the very system that they spent much of their college years fighting against. For many “radicals,” graduate school is the more attractive alternative, and for good reason. It gives the student the chance to study what they want and provides them with the university environment in which radical ideas are traditionally encouraged and supported. While some good may come out of graduate school, to a large extent graduate school is a way of pacifying “radicals”–isolating them in the university environment during the years in which they are most energetic and preparing them for university teaching jobs in which they will be further removed from the everyday experience of the majority in society, jobs in which they will play the role of the “token radical professor”–a professor talking about the changes that need to be made but unable to put forth the time needed to bring these changes. Anyone making a serious attempt at being “radical” will no doubt reject the notion of a career as a means of instigating revolutionary change, but some “radicals” are seduced by the prospect of “working within the system.” We must not fall into the common trap of “radical student,” radical only until we can get a high paying job in order to afford a luxury car, or even worse, until we can become integrated into the system under the inane notion of “working within the system” a phrase that is nothing more than a euphemism for selling out everything that we have worked towards (3). The system is setup to handle challenges from within and thrives off the labor of those who have been convinced that they can change things by working from within–there is no way one can change anything by having a career, no matter how much one tries to justify their decision (4). Our post-university experience cannot simply be integration into the capitalist system, a system responsible for the conditions we fought against during our university activism, post-university action must involve a concerted effort to break from and abolish the system of ruthless competition and dehumanization brought forth by capitalism (5).

The most radical thing we can undertake is to change the world–a change that will entail the complete destruction of existing forms of power and oppression. As Bakunin said, “the passion for destruction is also a creative passion,” and we must destroy the existing forms of power and oppression, existing both within ourselves and within society, in order to unleash the creativity necessary to build the world of our dreams (6). How do we go from the nightmarish reality of contemporary society into a world that will allow for the shift from existence into the realm of life? It is impossible to say, and indeed anyone that tries to “sell” you the proper way to bring about change, whether in a book or a pompous newspaper articles, should be ignore. Any movement to bring about changes of this magnitude must be instigated by the people seeking a better life. However, one thing is certain—such changes will never come about by working within the system. It is essential that we oppose the system by refusing to participate in the activities that reproduce its power–consumerism, careers, and politics. It would of course doom “radicals” to complete irrelevancy if they abandoned the current system entirely, as nothing is more marginal than a small number of “radicals” engaged in a futile project to destroy capitalism, but at the same time, one must never be seduced by the prospect of “working within the system.” Instead, the system should be approached only in terms of how its products and its existence can be used to undermine its control. To this end, the idea of “dual power” or “building a new society within the shell of the old” is essential–the system must be milked for whatever can be obtained from it, but we must never forget that our ultimate goal is its destruction. In practical terms, this means accepting the fact that we cannot be “anti-capitalist” if we reinforce the system daily by purchasing worthless products, we cannot be “against sexism” if we continue to operate under sexist assumptions, or worse, advocate a sexist “division of labor” in our activities, just as we cannot not be “revolutionaries” if we simply read books about past revolutions without doing anything about the current society.

So, where do we go from here? Wherever we want! We must live in pursuit of dreams—and actually pursue them–not holding on to this idea of “pursuing our dreams” in the same sense that it is conveyed on Hallmark cards or promised by Nike if you buy their new shoes. We all know that a new sports car cannot truly bring about freedom and to this end we must look at the values used to sell you their products, in this case freedom, and work towards true freedom. After all it is true freedom that we want, the freedom to control our own lives and act in pursuit of our dreams–not the false freedom offered by a new car. To achieve this, we need to shift from the idea of “what is possible” or “what is realistic” (two great phrases used by activists to render themselves useless) to the question of “what we want.” The “possible” and the “realistic” assumes that there are only certain things which can be achieved within this system—and indeed there are–but it is no way to effectively attack the systems to which we desire to change as the “possible” and “realistic” leaves out all possibility of change that comes from outside the system. If we begin our activism from the position of what is “possible” or “realistic” we have already set ourselves up for a certain level of defeat, as the system only allows the change that it wants. Imagine the best possible world that could be created within the confines of the system compared with the world that could be created by people committed to making it so that everyone was free to pursue their dreams and desires–the later is infinitely more beautiful and more than worth the work it will take to create.

But this is not possible “the liberals” argue–one must work within the system, it is our only way of “changing” society. Oh how mistaken they are–by working within the system, we support the system, the system will never allow anything else. In the aforementioned paragraphs, it was explained that one should not ignore the system entirely, but to put all of our hopes for change into the system will only guarantee our failure. The only way things can be challenged is by working towards the world we want to see. While this may sound like irrelevant and idealistic rambling, it really is true. When we make our dreams our goals, we unleash the only force capable of improving society. The “liberals” will argue that this is nonsense and that the only way to achieve our goals is through “reform,” but after all, they have been too integrated into the system to realize that there are chances for actually changing the society and we have seen what they have done–social programs that are decimated by budget cuts a few years after they are passed. But how does this, or can it, actually work for activist groups? Surprisingly, it is possible to pursue activist goals on the premise of “what we want” without becoming bogged down in self-important rhetoric without actually changing things. In Canada, a country similar to the United States in terms of its capitalist development, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has been operating since 1990 with the goal of “eliminating poverty,” a goal that bypasses liberal “reforms” and attacks the system that creates poverty. OCAP seeks to mobilize poor and homeless people to fight back, through militant and direct action, against the system responsible for the creation of poverty. Through a variety of tactics, OCAP has pursued its mission to “fight to win” against those that hold economic and political power, and as a result, they have won numerous victories—victories that have not been achieved by asking what the system allows (7). OCAP is just one example of the successes that can be won when activists actually get serious. The numerous squatted social centres in Europe provide another example–rather than waiting for low-cost housing, people have taken over abandoned buildings and made them community spaces. Furthermore, the 1999 shutdown of the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle was certainly not considered “realistic” or “possible,” but that did not stop people from using direct action to achieve what they wanted. We can win (and indeed we may only be able to win) if we start from the position of what we want, not from what is possible.

For this to work, we are going to need to start by reevaluating the basic assumptions that structure our lives. For starters, we do not need to choose a career after college; we can chose not to work in a traditional job. We can achieve, and indeed deserve, much more than integration into a work force designed to support ritualistic consumption. Getting a long without a “career” may seem difficult at first, but in the end, it is the only option that will allow us to take control of our lives. Imagine the revolutionary potential of a whole generation of people learning to love and live without the constraints of the 9 to 5 job. We will have the capability to change the world, not only through collective action and mutual aid, but also by being able to relate to people as people. Freed from the cycle of work and consumption, which pits neighbors against neighbors and forces relationships to be evaluated in terms of “cost benefit analysis,” we will actually be able to appreciate and cultivate what is truly beautiful about humanity. The critics will no doubt argue that if everyone withdrew from the system of work and consumption that the entire capitalist system would break down–but such a break is exactly what we should be seeking, as this destruction will be the final step that allows for the creation of a new world.

So how are we going to do it? We need to start by actually being serious and not just talking all the time about what we want to do–we need to actually do something. Moreover, it is naïve to think that this will not require a large amount of work, indeed it will, but at least it will not be the “work” that we are forced to do to get by under capitalism. We need to reorganize our lives on the principles of mutual aid–helping others in anyway we can. We can trade labor, trading or donating our skills in bike repair, while the people that know plumbing help us, volunteering to do childcare, or whatever else. We can live lives without careers if we shift our emphasis in life from competition to cooperation, no longer will we be stuck in a stage of existence, separated from authentic life. We can plant gardens and share the fruits of our labor with those around us. We can get along without needing to fear those around us. We can truly love our friends and neighbors without constantly measuring our status against theirs. We can create new institutions that will provide alternatives to capitalism, while also working to improve the existing institutions, as long as we remain aware of the fact that the old institutions are merely temporary improvements and that our ultimate goal is to create a new world with new institutions. So let’s work towards what we want, not what is possible–we have a new society to create.


(1) Graffiti from the walls of occupied Nanterre University, May 1968.

(2) However, I do think a good argument could be made that we should forget much of what we learned in school, especially as it relates to writing in a manner that alienates the majority of the population. Moreover, the opposition to the current system on a theoretical basis, which is fostered in a variety of departments, must be abolished. We can only change the system by action, never by theoretical babbling. Even this paper is a pointless exercise unless it motivates its readers and authors to put it down and actually do something about the conditions we hate.

(3) If you see your post-university “activism” involving a job “working within the system” you might as well drop out of radical politics now, because you will not do shit.

(4) We should pursue a strategy of “dual power” to destroy the system–working within it to gain temporary improvements while also creating institutions which will replace it and eventually render it useless.

(5) This is not to say that I am naïve enough to think that my post-college activities will bring about the end of capitalism–that would be absurd. But at least I am willing to try.

(6) Bakunin,

(7) For more information on the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, visit their website at

Editor’s Note

Reprinted from Wake Up! (February 1983)

This issue of Wake Up! Is something of a collection of what may seem to some of our audience as “old news.” But we are striving to present an overall picture of important issues which remain unresolved and indeed go to the heart of the real problem at G.V.S.C. We cover the graffiti incident of last semester with photos by Randy Austin-Cardona as well as an anonymous letter submitted to us by mail by an individual who claims to be the culprit. We include a transcript of the Student Senate’s inquisition of the Lanthorn’s editor Becky Burkert who was called before that body to answer certain questions concerning that paper’s editorial policies, which some have claimed to be unfairly biased against the Senate’s actions regarding the colleges’ censorship of the x-rated film “Inserts.” Wake Up! Also presents transcripts from the Student Senate deliberations exposing some of the debate which has occurred internally as they have wrestled with this important issue of administrative ignorance of the constitutional rights of Grand Valley students.

We also hope that people who are concerned about the precise nature of the events and attitudes which led to the colleges’ administration’s abolition of our student run radio station, WSRX, will take a look at our “Short History of the End of WSRX.”

With this, our second issue, we also begin a policy of printing significant material (such as letters) which has gone unprinted by decision of the Lanthorn’s editor.

We have striven to arrange and select our material so that interrelationships will present the reader with more than a superficial understanding of an overall pattern of conflict here on the campus of the Grand Valley State Colleges. A callous, cynical, and at the very least unethical handling of student citizenship rights on the part of the Lubbers administration has created something–a legacy–of which our publication Wake Up! Is a product.

Anger–a swift undercurrent of hot dissent–organized opposition to fascism in higher education is surfacing here; mudpots, steaming sulfur springs; A volcano beings to hiss its way up in the cornfield.

Censorship, the Student Senate, the Administration, and the Lanthorn

Reprinted from Wake Up! (February 1983)

The Constitution of the United States specifically states that in this land their shall be made “no law respecting an established religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for the redress of grievances.”

The Grand Valley administration’s banning of the X-rated film Inserts must be seen as a violation of the first amendment rights of the student community of the Grand Valley State Colleges.

The Student Senate, clearly, has recognized this and that is the reason that they have sought to enlist the support of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in this matter. The Student Senate opposition to this censorship is very much a commendable course of action; and it should be hoped that they do not opt out of this confrontation for the sake of political expediency or the acquisition of some political capital from the administration (of signfificantly lesser value to the students true interests than the First Amendment).

Censorship at Grand Valley has a lengthy and inglorious history. The Student Run Experimental radio station (WSRX) was censored by the administration primarily through its elimination. The Lanthorn for years has been threatened with a cut off of finances from the administration – coincidentally when that paper has reported the news in ways contrary to the wishes of the administration. Board of Control member DeVos sent out Amway men to campus a couple of years ago to pick up all copies of The Lanthorn that they could find lying around campus were they were placed for distribution. The particular issue of that paper which so concerned DeVos contained an interview with DeVos in which he made some quite incredible, and one feels quite honest and candid, statements regarding his true feelings about the Grand Valley State Colleges and their students; in this issue’s interview DeVos let it be known that he had little respect for the “clowns and misfits,” or was it the “oddballs and outcasts,” who attended the colleges – or something to that effect – and he also stated that he would never send his own children to Grand Valley but that it was perhaps the right place for people who weren’t adequate material for Hope or Aquinas colleges to go to school – or something of that sort. Apparently Dick had second thoughts about the adequacy of his own words for public reading. There is also the case of censorship involving the Women’s information Bureau (WIB) newspaper which was confiscated from out of the WIB offices here on campus by the campus police on orders from our wondrous Grand Valley administration (however, WSRX took a single copy that had somehow escaped the cops, locked themselves in the studios of WSRX so that the police could not get in and proceeded to read – word for word – the entire issue of the banned newspaper over the air to the Grand Valley community).

Perhaps the laying over of white paint all over the art upon the walls of Lake Huron Hall without Thomas Jefferson Colleges permission should be mentioned in this context as well; a Ronald VanSteeland beautification project, going way back.

The list of atrocities against the first amendment rights of the Grand Valley student is something that we could go on and on with here. In a very real sense, the elimination of Thomas Jefferson College, the Performing Arts Center, and William James College, is cutting the student off from much information – much course material and styles of learning and teaching which ultimately will not be “duplicated” in the new conglomerated Grand Valley State-Thing.

In fact, Grand Valley has become a place where the institutional bureaucracy, under the influence of powerful “New Right” elements in the business community, has trampled underfoot the freedom to speak, to print, to broadcast, to teach, to hear, to learn what one will.

In order to transform the alternative academic community of the Grand Valley State Colleges into the more conservative and mediocre Grand Valley State, our institution’s central administration has readily turned to the easy utility of the gag.

After all, you are not going to know what rights you are losing if no one is there to remind you of what rights you have or how they are being fucked with.

In such a situation you are somewhat less likely to be an individual – and one must suspect that this administration has decided that individuality is not the image to be portrayed by the new Grand Valley State which they have been striving to achieve for so long.

1984 LOOMS CLOSE AT HAND ON THE CAMPUS OF GRAND AMWAY STATE. And this is precisely why the actions of the Student Senate, and especially Tim Swope, last year in opposing reorganization – pointing out that it would not necessarily save money but that it would certainly deprive many students of a choice in what they learn and how they learn it – was so surprising and welcome. Equally surprising and welcome has been the Student Senate’s, and especially Tim Swope’s, vocal opposition to the administration’s banning of the X-rated film Inserts from campus.

Unfortunately, The Lanthorn has not been sympathetic or understanding of the Student Senate’s legitimate concerns for the students of Grand Valley. The Lanthorn has in fact given the Student Senate a lot of bad press on this issue – and others. And this lack of harmony between The Lanthorn and the Student Senate on such a grave and basic issue as censorship must seem difficult ot understand or justify.

However, for the president of the Student Senate, Tim Swope, to call upon the Student Senate to take actions that would “confiscate” ultimate authority over The Lanthorn of the Student Senate is ludicrous, if understandable in some degree and in some short-sighted sort of way.

It is a proposal for the violation of the first amendment rights by an elected body which has engaged in contest with an unelected bureaucracy (the Grand valley administration) in order to protect those same first amendment rights.

Reason is lost here. The basis of Student Senate actions is in danger of going way off base.

When our founding fathers wrote the law of the land and decided that there would be “no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press,” they had in mind a limitation upon the elected governments of this land – you must see that this limitation includes a voiding of Student Senate actions to dictate policy to The Lanthorn as much as it would prevent the state of Michigan through its elected representatives and their bureaucrats dictating policy to the Student Senate in regards to what films are to be permitted to be seen and which banned from sight on our campus.

In the United States we have seperation of press and state equally as much as we have a separation of church and state – this is the ultimate guarantor of our freedoms as human beings and as citizens. When we forget this we lose our freedoms.

Wake Up! Opposes Tim Swope’s Proposal Regarding Lanthorn Governance as much as we support the Student Senate’s opposition to administrative censorship of the film Inserts.

Wake Up! supports the Lanthorn (and will continue to do so) in its efforts to fend off Student Senate control over its policy equally as much as we dislike its coverage of the Student Senate and that paper’s lack of intelligent content in general (with few exceptions).

Perhaps the Student Senate should seek ways to recharge The lanthorn with independence; get The Lanthorn out from under the shadow of the Zumburgerite administration; sever The Lanthorn from the Newspaper Advisory Board oversight which has been imposed upon it; and help The Lanthorn to regain its status as a free student organization again instead of just another icon to censorship, or stupidity.

President’s Proposal Regarding Lanthorn Governance

It is important that we maintain a true student’s medium on this campus. The current N.A.B. structure does not allow for this when it realizes that “student run” does not refer to one student. “Student run” refers to the student body, and as representatives of that body, I offer to you the following draft proposed for your consideration:

I. The Student Senate, being the elected representative body of the students, shall have final say in regards to Lanthorn policy. This shall be achieved by reviewing recommendations from the NAB (both majority and minority reports), reviewing recommendations from the remainder of the GVSC community, and reviewing recommendations from the Lanthorn editor. The Senate shall refrain from any judgment in regards to content of articles, except in cases of proven slander and/or libel.

II. The NAB shall report any and all action taken to the Senate for ratification within one week of the action. This report shall be in the form of committee minutes.

III. The Senate shall be ultimately responsible for the hiring and/or firing of The Lanthorn’s editor. Both actions require a 2/3 vote of the entire Senate and take place after reviewing recommendations from the NAB.