Author Archive

October 3, 2011

Peacemaking: Consensus or Submission?

by Alicia Ni'Tracy

[Nat’s article on this topic: “Obama: ‘Peacemaker’ at Harvard Law School Basketball Courts“]

The 2008 Presidential Election was the first national and presidential election in which I voted.  I remember that, when Barack Obama’s victory was announced, I was filled with painful emotions.  On one hand, I was glad about what it said about the public in regard to George Bush Jr’s performance: I believe it said the public was not pleased and needed a break from being under a Republican administration.  On the other hand, I also knew that much of the population saw Barack Obama as their saving grace – salvation from being a warring nation, from being a racist nation, from having a failing economy slumping further down the global ladder of national success.  And I knew, in the sense that I believed it as fact, that Obama was none of these things.  I knew he was another American president – another well-to-do man from an upper economic and social class who would not fight for the needs of the general populace.

Throughout the past three years, I have not been surprised.  The sadness and dread and heartbreak I felt that night, feeling the weight of what my vote had contributed to, have numbed somewhat but have grown into an acceptance that Obama represents the trained American desire for the McDonald’s version of a hamburger, for the “banana flavored” candy instead of the banana, for the thoroughly marketed and manufactured version of the real thing.

Obama is said to have been a peacemaker on the Harvard Law School basketball courts.  I see parallels between that history and his political behavior.  He regularly attempts to appease the absurd demands of the Republican political class.  He compromises the success of his initiatives to satisfy politicians who desire to maintain the power of the economic oligarchy.  He does not appear to fight for the needs of the general populace, let alone for what he believes their needs to be.

I feel somewhat divided about his efforts toward diplomacy.  I am a big advocate of consent: personal consent, physical consent, social consent.  Consent on a larger scale translates to consensus – if everyone’s consent is to be respected, we must reach and maintain consensus.  Consensus is not everybody being of one mind, consensus must be formed through discussion, it is an idea that all members of a group develop together and which all members can accept without blocking it.  Yet I see Obama achieving no success in mutual development of a health system that the Republican politicians would tolerate, which is just one area in which this failure seems evident.  Consensus does not appear to be occurring in this United States government.  I’m kicking myself for resenting Obama’s unsuccessful attempts to reach consensus between the Democrat and Republican parties, because as much as I prefer consensus, he’s being too submissive and the result isn’t getting the populace it’s comprehensive healthcare.

Even while Barack Obama is submissive in U.S. internal politics, he contributes to the continuation of war overseas even though, in his campaign for the presidency, he presented himself as desiring the end to the war in Iraq.  The war in Iraq is not over, having lasted eight years as of March 20, 2011.  Additionally, U.S. troops have been pushed into other Middle-Eastern countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, under “police actions” during Obama’s presidency.

How far does Obama’s peacemaking extend ?  I believe it does not extend past his attempts to cooperate with the Republicans, or past the desires of America’s oligarchs to maintain a globalized industrial economy – not past that to the rights of those native to the lands we draw oil from in the Middle-East, or to the lives of those Americans sent to fight to prolong that exploitation.  It looks to me as though his peacemaking does not extend past his ego, his need to be seen as a cooperative politician.  Obama does not appear to fight for the needs of the vast majority of the American public.

I would like to have leaders who seek consensus when it’s actually possible, yet know when to alter that tactic because some jerks are throwing temper tantrums and aren’t actually cooperating with the consensus process.

– Alicia Bryan

21st Century Woman

August 5, 2011

Is it Safe to be Honest?

by Alicia Ni'Tracy

[Nat’s article on this topic: “Truth May Not be the Whole Truth, But that Kind of Truth May be Best“]

Why don’t tenants always present their complaints to their landlords?  Why don’t landlords tell their potential tenants everything they know to be wrong with the property?  Why don’t politicians do during their terms what they promise during their campaigns to do, often deliberately and unapologetically doing the exactly opposite?

Sometimes people tell the truth.  Sometimes people tell lies.  Sometimes people tell nothing.  The amount they tell of each reflects on their levels of honesty and communication.  Some believe that the truth is fixed and unchangeable by our perception.  Others believe that the truth is completely determined by our perception.  A huge number of us (maybe all) have no idea what is truth and what is not.  We don’t have a set definition of truth that everyone agrees on.  There is the truth of reality and then there’s each person’s perspective.

Rather than delving into a metaphysical discussion here and now, I’d like to focus on what determines whether people tell the truth.

By my observations, people only tell the truth if they feel safe doing so and they feel it will benefit them – or, at least, again, do them no harm or less harm than lying or being silent would do.

If a landlord perpetually denies the tenant any maintenance services, regularly increases the rent and ultimately doesn’t communicate unless the rent is late, why doesn’t the tenant file a lawsuit?  The answer may be that the tenant can’t afford court fees after paying their food expenses and rent each month, and suing may yield no improvement and therefore be a waste of resources.  In such a situation, why bother?

Why doesn’t the tenant move?  The answer may be the tenant knows there is little chance of finding a decent landlord in the same price range.  The tenant may move into a new apartment with a new landlord just as negligent as the previous one.

Why doesn’t the tenant, after eventually getting fed up and moving, tell the whole world about the landlord’s irresponsible behavior?  The answer may be that there is no widely accepted forum for disclosing that information.  The tenant may tell a few friends, but that doesn’t get the message to the broader tenant population.  If the tenant speaks up publicly, he or she runs the risk that future landlords will learn of the tenant’s boldness and refuse to rent to them.

And yet, if the tenant does not tell the world the truth, the landlord certainly never will.  There is no imperative for the landlord to change their behavior if there is zero accountability, which means that continuing to lie gives the landlord the most benefit.

We can’t force people to start telling the truth when it could be dangerous for them (i.e. the tenants who truly cannot afford to move or pay higher rent, so have no power to tell the truth).  However, what we can do is to endeavor to create safe forums for truth-telling, in as many places as we have sway.  We can tell each other, “It’s okay for you to tell me the truth.  I understand that it’s your opinion.  We can work to understand each other, work together and compromise.”  This may be far more important a skill to develop than forcing ourselves to always tell the truth even in situations which feel scary for us.

We can tell our landlords, “It’s okay for you to tell me the truth.  We can work together.”  We can tell our politicians, “You can tell me the truth.  If you can’t ‘solve the economy’ by yourself in a single 4-year term, we need to know so we can know how much we need to do.”  We can tell our employees, “I’ll listen to the truth you tell.  If you believe I’m mistreating you, I need to know that if I am ever to know how to treat you well.”

– Alicia Bryan

21st Century Innie Person

July 6, 2011

What’s in a name?

by Alicia Ni'Tracy

[Nat’s article on this topic: “Identity?“]

One day, Nathan and I were reading a news article, linked to in a comment on our blog.  The subject of the article was a group of athletes of the Haudenosaunee nation.  While discussing these athlete’s nation, culture and origins, we repeatedly stumbled over the words to describe their nationality and racial identity.

Nathan asked, “What does the phrase ‘Native American’ mean?”  I’m glad that Nathan raised this question to me.  As we continued to discuss the the words “native” and “American,” I realized that not only does “Native American” seem to be an inept description of the peoples indigenous to this land prior to European colonization, but I couldn’t think of any more accurate description currently in common useage.  I don’t feel comfortable using the terms that are currently widely recognized to indicate these peoples; I find them problematic.

This is a very interesting issue, and one which does not receive much general attention, due to the peoples concerned being, by far, a minority (1.5% of U.S. population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census).  The late historian Howard Zinn, on page 16 in his A People’s History of the United States, explained that, through English raids and the introduction of European diseases, “The Indian population of 10 million that lived north of Mexico when Columbus came would ultimately be reduced to less than a million [by the mid 1700s].”  Please take the time to read the first chapter of this work by Zinn, to better understand both the deliberate and inadvertent methods used by the colonists to wipe out the natives of this land, to put into perspective the interactions between natives to this land and European colonists.

Native people’s lands, as well as their populations, are greatly limited, as they do not enjoy the full extent of land they did before the European occupation of this land but their autonomy is rather limited to “reservations.”  Additionally, even their nations’ limited autonomy continues to be disregarded to this day, as is evidenced in the very article that sparked this conversation, which describes the refusal, by Great Britain, to affirm the validity of Haudenosaunee (Iroqouis) passports.

“America” is the name given to this land by the European nations who occupied the natives’ lands in the first place.  I thought to myself, it does not make sense to call a people by the name of their invaders.  “American” is derived from the name the Europeans gave this land, which they named after one of the people who paved the way for the occupation.  Historically, there have been complaints that Amerigo Vespucci stole the naming of continents from Christopher Columbus – in actuality, the naming of these continents was stolen by the Europeans from the people who actually lived on the those continents.  A native person in my life informed me that the word for this land is “Ongwera.”

I believe it’s problematic if I, a European descendant, call a person native to this land an “American.”  It reminds me of how slavers in this country would suppress the slaves’ own names, which the enslaved people had given each other, by forcing them to respond to names from the slaver’s culture, like English names such as “John.”  These slaves, who had been taken from Africa, were also forced to use English and experienced difficulty in maintaining their own languages in secrecy (much like the native youths were compelled to learn English and forbidden to speak their own languages, in colonial “boarding schools”).  Today, some descendents of those Africans enslaved here are working to restore their ancestors’ old names and languages.

As I slowly learn more about the diverse cultures of those many peoples native to this land, I believe more and more that it is unjust of me to lazily lump all of these peoples into one identity.  They are many peoples, with many identities, many names, such as the Haudenosaunee, the Onondowahgah and the Tsalagi (whom you may know as the Iroquois, the Seneca and the Cherokee, respectively).

Nathan posed another question to me, “Can a person who was born in the United States call his or herself a Native American?”

I suppose such a person is an American, since the person grew up in this culture, and I suppose they’re technically “native,” as the word is defined as someone who is of something by birth.  However, even though “Native American” doesn’t seem to me to be a fair title for the peoples who lived with this land long before the Europeans came, I also think it would be inappropriate for immigrants to call themselves native here.  If European descendants call themselves “Native Americans,” they would be sending the message that their ancestors had just as much right to this land as those people whose ancestors lived here sustainably for thousands of years.  This strikes me as wrong.

I would not want those non-native peoples to call themselves “Native Americans.”  I would want those who are truly, ancestrally native to this land to use the names they choose, rather than to be compelled to use the name their invaders put on them.  I believe people should be free to discover their own racial, national, mother land identities, and yet I don’t want people to abuse this.  It would be an abuse for European descendents to call themselves Native Americans.  Yet it should be their freedom to discover the many lines in their genes and cultural lineage.

I do not yet know how I culturally identify.  I know that I am of European ancestry: Irish, Welsh, German, English and probably others.  I personally relate the most with old Irish culture, but I am not prepared to call myself an Irish person because I am still exploring my cultural identity and am not ready to put myself into any cultural boxes.

Racial, national, cultural identities are so convoluted in this globalized, post-imperial, currently imperial world.  And our culture and English language seem to be falling short of grasping this complexity.

– Alicia Bryan

21st Century Woman

***

P.S.  My position on cultures indigenous to this land is one of great appreciation for their methods.  I believe they did little to no harm to the land and practiced advanced equality of womb-ones (“women”).  These peoples developed much of our more egalitarian methods today, including some better aspects of the U.S. governmental structure, as well as the consensus process (of which I am a particular fan).  Much documentation of the ritual statements made in community meetings shows perspectives of love and stewardship for the Earth, above all selfish human priorities, and in considering human priorities, shows superlative consideration of equality.

I encourage you to educate yourself further.  I will post some additional resources.  If you have any further resources to share or refer, please do!

June 2, 2011

Choosing Higher Education: Institution or Ingenuity?

by Alicia Ni'Tracy

Secondary education in America has changed considerably over the past couple hundred years.  Since the earliest colleges and institutions began operating, I believe the demographics and population percentages of those who have participated in collegiate programs have shifted greatly.

I am no accredited historian, and indeed I don’t believe we can take any account at face value, but my impression is that higher education institutions were once places for which a few citizens (among a much lower population) – those financially- and class-privileged, had exclusive access, as a practical matter.  The remainder of the population took apprenticeships or labor employment.

Disparate access to higher education still exists.  However, the disparity is less pronounced in admissions than it once was, and most pronounced in financial burden.  Nearly every college or university student I meet today, in the twenty-teens (2010-2019), relies almost entirely on large loans to finance their access to secondary education.  The few students who do not rely on loans can move on from their higher education with much broader financial options – perhaps using their early wages toward a down-payment on a house or automobile (their spotless credit securing such investments at the lowest interest rates available to a young person).

Those former students who relied on student loans may hit a streak of poor luck – their cheap one-bedroom sublet fell through; they experienced a bout of expensive health problems; the only fair-paying position offered to them was completely against their morals so they took a job in fast food.  All of a sudden, their bills are wildly high.  Then ends the 6-month grace period for their loans (the period after leaving school when they’re not obligated to make monthly payments yet, although interest is still accruing), and their loan provider bills them $5,000 on their massive loan principal and interest.  They attempt to apply for a payment deferment, to save their butt until they’re back on their feet.

“My student loans provider just denied that they received my paperwork, and then they charged me five thousand dollars that I can’t pay.”

My own sentiment is that, upon graduation, with a degree but zero job experience, and large monthly payments toward my debt, I would be a slave to the job market in my field.  I would have no choice regarding which job I took – I would take The One That Was Available.  If I knew the job would be:

A) Boring

Here's the quality job I would be lucky to land.

B) Degrading

C) Un-ethical
D) A Two-Hour Commute

E) In a Basement

F) Require Me to Wear a Suit

AND

G) I Had to Smell Rotten Eggs All Day

I would still be compelled to pounce on that job opportunity before it slipped away to any other desperate sucker with a degree.

This occurred to me while I was studying Photojournalism at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, 2007-2008.  In the short-sightedness of my youth, I had taken loans for two full semesters and one condensed half semester.  I was already committed to over $18,000 of debt.  AIP was grooming me less toward creative documentary photography and more toward advertising.  AIP had lied to me about its accreditation.  I lost my faith in the institution, I lost my faith in the field (seeing so many trained photographers snapping shots in stadiums and wedding halls, which interested me none), and I lost my faith in secondary education.  I certainly lost my faith in paying for it.

Having always been a part of the job market since age 16, I had the job references and the obvious ability and motivation to work.  I decided to become increasingly selective about the job opportunities I took, requiring myself to either truly enjoy the work or at least feel like I was moving toward stability.  It was difficult for a while, with my loans looming over me; they still are, yet now I keep up with the payments.

Over the past three years since I withdrew from secondary education, I have worked as:

* Teachers’ assistant in a youths’ photography studio and lab
* Short-order cook
* Barista and waitress
* Gainfully unemployed
* Bicycle mechanic instructor
* Writer/editor, Memoir assistant and technical assistant

And I have studied, choosing my own instructors and settings and subjects:

* Herbal and nutritional medicine preparation and use
* Wild food and wild medicinal plant identification
* Horticulture, including permaculture and container gardening
* Plumbing, electrical, carpentry and masonry
* Bicycle Mechanics
* Bead working and jewelry making
* Photography
* etc. etc.

I may return to a focus in photography and journalism.  For now, the necessity of nurturing diverse skills in a diverse economy has suited me, happily!  I believe that, if I had continued the academic program I had begun, I would be in a much different position.  I could not afford my own apartment.  I may not have had the time to learn enough bike mechanics to become an instructor.   Certainly, I would not have been able to spend one year unemployed, practicing home repair and gardening, all in order to become more self-sufficient.  And I wouldn’t be starting a jewelry-making business with my mother!

As a young person motivated to always learn more, with a picture in my mind of the person I want to be, with the capacity to teach myself and find teachers in the friends and books and communities around me, I believe I have sculpted my life into my own personal university – one that may be more perfect for me than any institution.

– Alicia

21st Century Woman

May 9, 2011

A Poor Comparison to Unions

by Alicia Ni'Tracy

It’s clear to me that Jack Kelly writes with a strong bias against public employee unions and their interests.  I’m not eager to delve here into a discussion about the justness of unions because there’s a lot of dispute in this country about what the right course of action is to deal with our exploitative economic system.  What I am more interested in is the language used by Jack Kelly in his article “Unions on the Ropes,” specifically likening public employee unions and their leaders to Nazis.

Kelly’s exact wording is “Wisconsin is to public employee unions what Stalingrad was to the Nazis – the site of their first major defeat.”  It may even be true that Wisconsin may be a site of major defeat for public employee unions; however, I don’t think that unions are comparable to Nazis because unions aren’t waging genocide or operating concentration camps.

Kelly’s comparison absurdly exaggerates the behavior of unions.  Does Mr. Kelly believe that the behavior of the Nazis was no more drastic, serious and dangerous than the behavior of these unions?

Kelly seems to express a sentiment that the public is oppressed by the use of public funds to pay public employees, some of whom are union members.  That supposed hardship, which he is attributing to union leaders, is in no way comparable to the effects of Nazi actions on members of the public.

Kelly, we are not in concentration camps.  Your comparison of unions to Nazis is ridiculous.

It is foolish to call public employee unions Nazis.

Actually, how about Mr. Kelly stops calling any people Nazis?

– Alicia Bryan

21st Century Woman