Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Long Interview on Occupy Wall Street With a Humorous Slant

Occupy Wall Street Interview - Professor Mark Naison ... - YouTube

5 days ago – Matt Sky Interviews Professor Mark D. Naison at Fordham University about the Occupy Wall Street movement, its future and global ...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

OWS brings it home....

Here's a vivid story describing OWS's next move after its eviction from public spaces: occupying homes that have been foreclosed upon by banks and have been sitting vacant ever since.  My gut reaction is that it's very smart, in that it brings home the consequences of not only  the financial meltdown but also the decades-long upward redistribution of wealth that has been the consequence of many years of neoliberal policy. But it's also risky, in that the constant public visibility of a place like Zuccotti Park was a major source of the movement's success.  What do others think of this strategy?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Fabulous thesis presentations!

I'd like to interrupt the ongoing discussion of OWS just to rave about the American Studies thesis presentations that took place today. The creativity and hard work of the students was visible at every moment, and the large and lively audience of faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students provided a supportive and collaborative environment. Congratulations to the seniors of the class of 2012 for some remarkable research! Here are the thesis titles:
  • Ariadne Blayde, “‘I Ran My Fingers Through Her Coal Black Hair To Cover Up My Sin’: Gender, Violence, and Redemption in Appalachian Murdered Girl Ballads”
  • Melissa Brumer, “Sand, Sun, and Sex Tourism: What Really Happens During College Spring Break”
  • Rebecca Gehman, “‘Fast Food for the Filipino Soul’: Consuming Transnational Identity at Jollibee in Queens”
  • Rachel Jones, “Sistas in Sisterhood: Black Cultural Clubs in All Girls Private High Schools”
  • Andrea Krok, “‘I Got It From My Mama’: Experiences of Language and Identity for Second-Generation Immigrant College Students at Fordham”
  • Eve Krupitsky, “An Important Year: Competing Images of Womanhood in the Ladies’ Home Journal, 1919”
  • Grace Loughney, “The New Media Deal: Obama, the Information Age, and the Shadow of FDR”
  • Catherine McNamara, “The Cross Bronx Double Cross: The Effects of the Cross Bronx Expressway on Pediatric Asthma in the Bronx”
  • Andrew O’Connell, “From Clayton Bigsby to Stuart Hall: Conceptions of Blackness and Authenticity in Chappelle’s Show
  • Jennifer Prevete, “‘Maybe It Was Too Much to Expect for Those Days’: The Changing Lifestyles of Barnard’s First Female Students”
  • Kevin Price, “Jay-Z’s Coliseum: The Barclay’s Center, Professional Sports, and the Transformation of Brooklyn”
  • Sarah J. Rogers, “Dramatizing Oppenheimer and Reagan: Theatricality and the Shaping of American Historical Memory”
  • Lauren Sepanski, “Tending the Flowers, Cultivating Community: Gardening on New York City Public Housing Sites”
  • Emily Tuttle, “‘Inspired By Our Feminist Foremothers’: Feminists for Life’s Appropriation of First-Wave Feminist Rhetoric and History”
  • Gabriella Wilkins, “Fun, Fearless, and Feminist?: Gender and Sexuality in Cosmopolitan

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Occupy Wall Street Not Fading

Occupy Wall Street is, rather than fading, slowly embedding itself into the lives of working class and middle class New Yorkers. Consider the following- yesterday, OWS protesters occupied a foreclosed home inn the East New York Section of Brooklyn; tonight Occupy the Bronx and supporters around the city will be packing a meeitng of the 40 Precinct Community Council to protest the illegal arrest of... Occupy the Bronx members outside a community garden over the weekend; there are ongoing hunger strikes in front of Trinity Church to protest the church's refusal to let the movement Occupy a vacant lot owned by the Church on Canal Street; there is a 99 Percent Club, in full operation at Fordham with new clubs on the verge of forming at other area colleges. Couple that with CUNY tuition protests, movements to resist school clusings and charter school co-locations and you have a remarkable range of political activism around the city inspired by or supported by OWS.

Mark Naison
December 7, 2011

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Art of OWS

As if in answer to an earlier call for American studies scholars to look at the proliferation of images coming out of OWS,  here's a link to an op-ed piece by two American studies professors, Michele Elam and Jennifer DeVere Brody, in which they discuss  how we might start to talk about images like this one:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Organizing Principles for 99 Percent Clubs

99 Percent Clubs can be organized at your school, at your workplace, in your home, at your neighborhood community or senior  center or in your church, synagogue or mosque,  Here are four simple organizing principles for these clubs
1. To disseminate accurate information about the Occupy movements in the US and around the world.
2. To provide material support ( which may  in the form of food and clothing, legal assistance,  or pressure on elected officials) to the Occcupy movement in your own city and town
3. To organize around economic inequality issues and threats to freedom of expression where you live and/or where you work.
  4. To create networks among people who support the Occupy movement that enable them to mobilze support for demonstrations organized by that movement.
  The strength of these clubs is that they allow people a wide variety of situations , including those who are homebound or disabled, to participate in the Occupy movement.
Mark Naison and Ira Shor

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Crusade to Destroy a Conversation

The Occupy Wall Street People's Library prior to
the November 15th midnight raid.
Last week Mayor Bloomberg sent hundreds of police officers in the dead of night to Zuccotti Park to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters as they slept peaceful in their tents. The sleepy protesters were ordered to leave immediately or face arrest. Many were, of course, arrested. Others gathered whatever possessions they could and left with what they could carry. Protesters who returned to gather more of their belongings were barred from re-entering the park.

All of this happened under the cloak of darkness, both literal and figurative. Press were barred from covering the police action. Public transportation to the site was halted as subway service to the nearby stations was suspended. People in neighboring buildings were also barred from leaving their lobbies as the raid unfolded. One cannot help but assume that the Mayor did not want any lingering images of this stealth attack, whether those images were captured by the press or by concerned citizens.

The morning after Mayor Bloomberg evicted the protesters, he held a press conference to defend his administration's actions. He concluded those remarks by saying that the protesters had already had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags. "Now," he said, "they will have to occupy the park with the power of their arguments."

Mayor Bloomberg's position seems to suggest that ideas and arguments can somehow be crafted without the minds and bodies that generate them. Somehow, in the world that the mayor occupies, ideas spring fully-formed from the foreheads of men who never want for any corporeal need. Their bodies, so well-fed, and exercised, and groomed, and scented, so well-rested, and warm, and safe, fall into the background, allowing them the fantasy that their minds are somehow independent of their bodies and the vast labor that supports and sustains them. Nestled in the comfortable cocoon that is economic privilege, their bodies become the sites of various pleasures and perhaps the occasional discomforts of the diseases that medical science has yet to ameliorate. But seldom are their bodies the sites of desperation, hunger, pain, and need. Were it not for the utter insensibility that such privilege fosters, the mayor's remarks might seem not just disingenuous, but utterly cynical.

The notion that citizenship should only be the legal right of the propertied has its roots in this sort of fantasy about ideas: reason, it is argued, is only possible when one is free from the drudgery of laboring for a living. (See Hannah Arendt's analysis of these ideas.) The frustration, anger, and rage that emerge from economic inequality, and that animate mass movements, are deemed irrational. Protesters are characterized as crazy or criminal. Their status as citizens is impugned. They are cast as a mob, as unruly and unreasonable. Often they are described as malodorous, ill-kempt, and unclean.

That is one reason that the Occupy Wall Street People's Library was such a threat. The library, along with the non-violent civil disobedience of the movement, suggests that the occupation is guided by ideas and ideals. The image of a movement that had assembled a 4,500+ volume library in just two months was starkly at odds with the media fantasies of irrational, marauding hooligans or filthy, unkempt hippies. A 4,500+ volume library that was organized, cataloged and circulating, suggests that reason, reflection, and dialog are at the heart of the occupation. A collection that included volumes inscribed by renowned authors supporting the movement suggests an alarming level of cultural resonance. Beyond that, such a distinguished and significant collection might some day be archived for historians to consider as the story of the occupation is written. But instead of continuing to circulate amongst library users, instead of being preserved for the archives of the future, much of the occupation library was crushed in the trash compactors of twenty-eight Department of Sanitation trucks that carted away the property of the occupying protesters.

OWS librarian Stephen Boyer displays a damaged copy of
Philip Levine's What Work Is that the poet had inscribed for the library.

Yesterday I attended the press conference where the librarians of the People's Library displayed the books that they had recovered from the midnight raid. Of the 4,500+ books confiscated by the NYPD and the Department of Sanitation, only about 1,300 have been returned to the librarians. And of those, a third are damaged beyond repair.  Books destroyed ranged from copies of the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita to popular potboilers and children's books. Milton Friedman and Karl Marx shared shelf space (and the protection of waterproof plastic bins) under the trees at Zuccotti Park. No book was rejected because its ideology might be at odds with that of the occupation: Andrew Carnegie's The Empire of Business was not far from Mayor Bloomberg's own memoir Bloomberg on Bloomberg.

The mayor and his administration may have been aware that the destruction of a library represented a potential PR problem.  Perhaps that's why they released a photograph via Twitter the day of the raid, suggesting that the library had been well-cared for by its temporary custodians at the Department of Sanitation.

Images from yesterday's press conference suggest otherwise. 

At a time when budget cuts have shortened public library hours and bookstores are filing for bankruptcy protection, the image of a press conference table covered with crushed and moldy volumes was more than simply disturbing. The remnants of the sacked library were a sobering reminder that, as OWS librarian Danny Norton observed, "this is a crusade to destroy a conversation." 

On this Thanksgiving Day, at tables across the country — and in newspapers, and blogs, and twitterfeeds — I'm grateful that the conversations (and occupations) will surely continue unabated.

Monday, November 21, 2011

OWS Espanol

I wanted to share an article that appeared in the Observer (10/31/11) by a student, Emmanuel Pardilla, in my Introduction to Anthropology class about his activity with OWS Espanol:

I volunteer within the overall movement of Occupy Wall Street. But I am more focused on "Occupy Wall Street en Espanol." Some of our members along with the translation working group help translate the "Occupy Wall Street Journal Newspaper" in spanish. We have a table in the park where we have people answering questions pertaining to the movement to our spanish speaking, hermanas y hermanos. The reason why I joined the group is b/c it is a given fact that the Latino community and the African American community, here in the United States are some of the most oppressed communities. I am from the Bronx, and the Bronx is one of the most oppressed and poorest communities here in all of the United States. From the hardships of an Immigrant; sacrificing so much to simply live another day. To the racial profiling experiences that our high school students face on their way to school by the NYPD. Mothers losing the seeds they planted here on the concrete jungle b/c of police brutality . Many do not understand these hardships and it is difficult to expect others to relate to those kinds of injustices. These are the injustices that most, if not all, Latinos and African Americans face here in America. We are here to represent them, so that they can relate to this struggle against a system that has oppressed the 99%. We just like the everyone else there are putting the issues that mostly effects us on the table. Occupy Wall Street is a movement but it is also a platform.

The Media portrays the movement as a predominantly white male movement, hence how most of the interviewees or the random snapshots of OccupyWall Street depicts white males in the fore front. The movement isn't being represented candidly by the media. There are women , African Americans and Latinos like myself out there like myself. There's even Indigenous people out there, and Asians that want to get involved in setting up there very own occupation in their communities. But what I am doing in all essence is trying to get people from my community (Latino and African Americans) out there. I want to be out there, I want to be on the cameras, I want them to see that they do have representation here!

The Town hall meeting was great even though I wasn't able to stay there for the bulk of it. I'm glad to see organization from students. However, I feel like this must be organic. We must look at how the CUNY students organize b/c CUNY students have been organizing against their tuition hikes, even before Occupy Wall Street, yet that type of organization is non-existent here in Fordham University, at least to my knowledge. Students are students everywhere, I feel like we as students can identify with what the CUNY students are doing. All in all, I feel like this can possibly be the beginning of something here at Fordham University.
I hope this article helps inspire the students and staff here at Fordham.
By the way, 11.11.11 Occupy Central Park

In Solidarity,
Emmanuel Pardilla

It’s Time to Start “ 99 Percent Clubs” at Your School or in Your Neighborhood to Support the Occupations

If you are part of the large and growing number of Americans who support the Occupy movement, but may or may not be able to “Occupy” yourself, you might want to form a 99 Percent Club at your school, your workplace or in your neighborhood, to organize financial, legal and political support for the Occupy movement and educate people in your community about what it stands for.

The idea for these 99 Percent Clubs came from renowned educator Ira Shor and they are modeled on the “Friends of SNCC” organization that mobilized support for the non violent Southern civil rights movement in the early 1960’s. Given that the Occupy movement is under assault from elected officials and university presidents around the country, and that people in this movement, like their counterparts in the southern civil rights movement, face arrest and beatings, along with more modern police weaponry such as pepper spray and rubber bullets, it is definitely time to create a support group to raise funds and educate the public about these brave activists

A 99 Percent Club is one vehicle that can do just that. We have called for a first meeting of such a club at Fordham and the response, from students, alumni, and staff has been overwhelming. Our Fordham group does not have a program- just a commitment to support the Occupations. So far, nearly 30 people are committed to attend

Occupy Wall Street and its counterparts around the nation have put the questions of economic inequality on the nation’s agenda for the first time since the 1960’s. And the response from policy makers has been ferocious as that of southern segregationists confronting a challenge to their way of life

It’s time for Americans who support the goals of the Occupy Movement,even if they don’t feel they can participate in it directly, to mobilize in support of popular democracy and economic justice. Forming 99 Percent Clubs is one way to do so.

If you would like to start a 99 Percent Club in your area, please email Ira Shor at with a cc to me at

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 17th Day of action

OWS is calling for a national day of direct action and celebration to mark two months since the start of the Occupy movement. It began this morning with a march at Wall St. at 7am, and is continuing with "Occupy the Subways" actions at 3pm--including the Fordham Road station in the Bronx and several in Manhattan. For those interested in knowing what's planned, here's a link

On a more straightforwardly analytic and scholarly note: the movement, however leaderless and de-centered, has produced some striking images. Below, for instance, is the poster for today's actions.  Some of the signs and images in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere have also been notable. I'm wondering if anyone has started working on a visual analysis of the movement, or has come across any good such work online or elsewhere. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Berkeley and Penn State

I've been trying to come up with a good way of articulating my intuition that there's something significant about the fact that the police violence against Occupy Cal (on the UC Berkeley campus) and the pro-Paterno riots (on the Penn State campus) happened on the same day...but I haven't really found a way of doing so that doesn't come across as stunned outrage. My best draft of a posting started with the sentence: "I wonder what those Penn State students will think about themselves years from now when they realize that--whatever their intentions--what they really did was riot in defense of child-rapists and the people who protected them." But it was hard to figure out where to go from there.

Fortunately, Dave Zirin just posted a piece in The Nation that says pretty much what I wanted to say, and more eloquently than I ever could have. I hope readers of this blog--especially students--will go and read the whole piece, but to give you a small sampling, here's how it concludes:

November 9 was a generational wake-up call to every student on every campus in this country. Which side are you on? Do you defend the ugliest manifestations of unchecked power or do you fight for a better world with an altogether different set of values? Do you stand with the Thugs of Penn State or do you stand with Occupiers of Berkeley? It’s fear vs. hope, and the stakes are a hell of a lot higher than a BCS bowl.

New York City Students in Support of Occupy Wall Street

There is a sizeable group of New York City students who are organizing in support of Occupy Wall Street.  I recently received this information from a colleague at another institution in the city:
The NYC all-student assembly meets on Saturdays in Washington Square Park at noon and is composed of students (high school, college, and postgraduate) from NYC and universities in NJ, PA, CT, VT, etc. This group has called for a student strike on 11/17 in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street (on its 2-month anniversary). There will be rallies, marches, and other actions across the city organized by trade unions, students, and activists. More info:
I wanted to share this information to keep our Fordham students in the loop on the activities of their peers across the city.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fordham and the Bronx

Why is it that there is only ONE student from the Bronx among the 45 students in my Rock and Roll to Hip Hop class?

Shouldn't Fordham be working harder to recruit students from the working class and immigrant neighborhoods outside the gates of it's Bronx campus?

Should Fordham adopt Roosevelt High School and the 5 academies inside it and do intensive programs with its students to assure that at least 50 students each year end up going to Fordham?

What do you think?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Does it matter how you're taught...economics?

Here's a link to a story about a group of students at Harvard making a connection between the way they're taught introductory economics courses and the economic policies that led to our current economic problems.

Student readers of this blog: are you being taught in ways that help you understand the ongoing crisis? Or do you feel, like these Harvard students, that you're being taught, without question, the same ideas that caused the crisis in the first place?

I am asking this question hoping not for criticism or praise of individual professors; I'm more interested in comments about, and critiques of, the ideas in your classes. Feel free to reply in the comments section below.

Police State, or the Halloween State of Exception

Last week my downtown neighborhood geared up for the the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. Usually that entails a couple of police barricades along Sixth Avenue for crowd control, a number of parade vehicles staging on side streets, and an influx of ghosts, goblins, and vampires.

But this year was different. This year whole streets were blocked off hours and hours before the parade began. After 4pm there was no traffic on Spring Street. I had to pass through three police blockades to walk home from a doctor's appointment. Still, that was no big deal: I had my identification with me.

Unfortunately it was a big deal for my daughter. She attends a school for children with special needs; she has a disability that requires that she take a yellow school bus home. Typically she arrives home around 3:45. But on Halloween she got home at 5pm, after her frantic father retrieved her from the bus that was mired several blocks from home. Her school bus had been driving round and round and round the neighborhood trying to find a way into our block to no avail. 

When I arrived home and learned about this after just having navigated my way through three police blockades, one of my seldom-deployed subject positions emerged: indignant mom of special needs child. When I called the police community affairs number they referred me to the desk of local precinct. There the desk sergeant told me that he was awfully sorry and yes there was more security in the neighborhood this year than usual.

When I countered that the neighborhood had been made less secure for my disabled minor child by the actions of the police, he conceded that perhaps they had gone overboard and that he'd look into it. He was sorry, he said. Maybe, he said, I should call them in advance when they're going to close down the neighborhood streets to let them know about my daughter.

But how would I know that you're going to close down the neighborhood streets when you haven't done this before? How am I supposed to know how your unannounced actions are going to affect my daughter's well-being?

I don't know, he said. There is a lot of security this year, he said. He'd look into, he assured me, and we concluded our deeply unsatisfying conversation.

One of the reasons that I keep my child-avenging indignation well-contained is that once it's out of the box, it's not all that easy to put it aside. With plenty of steam still coming out of my ears, I put on my shoes and headed out to find the police supervisor on the street who had prevented my daughter from getting home. As I closed the door behind me her dad called after me, Don't do it, don't go out there. I know you. You're going to get arrested. 

A blue shirt on the corner told me there were no supervisors around, but then I spotted a Community Affairs Officer over at Thompson and Spring. I walked over and told him what had happened and he was all apologies. Wow, he said, that's terrible. And it's a yellow school bus? Yes, it's a yellow school bus. You know, he said, there is a lot of security this year. I repeated my concern that preventing a yellow school bus from driving handicapped children home did not seem like a big improvement in neighborhood security.

You know, he said, there is a lot of security because of Occupy Wall Street.  They're going to try to march in the parade.

And that would be a problem because . . . ?  It's a public parade, right?

Well, they might take over the parade, he said.

And so, I said, the police think that protesters from Occupy Wall Street are going to sneak into the neighborhood on a yellow school bus carrying disabled children home from school?

No, no, they should have let the bus in, this was just a mistake, he said. I'm going to tell you something, he said, leaning in and lowering his voice in a conspiratorial tone . . . I'm going to tell you something. You're not taping me, are you? he asked.

No, I said.

Reassured, he continued.

You know, the police are a paramilitary organization.  If someone gives an order, the guys below just follow it. They don't think. They just follow the order. Someone should have opened the barricade to let the school bus through, but no one wanted to get in trouble. He paused.  Are you sure you're not taping me?

Yes, I said, I'm sure I'm not taping you.

I wish, of course, that I had been taping him. I have a very good ear for conversation, but there's nothing quite like having something on tape.

And so we read here my memory of the dialogue, in which the police community affairs officer first tries to put the blame for the disruptive neighborhood policing on the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Finding no sympathy for this tactic, he quickly switches gears and third-parties the police department (I'm with you, I'm not one of them, I don't know why they're so stupid.The police, he lets the secret out of the bag, are a paramilitary organization.

There was little more to say. I could have continued my harangue, but to what end? He was good. He was very good. He was very, very good at his community affairs job. He gave me his card. He urged me to follow-up with him.

So I went home, knowing that the ghouls, and goblins, and witches haunting my neighborhood that evening are not nearly as scary as the state of exception that allows the police to shutdown our neighborhoods because peaceful protesters might join in a parade.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Occupying Manhattan's Public Spaces, 1776 and today

An interesting historical commentary from the New-York Historical Society blog,  noting that the Sons of Liberty struggled with British authorities for control of public spaces.

As Eric Robinson notes on the blog, one of those battles culminated with the rebels tearing down and decapitating a statue of the King. Interestingly (to me) the head ended up on a stake "just outside Fort Washington in Upper Manhattan," which means it may have been right in front of my apartment building!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Historical Amnesia and the Aesthetics of Antisemitism

Who could not identify with their anger at the unfairness of it all – of an economic order that favors the rich; of politics that is utterly unresponsive to the needs of the citizenry; of a culture that celebrates the trivial at the expense of serious engagements in the affairs of our time.  More than anything, the protests in American cities, and similar protests in many other cities all over the world, testify to the failure of our democratic process.  People are taking to the streets because we lost our faith in our institutions and elected officials. All of us feel powerless. We can do nothing to change matters. We know that our votes are statistically meaningless and that the day after the elections the politicians that courted our vote will serve the lobbies that paid for their campaigns.

The crowds that gathered to protest, however, will only make matters worse. The more I learn about them, the less I’m impressed. Their devotion to consensus and belief in some mythical collective will is not only silly and impractical. It represents the worst historical amnesia possible. Weren’t we there before? Don’t they know that the worst crimes of the 20th century were committed in the name of such ideals? Have they totally forgotten how the very same idealism of the New Left in the 1960s gutted the left and led to the rise of popular conservatism? This kind of amnesia testifies to profound lack of forethought and seriousness of the protesters and their supporters.

Most alarming is the utopian aesthetics of the protest. Utopian aestheticism is the enemy of humanity. Aesthetics is about symmetry and clarity. People can’t conform to such categories. Check the declaration of principles they posted on line.
The protesters imagine some transcendent universal solidarity. They are engaged in a moral battle against a grand conspiracy that has subverted justice and freedom. Every evil on earth, from economic inequality to cruelty to animals is blamed on Wall Street. Apparently Wall Street bankers get together in secret (in cemeteries, perhaps) to coordinate quite a bit. Small wonder they are losing billions. They are too busy manipulating the banks and media, murdering prisoners, subverting freedom of the press in the US, manufacturing poisonous products, and "perpetuate colonialism at home and abroad." Oh, but if they were not there? If we could be rid of the subversive element that oppresses humanity, wouldn’t the world be a beautiful place?

The trope is unmistakably antisemitic. And while only a few of the protesters fingered world Jewry, (and yes there are Jews among the protesters and huge protests took place in Israel over the summer,) the logic and aesthetics are familiar to every student of antisemitism. We’ve been there before. We have a great deal of experience with these fantasies.

Why Police Violence Has Contributed to the Growing Strength and Diversity of Occupy Movements

The reason police brutality has become such a major issue in Occupy movements across the nation and has helped those movements to grow is that it forges a powerful connection between the white, largely middle class youth, who have been the bulwark of every Occupation movement thus far, and Black and Latino working class youth who are a sizable portion of the population of almost every city where Occupations have taken place. Most middle class white young people have not been stopped and searched for drugs and weapons when walking through their own neighborhoods; have not been roughed up, thrown on the ground, or arrested when they challenge police actions or ask for officers badge numbers, and have not been kept for two nights in lock up for minor offenses. These experiences are common in most Black and Latino working class neighborhoods and have been a source of simmering rage in these communities, but few middle class people either know or care about such things. Now however, thousands of white middle class young people have been on the receiving end of such treatment and it has had two effects. First, it has enraged them, their friends, their parents and their teachers; and second, it has forged, for the first time, an emotional as well as programmatic connection with working class youth who have been trying to get policy makers to take these issues seriously for a long time. As a result, every time there is an episode of police violence, the ranks of the protesters are swelled with two populations- white middle class people who are shocked that people like them have been treated that way, and Black, Latino and working class people who know very well that this goes on and see that an issue affecting them that has largely been in the shadows has moved into the forefront of public consciousness

In short, police violence has not only made the Occupy movements larger, it has made them far more multiracial and diverse in social class. This certainly took place in New York after the pepper spraying and mass arrest of OWS Protesters, but it also has taken place in Oakland, making that movement, in its latest phase, far more representative of the population of the city than it originally was

Dr Mark Naison
African and African American Studies

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Leaderless Movements and Democracy

Just wanted to post two OpEds I wrote for the Washington Post about the leaderless aspect of OWS and issues related to the elections and democracy.
Let me know what you think!!!


Fordham faculty discuss Occupy Wall Street and its repercussions

This afternoon I wrote to all Fordham American Studies faculty asking if anyone was interested in joining a conversation, on this blog, about the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon and its national and international repercussions. The response has been great: in just the first couple of hours, six faculty members have volunteered to participate: Robin Andersen (Communications and Media Studies) Doron Ben-Atar (History), Leonard Cassuto (English), Heather Gautney (Sociology), Micki McGee (Sociology), and Mark Naison (African and African American Studies). Other faculty may join the conversation over the coming days and weeks.

Some may post once; others may have a series of postings. Some may primarily post links to things they think would be useful for others to read; others may emphasize their own writings. Anything is fair game if bloggers think it will help students and others gain a historical, analytic, political, sociological, or other perspective on the phenomenon. All political perspectives on the events are welcome: left, right, and other. A robust and diverse discussion is the goal, though of course it will only be as diverse as the people who volunteer to contribute.

My other request to contributors is that I would prefer that the postings not be merely polemical, either cheerleading or denunciation. That's not to say they can't come from a recognizable and passionate political perspective, but my view is that one important thing an American Studies program blog can do is model for its readers--students and others--ways of talking about controversial events and issues that are analytic and civil, but at the same time don't pretend to be purely objective. However, the bloggers themselves will be the judge of what meets these standards; the only things that will be taken down are postings that violate widely recognized online ethical standards and practices--for instance, personal attacks. But I certainly don't expect anything of that sort to happen.

I'm excited to see where this conversation goes. Subscribe to/follow/bookmark/favorite this blog, and check back often--the discussion is bound to be lively! And most importantly, feel free to reply to anything you read here in the comments section!

What is a general strike?

Occupy Oakland called for a general strike on Thursday, and the most recent news shows that they succeeded in persuading many businesses in the city to remain closed, and then effectively shut down the port of Oakland--a major west coast port--by taking it over with thousands of people.

To ask American Studies questions: what is a general strike? And what is the history of general strikes in the United States? This is not my area of expertise, but here's a useful journalistic article that surveys the history, noting that the two major examples of general strikes in US history took place in 1919 in Seattle and--interestingly--in Oakland in 1946. There's an extremely useful site at the University of Washington, supervised by history professor James Gregory, with lots of information about the Seattle strike. I haven't found as comprehensive an account of the Oakland strike online; but there's an overview here.

If any readers of this blog have knowledge about the history of general strikes, or insights or experiences pertaining to related current events, please feel free to post in the comments here.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Political Dissent in a Time of (Economic) Crisis

The following statement was adopted by the council of the American Studies Association, which is the nation's oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history. The council met this weekend during the national conference in Baltimore, and the statement was read aloud by the association's president-elect, Matthew Frye Jacobson, to 500+ ASA members just before Priscilla Wald's presidential address:

Political Dissent in a Time of (Economic) Crisis

A Statement by the Council of the American Studies Association
20 October 2011
We are the public. We are workers.  We are the 99%.  We speak with the people here in Baltimore and around the globe occupying plazas, parks, and squares in opposition to failed austerity programs, to oligarchy, and to the unequal distribution of wealth and power.  The loss of jobs, healthcare, and homes, the distressing use of mass incarceration and mass deportations, and the destruction of environments have brought so many households and individuals to crisis. We join with people re-claiming commons rights to public resources.  We join in the call against privatization and for a democratic re-awakening.
As educators, we experience the dismantling of public education, rising tuition, unsustainable student debt, and the assault on every dimension of education.  As American Studies scholars, our work includes, among other things, addressing the problems and challenges societies face, drawing lessons from the past, comparing across polities, and making informed recommendations that will spark open debate.  We draw inspiration from earlier social movements that have challenged the unequal distribution of power, wealth, and authority. Today’s movements continue this necessary work. The uprisings compel us to lift our voices and dedicate our effort to realizing the democratic aspirations for an equitable and habitable world.  We are the 99%.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Graduate School Now!

Next Friday Fordham American Studies is co-sponsoring an event organized by the Comparative Literature Program for anyone who might be interested in applying to graduate school in the future. It's a panel made up of recent Fordham graduates who have gone on to M.A. and Ph.D. programs in a variety of fields. They will give brief talks about their experience getting into graduate school and will then take questions. One of the presenters is an American Studies major from the class of 2009, Allie Stryker, who went on to an M.A. in Museum Studies and American Studies and is now working in the museum world.

Details below.

The Comparative Literature Program Presents


Panel Discussion with recent Fordham alumni

for all Fordham students interested in applying to graduate school

Friday, October 14, 2012

12:00 – 1:30



Laura Barker
(MS.Ed, Hunter College; FCRH Spanish & English major, ’08)

Thomas Callahan
(M.A. Russian & Slavic Studies, N.Y.U., FCRH Comparative Lit major ’07)

Adam Kozaczka
(M.A. program in English, Syracuse, FCRH Comparative Lit major 09)

Keeran Murphy
(M.A. program in Irish Studies, N.Y.U., FCRH English major 09)

Alice Stryker
(M.A. in Museum Studies, George Washington University; FCRH American Studies major 09)

Karen Velasquez
(Ph.D. program, Teachers College, Columbia; FCRH Anthropology major 08)

generous support provided by the FCLC and FCRH Dean’s Offices
co-sponsored by American Studies, English, LALSI, Modern Languages & Literatures

Call for "Occupy Wall Street" photos

Matthew Frye Jacobson, Chair of American Studies at Yale, has for the past several years been curating the online project "Historian's Eye," a crowdsourced collection of cellphone photographs of our historical moment. Right now he's especially interested in images of the "Occupy Wall Street" actions, whether here in New York City or any of the other places around the country where they've been springing up. If you have any cellphone shots of OWS activity, please consider contributing to the Historian's Eye website. Photos can be submitted by email to, OR see the flickr instructions under the "participate" tab on the Historian's Eye website, where some OWS images are already posted. If you're a reader of this blog and you do submit photos, please let us know at; we might ask you to post them here as well.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Thursday 9/15: a lecture on food history and digital research

Food historian and digital scholar Gabriella M. Petrick will speak on "Food and the Sensory City: Using Digital History to Map Everyday Life in 20th-Century New York" at Fordham University's Bronx campus on Thursday, September 15, at 5:15pm. Dr. Petrick's talk will explore the use of geographic information systems (GIS) for research on ethnic bakeries in urban contexts. This lecture is linked to the Fall 2011 American Studies Senior Seminar on "Food and Globalization," taught by Professors Julie Kim and Oneka LaBennett.

Dr. Petrick's book, Industrializing Taste: Food Processing and the Transformation of the American Diet, 1900-1965, forthcoming from Johns Hopkins University Press, analyzes how new food processing techniques transformed the foods available to American consumers as well as how housewives incorporated these new industrial foods into their family’s diet over the course of the last century. She is also working on a second book project entitled Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter: Taste in History, for the sensory history series at the University of Illinois Press.

Dr. Petrick earned her doctoral degree from the University of Delaware as a Hagley Fellow and is currently an Associate Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and History in the Department of Nutrition, and Food Studies at George Mason University. Her interdisciplinary research on food combines the fields of the history of technology, sensory history, environmental history and the history of science. Additionally Dr. Petrick’s training at the Culinary Institute of America, Cornell University and at several wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties has shaped her theoretical approach to taste.

The recipient of many awards for her scholarship, including the Hindle Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Society for the History of Technology, the W. Gabriel Carras Award for Junior Scholars from the Steinhardt School, New York University, and a National Science Foundation Grant, Petrick also publishes in the Journal of American History, Agricultural History, and History and Technology, among other journals and edited volumes.

Dr. Petrick's lecture will take place at Fordham's Dealy Hall (Room 204) on the University's Bronx (Rose Hill) campus at 441 East Fordham Road. The closest campus entrances to access Dealy Hall are just off of Webster Avenue and East Fordham Road, or at Bathgate Avenue just north of Fordham Road. View map for directions.

This lecture is co-sponsored by the American Studies Program, the Urban Studies Program, the History Department, the English Department, the Dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill, and the Digital Humanities Working Group.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

American Studies major's play in Fringe Festival!

American Studies major Ariadne Blayde's play The Rubber Room is in the 15th annual New York International Fringe Festival! Performances are on August 18, 19, 20, 22 and 27 at Teatro LATEA (107 Suffolk Street, Suite 200, New York, NY 10002). Click the link for ticket info and times (they're different each day). Then go!

Friday, May 13, 2011

American Studies Professor Saul Cornell on "New Originalist" interpretations of the Constitution

Fordham historian and American History Professor Saul Cornell has written a forceful and clear article in Dissent criticizing those from the Supreme Court on down who claim to know "the original meaning" of the Constitution. Cornell argues that "new originalist meaning ultimately has nothing to do with history: it is a modern ideology dressed up in historical clothing." This is perhaps his most biting passage:

In the wacky world of new originalism, dissent becomes assent, minorities become majorities, and the interpretive method of the Anti-Federalist losers supplants the methods of the Federalist winners. Such creative rewriting of the past makes for interesting alternate histories, but it is not a serious scholarly methodology for understanding the historical meaning of the Constitution. It is a legal scam.

Many American studies students have taken Professor Cornell's courses in early American history or constitutional history. Especially if you're heading off to law school after you graduate--as many of you are!--have a look at the article....and write a response here on the blog, too!

Monday, April 25, 2011

A most American Studies Easter Break

Senior year is almost over. This will likely be my last blog and testament since there are a number of papers I need to finish and polish, and I was never quite as good at blogging as I should have been to begin with.

Over the Easter Break I visited the Philadelphia, described by fellow blogger and very good friend Kaylyn as the "Birthplace of America." While my Virginian sensibility kicked in at this claim (causing Kaylyn to very nearly turn the car around) I do appreciate the great historical place this city of brotherly love has for the United States (after the state of Virginia voted on independence and brought it to the Continental Congress (See 1776 for a delightful musical version of these events)).

We saw a few of the sites you would expect, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin's Grave
Here is the hilarious epitaph that Franklin wrote for himself in his youth "never intended for actual use" it lives on on a plaque next to his grave.

We walked South Street for most of its length, stopping in a recycled art store where I was very tempted to buy a bowl made from a melted record. I ate the requisite Philly Cheesesteak which, despite my fears, was actually better than the one I usually get at the bodega down the street.

So, as for the last blog and testament part. It's been an interesting four years. For any potential Fordham students or current undecided students out there, look into the American Studies program. I hear many of my friends complain that their advisor doesn't know who they are, that they feel on their own academicswise. No one in the American Studies program feels that way. The program really does become a tight knit community. I would consider all of the American Studies majors in my year a friend, and over the last three years we have watched and encouraged each other's academic growth. Prof. Gold's Major Developments in American Cultural class was a high point in my college career. There is no doubt in my mind that Prof Hendler truly cares about the success of every student in the major, not to mention his son is almost too adorable at advising meetings. Profs Aronson and Cahill were a nearly perfect combination of approaches and demeanors for the Senior Seminar.

This program gave me the freedom to chose from a wide variety of subjects (from Funk music to The Postmodern American Novel) while requiring of me a sense of academic rigor that I sense is lacking from the college experiences of some of my peers.

I'm moving out to St. Louis to freelance as an electrician in theaters with the hope of being accepted to a playwriting MFA in a years time. To a lot of people that might seem completely unrelated to American Studies, let me assure you it is not. The American Studies major provides its students with the academic discipline to achieve in any number of post-graduate pursuits. It is a major that encourages both individualism (and what could be more American) and cooperative group work towards common goals (and what could be more American). I know I have sent a few of my younger friends towards the program, and I couldn't be happier that they are continuing the pursuit. I encourage everyone to look into this major as I can't imagine having gone through the last four years in any other program. Thank you Prof Hendler, Prof Gold, Prof Aronson, and Prof Cahill, you have truly made a difference in my life and you are mentors that I will remember for years to come.

(sorry for getting sentimental)

-Taylor Riccio

Friday, March 11, 2011

Letter in the NY Times on union-busting in Wisconsin

I'm a little reluctant to use the blog for self-promotion, but I can't resist posting a link to the letter from me that the New York Times published today.

This letter came about in a sort of interesting way. I posted something very much like this on my Wall in Facebook right after reading the story about the law in Wisconsin passing, and a bunch of people "liked" it. And I asked myself why only my friends--most (but not all) of whom probably agree with me--should be reading it. So I rewrote it according to the guidelines of a letter to the editor, and sent it in...and they published it!

The lesson is: we all comment on things on Facebook, and we all post links to stories in the newspaper and other places. But sometimes maybe we should try to reach larger audiences, people we don't already know and agree with, by moving things in the other direction--from Facebook into other venues, even "old media" like the newspaper.

Writing from leave,
Professor Glenn Hendler

P.S. Apologies to Dr. Edward Cahill for the fact that the Times listed me as Director of the American studies program. My signature clearly told them that I'm on leave this semester from that position, but they didn't include that detail....

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Public Broadcasting + Proposed Budget Cuts = Public Reaction

On February 19, the House passed a bill that would eliminate all federal financing for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting by the year 2013.

However, just a few days earlier, Obama's proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year promised not a decrease, but a $6 million increase to public broadcast funding. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) President and CEO Paula Kerger released a statement saying, “Our country is confronting difficult decisions, so we’re very thankful that the Obama Administration recognizes the critical value of public broadcasting and the public service it provides to American teachers, parents and children." (PBS Statement on the President's FY 2012 Budget)

This is not the first time Congress has butted heads over potentially cutting public broadcasting, but it is perhaps the first time the ensuing debate among the public has occurred in a primary way on the Internet. I wanted to explore the public reaction in more depth (at the risk of blatantly overusing the word "public" within a single blog post.) First, however, I had to clarify some details about exactly what the cut in funding would mean.

Congress allocates money each year to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) . According to CPB's web site, "Funding for CPB helps to support more than 21,000 American jobs, which contribute more than $1 billion to the national economy." In addition, the site assures that CPB's main source of income is membership contributions, and that according to the Public Broadcasting Act, no more than 5% of federal funding can go toward administrative costs. This means that 95% of federal funds allocated to CPB go directly to stations like PBS and NPR.

In 1995, as I recently learned, a similar attempt to eliminate federal financing for public broadcasting was "thwarted by the timely appearance of Sesame Street characters and by panicked supporters who filed petitions and flooded Congressional offices with calls," as reported by the New York Times on February 27, 2011.

This time, however, in the aftermath of the bill there was an overflow of online petitions, rather than phone calls (the same style of petition being widely used to respond to proposed cuts to Americorps and Planned Parenthood). This time, even a visit to the capitol from Arthur (yes, the aardvark) did not prevent the bill from passing in the House. See below for a charming image of the PBS star with co-chairman of the Public Broadcasting Caucus, Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.

Source: New York Times (Harry Hamburg/ Associated Press)

Blumenauer argued in his letter to the House that "Public broadcasting is America’s largest classroom and we cannot force our stations to close their doors. Funding for CPB is what makes our local public TV and radio stations thrive. It’s what gives our communities a voice and provides the infrastructure that connects rural to urban." Unfortunately, he did not meet as much bipartisan support as he has in his past defenses of public media, and now the decision will be up to the Senate. So, in the meantime, what role does the public have in influencing what will be done with funding for public broadcasting?

We are being encouraged by groups like 170 Million Americans for Public Broadcasting (name taken from the number of Americans who use public media each month) to pressure our elected officials to find different areas of the federal budget to cut. They and similar activist groups hope that their online petitions will be supplemented by phone calls by supporters- but at this time in history, will the public express their feelings in venues outside of cyberspace?

From Wisconsin to Washington, DC, and everywhere in between, we have recently seen Americans respond to legislation in some of the most tried-and-true ways we recognize from civil rights protests, but we have also seen an unprecedented use of the online space for reacting via Facebook, Twitter, online petitions, emails to elected officials, and more venues that provide space, if not a location, for conversation with officials.

Even in this modern age, in which we largely accept online conversation as genuine, I have to wonder whether officials have to react in the same way to masses of emails that they must to postal mail, phone calls, and especially gatherings of actual constituents. There is a way in which earlier forms of communication required either the official or someone in their office to actively receive and deal with the public sentiment accordingly. Some feel that Internet activism is the new frontier. Our parents couldn't attend protests while sitting in class, after all, but in a few clicks, we can participate in some form of political movement even without physical presence. Critics call it "slacktivism": if we cared deeply about the issues, we would be out there making sure someone was listening, rather than simply making ourselves feel that we have participated by adding our email to a list, especially when that list may or may not reach, or have great meaning for, the elected officials in whose hands these decisions finally lie. I myself have "signed" countless petitions on Facebook and activist websites (including 170 Million Americans), without ever really being sure what my signature means or where it will go.

In addition, ironically enough, when we have more venues for mass communication than ever before, we are faced with a new problem of disunity: masses of people will not appear to be masses if they are divided in their methods of reacting. When individuals feel similarly, but have different levels of media literacy, how will they connect with one another?

Now I am left wondering: will the people who rely on public broadcasting for news, arts, and culture be able to unite- in an online space or otherwise- to convince their elected officials to restore federal funding for public broadcasting before it is too late?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Borders Sings the Blues (to the tune of bankruptcy)

Professor walks into a bookstore. Professor is looking for a copy of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Instead, Professor finds Jersey Shore’s J-WOWW signing books. A humorous anecdote told in my Literature of the West class by Professor Contreras may have incited a roar of laughter, but it should be sadly noted that, it’s funny because it’s true.

Bookstores are (and have been for some time) trading out literary icons such as Cormac McCarthy for 15-minutes of fame (or in this case, 3 seasons worth) pseudo celebrities, such as J-woww. In fact, the entire MTV reality crew is diving into the shallow pool of publishing; Snookie came out with a novel entitled A Shore Thing, while J-Woww opted for non-fiction to release her life lessons in The Rules According to J-woww.

Not only are bookstores selling out, they’re shutting down fast. Within weeks, Borders is slated to close a whole 200 stores across the country.

So who killed who first? Why all the dead Borders? While some surmise that it’s simply because people don’t read anymore, media doctors diagnose it with “a failure to understand the digital revolution.”

While back in the nineties, the battle in the world of books may have been; big chains vs. your local independent bookstore (i.e. You’ve Got Mail), now the opposing teams have multiplied thus resulting in one-huge-book-massacre. Now, it’s the big-chains versus the web, versus the ipad, the kindle, versus the fact that readers don’t read books!

The Ipad: Your new local bookstore?

Think about how much time the average person spends reading blogs, surfing the web, playing video games, watching tv in comparison to what that time-crunch may have been say, twenty even ten years ago. The media is going to war to win over your time and more importantly, you money. Why spend it on us when you can get it for free!

Media Industries Professor, Brian Rose offers some enlightenment to the situation: “The imminent death of bookstores, or more exactly chain bookstores, is, sadly, the inevitable result of overexpansion, pricey real estate (in a sour economy), and the inability to compete against online retailing. More pressingly, the continued growth of e-books (now 10% of all books sold), makes it difficult for chain bookstores to compete with the instant gratification available with a cheaper download. Very sad--but interestingly, it may mean that the only survivors are independent bookstores, who not only started the concept of book retailing, but have a much firmer grasp on how to reach their literate, neighborhood customers.”

So the demise of the chain doesn’t mean death for everyone, in fact it could mean a ressurecction for independent bookstores (like my personal favorite independent in the West Village THREE LIVES & CO.) Last year I wrote a paper in Rose's class about the demise of the Independent Bookstore and now we're bracing for its comeback? Talk about karma!

Oh, and Professor Contreras never did find that McCarthy book. Borders doesn't carry it.