To Choose: Touring Auschwitz-Birkenau

These past three days, I have had the privilege to tour both the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camps and Oskar Schindler’s Factory in Krakow, Poland.

Ever since touring the infamous concentration camps, I have been struggling with how to put the experience into words. after all, how does one describe walking on the same stretches of land where millions of people were violently mistreated and murdered?

Prior to my visit, I expected the tour to be primarily educational and, of course, a bit eerie. But, nonetheless, I expected it to first and foremost an opportunity to learn more about the horrors that the Nazi Regime brought to Poland between 1939 and 1945. An opportunity to pay my respects to the dead, to honor their memory, and then to return home and continue about my visit.

In the most basic sense, I suppose that it was a rather informational occasion. However, to describe it as such would be a terrible understatement.

Auschwitz and Birkenau are utterly chilling — haunting in a way that I had never experienced before, and never expect to experience again. Upon entering the Auschwitz camp, my guide explained that nearly 1,100,000 lives were taken there within the span of four years. She explained that the few who survived only did so after enduring unimaginable torture — both physical and mental.

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She relayed one survivor’s remark that he wished he had died in the cattle cars — among family and friends — as opposed to enduring the torturous pain of watching everyone he knew be murdered before his eyes, wondering if he would be next.  My guide explained that this man has no surviving relatives; his entire family was murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, and all that I could think was that the last time he saw his family — his mother and father and three siblings — he was standing in the very same place that I was.

He was 18 at the time. Only three years younger than I am now. That man — that boy — spent his college years in a concentration camp, while I have spent mine living in luxury…attending a top university, going out with friends on the weekends, eating Sunday dinner with my family each week, and now traveling around Europe without any fear that my friends and family may not be there when I get home.

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At the same time,  I couldn’t help but think of the startling similarities that we see between the United States today and the early days of the Nazi and Fascist regimes of the past. Of course, this is not to say that I believe we are on the verge of World War III, or that the present administration would ever go so far as to advocate for any form of cruelty that could match the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.

However, as I walked through the doorway to one of the many blocks where prisoners were kept, and saw before me the wise words of George Santayana:

“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”

I was immediately reminded of the fear and the hatred and the division that first enabled a man like Adolf Hitler to rise to power, amass such an army, and exterminate over 6 million people.

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I do not believe I am being an alarmist when I say that I see many of these same characteristics reflected in American society today.

I see Democrats and Republicans more polarized than ever. I see more and more of our politicians moving towards extremism, and I see more and more of my fellow citizens becoming so enraged with “the establishment” that they would rather put their faith in alt-right candidates like Donald Trump or, alternatively, in far-left candidates like Bernie Sanders than in our government itself.

Whether this is a problem of our democratic system, our politicians, or the electorate itself is a debate for another day. However, the fact remains the same: our country is rapidly polarizing.

We throw around mantras like “Make America Great Again” without knowing (or caring) that Hitler used the very same phrase — “Make Germany Great Again” — to instill a sense of violent nationalism in his followers. A sense of nationalism that preyed on their fears, and utilized their hate and division to ultimately drive them to violence

I see more and more hatred between my fellow Americans — whether it be on social media or on the House and Senate floors. I see more and more minority groups being demonized for America’s social, political, and economic problems over which they have no power to correct and little power to influence.

I hear our top politicians referring to blacks and immigrants and Muslims and the elite with the same aggressive tones that past leaders like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini referred to Jews, gypsies, and their respective political establishments.

I see these things, and I am afraid for my country. I am afraid of the road we may soon go down — a road marred with hate and discord and hostility.

I am afraid.

However, my fear is not the sort to effectuate paralysis. No, my fear is the sort that drives one to action. I believe with the utmost conviction that I am not alone in this fear, and I know for certain that I am not alone in my desire to act.

I have seen first hand the fear — and the subsequent action — of my fellow Americans over the past two years as we have taken to the streets to advocate for what we believe in and to demand that our voices be heard.

From our collective fear has emerged a sense of togetherness — of shared activism — and it has given me a renewed hope.

This reminds me of another thing that my guide explained during my tour of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

After being asked about what could have possibly motivated Hitler to such violent cruelty towards Jews — could it have been that he was rejected from art school in Vienna by Jews? or could he have just been raised to despise the religion? — the guide merely shrugged and explained simply that there are all sorts of rumors and myths and musings about Hitler’s motivations, but ultimately Hitler was one.

Hitler was one.

“What about his followers?” she went on to ask us. what of the hundreds of thousands of people who, blinded by their hatred and fear, bought into his extremist ideology without question?

Moreover, what of those who looked on in silence as millions of human beings were being massacred? What of those that saw, and heard, and did nothing?

Adolf Hitler was undoubtedly an abhorrently vile and cruel and insolent man, but he did not single-handedly commit mass genocide.

It was the people.

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This sentiment reminded me of another quote. My favorite quote, in fact. First expressed by a German pastor named Martin Niemoller who only actively opposed Adolf Hitler after he himself was personally affected by Nazi violence:

First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

 There is a lot to learn from his words. However, first and foremost, I think that it is a clear warning of the dangers of indifference. Of inaction. Of seeing injustice, and doing nothing to correct it.

Just as the people were the driving force behind the Holocaust, they could have just as easily been the damning opposition against it.

What it came down to was individual choices. And, unfortunately, too many people chose wrong. However, we are now in the fortuitous position to learn from their examples — to take note of their mistakes, and consciously choose not to repeat them.

And there is a certain power in that. the power of Choice.

Today, I visited another monument. The legacy of another man. A better man. A man by the name of Oskar Schindler.

Anyone who has seen the film Schindler’s List is familiar with his legacy, but this museum in his honor brought to my attention something that I had previously neglected to realize.

All of the lives that Oskar Schindler was able to save. All of the cruelty that he was able to prevent. Everything he did hinged on a single choice: would he continue to support the Nazis and act in his own best interest, or would he risk it all — put everything on the line — to save the innocent?

Oskar Schindler was one man. One man that made one choice and saved hundreds.

In his museum there is a quote — a quote that has been echoing in my head since I very first read it:

“For some, war leaves no choice.

For others, it makes choosing a must.

A small gesture can yield irreversible consequences.

it can either save a life,

or ruin it.”

This quote is represented in an art exhibition entitled the Room Of Choices at the Schindler Museum, in which it is transcribed in over forty different languages:

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May we never repeat the mistakes of our past. May we remember them, and learn from them, and choose a different path for our future. May we choose it, and may we fight for it. Tirelessly.

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Study Abroad: The Low Lights

I think that, all too often, when we talk about studying abroad (or travel more generally) it is easy to just show the highlight reel and omit all of the struggles — all of the difficulties that happen in translation as we move from one amazing experience to the next.

I know that I certainly fall into that trap.

We want to make everything look easy and effortless and struggle-free, but I would be lying if I said that my time abroad was always easy.

It wasn’t. But, then again, I guess that was never really the point. 

Studying abroad in Spain was  difficult, and at times uncomfortable, but it was also the most extraordinarily life-altering experience of my life.

I learned so much about Spanish culture and about the Spanish language while abroad, but even more importantly I learned so much about myself. 

Arriving in Spain, realizing that my Spanish language skills were absurdly inadequate, discovering how much I rely on my phone to help me navigate through my day-to-day life — it all felt like being thrown into the deep end. And, in a way I guess that is exactly what it was.

But, the thing about being thrown into the deep end is that it is one of the best ways to learn to swim.

The metaphorical highlight reel looks amazing on the outside — it is the side of our travels (and ourselves) that we want to share with facebook and twitter, our family and our friends, but in reality it is the low lights that teach us the most about ourselves.

The low lights teach us how much we can handle, and how well we can cope during difficult situations. And, I think that in many cases the low lights make the highlights seem so much more incredible, and in turn the highlights make the low lights seem all the more worth it.

Abroad at Last

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have always been plagued by an insatiable sense of wanderlust.

Ever since I was a child, I have wanted to travel the world — visit new and exciting places, experience different cultures and meet new and unique individuals. I think that, in large part, this stemmed from my love of reading as a child.

I recall coming across a quote when I was in the fifth grade that compared books to doorways — both leading to new and unknown places. And, I think for me that was always true. I had always imagined what the world outside of Oklahoma, outside of the Midwest, outside of the United States must be like.

My expectations of what it would be like to travel abroad were so high that as my departure date actually drew closer, I became increasingly more concerned that the real-life experience wouldn’t — couldn’t possibly — live up to what I had always imagined it would be.

However, to my surprise (and infinite delight) I was entirely wrong.

As it turns out, there is no amount of reading (or obsessive Pinteresting) that can prepare you for the feeling of seeing something so grand as Stonehenge, or Picasso’s Guernica, or the Eiffel Tower, or the Roman Coliseum in person. Similarly, there is no way to imagine the small seemingly-insignificant moments of travel that stick with you for weeks, months, years after you return home — a conversation with a glass maker in Rome, a chance encounter with an Oxford professor in Notting Hill on a bright Sunday morning, an hour spent wandering in an Arabian lamp shop in Toledo.

As such, I find myself at a loss for words — unable to describe the experience with any measure of success. So, instead of trying, I will let the following photographs speak for themselves:

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Carmen: el arquetipo de la seductora en España y los Estados Unidos

En la película Carmen, hay un gran número de estereotipos, especialmente sobre las mujeres.  Sin embargo, el estereotipo que me pareció ser más frecuente (y posible más problemático también) fue el de “la seductora.” Durante toda la película, Carmen es demonizado por está siendo una seductora y por influyendo los hombres típicamente muy honrados para ir por mal cambio. En verdad, en numerosas ocasiones durante la película Carmen es referida como nombres y títulos muy malas como una “siervo de Satanás,” “hija del diablo,” “una bruja” y, finalmente, “una mujer seductora.”

A pesar de estas características de Carmen, cuando una persona examina sus acciones imparcialmente, queda claro que solo raras ocasiones ella actualmente actúa diferente a sus homólogos masculinos. Por ejemplo, en la primera escena de la película, cuando Carmen entra en el patio y es saludada con las gritas muy pomposo y ofensivo de los soldados de guardia. Todos de estés soldados coquetean con Carmen sin vergüenza y hacen comentarios sobre su apariencia física y su sexualidad. Sin embargo, cuando Carmen comienza a flirtear con José, ella es inmediatamente marcado como una seductora y una tentadora

Igualmente, Carmen es reprobada por el narrador masculino por utilizando los sentimientos lujuriosos de José a su ventaja cuando ella está tratando a escapar de la cárcel.  En comparación, cuando José es agarrado visitando Carmen en el burdel por su oficial superior, él ni siquiera trata de escaparse. En cambio, el apuñala el soldado y le mata sin un pensamiento. Todavía, José no es demonizado pero victimizado; en vez de ver su violencia y tendencias asesinas como problemático, la audiencia está influido para verlo como un personaje simpático que ha sido descarriado. De alguna manera, Carmen – la mujer – es vista como culpable por las acciones de José en vez de José su mismo.

Otro ejemplo del arquetipo de la seductora entra en jugar circa del final de la película, cuando Carmen desarrolla sentimientos por el apasionado matador después de su incesante búsqueda de ella. Primero, es muy importante para notar las similitudes obvias entre Carmen y el matador para entender la hipocresía de la situación totalmente. Como Carmen, el Matador es muy bullicioso y coqueto y frecuentemente vestido en rojo. También, el matador es bastante desdeñoso del facto que Carmen tiene las afecciones de otro hombre. Su falta de preocupación refleja la irreverencia de Carmen sobre normas y convenciones sociales – sobre todo, el compromiso de José de servicio a los militares. En cierto modo, se podría decir que Carmen su mismo fue tentado por el matador en la misma manera que ella primero tentó José. Sin embargo, a diferencia de José y el matador, Carmen creída responsable por sus acciones y no le dan ninguna compasión o simpatía por el narrador o la audiencia.

Otra gran ironía del caso entre Carmen y el matador y, más específico, de la opinión de José sobre el caso entre los dos es que Carmen nunca le prometió que eran en una relación exclusiva (o incluso que estaban en una relación en absoluto). En verdad, Carmen fue muy claro sobre el facto que ella no quería una relación muy seria – con matrimonio o hijos – con él. Carmen nunca le prometió José nada y ella hizo sus opiniones sobre las ideas de matrimonio de José muy claro cuando ella se burló de su propuesta de matrimonio y le dijo directamente en diversas ocasiones diferentes que no estaba allí para el amor. En este aspecto, Carmen es posible un poco más honesto que es estrictamente necesario, sin embargo, ella todavía se considera una mentirosa.

Esta falaz caracterización de Carmen es aumentada por sus características físicas. En el primer parte de la película, el narrador dice que la mujer moreno ideal tiene tres características negras, tres características blancas, y tres características rosas, así establecimiento una estándar de la belleza femenina que es casi completamente inalcanzable. Sin embargo, Carmen es representado en la película como la mujer perfecta – parece a tener cada una de las características puestas en una lista. En verdad, ella está hecha para superar todos los estándares de belleza con sus Pechos grandes y curvilínea físico que los soldados mencionan muchos tiempos durante la película. Además, la ropa que Carmen es retratada en acentúa estés características.

También, en una escena particular, Carmen baila a la Flamenco en frente de muchos soldados, y se hace claro que la mayoría de los soldados (si no todos) encuentran su fascinación y que los lujuria después de ella. Las características físicas y los trajes sexuales de Carmen llaman un otro estereotipo en cuestión. Uno podría asumir que por bailando el flamenco, vistiendo ropa escandalosa, y coqueteando con un soldado esporádico, Carmen es, en facto, una seductora. Sin embargo, también es posible para discutir que en este momento Carmen solo fue una Cigarrillo chica tratando a ganarse una vida y bailando con sus amigas.

Como se podría esperar, el estereotipo de la seductora no es único a la película Carmen o a la cultura española tampoco. Al contrario, el estereotipo es profundamente arraigada en casi todos culturas en el mundo – incluyendo en Los Estados Unidos. Mucha gente cree que este estereotipo es basado en la historia de la creación de Adán y Eva en el Jardín de Edén y el primer pecado. Considerando esto, no es sorprendente que este estereotipo es más frecuente en el oeste parte del mundo y especialmente en Los Estados Unidos y Europa (considerando como popular el cristianismo es en este parte del mundo).

En la historia de Adán y Eva, Eva es la primera tentada por el diablo para comer de la fruta prohibida por Dios en el Jardín de Edén. Demostrando poca moderación, Eva consiente a comer la fruta e va para ofrecer alguien de la fruta a su contraparte masculina. Como Eva, Adán no demuestra mucho control de su mismo, y rápidamente acepta la fruta por Eva y come también. Sin embargo, cuando traído ante Dios, Adán es muy rápido para culpar Eva y denunciar ella como una seductora que engañó el para comer la fruta, cuando en realidad los dos son igualmente culpable y la persona que es actualmente responsable es el diablo.

Puede ver el mismo estereotipo refleja en la literatura y la industria cinematográfica en Los Estados Unidos hoy y, desafortunadamente, este estereotipo es usado en las políticas también – muchas veces para justificar el mal trato de las mujeres. Por ejemplo, en los 1960’s el presidente de los Estados Unidos creado una historia sobre una mujer que el describió como “la reina del bienestar.” A pesar de que la historia fue totalmente falsa, la mayoría de los ciudadanos de los Estados Unidos le creyeron porque es tan profundamente arraigado en nuestra cultura e historia para desconfiar las mujeres y esperar ellas para mentir y manipular otros para beneficio personal. Por esta razón, pienso que el estereotipo de la seductora es muy perjudicial a las mujeres alrededor del mundo.

 

Cyber Warfare: the Gateway for Authoritarian Regimes?

During the Spring semester, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Dr. Ron Deibert of the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab about the power and influence of Cyber Warfare in the modern age — and issue that is undeniably prevalent in our day-to-day lives today.

Before breaching the issues of cyber warfare and internet security more broadly, Dr. Deibert first explained what his work has focused on throughout his career — explaining that it has primarily centered around the human rights concerns that have developed in the digital age.

Dr. Deibert explained that while these concerns vary rather significantly (touching on everything from media censorship to government surveillance to cellular privacy)  they are all equally important, and perhaps most frightening, equally at risk.

Dr. Deibert went on to discuss how the media and the internet have evolved throughout the last two decades — pointing out that with every year our societies are becoming more and more connected on the local, national and global levels.

Dr. Deibert posited that while there are certainly benefits to this new-found connectivity, it comes with innumerous risks that could potentially outweigh the benefits. Perhaps one of Dr. Deibert’s most insightful points was that our level of global connectivity is increasing at a rate that outpaces our capacity to secure our data.

What I found to be most interesting about Dr. Deibert’s presentation was the way in which he linked this lack of cyber security with the resurgence of authoritarianism in the present-day political arena.

Citing numerous examples from recent campaigns in Europe and the United States, Dr. Deibert concluded that this rise in authoritarianism is due in large part to the increasing prominence of digital media in the modern world, and the government’s virtually unlimited capacity to not only survey but also directly influence the media and thus propagate their nationalistic agendas.

 

 

English as a Second Language Tutoring

This spring semester, in preparation for my summer abroad studying in Spain, and as my meager contribution to the Oklahoma Public School System,  I decided to sign up to be an ESL tutor at a local elementary school.

I did so for two distinct reasons: first, based on the age-old principle that “the best way to learn is to teach” and second, because I can only imagine how difficult it would be to not only be expected to learn a second language at the age of eight, while simultaneously being expected to learn the other various concepts taught in the 3rd grade.

In the end, both of these goals were thankfully achieved and my expectations of the ESL Tutor program were not only met, but far exceeded.

I discovered that it is true what they say — you do not fully understand a concept, until you are able to teach it to someone else. And, as it turns out, I do not know nearly as much about the Spanish language as I originally thought. In fact, I think that I probably learned just as much from the 3rd graders I tutored as they learned from me.

If nothing else, I believe that tutoring showed me my weaknesses in Spanish, and so enabled me to work on the aspects of the language that I was struggling with prior to actually going to Spain.

At the same time, I discovered how extraordinarily gifted and talented these young students are, despite the fact that they oftentimes struggle in the classroom due to the language barrier between themselves and their teachers.

I think that it is oftentimes easy to discount the intelligence of these children as opposed to investing in their educations and providing them with the resources necessary to succeed. It is all too common that we view these children as a burden on the system, instead of as the future assets that they will be in our societies.

Voces Inocentes

This past spring semester, I attended a showing of the 2004 Mexican film Voces Inocentes. The film depicts the events of the Salvadoran civil war; however, unlike many war movies, it does not focus so much on the war itself as the tragic effects that the constant threat of violence had on the impoverished people of El Salvador — and specifically the Salvadoran children.

The film is primarily centered around an eleven-year-old boy named Chava, who is deeply afraid of his twelfth birthday. Like many of his peers, Chava fears that turning twelve will mean he will be forced to join the military voices against his will — as a child soldier.

Each week at school, all of the twelve-year-old boys are rounded up by a group of soldiers and escorted onto military vehicles and away from their friends and family without so much as the opportunity to say goodbye. On rare occasions, the boys do return to their village; however, they do not return as children, but as young men — hardened by war and violence and death.

On one such occasion, one of Chava’s friends returns to the village fully clad in military gear with an AK47 rifle strapped across his chest. Initially, Chava and the other village boys are thrilled to see their old friend, but as the day passes by the boys become more and more aware of their old friend and one-time classmate’s new position.

As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that the young boys have few options before them — they can either join the rebel forces prior to their twelfth birthday (thereby avoiding the government draft) or they can bide their time until the military comes and abducts them from their schools and forces them into the military.

However, Chava’s mother hopes for a better life for her son. Knowing that the war will continue to rage on — permeating her village (and El Salvador as a whole) with violence — Chava’s mother is adamant that she wants her son to leave the country all together, even if that means that she is forced to part with her eldest child and, likewise, Chava is forced to part with everyone and everything that he has ever known.

I think that, in today’s political climate, we are quick to lump all immigrants into the same box — as trespassers in need of a firm reprimand and a ticket back home. Many believe that all immigrants are coming from Latin and South America willingly — as if they want to leave their homes and families behind to start over in a foreign country with no connections.

Of course, more times than not, this is not the case.

Nobody simply chooses to leave their home, their family, their life, out of boredom.

This film was a firm reminder to me of the conditions that many people around the world — and specifically in Latin and South America — are forced to endure. A reminder of the impossible choices that mothers are forced to make — whether to send their children off to war or to a foreign land. A reminder to look at all immigrants with a certain measure of empathy and compassion, as opposed to a blatant dismissal of their dignity and human rights.

After watching this film, I find myself even more distraught over President Trump’s immigration policies. However, I find myself equally as determined to fight for a better solution for not only American Immigrants, but also those that are unable to escape the violence and war that plagues their communities and threatens their families.

 

OK Teacher Walkout

On April 2nd, teachers from around the state of Oklahoma walked out of their classrooms and marched on the Oklahoma state capitol — protesting the last decade of cuts to education and demanding that Oklahoma legislatures provide adequate funding for public education, so as to allow teachers to give their students a quality education. The walkout has now continued for nearly two weeks, as tens of thousands of teachers return day after day to advocate for their students and for the future of our state.

I, too, have spent many days up at the capitol in support of educators in their endeavor and, initially, I wasn’t entirely sure as to why. After all, I haven’t been a student in the OK public school system for nearly 3 years now, I’m not a teacher, and I have no intention of becoming a teacher. It wasn’t until day 3 of the walkout during House session when Representative Scott Inman asked “Why are you here?”  to everyone sitting in the chamber’s gallery, that I really began to consider it. Was I just at the capitol to be a part of the hype — to be a part of the movement — or was I there for something more?

It was in that moment that I remembered something else that Representative Inman had said to me nearly four years ago, in the midst of a different education crisis, while I was paging in the House of Representatives. After sitting in on weeks worth of House floor meetings, listening to the GOP’s seemingly endless debate on the merits of 3rd grade testing (much to my distaste), my page group had the chance to talk to both representative Enns and Representative Inman.

Representative Enns spoke to our group first, explaining that our education was a top priority for the Oklahoma legislature and that the Department of Education was one of the most well-funded in the state. He said that I should be proud of the education I was receiving in the OK public school system and, at the time, I was. At the time, I didn’t realize that it was irregular not to have updated textbooks or, in some cases, any textbook at all. I was unaware, at the time, that it was out of the norm to have more than 22 students in a class. And, at the time, I only knew that I had excellent teachers — I did not realize that many of them were working 2+ jobs, and oftentimes struggling to make ends meet.

Representative Inman, on the other hand, was not so blindly optimistic (or blatantly deceitful). He, too, emphasized the importance of our educations and encouraged us all to work hard in school. However, he then went on to tell us some of the facts, like that the Department of Education had been cut annually for the previous five years. He ended the discussion by saying something that has stuck with me ever since. He said: “We are fighting for your education, and the time will come when you might have to fight for your education as well.” As a Senior in high school, I was not overly concerned by this statement. In fact, I disregarded it almost entirely when he said it.

However, two years later, as a student of Economics at the University of Oklahoma, I began to understand what he had meant. I began to understand that the best way to stimulate the economy was to increase government spending on social services like education, health care, transportation, and public security. After coming to this realization, it became increasingly difficult for me to understand why the legislator refused to stop handing out corporate tax breaks to the wealthy while simultaneously de-funding key services that benefit of middle- and low-income families.

I realize now that education is not merely a “teacher issue” or a “student issue;” it is a societal problem, and it impacts all of us. After all, if we fail to fund the education of Oklahoma’s youth today, we will most assuredly pay the price in the future.  This point is made perfectly by the fact that Oklahoma is ranked 48th in education funding and 1st in incarceration. We fail our children from the start, and then we lock them up as punishment for our mistakes. This is a fact that I am simply no longer willing to ignore.

That is why I have spent the last eight days up at the capitol — waiting for hours on end to speak with legislatures, researching tax policy, and reading proposed legislation. The time has come to fight — not for my own education, but for the educations of the thousands of children in Oklahoma that are still in the public schools system. The fight has been difficult, and at times discouraging, as Republican legislators continuously deny the requests of Oklahoma’s teachers to fund the future of our state (despite their obligation to represent the interests of their constituents).

Nonetheless, witnessing OK teachers’ unwavering tenacity in the face of a near-total lack of action by legislatures during these challenging days has been one of the most inspiring and life-changing events of my life. Seeing teachers arrive to the Capitol day after day at the break of dawn, even before their legislators, crowding the halls of the capitol to max capacity and surrounding the building with signs in hand no matter rain, shine, or snow, has given me a renewed sense of faith in the future of our state. I am confident, for the first in years, that our state is on the path to prosperity. I am confident that we will no longer allow our elected officials to place their loyalty to corporate interests and the 1% above their civic responsibility to their constituents. And, if our legislatures refuse to represent our interests, I am now confident that we will have the courage and the resolution to replace them with others who do.

I, like many others I know, was deeply disappointed to hear that the Oklahoma Education Association had pulled their support for the teacher walkout despite our legislator’s and governor’s outright refusal to address (or even consider) our concerns about common education. Certainly, in passing HB 1010xx the legislator took a monumental step in the right direction, but it would be a severe overstatement to assume that this step was enough of an investment into public education. On the contrary, since the beginning of the walkout on April 2nd the legislator has not raised any additional funds for education — only repealed the Hotel/Motel tax that would have raised ~$50M and replaced it with an Amazon tax that is estimated to raise only ~$20M, resulting in a net loss of $3oM for teachers and students.

Despite this obvious funding discrepancy, some Republican legislators and the governor have been adamant in their claims that, by continuing the walkout and demanding additional funding, teachers are being selfish and behaving like “teenagers” that want a better car. Choosing to shut their eyes to reality, these legislators insist upon ignoring the hard facts: that educators were never fighting for a higher pay raise, but for a better future for the state of Oklahoma. Republican legislators have made the same promise day after day: that there is no budget hole and that any revenue reallocated in year 2 will be substituted with new growth revenue, knowing full well that it would be infinitely better to fully fund education now and allocate any additional growth revenue towards the multitude of other departments that have been similarly cut throughout the last decade, as opposed to relying on a revenue that may or may not be generated in the next fiscal year.

For this reason, I will not be reverting back to business as usual on Monday. I, alongside hundreds of parents, concerned community members, and teacher delegations, will continue to pressure my legislators to pass either the capital gains repeal or 0.25% income tax increase as well as a Wind GPT for as long as it takes. And, if at the end of our efforts, legislators are still intent on obstinacy and unwilling to compromise, I am prepared to work with educators to file initiative petitions to allow the electorate to vote on the issues that the legislator refuses to. Furthermore, I am fully intent on campaigning against those legislators whom have proven themselves to be unwilling to represent their constituents’ best interest.

I believe in the Oklahoma public education system. I believe in Oklahoma students and educators. And, more than anything, I believe in the future of this once-great state. That is why I have spent my last eight days at the capital, that is why I will continue to protest come next week, and that is why I will continue to fight for as long as it takes to restore Oklahoma to greatness. That is why I am here.

Three Perspectives on the Cold War

Often times in American history, we are taught to view historical events from a single perspective. However, it is important that we take into consideration various international standpoints as we analyze events such as the Cold War. For example, President Truman, Soviet Ambassador Novikov and Indian Prime Minister Nehru interpreted the Cold War and their roles in it completely differently. In order to fully grasp the Cold War and its extreme complexity, one must consider each of these men’s viewpoints.

For instance, According to President Harry Truman, The Cold War was the result of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union’s desire to spread communist values internationally. Up until the Russian Revolution there were only two prominent ways of organizing a society – monarchies and democracies. Many citizens across the globe were intrigued by the prospect of communism and the value that it placed on justice as opposed to the value of equality which was most important under the capitalist system. President Truman believed that the United States was obligated to protect fellow democracies – such as Greece and Turkey – from potential Communist insurgencies supported by the USSR. He proposed in the Truman Doctrine that this should be achieved through a system of containment which would allow communism to exist where it had already been established, but prevent its further expansion. President Truman states in his doctrine that, “No other nation is willing and able to provide the necessary support for democratic government[s].” He is not wrong about this, Europe was in a state of both political and economic unrest after WW2 concluded in 1945 and would not have been able to enter into a confrontation with such a powerful and economically independent nation as the Soviet Union. For this reason, President Truman believed that it was the United States’ duty to “support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities [Communist insurgents] or by outside pressures.” In this way, Truman deemed the United States as the world’s sole protector in the face of communism and felt an obligation to defend democracy – freedom.

In comparison, Soviet Ambassador Nikolai Novikov believed that the United States was using Europe’s instability and economic dependency as a way to subtly create an “American Monopoly Capital,” and subsequently achieve world domination. Ambassador Novikov believed that the United States significant military expansions and the establishment of a substantial peace time army directly following the conclusion of WW2 was evidence of this plan. His claim was not unreasonable, and the Soviet Union’s initial concern over the United States’ decision to not demobilize was not entirely unwarranted.  According to Ambassador Novikov it was due to this fear that the USSR created “broad plans for expansion [were] developed.” Following WW2, the Soviet Union was one of the only global powers apart from the United States to “continue to remain economically independent,” and for this reason the USSR felt that it was the only nation strong enough to stand up to the United States and prevent the United States’ post-war world domination. Ironically, both the United States and the Soviet Union felt that they were spreading positive values – that they were doing the right thing for the international community.

However, the events of the Cold War are possibly best explained by Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who asserted that if the world was divided into two polarized sides, “the inevitable result would be war.” Prime Minister Nehru feared that if he were to submit to either of these sides – “communism” or “anti-communism” – he would lose his identity. He believed this because he did not fully agree with either side’s position; for this reasons, he chose to maintain a policy of nonalignment under which he claimed that India would not become involved in a war “unless we have to defend ourselves.” Prime Minister Nehru argued that for Asian and African states, who just recently earned their independence from the imperialist European powers, to submit to either the United States or the Soviet Union would be “to degrade [and] humiliate themselves.” So, as you can now see, each of these three men had drastically different perspectives on the motives behind the Cold War, and what their role in the war should be. These perspectives differed according to both nationality and ideology and they worked to dramatically influence the both the reality of the Cold War as well as the ultimate result of it.

King Leopold’s Legacy in the DRC

Slavery is deeply entrenched in our worlds history, and has taken many different forms throughout time – some more overt than others. One of the most audacious, and unknown, instances of slavery is that of the Congolese people under King Leopold II. Under the guise of philanthropic and progressive action, King Leopold II laid claim to the Congo in 1885 and proceeded to enslave many of its indigenous tribes – forcing them to provide free labor to Belgium for his own personal gain. King Leopold misconstrued the African continent (and more specifically the Congo) as an area plagued by violence and savagery; he utilized the ever-popular “white-savior complex” to convince the international community that if Belgium colonized the Congo, the indigenous tribes would benefit from the introduction of European systems of health, education, etc. and the Christian faith. The colonization of the Congo by Belgium, and the remainder of Africa by various other European nations, severely impeded Africa’s ability to progress independently due to the creation of colonies (and eventually countries) that did not take into account the natural borders created by the indigenous tribes of the continent. While the European nations developed rapidly during and after the Industrial Revolution, African countries lacked the necessary freedom to benefit from the revolution. For this reason, we still see an extensive amount of slavery in Africa today – much of which shares commonalities with the slavery practiced by King Leopold II.

With the increasingly industrial nature of Europe during the 1800’s, many European leaders began looking to expand their nations through colonization – among them was King Leopold II of Belgium. However, at the end of the 17th century, there was only a limited amount of land left – primarily in Africa. King Leopold focused his colonization efforts on what would come to be known as the Democratic Republic of Congo and, while Leopold promoted the colonization as both scientific exploration and philanthropy, it was truly a brutal system of slavery. After coming to the realization that the DRC was host to a plethora of ivory – a highly sought after (and thereby expensive) commodity of the time – Leopold recognized the potential profits that the resource could bring Belgium, and so demanded that massive quantities of ivory be harvested – often times with the infamous brutality of the Force Publique.

In order to do this, King Leopold required the legal rights to the land and game of the Congo, and so tricked the tribal chiefs into signing away their ownership in return for nearly-worthless trinkets and gems. Furthermore, Leopold then continued to enslave the indigenous tribal groups of the area – using them as a labor force that enabled him to exploit the entirety of the colony (nearly four times as large as Texas). Ironically, Leopold managed to gain international support for Belgian colonization of the Congo under the pretense of “stopping the slave trade,” leading the United States and many of world leaders to recognize the legitimacy of Belgium’s claim on the Congo. In its entirety, King Leopold’s ploy was simply a hugely-successful campaign of misinformation that increased his wealth exponentially.

Unfortunately, there are many parallels between King Leopold’s system of slavery in the Congo, and the modern forms of slavery that we see around the world today. Much like during colonization, globalization has led to the expansion of Western corporations into developing nations in order to reduce the cost of production by taking advantage of laxer labor restriction. However, what many people are unaware of is that many of these corporations pay their workers nothing at all – opting instead to enact a system of forced servitude. In the words of Kevin Bales, in his book Disposable People, “consumers do look for bargains, and they don’t usually stop to ask why a product is so cheap” (Bales). Unbeknownst to the majority of people, many of the commodities that we use in our day-to-day lives – sugar, cotton, jewelry, glass, cellphones – are the products of slavery. However, while we are quick to denounce the slavery in our history books, many people would prefer to remain indifferent to the flourishing systems of slavery that are thriving around the world today – we are all too eager to look the other way so long as we can continue our lives unaffected.

Much like the indigenous tribes of the Congo, victims of modern-day slavery are often initially deceived into slavery – lured in with false promises of paying jobs, and better lives for themselves and their families. In addition, many young children are merely abducted from their families and trafficked into slavery while they are still young. Once enslaved, victims are treated with similar forms of brutality employed by King Leopold during his reign in the Congo. Slaves are required to work under intolerable conditions for exceedingly-extended hours in order to meet nearly-unachievable quotas. These men, women, and children are abused both mentally and physically. The enslaved Congolese people were forced to meet rubber quotas, some even resorting “to digging up roots in order to find enough rubber to meet their quotas” in order to avoid the chicotte. modern slaves are also held to unreasonably high standards of production that force them to risk their health to meet (Hochschild). Furthermore, modern-day slaves are forced to work inhumane hours in dangerous conditions without the adequate protections necessary to preserve their health.

In both the case of King Leopold’s Congolese slavery and modern-day slavery around the world, political and economic interests were (and continue to be) merged into a complex that allows slavery to continue unchecked by the government. King Leopold exercised total political control in Belgium, and used his power to facilitate the economic gain of both his country and himself. For this reason, slavery in the Congo continue (and expanded) for many years under the pretense of Christian philanthropy and technological progress – the system benefitted both the political and economic interests of Belgium. Of course, the corporations that implement slavery in the modern world do not often have direct control over the government; however, they do have access to a level of indirect control by providing financial resources to political leaders in return for government approval to continue using slave labor to produce their commodities. Obviously, this political-economic complex invites an extensive amount of corruption into the government; the results of which are perhaps best explained by Dr. Kevin Bales: “When the police become criminals, slavery can take root” (Bales).

Perhaps the most notable similarity between the slavery enforced by King Leopold in the Congo and modern forms of slavery is that each masquerades as technological and societal progress. Under King Leopold, the Congolese were forced to build an extensive railway system throughout the colony – the likes of which the world had not yet seen – and collect huge amounts of ivory and rubber – some of the most highly coveted commodities of the time. To the outside world, each of these things seemed to be significant advances for Belgium. However, what the world did not know until much later was that, although King Leopold presented a front of progress, it was simply a façade to cover what would soon come to be known as “a crime against humanity” (Hochschild). In both cases, the outside world is easily deluded due to its extreme focus on the end result – a railroad, ivory, a chocolate bar, a cell phone, etc. – and its near-total disregard for the process by which it is produced. As Kevin Bales explains in his book Disposable People, while the commodities produced by slaves have incredible value in our society, the slaves themselves are disregarded – their value stolen away from them – their identities stripped, and their voices smothered until they are practically invisible.

Fortunately, there are many people who have fought, and continue to fight, for the rights of those enslaved both in the past and the present. Take Edmund Morel, a Liverpool Shipping Line employee who noticed that many of the goods being transported to Belgium from the Congo were the result of slave labor and had a “flash of moral recognition” that motivated him to take preventative action that eventually lead to the formation of the first-ever international human rights movement of the time (Hochschild). Even Hochschild, author of King Leopold’s Ghost, himself had a flash of moral recognition while reading a quote from Mark Twain that motivated him to research the odious crimes committed by King Leopold in the Congo, and become heavily involved as a journalist in the human rights movement. Many others also continue to join the fight to shine a light on modern-day slavery and eradicate the “crime against humanity” that has been allowed to go on for so long.

 

Works Cited

Bales, Kevin. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Berkeley, CA: U of       California, 1999. Print.

Hochschild, Adam. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial   Africa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.