The Iranian Youth’s “Non-Movement”

Subversive youth cultures have existed throughout human history and across the globe. In fact, most changes and developments in “acceptable” human behavior can be attributed to “non-movements” or “silent protests”. By not actively opposing the regulations already in place, youths are able to spread ideas and the like farther without arousing ire from those in power. Because of this, there is also little that can be done by authorities to prevent “youth culture” from spreading. In recent decades, Iran has displayed this phenomenon consistently through a variety of actions opposing the country’s status quo.

Underground, silent protests are most effective when they remain under the radar of the conflicting establishment. When a particular set of behaviors have been adopted en masse, it’s much more difficult to control a large number of people all participating in it. For instance, when Iranian youths began dating, people under 30 years old made that change in a relatively short period of time. Therefore, the regime couldn’t realistically prevent so many from engaging in an activity they didn’t approve of. This, then, would lead to other behaviors cropping up across the nation and the regime would be forced to continue turning a blind eye to it in order to keep the peace. However, this then instilled a sense of courage in the Iranian youth to continue pushing the boundaries of what they could “get away with” and eventually, some began to question the regime in a more direct manner.

Subversive culture integration techniques aren’t new in human society, but the Iranian youth have shown that it continues to be effective, no matter how ancient.

More On My Co-Presidency

So, it’s been almost five months since I have begun my position as co-president of OU’s French Club. So far, it’s been nothing if not interesting. Between finding interesting topics for meetings, budget mishaps, deadlines missed by my (our) predecessor, and an inconsistent membership base; it can sometimes be hard to remember that I chose to do this because I love French Club. Common knowledge upholds the idea that once something you were going to do anyway becomes a chore, you lose interest and motivation. Thankfully, that has yet to happen in this regard, but I can feel my enthusiasm waning with each new meeting with a group attendance below ten.

Fortunately, those who do attend club meetings are very positive, curious people who are always willing to follow along to whatever experimental idea my three presidential peers and myself have concocted for that particular week. Thus far we have attempted group-reading French children’s books, French slang lessons presented by our wonderful French exchange members, and en-masse discussions of French culture. Most people, one can assume, would question the practicality of leaving four underclassmen in charge of a university-sponsored program with little to no oversight, but we have taken all that has been thrown at us so far including being excluded from university funding, having only one leader with a considerable knowledge of our associated language, and even having to find an emergency replacement to fill our faculty liaison position. However, j’adore mon club et sa spontanéité.

*Rien n’est jamais parfait.*

Teachers’ Strike (Oklahoma 2018)

The American education system is a source of shame in the eyes of many across the nation and there is just cause for concern. Over the past few decades, most other developed countries have surpassed the United States in terms of performance, quality of education, quality of facilities, teachers’ pay, and student health. Of course, there are some areas where these things are of a much higher quality than others, but the overall average of America is poor at best. Unfortunately, Oklahoma falls at almost rock-bottom within the already abysmal American system.

It’s an all too common sight to see teachers paying out of pocket for necessary supplies for their classrooms and sometimes even resorting to begging for charitable donations to do so. State budgeting has cut the funding an estimated 28% in the last decade alone. Due to the overwhelming lack of funding for education in the state, classrooms that do not receive this “self-treatment” from the teachers who occupy them remain bare and without even the most basic things that most would deem necessary for any schoolroom anywhere. These things range from chalk/markers and informational posters to pencils and workbooks. Things many consider vital to the elementary and secondary education experience are missing and have only one real source to look to. With all of these added expenses in mind, the teachers’ salary appears to be even less.

Ranked 49th (out of 50) in the United States, public school teachers make less than $50,000 a year in Oklahoma. Not only does that impact the quality of life teachers can lead, but the lack of monetary pay-off keeps many from choosing a career in education. As a result, there simply aren’t enough teachers, so other routes are taken to fill those classrooms. One seemingly popular tactic is to issue “emergency certifications” which means, in theory, a nurse could be asked to teach biology despite not being trained as a teacher. Anyone with experience as a peer tutor can explain that understanding a subject doesn’t mean trying to teach it will be successful.

These and other issues have compounded over the previous years and teachers have reached a breaking point. A concept even some elementary students understand has driven these educators to the decision of a walk-out. If any child over the age of 12 is asked, and sometimes even much younger, they can tell you that their school makes money based on their standardized test scores. This is another complaint from teachers all over the United States that is being questioned on the federal level. The federal government grants money to states to then give to schools that perform well on standardized tests. So, the quality of education is impacted as teachers are then forced by the administration to “teach to the test” and compromise the education they are giving their students. In protest of this, the other issues mentioned, and many more; Oklahoma teachers chose to “walk-out” at the beginning of April which is when standardized testing begins. Therefore, if the state government doesn’t meet their demands, federal dollars flow out of their pockets. And they wouldn’t want that, would they?

Overpopulation and the Effects Thereof

The world’s population has become an increasingly worrying subject for many across the globe. With estimations predicting a global population of 8.1 billion in only seven years and an increase to 9.6 billion during the twenty-five years afterward, there would simultaneously be a drastic increase in issues we face today. Global warming, for example; if the population increases in such a significant way, then the carbon footprint left by humans inevitably increases as well because there are more people contributing to it. However, some of the biggest issues directly tied to population size involve the dispersing of wealth as in the global financial crisis and wealth disparity.

Wealthy families tend to produce one or two children if any at all while impoverished families continue to have large families due to many factors often related to wealth. Wealthier communities tend to have increased access to family planning, sexual education, contraceptives, etc. as well as the idea that those who choose to can achieve their goals before starting a family. Low-income communities generally do not. This results in increased teen pregnancy, marrying young, and large numbers of children which in turn means that those people are trapped in low-income communities. Large families take up a substantial amount of money to care for, thus saving money is more difficult which prevents these people from climbing the financial ladder to an improved income bracket. Furthermore, poor communities have underfunded public education which is what a vast majority of those children rely on. Sub-par education limits the chances of higher education which, again, prevents these people from rising financially.

While the wealthy are able to provide private, superior education to their small number of children and save their wealth for the future, thereby making their children even more wealthy, impoverished families are forced to exist within the tragic cycle of sub-standard public education

and the vast effects of it. People from poor communities cannot save money because they have to provide for the large families they produce often because of “abstinence only” (a.k.a. non-existent) sexual education in school and a genuine lack of family planning/contraceptive care. Without these things, poor families will continue to grow and remain poor while the wealthy grow fewer and ever wealthier.

Thus, a tri-fold result occurs. The overall global population increases which results in devastating effects on the environment and general human sustainability. Even currently there isn’t enough wealth circulating to adequately care for all of humanity because it’s hoarded by the top 1%, so the rich getting richer will only increase that problem. Finally, with the impoverished population growing rapidly and the wealthy population remaining stagnant and/or shrinking, there will be even more people living below the international poverty line while, somehow, even fewer people control a majority of the world’s wealth. Therefore, wealth disparity increases while overall average quality of life decreases. What a prospect for humanity.

Parkland Activism

The aftermath of the school massacre in Parkland, Florida saw an incensed group of teenagers taking the reins in the forcibly stagnant conversation about gun control. Stoneman Douglas students have organized rallies, marches, speeches, and more in an attempt to finally force a decision to be made about gun control in the United States. I believe the mass of followers these teenagers now possess says enough about how effective their voices can be. Anyone with a personal connection to a topic is going to be more persuasive when discussing it.

Furthermore, everyone has a tolerance level for others’ ignorance, opposing viewpoints, and apathy. For some, it’s quite high while others can’t even stand people who only recycle paper instead of fully sorting their trash. However, this tolerance level isn’t consistent and is directly affected by the intensity of emotion a person associates with a given subject. Because of this, as victims of lax gun control, these students’ tolerance levels for the bureaucracy and stonewalling associated with the gun debate diminished in the blink of an eye leaving them unable to sit back and bear witness to the endless back-and-forth with no end in sight

That anger and contempt coupled with determination makes for a very effective and useful tool in protest which the SDHS have since seen firsthand. Heavy, intense emotions are great rallying agents and the truth is that a massive group chanting, en masse, that gun control decisions need to be made immediately is almost impossible for the governing body to ignore. I love the fact that “children” have taken the place and responsibilities of the adults who abandoned them. Of course it’s effective. Social change is already occurring as people are now refusing to sweep the issue under the metaphorical mat, so why wouldn’t policy change follow?

Majority Privilege

Majority privilege – or white privilege as it is commonly known – is the concept that those who have a historical “upper-hand” continue to keep it even after societal changes have started to rectify past injustices. Now, most of the time white privilege manifests in ways that may not be noticeable to those benefitting from it, but it’s overwhelmingly obvious to those who do not. From this comes a vast majority of the social upheaval over the term “White Privilege”.

For instance, one of the most prolific examples given of said privilege is the difference between interactions with the police as a white or white-passing person and a person of color. This tête à tête can be one of multiple variations and quickly dissolves into a “Blame Game”, but it usually goes something like this:

{For this conversation, I will be referencing a white man who we’ll call Todd and a black man we’ll call Nathan who will be discussing a traffic stop in which Nathan’s brother, Charlie, was shot.}

{T: Well, I mean, the cop wouldn’t have just shot him for no reason. Did he have a gun? This was in the hood, right? He had to have a gun or something.

N: Why would you assume he had a gun? He didn’t, but even if he did, if he didn’t reach for it or show it to the cop, he had no reason to shoot. Why is that so hard for you to understand?

T: Cops don’t just shoot at innocent people, dude. He had to have provoked the cop somehow.

N: By doing what, sitting in his car? Charlie was pulled over for “suspicious behavior” and going five miles over the speed limit, but instead of getting a ticket like you would, he got shot for being a black man out at night. T: Look, all I’m saying is none of my friends have ever been anything but respectful to the police, and nothing’s happened to them, so something isn’t adding up here.

N: Yeah, you aren’t considering that maybe those cops weren’t predisposed to thinking you’re a dangerous criminal because of their own prejudice. That’s white privilege.}

In this situation, “Todd” can’t seem to grasp that different ethnicities have different experiences even with something as mundane to him as a traffic stop. Situations like this are often the focal-point of the privilege argument on both sides whether from privilege-deniers or outraged minorities. The cause of said “upper-hand” has been compared to a two-pronged spear stemming from the same shaft. While the enslavement and mistreatment of African(-American)s is widely regarded as the basis for it, this unequal treatment can also be attributed – at least in part – to guilt or innocence by association. Take that earlier conversation in which Nathan mentions that the cop had already decided his brother was dangerous without true cause, just because he looked “suspicious”. The criminalization of minorities only serves to compound this issue. If we take a step back from the example conversation I gave, a different thread of the same tapestry might shed a little more light on the situation.

One of my oldest friends – in terms of our friendship – is from Chicago where her family still lives and her brother is a member of the Latin Kings gang. While he hasn’t, as far as we all know, committed any heinous crimes as a member, he’s a proud member and even his Facebook profile is full of photos of himself and his friends complete with gang signs and graffiti. Now, I am white-passing and not Hispanic so despite being an ethnic minority, many of my (Very Southernä) family members have Neo-Confederate and Aryan Brotherhood affiliations complete with racist rants online and Confederate Battle Flags proudly displayed in their yards. For clarification, both the Latin Kings and the Aryan Brotherhood are prolific prison gangs with violent associations. However, which one between my friend and I is more likely to be

considered dangerous because of our family member’s affiliation despite neither of us agreeing with their views and often outright condemning them ourselves? Hint: it’s not me.

That, mes amis, is white privilege at work and even as a white-passing minority, I get the benefit of the doubt while Maria has a high chance of being convicted before her arrest. Especially in areas where Hispanic gangs are based. Is that fair? Absolutely not. Is it my fault? Also no. However, it’s necessary to recognize that this situation exists and in many different forms. Just because you don’t see your privilege doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist not does acknowledging it mean being ashamed of not having it worse in life. That literally doesn’t make any sense (by the actual definition of “literally”). Maybe just consider avoiding questioning the legitimacy of others’ complaints about a situation you have never and probably will never experience. How is that so difficult?

France: Sex Trafficking Destination

While the threat of sex trafficking is something that many think of often here in the United States, due in part to its presence in the media such as with Law and Order: SVU, it is another subject that people’s thoughts do not travel to outside their own home country. However, Europe has become a large contributor to the sex trade in recent years. Countries like France, Spain, and Italy are prime locations for the transportation and selling of women and children.

These victims are usually hunted in less-developed countries in North Africa, the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe from which they are moved through these “destination countries” either to be sold on location or in order to mask the tracks of their abductors. Unfortunately, this process seems extremely effective especially when combined with an expanding black market for children. There was a time when women were the group under the largest threat wherein methods such as physical abuse, forced drug usage, and debt bondage (forcing victims into a form of indentured servitude to pay off a debt) were the most common forms of acquiring victims. However, the demand for children on the Dark Web has increased in recent years and, thus, the traffickers follow suit. Students, orphans, and even traffickers’ own children began to face a threat even larger than the one those same women had been facing for decades.

France is a major player in the underground sex trade with such strong ties to both North Africa and the Caribbean which the French government openly recognizes acknowledging that within the commercial sex trade of France an estimated 90% of participants are foreign victims of sex trafficking who were “imported” for sale. Despite this, the French government also only bothers to meet the minimum international requirement for the erasure of sex trafficking. They refuse to produce detailed accounts of police efforts against this pandemic and while counseling and victim assistance services are reportedly available, they are not offered for children and are

only available to those who cooperate with law enforcement. All in all, there is a lot left to be desired in the way France reacts to its illegal sex trade and, for once, the United States may be able to offer some suggestions.

Un Petit Village Appelé Usson

Within the Auvergne region of France, there is a tiny village called Usson. This particular place set the foundation of generations of shared memories and repressed grief in my family. However, no one in current living memory can recall anything about it. We have since been “repatriated” and no one has even considered stepping foot back onto French soil since our forced removal… Until me.

This isn’t to say, of course, that members of my family didn’t leave France of their own volition prior to 1907.  In fact, my family frequently left France. I think as Americans people sometimes forget just how interconnected Europe really is; and for Roma, who travel from place to place trying not to egregiously overstay their welcome, that is a very important fact. Truthfully, a majority of my ancestors remained in the Auvergne region of France as it functioned as the hub of familial identity and culture. The “elders” – for lack of a better term – stayed in or quite near Usson as they took control of the family, but their children – once adults – would sometimes build lives for themselves elsewhere. Despite this, we are still considered Manouche (French Roma). That is our identity.

Mimsy, my great-great-grandmother was born in Usson and she was the last. At three years old, her parents gathered what they could and she made her way to America with them. Over time, memories of what they left behind faded amongst us along with our native language.

As an undergrad here at the University of Oklahoma, I have furthered my studies in my two favorite fields: French and History. I had spent a sizeable portion of my childhood pondering the implications the Roma “repatriations” have had on my people. From this, I have finalized the decision to study French as my second major and reclaim some of what was lost to us all those years ago. For the longest time, I have wanted to see France – sometimes I even think that I want to see it “again”. I have, obviously, not actually been to France yet, but I want to see it for my family, not just for myself. It’s time that a Duval returns to our homeland. Usson is a destination that is hard to reach, however. There aren’t a lot of programs catering to an American college student there, but… Clermont-Ferrand is only thirty miles away. OU, also, just so happens to periodically send students to Clermont-Ferrand as a part of University Exchange. That chance would bring me closer to our past than anyone has been in over a century. Isn’t that amazing?

Political Consolidation of Power

A recent topic of conversation in my American Government class has been whether a leader should be allowed to fill important advisory positions with relatives and old friends without regard to actual proficiency in the field. Originally, this topic was debating the appointments made by the current POTUS, Donald Trump. Things like putting his son-in-law in charge of coordinating the efforts for peace in the Middle East amongst his other duties alongside his wife, Donald’s daughter, another high-profile Trump advisor. When that promotion came to light, it wasn’t the first time President Trump’s motivations had come into question and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. Another Trump Administration example being the appointment of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of the Department of Education despite her general lack of experience in the educational administration field and well-documented bias in favor of ineffective charter schools – of which she has financial ties. These power moves in Washington D.C. have culminated in Americans seeing political consolidation everywhere. However, there are recent examples where it’s plainly obvious.

Kim Yo Jong – younger sister to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un – was promoted to a high ranking position sometime before the ruling party’s summit in late 2017. (If that sounded familiar, I would ask you read the third sentence of this post again.) No one is yet sure of what exactly this could mean for the governmental policies and foreign affairs in regards to North Korea, but some have speculated that recent cooperation between North and South Korea, such as with the upcoming Olympics, is a good sign for the direction the regime is taking. However, most agree that enough time has yet to pass between her appointment and any major action taken to determine her exact stance on any one issue. Truthfully, Yo Jong has been a member of the regime’s political dealings for many years, though never in a position this high. Though, that is exactly what is causing concern. Other associates of Jong Un who have filled these positions in the past have been swiftly executed upon being deemed a threat to Jong Un’s control. Yo Jong has had a lifetime to build a rapport with her brother, but what does that really mean? Could his sister be a figurehead meant only to fill a seat or does she wield more power than we know?