The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College since 1873

Author: Will Hibbitts

Social Movements

As men, there is no question that we need to be talking about toxic masculinity, confronting its harmful influence within ourselves, and striving to be better to those around us. These conversations both with others and within ourselves are necessary, but difficult, as we are compelled to reflect on past actions that have hurt others. Men who refuse to have these dialogues may get defensive and angry when the topic is brought up. This refusal may explain why so many men have lashed out at Gillette’s recent commercial condemning toxic masculinity and urging men to hold each other accountable for their actions. In response, many have pointed out that the commercial brings up valid critiques of behavior that oftentimes is socially acceptable.

However, the debate around the Gillette commercial has sidelined discussion around a concerning topic: the Gillette commercial was, ultimately, an advertisement. Even though the advertisement’s impact on sales cannot be gauged yet, the controversy surrounding it has made the word “Gillette” more commonplace in everyday discussion. Search interest in Gillette reached an all-time high after the video’s release. Some may say that the intent of the message was not primarily to generate sales, but if this were true, then why not release it on behalf of Gillette’s parent company, Proctor and Gamble, instead? That name has much less brand recognition than that of Gillette. Use of a recognizable brand name and a modified version of Gillette’s slogan: “Is this ‘the best a man can get’” exposes Gillette’s financial motives in creating the commercial.

I can already hear the counter-argument as I write: “So what if Gillette had a financial incentive? They are being socially responsible by supporting the #MeToo movement!” Although I could respond by saying that it’s unethical to profit off of social movements, there are still serious issues of power and influence that bubble beneath the surface. We need to ask who is and who should be controlling the conversation surrounding not just toxic masculinity, but social movements in general. It should be people who are fighting against sexual violence, people who are fighting for a $15 an hour wage, people who are fighting against racism in the workplace. It shouldn’t be corporate elites deliberating in a Boston boardroom. If we allow corporations and elites to control the discussion around social movements, we allow them to steal the movements’ soul, to co-opt the movements themselves. If this should occur, movements will be unable to attain their goals because corporations are directly linked to capitalism and the power structures of patriarchy and white supremacy.

If social movements will only be harmed by commercialization, how do we confront and defeat toxic masculinity? Unlike what the Gillette commercial would have you believe, the solution is not individualism. Although this fact does not give us men a carte blanche to ignore our behavior, we must realize that the true solution is to confront the tangible institutions and the elites that perpetuate this economic system and its oppressive power structures. That means we must stand up to Bates for its homogenous admissions practices, to the police when they refuse to investigate sexual violence, and to Gillette for profiting off a movement that was started by and for women of color, 12 years ago.

When Hate Hits Home

Last Saturday morning, I got a wakeup call that I was not prepared for. I received a notification on my phone that there was a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, just a few blocks away from my house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I had to call my mother to make sure that she was alright and that she avoided the area. When she picked up the phone, she told me that she was eating brunch with a family friend who happened to be a congregant at that same synagogue. My mother had to break the news to our friend. Later, we found out that 11 congregants had been killed.

That day, the tranquility of my neighborhood, Squirrel Hill, was shattered. Growing up, Squirrel Hill was always a peaceful, quiet, and cosmopolitan neighborhood. It was a well-off area within the city limits that had an idyllic quality to it. It was even home to children’s TV icon Mr. Rogers, making it literally Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. Squirrel Hill is the center of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. Anywhere from 30-40% of the neighborhood identifies as Jewish; my Catholic and Anglican family always felt welcomed and appreciated by our neighbors despite our differences in faith. But because of my neighborhood’s high Jewish population, it is not surprising that when the hate that had been brewing outside of its boundaries finally arrived in our community, it came in the form of anti-Semitism.

This hate had been festering for quite a while. There were early signs of its presence in our city, like Nazi flyers being distributed in our neighborhood this time last year, the shooting of unarmed black high-school student Antwon Rose Jr. in June, and the beating of a black man by a neo-Nazi group at a local bar. If we want this nationwide trend of hate to stop, we cannot only address the abstract concept of hate; we must understand the trend that is fueling its rise, and that trend is the resurgence of far right, fascist politics. This trend, manifesting due to increased economic stress as well as advancing social progress, seeks to endanger and terrorize oppressed peoples, and undo every reform won by them, no matter how small. We can see it nationwide, not only in the rise of Donald Trump and the “alt-right” (read: neo-Nazis), but also in the rise of armed and violent far-right groups like the Three Percenters and the Proud Boys. This is the trend that emboldened the shooter to come to Squirrel Hill and kill my Jewish neighbors.

My heart goes out to all affected by the latest massacre and by the rise of the far right. I know that many of us are concerned, scared, and/or angry; I am too. But it goes without saying that if we want an end to the hate that has been threatening our communities and gripping the entire world, we must stop the rise of far-right politics. We must realize that voting alone will not quash white nationalism. It is our collective duty to stop white nationalism in its tracks, no matter how it manifests itself or wherever it emerges. If we see homophobes spewing hateful rhetoric on campus, we must repudiate them. If we see anti-Semites spreading fear about a peaceful religion, we must silence them. If we see fascists marching in the streets against Somali refugees, we must confront them. Because as theologian Martin Niemöller wrote, if you don’t speak out for your oppressed neighbors, they will come for you next.


Tax Breaks for Amazon Represent Dangerous Trend

When we think of Amazon, most of us picture buying something from the internet and going to pick it up a few days later at Post and Print. But Amazon has expanded far beyond the realm of a simple internet retailer. It has become a corporate giant on the level of Facebook, Google, and Apple. It has become so large that its owner, Jeff Bezos, now holds the title of world’s richest person.

Amazon’s ever-expanding influence is clearly seen in the competition between multiple major cities to host what will be known as Amazon’s “HQ2.” These cities have included Brunswick and Scarborough, but they were put out of the running last month. Now Amazon’s short list of 20 cities that it is considering include Boston and my hometown, Pittsburgh.

Each of these cities has had to submit an official bid to Amazon, and it has been known since October that many, if not all, of these bids offer substantial tax breaks to strengthen their bid. As Reuters reported, over 1 billion in tax breaks was offered by the State of California,and over 2 billion in tax breaks was offered by the State of New Jersey in October. And this month, the City of Pittsburgh has been fighting a request from a local news station to make their bid public. We can only surmise what is in Pittsburgh’s bid, but it’s widely suspected that it includes substantial tax breaks that wouldn’t be popular with many working-class residents.

So why are these cities and states offering these massive tax breaks to a retail mammoth owned by the world’s richest person? The explanation we will receive is economic growth, but we have to ask, who benefits from this growth? In spite of what many say, it will not be the everyday people who’ve lived in these cities for years. It will be the cities’ elites and, of course, Amazon itself.

Amazon is not the savior it claims to be. It has promised to bring jobs and growth into the region where its HQ2 will be placed. But why should we believe these claims? Amazon has a history of treating its workers poorly, it has a history of union busting, its workers pass out on occasion because their warehouses are too hot, and it’s actively seeking to eliminate jobs instead of creating them, as evidenced by the new cashier-free convenience store in Seattle. So while it will bring jobs, we have to ask how many of those permanent jobs will longtime city residents have access to, and will they be able to receive a good living from the pay?

Meanwhile, cities will lose out on valuable tax revenue. They have now engaged each other in a fruitless race to the bottom where they will constantly attempt to undermine each other with competing tax breaks. Who loses out when corporations and the rich aren’t taxed? Working people. The tax revenue that could come from something like this could be used to fund critical infrastructure and public services that help people cope with their everyday lives. As cities one-up each other with these tax breaks, less and less money can be dedicated to these essential projects, leaving working people out to dry.

It’s time to stop bending over backwards for billionaires like Bezos. All over the country, struggling, often deindustrialized, cities offer substantial tax breaks to companies in hopes that their economy will be revitalized. But this, too, represents a race to the bottom that we cannot afford. Cities should be putting the needs of their residents first, not the needs of multi-billion dollar corporations like Amazon. Ultimately, we need to look into creating an economy that is managed democratically, so all the wealth that’s created can benefit everyone, not just the billionaires. Cities need to stop competing with each other. Tax break-offs will never bring the change we need.

Defend the Right to Protest!

What would the world be like if student protests never happened? What would the sixties be if students weren’t out protesting the Vietnam War? Or if students didn’t fight for their right to free speech at Berkeley? We would most certainly be living in a different world. We might still have segregation. We might not have Title IX. We wouldn’t have the Gender and Sexuality Studies Department (the product of a Lane Hall sit-in in 1997). The positive changes that these movements produce mark the importance and efficacy of student activism and reveal it to be a driver of social change. Because of this, schools and colleges have a special duty to ensure that their students retain their right to protest, but Bates has not lived up to this responsibility.

Bates touts itself as a college founded by activists, but it recently laid the foundation to suppress its own. During finals week, when students were working tirelessly on their academics, an email was sent out to the student body by the Assistant Director Of Campus Life, Nick Dressler. Within the email was a link to the Bates policy on Speakers, Performers, and Protest. It shouldn’t take long for a reader to realize that Bates’s policy on protests is extremely flawed. The vague language of the policy can easily be interpreted in a way that curtails the right to student protest.

The most broadly worded portion of the policy is the section that limits our right to protest the most. The policy states that, “The public expression of views and opinions may not prevent, unduly obstruct, or interfere with the normal operations of the college.” This may sound ostensibly reasonable, but this gives the Bates administration carte blanche to shut down any effective protest it wants to. Let’s examine what may be included under the umbrella of interfering with college operations: chanting, protesting while classes are going on (effectively barring all daytime and afternoon protests), and even protesting the Board of Trustees (can’t interfere with the College’s business activities!). In addition to that, the rules also specify that approval must be received from the administration before using amplification equipment. So megaphones, a symbol of resistance, are effectively prohibited as well.

What makes this situation even more lamentable is that these rules surfaced a month before we dedicate a day of classes to one of the most famous protesters in U.S. history, Martin Luther King Jr. King never stood idly by and protested in silence. He was arrested 29 times while fighting for civil rights. How can Bates College exalt the legacy of this man when they themselves restrict our right to protest? This was a man who disrupted the status quo to empower his people and create positive change.

We know that this policy limits the right to free speech. But whose speech does it curtail the most? To answer that question, we can ask who benefits from student protests? Working-class students, female students, students of color, queer students, trans students, etc. From this, we can see that this policy limits the rights of especially vulnerable populations of students. How ironic can it be that a college that was founded by abolitionists can now silence the voices of those it sought to help?

It is saddening to see a college, supposedly founded upon a vision of change and justice, curtail a fundamental right crucial to pursuit of change. While some may say that this college is the property of the administration, and they have a right to regulate behavior as they please, that isn’t the most important consideration. Rather, it is this: We, the students, adopted Bates College as our home. Therefore, we should have a right to protest where we live and work every single day of the academic year. To the student body: now is the perfect time to assert loudly that we have a right to protest, and that it must be recognized! To the Bates administration: We have taken notice.


Mainers Say No to Casino in York

Last Tuesday, Mainers rejected a ballot measure by a margin of 83 to 17 percent, that would have allowed multimillionaire Shawn Scott, an executive of Northern Mariana Islands-based Bridge Capital, a license to operate a casino in York County. The corporate-funded campaign for this casino promised jobs and benefits education through tax revenue provided by the casino’s operations.

Surely we all favor more educational opportunities for students, and the rights of our neighbors to earn a decent living. But there was a reason Mainers overwhelmingly rejected this proposal. Many saw through it and recognized that it was clearly a ploy by Scott to expand his profits.

But even if a casino license in York County were to be sold through an auction, it would have negative consequences for working-class Mainers. Let’s think of the demographics of those who gamble in general. These people aren’t necessarily the one percent. In fact, Politifact reported that people with incomes of $35,000 to $100,000 per annum are people who are most likely to visit casinos, and those with incomes less than $35,000 a year are more likely to be gambling addicts than those in other social classes. And in my own experience, the only time I’ve ever heard adults seriously talking about playing the lottery was when I had a summer job in Pittsburgh. The reason they wanted to play the lottery was quite clear to me, they wanted a better deal in life than to work eight hours a day not getting paid very well.

Some might say that the casino might afford people the opportunity to increase their standard of living if they win. That is only true for an extremely small minority of cases. The vast majority of working class people lose significant amounts of money when they play at the casino. And where does this money go? Into the casino’s profits.

Now it’s this profit that would be taxed by the state. The cash obtained from working-class people would have funded things like better education. Therefore it should be plain to all that casinos and lotteries are taxes, taxes that are levied on the wrong people.

We want better education, we want better infrastructure, we want Medicaid expansion. But, of course, we have to pay for these things. A casino is not the only option Mainers have. It’s possible to get this essential funding by taxing the top one percent so working-class people don’t lose money that they might need in the future on a slot machine.

But we will have to go farther than that. We must ask ourselves this question: Why do people feel the need to waste their money on casinos and the lottery? We live in a money-obsessed society. In the United States, economic mobility is overestimated by many Americans, making it hard for working people to significantly increase their income in their everyday lives. This is what drives people to casinos, to give them a better hand in life. In addition to that, the economic system that we live under incentivizes employers to keep wages and salaries as low as possible to increase profitability. This leads to people coming under economic stress, which helps to explain the frequency of gambling addiction. If we want to make sure that nobody feels the need to buy a lottery ticket or to set foot in a casino, we need to create a new economic system that is based on meeting the needs of people, not profit.


Let Catalans Decide

Surely we’ve all heard of Barcelona, Spain, a city world-famous for its beauty, history, and soccer team. But did you know that Barcelona is within a region in Spain’s northeast called Catalonia, an autonomous community with its own parliament, history, culture, politics, and language distinct from that of Spain? Because of this, many Catalans are not satisfied with their current autonomy within Spain and want total independence.

In the 2015 Catalan regional election, the population decisively elected a pro-independence government who promised a referendum on the issue. This referendum was scheduled to take place on October 1st of this year, but Spain’s government is outright hostile to the idea of Catalan independence. On September 8th, Spain’s Constitutional Court suspended the October 1st referendum due to an appeal by Spain’s government. Later in the month on September 20th, Spain’s Guardia Civil (Civil Guard) raided the offices of the Catalan government, arrested a dozen officials, and seized information pertaining to the referendum and ballot papers.

So why should a Bates student care about these events that are taking place 3,500 miles away from campus? For one, it should disturb everyone that a so-called “western democracy” is denying the rights of an entire group to self-determination. We saw in 2015 how the Scottish referendum took place peacefully without issue. Both sides had ample opportunity to present their cases to the Scottish people, and Scotland rejected independence in the end.

This raises the question: What is the Spanish government so afraid of? Why does it care about the possibility of Catalan independence so much that it acts against the basic rights of the Catalan people? The reality is quite simple. Catalonia, as a region, is crucial for Spain’s economy. Barcelona is Spain’s second biggest city and one of its most crucial financial centers. Catalonia contributes about 20 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product (GDP). An independent Catalonia would not be in the interest of Spanish business interests.

Faced with Catalonia’s wish for independence and Spain’s deteriorating economic situation, Spain’s pro-austerity government has two options at hand: one, let Catalonia secede peacefully and impose further austerity on the Spanish people to compensate for GDP losses, or two, interfere with the Catalan people’s right to self-determination and avoid risking losses in popularity among the general population.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his “People’s” Party cannot serve two masters at once. His neoliberal government has carried out a program of austerity that seeks to reign in the current economic crisis by cutting social services when youth unemployment is still nowhere near pre-2008 levels — 38.6 percent to be exact.

It should become clear that there is a loser in the relationship between Catalonia and Spain, and it’s the Catalan people. Their labor provides the nation with 20 percent of its total GDP, yet all they get in return is repression from the Rajoy government. What respect does the Spanish Government have for Catalans if they use them to keep Spain’s economy afloat but will only agree to view them as a dependency?

But we still must remember that independence won’t necessarily be an end-all-be-all for the Catalan people. They are still under a pro-austerity leader themselves, Carles Puigdemont, and his agenda must be fought if the people are to liberate themselves from the grip of austerity. But even though the battle against austerity would continue in an independent Catalonia, Catalonia throwing off their chains would be a strong signal to the international community that national oppression must be opposed and right to self determination of all peoples must be respected.

The Catalan people have the right to voice their anger at the Spanish government at the polls on October 1st. They have the right to say that they have had enough of the repression of their rights. They have the right to say that they want to determine their future for themselves.

The Separation of Sport and State

As I’m writing this article, the NFL has just commenced its 2017-2018 season, and former San Francisco Quarterback Colin Kaepernick is still blackballed from playing because he committed the horrendous act of standing up for racial justice by kneeling during the national anthem. Since then, his protest has spread, some players continue to kneel during the anthem, many fans continue to lambaste Kaepernick, and the national anthem continues to be played at sporting events.

As we can see, choosing not to participate in the national anthem at the beginning of a sporting event can have serious consequences. Despite the fact that choosing to sit, kneel, or leave during the national anthem is a constitutionally protected activity, we can see that those who choose not to participate are subject to ostracization. Kaepernick in particular has been a target for many people who buy into the US’s civic religion wholesale.

But a question that Kaepernick’s act of protest should elicit is: Why is the national anthem played at domestic sporting events at all? This issue appeared in my mind while I went to support my high school girls basketball team in their effort to become citywide champions. As I was settled in my chair before the game began, I heard the announcer’s request to rise for the national anthem. At that moment, I began to recognize the absurdity of the situation that was unfolding before me. Why should supporting your school’s basketball team lead to being pressured into a display of patriotism? What do sports and state have to do with each other?

Militarism and chauvinism, regrettably, have had a place in US sports, especially in the NFL, for decades. Some extreme examples of this relationship are the military jet flyovers that occur alongside the national anthem at professional and collegiate football games. These flyovers are usually accompanied by the cheers of enthusiastic fans, at best not realizing that these are often the same types of aircrafts that have taken part in the disastrous wars in the Middle East.

So, let’s think of why this relationship exists. Some will say that it’s fundamentally the nature of competitive sports to mimic warfare, and that this similarity is the starting point for the introduction of militarism into US sports. While there is an element of truth in that opinion, it is more useful to think of sports as a platform. Sport touches the lives of many Americans, whether that’s playing on a little league team or watching the Patriots on television. Because of this, sports are used currently to pressure people into supporting the actions of the United States military, displaying patriotism, and singing the praises of the nation. The national anthem is only the tip of the iceberg here.

Let’s think to ourselves: Why do we go to sporting events? Why do we enjoy sports? When I go to a sporting event, I am there to celebrate the dedication, the perseverance, and the accomplishments of the athletes who have worked so hard to be able to compete against another team who has worked equally hard to appear on the field. I doubt anyone goes to a sporting event with the intention of being there just so they have the opportunity to sing the national anthem. It’s time to stop signing the national anthem at domestic sporting events. It’s time to separate sport and state because state can sometimes poison sport.


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