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What-Really-Happened-to-the-1960sWhat Really Happened to the 1960s: How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy

Edward P. Morgan

2010, University of Kansas Press

 

Who controls the past, controls the future. Who controls the present, controls the past.

– George Orwell, 1984

 

As a young and politically naïve college student, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to take several of Ted Morgan’s classes. His “Movements of the Sixties” course was hugely influential for me, primarily because exposure to the upheavals of that era taught me that the project of transforming our world towards a more democratic, just, and ecologically balanced future has deep roots. Standing confidently atop those long, sturdy roots transmits the possibility and hope that we can indeed change the world, because we already have. Indeed, the black freedom, anti-Vietnam War, women’s liberation, gay and lesbian liberation, welfare rights and other movements of the 60s era so successfully challenged the dominant capitalist institutions of the U.S. that those institutions have been scrambling for the last forty years to systematically minimize the possibility of future freedom struggles.

In this book, Ted Morgan documents a key component of that reaction: the two-pronged mass media campaign to denigrate and obscure the democratic promise that the movements of the sixties still hold, while at the same time co-opting the symbols and imagery of the sixties to make Corporate America “cool” and thereby sell more products. This media reaction has gone hand-in-hand with material forces, such as student debt, coercing the population into inactivity and obedience. In Morgan’s words, the result is a “depoliticized society,” with a “diminished ability to make history” (pg. 7). This book therefore becomes a weapon against rootlessness and despair, which I especially urge young people to read.

 

The Promise of Democracy

The 1960s are typically remembered as a time of turbulence and change. We all know the iconic images: assassinations, war, protests, urban riots, men on the moon, long hair, drugs, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll. Yet, it’s a decade that Americans are still trying to make sense of, justifying an endless stream of retrospectives like CNN’s latest 10-part weekly series “The Sixties.”  Ted Morgan’s necessary book What Really Happened to the 1960s provides answers you won’t find on primetime TV. In his writing, the underlying story of that decade was a clash between capitalism and democracy, one in which perhaps millions of Americans participated in social movements and challenged the country to become more just and more democratic (8). In some ways they succeeded and in others they failed. But as the book’s subtitle, How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy suggests, the true history of that struggle has been consistently distorted and hidden from view. What the media still cannot comprehend, or perhaps would seemingly most like to forget, is the democratic promise that formed the basis of those sixties social movements.

“[L]argely disappeared from memory [is] the surge in democratic empowerment in which large numbers of Americans of all ages organized themselves to confront and transform a range of injustices rooted in American institutions” (6, emphasis added).

As a practice of democratic empowerment, students initiated the lunch counter sit-ins to challenge legal racial segregation in the South. (1961)

As a practice of democratic empowerment, students initiated the lunch counter sit-ins to challenge legal racial segregation in the South. (1961)

Morgan goes on to define the phrase “democratic empowerment.”

“[D]emocratic empowerment means one’s unfolding ‘freedom to,’ a lifelong discovery of one’s authentic self, the discovery of which progressively frees one from manipulation by others and potentially by the disabling scripts of the unconscious” (51).

In other words, the sixties’ social movements, at their best, were not just about stopping racism or war on a systemic scale, but also about the self-realization of the millions of individuals involved on a personal level. Forty years later, I experienced the same rush of democratic empowerment when I attended my first organizing meeting and realized for the first time that in working with others I had the power to impact the world around me for the better. The meaningfulness and self-confidence that comes from a politically active and engaged life contrasts dramatically from the dominant modes of apathy and self-loathing inoculated into us by capitalist society and its mass media appendages. The experience of activism allows people to see themselves differently and to grow into their full potential, gaining courage as they take on greater and greater challenges – from speaking at a meeting, to holding a picket sign, to risking arrest in direct action.

As civil rights organizer Jim Lawson is quoted, “ordinary people who acted on conscience and took terrible risks were no longer ordinary people. They were by their very actions transformed” (51). Read the rest of this entry »

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I’m excited to bring a guest post from my friend Jack Grauer, a Philadelphia-based political writer. Over the last couple decades, as academia has gotten increasingly competitive, forcing more and more alienated labor out of students, many have turned to Adderall and other drugs to artificially keep focus through coma-inducing schooling. Now schools are attempting to crack down on drug use, especially against those students not deemed worthy, such as working class students and students of color. Jack’s article sheds light on this hypocritical clampdown.

What is the function of academia for the capitalist system? Certainly the free/cheap research for corporate and military institutions is important. The classification and indoctrination of students, preparing youth for lifetimes of service in the capitalist apparatus, is absolutely necessary as well. But what is less mentioned is the more pervasive enclosure and specialization of knowledge – the creation of a dichotomy between the few “experts” who have done years of research on increasingly specialized and miniature fields of study, and the general public, which is put into a position of ignorance and helplessness simply by failing to possess a degree. Academia does not pursue or create the kind of knowledge that is useful to ordinary people; it creates knowledge which serves the system.

This is not to say that no radical or revolutionary ideas can be found in the university, because of course the academy is one of the few careers that radicals can enter without totally surrendering their integrity.  However, if one is to attempt to remain true to a revolutionary transformation of society from within academia, one must constantly subvert the kind of knowledge-production inside its walls and attempt to translate any useful ideas into practical language for social movements and regular folks on the outside. [alex]

Adderall and Higher Education’s Delusion of Meritocracy

 by Jack Grauer

adderall-brain-side-effects1Universities have good reasons to call for stiffer regulation of stimulant study drugs; they are addictive and potentially dangerous. But defending the wheezing fantasy that postsecondary education was ever fair in the first place is not one of them.

Imagine you’re a college teacher. Some of your medically insured students have diagnoses for ADHD, i.e. the inability to stare at paper for a long time. They take prescription drugs like Adderall to treat it. Other students of yours buy and use these drugs illicitly; they do so not only to enhance their academic performance, but also to get high. Still other students of yours feel uncomfortable taking Adderall, which the DEA groups with oxycodone and morphine in terms of addictiveness and abuse potential, to do well in school. What you don’t know is which of your students get and take what drugs, how, or why.

You must now assign final semester grades.

Read the rest of this entry »


“To me, the struggle is a healing process.  If the struggle itself is not a healing process, it’s not worth it!  There’s something wrong with it. You struggle because you need to liberate yourself.  If the struggle does not liberate you, if it doesnt carry that hope, why bother?”

flyer by Ivan

On March 3 and 4, 2011, acclaimed radical feminist theorist Silvia Federici gave two talks in Philadelphia. On the 3rd, she spoke at the Wooden Shoe anarchist bookstore about her book, Caliban and the Witch, on “The True Nature of Capitalism.” That event literally overflowed with an audience eager to connect the pieces of the historical violence against women, and the ongoing crisis of capitalism.

The next night, on March 4, Silvia spoke at Studio 34 Yoga in West Philly to another packed crowd, on the subject of “Our Struggles, Ourselves: Rethinking Healing Work.”  This was a more personal, and in many ways a much deeper talk, which touched on a multitude of subjects from capitalism’s attacks on humanity and the Earth, to how to build self-reproducing movements that avoid the mistakes of past generations.

Today I am posting the audio recording from that amazing event!

One of Silvia’s most powerful insights that continues to work its way through my brain was the distinction between “suffering,” which may be necessary in movement work, and “sacrifice,” which ultimately harms the movement because it harms us as individuals.  She makes it clear that there should be no place for sacrifice in a movement for our liberation:

“What do we mean when we say sacrifice? Because, it’s very true, in many ways, when we say, ‘I’m not going to go into this career, and instead I’ll do the struggle. I’ll be poor, but eh!’ It may sound like sacrifice. But I would like to say that it’s not!

[Sacrifice] means that I’m taking away something vital from my life, something that I need, and then give it up for the struggle…

It doesn’t mean that the struggle does not make you suffer. But suffering is not sacrifice. It’s really different. There may be pain that comes too. But maybe it’s a pain that is better than the pain you would have if you didn’t struggle.

Maybe it’s a pain that prevents you from dying. Because we can die from numbness, irrelevance, wasting your life in triviality, despair, inertia, passivity, from giving up whatever creativity you have in yourself. So, sometimes it’s worth suffering not to see that in yourself. But i wouldn’t call that sacrifice.”

I am very proud to post this inspiring discussion, including the Question and Answer period, which we recorded in audio format.  There are 2 video recordings which were also made, 1 of each of the talks, and I look forward to making those videos available in the near future.  For now, please enjoy the audio!

Silvia Federici MP3

This is a 2-hour recording, so you might want to download it and put it on your mp3 player or computer.  There is a LOT here, so it may not be possible to get through it all in one sitting!

Also, here I’ll post some notes I’ve taken while re-listening to Silvia’s talk:

At 4 minutes – How can we build movements of resistance without destroying ourselves? How can we build self-reproducing movements?

5:15 – Thesis: We cannot liberate our individual selves without changing the world. At the same time, we cannot change the world without liberating ourselves. Read the rest of this entry »


A short article I wrote for local Philly paper The Defenestrator, with a few tips on how to avoid paying back student loans. Student debt functions as an enclosure on youth – it keeps post-college youth from pursuing their dreams or working with others for a better world, because they feel pressured to pay their debt back. This affects students even before they graduate – rather than study what they care about, students feel immense pressure to study a subject that will land them a good job.

A few statistics:

  • By 2008 average college tuition had increased by 439% since the 1980s, meaning it’s over 5 times as expensive as a generation ago. This doesn’t include books, housing, meal plans, etc.
  • Graduating college seniors in 2008 had an average debt of $23,200. 67% of seniors graduated with student debt. (Project on Student Debt)
  • As recently as 1993, less than half of seniors graduated with debt.
  • Prior to 1980, 80% of government financial aid was given in the form of grants and scholarships that did not have to be repaid. Today, 80% of gov’t financial aid comes in the form of loans.
  • 78% of undergraduates worked full or part-time jobs while taking classes in 2003-04. In 1984, it was 49%.
  • In 1970, 40% of new college students considered “being very well-off financially” to be very important, and about 70% considered “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” to be very important. In 2005, 70% considered “being very well-off financially” to be very important, and about 40% considered “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” very important.

Please comment if you have other suggestions on how to break free of student debt! [alex]

Break the Chains of Student Debt!

Alex Knight, June 3, 2010

Paying back student loans can be a real downer. Loans can make organizing after college virtually impossible as they force debtors to work a full-time corporate or nonprofit job, or join the military just to pay them off. When I graduated from college, I had $50,000 worth of student loan debt. I felt I was forced to get a full-time job, and pay them off as quickly as possible so in the future I could finally dedicate myself to social change work. Luckily I didn’t have to make this choice, as there are other options available! Here are a few worth knowing about.

First, you can defer or get a forbearance, to delay payments. Often with these you can delay paying your loans for years, although interest may accrue during that time, and you may be forced to make special payments. For example Sallie Mae used to require you to pay $100 for a 6-month forbearance on private loans, but now they’ve chopped this to $200 for only a 3-month forbearance, which often makes it almost pointless. Nevertheless, you can often easily qualify for an “unemployment” deferment, even if you are working part-time.

Second, you can try to run from your loans altogether and go into default. The only problem with this, besides destroying your credit rating, is if you have co-signers on your loans, such as parents. If you go into default, you’d also be screwing them over.

A third option has recently emerged, which should be taken advantage of as much as possible. It’s called Income-Based Repayment, and it can be used to reduce or eliminate your monthly payments for most Federal loans (not those pesky private ones, unfortunately). Through the federal government’s Direct Loan program, which was recently enlarged by Obama’s Health Care reform, you can consolidate your federal loans into an IBR (or Income-Contigent Repayment – ICR) plan. Payments then become “based” or “contingent” on your income, so if you work part-time and don’t make a lot of money, you won’t have to pay a lot, and you could even eliminate your monthly payments entirely if you earn less than 150% of the poverty line. If you’re a full-time activist like me, you almost certainly qualify. And after 25 years, your debt will be forgiven.

So check out IBR, and don’t let student loans stop you from dedicating your life to building the social movements our communities and world so desperately need!

Income-Based Repayment
Income-Based Repayment (IBR) is a new payment option for federal student loans. It can help borrowers keep their loan payments affordable with payment caps based on their income and family size. For most eligible borrowers, IBR loan payments will be less than 10 percent of their income – and even smaller for borrowers with low earnings. IBR will also forgive remaining debt, if any, after 25 years of qualifying payments.

Who can use IBR? IBR is available to federal student loan borrowers in both the Direct and Guaranteed (or FFEL) loan programs, and covers most types of federal loans made to students, but not those made to parents. To enter IBR, you have to have enough debt relative to your income to qualify for a reduced payment. That means it would take more than 15 percent of whatever you earn above 150% of poverty level to pay off your loans on a standard 10-year payment plan. Use our calculator to see if you’re likely to be eligible.

How does IBR make payments more affordable? IBR uses a kind of sliding scale to determine how much you can afford to pay on your federal loans. If you earn below 150% of the poverty level for your family size, your required loan payment will be $0. If you earn more, your loan payment will be capped at 15 percent of whatever you earn above that amount.

Except for the highest earners, that usually works out to less than 10 percent of your total income. Read the rest of this entry »


Engaging the Crisis: Organizing Against Budget Cuts and Community Power in Philadelphia

by Kristin Campbell

Reposted from Organizing Upgrade, March 1, 2010

Organizing Upgrade is honored to offer a preview of this insightful reflection on organizing – Engaging the Crisis: Organizing Against Budget Cuts and Building Community Power in Philadelphia – which will appear in Left Turn magazine #36 (April/May 2010).  You can subscribe to Left Turn online at www.leftturn.org or become a monthly sustainer at www.leftturn.org/donate.

On November 6, 2008, just days after Philadelphians poured onto the streets to celebrate the Phillies winning the World Series championship and Barack Obama the US presidency, Mayor Michael Nutter announced a drastic plan to deal with the cities $108 million budget gap. Severe budget cuts were announced, including the closure of 11 public libraries, 62 public swimming pools, 3 public ice skating rinks, and several fire engines. Nutter also stated that 220 city workers would be laid off and that 600 unfilled positions would be eliminated entirely, amounting to the loss of nearly 1,000 precious city jobs. In classic neo-liberal style, the public sector was to sacrifice, while taxpayer money would bail out the private banking institutions.

City in crisis

Well before the economic crises of 2008, a decades-long process of economic restructuring and deindustrialization had left Philadelphia, with a population just over 1.4 million, an incredibly under-resourced city. Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate out of the ten largest cities in the US, an eleven percent unemployment rate and a high-school dropout rate that hovers dangerously around 50 percent.

The proposed budget cuts sparked waves of popular outrage especially concerning the closure of the libraries, many of which are located in low-income communities of color and serve as bedrock institutions for many basic resources. Eleanor Childs, a principal of a school that heavily relies on West Philadelphia’s Durham library, and later a member of the Coalition to Save the Libraries, recalls “a groundswell of concern about the closing of the libraries… people rose up. We had our pitchforks. We were ready to fight to keep our libraries open.

Nutter’s administration set up eight townhall meetings across Philadelphia, designed to calm the citywide uproar. Thousands of people filled the townhall meetings poised to question how such drastic decisions were made without any public input. Under the banner “Tight Times, Tough Choices,” Mayor Nutter and senior city officials attempted to explain the necessity of such deep service cuts. They explained that the impact of the economic crisis on the city had only become apparent in recent weeks, and because the city could not raise significant revenue to offset its financial loses in the timeframe that was needed, rapid cuts were mandatory and effective January 1, 2009.

Community response

In the following days and weeks, Philadelphians quickly mobilized against the decision that their public services and city workers pay for the fallout of a economic system that had already left so many of them struggling. Neighborhood leaders organized impromptu rallies at the eleven branch libraries. Along with organizing people to turn out at the Mayor’s townhall meetings, these rallies gained media attention on both the nightly news and in the major newspapers, demonstrating widespread opposition to the budget cuts. Sherrie Cohen, member of the Coalition to Save the Libraries and long-time resident of the Ogontz neighborhood of North Philly remembers her neighbors coming together to say, “We are not going to let this library close. It’s not gonna happen. We fought for 36 years for a library in our neighborhood.Read the rest of this entry »


“When you take the time to research and analyze the wealth that has gone to the economic top one percent, you begin to realize just how much we have been robbed.”

Despite the economic crisis, the ultra-rich seem to be making off quite well, even increasing their incomes while the rest of us worry about unemployment, foreclosure, and bankruptcy.

Crooks and Liars recently posted an article, “Richest 400 Americans See Incomes Double, Tax Rates Halved,” which has the latest statistics on income inequality, but to fully understand the widening gap between rich and poor, check out the following essay from David DeGraw.

How long will we permit this to go on? [alex]

The Richest 1% Have Captured America’s Wealth — What’s It Going to Take to Get It Back?

The U.S. already had the highest inequality of wealth in the industrialized world prior to the financial crisis — and it’s gotten even worse.

By David DeGraw / February 19, 2010

Originally published by Alternet. Recovered from The Rag Blog.

“The war against working people should be understood to be a real war… Specifically in the U.S., which happens to have a highly class-conscious business class… And they have long seen themselves as fighting a bitter class war, except they don’t want anybody else to know about it.” — Noam Chomsky

As a record amount of U.S. citizens are struggling to get by, many of the largest corporations are experiencing record-breaking profits, and CEOs are receiving record-breaking bonuses. How could this be happening, how did we get to this point?

The Economic Elite have escalated their attack on U.S. workers over the past few years; however, this attack began to build intensity in the 1970s. In 1970, CEOs made $25 for every $1 the average worker made. Due to technological advancements, production and profit levels exploded from 1970-2000. With the lion’s share of increased profits going to the CEO’s, this pay ratio dramatically rose to $90 for CEOs to $1 for the average worker.

As ridiculous as that seems, an in-depth study in 2004 on the explosion of CEO pay revealed that, including stock options and other benefits, CEO pay is more accurately $500 to $1.

Paul Buchheit, from DePaul University, revealed, “From 1980 to 2006 the richest 1% of America tripled their after-tax percentage of our nation’s total income, while the bottom 90% have seen their share drop over 20%.” Robert Freeman added, “Between 2002 and 2006, it was even worse: an astounding three-quarters of all the economy’s growth was captured by the top 1%.”

Due to this, the United States already had the highest inequality of wealth in the industrialized world prior to the financial crisis. Since the crisis, which has hit the average worker much harder than CEOs, the gap between the top one percent and the remaining 99% of the U.S. population has grown to a record high. The economic top one percent of the population now owns over 70% of all financial assets, an all time record.

As mentioned before, just look at the first full year of the crisis when workers lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point clear, 400 people have more wealth than 155 million people combined.

Meanwhile, 2009 was a record-breaking year for Wall Street bonuses, as firms issued $150 billion to their executives. 100% of these bonuses are a direct result of our tax dollars, so if we used this money to create jobs, instead of giving them to a handful of top executives, we could have paid an annual salary of $30,000 to 5 million people. Read the rest of this entry »


Yesterday, President Obama announced his new $3.8 Trillion budget proposal, including about a trillion dollars for war and military, including increasing expenditure on Nuclear Weapons by $7 billion!  Nuclear weapons? Really? That’s the change we can believe in?

[update 2/5: I should also mention the completely misguided funding of nuclear power plants as well, see Obama’s Nuclear Giveaway]

This news came alongside an announced “spending freeze”, which would exclude military/war and only affect social programs, like jobs, housing, education and health care. These are precisely the programs which need to be dramatically increased in this economic crisis, not frozen. This proposed freeze would last 3 years, meaning for the rest of Obama’s term in office we could see no new spending on any of the social programs that are desperately needed. The poor, the middle and working classes, and everyone who has hope for a more compassionate United States is essentially being locked out in the cold.

Candidate Obama himself campaigned against exactly such an “across the board spending freeze,” as we may recall if we can muster our memories back through one year of hazy distractions (luckily Youtube never forgets):

If they’re so interested in reducing spending, why not cut totally useless and destructive programs – like NUCLEAR WEAPONS?

Why is Obama backsliding on all of his campaign promises? It just so happens that even though there’s no sane use of additional nuclear weapons (the US stockpile is already over 10,000 warheads, and the Cold War is over), nuclear weapons corporations like Lockheed Martin spend millions of dollars to lobby politicians for this funding anyway. And sadly, they’re getting it because Obama is afraid of the Republicans.

Once again we are seeing the continued march towards war, death and neo-fascism. The needs of the population – from decent jobs and housing, affordable education and health care, to a healthy environment – are being denied in order to protect corporate and financial interests.

Here’s Democracy Now! with the nuclear weapons story, and an article from Norman Solomon on the spending freeze below:

Despite Non-Proliferation Pledge, Obama Budget Request Seeks Additional $7B for Nuclear Arsenal

As part of a record $3.8 trillion budget proposal, the Obama administration is asking Congress to increase spending on the US nuclear arsenal by more than $7 billion over the next five years. Obama is seeking the extra money despite a pledge to cut the US arsenal and seek a nuclear weapons-free world. The proposal includes large funding increases for a new plutonium production facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico. We speak with Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico. Watch video.

Don’t Call It a ‘Defense’ Budget

by Norman Solomon

This isn’t “defense.”

The new budget from the White House will push U.S. military spending well above $2 billion a day.

Foreclosing the future of our country should not be confused with defending it.

“Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors,” the New York Times reports this morning (February 2).

It isn’t defense to preclude new domestic initiatives for a country that desperately needs them: for healthcare, jobs, green technologies, carbon reduction, housing, education, nutrition, mass transit . . . Read the rest of this entry »


A nice short essay about for-profit education in the age of the end of capitalism. Schools are scrambling to turn themselves into little corporations just in time for the entire paradigm of profit to unravel. The question is, as the country bankrupts itself and the markets dry up, how will schools proceed? Not just universities, but high schools, kindergartens, technical schools, etc? What will education look like in a post-capitalist world?

Will it be more authoritarian, based on mindless discipline and punishments in order to train students to be soldiers or prisoners? Or will it be more democratic, based on the free development of the potential of each child, and preparation for service to the community? That choice is up to us. [alex]

For-profit Education

Milton Friedman’s Dream

Something for advocates of public education to keep in mind now is the changed face of the enemy. The oligarchs; Gates, Broad, the Walton Family, the Bush Family, Bloomberg and the CEO’s represented in the Business Roundtable, had a plan for the destruction of the public schools. They were supremely confident they could bring to fruition Milton Friedman’s dream that education could become a highly profitable industry. Unbeknownst to them though, they had an Achilles Heel. Their plan was fatally flawed because it was inextricably bound up with the dynamic growth of a global capitalist economy.

That’s over with now. Why? For one, because globalization was so successful in its brief heyday. It penetrated every market on the planet. Who would have thought China could become the largest market for autos the way it has this year? It found the absolute lowest wage possible in the undeveloped world. They bumped right up against outright slavery and where possible went over the edge.

The effect of this success was profits on a scale heretofore unimaginable but it also exhausted the systems possibilities for growth. And growth is its lifeblood. Growth kept it healthy and dynamic. When that growth became impossible capitalism turned in on itself. It began to cannibalize itself. That’s when you get Wall Street turning investment banks into casinos and investment vehicles into logarithms. No more real wealth was being created so the bankers turned to magic tricks, in the form of derivatives, to give the appearance of wealth creation. That’s when you get some of the largest corporate entities ever created disappearing into the history books. So long General Motors!

The other thing a global economy had to have if it was going to work was a plentiful and cheap supply of oil. If the world is not now on the downside of the Peak Oil curve, its close enough for government work in the US, China, India, Russia, the EU. Rulers in these developed and developing countries have begun to act along those lines. For instance, the US won’t be getting out of the Middle East anytime soon for the oil supply it offers. US military presence there has nothing to do with silly bleatings over “underwear bombers” or terrorist threats. And for another instance, economic nationalism, in the form of US tariffs on Chinese steel to give one example, is the wave of the future. Globalization cannot withstand the end of free trade or oil driven trade but it faces both. Read the rest of this entry »

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