Tuesday, July 30, 2013

reflections on injustice.

Reporter Luo Jieqi feels sympathy for the Beijing airport bomber--not because of what he did, but because of what led up to the moment of his death, his suicide. And in her reflection of the stories of injustice that never get told, one question keeps coming up from those around her who beg her to tell their stories: "Aren't you a reporter? Why don't you tell people what's going on here?"

Here's the thing they don't tell you in j-school: at some point in your career, you will report a story that may never leave you. The details, the interviews, the uncomfortable silence that hangs between you and a subject after you ask for an explanation to an alleged crime.

And it will feel like a perverse relationship. Aren't we all using one another? To tell a story, to get a story out. After all, consider Janet Malcolm's opening sentence from The Journalist and the Murderer: "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."

But it doesn't make any of us heartless, no. It's gut-wrenching having to watch and report on every detail of a mass shooting or a war abroad. It's gut-wrenching to not react at so many of the stories that flash across our screens.

I will never forget how, over the course of three months of reporting, I realized just exactly how horribly unjust the system really was: that they put one female cop in an interrogation room with you to "hold your hand" while several men grill you on the details of your assault; that the assistant DA dodged your calls for weeks, only to tell you in the end, "Well, he didn't finish, so it's not a crime..."; that your attacker could admit what he did and still be let go with a slap on the wrist because he apologized.

These stories can be told, over and over, but it feels like it won't ever really end--just as the stories of mass shootings and wars and inequality feel perpetual and never-ending. The more immersed one gets in observing it all, the more cynical one may become about the concept of justice.

I wish I had a better conclusion to all this, but perhaps that's just what this profession calls for: loose ends, to ensure we never stop writing.

Monday, July 15, 2013

'are you prepared to get arrested?'


About three years ago at my college's largest protest since 1967, I witnessed a moment I've yet to forget, and one of the moments that defined my research senior year:
After an hour and a half of speeches, the marching began. Their numbers grew to approximately 800 as the protesters made their way around Ring Road. As the group headed toward Aldrich Hall, where UCIPD waited with barricades in place, half of the protesters suddenly broke off and marched onto Campus Drive. A few students pushed shopping carts into the street and cars slammed on their brakes to avoid potential disasters.  
The protesters continued their march along the surrounding streets and, after an hour, finally returned to campus and headed toward Gateway Study Center. About 100 students entered the building, creating chaos inside the quiet study space, while the rest remained outside. Some students who had been studying before the invasion stood up to leave, but protesters blocked them by closing doors and barricading the entrances. However, the attempted occupation of Gateway, the location of the 1967 protest and teach-in, failed: in 20 minutes, a disagreement broke out among the protesters inside.

“Are you prepared to get arrested?” one student asked another.

“I’m prepared to get arrested,” she responded.

He sighed. “Then good luck.” And he left.

The “occupation” ended before the police could get involved, and the remaining group of approximately 60 students still on a protesting high regrouped at the flagpoles to discuss their next steps. All of the others had disappeared.
Six days later at an organized event, one student fought back against the "agitate before you educate" model, saying, "If I’m at a protest and screaming and someone asks, 'Why is he screaming?' then it’s your job to say, 'Let me tell you why…'"

Education leads to informed organization, the student and others argued. "We can work on being assertive without being violent."

In a 1969 editorial from the New University criticizing the KBS movement (a very long, and fascinating, tidbit from University of California history), there was a graf that spoke to the division of a movement based on the differences in protesting methods: "They will not organize students, they will not bond a movement for acceptance of the two demands (rehiring, and change in tenure system) together. They will divide students. They will fractionalize them. They will give them no decision-making power."

While it was speaking specifically to what the protests over the firing of professors Kent, Brannan, and Shapiro, I think it rings true for many situations.

When you take on a cause, you take on a responsibility to create chaos for the purpose of seeking justice, to disrupt the status quo in order to deliver a message--peacefully, passionately. You lose your message when the action itself dominates the message.

Friday, July 12, 2013

why do i need an umbrella in the summer? oh yeah, because - new york.

I'm really bad with getting rid of things. It took me months of pro/con lists to finally put away old memories from a past life for none other than the simple reason that I have a hard time with change. I'm fairly convinced this is the reason I was so against leaving DC at the end of 2011: it had nothing to do with wanting to be there for the elections, really; I just didn't want to move again.

That plus the fact that I procrastinate is probably the reason I got into a taxi earlier tonight--and, if you know me, you know that means something bad happened.

So, I have this really terrible umbrella that didn't use to be terrible. But somewhere between it being decent and today, a part of the wire frame snapped and broke. I mean, it still WORKS, but only if it's a light rain with no wind.

Summer rain in New York City is neither light nor absent of wind.

So I'm walking down Mott, and it's pouring all of a sudden. My broken umbrella is over my head and suddenly it becomes more and more useless as the rain picks up and the wind begins. Also, I'm wearing these really cute open-toed flats that might as well be made of paper because I'm basically swimming. Oh, and I'm still getting over a nasty cold.

This wouldn't be a problem if I at least had a decent umbrella but I procrastinated on buying a new one even after I told myself I would replace this crappy excuse for an umbrella over and over and over...

Instead of continuing to swim down Mott, I saw an empty taxi approach and decided to flag it down. I knew the ride uptown wouldn't be cheap, but I just got paid and had few bill to pay, so I grit my teeth and just went for it. So I get in the cab, tell the driver where I'd like to go, and sit back to enjoy being out of the rain.

Literally two minutes into the ride, the driver says, "If I were you, I would just take a subway."

I leaned forward. "Excuse me?"

"Take a subway."

I'm slightly dumbfounded. What stress am I causing him? I'm the one who has to pay the ridiculous cab fare, and he'd get a good tip out of it. Also, isn't it--I don't know--the law that you have to take me where I want to go in the city?

I explained to him that, not only was I in a non-rain proof sweater and skirt, I was sick, I had on the wrong shoes for wading through mini lakes, and my umbrella was also broken. He asked me what train I take to get home and I told him the 1. We were nowhere near a 1.

So then he pulls out his phone (keep in mind he's still driving and my fare is still ticking up), looks up the nearest 1, and says, "I'll drive you there."

"Sir," I responded, trying not to get mad, "my umbrella is broken, and I am really ill-prepared for the rain." I sneezed, which I thought helped my case too.

He ignores me and keeps driving. When he pulls up next to the 1 stop, he calculates the fare and asks me how I want to pay. I irritatedly swipe my card (knowing the charge will show up on my bank statement with his information so I could file a complaint) and don't tip. I exit the cab, step straight into an ankle-deep puddle, and run toward the subway steps while he shouts at me out his window for not tipping.

By the time I get down the stairs and through the turnstile, I look as if I'd been dumped into a lake. Oh, and I missed my train and had to wait 7 minutes for the next one, and then spent an hour riding home next to a wailing baby.

I'm going to go buy a new umbrella tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

an apology (to myself).

Dear Self,

I know it's odd to write to you in such a public way, but perhaps this way will force you to remember what I'm about to say. I think you need to remember, because you often forget, and that's my fault for talking you into believing anything but the truth.

I wanted to apologize to you for dragging you down the road of self-deprecation and hurt that I told you I'd avoid in the future. It was too easy to bend to the pleas of others, of the people who said they "needed you," and to the people who told you how important you were to them--the opposite of reality, and you knew it, but you thought maybe things were different this time. I did too, so I pushed you.

I pushed you to help those boys find jobs and homes and lives they said they so desired. I pushed you to pick up the phone and make those job calls and send those emails and force people to look at resumes they had no real interest in at first. And I forced you to bite your tongue when the fights came and the ties unraveled, because as much as I wanted you to throw it in their faces, I think we both knew better.

I'm sorry I made you stand beside the boy who treated you like a nuisance, who had the nerve to email months later and pretend as if he will always be grateful to you for helping him achieve his dreams. I'm not sorry for the sake of the situation you sat in that church that rainy Saturday, but I'm sorry for what happened after you went home and tried to forgive, because I wanted to believe we didn't waste two years of our life standing, loving, driving across state borders because of...what I told you was love.

I'm sorry I asked you to do the same for a second boy too, who acted so much like we were better friends than we turned out to be. I talked you into thinking he was not the same as the last, and so he wouldn't turn his back on you when you needed a friend. I'm sorry I forced you to keep trying, even after he never showed up when he promised all those times.

I'm also sorry for the friendship I told you to let fall apart because I didn't want you to get hurt by your "best friend," the way we'd just been drop kicked by those others. I should have been encouraging you to step back and really look at your life choices, at what you were doing and who you said you wanted to be. Instead, I convinced you it was your fault for not trying hard enough to be the friend they all deserved, all the while ignoring the friends in your life who made the effort to stand by you. I told you it was okay to take them for granted. I'm sorry. Please don't do that anymore.

Cheers for the future, and for doing what's best for you,
Traci