Thursday, October 18, 2012

Upcoming Event: Jeff Freyman on The American Empire Today

Dr. Jeff Freyman will speak at the UK Student Center, Room 113, at 7pm on Wednesday, October 24. The topic is "The American Empire Today," and the event is co-sponsored by the UK SSU and CCDS and Friends. Talk will be followed by time for Q&A and information discussion. All are welcome.

Occupy is a seed: Dr. Betsy Taylor's talk from the Lexington Occupy Anniversary

Betsy Taylor gave an impassioned speech at the celebration of the anniversary of Occupy in Lexington a few weeks or so ago. I asked her if I could share her speech, and she agreed. Here, anyway, are some of her notes for the talk:

* * *

Some people have asked me recently  “What happened to Occupy?”

Here's what I say:  I say – 12 months ago, 10 months ago, 8 months ago – Occupy was a flower, a beautiful, astonishing flower that sprang up – when almost noone thought it could grow – out of the hard, cold ground of these Hard Times we are in...

But now, now I say Occupy is a seed.  And, I say to them – only fools underestimate a seed. Many inside the Occupy movement are discouraged, some outside the Occupy movement are mocking – they say 'has Occupy died?'.

Last year, I believe, the work of Occupy was to show itself, to express very powerful truths about what democracy is, to witness to the terrible destructiveness of our current system.  When I would arrive at this site last year, it was like walking into a miracle – a beautiful garden that had sprung up out of nowhere. 

But, there are stages in revolutions.  And, living flowers must turn into seeds to grow & thrive & spread (look out 1% this is our expansion phase!).

Now I have a question for you – when a seed is under the ground, can you see it? 

But, I ask you, when a seed is under the ground, is it weak?

I heard something both true and beautiful last weekend, at a reading at Joseph Beth by author Janisse Ray.  She said “there is no despair in a seed!”  It's when a seed is invisible, that it is doing it's most important, its most potent, its most precious, its most unique work. 

Now, I admit, this can be scary.  The seed's journey underground is a dangerous time.  It can die.  For those who are cultivating & loving a seed, BUT ABOVE GROUND, it is easy to lose hope, to get cynical.  All that suffering you did in the bitter cold & downpours of rain, round the clock, in tents, for days & nights & months – last year?  What came of it?  Well, it does makes one worry – because when a seed is underground there IS nothing to see!


But, if one has turned from a flower to a seed – what should one be doing to make sure one grows back and multiplies – what are the POLITICAL tasks of the ripening seed?

What are the three big secrets to the successful seed?

1.    Water – nourishment.  Feed yourself emotionally & intellectually.  Don't burn out.  Start reading groups.  Read history.  Read political economy.  Spend time with your family & friends.

2.   Soil – finding the right place to put down roots. 

3.   Timing – when come back out from underground

To answer these last two challenges – I believe we face the greatest dangers & confusions.  We know our economic & political systems are rotten almost to their core.  But, how do we know when we're making basic, revolutionary change to fix these systems, and when we are merely tinkering with reforms that will consume our time.  Mere reform is the same as walking north on a south bound train.

In the seed-time of Occupy – I believe that we should be obsessed with this question. 

I'm wrestling hard with this question.  What is keeping me sane is a crucial insight into the American economy which comes from the great radical, democratic Populist movements of the 1870s thro 1900s.  They distinguished between two levels of the US economy.

·         On one level was the level of direct producers & reproducers – people who actually made things & cared for things & people.  Small farmers, homemakers, neighborly social work & mutual care societies, artisans, skilled crafts.  This level was where Adam Smith ideas of free markets & private ownership & voluntary do-gooderism would mostly work just fine.  It's an economic & civic system that fits with deep cultural values in America, of liberty AND neighborliness and care for others

·         the second level is what some used to call the Cooperative Commonwealth – those are things like banks, roads, trains, education, water, and, now energy and health and military.  These are areas of work & caring – where free markets do not work well.  These are things that provide infrastructure & support to the first level.  They are natural commons (like air and water – that shouldn't be privately owned because everyone depends on them) or public goods & services (the COMMONWEALTH) to which there should be universal access.

 The horror of the 20th century is that this second level – the level of the Commonwealth – became dominated by two systems that became more & more undemocratic:

·         huge & ever more monopolistic corporations dominate first energy (especially oil & coal) and transport (especially railroads)  sectors – bankrolling a very sophisticated & bogus campaign to claim constitutional rights – so they could dominate over small businesses

·         other public services & goods – like environmental commons & health – became dominated by a top-down bureaucratic govt regulatory apparatus.  The Far Right has been very successful in nurturing legitimate anger at top-down govt bureaucracy – turning that old 19th democratic Populist energy into reactionary Far Right so-called populism

In the last several decades these two anti-democratic forces have merged into a corporate state.  The large corporations have captured much of the regulatory agencies – banking, environment, health.  Especially since about the 1980s, corporate investment capital has fallen into a self-destructive pattern of increasing profits through mechanization, and outsourcing jobs through globalization – creating fewer & fewer jobs.  This means that globally we have a jobs crisis that will just get worse & worse.  There are structural reasons why the American Dream is dying – our corporate-dominated is now an inherently job-shedding economy.

But, even more dangerously, corporate monopolies are shifting from profit-making at the first level – the level where things are actually made & sold.  They are increasingly trying to burrow into the Cooperative Commonwealth – to make profits from privatizing health, military, education, even govt clerical work, etc.

The good news is that this new corporate-dominated global economy is incredibly fragile & ineffective.  At some point, if the 1% stops creating jobs, they will not be able to con the 99%.

It is Mother Nature who always bats last.  And, climate change is already starting to force limits.  As droughts spread, we are going to HAVE to change our agriculture and water systems.

All around the world, people are developing wonderful, creative new ways to organize that second level – the level of the Cooperative Commonwealth.

In southwest Va, there is a terrific organization called  Rail Solution doing grassroots organizing for a new passenger / freight railroad from Harrisburg PA, looping around central Appalachia – that could provide the infrastructure for a non-corporate, small scale, sustainable farming & small manufacturing regional economy.  This is exactly the democratic system for long term planning of the Commonwealth that Populists were HOPING that we could start a century ago.

We should all study the public bank of North Dakota – which provides a model for profit generating, democratically controlled financial system.

In this seed-time of Occupy – if we all keep studying these new experiments in reclaiming the COOPERATIVE COMMONWEALTH, I believe, that when THE TIME IS RIGHT – we can emerge with effective & tested new ideas for democratic reorganization of the commanding heights of our political economy.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union

U.K. Socialist Student Union members and friends share their support for the striking Chicago Teachers Union.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

We Can't Afford No Education!

Guest post from Charles Terrano
$1,004,595,916,213.00. That’s a pretty staggering number and no, that’s not the current national deficit. It’s actually the total amount of student loan debt as of the time of this writing. One trillion dollars. That is nearly 200 billion dollars more than the total amount of outstanding credit card debt in America. Two-thirds of students graduate with student loans and they carry an average of $25,000 in debt. With this record level of debt students are graduating into the worst job market since the Great Depression. It should be no surprise than that student loan default rates have spiked dramatically, jumping to a record 8.8% as of 2010.
Defaulting on student loan debt can hurt you more than defaulting on other types of debt like credit cards because student loan debt is the hardest type of debt to get out from under. It is the only debt type that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Can’t find a job? Lost your job? Became sick of disabled? Sorry, there’s no bankruptcy option to get away from that crushing debt…. Hope you enjoy having your pay garnished and your bank accounts levied. As Elizabeth Warren said: “Student-loan debt collectors have power that would make a mobster envious.” In short, we have record student loan debt, record student unemployment, and record student loan defaults.
Oh, and just to make the debt issue even worse…. According to an ACT study only 46% of students who start college wind up graduating with a degree. Cost is cited as the number one reason why so few graduate. But of course even if you don’t get a degree you still have to pay those student loans!
To top it off we also have an issue of unequal access. According to the National Center for Education Statistics among those who graduated high school the college enrollment rate from low-income families was 55%, 29 percentage points lower than the rate of high school completers from high-income families (84%). With the latest spending (austerity) bill making it harder to qualify for needs-based Pell Grants – you can only get the full grant if your highest annual income was $23k or less, reduced from $30k and the maximum amount of time you are allowed to receive grants has been reduced as well - higher education becomes prohibitively expensive for a huge number of people.
Oh yes, and let us not forget that in the last 30 years the average cost of higher education has risen twice as fast as inflation. So let’s see, record costs, record defaults, record cost increases, unequal access, reductions in aid programs, pathetic graduation rates…. to call this a system in crisis would be an understatement. As is typical the ones who are hurt the most are the ones who can least afford it; the ones who are most vulnerable. It is the students who suffer while the schools make money hand over fist. According to the Office of Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), one of the loudest voices in Congress against the for-profit school system, the for-profit schools enjoy a profit margin of 30-40%, that makes the for-profit college industry one of the most profitable industries in the country! As is the norm for our market-driven capitalist system the industry makes money without caring about the human cost of their practices.
As Socialists we reject the debt driven higher education system that harms the poor while further enriching the wealthy. We call for tuition free higher-education for all. Higher education should be funded 100% by tax revenue ensuring that every single American who wants to go on to college can without concern about cost or debt. If a student is smart enough to get into Harvard and that’s where they want to go they should be able to do just that irrespective of whether that person is the child of a multi-billion dollar CEO or a welfare recipient from the inner city. Intelligence, not money, should be the sole determining factor for what colleges and universities a student can go to.
A system of public higher education can work quite well. We know this because there are several countries that currently do offer 100% tuition free higher education. As an example Denmark offers education straight through the graduate level 100% free to anyone who a Denmark Citizen, permanent resident, or from anywhere in the EU or Switzerland. Denmark even goes one step further, a student will receive a stipend, called SU, from the government to cover cost of living while they are in school. Denmark believes that paying students while they are in school is important to ensure that the students can focus on their studies as opposed to trying to pay the rent. Most importantly, free education does not mean substandard education. Denmark ranks fifth in the world overall for quality of higher education and several of its universities rank among the world’s best.
Free high quality education for all plus a stipend for living expenses, this is a model that we need to emulate here in America. This would allow everybody true equal access to higher education. This would allow students to focus on their studies without having to worry about how they are going to pay for it. This will allow students to go to whatever school they qualify for, not just whatever school they can afford. This will allow students to get out from under the onerous burden of student loan debt. This will ultimately help the entire country. We call upon our government to end the unjust debt-driven higher education system and replace it with a fair 100% tuition free system funded by tax dollars. People are the most precious resource that we as a country possess. We should invest in those people; not exploit them.

(Sorry some of the text looks kind of highlighted-looking. I can't figure out how to make that go away. --JB)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Sanitation Worker Solidarity at the Peace Fair

We had a table and a film screening at the BCTC Peace Fair. We gathered signatures on a call for the city of Lexington to support the rights of public employees to organize, and we screened the short film Justice Delayed, and the struggles of Lexington's sanitation workers. Everyone was really supportive and happy to sign in support of the current unionization effort of the sanitation workers. And as always, the Peace Fair was a lot of fun (thanks to awesome peace studies prof Rebecca Glasscock)!

Here is a recent update on the sanitation workers, shared with the SSU by local AFSCME union organizer Richard Becker:

"On April 4th of this year, the employees of Lexington's Division of Waste Management submitted petition signatures from nearly 70% of the employees asking the city to allow them to hold a union representation election. Just this week, the city responded: there will be an election. The workers do not know when the election will be held, but they are confident that they will successfully vote in a union to correct the many longstanding problems they have faced, some of which this film highlights."

If you'd like more info, you can contact Richard Becker at

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Regional Left Convergence: Presenters

Left to right: Danny Mayer, Michael Benton, Andres Cruz, Teri McGrath

Enku Ide presents on academia, capitalism, and tuition struggles

Occupanel: Brandon Absher, April Browning, Ian Epperson, Steven Burt

Janet Tucker, at right, presented the concluding film and discussion on Anne Braden. (Ramona Waldman, on left, is filming; we'll post her film when she's done with the editing.)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Regional Left Convergence

We're very excited about the Regional Left Convergence this Saturday. Come check it out! We predict a good turn-out locally as well as visitors from Louisville and from West Virginia and Ohio. Here's the latest schedule of events:

10am--Coffee and refreshments, introductions, ice-breaker

11am--Social/Media Panel, chaired by Craig Crowder
*Michael Benton, a humanities and film studies professor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College and a regular contributor to North of Center
*Andrés Cruz, editor and publisher of La Voz de Kentucky
*Danny Mayer, publisher of North of Center and an instructor at BCTC.
*Teri McGrath, writer, teacher, and activist in Lawton, Oklahoma and regular contributor to the Okie Magazine.

1:00--Lunch (free cajun food, including vegan option)

2:00pm--Fifteen-minute film presentation and discussion on historic civil rights struggles, chaired by Janet Tucker

3:00pm--Panel and break-out sessions on the struggle for affordable tuition, chaired by Enku Ide

4:00pm--Occupy Panel, chaired by Joan Braune
*Brandon Absher
(Brandon Absher teaches Philosophy at Indiana University Southeast and received his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky in 2010. Brandon is a member of the NO BORDERS Collective in Louisville, KY and was involved in the early days of Occupy Louisville.)
*April Browning
(April Browning is a political activist and a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth as well as several other community based organizations. She is an active member of Occupy Lexington since Sept 29th 2011.)
*Steven Burt
(Steven Burt is a political science student at bctc and founder of bctc ssu. He is an occupy activist since september 29th.)
*Ian Epperson
(Ian Epperson is author of Love Songs for the Apocalypse and founder of Lexington Sustainability Fund. Occupy activist since Oct. 6th)

Spread the word and come when you can--this will be a fantastic event! It's free and open to the public--you don't have to be a student or a socialist to attend.

Thanks to everyone who helped us put this together, and a special thanks to the Committees of Correspondence's Fund for Intergenerational Dialogues, whose generous grant to make this event possible.

Flier design: Clayton Brown