The Other Side of The Coin


“extreme wealth and income is not only unethical it is also economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive.”

This is Oxfam‘s scathing review of the modern wealth gap, not mine. (Although I wish I’d written it…) The international organization out to end poverty and injustice has put what seems intuitive to most of us in no uncertain terms. And what’s more, they’ve provided the research and the branding to back it up.

In their latest media brief, discussed here on Al Jazeera and linked above, the Oxfam press room implores the world to set goals for tackling both extreme poverty and extreme wealth.

We’ve been working on ending poverty for a long time. Oft forgotten, it’s the motivation that brought Adam Smith to the Wealth of Nations in 1776 and gave us the simple but world-changing principals for the end of mercantilism and the beginning of economic freedom. But the world’s powerful quickly noted that the whole effort could be extremely profitable. The international development industry we know today was largely born of cold war diplomacy, and we know which economic structure won there…  We’ve tried many different strategies since then, from Live Aid, to Dead Aid, to the MDGs. But the countries we (the Global North) profess to aid are by and large trapped in the same poverty and conflicts of the last half century.

So perhaps Oxfam is on to something with a completely new idea. The first step in change is envisioning it, and the second step is communicating it. Taking the lead from a fun mix of bedfellows – The Economist, The IMF, and Occupy – Oxfam is pointing the spotlight on the other end of the spectrum. We’ve spent over 200 years talking about the problem of poverty, but it may now finally be time to talk about the problem of wealth.

To speak of inequality is no longer revolutionary (although those of us that do are often treated like rebels). But I must say I’ve been surprised on the subject in two big ways (relatively) recently. First, I was shocked when a protest of inequality in America, of all places, managed to occupy Manhattan’s financial district for more than about five minutes. Second, I was surprised to find the headline “Funnel down, don’t trickle down,” on a blog at the Wall Street Journal. (Could the paradigm shift be real?)

In truth, conversations about ending poverty have been less about aid recently and more about social enterprises, micro-loans, and building markets. These bottom-up solutions are likely to be the most empowering and sustainable. But are they hindered by extreme wealth? Is the top-heavy economy holding us all back? And if so, what are we to do when he who has the gold makes the rules?


México ahora: “A widespread youth movement similar to what happened in the Arab countries.”


Angela Meléndez shared this video on Twitter. Professor John M. Ackerman from Universida Autonoma de México speaks about the protests in reaction to México’s July 1 elections:

Peña Nieto protesters take over Mexico City

Worth taking a look. Angela correctly noted that “this is how BBC and CNN should have reported.”

Do you think we, as a global community, should respond to the protestor’s sign “United Nations Help Us!” If so, how?

Talk Back to NYC Subway Ads


I just sent the following email to Adbusters. I’m hoping that they’re print it in the next issue and blast my idea, but in case they don’t, I’ll post it here too.

Dear Adbusters team,

I ride the New York City subway every day and I can’t help but feel assaulted by the advertising. I often think of responses to the ads. There’s a New York Lottery ad that personifies Luck as a gaggle of white men in suits with over-sized heads and slogans like “Hold your applause.” I stuck a label on the ad that said “Luck is not a white man with a big head.” But will my own personal culture jam have an impact? Can you help me scale it up? NYC needs more stickers – like, “This ad perpetuates gender stereotypes,” and “This kind of wealth requires the poverty of others,” – and more people to stick them. Can you share the idea? We can no longer be passive consumers of propaganda. It’s time to talk back.

I shared this idea with friends not long ago, and people seemed into it. So I started it today with my sticker on those lottery ads. (They drive me nuts… ) Won’t you join me? We pay more for that subway system than the advertisers do, with our taxes and fares. So I think it’s only right that if we have to listen to those guys on Madison Avenue all day long, 3500 times a day, they should listen to us too. Grab a name tag, a folder label, a post-it note, or a flyer with a blank side and some scotch tape, and tell them what you think of their heteronormative, sexist, racist, classist bullshit.

Occupy your public space. Add your voice. Talk back.

And send me pictures.




*This post has been edited since its original draft because I realized that I used a brand name as if it were just an adjective. That’s how intense the programming is. But it’s clear tape, soda, tissues, and a copy machine. Those other words are tools of wealth appropriation. That’s why they get a nickel every time you say it, not you.

Violence in the streets: It’s real, but who started it?


I had an interesting conversation with a colleague the other day, and in light of a recent Adbusters article I think it is one we should all consider.

I mentioned that I was upset about Obama’s recent Executive Order that could allow martial law in a time of peace. He hadn’t read about it, but he said that, abstractly, he understands why we need martial law. In a time of crisis, if there’s violence in the country we need a mechanism for rapidly restoring order.

Ok, I said, maybe, abstractly, I’ll concede that point. That may be arguable in a time of civil rest. But let’s consider reality. At this moment America is in a time of civil unrest and there is violence in the streets. Our current crisis may very well get worse before it gets better. And we know that once violence starts, it can get out of control really fast. So I asked him: if, right now, we’re going to give someone legitimacy to stop the violence, should it be the same people that started it? If there is violence in the streets and we want to end it, we have to ask where it came from.

Continue reading

A #WhyIOccupy from a 3am Friend


A couple of things are happening to me right now. One is that I can’t sleep.  A lot of things are going on in my mind – I’m simultaneously trying to make sense of 1940s Cuba (homework) and 2012 America (life). Two is that I’m growing ever more addicted to Twitter, and so when unable to sleep the first thing I do is grab my smartphone and check the timeline. When I’m reading, when I’m trying to write, when I’m in class, I just keep wondering what other Occupiers are saying/writing/doing/posting/thinking/occupying. My entire feed is people I’ve either already met or will eventually meet who are revolutionizing something somewhere in the world. So tonight, when I should be doing a zillion other things, including sleeping, I checked in on Twitter to find that, per usual, someone else is posting the things I’m always thinking about the world and just haven’t yet memorialized in cyberspace. And this time, it’s not just in 140 characters. Continue reading

Speaking at UMASS Social Theory Forum this April


Exciting news: I just found out my study of Occupy Wall Street and structural violence was accepted to the UMASS Social Theory Forum! If the stars align, I’ll be in Boston April 18-19th to present the findings of my field study at OWS. More details to come!

I can’t find a website for the conference, but  you can check out the call on PCDN. If you have any info, are also planning to go, are in Boston this year, or are part of a Boston Occupy, leave me a note!

Radically simple: giving each other what we need.


As I mentioned earlier, the beginning of OWS coincided brilliantly with my attempt to understand the dynamics of nonviolent social change as part of my peacebuilding education. During the fall semester I completed an original field study at OWS, documenting how the movement breaks down structural violence from the inside out. Last week, I attended the State of the Occupation Address to hear occupiers reflect on the last five months. The prevailing message was two-fold: Continue reading