Bringing Unschooling to School

A conversation with Free Student Press founder Damon Krane

By Alex Walker
August 12, 2015
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Alex Walker

My son is only three years old, but even before he was born I was determined to raise him in a less conventional way. I knew homeschooling – or more specifically, unschooling – would probably be part of that design.

Like so many people, my unconventional view of education is bound up with my attraction to a less mainstream lifestyle. Part of me longs to turn on my heel, leave all the worldly nonsense I detest about society in the dust, and carry out life naturally and as I see fit – off-grid, both figuratively and literally.

A big part of the society I’d like to leave behind is its school system. I want to keep my son out of the depressing feedback loop of the 19th century factory-style education system that 1990 New York City Teacher of the Year and unschooling advocate John Taylor Gatto aptly called “instruments of the scientific management of a mass population”. In the process of becoming an adult, I want my son to have an experience that is itself significant, and not a contrived training for what is expected of him as an adult. I want him to have the guidance and resources available to become an independently minded person who can make empowered decisions for himself rather than having an authority of one kind or another tell him what he should be concerned about in both his early education and life in general.

Yet I face an ethical impasse. To renounce the society you are born into comes with a price, and I find myself in a very privileged situation to even be considering homeschooling my son, or to fancy myself as some sort of future off-grid pioneer. As a white, middle class, college-educated American, I have both financial and social freedom to make relatively bold decisions in my life. And yet I am coming to acknowledge that the privilege I hold exists because of the very system I want to reject.

Furthermore, caring about my son means caring about the larger world he’ll live in and the society he’ll have to negotiate. Being an off-grid unschooler won’t make that world go away. Whatever protective buffers I create for my family, we will always be umbilically linked to our larger world. Thus while I plan to homeschool/unschool my son, I also want to positively affect the lives of all those students whose educational experiences are curtailed by public schools – institutions, which, despite my objections to them, I believe are necessary in our current social framework.

While struggling with these issues, I was contacted by an old acquaintance with an exciting plan to create for public high school students the very kinds of educational experiences I want for my son. His ideas for intervening in public schools called into question my formerly black and white reasoning about education in America having to be a decision between abdication and assimilation.

Damon Krane has been an activist, journalist, and grassroots social justice organizer for the better part of twenty years. His initiative, Free Student Press, amounts to an utter infiltration of independent thought within high schools, giving students the power to challenge norms, confront authoritarianism, and engage in constructive dialogue, while discovering and exercising their First Amendment rights to distribute independently produced publications that are often illegally inhibited by schools officials. By developing self-confidence and learning to work together, he believes that students can become empowered to build a better world.

Ironically, I know Damon Krane because we attended the same public high school. Krane got his start in journalism and community organization with an independent, public access student zine he created during our senior year of high school. That soon led him and another one of my former classmates to create Free Student Press, which Krane piloted in Ohio from 1999 through 2006.

Recently, Krane launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive and dramatically expand Free Student Press – first bringing it to high school students in four southern states, and then taking the project nationwide. Already, his vision has been lauded by such prominent educators, authors and activists as Ira Shor, a leading exponent of critical pedagogy and colleague of the late radical Brazilian educator Paulo Freire; the renowned linguist, political analyst and prolific anarchist social commentator Noam Chomsky; the prominent education reformer and former Weather Underground activist Bill Ayers; and Dawson Barrett, author of the newly released book Teenage Rebels: Successful High School Activists from the Little Rock 9 to the Class of Tomorrow.

I recently spoke with Krane about Free Student Press and what relevance it might have to folks interested in homeschooling and unschooling.

Damon Krane. Photo by Ece Ucoluk Krane

So what is Free Student Press and why is it relevant to people interested in homseschooling and unschooling?

Homeschooling and unschooling have a lot of appeal to parents who believe children and adolescents deserve more freedom to pursue their own curiosities and creative impulses than conventional schools allow. Free Student Press is based on the same conviction. But instead of seeking to create totally separate alternatives to our public schools, or trying to reform national school policy from the top-down, Free Student Press takes unschooling to school.

What exactly do you mean by that?

FSP starts from the assumption that teenagers don’t need anyone else telling them what to do. What they need are more meaningful opportunities to express themselves, to make sense of their world, and to have an impact on that world. So FSP offers teenagers some very practical tools. The first tool is the knowledge schools typically hide from students about their First Amendment rights to distribute independent student publications at school.

More commonly known as underground newspapers or zines, these publications are produced by students, outside of school, and without using school resources. But then students can bring these publications to school and pass them out to their classmates on school grounds, during school hours. School officials can’t control the content, they can’t punish students for writing things school officials don’t like, and in the overwhelming majority of cases school officials cannot legally prevent students from distributing independent student publications at school.

Within one of these publications, students can create for themselves a unique forum for public dialogue among their peers that is anchored to their experiences as students within their schools, and as young people within their communities. From my experience with these publications, I’ve learned that whatever disagreements students may have with one another, they tend to all want a place to discuss what they care about. So students learn how to manage this forum, because they’re committed to keeping it. They learn how to communicate themselves better, because that’s necessary to change minds and have an impact. They learn about their peers and others’ perspectives, and the situation forces them to contend with others’ arguments. Finally, if school officials attempt to illegally censor a publication – as they often do – students get to learn how to defeat corrupt people in positions of power and authority through grassroots organizing.

Along the way, FSP is there as a resource for the students. We’re not there to tell students what to do, but to respond to their questions and sometimes ask some of our own and offer advice. But it’s up to students whether they want to take that advice. Empowering the students to act for themselves is always the goal.

The entire experience teaches some big lessons that stick with students long after graduation. And the best part of FSP’s approach is that we don’t have to wait until we’ve changed our schools, or until we’ve built better large scale alternatives. Instead, we can turn precisely what’s wrong with our schools into what educators like to call a “teachable moment” – or, more precisely, a whole series of such “moments” that turn disempowering schools into an opportunity for seriously empowering education – the kind of empowering education that not only improves young peoples’ lives, but which also dramatically increases Americans’ capacity to create a freer, more just society.


Let’s back up a bit and talk about students’ legal rights to do this. Are student press rights just a matter of the First Amendment, or of court decisions and/or other legislation?

The First Amendment was a concession early American elites granted in order to get the Constitution ratified. It really didn’t mean anything in practice until mass movements of ordinary people made it mean something – and that’s true for student press rights, too.

Back in the mid 1960s, a group of families in Des Moines, Iowa decided to express their opposition to the Vietnam War by wearing black armbands. Some of their kids wore these armbands to school, for which the children were threatened with violence by school officials and then promptly kicked out of school. The families and allied individuals and organizations fought back, and eventually this resulted in the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District. The Tinker decision did several things, but most important for FSP it established the right of public high school students to distribute independent student publications at school.

Mary Beth and John Tinker.

Are there any legal limits placed on what students can do with these publications?

Independent student publishers and journalists are still bound by the same laws as professional journalists, publishers and everybody else when it comes to stuff like libel, invasion of privacy, obscenity, copyright infringement, and so on. But there is only one additional legal restriction that applies to independent student publishers at public schools.

School officials may only attempt to prevent distribution of an independent student publication if they can show there is a very high probability that the either the contents of the publication or the manner of its distribution would cause a severe disruption of official school proceedings or invade the rights of others. What 46 years of case law following Tinker has made clear is that it is extremely difficult for school officials to meet this standard.

If students have had this right since 1969, why am I just hearing about it now?

It’s not just you. Practically everyone is unaware of this.

For nearly a half century since Tinker, illegal censorship has continued to run rampant in our schools, as documented by groups including the Commission of Inquiry into High School Journalism, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Student Press Law Center. But the many reported cases of illegal censorship are just the tip of the iceberg. They don’t tell us about all the kids who were lied to about their rights at school, or simply not informed, or students who never reported illegal censorship because they didn’t know it was illegal.

I first got involved in this work during our senior year of high school when three sophomores created a little zine they called Hide and Go Speak. As soon as the students passed out their first issue, they were called down to the principal’s office and told they could not hand out a student publication at school unless they first allowed the principal to edit its contents. Since they had not done so, they were all punished with several after school detentions, and that was the end of Hide and Go Speak.

Now, rights or no rights, I liked what those kids were trying to do. So I went ahead and organized another student publication called Free Head, and it had a tremendously positive and transformative impact on my life. But it wasn’t until a couple years after high school that I learned our principal had simply lied to the creators of Hide and Go Speak and had illegally violated their rights by punishing these kids and banning their zine.

Free Head Issue 1

Why did your own high school experience of producing an independent student publication have such a big impact on you?

It taught me that people can work together very productively without any need for a central authority to dictate their course. It also taught me that a forum for public dialogue can cause a community to emerge where none had existed before. Suddenly, students outside of my own social circle, who for years had just been scenery in the hallways to me, were real people with their own thoughts and ideas. And as you might imagine, the intrinsic motivation to communicate myself made me a better writer than years of writing papers on random topics assigned by my teachers.

But Free Head wasn’t just about commentary or indie news reporting, it was about students expressing themselves any way they could on paper. We published poetry and other creative writing, along with visual art – all of which gave budding young artists an opportunity to share their work with a larger audience, often for the first time.

Two aspects of Free Head’s internal structure greatly amplified all of these effects, and also helped protect us from censorship. First, Free Head was public access. We pretty much published whatever students submitted. Second, we governed Free Head through a process of direct democracy. Decisions that affected the magazine as a whole were made democratically at meetings open to any interested student. And with so many students from different cliques having such a voice in the publication, our broad base of support made it harder for administrators to try to shut us down.

Free Student Press supports independent student publishers regardless of whether they choose to adopt a public access format and democratic management, but we do discuss the benefits of these things with students.

And how did Free Head lead to Free Student Press?

After learning about student press rights a couple years after I graduated high school, I partnered with Lisa O’Keefe, a former classmate of ours who also worked on Free Head. And as 19-year-olds, Lisa and I created Free Student Press and launched it in Athens County, Ohio at the invitation of a group of progressive educators at the Institute for Democracy in Education.

What happened when you first put the idea of Free Student Press into practice?

Within three weeks of our first outreach event, the very first group of high school students Lisa and I worked with produced a publication called Lockdown. On page one of their first issue, Lockdown’s creators accurately explained their First Amendment press rights and the Tinker decision. The students even included a supportive quote issued to them from Mike Hiestand, an attorney with the Student Press Law Center, a national student press advocacy group.

LockDown 1

And how did the school respond to Lockdown?

The principal threatened to suspend all of the students involved if “anything like this ever turns up again.” Then he informed the family of Lockdown’s lead publisher, Devin Aeh Canary, that a suspension would likely prevent her from becoming class valedictorian. Later, school authorities falsely accused the students of promoting drugs and violence through their publication, and local police were called upon to illegally break up a meeting about the paper the students were trying to hold at a public park. The superintendent, meanwhile, issued a press release declaring members of FSP irresponsible outside agitators who had made children feel unsafe at school, and he pressured officials at Ohio University (where I was an undergraduate education major) to encourage me to stop FSP’s work.

The conflict was pretty intense, and it lasted for nearly four months. But with FSP’s support the students mobilized so much community support that they completely defeated both their school administration and local police. The students kept publishing Lockdown, and the school’s principal resigned. FSP went on to work with more high school students and independent publications in the years that followed. However, officials at all of the five districts we worked with remained opposed to teaching students their press rights, publicly refusing to include accurate information in their student handbooks after FSP audited the handbooks a few years after the Lockdown controversy.

Vimeo Cover Photo_Long_SMALL

Why do you think censorship and deception about First Amendment rights are so common in public schools?

It’s a problem of institutional design. Public schools are supposed to be how we teach Americans constitutional rights essential to American democracy, but our schools rarely carry out that mission for the same reason the U.S. isn’t all that democratic. Just as calling a shopping cart an airplane won’t make it fly, the design of our public schools is at odds with the schools’ official mission.

Opposition to student press rights is an inevitable consequence of schools being designed to carry out what Paulo Freire called the banking concept of education. Within the banking concept, students are considered empty containers for a teacher to fill up with deposits of whatever information authorities have deemed valuable.

The first problem with the banking concept is that from the time we’re born, we human beings have our own curiosities and creative impulses. We want to figure out and consciously shape both ourselves and our world. Anyone who has observed young children knows this is what animates them – at least before children are subjected to school. Unfortunately, in the banking concept, these aspects of human nature are the enemy. They’ve got to be beaten down and suppressed so that students can be filled up with whatever is on any given day’s lesson plan.

Within the banking concept, Freire wrote, “the scope of action allowed to the student extends only as far as receiving, filing and storing the deposits… but in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away…” Similarly, the American philosopher John Dewey asked, “What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win the ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul…?”

Now, consider the second problem of the banking concept – it doesn’t work. With reference to a vessel-of-water metaphor for education (essentially the same as Freire’s banking concept), Noam Chomsky likes to point out that we human beings are pretty leaky vessels when it comes to things we don’t care about. Everybody has had the experience of memorizing information for a test, acing the test, and then immediately forgetting what it was we memorized.


So if the banking concept denies the humanity of students and doesn’t succeed in getting students to retain much information, why is it the guiding principle of our schools?

The banking concept isn’t any good when it comes to storing deposits, but it does a great job of filing the people away. At school, particular subject matter comes and goes, but for a dozen years some lessons remain constant: What is important is what the people in charge say is important. You are rewarded to the extent that you please the people in charge. Thus you learn to accept alienated labor as your fate in life. This is extremely beneficial to economic and political elites whose wealth and power is derived from a workforce and citizenry that is apathetic, compliant, atomized and demoralized. And in the U.S., it’s those elites who create public policy and shape our society’s defining institutions.

In Tinker, the Supreme Court declared that authoritarian schools are not compatible with American civil liberties and democratic ideals. As the Court put it, “In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism.” But the reason most school officials have failed to heed the Court’s ruling is that our schools are indeed enclaves of totalitarianism. The banking concept is nothing if not totalitarian. It’s all about controlling thought and behavior from above under the totally false pretext of getting students to retain useful information. And you maintain that system by silencing students’ voices and keeping them powerless. Denying students their legal press rights is just one predictable result – but one that’s obvious and illegal.

What about teachers? Why would they go along with what you’ve claimed about our schools?

A lot of teachers do their best to not go along with it. I could tell you plenty of stories about that, and so could the students I’ve worked with. Teachers have always been among FSP’s biggest supporters and many are backing the current FSP campaign.

But regardless of a public school teacher’s own educational philosophy, it is nearly impossible for a teacher to do anything but the banking concept when the student to teacher ratio is 30 or 40 to 1 and schooling is all about getting kids to memorize what they need to pass high stakes proficiency tests. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are some of the most extreme versions of the banking concept ever forced on teachers. Combined with other approaches to de-funding and destroying public education – which, predominantly in communities of color, also include replacing school boards elected by local communities with boards appointed by the city mayor – these reforms are part of the largely bi-partisan, neoliberal agenda to reduce the function of everything in life to a source of corporate profit.


Don’t the American Civil Liberties Union and the Student Press Law Center already do the work of Free Student Press?

No. I love the ACLU and SPLC. FSP always puts students in touch with these groups, and we use some of their educational materials, too. Our work compliments theirs, and their work compliments ours. But neither the ACLU nor the SPLC focuses on independent student publishing as a means of doing ongoing empowering education with students – something I think is absolutely necessary if constitutional press rights are really going to mean something for more than a miniscule fraction of American students. Also, while the ACLU and SPLC primarily fight censorship in the courts and state legislatures, FSP empowers students to fight censorship more directly for themselves through grassroots community organizing. Not only does this impart valuable and lasting skills to students, it often defeats censorship faster – as was the case with Lockdown. That’s important because the courts move slowly, and high school doesn’t last forever.

The internet and social media seem to be such important and revolutionary tools in journalism and the exchange of ideas. What advantage over digital means do you see independent student print media having?

The internet and social media have a hugely positive effect on FSP’s work, but when it comes to independent student publications print is still a necessary starting point.

Facebook is good for staying in touch with pre-existing friends, Twitter is good for sharing pithy remarks with people you may or may not know, and the internet gives you free access to lots of different communication from all over the world – including communication that isn’t controlled by big corporate media conglomerates. But if all these digital media allow teenagers to think more globally, then an independent print medium is still what allows teenagers to act locally.

That’s because independent student print media are anchored to a very specific, and very significant, social context – one that’s not as small as students’ own circle of friends, and one that’s not as big, atomized and impersonal as the world at large. And it’s a context that is physical in nature, not virtual. Most social life, and most social change, still happens in the physical world. And it takes a tangible, physical medium to get into the tangible, physically located social context of teenagers’ shared lives as students at school.

Just the simple act of one student handing a tangible print publication to another student in the real world begins to provide a basis for real-world organizing. Not the kind of “organizing” that simply gets a bunch of people to show up at the same time and place for a big demonstration – as the internet and social media are great for facilitating, but the kind that brings people together in the physical world and enables them to share experiences and ideas, to reflect with one another, and to discuss, debate, decide upon and implement strategic collective actions.

But you said the digital age has its advantages too, right?

Absolutely. With tangible print publications anchored to the physically located social context of a school, the digital age then presents wonderful opportunities to strengthen and expand FSP’s work. First, there’s some evidence that the more young people use social media, the more supportive they are of the First Amendment. Second, the internet and social media can really amplify this work.

Not only can print publications have online versions that can be updated more frequently, be more intertextual via hyperlinks, and allow for even more dialogue via reader comment sections, but the internet can allow creators of student publications at different schools to more easily interact with one another. Just as one publication allows students to interact and support one another across the boundaries of social cliques that separate students within a single school, the internet can enable a network of such publications at different schools that transcends the more substantial barriers of racism and economic inequality that have so greatly segregated American communities.

Do you foresee any difficulty in persuading high school students, who are so entrenched in screen culture, about the virtues of paper publications?

If it’s an obstacle, there have always been bigger ones. Never mind paper being old school – the entire experience FSP offers is so foreign to most American students that most don’t get the abstract concepts at first. Typically, a handful of kids get it immediately, and once they create a publication – particularly a public access one – then the rest of their peers get it and the whole experience blossoms. But it’s finding that initial group of more receptive students that has always been a challenge.

Members of Free Student Press and students from Athens and Nelsonville-York high schools, November 1999.

You worked through FSP from 1999 through 2006 with students in Southeast Ohio. Now you’re trying to launch FSP in four Southern states over the next two years, and then take FSP nationwide. Tell me more about that plan.

If the Kickstarter campaign reaches its goal of $25,000 by August 24, then I’ll begin traveling to several college towns in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. In each town, I’ll recruit a team of college student activist-volunteers to assist me with outreach and working with the high school students in their area, just as Lisa and I did when we were undergraduate students. And just as Jalen Hutchinson at the Institute for Democracy in Education mentored Lisa and I in democratic and critical pedagogy, I’ll do the same for FSP’s college student teams, and also teach them about grassroots organizing and participatory democratic organizational models.

From there, I’ll travel from town to town, holding two separate weekly meetings in each town – one with the local FSP team, and one with the local FSP team and the local high school students. In the beginning, I’ll be leading FSP’s work with each group of high school students. But as the skills of the local team members become more advanced, they’ll gradually take over from me, freeing me up to launch FSP in additional towns.

In the meantime, I’ll try to facilitate online networking between the different student publications, and I’ll help the students access the additional resources that the ACLU and SPLC can provide.

Finally, I’ll be chronicling FSP’s work in a book. After this new two-year phase is completed, I’ll get the book published, and use it to try to convince major funders and national organizations to expand FSP all across the country.

What about students at private schools? Does private funding nullify the First Amendment rights of the students.

Yes, it does. Just as we can picket on the sidewalk along Main Street but not at the mall, the First Amendment is all about limiting the power of the government over its citizens, not limiting the power of private corporations over us.

The only quasi-exception I know of is California’s Leonard Law, a state law that provides students at California’s private high schools, colleges and universities with press rights equivalent to the First Amendment rights of public school students.

Of course, progressive private school administrators anywhere can choose to give independent student journalists the same leeway the First Amendment gives students at public schools, but this is totally at the discretion of administrators. Rights, on the other hand, are supposed to mean something whether the people in charge like it or not. That’s part of the reason school privatization threatens student expression and empowerment.

But while private school students don’t have the right to distribute independent publications at their schools, they can contribute to publications produced by public school students and distributed in public schools, and they can attend FSP meetings to learn about all of this and interact with independent student journalists from public schools.

Finally, private school students could try to distribute independent publications simply through the power of their own grassroots organizing and community support, without any legal rights to support them, but this would be extremely difficult – in part because it’s easier for private schools to expel students.

I can see this being something that homeschooled teenagers would enjoy and benefit from being a part of. And I would certainly encourage my son to someday become involved in such projects if he were interested. Do you foresee FSP collaborating with and reaching out to kids who are not educated at school, but who want to learn about their rights and how to organize and engage in a more meaningful dialogue within their communities?

If homeschoolers are looking for a way to engage and learn with their public school peers and to participate in something that gives homeschoolers a stronger voice in their communities, then this is one great way to do it. Homeschooled teenagers can participate in the same way I described private school students participating. But if homeschoolers already have had freer and more empowering experiences outside of conventional schools, then I’d expect public school students would be especially interested to know these homeschoolers, and such relationships would be mutually beneficial.

Ultimately, this is stuff that matters to all of us. Whether we’re teenagers or senior citizens, whether or not we have kids – whether, if we do have kids, we send them to public school, private school, or homeschool them – it’s still our society. What happens at public schools has a huge impact on our society, and therefore affects all of our lives.


How can people support this work?

The Kickstarter campaign needs to reach its goal by August 24, so I encourage everyone who supports this work to donate immediately and to tell all their colleagues, friends and family to do the same. This only works if a lot of us pitch in. But if this campaign succeeds, its impact will be tremendous.


Alex Walker is a stay-at-home mother to a three-year-old son. Formerly a figurative artist and portrait painter, Alex is fascinated by sustainable architecture, homeschooling, gardening, and anything involving creative design. She is following her intention of learning more about human rights and progressive values and movements, as well as becoming a practitioner of ecological living. She lives with her son and husband in Littleton, Colorado and is thoroughly enjoying what the state has to offer.

Damon Krane is co-founder and director of Free Student Press. He has worked as a news reporter, opinion columnist, magazine editor, communications director, non-profit director, grassroots organizer and activist, journalism educator, and business manager. Much of his writing is archived at He is also a visual artist, specializing in black and white pencil portraits of people and pets at He lives with his wife in Atlanta, Georgia.


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Ohio University Professor Jalen Hutchinson joins me in discussing some of the underlying ideas of Free Student Press

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Want to learn more? Watch the full documentary on Free Student Press here!

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“Meme-orable” Quotes About Free Student Press — Please Download & Share!

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Check out Dawson’s book, current speaking tour and related resources here!
To Donate, visit FSP on Kickstarter!


To Donate, visit FSP on Kickstarter!


To Donate, visit FSP on Kickstarter!


To Donate, visit FSP on Kickstarter!


To Donate, visit FSP on Kickstarter!

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Coverage of FSP Expansion Campaign from the Town Where it All Began

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Confederate flag / Egyptian pyramids meme beautifully illustrates the traditional marriage of racism and stupidity

By Damon Krane
July 2, 2015


A popular new meme is making the rounds among conservative Facebook users. With a photo of Egypt’s pyramids as the backdrop, the meme asks “When will we take down these monuments of slavery?”

Young Conservatives, a website claiming to have had 13 million views last week and boasting more than a quarter a million likes on Facebook, declared in a June 30 headline that this purportedly brilliant creation is “Probably the Best Meme EVER About the Confederate Flag ‘Debate’ in America.”

And maybe they’re right. Because I can’t think of any other meme that better illustrates the modern conservative movement’s marriage of racism and stupidity.

Well, except maybe the meme equating the offensiveness of the Confederate flag flown over government institutions to the offensiveness of young black men wearing baggy pants below their waist lines… or probably a million other memes that, thankfully, never get to grace my computer screen.

But when the pyramids meme appeared before me compliments of a white man who remarked “Like it or not, it’s history,” I decided to try to turn this meme into a teachable moment.

In case the meme’s intent isn’t clear to you, let’s start with how Young Conservatives contributor Michael Cantrell describes it.

“Ever since the horrible shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, liberals have been fighting day and night to have the Confederate flag removed from every part of society, whether doing so violates someone’s rights or not.

“They’ve also begun to start demanding statutes of famous Civil War figures and other people throughout history be taken down because they’re ‘monuments to slavery.’

“Well this little meme right here poses the question about why race baiting progressives haven’t demanded these ‘monuments’ [Egypt’s pyramids] be taken down, since, you know, slaves helped build them…

“…there is a theory that claims Jews helped build the pyramids, and even though we might not know 100 percent for sure that happened, you don’t want to accidentally soil your liberal anti-Semtic, pro-Palestinian record by supporting them, right?”

So, yeah… That cleared up everything, right?

If you’re having trouble herding Cantrell’s catty mess of right-wing wackiness into a coherent thesis, don’t worry – Cantrell is, too. So he transitions swiftly into this conclusion.

“In other words, the point I’m trying to make is the whole thing is ridiculous, there are bigger issues facing the country, so how about we take care of some REAL business and fix this mess our nation’s in?”

That’s right. If all else fails, just act like American white supremacist racism doesn’t matter. I guess Cantrell summed up the meme’s intent after all.

However, in response, it’s worth pointing out that no one is arguing the Confederate flag should be removed from “every part of society.” No one is arguing that it be removed from historical displays at publicly funded museums. Instead, people are arguing that the flag should not be flying over government institutions.

And the reason we want the flag removed from such locations is not because the first copies of these flags were made from cotton picked by slaves. It’s not that their seams were sewn by slaves. It’s because the so-called Confederate flag always has been a symbol of an organized and murderous movement for white supremacy supported by official state power.

The flag that Dylann Roof brandished proudly on social media, and which Bree Newsome tore from a flagpole on the South Carolina capitol grounds, was one of many different flags designed and used by white supremacist forces in a war they fought to protect slavery. As James Loewen’s July 1 piece for the Washington Post reminds us, seceding states explicitly declared that they were fighting against states’ rights (specifically, Northern states passing state laws that interfered with the Fugitive Slave Act, a federal law) and for the preservation of slavery.

Over the course of its four-year existence, the white supremacist movement that went to war to protect slavery, calling itself the Confederate States of America, represented itself with a succession of three different national flags, the first of which alone passed through four different variations. None of them were what we call “the Confederate flag” today, but they were bad enough.

The second flag of the CSA – “The Stainless Banner” – was created by William Thompson, a newspaper editor who had criticized the first CSA flag – “The Stars and Bars” – for looking too much like the U.S. flag, something which Thompson made clear represented “the abolition despotism against which we are fighting.”

Thompson was quite clear about what a Confederate flag symbolized. “As a people, we are fighting to maintain the heavenly ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race,” he wrote. And for this flag designer white supremacy was not just a national cause but a global one, too. Thus Thompson predicted his flag “would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.” (original emphasis)

Yet neither Thompson’s flag nor the other two national flags of the Confederacy are what we call the Confederate flag today. The latter is in many ways a 20th century invention.

Adapted from the CSA Naval Jack and the battle flags of the Confederate armies of Northern Virginia and Tennessee, this new Confederate flag was popularized not by the white supremacist would-be nation that came into being to defend slavery in the mid 1860s, but by the Ku Klux Klan and segregationist Dixiecrat politicians who resurrected and repurposed a symbol of a white supremacist slave society for the fight to preserve white supremacist segregation from the late 1940s through the late 1960s. As they did, their new Confederate flag came to fly over southern capitols and city halls, and to be incorporated into the re-designed flags of several southern states. This time it was not about fighting the Civil War; it was about fighting Civil Rights.

Decades later, as a teenager in 1997 I watched Klansmen brandishing Confederate flags as they stood shoulder to shoulder with swastika-clad neo-Nazis in opposition to an NAACP march in Claysville, Pennsylvania. The march was organized after a cross had been burnt on the lawn of the town’s only interracial couple, presumably a familiar calling card from the Klan.

It was this incident that first got me thinking more critically about those “good ol’ boys, never meanin’ no harm” that I’d grown up watching on TV. It got me thinking about the namesake of their 20th century Confederate flag on wheels, the General Lee. And it got me thinking about the Confederate flags sold in Claysville during the following spring’s National Pike Festival, emblazoned with the proclamation “The South Will Rise Again.”

My curiosity soon led me to the website of “America’s Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.” The first image I saw there was the Confederate flag. Beneath it, the Klan implored readers to “Fly the battle flag with pride, for we are at war again.”

This July 18, it is the KKK that will gather at the South Carolina state capitol to protest the removal of a 20th century Confederate flag that finally has become difficult even for conservative politicians to defend. A symbol of slavery resurrected in defense of segregation, the Klan has always been the flag’s rightful owner, even before the Klan was around to claim it.

So what of the conservative meme’s comparison of the Confederate flag to Egypt’s pyramids?

Were Egypt’s pyramids created to symbolize a pro-slavery movement at the precise moment that movement was fighting a war to protect slavery?

During the last century, have Egypt’s pyramids been adopted as the symbol of a modern Egyptian movement for racial apartheid?

Has the Egyptian government tried to place the pyramids and the buildings that house its key decision-making bodies in close proximity to one another?

Sorry, young conservatives. There is no comparison here.

But there are some other comparisons you may find less comforting.

The Washington Post reported July 1st on a 2004 survey of more than 500 Georgians that found support for the Confederate flag highest among two groups: white racists and those ignorant of Confederate history. But I suspect the two groups are often one and the same. Just as ignorance of history can nurture racism, racism can motivate people to be willfully ignorant of history.

In the case of the Confederate flag, a banner born from a war to protect slavery was reinvented by militant white supremacist segregationists, only to then be defended by many whites as a matter of “Heritage Not Hate”, something with no more contemporary political significance than the pyramids of Egypt. (But didn’t this year’s Republican presidential hopefuls initially suggest the Charleston AME murders weren’t about racism, thereby proving that climate change isn’t the only thing they’re willing to deny despite substantial evidence?) In America, the promotion and denial of white supremacy are both cut from the same cloth. It is only fitting that they would be represented by the same flag.

And it is also only fitting that as manifestations of American white supremacy continue to be challenged by the new civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter, you can expect to see more conservative stupidity coming to a meme near you.

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Announcing the Rebirth & Expansion of Free Student Press!

FSP Chomsky Shor



Things have been pretty quiet here since last fall. That’s because I’ve been busy laying the groundwork for an exciting new campaign to bring a proven model of student empowerment through civil liberties education and independent student publishing to public high schools across the U.S. Here’s the skinny. (Do people still say that?)

Way back in 1998, my friend Lisa O’Keefe and I founded a group called Free Student Press, which we launched the following year in Athens County, Ohio with the assistance of the Institute for Democracy in Education. Within a month, the first group of high school students with whom we worked had released the first issue of an independent student publication they called Lockdown. School officials reacted harshly — and extremely illegally. They confiscated copies, lied to students about their constitutional rights and vowed to suspend everyone involved. The principal threatened to effectively revoke the valedictorian’s class standing in an effort to make it more difficult for her to go to college, and he suspended another student for distributing a leaflet that criticized his actions. The school’s attorney, meanwhile, falsely accused the newspaper’s teenage creators of promoting violence and drug use. And it was most likely school officials who directed local police to illegally break up a lawful student meeting at a public park.

Crazy stuff, huh?


Unfortunately, as documented during the past five decades by acclaimed journalist Jack Nelson and the Committee of Inquiry into High School Journalism, the Student Press Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, both misinformation about student press rights and illegal censorship long have run rampant in our schools. If you’re like most Americans, you made it through more than a dozen years of public schooling and into adulthood without ever learning of students’ rights to distribute uncensored, independently produced student publications at public schools.

The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 1969 declared that authoritarian public schools are not compatible with American democracy. “In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism,” the court wrote. But 46 years later, our schools mostly remain “enclaves of totalitarianism” which do a much better job of promoting alienated labor and submission to arbitrary authority than of promoting democracy through empowering education.

The student publishers of Lockdown, who I mentioned earlier, ultimately prevailed. They kept their paper, and their principal lost his job. And in recent interviews, some of Lockdown’s creators discussed the lasting, transformative impact the experience had on their lives.

Over the past eight months, documentarian Roger Hill (Flying Paper and Mental Rev Productions) and I conducted interviews with these former students and others, and we produced two videos — a feature length documentary of the Lockdown saga and explanation of the work of Free Student Press, and a condensed 8-minute video addressing some of the key points.

These videos are now the centerpieces — yes, two centerpieces, because this metaphorical table is too amazing to have just one! — of a 60-day campaign on Kickstarter to bring the work of FSP to public high schools across the country.

Already, superstar public intellectual Noam Chomsky has given this effort a thumbs up, calling Free Student Press “an imaginative initiative that has already attained success in engaging students in constructive dialogue and encouraging independent inquiry, thought, and action.”

I hope you’ll give the Kickstarter campaign look-see now! (And please let me know what you think by sharing your feedback there, or by emailing me at my address under the “contact” tab here.)

Kickstarter Campaign Page

(SHORT) Free Student Press: Student Publishing, Empowering Education & Democracy

(FULL FEATURE) Free Student Press: Student Publishing, Empowering Education & Democracy

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‘Blood Bucket’ makes big mess for supporters of Israel’s ethnic cleansing

By Damon Krane
September 7, 2014
The Ohio University Post (published September 8, 2014)
The Athens News (published September 11, 2014)
Mondoweiss (quoted in articles September 9 and September 16, 2014)
*Updated with afterword, 9/16/14*


Ohio University Student Senate president Megan Marzec clearly stated her position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It speaks volumes about her opponents that they’d rather silence her than attempt to argue against that position. From the online death threats to that masterpiece of passive aggressive condescension Rabbi Danielle Leshaw authored for last Friday’s Post, those demanding Marzec’s resignation from Student Senate (and/or her head on a platter) don’t seem to want to talk about the issue at hand any more than they want Marzec to talk about it. That’s because Marzec’s detractors aren’t “supporters of Israel.” They are supporters of ethnic cleansing. And ethnic cleansing is a hard thing to advocate openly, especially if you want to keep fooling Americans into paying for it.

Israel was established as an ethnic and religiously Jewish state in 1948 in an area primarily inhabited by Palestinian Muslims and Christians. To make way for a Jewish majority, 700,000 Palestinians were pushed out of Israel – many to the West Bank and Gaza, territories Israel then conquered in 1967. Ever since, Palestinians there (now numbering 4 million) have lived under Israeli military occupation. While continuing to expel Palestinians from the West Bank and incorporating more of their land into Israel, Israel has turned the less desirable land of Gaza into an overcrowded, open-air prison where Israel controls the borders, imposes an impoverishing trade embargo, and routinely attacks trapped Gazans with the world’s 4th most powerful military – attacks Israeli military strategists callously refer to as “mowing the lawn.”

During Israel’s latest attack on Gaza this summer, Palestinian militants killed 66 Israelis, including 61 soldiers, three adult civilians and one child. Israeli soldiers, meanwhile, killed over 2,000 Palestinians, an estimated two thirds of whom were civilians and 30 percent children. ( Note: The most reliable figures to emerge since this article was published place the Israeli death toll at 72 and Palestinian dead at 2,100.) After Israel had finished bombing Palestinian hospitals, schools, shelters – even children playing soccer – the U.S. Congress followed up on the Senate’s unanimous declaration of support for Israel in July with its early August decision to increase funding for improvements to Israel’s missile defense system. No one in Congress suggested giving any missile defense system to Palestinians.

For decades Israel has been the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. For the past 20 years, the U.S. has given Israel between $2.5 and $4 billion annually – including $8.5 million in military aid each day of fiscal year 2014. The US gives more money to Israel than to all of the countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined, even though Israel is a country just one fifth the size of Ohio whose citizens enjoy one of the world’s highest per capita incomes and longest life expectancies.

There are several explanations for the so-called “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel. Political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt focus on the power of the Israeli lobby. I think U.S. elites want a well-armed, non-Arab, oil-free dependency in the world’s most important energy producing region. But there’s also a natural cultural affinity.

Israel and the U.S. are both settler colonial states founded on ethnic cleansing. The Palestinians of today are the Native Americans of 200 years ago. Just as Columbus “discovered” America and our slave-owning, Indian-killing, “religious freedom-loving” forbearers “civilized” this country, Israel was “a land without people” (because Palestinians don’t count) just waiting for “a people without land” to “take the desert and make it bloom.” Or, as an Israeli-funded subway poster campaign in major U.S. cities put it recently: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel.”

Yet as much as our shared national mythology might appeal to the Fox News demographic, young Americans just aren’t buying it anymore. A recent Gallup poll found that while 55 percent of Americans age 65 and older supported Israel’s latest massacre in Gaza, the same was true of just 25 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29, 51 percent of whom opposed the offensive. So when OU’s supporters of ethnic cleansing say Megan Marzec doesn’t speak for most of her fellow students, remember this: Megan Marzec speaks for most of her generation.

And when Leshaw and company have the audacity to attempt to speak for all Jews on campus, remember not only all the members of Jews Against the Occupation and Israel’s own Peace Now, as well as prominent Jewish commentators like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Amy Goodman, Naomi Klein, Medea Benjamin, Phyllis Bennis, Max Blumenthal and the late Howard Zinn. Think also of OU film professor Louis-George Schwartz. With regard to Marzec’s detractors, Schwartz has stated, “I’m named after two great Uncles killed in Auschwitz… I say unequivocally that those who threaten anti-racists in the name of ‘THE Jews’ do not speak for me, and they dishonor my ancestors. I say unequivocally that those who support the murderous state dominating the territory of Palestine do not speak for me.”

Think about all of this and recognize that people like Leshaw (so hip because she texts swear words just like a student!) are trying to hijack the horrific history of Jewish persecution in order to use it for their own racist political agenda. Keep that in mind, and you’ll never fall for their attempts to portray long-overdue criticism of Israel as unconscionable hatred of the Jewish people.

And finally, if you’ve ever wished you could undo the horrors of America’s own settler colonial past, remember that you have the power to stop history from repeating itself in Palestine. It is your government that is spending your fellow citizens’ tax dollars on Israel’s murderous ethnic cleansing campaign. It is your university and those like it that are invested in Israeli companies. You have the power to change all of that – just like the student activists before you who helped end U.S.-backed apartheid in South Africa. Realize that, and you’ll come to see that the real goal of the effort against Marzec isn’t to silence Marzec, it’s to silence you.

Stand up for Marzec, and you stand up for yourself. Stand up for yourself, and your generation can bring hope – and possibly even justice – to the people of Palestine. Now is your chance.


[Update: 9/16/14 — In addition to those threatening Marzec’s life, her detractors reportedly also have included people threatening to rape her, others sending astoundingly racist and misogynistic emails, and the student group Bobcats for Israel, four of whose members were arrested September 10th and charged with disrupting a lawful meeting after they tried to shut down a Student Senate meeting in order to force Marzec’s resignation. (For additional accounts of Bobcats for Israel members’ behavior at this meeting, see this letter and this blog post from OU film professor Louis-George Schwartz, whose powerful response to Zionist hardliners attempting to speak for all Jews on OU’s campus I quoted above.)

Rabbi Danielle Leshaw, mentioned above, is heavily affiliated with Bobcats for Israel. Leshaw works for the Ohio University chapter of the group Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. Hillel is an international organization active on college campuses which attempts to re-define “Jewish” as Zionist. Leshaw administrates the Facebook page of Bobcats for Israel and accompanied the group to its action at the September 10 Student Senate meeting. After tweeting live updates in support of the action, Leshaw accompanied members of the group placed under arrest to the police station. However, there are no reports of Leshaw participating directly in Bobcats’ September 10 action, nor was she arrested along with the students she mentors.

As the progressive Jewish American Middle East news blog Mondoweiss pointed out, Bobcats for Israel’s logo features a map of Israel which includes the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, all territories illegally occupied by Israel. Consequently, if these Bobcats are for an Israel that is both Jewish and incorporates these territories, then they are necessarily for massive ethnic cleansing. The demographic consequence of incorporating into Israel all of the non-Jews who inhabit these territories would be a Jewish State with a Jewish minority. Thus if Bobcats are for a Jewish Israel that incorporates these territories, the group should be more forthcoming and change its name to Bobcats for Ethnic Cleansing, or perhaps Bobcats for Genocide. (For her part, Rabbi Leshaw responded to Mondoweiss’s reporting with typical decorum by calling Phillip Weiss a “douchebag” and “asshole” on her Twitter feed.)

With regard to this group’s action at the September 10 student senate meeting, Hillel CEO Eric Fingerhut (who was chancellor of OU’s Board of Regents from 2007 to 2011) wrote OU president Roderick McDavis to express his support for Leshaw and his disbelief that members of Bobcats for Israel were “actually booked and charged with criminal conduct.” According to Fingerhut, “These students are owed an apology from the university.”

As if the history of settler colonialism needed any more evidence of the shameless arrogance of the racist colonizers! I remember when I was arrested at OU (and on public property immediately adjacent to the campus of Kent State University) for committing civil disobedience in opposition to a massive crime against humanity (the U.S. invasion of Iraq) instead of in support of one (Isral’s U.S.-backed ethnic cleansing of Palestinians). In the case of my arrests, I don’t recall any present or former chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents demanding that the president of either of these schools apologize to me for their failures to intervene to prevent my arrests, even after I was among the plaintiffs in a successful wrongful arrest lawsuit against the City of Kent. I do remember a letter from the Ohio University Judiciaries expressing the university’s desire that I “act more responsibly” in the future. So cry me a river, Eric Fingerhut.

Yet despite –or perhaps because of— the repugnant audacity of Marzec’s detractors, there are substantial signs of support for Marzec at Ohio University, including a letter now signed by over 50 OU professors; statements by Graduate Student Senate President; a petition to defend Marzec and all OU students’ rights to advocate for Palestinian human rights being promoted by the OU Women’s Center, the student group Fuck Rape Culture, and the OU Student Union (as well as explicitly Palestine solidarity groups on campus); an editorial by the student-run Ohio University Post newspaper; and many letters to Athens media, including this one from OU film professor Tom Hayes, in which Hayes mocked Rabbi Leshaw’s call for Marzec to resign.

“I call for unelected Rabbi Leshaw to resign and find a position at an institution with a less robust tradition of advocacy for the dignity and freedom of humankind. Perhaps she can find an institution where students are required to check with the campus Rabbi, or Imam, or Minister before taking a principled position. A segregated Jews-only university in an illegal Israeli settlement might be a good fit. The disgusting barrage of defamation and abuse directed at President Marzec makes one wonder if some people on this campus think that this is also Israeli occupied territory.”

Along similar lines, OU history professor Kevin Mattson told the Ohio University Post that while he isn’t in full agreement with Marzec, it was Rabbi Leshaw’s “very condescending and unthoughtful letter” to The Post calling for Marzec’s resignation that led him to join the group of faculty expressing its support for Marzec.

“When you ask a person to resign from an office they were elected to, you are basically asking for a reversal of the election,” Mattson said, calling Leshaw’s rationale behind her letter “faulty logic.”

Thus while the backlash to Marzec’s “blood bucket” action has been as repulsive as you might expect of people who do, after all, support a murderous and racist U.S.-Israeli campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians, the backlash to that backlash continues to inspire hope — hope for a sustained and powerful Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement that might finally bring justice to Palestine.

[Update: 9/30/14 — Electronic Intifada on September 24 published an interview with Megan Marzec accompanied by a good brief summary of this story. Also, the Ohio University Post and Athens News recently reported on a coalition of right wing campus groups, including Bobcats for Israel and the OU College Republicans, organizing a petition drive to recall Marzec from office for her support of Palestinian human rights.]

Editor’s note: Damon Krane lived in Athens, Ohio from 1999 through 2009, during which time he attended Ohio University, edited The InterActivist magazine, contributed to The Athens NEWS, wrote a column for The Post, ran the high school journalism education project Free Student Press, directed the local center for progressive activist development People Might, and was active in numerous social justice groups.

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Debating a Supporter of U.S. Aid to Israel

By Damon Krane
September 4, 2014
Blog Post

During “Operation Protective Edge,” Israel’s July-August 2014 attack on the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory of Gaza, Palestinian militants killed 66 Israelis. 61 of the dead were Israeli soldiers. Five others were civilians, including one child.

A precise number of Palestinians killed in the offensive is harder to come by. But according to most sources, Israel killed more than 2,000 Palestinians during Operation Protective Edge. Roughly two thirds of the dead were civilians, and about 30 percent of the total were children.  

Shortly after the early August ceasefire, a friend posted on his Facebook wall a report about the U.S. decision to increase financial support of Israel’s missile defense system. The decision came despite the many atrocities committed by Israel during Operation Protective Edge (including bombing multiple hospitals, schools and shelters, as well as children playing soccer) and despite Israel already being the single largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid.

“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!” my friend asked rhetorically.

After several people responded to my friend’s post with similar disapproval of expanded U.S. aid to Israel a supporter of that aid chimed in, and a debate between the two of us followed.

I have reproduced the text of that debate below. In it, my opponent is designated as “DOI”, an acronym for the popular but arguably inaccurate title “defender of Israel.”

While I don’t assume my opponent is a typical example of someone who takes this position, I am curious to know how much his tactics of choice (attempts at intellectual intimidation, obfuscation and false accusations of racism) coincide with those encountered by other critics of settler colonialism, state terrorism and mass murder who have entered into their own debates with so-called defenders of Israel. 


DOI: Its good to know that all of you are OK de-funding our support of one of the only things stopping the rockets, grenades, and mortars flying into a major democratic ally’s civilian territory.

Be frustrated by the death that is happening there. Weep for the loss of life and of humanity. But before you start acting like you have a glimmer of understanding about how to fix the situation, please, I beg of you, try to educate yourself on the root causes of this conflict. The world has enough under-educated demagogues ranting about every topic under the sun as though they had decades of experiential know-how. Its amazing how much confidence a sourced, alternative news site or one semester studying political science can do for an ego.


Me: DOI is right. It’s not enough to condemn Israel’s latest terrorism, war crimes and acts of collective punishment. They ought to be seen within the context of their “root causes” — namely 65+ years of Zionists conquering and colonizing places where people (of the wrong ethnicity) already lived — most of which could not have been possible without US tax dollars.


DOI: I would really love to get into this with you all, but the level of ignorance and bias against Israel (and likely Jews in general) has been made abundantly clear. There appears to be no interest in hearing an alternative perspective. The notion that you might not be educated on this topic well enough to speak intelligently about it drove immediate “oh yea” responses that only proved my point to begin with.

This conflict is more complicated. I never said Israel was perfect. I never made any claims of guilt on either side of this. I did say that there are plenty of under-educated demagogues who feel like their internet searching skills qualify them to inform the public about the “truth.” Those who do would be laughably wrong.

Thanks for the laugh.


Me: Thanks, DOI. Your predictable attempt to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism, your baseless insults, and your disingenuous claim to not be taking any firm position are all stunning testaments to your opposition to demagoguery and love of honest, informed debate. But if you’re not laughing too hard to provide a counter-argument to my claim that the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (as well as Israel’s most current crimes) is Israel’s settler colonialism, I’m sure I’m not the only one here who’d like to hear it.


DOI: Damon, I will keep this simple. I have, for the last 32 years, been deeply in touch with this conflict. I have family and friends on both sides of this, have been exposed to and have tracked all aspects of this conflict for as long as I have been able, not just as some trendy news item to champion ignorantly. I have no freaking clue what the solution is.

I do know that your stance is quite firm and to the point. You almost approach it as a matter of fact. There was a reason that I did not offer my opinion. I do not find myself qualified enough to offer short meaningless explanations of “why” on Facebook that will inevitably not do this very serious issue justice, literally or intellectually.

My comments fixated on the demagoguery because there is no intellectual contribution being made. Hence my baseless insult about a lack of education on the topic in question. It is too complex an issue to be meaningfully addressed in this kind of venue or with talking points from an article or two.

So, am I going join this witch hunt? No. I will instead continue educating myself on the issue and if I do make a contribution to a discussion, it will likely be in the form of asking questions of people who seem to have more knowledge on the topic than I. Educated people, who have enough of an understanding of the conflict and who know that there is more to know. Getting into conversations with people who enter into them firmly touting that they already have the answer is fruitless and tiresome. If you want to engage in an honest, informed debate, do not start it off with a preconceived notion of what is right. Test an idea with the intent of gauging its truth, not to pummel the other participants with your foolish demagoguery.

And as I cannot possibly let the “Your predictable attempt to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish racism” line go unmentioned… Why choose Israel as a focus? What about Israel makes them the prime candidate to level words like “terrorism, war crimes and acts of collective punishment” as descriptors for their behavior over others? Is it because Israel is doing them more frequently and with more intensity than others? Is it because you are directly affected by Israel’s actions that it becomes a personal issue for you? Perhaps it is because of the specific group of people involved… Crimes that dwarf Israeli and Palestinian violence are happening in a neighboring country, no more than 100 miles away. Graves being dug for hundreds of people, filled with people, then executing them. Why dig a grave and move the bodies when you can have the dead walk there before you kill them? Why not talk about that? Not villainous enough for you? Or perhaps its that you object to US dollars going into it. Well, then you should probably object to the military spending of the US in general. If Israel was not there, the US would be blowing lots more than the already inordinate amount that is currently being spent on conflicts with Hamas. Another US occupation, maybe…

Is the issue you have more in line with the “occupation” aspect of this scenario? Is the issue that a state was formed where other indigenous people once lived? Is it that there was a mandate for a country to form by a global authority that hurt a specific group of people? Then up your intellectual critique to all borders and all nations, because the same can be said for every. single. country. to. date. Unless there is a specific issue with the people in this country. In this conflict.

The conflict in Israel/Palestine is devastating and horrendous. The issues that are represented in this conflict are infinitely larger than Israel and Palestine. Fixating on this one conflict makes your critique seem to be chosen out of a pre-existing preference or bias against or for the parties involved. If you want to take the honest, informed debate path, then step it up and debate the issues. Otherwise, it comes off as something else…


Me: DOI, I decided not to accept your invitation to argue semantics on the vitally important matter of debate etiquette. Instead, I’ve responded to what little you’ve managed to write about the issue at hand – i.e. the questions and claims you begin posting in your fourth paragraph.

Q — “Why choose Israel as a focus?”

A — Because it’s what we’re talking about.

Q — “What about Israel makes them the prime candidate to level words like ‘terrorism, war crimes and acts of collective punishment’ as descriptors for their behavior over others? Is it because Israel is doing them more frequently and with more intensity than others?”

A — Yes. In “Operation Protective Edge,” as in “Operation Brother’s Keeper,” as in “Operation Cast Lead”, as in the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel has been and continues to be the disproportionately belligerent, disproportionately criminal, disproportionately civilian-murdering party. Would you like to debate that, or would you rather stick to accusing me of anti-semitism?

Q — “Is it because you are directly affected by Israel’s actions that it becomes a personal issue for you?”

A — A “personal” issue? Geez. You make it sound like the feminine hygiene aisle at the supermarket. Is it a “personal” issue for me because I’m talking about it? Because I have an opinion? And is that suspect and likely racist because… why again?

Anyway, in direct response to your question rather than your beloved vague insinuations: No, it is more a matter of cause than effect. As an American, I am a citizen and taxpayer of the only country in the world that, while masquerading as some neutral mediator, in reality enables Israel’s rejection of a political settlement with the Palestinians and the ongoing destruction of Palestinian society. Consequently, I have a responsibility for Israeli atrocities and a potential to stop them that I do not have when it comes to many other atrocities around the world, such as the Syrian situation to which you presumably alluded. For those astoundingly obvious reasons I believe I should prioritize this situation over those in which I am less involved and have less ability to affect positively. The key factor is not the scale of the atrocities (which is bad enough in this case), but the personal culpability and personal opportunity I have vis-à-vis these atrocities. That’s what makes it a “personal” issue for me, and for every other American.

So, do you agree that we should be more concerned with those things in which we are more involved and have greater opportunity to affect than with those things in which we are less involved and have less opportunity to affect?

If so, do you agree that Americans play a greater role in and have more ability to affect the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than they do the Syrian civil war?

You can answer if you like, or you can keep charging me with anti-semitism.

Claim — “Or perhaps its that you object to US dollars going into it. Well, then you should probably object to the military spending of the US in general.”

Response — Yes, DOI, that would be an excellent way for us to stop talking about Israel, wouldn’t it? For the record, I DO object to both the specific scale and, more importantly, the specific applications of U.S. military spending. For the record, I also like Annie Hall much more than Woody Allen’s other movies and Life of Brian way more than anything else Monty Python ever did. But I’m going to stick to talking about Israel here.

Claim — “If Israel was not there, the US would be blowing lots more than the already inordinate amount that is currently being spent on conflicts with Hamas. Another US occupation, maybe…”

Response — So is your implication here that I’m unrealistically frugal when it comes to pursuing imperialistic American objectives in the Middle East? Because resisting those objectives is my intention, not pursuing them. So it’s not a matter of fiscal conservatism for me, just basic morality. But in all fairness to you, I may be attributing far more substance to your comment above than it actually contained.

{Editor’s note, 9/4/14 – Something I failed to add at the time but should have: Israel is not at war with Hamas. Israel’s beef is with Palestinians in general. That is why this conflict pre-dates Hamas. That is why this conflict exists in the Fatah-controlled West Bank as well as Hamas-controlled Gaza. That is why this conflict exists within Israel itself with regard to the “Jewish State’s” minority of non-Jewish citizens. And finally, that is why Israel is currently massacring a civilian population of Palestinians in Gaza much more than it is targeting Hamas.

Israel is not at war with Hamas. Israeli propagandists and their U.S. counterparts, including President Obama and most of Congress, are merely using Hamas as a convenient scapegoat to justify longstanding U.S.-Israeli policies of Israeli expansion at the expense of indigenous Palestinians. Your attempt to portray the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, or U.S. support for Israel in general, as “conflicts with Hamas” shows that you belong to this camp of propagandists, whether knowingly or unwittingly.]

Q & claim — “Is the issue you have more in line with the ‘occupation’ aspect of this scenario? Is the issue that a state was formed where other indigenous people once lived? Is it that there was a mandate for a country to form by a global authority that hurt a specific group of people? Then up your intellectual critique to all borders and all nations, because the same can be said for every. single. country. to. date. Unless there is a specific issue with the people in this country. In this conflict.”

Response — Human history is repulsively violent, and there’s a lot that’s wrong (in both theory and practice) with all modern nation-states. But not every modern nation-state was formed as a settler colony that required the removal of most of the region’s indigenous population. Nor does every nation-state that was formed in such a way continue to confine the remnants of the indigenous population to impoverished cantons. Nor does every nation-state subject millions of indigenous non-citizens to military occupation. Nor is every nation-state currently pursuing, as we speak, Manifest Destiny-style expansion of its territory. Israel is a country ¼ the size of Ohio. Israel is not the world. I didn’t realize erasing meaningful distinctions and trying to mystify fairly straightforward matters is what it means to “up” one’s “intellectual critique.”

Also, I don’t own a time machine. My opposition to settler colonialism is across the board. But it has the potential to do more good for the Palestinians than, say, for the millions of Native Americans that were conquered, displaced, and/or exterminated before my birth. But perhaps the idea that temporal distinctions also matter merely speaks to my level of ignorance.

DOI’s Conclusion — “Fixating on this one conflict makes your critique seem to be chosen out of a pre-existing preference or bias against or for the parties involved. If you want to take the honest, informed debate path, then step it up and debate the issues. Otherwise it comes off as something else…”

Response — My goodness, you make a sleazy argument, DOI. And here’s why I say that…

Since you’ve brought up racism, repeatedly, I want to share a personal story with you.

I grew up in a very backwards, white supremacist area. Shortly after I began developing an anti-racist consciousness, I discovered something odd. Whenever I’d try to talk to other white folks about the marginalization and oppression of African Americans, they’d always say “Well, what about the Native Americans? They’ve had it so much worse, haven’t they?”

Since this was the only time I ever heard these people express concern for Native Americans, it soon became clear they weren’t at all concerned with Native Americans; they were concerned with diverting the discussion from ongoing institutionalized and cultural racism against African Americans.

Now, note that “ultra conservatives” (i.e. American white nationalists / white supremacists) take this one step further and accuse the person trying to talk about anti-Black racism of “reverse racism.” That is, of hating whites.

Then fringe white racist groups take it further still. When the person criticizing white supremacist racism is themselves white, they have a name for that. I learned it at the first political rally I ever participated in – an NAACP march in response to a cross burning intended to scare a dark-skinned southwest Asian man out of an otherwise all-white Pennsylvania town where I lived in 1997. The Confederate Flag-waving Klansmen and masked, swastika-sporting neo-Nazis who protested from the march’s sidelines taught me that name when they applied it to me. It’s “race traitor.”

Now, I believe this personal story is relevant with regard to two things I find very troubling about your last post. The first is that your modus operandi is very much like those white folks who used the plight of Native Americans as a ploy for evading a discussion of anti-Black racism – yours is just a more sophisticated variety of bullshit, and it goes like this:

Damon, if you’re not simultaneously talking about every atrocity/human rights abuse/etc. as well as certain other mysterious issues I’ve referred to but haven’t named, then you don’t have any right to talk about this issue. So you can either attempt the former, which is impossible and therefore proof of the utter incomprehensibility of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict even for a mind as brilliant and well-informed as my own, or you can just shut up. Either way, one thing is for sure – you won’t be talking about Israel, and I will have succeeded.

Thus all you offer is evasion, obfuscation and a feeble attempt at intellectual bullying – those fallacious appeals to authority which aren’t exactly made more persuasive by the fact that the authority to which you’re appealing is none other than the authority you yourself claim to possess. There is absolutely nothing of substance in either the short or long versions of the exceedingly pretentious and otherwise vacuous comments you’ve seen fit to offer here as Israel continues to kill a disproportionate amount of disproportionately civilian Palestinians and lay waste to Gaza. That’s an epic fail. At life.

The second troubling parallel I see is that Zionists defend Israel in exactly the same way white supremacists defend their ideology. Just as white supremacists accuse their opponents of “reverse racism” (as though opposing white supremacy is the same thing as hating whites), Zionists accuse critics of Israel of anti-semitism (as though being opposed to Israel’s settler colonialism, human rights violations, war crimes, and apartheid policies is the same thing as hating Jews). Further still, whereas white supremacists deem their white opponents “race traitors,” Zionists have a name for Jews that step out of line, too: “self-hating Jews.”

Of course, this is just a broader right wing tendency. It’s why U.S. “conservatives” call their domestic political opponents “anti-American.” It’s the fascistic concept that the state and its policies embody the essence of a people, so you can’t criticize the former without condemning the latter.

Thus it’s not surprising that the most recent Gallup poll found that while 55 percent of Americans 65 and older support Israel’s current massacre of Palestinians, the same is true of just 25 percent of Americans ages 18-29. In other words, the classic Zionist defense that you’ve employed here – i.e. that criticism of Israel is inherently anti-semitic – doesn’t really fly these days with many Americans outside of the Fox News demographic. And the reason it DOES fly with that demographic is that its part of their political playbook, too.

Now, since we’re talking about right wing ideology and racism, let’s talk about your support for Israel.

I’m not opposed to Jewish nationalism per se. Particularly in the years shortly after the Holocaust, when Israel was founded, I think the desire among Jews for a national homeland was exceedingly justified. Had Israel been carved out of Germany, then I’d most likely be a Zionist.

But there is no moral justification for Palestinians paying such a steep price for a sense of… I would call it “Jewish security,” except that the so-called “Jewish State” is no more synonymous with the global Jewish population than Israel is pursuing security. Much like the U.S. in its so-called “War on Terror” (and in conjunction with the U.S. in that war) what Israel is pursuing is expanded geographical dominance at the EXPENSE of its population’s security. And that’s not worth the confiscation of Palestinian life and land.

Since Palestinians don’t owe Jews Holocaust reparations (although others certainly have and do), Jews have no entitlement to Palestinians’ land and resources – unless, of course, you feel that Jews are more deserving on racial or religiously chauvinistic grounds. But what has Zionism become by now, if not a fundamentally chauvinistic, right wing ideology employed to rationalize a kind of gradual genocide?

That’s not where I want to see my tax dollars go. That’s not something I’m comfortable seeing done in my name.


DOI: Disappointing. You had so many ways to respond, so many opportunities to take the moral high ground. I am genuinely disappointed. At least you didn’t make vague claims at having Jewish friends to justify your stance… The only thing that would be more wrongfully placed than the balance of your second “response.”

Why is my desire to talk about the root cause of this problem construed as pro-Israel? Because I am the only person in this lynch mob questioning the reasoning behind it? A cute notion, but not true.

So, am I pro Israel? Lets get your base-line assumption about me addressed up front, since you clearly lack a capacity to understand why anyone would want to focus on solving the conflict and not fixating on talking points and haphazard and flawed moral arguments. Yes. I am pro-Israel. You are failing miserably in not seeing that I am pro-Palestine just as strongly.

The only thing that cutting off funding to Israel will do is increase Israeli casualties. The Iron Dome that Austin wants us to cut funding to is defensive. The ONLY thing it does is intercept attacks made on Israeli soil. Wanting to even out loss of life to both sides of a conflict is not taking the moral high ground. It is blood-lust. Guess you did pick up some habits from growing up in a white supremacist area after all.

Or, do we want to actually address HOW to stop the violence? (I am sure that was a frequent conversation with your white supremacist childhood friends) Does that even matter? When we stop funding Israel, will anyone give one damn about Palestine? Jesus, how can so many be so painfully narrow-minded?

Now to get to my “classic” Zionist defense of Israel… I am so amazed that this is still a thing. Why not just reference the “problem of the Jew?” I did not defend Israel’s actions. Once. I hate what is happening. I actually want it to stop. Lowering the budget for their defense system will make them more desperate for severe action. To expect anything else is kinda silly and naive. Unless it is only a desire to remove your personal culpability… Then hurrah head-in-sand!

The people of Palestine deserve better champions than you…

And if you want to go tit for tat with personal stories of discrimination, we can have that conversation elsewhere. I am very happy you are championing civil rights issues. It is a tragedy that they still need to be addressed. I guess too many people are fixating on the people exhibiting racism and not trying to change the ideas behind racism…

I do, however, really hope you approach it from a slightly higher moral standard than you have shown here… Telling a Jewish nation not to defend itself in a post-Holocaust world, or to cut funding to its defense tool… Why not just tell them to move to the US, there are plenty of spaces at the back of the bus…. Jesus…


Me: I’ll make you a deal, DOI. If anyone else reading this comment thread wants to point out anything in your previous two comments that they found persuasive or in any way meriting a response from me, then I’ll address it. Otherwise, I don’t think your attempt to double down on your favorite absurdity is anything I haven’t already refuted.


DOI: Or you could explain how cutting funding will actually address the problem. And you could back up your claims of Israel’s intent behind its actions. Or…
[At this point, DOI attached a link to Sacha Baron Cohen as “Borat” performing the song “Throw the Jew Down the Well.”


Me: As I said, “anyone else.”


DOI: Zzzzzzzzzz


20 days pass (August 3 – 23) without anyone commenting.


Me: OK. Looks like nobody took me up on that offer…  

But since I don’t like loose ends, I’ll respond to that bit about the missile defense system you brought in at the end, DOI. Why shouldn’t U.S. taxpayers pay for it? Here’s why.


Because I believe all human life has equal value, I’m interested in acting to achieve a net reduction in violence and oppression. While there is violence and death on both sides of this conflict, the vast majority of violence is coming from the Israeli side while the vast majority of deaths are happening on the Palestinian side – and that’s even more the case if we’re talking about the deaths of civilians, and even more still if we’re talking about the deaths of children. Therefore, anyone concerned with a net reduction of violence is going to prioritize reducing violence against the people who are suffering the bulk of it – and in this case that’s the Palestinians.

This begs the question: Why is the U.S. funding a missile defense system for Israel instead of one for Gaza? Israel already has one and needs it less. Gaza has none and needs it more.

At the very least, we might wonder why the U.S. isn’t funding missile defense systems for both sides, seeing as how the U.S. is such a neutral mediator and all.

Sadly, reducing the violence of this conflict is not the driving goal of President Obama or virtually any member of Congress – Republican or Democrat. And that says something very chilling (but hardly surprising) about the U.S. socio-political system.

But in contrast to the garbage of debased humanity that rises to the top of our political system, people with fundamentally decent moral values should want a net reduction in violence. And there’s no way to argue that such decent people should prioritize funding Israel’s missile defense system over providing aid to Palestinians.


Of course, decent people aren’t just concerned with violence reduction or “peace.” They’re also concerned with justice. “Peace and justice” get lumped together because they’re inseparably linked, but they’re two words because they are nonetheless distinct. This situation illustrates all of that quite well. So let’s bring justice into the picture, too.

Israel isn’t only the belligerent party because it is disproportionately violent at present and over all. Israel is also the belligerent party because its longstanding policies of settler colonialism (and more specifically, ethnic cleansing) are the root of the conflict.

Even if Israelis and Palestinians were only fighting with water balloons, the fact would remain that Palestinians are fighting to keep their land and Israelis are fighting to take it. One cause is just, the other is not. So once you add a sense of justice to a desire for peace, the argument for supporting Israel gets even weaker.

Bringing justice into the picture also makes something else clear. That is, if you really want a net reduction in violence, work not only toward protecting the predominant victims and constraining the predominant perpetrators, but also work toward eliminating the structural source of the violence. In this case, the structural source of the violence is Israel’s settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing.

But all that said, wouldn’t a better Israeli missile defense system still save (Israeli) lives – particularly those of (Israeli) civilians? And isn’t that a good thing?

Of course it would. And of course that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t mean U.S. taxpayers should have to pay for it. In fact, anyone concerned with peace and justice should be opposed to the U.S. or any other country besides Israel paying for it. And here’s why…


Settler colonialism has its costs for the settlers, too. The resistance of indigenous people is predictable, as is the fact that it will sometimes take very ugly forms. There are cases of Native Americans massacring noncombatant European settlers, including children. There are cases of black Africans doing the same in Europe’s former African colonies. Rockets fired indiscriminately from Gaza and suicide bombers are just more of the same. We don’t have to support any of these atrocious acts to recognize their predictability or their root causes. Because oppression isn’t reserved for angels, the resistance it engenders will not always be pretty. Those horrors are a cost of colonialism that settlers have to pay – in terms of defending themselves against it, even if not in terms of actually suffering it.

And that’s why if Israel wants a better missile defense system to protect itself from the costs of its own aggression, then Israel should pay for it. Especially since Israel CAN pay for it. We’re talking about an unusually affluent country, with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, that the U.S. has been pouring billions into annually for decades.

Israel can afford a better missile defense system; it just might need to sacrifice other projects and programs in order to get it. That’s the nature of cost. But so long as American taxpayers are paying the financial costs of Israel’s settler colonial project and Israelis are enjoying so many of the benefits for free, we can expect Israel to stay its present course – a course which is far more likely to result in a net increase in violence than a net reduction in violence.


Now, DOI… as much as I enjoyed your unintentional self-parody in that Borat clip… (i.e. using the fictional anti-semitism of a Sacha Baron Cohen character to illustrate the fictional anti-semitism you attribute to me) …you are still welcome to break with past practice and enter into a substantive discussion by responding directly to some of the many points I have made in this and previous posts. After all, I think I have responded directly to each and every point you’ve attempted to make up until now.

Editor’s note, 9/4/14 – I posted the entry above on August 23rd. To date I have received no response.

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Better messaging, decision-making would strengthen Athens Take Back the Night march

By Damon Krane
April 2, 2014
The Post (Athens, Ohio)



Women marching in the 2005 Athens TBTN march. InterActivist file photo by Julie Van Wagenen.

As a male sideline supporter of most of the Athens Take Back the Night marches since 2000, I would like to offer a somewhat different take on this year’s controversy surrounding how men will relate to the march.

This year’s decision to invite men to march alongside women has been particularly contentious. With only a few exceptions, the event has been a women’s march since the late 1970s. Yet regardless of whether men march, every year Take Back the Night is surrounded by controversy. All of the controversy is educational. Most of it is inescapable. But some of it is more divisive than it needs to be.

Most controversial of all is not whether men will march in a feminist march, but whether anyone will. Every year that I participated in sideline support, male students opposed to the march shouted sexist slurs and rape threats from the balconies of Ohio University fraternity houses and the windows of residence halls. Most years marchers made too much noise with their own chants to hear much of this, but sideline supporters got an earful. The current debate over men marching pales in comparison to the kind of controversy that greets any expression of feminism in a society that remains plagued by patriarchy — and perhaps at Ohio University in particular, which, according to the U.S. Department of Education, frequently outranks even the substantially larger Ohio State University when it comes to the number of rapes reported in residence halls. (See my “Crying wolf about crying wolf: Debate over public sex incident teaches more than Grand Jury findings,” Athens News: 10/30/13 and “Students, faculty deem assault prevention inadequate,” Athens News: 1/31/02 and The Post: 2/1/2002)

By refusing to succumb to this patriarchal rape culture, Take Back the Night marchers and supporters create division, to be sure — a division between those working for a better world and those working for a worse one. So “controversy” and “divisiveness” aren’t always bad words. As Frederick Douglass pointed out, they’re absolutely necessary for progress.


The author after just completing a banner inspired by feminist author bell hooks and first used during sideline support of the May 2000 Athens TBTN march. Photo from author’s personal collection by Monty Hunter.


The author (far right) and other male sideline supporters, including former Athens City Council member Elahu Gosney (center), during the 2005 or 2006 Athens TBTN march. InterActivist file photo by Julie Van Wagenen

But the controversial aspect of TBTN that is mostly unnecessary and counter-productive is the divisiveness created among Athens feminists/sexual assault opponents over whether men will march. Some of this is unavoidable; even people who share the same goals will disagree about the best strategy for achieving those goals. But much of the conflict flows from two easily corrected but longstanding problems with the march – one of messaging, the other of decision-making.

If the purpose of Take Back the Night is to show opposition to sexual assault in general, then it makes sense for everyone to be welcomed to march, since men as well as trans and genderqueer people are also survivors and opponents of sexual assault. Conversely, if the march is a way for women to empower themselves to combat the overwhelming majority of sexual assault committed by men against women as an outgrowth of patriarchy, then a women’s march probably makes most sense. So which is it? That’s the problem of messaging. And who gets to determine the message is the problem of decision-making.

In her March 30 letter to The Post Devin Aeh argues that TBTN is a women’s march for women’s empowerment and against sexual assault. In an April 1 letter Erin Fischer contends that Aeh speaks for only “a few bigots” and that “TBTN is not about ‘women’s empowerment;’ it’s about standing up to sexual violence and assault.” Decades of local tradition are on Aeh’s side. So are tens of thousands of women and men I wouldn’t identify as bigots. But traditions and even majorities aren’t always worth heeding. So which is it?

In past years, Take Back the Night marches for women’s empowerment eventually gave rise to an additional march against sexual assault per se. This year it seems that a Take Back the Night march against sexual assault per se is giving rise to a separate march for women’s empowerment. Just like Aeh’s and Fischer’s arguments, these developments make two things crystal clear: 1) there is a big difference between these two types of marches and 2) there are people in Athens who feel the need for each type of march. Given that both types of marches are oriented toward worthy goals, perhaps there are even people who feel the need for both.

But whichever type of march the organizers of a particular year’s Take Back the Night choose, the march’s message needs to be made clear so people will be less inclined to continue to fight over it, and instead focus on fighting patriarchy and/or sexual assault.

Yet even if the message is clear, if the process for deciding upon that message isn’t considered legitimate, then there will still be unnecessary conflict and resentment.

The process for deciding TBTN’s message can be authoritarian or democratic. The authoritarian option is for one person or a handful of people on OU’s Student Senate to make the decision unilaterally, perhaps after receiving some degree of wider input (or not). This is what usually happens. Then the decision maker(s) can sit back and see how many marchers and would-be marchers resent not having a say. And by “say,” I’m not talking about mere input. I’m talking about people having a share of actual decision-making power through some system of majority rule or consensus that would constitute a more democratic approach to determining TBTN’s message.

In addition to clearer messaging, a more democratic process that’s open to a wider constituency of TBTN stake-holders would go a long way toward decreasing the unnecessary kind of conflict surrounding the march and increasing the necessary kind.

Editor’s Note — Damon Krane is a former weekly columnist for the Post, contributor to the Athens News, co-founder of The InterActivist magazine and its editor from 2005 through 2008. While a student at OU in 2002, he revealed OU’s violations of federal campus crime reporting laws and helped organize the campaign that both forced OU into compliance and proved instrumental to the establishment of the OU Women’s Center. A freelance journalist, artist and community organizer who currently resides in Georgia, his letter (co-authored with several other men) which argued against men marching (but in favor of one of the first showings of sideline support) was published in the May 8, 2000 edition of The Post and May 11, 2000 edition of the Athens News.

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Interview with Former InterActivist Editor Damon Krane

By Sophie Kruse
February 2014
The InterActivist Magazine (Athens, Ohio)

(Editor’s Note: The following is the full text (some might say “very full”) of an interview with me published in the tenth anniversary edition of The InterActivist, the Athens, Ohio / Ohio University based magazine I helped found, wrote for and edited for several years. For another perspective on the magazine, see the tenth anniversary edition interview with Eric Sandy, another former InterActivist staffer who currently writes for Cleveland Scene magazine.)

Former editor Damon Krane appears frequently in this selection of various InterActivist staff photos and front covers from the past 10 years.

1. What years were you involved with InterActivist?

From 2003 through late 2008. So five or six years. That’s the first half of the magazine’s existence thus far, during which nearly two thirds of the issues were produced.

The idea of The InterActivist was first conceived by Sara DeAloia, who had co-founded Ohio University Students Against the War and its successor, the student and community activist group InterAct. She first proposed InterAct create its own publication in the spring of 2003. This was very soon after InterAct itself had come into being. Sara’s proposal was timed so that InterAct could secure OU Student Activities Commission funding for the production of issues to be released in the fall of 2003.

So that Spring I was a member of InterAct and one of the people who voted on Sara’s initial proposal to create what eventually became The InterActivist. In that sense you could say I was a co-founder of The InterActivist, just as a little earlier I was a co-founder of InterAct, and that I was involved from the magazine’s very beginning. But there’s a little more to it than that.

Initially, I thought The InterActivist was a waste of time. I didn’t vote against Sara’s proposal, but I was not supportive, either, for several reasons.

First, when it came to independent media, I was more interested in public access media as an empowering forum for community dialogue – like a magazine I had created in my high school, like the publications I had helped develop with high school students in Athens County through my earlier work with Free Student Press, and like the short-lived Athens Agenda magazine, which I co-founded in 2001 – as opposed to specifically progressive media for a mainly progressive audience.

Second, I thought it made more sense for progressive writers to try to get published in the established local newspapers because the circulation of those papers was far larger than what we could achieve on our own, and it was relatively easy to get the established papers to publish your work.

We’re talking about Athens, a city of about 30,000 people with three major newspapers. Plus, The Post and especially The Athens News run many more letters and guest columns than typical newspapers. On the one hand, that’s an easy way for The Athens News and The Post to get free content. On the other hand, it makes local media substantially more accessible and participatory as far as the general community is concerned, and that’s wonderful. In my own experience, probably 90-95 percent of my submissions to the major Athens newspapers got published, with the same piece frequently running in two papers simultaneously.

And then on top of all that, a decade ago (and probably now, too) it wasn’t very difficult then to get a weekly column at The Post. I had a weekly column in the fall of 2002 – and I was shocked how much feedback I got from readers, even years later. Several of my activist friends had columns over the years, as well.

So why not focus on the opportunities provided by the local established newspapers instead of trying to create our own publication? Why work harder to reach fewer readers?

Third – and most important – this was right after the Iraq war was launched, and I thought that instead of speaking out against the war, progressives needed to be acting out in ways as concretely disruptive as possible in order to raise the domestic costs of that war of U.S. aggression to prohibitive levels as far as U.S. elites were concerned. Given that the U.S. government was then slaughtering significantly more innocent people than usual, the urgency of that issue at the time outweighed everything else for me. Anything else just seemed like a distraction.

The funny thing is, looking back, I still think all of these criticisms are valid. Nevertheless, I gradually came to believe that other aspects of The InterActivist made it – and continue to make it – a very worthwhile project.

So by about the third issue of The InterActivist, produced either in late 2003 or early 2004, I became directly involved in the magazine’s production. Then from mid 2005 through late 2008 I was the person primarily responsible for the magazine. It was during this second period that I led a major expansion of The InterActivist and oversaw production of issues #14 through 39, I think – about 25 in all. Which is pretty ironic given my initial impression of The InterActivist.

2. What year did you graduate?

I finished OU in the summer of 2003 and then focused on anti-war and other grassroots organizing efforts while trying to support myself on consecutive part-time food service jobs at Bagel Street Deli, Casa Nueva and the Burrito Buggy – as well as a theoretically paid position as People Might’s executive director, from 2005 through 2008. Along the way I got a little boost from a small settlement in a wrongful arrest lawsuit related to an anti-war demonstration in Kent, Ohio. I did organizing work in Athens until the end of 2008, which is when People Might folded and I left The InterActivist. So all of my work on The InterActivist actually happened after I was a student at OU.

3. What made you interested in InterActivist?

Despite the drawbacks I mentioned earlier, I gradually came to see where The InterActivist could really excel.

First, The InterActivist was a great recruitment tool for InterAct. It made the group more accessible and more impressive.

These days, if I understand correctly, InterAct essentially is The InterActivist. But that’s not how it used to be. From mid-2003 through the end of 2005, InterAct was the primary social justice activist group at OU and as active as any of its community-based counterparts in Athens. In 2006 InterAct was voted over all Best Student Organization in the Athens News Readers Choice Awards, beating out the International Student Union and OU College Democrats – which are obviously two very large, long-running organizations, one of which is affiliated with the political party currently occupying the white house. And during this time InterAct carried out all kinds of projects besides The InterActivist – everything from guest speakers, study groups and conferences, to bus trips for rallies in Washington D.C., fundraisers, local protests, an alliance with a coalition of regional labor unions, and even acts of civil disobedience. Oh, and for a while we did a public access television show, too, called “Left Out.”

But what made The InterActivist especially useful was that it provided a less intimidating way for people to get to know InterAct in comparison, say, to attending a demonstration or even coming to a meeting. And whereas a one-time lecture by a visiting speaker might conflict with a students’ class or partying schedule that night, there was always a copy of The InterActivist lying around somewhere just waiting to be picked up and read.

So that’s the accessible part. As for the impressive part…

Even though, in many respects, the quality of the publication was embarrassingly bad in its early days, it was still good enough to show that InterAct’s members could do more than just bring in a speaker or hold a picket sign; they could also articulate compelling arguments and produce a publication. A former president of the College Republicans once admitted to me that the group was jealous of our accomplishments with The InterActivist. During the past decade at OU there have been several right-wing student newspapers and websites, but all the ones I’m aware of came and went pretty quickly. By the time The InterActivist was a year old it had already outlasted any of its right wing counterparts and by now I’d say it’s outgrown or outlasted all of its counterparts – period.

Anybody who cares about conducting outreach in order to build an activist group that’s large enough to carry out effective campaigns for change knows that accessibility and street cred matter – and The InterActivist helped InterAct with both. In contrast, one of the first student activist groups I joined was made up of about a dozen radical activists. These were super smart, passionate, committed people. But most were so snobby and cliquey and catty that they basically did negative outreach. They were walking advertisements for why people wouldn’t want to join their group. The InterActivist was one part of a multifaceted and very conscious effort to move beyond that sort of thing – just like InterAct explicitly defining “progressive” as a range of political views that encompassed everybody from liberal Democrats to radical leftists.

And it wasn’t just rhetoric. Over the years the group’s members included two presidents of the College Democrats, lots of New Deal liberals, a couple communists, some anarchists, a bunch of socialists, and lots of people who didn’t identify so specifically. We always drew attention to the fact that InterAct’s members didn’t agree about everything, and we had a written decision making process and group structure. All of this left a whole lot open to debate and prevented the most popular or articulate members from covertly exercising control of the group. It also meant that The InterActivist published a range of progressive opinion, and further demonstrated InterAct’s openness in this regard.

Something else I should mention about The InterActivist and the role it played within InterAct: Typically, InterAct had between 15 and 20 active members regularly attending meetings, plus up to about 200 more people connected through our listserv. In terms of active members, that’s about the size of most student groups. But the difference is that most student groups are directed by only 1 to 3 of their members – the “executives” – with most groups’ meetings looking like a typical classroom: one person is at the front of the room, speaking and facing an audience that is quiet and passive – listening attentively or daydreaming, who knows? This kind of hierarchy is easy, simple and totally inefficient. It’s the kind of social organization that’s good for capitalism and bad for most other things. People within InterAct recognized this and, as a result, the group looked and operated very differently.

Those 15 to 20 people at an InterAct meeting all sat in a circle. A different one of them volunteered to facilitate each meeting – that is, called on people who raised their hands to speak, helped keep discussion on track, took notes at the white board and helped group members work through an agenda they had all constructed collaboratively. And instead of a group of 15 to 20 people with 2 or 3 active members, we were much closer to being a group of 15 to 20 people with 15 to 20 active members. That is, different people initiated and executed different group projects and everybody had a hand in directing the group’s course through a very effective, very efficient process of direct democracy.

Now, getting back to my list of areas where The InterActivist could really excel…

Second, even though The InterActivist didn’t have the circulation of the major local papers, it was controlled by local progressive activists.

Initially, this meant we could offer readers two things besides our own news and commentary. The first was a directory of various progressive campus and community groups that included each group’s description and contact information, and the second was a calendar of upcoming events put on by those groups. Thus not only was InterAct concerned with a broad array of social justice issues – sex, gender, race, economic, environmental, war/peace, environmental, etc. – but we provided free support to all of the other local social justice groups that chose to specialize in any of these areas. Several other local groups published their own newsletters to promote themselves, usually mainly to their own members as opposed to the general public. But no other group besides InterAct – on campus or in Athens – used so many of its own resources to support other organizations and the local progressive movement in general.

Keep in mind that, in The InterActivist’s early years, we got no material support from any of the other organizations the magazine was supporting. It wasn’t until People Might began bottom-lining the project that we rounded up a coalition of co-sponsoring student organizations and the grant from Campus Progress. Unfortunately, I think the community groups – Appalachian Peace and Justice Network, United Campus Ministries – have really missed a great opportunity. The InterActivist has given them tons of publicity on campus. Since they work in a college town and depend a lot on student volunteers, I think it would have been – and still is – in these groups’ best interest to help with the magazine’s funding.

Of course, it’s not that these group’s never showed an interest. Sometime in 2007 or 2008 I was invited to apply for a job as one of the Appalachian Peace and Justice Network’s two paid staffers. At my interview with the hiring committee, I was told that if I was hired APJN wanted me to bring The InterActivist with me to their organization. I said I wasn’t interested. I had been struggling for years to build People Might, which, frankly (although I’m sure I didn’t tell APJN this at the time) I thought could be more productive than APJN. Plus, I didn’t think APJN’s board knew enough about what it took to produce The InterActivist back when it was a monthly magazine, running 30+ pages per issue, with a staff of 25 people, and distribution all over town. The InterActivist alone required me to work 20 to 40 or more hours per week, and APJN was interviewing me for a 20 hour per week job that I think would pay about $10,000 or $15,000 per year, and for which I assumed they wanted me to do more than just The InterActivist. So I turned them down, and APJN hired someone else.

In retrospect, assuming that The InterActivist was the deal-breaker for APJN, I probably made the wrong choice. APJN’s support would have been… I’ll say “less insufficient”… than what People Might was ultimately able to provide. And who knows, maybe working from APJN would have enabled me to do more fundraising for The InterActivist. On the other hand, it was far from an ideal scenario, and there just wasn’t any substantial grant money out there to fund what The InterActivist was doing, anyway.

But especially after People Might had to fold, APJN or UCM: Center for Spiritual Growth and Social Justice could have taken the initiative to step in and try to keep The InterActivist running at something closer to it’s 2007/2008 level. If I could do it with next to zero organizational support and essentially no pay, then in theory these groups should be able to do the same with multiple paid staff, a larger membership, a longer presence in the community, and more grant funding.

Granted, as progressive as Athens is, it’s still not exactly overflowing with resources to support progressive organizing and activism. But that’s what makes it all the more important to wisely invest scarce resources. Given how much The InterActivist was supporting progressive campus and community activism back then, and how much it was developing the skills of progressive writers and activists, I think it would have been, and still would be, a very wise investment for these groups to make.

But I digress… again. Getting back to your question about what interested me most about The InterActivist, probably the single most exciting thing for me is what comes from the magazine being controlled by progressives and therefore being an alternative medium.

A vital part of what makes alternative media “alternative” is an alternative medium’s ability to critique, confront and challenge mainstream media – be they major media like Fox News or NPR, or local established media like The Athens News, Athens Messenger or The Post.

When The InterActivist critiques Fox News or NPR, The InterActivist is most likely duplicating the work of countless other progressive journalists and media outlets. Being redundant in this way isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It means The InterActivist is helping in some way to expand the reach of progressive analysis. Someone who happens to pick up The InterActivist may not have already been exposed to similar critiques via other progressive media.

Nevertheless, I think it’s more important for The InterActivist to provide progressive critiques of local established media. For one thing, there’s nothing redundant about this work. Usually, no one else is doing it.

True, local established media can choose to publish letters critical of their coverage. In Athens they do this pretty frequently. Over the years The Post and The Athens News have published some of my own pieces directly criticizing the papers or particular pieces they ran. But these papers publish criticism at their own discretion; they can just as easily decide not to publish it – which also happens. Plus, whenever a publication runs content produced by its own critics that critical content is secondary to the publication’s standard content. Thus letters to the editor and even guest columns typically have much lower word limits than are applied to the publication’s own content. At best, this gives the publication a major home court advantage over its critics. At worst, it means critics don’t have sufficient space to argue their cases compellingly.

In situations like these it’s very important for progressives to have their own media – and these situations come up pretty frequently. I’ll outline a couple specific cases between The InterActivist and other local media in a minute. But first I want to point out something more basic.

As critics of our society’s dominant mainstream institutions, progressives are by definition critics of mainstream media. There’s no way to be a progressive and be OK with a commercial media system that exists merely to sell audiences to advertisers and which is controlled by an increasingly small number of increasingly large corporations – the managers and shareholder of which usually having no more interest in the particular value of news, communication and public dialogue than they do in any other cost of accruing profit. It’s a screwed up system, which is also subject to additional pressure from the state, the public relations industry and a myriad of powerful groups. As a result, I think it’s fair to say that this media system more often produces garbage than valuable journalism.

One very stark illustration of this is the U.S. media’s coverage of the lead-up to the Iraq War. It was so bad that a University of Maryland study showed that the more a person watched Fox News, the more likely he or she was to falsely believe that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was threatening the U.S. with weapons of mass destruction and had ties to both Al Qaeda and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Meanwhile, both the New York Times and Washington Post felt compelled to offer weak, partial apologies their own failure at journalism and very real complicity in the invasion.

Interestingly, if you go back to the first Gulf War, you see the mainstream US media (as well as Congress and even Amnesty International) falling for something similar: the Kuwaiti baby incubator hoax that was constructed by the U.S. public relations firm Hill & Knowlton acting at the behest of the Kuwaiti royal family and in conjunction with the administration of George H.W. Bush.

But we don’t need to go back 10 or 20 years to see this sort of thing. A couple months back Glenn Greenwald gave an excellent talk in June at the Socialism 2013 conference in Chicago. Echoing Dean Baker’s pronouncement that the recent NSA spying scandal has done as much to show the corruption of U.S. journalism as the corruption of the U.S. government, Greenwald contrasted two opposing ideas of journalism. Everybody – especially journalism students – should watch the talk in its entirety, but here’s one excerpt to illustrate the point.

“A lot of journalists and editors and the like have debates about what is the most prestigious journalism award. Is it a Polk award or a Peabody or a Pulitzer? And those are all prestigious awards, but I actually think the one we got yesterday is a significant level above them all, and I am very humbled and honored to have received this award. The U.S. army announced that it was blocking access at all army facilities throughout the world to The Guardian website in response to [our coverage of the NSA scandal]…

“And the reason I say that this is flattering, and it is actually flattering, is that I’ve long looked at journalism through this prism that defines the two polar opposites of what I consider journalism to be.

“And one of those polar opposites has long been defined for me by this speech that the great war correspondent David Halberstam gave in 2005 to students at Columbia Journalism School, and he was asked by the speech organizers to speak about the proudest moment in his career, and what he said was his most proudest moment in his journalism career is when he was stationed in Vietnam in 1963 and 1964 as a very young war reporter, he would go out into the field and see what was actually happening. So when he went to the press conferences of the US generals that afternoon and they made all sorts of claims, he knew that those claims were lies, and instead of disseminating those lies as truth he was standing up at these press conferences in the middle of a war zone and very aggressively challenging these generals, saying to their faces that he knew what they were saying was false, to the point where those generals went to the editors of the New York Times and demanded that he be removed from his position covering the war. That was his proudest moment in journalism: when he so angered the government officials that he was covering.

“And that event, that episode, stands in stark contrast to what I consider to be the other polar opposite, which was [expressed in] this interview that Bill Keller gave, who was the editor of the New York Times throughout the Bush administration, in which he was talking about the newspaper’s publication of some of the materials that they received from Wikileaks. He was giving a BBC interview, and he was very eager to distinguish what the New York Times did from what Wikileaks does – which makes sense on one level, since I don’t recall Wikileaks ever publishing a bunch of false articles that led the nation to war.

“But that wasn’t actually the difference Bill Keller was referring to. Bill Keller was trying to say the New York Times is radically different than what Wikileaks does because, unlike Wikileaks, that simply publishes whatever it wants, the New York Times under Bill Keller went to the Obama administration ahead of time and said, ‘These are the things that we want to publish; do you think we should?’ And if the U.S. government said, ‘You shouldn’t publish this, and you shouldn’t publish that, and you shouldn’t publish this other thing, because to do so will endanger national security,’ Bill Keller proudly said then the New York Times wouldn’t publish it. And he was beaming like a third grader who had just got a gold star from his teacher when he said in this BBC interview, ‘The Obama administration has continuously said that we have been very responsible in how we publish.’

“And the reason why that seems to me like polar opposites is that David Halberstam viewed the measure of good journalism as defined by how much you anger the people in power that you’re covering, whereas Bill Keller defines good journalism – and I think most modern establishment journalists define it this way as well – by how much you please the people in power that you’re covering.

“And for me, if you are pleasing the people in power by the things that you’re disclosing, you may be very good at your job, but your job is not journalism.”

So while a British newspaper reports a major U.S. spying scandal, and the international group Wikileaks reports various other sordid machinations of the U.S. government, the mainstream U.S. media is more concerned with cheerleading for the persecution of whistleblowers like Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning and Edward Snowden and people actually doing what the U.S. media doesn’t do much of – that being vitally important journalism. And as a related aside, if I remember correctly, I don’t even think Glenn Greenwald has a journalism degree. I’m pretty sure he just has a law degree.

But that’s the journalism industry in the U.S. And it’s worth remembering that this is the very industry which holds the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism in such high regard. And that, furthermore, this is the industry which Scripps is preparing people to enter. So I don’t think Scripps students have a lot of good role models. And as a result the local Athens media, which is heavily dependent on Scripps students, far too often ends up replicating problems of major U.S. media on a local level.

And this is why it’s so important for The InterActivist to confront these problems when they arise. It’s a cliché to talk about Athens like it’s insulated from the “real world.” But really, Athens is very much part of the larger society — and that’s especially true when we’re talking about the culture and output of U.S. news media.

Unfortunately, there are only two situations I know of in which The InterActivist directly confronted the Athens media establishment, and I was personally responsible for both of them. One resulted in flak from the journalism school – not just a pretty weak piece of written criticism from one professor, which we published, but also efforts to get at least one of our Scripps majors on staff to resign. In the other situation, we ran a piece that not only directly criticized The Post’s leadership at the time, but revealed much of the hidden institutional relationship between the newspaper, OU and Scripps. Publication of that piece was immediately followed by a rather dramatic reduction in The InterActivist’s quarterly SAC funding, from $10,800 in Fall 2007 to just $2,000 in Winter 2008.

It bears noting that, at the time of this dramatic de-funding, The InterActivist was co-sponsored by more student organizations, reached a wider audience and benefited a greater number of different student organizations than any other student project then requesting SAC funding. So SAC had to invent new guidelines in order to de-fund us. What’s more, SAC failed to notify us of its new rules before we submitted our funding request, but then penalized us further for not following those rules. It was a pretty underhanded thing to do, and I doubt the timing was a coincidence.

Then, shortly after SAC’s attack on The InterActivist, a journalism professor began meeting privately with one of People Might’s board members, making pretty serious and totally false accusations about me in an apparent attempt to stir up trouble with People Might’s board.

Unfortunately, this kind of stuff is pretty typical.

But I should also mention that I didn’t come to Athens to go to OU. I enrolled at OU after I came there to launch of group called Free Student Press, which educated public high school students on their First Amendment rights to distribute their own publications at school, free from the censorship of school officials. Within a month of launching the project, administrators at Nelsonville-York High School were attempting to ban a student paper and suspend its publishers. There was a big controversy, lasting about 5 months. It ended in victory for the students and resignation of their school’s principal.

At the time I was a student at OU’s College of Education, which is where the Nelsonville York superintendent got his PhD. So he called up the college to complain about me and I ended up in a meeting with the Assistant Dean and an attorney for OU, both of whom strongly encouraged me to stop my work teaching teenagers about their Constitutional rights.

At the same time, while FSP and the Nelsonville students got tons of support from various members of the community, not a single OU journalism professor opted to donate money to support the project, and we pitched to all of them. And that was even after we had prevailed at Nelsonville-York and the students involved received awards from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Also interestingly, members of FSP were invited to speak about our work to a teacher education class at OU, a political science class at OU, and twice at conferences hosted at the College of Education. The OU student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists invited me to speak about FSP’s work at a panel the group organized. But throughout all of the publicity surrounding our work between 1999 and 2004, we received no such invitations from Scripps faculty.

Finally, especially worth noting is the role of Scripps faculty in the two cases where The InterActivist challenged the Athens media. Both cases arose in response to The Post, from 2005 through 2008, being led by some particularly bad journalism students who also happened to have particularly bad politics. For a more detailed account of all of this, you can see the following:

“World Can’t Wait… for decent journalism” (Nov. 2005)

“OU students unite! You have nothing to gain but civic responsibility” (Nov. 2005)

“Responding to more J-school nonsense about counter recruitment” (Nov. 2005)

“Media bias demonstrates need for citizen journalism” (Feb. 2006)

“Is this supposed to be a lesson in media ethics?” (April 2006)

“Ohio University Post goes from laughing off genocide to openly advocating it” (Sept. 2007)

“Latino group discusses conflict with OU newspaper” (Oct. 2007)

“Ohio University Post and J-school take turn for the worse, stay the course for three years” (Feb. 2013)

But suffice to say we’re talking about some of Scripps’ star pupils at The Post engaging in false reporting, in reporting only those sources who shared the newspaper’s own editorial position, and in publishing racist satire and even a non satirical call for genocide. In none of these cases did The Post issue a retraction or apology. The newspaper received a great deal of public criticism from students, community members, Athens News editor Terry Smith, and even a handful of faculty.

But there is only one case where a professor from Scripps weighed in publicly on any of these matters – that was Bernhard Debatin’s piece that we ran in The InterActivist claiming that my critique of The Post’s treatment of a November 2005 anti-war rally was “plain unethical mudslinging” and “merely an attempt at character assassination,” “at times bordering on libel,” which “should be beneath a publication that claims to support social justice and progressive values.” He also accused me of using unnamed sources and reporting unverified hearsay as fact, accusations that anyone who reads the piece in question can see were false. I thought Debatin’s criticism of my piece was pretty asinine, which was sad because I had met him on a couple occasions before then and thought he seemed to be a likable guy with fairly good politics. But much worse that anything Debatin wrote about me was his complete public silence when some of his own students turned The Post into a platform for both belittling and advocating genocide, which one might think are far more severe offenses than anything of which Debatin had accused me.

Fast forward to the present, and today The InterActivist is featured on the Scripps homepage, and my impression is that the vast majority of staffers are journalism majors. Interestingly, however, The InterActivist was not founded by journalism majors. In fact, I think we had only one journalism major work on The InterActivist prior to 2006. And there was a time when we were not even allowed to distribute The InterActivist in Scripps Hall.

Take me, for instance. By the time The InterActivist was created, I’d had plenty of my writing published. I’d been on the staff of three different publications. I’d taught area high school students about their First Amendment rights and basic journalism law. I’d assisted some of those students in the creation of their own publications and helped one group defend its publication against the school administration’s attempt to ban the publication and suspend it’s publishers – a situation, as I mentioned before, that ended in victory for the students and the resignation of their principal. In 2002, I had exposed OU’s violation of the campus crime reporting requirements of the Clery Act at a time when more rapes were being reported in OU’s dorms than those of any other publicly supported post-secondary school in Ohio – a bombshell story that the entire local and statewide media missed and then did their best to ignore. (And I also helped organize the campaign that forced OU into compliance with the Clery Act and proved instrumental in the creation of OU’s women’s center.) Finally, I continued to publish work in other outlets the whole time I was working on The InterActivist. But I was never a journalism major and, most importantly, I hdidn’t really have any aspirations of a making a career in journalism.

When The InterActivist was founded I was a Political Science/ Education major. Sara DeAloia was a graduate student in Anthropology. Other early contributors included a graduate playwright student named Aaron Carter and an undergraduate theatre major named Sarah Michelson, both of whom had founded Students Against the War with Sara D. And then there was a medical student, an English major or two, a couple Poli. Sci. majors, and so on. I think a guy named Jordan Robinson was the first journalism major to contribute, and that would have been during the 2004/2005 school year, when he was a freshman. (Jordan later joined the staff again in 2007 as a columnist.) So in the early days, we were first and foremost campus activists who were interested in journalism, not journalism students who were interested in progressive politics and activism.

Now, I’d say that’s a pretty odd history for the second or third longest-running student publication on the same campus as one of the country’s top ranked schools of journalism. And that’s if you include The Post, which is so heavily supported by OU that it’s in an entirely different league. Otherwise, The InterActivist is in either first or second place.

Of course none of this is to unfairly malign Scripps students or even The Post. I’m friends with several excellent journalists who graduated from Scripps, including several that worked at The Post – and I worked there too, after all. In general, The Post has had its ups as well as its downs. Furthermore, it was during the People Might era that I led an effort to recruit more journalism majors for The InterActivist and that journalism majors soon came to fill a majority of staff positions.

Undeniably, The InterActivist’s transition from a student activist-run publication to a student journalist-run publication has brought with it many changes for the better. Over all, the quality of the magazine’s design, layout, writing and copy editing are all better today than they were in the early days. But as somebody who was there in the beginning, I worry that the closer The InterActivist gets to Scripps, the less likely it is to put forward progressive critiques of the Athens/OU media establishment, and perhaps of local power in general – which I see as the most valuable role the magazine can possibly play. But then again, maybe you kids are out to cause a lot more trouble than I know. I hope so.

I guess I’d say that the bottom line is that the world’s a fucked up place, and OU is very much a part of it. That doesn’t mean everybody should drop out. But it does say that progressive students should be confronting the campus manifestations of larger societal problems – and there’s no shortage of opportunities there – as opposed to just aiming to please their professors and administrators.

4. What was your position with InterActivist?

During The InterActivist’s first two years, there were no specific staff positions. The process of producing an issue would begin when someone at an InterAct meeting proposed that an issue be produced with a specific person acting as project coordinator for that issue. If the proposal passed, then we’d pass around a sheet of paper. Everyone who had signaled their enthusiastic support for the idea would sign up with their names and email addresses, and it would be up to the coordinator to organize a separate meeting of this working group. The people who actually showed up at the working group meeting would then figure out how to produce an issue and, finally, be credited generally as the “staff” of that particular issue.

That’s how I was credited in all but two or three of the issues that were produced before the summer of 2005. During that time, I wrote commentary and news pieces and pitched in with every other aspect of production, from photography and layout, to fundraising, working with our printer and then the helping with final distribution. For most of 2004 and 2005 I tackled all of the layout myself.

Then, in the summer of 2005, a few veteran members of InterAct broke off to create the community based nonprofit center for activist development People Might, with me as the group’s Executive Director. Shortly thereafter InterAct transferred primary responsibility for The InterActivist to People Might, and I led a process of re-organizing production of the magazine so that it could be published regularly, each month that OU was in regular session, and with support from five different local progressive groups. These groups would each apply for SAC funding, and we were able to also secure a small annual grant from the Campus Progress division of the Center for American Progress. This process of reorganization also involved establishing official positions, which people would be hired to fill on a quarterly basis and adapting InterAct’s democratic process to the particular needs of The InterActivist.

From mid 2005 through late 2008, I was the person primarily responsible for The InterActivist. Whether my official title was “Publication Advisor,” “Project Coordinator” or “Editor in Chief,” I interviewed, hired and trained the staff; I coordinated fundraising; I picked up the slack in various areas when other people bailed or came up short – particularly over the summers when students were away. Occasionally, I still found time to write news articles, opinion columns and feature interviews. So I guess you could say that I’ve done everything for The InterActivist (including selling my plasma and being homeless) except for writing poetry and running the printing presses.

5. Do you have a favorite story or stories you worked on? Tell me about them.

In terms of my own work as a writer, I am probably most proud of the two pieces I wrote in direct opposition to The Post – not because they were my best pieces of writing, but because they were examples of The InterActivist playing what I see as one of its most important roles.

I also liked the two news articles I wrote on faculty organizing at OU in 2004, and the one piece I wrote on a labor dispute at the Eramet Marietta factory in 2007. Prior to The InterActivist I had written lots of commentaries and essays, but no news stories. These articles got me started, and I followed up with a front page investigative piece on the environmental controversy surrounding Eramet Marietta for the Athens News in March 2007.

Oh, and the faculty organizing articles from 2004 were fun because I got to catch former OU president Robert Glidden in a lie and making one blatantly stupid statement. People in positions of power often become arrogant to the point of abject stupidity. In other words, power often has effects which are emotionally, psychologically and intellectually regressive for people. This is partly why powerful people have to surround themselves with public relations specialists, spokespeople and speech writers. But if you can get to them directly, they’re often pretty quick to stuff a proverbial foot in their mouths. Glidden was far more accessible than OU’s current president, Roderick McDavis, and as a result McDavis doesn’t have the opportunity to make so many mistakes.

And, lastly – with regard to my own writing – I really enjoyed the “activist spotlight” feature interviews I did for The InterActivist. As an opinion columnist – and so often in my work as an activist or as an organizer – I’m focused on making my own compelling argument. As a reporter, meanwhile, I’m interviewing lots of people, but I’m still responsible for organizing all of the information from my sources into a coherent story. But as an interviewer for feature pieces like these, I get to focus on my questions and encouraging the interviewees to really tell their own stories. Not only is this a nice change of pace for me, but I get to be the kind of interviewer I so often have wished would interview me.

As an activist and organizer, I’ve been interviewed by many different reporters for many different publications over the years, and so often I’ve been misquoted — literally, I’ve been misquoted from The Post to the LA Times — or I’ve been frustrated with the particular snippet a reporter pulled from my comments, and so on. So whenever I interview someone, I do it with an audio recorder, and I transcribe the entire interview before I select choice quotes. That way I actually get to listen to the person I’m interviewing rather than just waiting for him or her to say something that fits my preconceived notion of the quote I want.

So often reporters have already written a story in their heads and are just going through the perfunctory formality of interviewing people in order to legitimate that story. That’s not journalism; that’s attempting to fake journalism. Plus, getting an audio recording is a way to cover your own ass. A reporter should always have an independently verifiable record in case a source later denies having said something.

But with the feature interviews, I don’t even have to select a few short quotes. Instead, I get to ask probing questions. I get to listen and facilitate. But it’s up to the interviewees to tell their stories – and I love giving them the space to do that, especially since I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing some very interesting people for The InterActivist. My interviews with Brittany Benton, Ashley Diaz and Velma Lopez (all from the Latino Student Union) and Amy Melnyk were probably my favorites as far as my involvement was concerned, although my interviews with Jehan Mullin, Akil Houston and Mickey Hart all had a lot of really good content.

It probably goes without saying, but The InterActivist gave me the opportunity to try on so many different “hats” as a writer, while I also got to do just about everything else associated with producing a magazine at one time or another, including designing the entire production process as a democratic cooperative. I can’t imagine many other projects that would have afforded opportunities to develop such a wide array of journalistic, media production and organizing skills.

Now, when it comes to other peoples’ work – writing, as well as photography, graphic design, layout, editing, fundraising, etc. – I don’t have anywhere near as much insight as I do into my own work. I don’t know how particular projects helped the people responsible develop and what work those people were most proud of. But I will say that I’m very proud of a lot of the material The InterActivist has carried from so many wonderful writers over the years. It’s hard to pick favorites when there’s so much to choose from. Everybody brought something different to the table, and it was all worth having.

The InterActivist published Peggy Gish’s reporting on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners six months before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. At one point in time we had the only African American student columnist regularly writing on race issues and the only LGBT columnist writing on LGBT issues. We had a local attorney with Legal Aid writing on poverty and legal issues. We broke a story on a property dispute between OU and Athens over the sidewalk in front of the student center (to me, it’s still the “new” student center), that impacted the level of free speech rights people could enjoy there. In addition to firsthand reports from Iraq, we had them from Israel/Palestine, India, El Salvador, Venezuela, Mexico, the U.S. border with Mexico… and I’m sure more that I’m forgetting now. Just a ton of great content in the 5 years I was involved from more than 100 different contributors.

6. Was there a specific local, national or international event/events that you remember being covered during your time at InterActivist?

All of the ones I’ve mentioned and then some.

7. Do you have a favorite memory from InterActivist?

That’s hard. I can tell you my most “I didn’t sign up for this shit” memory. That’s trying to work out a strip tease to Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” the night before our second all male revue fundraiser when I thought we weren’t going to have enough strippers. On top of being fairly shy in most contexts besides activism and journalism, I am also a pretty shitty dancer. So I’m not exactly an ideal male stripper. Thankfully, after my then girlfriend / now wife got a glimpse of me trying, very awkwardly, to work out my routine, she found someone else to strip in my place.

What I remember more fondly, however, isn’t any one specific memory, but more my recollection of meetings – of producing a magazine through a highly efficient, directly democratic, cooperative process. The extent to which I organized that process, and to whatever extend it benefited all of the staff members’ development (you’ll have to ask them), is something I am even more proud of than any of my own writing for The InterActivist.

8. What was your favorite part?

I grew up watching the 1980s television show The A-Team, and like the character Hannibal always said, “I love it when a plan comes together.” I’m not the greatest organizer when it comes to selling people on an idea and getting them all pumped about it. I can do it to some extent in my writing, but get me face-to-face and I’m not really a motivational speaker. On the other hand, I think I’m pretty good at designing and implementing efficiently functioning democratic cooperative structures and processes. Prior to The InterActivist I had lived at the ACME housing co-op, worked at the quasi-cooperative restaurant Casa Nueva, organized two prior publications, worked within a bunch of consensus-based activist groups, and helped design the structure and decision-making process of two of those groups. The InterActivist was a place where I feel like I got to improve upon everything I had learned from all those previous experiences, and I was very happy with the results.

9. What else were you involved with during your time at OU?

That’s a long list. The briefest summary is in the resume I copied below – it’s the one I’ve used for more activist/organizer type job applications. There’s a lot more info at my writing website – particularly in the January 2009 interview I gave to The InterActivist just after I left the staff, and in the “My Organizing” section, which has a bunch of news coverage of various stuff I’ve been involved in. The “Organizational Literature” section has some more info, too.

10. Why do you think a publication like InterActivist is so important at a campus like OU?

Because 1.) the ordinary functioning of our world’s dominant institutions leads to our species’ eventual destruction and massive injustice until then, and 2.) OU’s primary function is to ensure the consistent operation of those institutions by training and certifying people to fulfill those institutions’ component roles. That’s true for journalism, but for everything else, too.

There is a difference between working within an institution and working according to its dictates and parameters. Progressive students should be intervening on campus whenever possible – to articulate critiques, to organize a countervailing force and win reforms, to model preferable alternatives, etc. The InterActivist can be a vital part of all of this in the ways I described above.

Plus, if you’re a student who’s living off of loan money or parental support right now, this is probably the freest you will ever be in life. On the one hand, you’re not living under your parents’ roof or their rules any more. On the other, you’ve got no kids, no spouses, no full-time jobs, no loan payments. You live in a beautiful, walkable, unusually progressive town. You have significant free time, access to a great library and intellectually engaged people. You have thousands of people your own age with whom to learn and organize. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll come to find that you had a whole lot more energy and passion in your early to mid twenties than you’ve got in your early to mid thirties.

A lot of people spend their college years on promiscuous sex, binge drinking and thoughtlessly jumping through academic hoops in hopes of securing as comfortable a spot as possible in the existing social order. I don’t mean to put down sex and partying. And I probably should have paid a little more attention to my own future material comfort when I was in school. But to focus exclusively or even primarily on these aspects of college life seems like an incredible waste of what is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really figure out what kind of a world you want and to work towards achieving it with far fewer obstacles than you’re likely face in the future.

Assuming that the world you want is characterized by environmental sustainability and greater social justice, then The InterActivist can be a vital part of pursuing that kind of change in Athens.

And ultimately, making a real difference – even on a local level – feels a whole lot better than getting drunk. It feels a whole lot better than getting an “A.” Sometimes it’s even better than getting laid.

11. What are you doing now?

I spent all of my twenties, an entire decade of my life, trying to create a powerful, sustainable activist institution in Athens. From the beginning it was a losing battle (because, very sadly, the progressive community in Athens does a pretty bad job of allocating its scarce resources), and I fought it until I was utterly burnt out. Since leaving Athens I’ve spent most of my time trying to get my own life in order. I haven’t come back to organizing yet, but I’ve started writing again. I’ve had a couple pieces published this year, but I’m really just testing the waters again. I’m also an artist – pencils and charcoal mostly – and I just launched a web-based pet portrait business. I’ve got a couple other projects in the works, too. So I stay busy. Still, I have to prioritize my own wellbeing right now, and that limits the opportunities I had when I was your age.

12. Have you already covered, or do you plan to continue to cover, issues like those that InterActivist covers?

Yes and yes. I’ve never wanted to be a writer, or be a journalist. I’ve never wanted to be a teacher, or be an activist – or an organizer, artist, graphic designer, web designer, video editor, etc. I’ve never wanted to be anything so much as I’ve wanted to accomplish certain things.

What I want to accomplish is to make a tangible, concrete, and hopefully substantial contribution to the creation of a radically more just world. My journalism can be part of this. My activism can be part of this. My organizing and institution building can be part of this. And clearly, I’ve got a long way to go. But I don’t want to be anything for its own sake. I don’t see any point in that. A radically more just world is the end; everything else is just a means.

So whereas Eric Fromm famously contrasted “having” with “being,” I want to contrast “being” with “doing.” I think of being a journalist in terms of having a degree and a job that says you’re a journalist. But are you really doing journalism, and in the sense that Greenwald discusses it above? That’s the more important question for me when it comes to journalism.

In general I think the professionalization of an area leads to its reification – like “journalist” or “teacher” or even “organizer” is something you are in general, as opposed to something you do or something you accomplish, again and again. It has always seemed to me that as one means of maintaining its reputation, Scripps works to inflate the egos of its students – like, “You are a journalist. You are a Scripps student. You are one of the special, select few.” I think that helps create the kind of elitism that pervades American journalism and which, worst of all, leads to journalists identifying with other elites and defending those elites against the general public instead of working to hold those elites accountable to the public.

So when it comes to me, whether I’m doing journalism at any particularly moment, I’ll always have it in the back of my mind. And when it seems like a practical route to take in advancing my goals, then I’ll do journalism again. In the meantime, after a three-year hiatus, I returned to writing earlier this year. I compiled most of my old material on a website and began blogging. I had a piece on two of the films at this past spring’s Athens Film Festival published in the Athens News, and then later one on an alleged sexual assault incident. I’ve also had two pieces published by ZNet, one on some of the 2013 Oscar nominees and another on an interesting act of protest by a Russian performance artist. But, basically, I’m kind of easing back into writing, and I have a bunch of projects underway. So we’ll just have to see what I can accomplish.

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